Author Archives: nimuejohn

Although my old self was hard to find

Bunbury 3 Waters Marathon, Western Australia

April 9, 2017

There’s a bite in the air (it gets chilly here at night on the shorefront) and the sky is lightening as I make Gullmy way down to the clubhouse at the edge of the green playing field roped off into a starter chute and decked with vertical flags.  A local runner helps me figure out the drop boxes for my handful of GUs and energy bars; one is located at the finish arch, which all marathoners have to pass through on the first lap, and the other at the table just across the street. 

My friend Clive has come down from Perth to cheer me on, which will prove vital later.  The ultra runners have gone on their way; I ditch my Galloping Gertie pullover and join the marathon corral.  It’s a small field of about 100 that takes off at 7:30, describing a half oval around the field before passing under the arch and out onto the street as the sun is just climbing into the sky.

I know this is going to be a tough grind due to my lack of training.  I’ve done my math and I have my strategy.  I can finish under the cutoff with a 2 mile run / half mile walk ratio if I keep my walk at a brisk 16:00 pace.  Just as important – I need to not get caught up in the excitement and keep my running pace down to where I can sustain it, preferably between 11:00 and 12:00.

The course parallels the Indian Ocean for 5 miles before looping inland to circle the eucalyptus-shaded Bunbury Big Swamp conservation area.  I’ve fallen in with two younger women and for the time being discarded any walk breaks because the morning is pleasant and the conversation enjoyable.  Running a marathon while talking about running other marathons: it’s what runners do.

Back out to the seaside road (hi Clive!) we continue south up a long shallow grade to a turnaround.  It’s here I let the other ladies go ahead as my pace has been a bit quicker than I’m comfortable with, and settle into “solo runner” mode.  Past the clubhouse, a twisty hilly bit around the lighthouse, and between miles 7 and eight an out-and-back on a jetty where raucous white cockatoos clamour and hang upside down from the streetlights.  The northern leg of the course goes out and back through parks, past open-air restaurants that will fill with Sunday brunchers, and a little loop through suburbia before the return.  (Note: Aussie public loos talk to you and play sappy 70’s ballads.)Photo by Clive Chaote

Running through the arch I’ve completed the first lap in good time, about 2:32, and here is where the grind begins.  Stopping for a drink and to grab a Picky Bar, I lose momentum and am struggling to keep my pace below 13:00.  Making the second loop around the wildlife preserve I’m all alone and feel like I’m the last person.  There’s a black swan floating by, the first one I’ve seen on this trip, and two birds like deep blue iridescent coots.  I concentrate on keeping the legs going.  This time on the southbound uphill I take a walk break, but am alarmed to find I’m not able to keep a 16:00 pace.  Back to the shuffle run.  My friend rides by on his bike.  “How are you feeling?”  Effing tired, that’s what.

But my name’s on my bib so I get personalized attagirls from the volunteers and occasional spectator, and Clive’s apparently told them that I came all the way from Arizona.  It’s nearing noon as I launch into the north leg for the second time, and getting warm (along with the seaside humidity).  The cockatoos have retreated to the trees, reduced to grumbling under their breath.  Around mile 22 I do some head math and drop to a walk.  I have enough time left on the clock that I can walk it in and still make the cutoff.  I can do this.  Runners passing me on the return from the turnaround offer words of encouragement:  “Keep ticking it over!”

All the out-and-backs on this course mean that I now know exactly how many people are behind me:  a husband and wife from Singapore running a marathon a month; a barefoot runner named Geoff in bush attire (think Crocodile Dundee with a beard); and a man that I don’t know any interesting facts about, sorry.  Approaching the lighthouse for the last time, I hear footsteps behind me: the Singapore woman passes me at the steady pace she’s held all day.  Well, good on her.

Less than a hundred feet from the finish I hear footsteps again.  It’s too much.  I pick up my pace and start running.  “Still some gas left in the tank!” says Geoff.  The two of us accelerate ridiculously down the chute in a crazy ass sprint to the finish line, finishing neck and neck at 5:54:03. 

FinisherAustralia!  My sixth continent!  Done and dusted!

 

 

 

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If your mind don’t move and your knees don’t bend

“No plan survives contact with the enemy” – Helmuth von MoltkeIMG_2462

The Plan

Following Rio de Janeiro, I’ve been in cruise mode, basically maintaining my running with 5Ks over the summer and fall, with the occasional longer race.  Now it’s time to start getting ready for the Bunbury 3 Waters Marathon in April.  My basic training schedule will follow the training plan I used for Tokyo, with some revisions to build in some cross-training: I have a new personal trainer at the gym for strength work, and I’ve discovered that the branch over at Tempe Marketplace runs BodyCombat twice a week.  I have a shiny new Garmin Forerunner 235 that locates the satellites in seconds rather than minutes, doesn’t chew battery and has a built-in heart monitor, yay!

