Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon (my first BQ!)

View from the race start.

In late 2014 I set a goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I was still a fairly newbie marathoner at the time - less than a year out from my first marathon... but the marathon bug had spiraled quickly for me, running 8 more marathons that year and having fun along the way. The Boston Qualifying time for Women ages 18-35 is 3 hours and 35 minutes. My first marathon had been 4:26:45, but I had progressed up to a 4:03:10 within just a few months, so I felt that with consistent training I could get there.

Long story short, it ended up being a lot harder to get there than I thought. Right after I set the goal, I trained extremely hard for my first couple of attempts in 2015. I ran an amazing first race of the year in 3:41:35 and figured that meant I could get my time down to sub-3:35 in no time... boy was I mistaken. In my target race later that year, I ended up on the side of the road puking at Mile 21 and finishing in 3:59:10... In 2016 I trained okay (not as strong as the year before, but I had put in the miles) and thought surely I could at least PR... another bad race. 2017 was a pretty good training cycle but I still ended up missing a PR by 40 seconds...

Nevertheless it remained a goal I would continue to work towards, while also pursuing other running goals and races along the way (like my first 100 miler). Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon is put on by the same company that does Revel Rockies, a race I had now ran twice and mostly enjoyed. They specialize in scenic, downhill races, which can be fast and fun and which I actually do pretty well at. Mt. Charleston, just outside of Las Vegas, is considered one of their faster courses and at only a 7 hour drive from home I thought it would be fun to try, and a make for a nice mini vacation. It had sold out in past years so I registered early, last June, and put it on the back burner until late December when my training plan would start.

While I knew this was a fast course, I also knew that I still needed to put in the work. A downhill course might help you out, but it's definitely not going to get you all the way there unless you put in the training to be able to sustain the effort. Therefore, I decided to use Hal Higdon's Advanced training plan, modifying it just slightly to meet my needs. I wrote out my plan, focusing on my hardest workouts being Friday (marathon paced runs getting up to 12 miles) and Saturday (long runs getting up to 22 miles). I knew my biggest advantages would be to get comfortable running 8:00 minute miles again and to train my quads to be able to endure the downhill, so my plan was to do my Marathon Paced runs on flat ground (in a hope that when I ran them on the downhill on race day they would feel much easier), and then to do my easy paced long runs on a downhill route to get my quads ready. Aside from one week off that I took to go to Paris in January, I did a pretty good job consistently following my plan and could definitely tell I was making serious progress.

Nevertheless my past marathon failings still left me pretty nervous throughout my taper and going into race weekend. I did my best to stay off social media as much as I could (it just makes me more nervous when people tell me "oh you'll for sure do it!" - because there are no guarantees in a race!), and ended up instead spending my time reading. In the three taper weeks leading up to the race, I read several books including "Boston Bound" by Elizbeth Clor (the story of someone who spent 7 years trying to qualify) and "Let Your Mind Run" by legendary Deena Kastor. She touches on how much your attitude can effect your running and I couldn't put it down. I also turned to my bible, really drawing to a specific verse as my mantra for this race - "Have I not commanded You? Be Strong and Courageous" (Joshua 1:9). Even though I've heard this verse many times, something about it struck a cord with me this time around and I definitely pulled from it in the later miles of this marathon.

We headed to the race on Friday morning, leaving around 8:30am and rolling into Las Vegas around 3:30pm - just in time to sit in about an hour of traffic! Nevertheless, we eventually made it to the race expo where I picked up my race packet, pre-paid for Medal Engraving (hoping that would keep me motivated to keep my pace up when the going got tough), and then headed to an early dinner for some carb loading at Olive Garden. After that, we headed to our hotel (New York New York on the Strip) to attempt to get some sleep before my 2:00am alarm went off (yep, you read that right...2 AM!).

Driving through the San Rafael Swell in Utah along the way.

My #FlatRunner all ready for race morning!

