When my wife asked what I wanted for my birthday I had trouble coming up with ideas. I had just completed the grueling KT82 relay race in September. Getting from the point of recovering from knee surgery to running that had consumed my interests for almost 9 months. That was my goal and I smashed it. I couldn’t think of anything I needed, because my all consuming interest was completed. It wasn’t long before I had a genius idea. A race registration. Since figuring out how to justify the cost of a big race is always a challenge, why not get it subsidized by the social guilt of a birthday? But what race? What should I train for? Maybe work on speed for a half. Or endurance for a full. Or insanity for an ultra. The idea of a full piqued my interest. But which one? The White River? That had been my first, and while it held a special place in my heart, I wasn’t sure I could do it again just yet. Out and back. And out and back. Seeing the same scenery for 26.2 miles. There was the Run for the Ranch in December, but the only difference was, from what I understand about the race, is that it is local. But what about the Bass Pro Marathon? It was only 5 weeks away. Could I get from the point of being able to run a 1/2 marathon to a full in only 5 weeks?
I queried my good friend, and the founder of my running group, who somehow finds the energy to play coach to many of us. She asked me questions. She gave me tips and benchmarks. I started upping my mileage. Fortunately there were some other crazy ladies in the group training for an ultra who’s mileage I was able to tag onto. Everything went surprisingly well. I even got in my longest training run of 20 miles while on vacation visiting my little brother. He rode his bike through 65 degree foggy morning for 4 hours while I pounded the pavement. He rode, I ran, we bonded. It was great.
The big day of the race came the same day as Daylight Saving. I was robbed of my extra hour of sleep, and a couple more, by a young child needing who knows what. I wasn’t able to resume my slumber once thoughts and anxieties starting pouring into my head, laying there in the dark. So I got up and had an early breakfast, drank some coffee, and straightened my race clothes a few times before finally putting them on. Eventually I woke my wife up, trundled the kids out to their carseats and headed into town. They dropped me off close to the race, left to get ready for church, and I walked up to the start. I had a few minutes to stretch and hobnob with the few friends I could find in the crowd of almost 3500 people outside of the massive, original Bass Pro Shops building.
As the start time neared, I went to start my Garmin. A few minutes later I looked at. It was still at the splash screen, which usually takes about 10 seconds to clear. I powered it down and back up. Same thing. Try again. No dice. So try all sorts of different key combinations and end up getting some kind of BIOS or boot screen. I keyed through it, but couldn’t make any sense of it. Restart again. Nothing. I’m panicking. I can’t imagine pacing myself with my silly LG Lifeband or smartphone which is in my Camelbak. Finally, with 90 seconds until start, I try again. The watch starts up no problem, locates satellites, and seems to smugly glow at me, “what’s up, are you ready to go yet?”
Suddenly things started to get quiet. People are taking off their hats and turning toward the flag. Slowly I begin to hear the notes of the Star Spangled Banner. I don’t know if it was recorded or live. It was pretty good, and we live close enough to Branson that it could have been live. Slowly people start to move. I’ve located myself next to the 4:30 pacer. That’s my goal time. It seems like a good place to start.
It was chilly and foggy, but not cold. I ditched my sweater before I reached the start. I didn’t need to figure out how to take it off while running and carrying a hydration pack. I spent the first 4 miles near or just ahead of the 4:30 pace group. Things were going well. I stopped at the jons at the 2nd aid station (they were exactly every 2 miles most of the time). The morning’s coffee was speaking to me. I got out and pushed a little to catch up with the pacer. It felt good. Everything felt good. I wondered what it would feel like to keep my up. I started to math in my head. 30 seconds overall pace improvement would mean 13.1 minutes faster overall. 1 minute pace improvement would be 26.2 minutes. Almost 30 minutes. Was it possible I could do better? Could I beat the elusive 4 hour mark? A slightly more rational person would have realized that this was not the time to be calculating pace theory.
From that point I began trying to shave a little time off each mile. It went smashingly for the next two hours. But I knew I couldn’t sustain it. My left ankle started to hurt. I tightened my shoe, which helped a lot. I was still passing people. I passed the 4:20 pacer, who happened to be the founder of a cool, dumb little international running club. (#IRCWorldDomination). I passed one of the medical stations, being manned by some of the therapists from where I did my PT after my knee surgery. One of them tried to give me a fist bump. I tried to give him a high-five. It was special. For about 3 miles I kept catching sight of the 4:10 pacer and then losing him again. Slowly but surely I gained on him. Eventually I caught him, somewhere around mile 18. He was an energetic guy, encouraging everyone around him. I maintained his pace for a while, and decided that I would try to just finish with him. I knew I was going to run out of energy soon.
I held on with the 4:10 pacer until about mile 20, which was just after the 3 hour mark. I was fueling every mile now. Small bites. I was fighting fatigue in a big way. My ankle hurt. My hips hurt. I should have gotten my ankle taped but I didn’t realize that was an option. I pushed through. My pace slowed. I walked a little every mile. Not much. I tried to use the breaks to fuel. A couple times when I walked I felt my left quad start to cramp. But it would stop when I ran again. Those last few miles were brutal. I won’t say they were the hardest miles I’ve ever run, because they weren’t. But they weren’t the easiest either. Not by a long shot.
As I turned the corner and started up the incline at mile 24 I heard another runner, who had held pace with the 4:10 group for a long time before that, say, “here comes the 4:20 pacer.” I summoned everything in myself. I was not going to be passed by him. He did catch up to me. He encouraged me. “You got this dude.” “Almost there.” As we neared the 26 mile mark someone asks him why he doesn’t sprint out the last bit. He responds, “I wish this guy would. I know he can.” (Or something to that effect.) We turn the last corner. Less than a quarter mile to go. I was a faint decline in elevation. I summoned every last ounce I had. I was going to beat the 4:20 mark. It felt like a full on, dead-out, balls-to-the-wall sprint. In reality it was about an 8:30 pace. I came in with an official time of 4:19:46. A full 10 minutes faster than my first marathon. If hadn’t been for the pacer, I wouldn’t have made it below that 20 minute mark. It wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but sometimes running is as much about the little victories as the big ones.
At the finish was another of my old PT therapists. She gave me a high-five and asked about my knee. My knee was fine. My head was a little woozy. Fortunately the refreshment area was the best stocked I’ve ever seen at a race. Oranges, bananas, chocolate milk, and much, much more. It was amazing. I hung out with other running friends, took a few pictures. Laughed. Almost cried.
Once I caught my breath I realized that I could hardly move my left leg and I couldn’t bend the knee at all from the cramp in my inner quad (VMO). I made my way to a conference room where they were advertising massages from a local spa center. There were about a dozen tables set up, but almost 4 times that many people waiting to get a rub down. As I hobbled along, holding on to whatever I could find, a kind woman saw me and led me back to a different area with only 4 tables being operated by neuromuscular therapists. These guys were serious. Here there was only one person in front of me waiting to get beat on. They gave me a chair and some ice. Soon I got a table. For a few minutes I thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. But when I got up I felt like a new person. My muscles still didn’t want to move me around, but at they weren’t trying to kill me anymore. I went out and grabbed my free beer (Fat Tire!), cheered some runners in, and waited for my wife to come pick me up
The Bass Pro Conservation Marathon was an amazing race. The level of organization was stellar. The aid stations were well stocked and run by amazing volunteers. The crowd support was absolutely incredible, and the whole attitude and atmosphere were the most positive I’ve ever experienced at a race. It was truly a great experience.