I like to do races for my long runs, so I sign up for a bunch;  although Bunbury is a street race I sprinkle some Aravaipa trail runs into the mix when they correspond to the distance I need to run that weekend because the Aravaipa events are always tons of fun.  There’s a hill just around the corner from my house that mimics the profile of the few hills on the Bunbury course, so I can train there on weekdays – perfect!

The Reality

Barely two weeks into my training plan, I’m car #3 in a 3-car smash-up.  My GP tells me no running and no weights until my broken ribs and sternum heal, 6-8 weeks at least.

The Plan

My GP also says “let pain be your guide”, so I’ll start with walking short distances, then increase my mileage and mix in some easy running, and see how it goes from there.  I can walk the New Year’s race I’ve signed up for, and when I fly up north for my Mom’s memorial service I’m staying near a park where I can walk.  I’ve also got the elliptical trainer at home that I can work with.

The Reality

I manage the 5K doubleheader over New Year’s, but I’ve caught a tenacious cold that on the flight to Seattle blows into my left ear and turns into a hellaciously painful infection.  The doctor at Urgent Care grounds me and I spend the rest of the week holed up in a Holiday Inn Express chugging OJ and watching true crime shows on TV.  My training is suffering from serious failure to launch.

The Plan

It’s now the second week of January.  I look for low-impact activities I can do that will get my cardio back in form, and find CycleZone classes at my gym – great aerobic workout according to my heart monitor, and there’s also lots of core work.  For my trail races, I’ll drop down the lower distances and walk them until I get the all-clear from my GP.  I’ll also try walk/running at the Saturday morning EVR group run in Gilbert.

The Reality

My first couple EVR outings, using the walk/run strategy, are tough.  I’m hyper-vigilant that I don’t stub my toe on the pavement and trip, feeling fragile like I might shatter if I fall.  I start out only running short stretches of a few hundred yards and I’m out of breath quickly, my ribcage not wanting to expand.  Gradually I expand my running stretches, ending up with a strategy of 1 mile running to ½ mile walking that works well.  Walking the trail races is frustrating but at least I’m getting some good exercise.  Meanwhile, I’m sticking with CycleZone and the elliptical.  By the end of January I get the word: my ribs are completely healed and I can resume all my normal activities.  Things are looking up!

The Plan

It’s the first week of February and clearly there’s not enough time for a traditional buildup to the marathon with built-in recovery weeks, especially starting from where I’m at now.  From here I can only do a straight ramp up and hope I can get my long run to 18 or 20 miles before marathon day.  I reset my goal to finding a run/walk ratio that will let me finish Bunbury before the 6 hour cutoff.  I also decide to ditch the 30K Mesquite Canyon trail run in March in favor of the same mileage as a street run; I need to be training to the terrain that I’ll be running in the marathon.

The Reality

Hey, I’m back to weight training again!  And expanding my run/walk ratio.  On February 25 I run the HM distance at the Mesa-PHX Marathon using 2 miles running to ½ mile walking, and finish in 2:32 – not a PB by a long shot, but not shabby either!  The following weekend, I’m so sore on my 15-miler that I have to switch to longer and more frequent walk breaks and I’m feeling like crud by the end.  By Monday I clearly have an upper respiratory infection, by midweek I’m in bed coughing up green shit, and Friday my GP is telling me “Yep, I’m seeing a lot of that this year.”

The Plan

It’s now the third week of March.  My training is in the toilet.  The Aravaipa homepage entices me with photos of record wildflower blooms in the White Tanks and I say screw it, I’m doing 30K at Mesquite Canyon, just throw myself at a ridiculous course that’s going to be nothing but an endurance exercise where I come in dead last and just have some fun!

The Reality

Following a grueling grind up Goat Camp trail, I find myself cruising along at altitude hip-deep in yellow brittlebush, orange mallow and gloriously blue lupin, just enjoying the day.  Somewhere between miles 12 and 13 I trip and face-plant into a boulder.  It’s two miles to the next aid station, where they patch me up.  1.5 miles to the aid station after that, where they patch me up some more and offer a ride to the finish line.  I decide to walk it.  It’s only two more miles, and I want my damn finisher’s glass.  Curiously, I don’t feel fragile any more.