I got an extremely restless night of sleep before getting up a few minutes after 2:00, quickly got ready, and left the hotel around 2:45, stopping at the Starbucks in the Casino for my $4.50 tall black coffee. We had around a 30 minute drive to the race start and got there right at 3:30am when the buses started loading (they loaded from 3:30 to 4:30 but since I wasn't familiar with the area I wanted to give us plenty of time to get there). After sitting in the car for a few minutes, I hopped on the second or third bus and started nervously eating my bagel and drinking my coffee as we made the 45 minute bus ride to the race start at the Mt. Charleston Lodge. One of the best things about this race was that the lodge actually allowed us to wait inside and out of the cold before the start which was extremely nice of them. They also had coffee, hot chocolate and banana's for sale which was amazing! I actually had wanted to buy a banana for my pre-race snack but forgot, so I of course bought one and made sure to tip generously since they were putting up with all of us runners at 4:30 in the morning! After nervously chatting with some people and cycling through the bathroom multiple times, it was finally time to head outside and make my way towards the start line

I love these tattoos by "Conscious Ink"

Beautiful sunrise as we waited for the start!

Making our way to the start line.

The start line was fairly narrow and the pacers were lined up a little odd - with the 3:35 pacer next to the 3:15 pacer. I figured, I might as well play it safe and push myself pretty far up so I could hopefully run freely from the get-go. I was planning on Mile 1 being one of my slowest due to a short uphill section, but I still didn't want to also have to expend extra energy weaving around people as well. A few minutes after 6:00, the gun went off and I crossed the mat a few seconds later.

As expected, Mile 1 was slow as I warmed up and made sure to take the first hill extremely easy. I knew there was absolutely no reason to push any uphills in the early miles. This was a fast course and I had plenty of downhill to make up for the uphills. My pace band had said to run Mile 1 in 8:23. I ran it in 8:26.

After the uphill of Mile 1, I settled into what felt like a good, sustainable pace - not too easy, but nothing to where I felt like I was working hard... this left me surprised to see Mile 2 come in at 7:36. That seemed very fast...but I wasn't working hard - it was obviously the effect of having gravity on my side (combined with race day adrenaline I'm sure!). I've heard a lot of differing opinions on how to pace this course and whether or not it was smart to "bank time". Most races you don't want to rely on this method, however, this course got significantly harder towards the end with the heat and a flat / uphill finish (mostly flat, with 1 uphill at Mile 24). Therefore, I decided to focus not on the mile times, but instead on how I was feeling. I would only "bank time" if it felt easy and would mostly focus on making sure I wasn't pushing too hard. This led to some variety in my splits as the course ebbed and flowed in how steep the downhills were as well as mixed in a few short uphills. Miles 3-6 came in at 7:38, 7:37, 7:55, 7:48, and I crossed the 1st Quarter Timing Mat in 51:42, with an average pace of 7:53. I had a feeling anyone tracking me would think I was going too fast, but I knew I physically felt very relaxed and in control so I just maintained it running 7-10 in 7:39, 7:37, 7:42, 8:04.

The aid stations were located approximately every 2 miles, and I knew I needed to make sure to drink Poweraid and not just water since it was going to be a hot day. I decided my strategy would be to alternate between drinking water and Poweraid at every other station. I usually like to mix the two together (to help water down the Poweraid), but that adds a bit of time, especially with how congested the aid stations seemed to be, so this new solution of every other seemed to work out okay. I had my first gel at Mile 5, followed by a banana at 9, and another gel at 11. Overall I still felt very good as I ran the next few miles in 7:55, 7:57, 7:57, crossing the half way mat in 1:43:31.

I was now half-way through the race and definitely on pace to BQ... that being said, I knew I still had a long ways to go and anything can happen (my big BQ attempt in 2015 went amazing until mile 18.5!). I tried to mentally tell myself that this was a brand new Half Marathon that I was just starting. All I had to do was 13.1 at 8:00 pace. My lungs felt like they could handle this but I'm not sure my legs were convinced after 13.1 miles of downhill pounding. Nevertheless, I kept at it, running miles 14 through 17 in 7:38, 7:49, 7:54, 7:49. Meanwhile, the temperatures had really started to increase, especially as we got lower in elevation. I started the race in a T-Shirt, Gloves, and Arm Warmers, although I really didn't even need the gloves or arm warmers as I shed them only a mile in. By now I could definitely feel the heat creeping up. There was also quite a bit of wind, but thanks to the downhill gravity, I didn't feel like it was hindering me too much, and more that it was actually helping me from getting too hot.

