Posted by: David Stewart | October 2, 2010

St George Marathon – May the Course be With You

Parental warning: There are some rather non-PG rated bathroom oriented details below. Those with sensitive dispositions should just skip the whole thing and go on to the next blog post. KTHXBYE. OK, I warned you.

If you scroll down though, I have included some training tips for running the St George Marathon and its uniquely challenging and quad-busting course.

Upon the advice of the guy giving the excellent "Newbie" Seminar, I will tell you that I ran a 2:99 in today’s St George Marathon.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that.

Last spring when I was thinking about my next marathon, my coach told me I might be able to improve my aerobic conditioning by another 10% and run a 3:20 marathon, better than my previous best of last December of 3:29.

So I got in the lottery for the St George Marathon and got in this year’s race. But to make a long story short, the training was terrible this summer, so my coach told me to treat this race like a long training run, and if I want to stop, just stop.

The metropolitan area of St George has about 170,000 residents, but it boasts the 13th largest marathon in the country, which is capped at 7400 runners. And in spite of the small size of the city, the marathon is probably the best organized race I have ever run.

The course is a major draw – it’s a point-to-point race that drops a net of 2600 feet. This makes for some pretty dramatic drops through some amazing canyons. But consider what they offer at the start of the race:

  • Bus service from the finish line – this is pretty much standard.
  • The "dry bag" for you to stash your warm-up gear was handed out at registration (pretty standard) but your race bib had  a pre-printed sticker on it to put on the bag with your race number on it. Spiffy! The race bib had the timing chip and my name pre-printed on it, so they were likely pretty expensive
  • There were big searchlights sweeping the sky at the start, like a Hollywood premier
  • The flags of all 50 states were flying and all of the countries represented in the race
  • The aid station at the start had coffee, hot chocolate, water, Gatorade, bananas, sun screen and lube.
  • Mylar blankets were handed to all runners; they were brilliant about it too, pre-scrunching it to make them easier to hand out 
  • There was a score of bonfires to keep runners warm.

If I had any quibble, I didn’t find any logical place to do a warm-up run before the race.

The expo was fantastic, bigger I think than the Portland marathon.

At race’s end, there was not as much food as Portland, but there was Blue Bunny ice cream, McDonalds orange drink (hey, it was icy and good) and Great Harvest bread besides fruit and other stuff.

The race medal was really unique – literally made of polished stone. This makes each one a unique color pattern.

My plan, such as it was, involved running about an 8:30 pace which is pretty comfortable for a long run. Once I got up to the line, the plan instantly switched to keeping my heart rate at a comfortable 150 unless there was an uphill.

And oh yes, there were some hills to climb! The course breaks down roughly like this:

  • First quarter: Rolling up and downhills, with a net drop.
  • Second quarter: Mile 7 to 14 starts with a dramatic 200 foot climb up a volcanic cinder cone, and the rest of this stretch is a long uphill.
  • Third quarter: starts a net 2000 foot drop to the finish, and you start with a big drop. There is another small uphill pop at mile 18
  • Last quarter is a less severe downhill, and as you get into town it’s mostly flat

So my plan actually worked pretty well, and I found myself in front of the 3:40 pace group and they were running about a minute ahead of pace. About mile 16 or so, the pace group leader stepped on something which must have injured him, because he handed the pace balloons to a Marathon Maniac who was in the group. How about that? The Maniacs save the day.

I was starting to think that against all odds, I might actually requalify in this race, which would have been pretty sad. But from deep in my bowels, a different reality emerged. With the early start, I was sadly unable to do a serious dump, even right before the race. Sure enough, my carbs from the previous day would not be denied. So at mile 18, I stopped at the porta-john and had a rather explosive elimination. Ah, but that made running a little more comfortable.

With that, I wasn’t expecting to see the 3:40 group again, but kept on my plan. Sure enough, the pace group showed up in the distance, so I used them as a rabbit and reeled them in. By the last two miles, I decided "what the heck" and pushed my heart rate up to 157 and jammed it in. By the end of the race, it was incredibly hot, and that ice cream was really good.

So how well can I do in a marathon-length run with really poor training? Of course, not qualify for Boston, but evidently I only missed it by about 3 minutes.

Cool factor: there were a lot of runners with "Just Shuffle" on their singlets. I found out later that it was in honor of a young lady who had gotten in an accident and had recovered enough to run – and I met this person at the finish, so she did pretty well!

Not so cool factor: the heat really took its toll. I counted maybe a half dozen runners who collapsed in the heat, and that was just the people I saw on the course.

Sorry to bury the lead here, but if you do want to run St George, it is amazingly beautiful and incredibly well organized, but some things to train for:

  • Uphills – don’t scrimp on those hill repeats. There is enough of a hill climb that you will thank me if you do.
  • Downhills – there are some real quad-busting downhills, so it’s good to run enough of these to get your technique down so you don’t bust yourself up. Fortunately, if you do hill repeats, there are downhills after the uphills. Better run them.
  • Heat – unusually warm this year? Maybe. But they are prepared pretty well with misters and cold towels, so you should try to acclimatize
  • Cold – the first few miles are usually in the low 40s
  • Altitude – the start is about a mile high, respect the ‘tude, Dude.

As my new hooded sweatshirt says – "May the Course Be WIth You".

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