The Plan

It’s now the fourth week of March.  The Phoenix Pride Run is this weekend, and I’m signed up for the HM + 5K “Challenge.” My strategy: repeat my Mesa-PHX run/walk strategy for the HM to finish at about the same time, then treat the 5K as a cooldown.  This should be easy-peasy.

The Reality

I get hung up on the 2:30 pacer, who is running hot by about 5 minutes (as I later reckon) and push the running segments too hard, finishing tired, sore and cranky in 2:28.  The 5K is a true recovery as I walk most of it (albeit a brisker walk than many of the families taking part).

It is now two weeks out from the Bunbury 3 Waters Marathon.  The other drivers’ insurance companies have just, finally, contacted me about the accident in December.  I need to, right now,  fill out medical forms for my Kilimanjaro trip in July.  My water heater just broke.

The Plan

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA**GASP**SOB*SOB*SOB

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The Moneygoround

Today’s post is a little different from my others; rather than talk about my training or latest race experience I’m going to address my accident last December, or rather, some of the more tedious elements of its aftermath, namely paperwork, billing, and insurance.  Yep.  You might want to skip this one if you’re not in need of a sleep aid.  On the other hand, I’m hitting stuff that I, as a very fortunate individual taking my first trip in an ambulance at age 55, was unaware of and would very much have liked to know.  I encourage you to read on.

By the way, before I start

Scottsdale Osborn is an excellent hospital with an attentive nursing staff (as I discovered when I accidentally sat on my call button) who took care of me through a confusing and traumatic episode in my life.  I have no complaint about their level of care.

Everyone bills separately

To date there is no TV medical drama, soap opera, or reality show centering on the billing department. The fact is, every doctor you see in the hospital, specialist or not, bills separately.  The ER doctors bill separately from the other doctors via a place in the Midwest that wanted to know whether to bill my medical or auto insurance.  The medics in the ambulance bill separately from the ambulance company, which didn’t get my insurance card at all.  The tech who fitted my finger splint billed separately from the company that provided the splint and the hand specialist who determined I needed a splint and wasn’t in Cigna’s network despite their website’s claim to the contrary.  But the X-rays, CT scan, and MRI were bundled into the overall hospital bill, which also covered room/board, nursing, meds, labs.  And all these had to bounce off Cigna first, then come back to me before I knew what I actually owed.  Three months later I think the last of the bills from this one visit has finally trickled in.  I think.

Pre-approval required

Reviewing my paperwork post facto, I find that the official reason for my admission to the hospital’s trauma floor was Hemothorax.  And that Cigna had to pre-approve this.  Is Hemothorax a big insurance fraud issue?

You need to ask for your medical records

When my cat had kidney surgery, she left the hospital with a detailed report including images and a minute-by-minute post-op nursing log.  Me, not so much.  My discharge instructions were slender and mostly said to take my meds and followup with my GP (and yeah, you definitely want to do that).  Granted, the doctors did discuss my care in detail while I was there, which advantage my cat did not have during her surgery, but the combination of shock and morphine reduced my fact-retention capability to a feline level.  I went back later to the hospital to get my actual reports and images; that said, there was no additional cost and just a short wait while they copied the files to disk.  Seeing the images for myself, I understand why the specialists get paid the big bucks to interpret them.

“Balance billing” ate my medical rider

https://www.oraclelawgroup.com/2009/12/17/understanding-balance-billing-liens/

This link written by a lawyer describes “Balance billing” far better and more concisely than I can.  But let me break it down for you in terms of how it applied to my situation.  (Where $$$ are specified in the following they’ve been rounded to make easier to follow.)  I have a pretty typical high-deductible insurance plan through my employer. The bill from the hospital for my overnight stay was the big Kahuna, around $27,000 as submitted to my health plan.  The “in-network” negotiated price for these services was $18,100, of which Cigna paid $17,300 and I paid $800 out of pocket.  I had previously bumped my auto insurance to $2000/person to cover this gap.  But – the hospital had filed a lien against any money I might get from insurance or lawsuits related to the accident.  And that lien was for the full $27,000.  So my $2000 payment from Farmer’s went straight to the hospital.  Although this was my highest single bill, the others added up to about that $2000 that I never saw.

(Note: The legality of “balance billing” apparently varies from state to state, but is currently legal in Arizona.)

Not a fender-bender

We didn’t all get out of our cars and exchange insurance information.  I left on a back board, the other victim I later learned died on scene, and the driver at fault had to be cut out of his vehicle.  Four months out and I still don’t know whether he even had insurance, and without an official yea or nay I can’t pull the trigger on my Uninsured Motorist coverage and get reimbursed for my out-of-pocket expenses.  Which, by the way, I don’t see any of until that lien is completely paid off.