Around Mile 18 I still felt really good with the exception of my quads which were starting to burn from all of the downhill. I've done a lot of downhill races though and had been expecting this, so I just focused on holding my pace, running 18-21 in 7:43, 7:43, 7:46, 7:43 (and crossing the third quarter timing mat in 2:34:12). At mile 21, we turned off of Kyle Canyon Road, the main road we had been running, and started our last 5 miles into town.

I knew from reading the race description and past runners' reports that these last 5 were going to be hard. The course really flattens out and then you have an uphill section at Mile 24. However, as I turned off at Mile 21, I still felt really good. My effort was getting a little harder, but we only had 5 miles to go so I picked it up running Mile 22 as one of my fastest splits of the day at 7:38. Unfortunately, the adrenaline of making it to the turn only lasted so long. Right after 22, things got really hard, really fast. All of a sudden it was STIFLING hot. I went from being okay to just sweating buckets. I've always been really self conscious about my stomach but I decided I didn't care - I took off my shirt and ran the last few miles in my sports bra. I figured, while, yes I would probably still cringe at the race photos down the road, I also wanted to be proud of this body that was getting me to the finish line of my first BQ.

As I figured, I had slowed slightly in Mile 23, running an 8:06, but the next mile is where it really started taking a turn for the worse. Mile 24 was the last uphill and as I started up it I officially wanted to die... Okay, so maybe I'm being a little dramatic... The uphill was gradual but felt so, so long and never ending. I had grabbed Poweraid at the last aid station and it had left my mouth so incredibly dry. That combined with the torturous, stifling heat, and the uphill left me wanting to stop and walk so, so bad... that being said, I really suck at math and figuring out how my pace is going to effect my finish time when I'm this far into a race... I was actually fairly confident I could BQ at this point even if I did slow a little...but I wasn't sure by how much. I mostly just knew that if I lost out on a BQ because I walked this hill, I would never, ever forgive myself. Not to mention the fact that you don't automatically get into Boston just because you reach the qualifying time. Nope - they actually only accept the top qualifiers. For example, last year you had to be faster than your qualifying time by 3 minutes and 23 seconds. Therefore I kept telling myself to just keep pushing as hard as you could so you didn't waste anymore time...

As much as I wanted to keep my pace up, my legs felt like they weren't moving. I ran Mile 24 in 9:00 even, my slowest mile of the race. 2.2 miles to go I told myself. Just. Keep. Moving. One foot in front of the other. Mile 25 was 8:46...At the "one mile to go" timing mat I finally took a good hard look at my watch (because the pace for 1 mile was the only thing my brain could calculate at that point). 3 hours, 20 minutes and change.... Wow, I was going to do it. I was ACTUALLY going to qualify... that all being said, my brain still couldn't really focus on that yet. It was like I was in survival mode to get to the finish line...  A couple miles earlier when I was still feeling good around Mile 21 I had these grand plans that I was going to run the last mile hard but energized, motivating everyone else and telling any ladies around me that we were all going to be Boston Qualifiers (because I'm in the youngest age group - so any women running under 3:35 would have qualified). I played it all out in my head.... So what actually happened this last mile? Well aside from it being the absolute LONGEST mile of my life (seriously), I don't even remember. All I could focus on was getting to that finish line. I was so mentally dead. My dream self was going to put my arms up as I crossed the finish line...but no, I crossed the finish line and the only thing I remember was the announcer saying something about how "here comes someone in their underwear" (because I was just wearing a sports bra)... my thoughts were, "Seriously?" People run in sports bras all the time... But aside from that small annoyance (that of course I'll never forget), I was too worn out to really care all that much. I crossed the line in 3:28:33 and immediately just pulled off to the side of the finishers chute to catch my breath.

