Leading Ladies 26.2- No Boys Allowed!

The second race of my birthday double was Leading Ladies Marathon in Spearfish, SD. After 26.2 in Wyoming, I made the 7 hour drive, making it a point to eat, drink, and stretch as much as possible along the way. I didn't end up getting to my hotel until 8:30pm, which really isn't ideal marathon preparation…but then again neither is running a marathon the day before. 

The race director, Elaine, had arranged for my race packet and bib to be waiting for me at the hotel since I couldn't make the expo. I was able to thank her face to face; she had all of the enthusiasm and charm I pictured in our months of email correspondence. It takes special people to put on events like this.  

Break out the arm warmers (in August!)
I have always enjoyed the running camaraderie shared with other women, making this race- an all female marathon- especially unique. If that didn’t have “Suzy” written all over it, the fact that everything race related was either pink or floral did. If you know me, you understand that I’m as girly as they come. Case in point: the glittery tiara I wore on my head for this race to commemorate my 30th birthday and marathon state.

We caught a 4 am bus to the 6 am start of the point to point course, an expereince very reminiscent of Boston Marathon.  During the half hour ride, there was a ton of chatter, positive energy, and excitement. I really enjoyed meeting the women around me, including my seatmate who is aiming for her 10th Marathon Maniac star by running 52 marathons in 2011. Without a doubt, you always find someone at these events who has more aggressive goals than you do.

The race began at 6000' elevation with one small climb (seemed small to me anyway, given the ascents in my last 2 marathons) up "Cyclone Hill" and then begins a gentle downhill that continued for the next 25 miles. Bad news for my blistered feet and fried quads from the day prior. Good news for the possibility of adding a state to my stretch goal efforts within 50 sub 4 Marathon Club.

Dances with Wolves was filmed in this area; it's pretty safe to assume there were no fancy computer effects- this course offered a tranquil setting and absolutely breathtaking view for the entire run: massive cliffs, rugged rock formations, moss draped spruce trees, wild flowers in full bloom, and grassy marsh areas. Canyon walls we passed through are said to be older than the Grand Canyon itself. Gorgeous!

Having trained in 90 degrees and high humidity, mid 40s temperatures felt like running heaven. I wore arm warmers, a headwrap, and fashioned an extra pair of socks into gloves. Thorlo hands kept me from giving a lot of my signature thumbs up, but they were necessary to stay warm. Lost in cool temps and gorgeous scenery, 13.1 miles arrived at 2:05 before I knew it. Provided I ran a negative split (second half faster than first half. You're welcome, non-running friends!), sub 4 hours would happen.

Want to capture an overwhelming amount of spectator support? Wear a tiara on your head. I have done everything from 'SUZY' in big bold letters on my shirt to running in costume, but nothing compares with the buzz that silly crown created.  "Birthday girl!", "30! 30! 30!", and even a full chorus of Happy Birthday (using "runner" where the name would normally go) made me feel very special.

The tiara stayed on the entire time
Around mile 20, my bad self started offering excuses as to why I couldn't maintain the pace, with an overwhelming focus on "I ran 26.2 miles yesterday". The good thing about making a living as a health coach is that you are constantly teaching positive self talk as a coping technique. Practicing what I preach, out loud and in affirmation format (!), I went through the list of things in my favor.  Ridiculous? Yes...but it eventually led to the understanding that nobody who was giving 100% felt good at this point, no matter when their last marathon was. For some reason, that was a boost.

I finished this race in 3:55:48, earning that negative split, 2nd in my new age group, and solidifying an overall time for both races that was 5 minutes faster than in 2008, when my double marathons were on pancake flat courses at sea level. THAT is how you celebrate a birthday...!
AG award was a spruce candle holder that Pavel tried to eat

Run (UP to & then) With The Horses Marathon

For the last two years, I’ve been getting smoked by 22 and 23 year olds fresh off the college track team in the “Under 29” age group, so to say I have been excited about hitting 30 would be an understatement. The only way to run state number 30 over my 30th birthday weekend (because that is just too cool!) was to do a double- 26.2 miles on Saturday, then another full marathon on Sunday.