Yes I feel a little ungrateful grumbling about this

I’m grateful to the medical personnel who cared for me; to the people who invented, engineered, and lobbied to make mandatory the safety features of my car that kept me alive; to my friends Pete & Donna who interrupted their dinner to drive across town and keep me company in the ER; for the safety net of the 911 system, which incredibly did not exist when I was a kid; grateful that I’ve healed so quickly; and aware every day that if I’d left work just a few seconds earlier that day I might not have come home.

Next post I’ll be back to happy running reports, I promise!

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Half a page of scribbled lines

A month and two days ago, my car slammed into two others at a speed of 50 mph.

Among my great simple pleasures is opening a brand new calendar and filling its blank pages with plans for the coming year.  I’ve also long enjoyed poring over maps; as a girl I’d pull out the family atlas and flop on the floor, conjuring images from place names: Sargasso Sea, Craters of the Moon, the Great Australian Bight.

Last year, I had mapped out my final push to img_2348-squaremembership in the Marathon Grand Slam Club: Australia in April 2017, Africa in July, and on to the North Pole in 2018.  Next came studying the elevation profile for the Bunbury 3 Waters course, finding to my delight that the few “hills” matched the one just around the corner; then selecting the local races from Phoenix’s vast smorgasbord to ramp me back up to the full marathon distance in a scant four months’ time.

The best laid plans, as they say.

I’m sitting out on the porch now with broken ribs and a cracked sternum.  The good news from my GP is that my level of physical fitness prevented worse injury* and is also helping me heal faster than average.  The bad news: OMG NO running, NO anything that might jar or strain my ribcage, and above all if it starts to hurt, STOP!  The Midnight Madness 5K doubleheader changed into a brisk, furious walk, and I dropped Aravaipa’s San Tan Scramble completely.  I have an elliptical trainer in my kitchen, and my gym has bikes and other low-impact equipment that I can build up my endurance on.  But I’m frankly going stir-crazy, and the only cure I know for that is a good run.

So yesterday morning I joined East Valley Runners group run.  I walked five miles along the canal in my Hokas with occasional short running breaks, using a deliberately low impact gait that probably looked super dorky.  And it didn’t hurt.  It didn’t hurt later, either. 

Bunbury is still in my sights – I’ve just had to lower them to finishing before the 6-hour cutoff.   My overall pace on Saturday was 15:22, so I’m not there yet, but I will get there.  My first marathon was the Dutchman, which I was poorly prepared for, and which I walked part of, and finished in 5:35.  I’ll get there.  And I’ll be blogging my progress here.

*I’ll also give a nod to the inventors of seatbelts, airbags, and safety glass; those who lobbied for automobile safety standards to be made law; and those who designed, engineered, and built my car to essentially give its “life” to protect mine.


Hey!

I’m still raising money for the Amazing Girls Fund!

I would be really stoked if we could come up with $500 because that’s enough to see one girl through four years of high school!   A donation of any amount through *this link* will get you a postcard from me at the Amazing Maasai Marathon in Kenya!

Oh yeah and while I’m at it

Follow my FB page, Journey to the Top of the World

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Down on copperline

IMG_2046-cropGalloping Gertie Half Marathon

Gig Harbor and Tacoma, August 13, 2016

Once upon a time my home town was known primarily for a bridge that fell down, Almond Roca, and an arsenic-spewing smelter.  The smelter is gone now, and the bridge was replaced long before I was born, but the legend of “Galloping Gertie” still clings to the span across the Tacoma Narrows.  This run was originally meant as a diversion while I was visiting my Mom in hospice, but she couldn’t stick around and so I wound up running it in her memory.

It’s a warm sunny morning when I join the other runners congregating in the lobby of the Galaxy Theater in Gig Harbor.  The area has built up considerably since I was a kid, the start and finish located in a plaza of trendy restaurants with sculptures and hanging baskets of flowers everywhere.  It’s a leisurely morning for me as the half doesn’t start until 8:00; I have time for a cup of coffee at my hotel and a pastry and fruit cup from the box breakfast the hotel provided.

The first mile of the race is downhill.  Speeding down Pt. Fosdick road, I can sense as each runner around me goes from “Whee!” to “OMG, I have to run up this on the way back!”  The course begins to undulate, passes into leafy shade.  There are fir needles underfoot, wild blackberries along the edge of the road, then a long wall of cattails before the course turns left and climbs towards a tunnel.  On the other side we pop out into sunlight and are running downhill again towards the foot of the bridge. Wild rose bushes line the pedestrian walkway, packed with red rose hips and clung to by late season scarlet blooms.

