Thursday, October 29, 2009

SLCM 2008

I signed up to run another marathon about a month back. I begin my two digit long runs in a few days and thought it would be good to remember what an actual marathon was like. I ran the Salt Lake City marathon in 2008 (it was my first marathon) and had written up a short report of it that I include bellow. (originally from 22 April 2008)

I ran the Salt Lake City Marathon this Saturday. It was my first marathon so my impressions are void of any comparisons between this and any other marathon. I’m writing this while my legs still feel the last bits of ache from the effort. I still remember the look in the eye of the volunteers who passed me half full cups of water as well as those who passed me cups that were half empty. I also wanted to write this out as an antidote to the ribbing and some heartfelt sympathy that I have gotten from people I know who do not think I finished. The timers of the Salt Lake City Marathon misfiled the results for the last 116 finishers (about 10% of the field) and have not replied to my numerous e-mails not only asking them to fix the problem but telling them how they could.


The race weather should have been perfect. Cloud cover, 50F, moderate humidity, not unlike a standard issue perfect Salt Lake City spring day. When the race started I felt a great leap of adrenaline up under the legacy bridge I could see heads begin to bob up and down. A couple of minutes later the crowd around me began to move. Then it stopped. Then it began to move again. We passed the speaker stack and the booming undifferentiated sound moved my viscera in ways indistinguishable from excitement. Still running slowly (The only speed I really run at) I passed my cheering family my oldest daughter began to run along side me on the outside of the barricades. By the time she stopped I was smiling with sense I had not achieved at any time on any training run.

The course is mostly flat feeling with one impressive mile plus drop at about mile fourish. There are some ups and downs other than the big drop but the wind that began blowing hard after mile 6 smoothed out my impressions of the terrain. If the wind was at my back (a good portion of the way after mile 15) it was as good as downhill. If the wind was blowing grit and dust into my eyes I mostly noticed the cracks and texture of the pavement. The big drop at mile fourish allowed me to just kick my legs out and pick up speed. I was flying, passing people whose memories of tortured quads kept them from flight. I was no longer bound by earth. The view across the salt lake valley and the mountains felt endless. Within an hour most views of the valley would be obscured by blowing dust that clung to every direction like an evil fog.

At the bottom of the big drop the half marathoners split off and there was no more crowd. I was back to earth. I still felt great but the sudden loss of 90% of the world’s population made me feel suspicious. Happy fit people would occasionally pass me with words of gleeful encouragement. I somehow felt that they were lining up to get a good look at me so that later they could say “you know that fat guy who died at the SLC marathon; I spoke to him just before he died”.

Then the wind started in earnest. To tell the truth the wind played a game of peek-a-boo around buildings and between other obstacles. It only came out into the open in the intersections where is waved garbage at the runners. Just after mile 14 the course turned onto the Van Winkle Expressway. I pulled off my hat to wipe my forehead and it felt like 120 grit sandpaper.

The Van Winkle expressway is a several mile segment of a four-and-more divided highway nestled into a suburban neighborhood. The runners had the road from the center grass strip to the crumbling edge of the shoulder. I wanted to run in the middle of the road, to own it for the few moments I ran down this section of the race. I kept catching myself veering off to the shoulder and toeing a clear path just to the right of the fog line. This section was perhaps the ugliest of the run and the one of the places I had the most fun. There was a place in my mind that wouldn’t just go play in the street. Most of the other runners that I could see also tended to the shoulder.

Unfortunately the neuroma in my right foot began bothering me after I left the Van Winkle expressway behind. I tried ignoring it for a couple of miles but it finally reduced me to a limp that made my walking pace appear fast. Perhaps I was paying for that marvelous downhill flight. I had to stop. I took off my shoe and massaged the bottom of my foot. The neuroma was bigger than I ever remember it being. It felt like a little gel packet of pain. I literally pushed it between the bones of my foot and it felt surprisingly better. I put the shoe back on and began to walk, then I began to run.

Even though the sun was muted by the duststorm I think the real clouds must have burned off by the time I reached mile 20. I could feel the radiant energy of the sun trying to touch me. The suburban streets in the several miles leading up to liberty park have big old trees lining them. There was real patchy shade. The warm-cool-warm of running through the shadows the trees cast was hypnotic. Unfortunately the neuroma wanted more attention. I knew what to do this time. I quickly found a seat that an apparently sagging runner made so comfortable looking with his “I’m not running another step” look on his face. I stripped off the shoe and sock, palpated the gel pack of pain, and was back on my feet in no time. I walked then ran then I saw Liberty Park. A mile or so later I passed through the 5K start and knew that I could finish.

With one more, this time protracted, stop to attend to the neuroma I was out onto the wide streets of downtown Salt Lake City. I began running faster and faster past places where I had only walked before. My neuroma began asking for more attention to which a small irritating voice in my head replied “I gonna get surgery and shut you up for good”. I began passing people, admittedly they were the struggling wounded at the far end of the race, till I turned into the final chute and performed a slow motion sprint across the finish. My wife and two kids met me past the finish. Each gave me a kiss careful to touch a little of my grimy grit encrusted coating as possible.

I had finished my first marathon. I finished it well under the six hour time limit for the race. It was kinda a big deal to me.

Within hours I could not convince myself to walk a single step. I became interested in what my finishing time was. I checked on the internet and found that AA sports had already published results for the marathon. Unfortunately my name was not on there. What had happened? Had I been disqualified for repeatedly taking off my shoe?

Since I am passingly familiar with common screw-ups in webpage maintenance I did some searching of the results server. The linked-to results were in a aptly named file called slcm08.htm in a directory called results/2008/. I found another file called slcm08.htm in a directory called results/2007/. I looked at this file and along with my results I found the results of 116 other slow runners like myself. I though all of us would like our results properly linked to so I e-mailed everyone whose e-mail address I could find associated with either the Salt Lake City Marathon or the timing company.

The next morning I asked my wife to pick up the Salt Lake Tribune when she went to the store (Sundays are a great day to get ones grocery shopping done in Utah). Every year the Tribune publishes an alphabetical list of the marathon finishers with finishing times. This list like the finisher’s medal is one of the proofs that remind people, after the pain fades, that they really did it. My name, and the names of the last 116 people, were missing. I emailed again, telling whoever would respond that they only needed to copy the file to restore the finishing times of almost one in ten of the finishers. Since it was Sunday I expected, and got, no response. I began getting sympathetic e-mails from friends who knew how long I had been training, had looked up the finisher list, and who were now telling me that there was always next year. I may have sent more e-mails to the organizers and timing company at this time.

On Monday I began getting the sympathy of my co-workers. I sent more e-mails. The only response I have gotten so far is from Scott Kerr. Scott is the president of the Marathon’s organizing group and actually the last person I expected to reply. He says that he has forwarded my e-mails to the timing company. So if you were one of the brave 10% who finished last your results exist on the timing company’s server, they just have to read some of the many e-mails they have gotten on how to fix the problem and they can fix it in about 10 seconds. If you want to see your results now go to:
http://results.racecenter.com/2007/slcm08.htm

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