I like to pick my running races depending on scenery, and since I had never been to the Death Valley before, I had decided to race the Death Valley Borax Marathon in early November 2013. This was my first marathon and for that my goal was simply to finish and to run at a decent pace. Having had focused on cycling for the past two months I really hadn’t put the miles in on my knees as I should have, but I knew I could at least complete 20miles without dying.
The Death Valley Marathon started at 8am and I happily finished with an official time of 3:27:35 which qualified me for the Boston Marathon and placed me 1st for the women’s field and 4th overall. Even though the course profile looked very flat, it wasn’t an easy race. When the race began, I quickly slid into 7th place as the tempo seemed just right for the approaching steady first climb. Putting my biking hill climbing skills to use, I passed 2 guys in front of me on the hill and eased into a comfortable pace in 4th place. I had 5 GU gels on me but still stopped at every aid station to keep hydrated. We all quickly noticed that hydration was essential as the sun came out and the wind picked up. There was a strong headwind for the first 13.1 mi, and the wind in combination with the increasing warmth from the sun, zapped up sweat before it got a chance to run down my skin.
This guy with a Camelbak passed me at the first aid station (3 mi marker) as I stopped to drink some Gatorade. I picked up my pace to fall into his step and used him to avoid the gust of wind as much as possible. Drafting comes in handy even when you’re on your foot-mobile and not your bike! Honestly I don’t recall what happened to my drafting man, but somehow I was back to being ahead of him at mile 7 or so. Then this couple passed me and I could tell they were on a mission, and I was keen to find out what exactly it was. They set a steady 7:46-7:50min/mi pace so I tagged along. Having two people in front of you was even better than one, especially since they enjoyed to both get hit by the wind, so it was even less wind for me Or so I thought. From miles 10-14 the wind was coming from the side, so it really didn’t matter if someone was in front or not, but the pace was still steady.
After the turn-around point, we had to run with our backs to traffic and a few times I felt like the cars came a bit too close to us runners. There was maybe a foot-wide shoulder but that’s not enough when you have runners 3 deep. Occasionally runners would step off the road and run in the gravel strip along the road, but I stayed on the paved road the entire race. At mile 18 dehydration set in. I stopped at the aid station, gulped down 3 cups of Gatorade, splashed 2 cups of water on my face, 1 down my back and had my second to last GU as I raced to get back to my previous 7:50min/mi pace. At that point the couple split up. The guy couldn’t stick to his wife and so she was trailing me by a good 20 seconds. I tried to simply maintain my speed which was working until mile 22. That’s when I really started to struggle. There were two more small rolling hills ahead and the last steeper hill which then led back down and to the finish line. Huffing and puffing I went from a 7:39min/mi pace for mi 25, to 8:16min/mi for mi 26 over the hill,
I’m happy about my placement and all, but moreover I’m happy to say I finished a marathon and qualified for Boston on my first try. If I really wanted to get a competitive finish time I’d definitely have to put some more time into running, which I could do if I wanted to. I don’t know if my knees are up for it anymore though after all those years of pounding them to rubble on the basketball court (and the injuries they had to endure). Maybe I’ll try to run the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Full or 1/2 Marathon June 1st or the San Francisco one July 27th. We’ll see…that’s all still far off into the future.