The steel cables stretch to the towers overhead, the dark water of the Narrows glitters underneath.  These are the towers whose lights I watched from my bedroom window before the trees grew up; the train’s horn that I’d sometimes hear at night wound along the shoreline.  As I crest the span, taking photos, I’m passed by the 2:20 pacer.  If I have any strategy, it’s to hang out somewhere between 2:20 and 2:30, and that’s what I wind up doing for the remainder of the race.  Mount Rainier is just visible, a white apparition hovering in the haze above the hills.

Once on the Tacoma side I climb again, cross Highway 16, and then climb up through the tree-lined War Memorial Park.  (Can you sense a theme to this elevation profile?)  The next few miles are a ramble through the neighborhood overlooking the bridge, wood shingle homes with gardens that I envy with my Arizona eyes, overflowing with sunflowers and blooms of every color, especially green.  Several kind folks are out offering garden hose spray downs due to the heat of the day, which I decline politely: “I’m from Phoenix; this is nothin’!”

Somewhere in here I pass the 7-mile mark, making this my longest run since Rio back in May.  I’m taking short walk breaks on the hills now, as I retrace my steps back to the bridge and over to the Gig Harbor side.  Ahead of me, a runner yields to temptation and samples tart blackberries from the brambles at the side of the road, and I follow his example.

The heat may not match Arizona’s, but the sun is taking its toll and I’m happy when we drop into the shade of Pt. Fosdick road again, even though it’s a long uphill slog.  Tired of the song Candida that’s been running through my head the past 10 miles, I dial my mental iPod to Walk Off The Earth’s Happy.  It quickly morphs into: “Crappy!  Shuffle on if you feel like you really want to puke-a!”

“This is the last hill!” a volunteer promises, and then I’m routed through this zig-zagging course through the back side of an office complex.  Rounding the parking garage I see the finish line and just stop.  It’s like 200 feet away and I’m tired and don’t want to keep moving.  Somehow I pull my act together and cross the finish in just under 2:30.

IMG_2022-crop

She likes to mooove-it mooove-it!

This was a well-organized race with great volunteers.  I had to dash back to my hotel to check out, but got to hear some of the actually quite good band at the afterparty.  Swag was a good quality ¾ zip pullover with the race logo.  Scenery: see above.  Recommended.

 

Garmin activity

 

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It’s Only a Whimsical Notion

SAM_3843 - Copy

Rio de Janeiro Marathon

May 29, 2016

This race was a late addition to my 2016 plan, due largely because some running clubs don’t consider Rapa Nui to be proper South America; I’m glad I did, though, not least because of the needed bounce it gave me following my Shotover Moonlight disappointment.

Arriving in Rio de Janeiro after an overnight flight from Houston, I have just enough time to decompress, throw on my running gear, and join the rest of the Marathon Tours group for an afternoon “warm-up” run along the Ipanema promenade.  It’s a holiday in Brazil, so the street in front of the hotel is closed off and crammed with bathers, walkers, strollers, vendors, skateboards, surfboards, diners, bicycles, children, parents, umbrellas, all milling about chaotically like atoms in a cup of warm tea.  It’s look sharp and every runner for herself as we dive and dodge to avoid collision!  The more ambitious runners head northwards to Copacabana, but I settle for 3 sleep-lagged miles up and down the beach.

Friday and Saturday are for sightseeing.  I pass on the hang gliding, not wanting to risk an injury right before a marathon, but I’m reminded this was something I really wanted to do when I was a teenager and not old enough.  Well, if I had a “bucket list”, that just went back on it.  Saturday night I join a small group going out to Anna’s, a terrific Italian place not far from the hotel, to load up on pasta.

Race Day

Yes, the race packet included spaghetti!

Yes, the race packet included spaghetti!

Sunday morning arrives dark and early, since it’s an hour’s ride to the start line.  Our tour guide has awesomely arranged for the hotel to provide us a grab-and-go breakfast well before normal hours, and the lobby that’s been haunted by Louis Vuitton models (no, really) all weekend is now filled with colorful runners.

The sun is rising as our private bus drops us off at Praça do Pontal park. I have to say this is my first race where I’ve seen surfboards wander through the staging area!  This being a small field of around 8,000, it’s easy to find a spot to cheer on the elites as they tear off half an hour before the rest of us.  Then I take a photo for a Brazilian lady posing putting on her lipstick in front of the starting arch.  You go sassy lady!

