05
Apr
16

Marathon No. 6: Road trip

Living in New England and Montana my entire life, I had never considered a winter marathon. When you move across the country, however, things change.

Spending more than a day in the car in order to reach a destination became fairly routine.

When living in New England, I could reach most places within three hours. Out West, you won’t get far without piling up the miles.

A new friend I had met in Bozeman – John Dudas, who once lived in Framingham – pitched the Las Vegas Marathon to me one night. We checked the distance on a map and saw that it would take the better part of a day to get there. The race was the last Sunday in January – wise planning on their part since it was the Sunday between the NFL conference championship games and the Super Bowl.

We left Bozeman in the dark … and arrived in Vegas well after dark. It was a 17-hour drive. Good on the way down, not so for the way back.

Back then (2005), the Vegas Marathon started in the town of Jean and made its way into the city. (It now starts and ends in Vegas and runs along the famous “Strip” and is held in December).

Jean, Nevada, from what I witnessed, consists of a highway with two casino/hotels on either side. And little else. One of the hotels was in the shape of a cruise ship. Ours was more like a hotel from the outside.

Inside, the casino took up much of the bottom floor. People gambled all day and all night. And they smoked, too.

It was rather ironic to see all these runners walking around the lobby with smoke wafting up to the ceiling. What a contrast.

The best part of staying at a casino is the prices. Everything is cheap. Our pre-race pasta meal was $6.99.

We had all day Saturday to sightsee. It was maybe 65 degrees and cloudy.

But we kept hearing about a gusty wind that was forecast for Sunday.

The race started early, and of course an Elvis impersonator was on hand. It was sunny, but not a puff of wind. It was forecast to blow 15 to 25 mph and come out of the north.

And the course ran almost due north.

Conditions were calm when the gun sounded, however. A false sense of security set in. Maybe the wind would hold off until the afternoon.

I started off strong and was feeling great over the first 10 miles. I got into such a groove that I tried to hold a 6:45 pace from the outset, something I had never dared attempt.

Each time I hit a mile marker, I figured out what I’d need for the next mile to hold that pace. Since adding 6:45 to the time on my watch was a bit much for my brain, I simply added seven minutes and subtracted 15 seconds. Somehow that was easier to configure.

And I just kept hitting my splits.

If I needed to be at 46:15 at Mile 7, just as I was approaching the mile marker, it was 46:13 …46:14 … 46:15. And on it went.

At about Mile 9, I felt a brief gust of wind. Nothing too strong, but a sign of things to come.

I hit halfway at 1:27, the fastest 13.1-mile split I’ve ever done in a marathon. But the wind began to get stronger with every mile. It was starting to hold me back at Mile 16. One of the steel sandwich-board-style mile markers set up along the road was blown over. I tried drafting off other runners, but it didn’t seem to help.

I had remembered that at Mile 19, there was a turn.

If I could only get away from this pace-killing head wind.

At one point, I ran past a small stage with instruments set up. There wasn’t a musician in sight. And the only sound emanating from the area came from just next to the drum kit: the tingle of chimes.

If I could only get to Mile 19 and get out of this constant gust.

Relief finally came with a hard right-hand turn. The switch was turned off. I ran without restraint.

For a block.

It wasn’t 200 feet before the course took another turn – a left. Right back into the wind.

I tried not to fight the wind, but it completely drained me. The next miles – like it always is when you get past 20 – were rough.

By the time I took a right at Mile 23 and hit the main drag with its palm trees and condos, I was crispy.

Toast.

And miserable.

Our race bibs had our first name under the number, so spectators were calling out names. I always try to acknowledge such encouragement, but these final miles were brutal. I barely could get my hand in the air to signal “thanks” when I heard my name.

I still finished with a solid time – 3:03 – despite the wind.

But I’ll always wonder what could have been if conditions were more favorable.

The ride home was long with tired legs. We did do some traveling that night, but a 13-hour tour awaited the next day. Stiff legs are inevitable after a marathon, but upon arriving back in Bozeman Monday night, it was a chore to fold myself out of the back seat.

The experience was a positive one. Nothing beats Boston, but after the heat from the previous year, it was a plus to run well twice in a row. I planned to use my time from Vegas for another run at Boston, but not before another small-town marathon in late summer….

 

 

 

 

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