...and that's elevation at the START!

The distance itself was not a concern- my only distinct advantage in this sport isn’t speed, but the ability to recover quickly and be consistent. I’ve done back to back marathons once before for state #13 and state #14 in 2008. The challenge? Both races are high elevation, beginning above 6000', making altitude sickness a valid concern for someone who lives at sea level and has barely ever stepped foot above 7000’- much less try to run a marathon up there.

This was bound to happen sooner or later in my quest for all 50 states; unfortunately, I chose these races based on the calendar and didn’t even look at elevation charts until 2 weeks prior. My confidence was in the toilet going into Saturday’s event, Run With The Horses Marathon in Green River, WY.

After a briefing on snake safety by the RD, a very small field of less than 100 began the race at 6100'. As a preventative measure, I used my inhaler just before and wore a fuel belt for access to extra hydration. The design of the course was an “up and back”. Flatlanders are more familiar with “out and back”, meaning you run 13.1 out before turning around and coming home for the full 26.2. However, this is Wyoming and we were definitely climbing UP before heading back down to finish.

There were a handful of Marathon Maniacs at this race, including a friend from Running Club North in Fairbanks. I had a race strategy session/dinner with Erika, who I described as "late 30s, 40 at the most" prior to this trip, and her husband Peter the night before. Turns out she's 50. And fast. We were able to share the first 2 miles, my fastest of the day at 8:20 pace, before she blew past me and hustled her way to 2nd overall- just behind a very talented 20-something. It goes without saying, but I want to be Erika in 20 years- a gorgeous, talented athlete with a willingness to share earned knowledge with others.

At the 5K mark, we had already gained 1000’ and spent much of the next few miles on rolling hills at 5-6 % grades between 7300 and 7500’.  Going into this race, I was all sorts of concerned about my breathing...but that didn't turn out to be the challenge at all. The most painful part of dealing with the elevation? Ears popping, followed by a dull headache, and minor nosebleed around mile 10. The most interesting part? When my brand new, very full tube of lip gloss expanded and EXPLODED. Inside my sports bra.

A slower pace gave me the ability to enjoy the beauty of the course. We were running across the White Mountains, high enough to overlook some of the most breathtaking canyons I've ever seen (sorry, Arizona). There is never really any guarantee the area's wild horses, namesake of the race, will be out- this year they were everywhere. I saw the first herd around mile 5 and almost every mile or so thereafter until mile 18. It was awesome to see them grazing and even running across the plains and past the rock formations along the canyon. I'm still kicking myself for not taking a camera.

The RD suggested adding 45-60 minutes to typical marathon times and I could see why. If the high desert elevation didn't get you, going uphill for 13 miles in a fierce headwind would. The Suzy Sunshine in me thought, "at least we'll have a tailwind coming back down!", but you guessed it: the wind changed direction by that time. There was little shade, as this area is considered high plains desert, so I was grateful for the low humidity when the sun came out during the later miles.

I had this grand plan to save my quads on the final downhill miles for the following day’s marathon, but in the moment that sounded dumb so I used gravity to my advantage. I was screwed for the next day, anyway- my road shoes were filled with small pieces of gravel the entire race; I could already feel the blisters that had formed. This is a sore spot for me: 40+ reviews on marathonguide for this race with plenty of detail about shirts and medals, but nobody suggested trail shoes and/or gaiters. 

Horseshoe was a bit heavy for my model's neck
Crossing the line in 4:26:38 (just outside an hour from my PR; they were dead on re: estimating time), I earned 4th female overall and a 1st place finish in my new age group! As promised, the medal was super and the AG award was an actual bronzed horseshoe.

The calendar certainly worked in my favor- this was the perfect Wyoming. There was a time when I looked for flat, fast race options only. While there is something to be said for testing speed, with that strategy you miss total jewels like this.

State #29 was, hands down, the most beautiful setting I have ever run in and seeing the wild horses was definitely worth the challenging climb.