At last we’re off, flanked by a camera drone, and heading southward for a quick loop before heading back north towards Rio.  Suddenly there are cobblestones and people holding signs reading ciudad! and something else in Portuguese that probably refers to this half-block of mini-bollards the pack finds itself mincing its way through.

Most of the race course follows the coast road that runs between the high-rise hotels and the beach, with occasional jogs inland.  The first four miles, though, are undeveloped, with the sea to the right and a lagoon to the left, and a fresh morning breeze ameliorating the effects of the sun, already beating though still low in the sky.  Every now and then a food shack passes on the right, not yet open for business.  Surprisingly for smaller marathon, it takes a long time for the field to start spreading out, and there’s a lot of elbow bumping and general jostling.  (I later saw on Facebook where one of the official buses got lost on the way to the start, so some of the crowding could have been latecomers filtering up through the pack.)

About six miles in we hit the first hotel strip and suddenly I’m running alongside a city bus, and it’s a toss-up as to which one of us will win as a typical Brazilian traffic jam is in progress.  Then I’m through the first “built-up” stretch, up a freeway ramp and then it’s a climb to the blessed cool of the first tunnel, where it’s apparently tradition for runners to scream at the top of their lungs.  A few miles on, in the next tunnel, Beethoven is blasting.  We emerge on a cliffside high above the surging ocean and descend to the next stretch of beach.

From here on in the heat is in earnest, climbing to nearly 80 (F) by the finish.  There seem to be more water stations than I remember from the course map, and the volunteers are fairly aggressive about passing them out, or maybe I just look like hell in the second half.  Water is provided in foil-sealed cups, and sports drink in bags that must be ripped open with the teeth.  It takes be several before I get the hang of getting most of the drink in me, rather than on me.

At some point in here I had to go looking for a safety pin as my bib blew out one of its holes and was left dangling lopsided from my bib holder.  Note to self: learn to say “safety pin” in the local language before a marathon.  One of the volunteers does provide me with a pen, which I use to punch a new hole in the bib that I can thread onto the holder and be on my way.

Past the hotel at Ipanema, on to Copacabana and the final stretch of beach.  It’s very hot and surreal in these last miles; there’s tents, and a guy playing a grand piano, and pedestrians criss-crossing the course – I narrowly miss bowling into a man and his baby daughter idly turning figure-eights on a bicycle – and the only food station on the route.  Oranges, IIRC, and what look like pita crackers.  Just before the final tunnel and still a few miles from the finish, a knot of runners line the course, offering high fives and words of encouragement.

Around the beach to the peninsula and the green park and cheering runners and it’s a Xeno’s arrow kind of finish, the finish line always just around the corner, but eventually I cross it, melting and salty.  I collect my medal, fruit, and water, happy that I remembered to pack sandals in my drop bag, and join the rest of the group at the Marathon Tours flag.

5:26:43, not my best time, but not my worst either.

Some final notes

For all the zika scare, I didn’t see a single mosquito the entire week, either in Rio or in Iguazu after the race.  There was a 24-hour stomach bug going around the hotel that caused some runners to drop their distance, and others had probleIMG_1812 - Copyms with the heat, so your basic stuff that happens.

Although the expo has a separate packet pickup for foreigners, it’s really a local event; most of the pre-race materials are in Portuguese only, and one of the two official photography sites only accepts Brazilian-style addresses.

Contrary to what I heard at the time, there’s really no overlap between this course and the 2016 Olympic Marathon course.  The Olympic course is a three-lap loop that has its turnaround in the same green park where the Rio Marathon finishes.

Garmin Activity

 

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That Was Patrol, This is the War

Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon

February 20, 2016  Hill (1024x768)

To be clear. Before I begin, to explain why what I suspect will be a very fragmented race report is that way, I DNF’d on this one.  Did so spectacularly.  And yet I’m not embarrassed to say that this marathon kicked my ass.

Monday

My very first marathon was the Lost Dutchman, my 50th birthday present to myself.  Another milestone, for my 55th I treat myself to a few days in Tahiti, where it proceeds to pour rain for the next three days.  I spend most of the time reading and drinking coffee on my balcony overlooking the restless ocean, but do manage a short road run up the hill behind the hotel, in half an hour soaking my gear to where it takes 24 hours and the application of a hair dryer to undampen them.