I knew I had done it...but the reality of it still didn't sink in. I grabbed my medal, an ice soaked towel (seriously the BEST thing ever after a hot race), and a water bottle and made my way over to a curb in the shade where I sat down. It wasn't until I sat down that I was truly able to think straight and let it sink in that I had done it... I had Qualified for the Boston Marathon! And not just qualified... I had finished with OVER 6 minutes to spare!!! Leading up to this race it was always a possibility. I had trained really hard this season and only missed a couple of workouts over the span of 20 weeks. I put in the long marathon paced runs, I put in 3 x 20+ milers, and speedwork almost every week. I had lost 12 pounds. I had gotten a really good taper in and was running on fresh legs. I knew it was a possibility... but I've also had so many races where I trained hard and walked away without the outcome I had wanted. I didn't want that to happen again so I started this race extremely cautious. But finally for the first time in 3 1/2 years I got the outcome I had been after. People say that the harder something is to achieve, the sweeter the reward. I'd say a PR by 13 minutes and BQ by 6 minutes and 27 seconds was a pretty sweet reward!

Race Stats:
Race: Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon
Date: 04/28/2018
Distance: 26.2 Miles (my Garmin clocked it at 26.32)
Weather: Warm - high 40's at the start, high 70's by the end
Gun Time: 3:28:50
Chip Time: 3:28:33
Overall Place: 244 of 1467
Gender Place: 53 of 757
Age Group (F25-29) Place: 6 of 29

Race Splits / Placement: I am honestly so proud of my placement progress, even though I slowed in the last 4 miles. I continued to make progress in terms of my placement throughout the entire race, which means other people were clearly fading too! I went from 475th placed in the first quarter to 244 at the finish!

Elevation Profile

Course Map

What I liked and What Worked:
  • Course: This was a beautiful course. I had no idea before signing up for this race that there were 11,000' peaks outside of Las Vegas. The starting line was beautiful. The race course progressed from gorgeous alpine scenery to a gorgeous desert scene with cacti and palm trees. I really did love it. The downhill was great as well - a very nice descent, not overly steep, and there weren't even a lot of curves/switchbacks like Revel Rockies has in Colorado (that being said - be prepared for your quads to start burning from the repeated pounding).
  • Fueling: I started using "Huma" gels and I LOVE them. I feel like I finally found a gel I can stomach during races! (I'll still probably stick to "real" food in ultra's, but finding a good gel for fast road races makes me very happy!).
  • Training: I think it's safe to say my training plan worked. I used Hal Higdon's Advanced 1 (I also added in speedwork every week instead of alternating as it suggests). Not only did I have a fast race, but in general I know I've gotten faster. My easy pace has increased by about a minute per mile.
  • Revel Races: This was my third race I've ran put on by Revel and I once again was impressed. They really do a great job - lots of communication up front about logistics, beautiful courses, great swag (this year we got a shirt, hat, free race pictures), and a great finish line area with real food and beer. My only complaint was that I wish they had more shady areas for runners to recover since it was SO hot when we got done.

Dislikes / What Didn't Work:
  • Weather: it was HOT this year. They started the race an hour earlier than previous years and thank goodness! It was 75 degrees when I got done without a single cloud in the sky. Also, the entire race is ran directly into the direct sun, so be prepared for that! 
  • Lodging: If I were to do this race again, I don't know that I'd stay on the Las Vegas Strip. It was just such a hassle driving from there and I had to drive to the Expo and the race start. I'm also not a huge "Vegas" person in general, so I could see if I did it again staying somewhere further out and making it more of a relaxing trip, separate from the traditional Las Vegas atmosphere.

How cool are the "Boston Bound" luggage tags that they gave out to anyone who qualified!

Post-race Shaved Ice with the hubs - this was AMAZING after the race!

The only medal I've had engraved :) 

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