Thursday & Friday

A little apartment on a hill overlooking Lake Wakatipu is my home for the next few days, or rather it’s my luggage’s home. After packet pickup and the mandatory gear check, I drop my rental car at the finish line at Moke Lake and join the other runners, Kiwis and Aussies all, taking the overnight option at Ben Lomond Lodge.  The marathon is run on the massive Ben Lomond sheep station in New Zealand’s South Island, the only time this private farmstead is open to the public.

Following a hearty family-style dinner and convo at the Lodge, complete with venison vindaloo and other delights, we toddle off for the night to the A-frame cabins, across a meadow that cries out for you to recreate the spinning Julie Andrews Sound of Music opening scene. NZ observes daylight saving time so it’s still dark when I get up the next morning and I’m not prepared for the sky full of stars here in the heights of the Remarkables mountain range, far from the lights of Queenstown.

With the pinkening of the cloud scraps in the eastern sky come the helicopters bearing those who stayed at Moonlight Lodge further up the mountain. In short order we’re all packed up and flying down Skipper’s Canyon towards the start line, the green-and-yellow hills, so similar in form to the mountains of the Sonoran desert, rising up from the grey foaming Shotover River, the pilot pointing out highlights of the race route as we go.  We’re still under a weather watch, a big storm system poised to break rain across the mountains sometime today.  If the race officials decide it’s too risky, the race can be halted or the marathoners told to drop to the 30K course at any time.  For now the morning is gorgeous, sunlight turning the tops of the hills, and I’m feeling ready.

Rainbow over Stoney Creek Siphon. Tiny figures of runners along single track.I haven’t been able to practice on all the same terrain that this marathon covers – in particular, the river crossings in Arizona generally don’t have water in them – but between driving up to Flagstaff over the summer and working my way up to 20 miles at the Aravaipa trail races around Phoenix, I feel like I can handle this. I expect to be slower than my training runs, but that’s OK.  I can finish.

The Challenge

The race starts on the rocky beach below Skipper’s Canyon bridge. A hundred-odd runners surge across the stones, then bottleneck on a short, steep, narrow trail bounded by thick vegetation; it levels out and is very cruisy for a few minutes, then opens out onto another beach, mixed stones, grass, and brush: not so cruisy.  Up another steep hill and then single track along a barren ridgeline, scree slopes falling steeply off to either side and nothing but the sky above.  After a while the course, marked by pink ribbons, moves to a trail halfway down a steep green slope.  A sheep, unseen uphill, bleats, and I laugh.  The field of runners towards the rear spreads out, and I’m mostly on my own with the occasional companion.  AWe dip down into a wooded area straight out of Middle Earth, and some minor stream crossings that are nothing compared to what will be coming up later.

Somewhere around the 10K mark, I think, I discover that the companions I’ve been keeping pace with are running the 30K, as they split to go ahead on the level, and I’m directed right to climb up to another ridgeline. I find myself on a near-vertical slope covered in huge tussocks of saw grass taller than me, with no track other than occasional glimpses of pink ribbon at the top of long wires.  It’s a time-consuming and sweary struggle to get through, and I’m exhausted by the time I get to the top.  Nevertheless I pick things back up and run the length of the ridge to the drinks station at the far end.

This is the top of the world, the view of green hills stretching beneath for mile upon mile, a brisk gale snapping the pink ribbons and spitting rain. The gal at the drinks station gives me the pep talk, points out the road that I’ll be dropping down to, and will eventually take me to Ben Lomond Lodge, the slightly-past-halfway point.  I’m concerned; there’s a cutoff time I have to meet at the Lodge, my time’s not been great and I’ve just lost a bunch of time coming up that slope.  I head down the slope towards the road, and it’s just as steep as the ascent, and although the tussocks are far smaller I’m terrified of rolling an ankle and sprawling head over heels for hundreds of feet.Forest (1024x768)

…and here is where my memory gets muddy. I think there were some more forests, some river wading, more climbing up to ridge trails.  Suffice to say this course doesn’t really have any “easy” bits.  At the next checkpoint the volunteers aren’t as encouraging.  “Do you want to drop down to the 30K course?” they ask.  I consider.  How far to the Lodge if I keep going? 5K is the answer.  The cutoff is really looking unlikely at this point, but for 5K I’m game… except it isn’t 5K.  It’s 5 miles.  There’s another dip down into forest, a mud pit where I sink to my knees and fall over, thoroughly coated, a river crossing higher than my knees, a ladder…. It’s raining, I’m too drained to keep up a running pace, ready to pack it in… and still no effing Lodge!

Finally I see a farm building up ahead and drag up to it. It looks different somehow.  A voice calls out, “Do you want a ride down to Ben Lomond?”  FML, this isn’t even Ben Lomond Lodge, it’s Moonlight Lodge!

And so the injured, the weary, and the less fleet of foot cram wetly into a couple of ATVs for the moderately scary ride to the finish line at Moke Lake, where there is coffee and sushi and a place to change into dry clothes; and where I give another runner a lift back into town in exchange for helping me keep on the left hand side of the road.

EpilogSadly awaiting the ride to the finish line.

I hope this recap doesn’t discourage anyone. The course for the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon is breathtaking, but way out of my league.  Note that the 30K option covers the same territory, but without the climbs up to the ridgelines.  I spent the week following the race exploring the white sand beaches of the southern coastline, an area known as the Catlins, nursing the nasty head cold I got from my frolic in the Remarkables, and revising my 7 Continents plans, since I wasn’t able to tick off Australia/NZ this year.

Tips if you go

On the mandatory gear list, “thermal” means thermal underwear aka longjohns, like you’d buy from WIntersilks or Land’s End. “Survival bag” is an insulating silver mylar bag (not a blanket) large enough to crawl inside.  There are shops on Shotover Street where you can pick up anything you’re missing.

There is no cell phone coverage at Moke Lake and no transport provided back to town from the finish. You can drop a car at the finish like I did, or bum a ride with someone.

The event is established and well-run, but there was apparently some problem that kept race confirmations from going out to some entrants, and blocked email from certain servers from reaching the director. This wasn’t a problem with the Ben Lomond Lodge or any of the other NZ businesses I had email contact with.

The course map for the marathon is released only a few days before the event, and then only in person (in order to discourage runners “scouting out” the route on private land), but here’s an elevation profile to whet your appetite:

elevation profile

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Up up up up to the heaviside layer

Flagstaff Summer Running Series 2015

ShoesMotivation is hard to come by in central Arizona in the summer, especially when you’re not training for anything in particular in the fall.  This year I signed up for the Flagstaff summer series to get a little break from the heat in the cool mountains up north.  With the exception of BBBS, these were all quickies where I drove up Friday night, ran in the morning, and drove back home the same day.  Here’s how they broke out:

May 9 – Run for the Mountain 5K – A late-season cold front dropped 3 inches of snow on Ft. Tuthill Park overnight.  It made for a beautiful and invigorating run through the pines.  Many people enjoyed the traditional root beer float at the finish; I appreciated the coffee!

June 6 – NACA Sacred Mountain Prayer Run 10K – No snow, but heavy rain the night before.  A tough slog as always up that first hill to the plateau, then frolicking through gooey mud patches to be welcomed back down the hill by the beat of the big drum.  Very nice long-sleeved tech shirt, which I wore on the run thanks to a little more chill in the air than usual.

June 13 – Blackout Night Run 13K* – OK, this Aravaipa event isn’t part of the Flagstaff Summer Series.  My friend D convinced me to slide this one into my schedule, bringing along my tent to camp a few hundred yards from the start/finish in Ft. Tuthill Park.  13K, a single loop, is the shortest distance on offer.  The new moon guaranteed awesome star vistas out on Observatory Mesa, the kind that make you pull off the trail and stare straight upwards gaping.

June 27 – Vista Hospice Run for Life 10K – I love running through this part of suburban Flag and envying everyone’s gardens.  Friendly residents come out to the curb to offer cheers, sprinklers, or squirts from the garden hose.

August 1 – Machine Solutions Run for Kids 10K – back at Ft. Tuthill again, and this time I manage to trip halfway through and do a Superman, scraping generous patches of skin off my left palm and both knees.  Two gentlemen help me get to my feet and I complete the second half of the course, winding through meadows crazy with wildflowers.

August 8 – Big Brothers Big Sisters Dave McKay Memorial Half Marathon – Flagstaff got an entire August’s worth of rain dumped on it overnight, requiring the volunteers to go out and re-mark the course before dawn.  (The two vehicles seen sunk in the mud at mile 6 may have been part of that effort.)  I’ll be up front and admit that I was not ready for this race, knew it going in, and was grateful not to be the last person off the mountain.

August 22 – Gaspin’ in the Aspen 5K : The weather was perfect for the last event of the series, a sprightly gambol through the meadows at the Flagstaff Nordic Center.  At around 8000 ft this course is a little higher in elevation than the other races in the series.  So yes, I did plenty of gaspin’!

Overall the series was a lot of fun, and a nice bunch of breaks from the heat down in the Valley.

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A Million Miles Away It Seemed From All of Eternity

Antarctic Ice Marathon

November 22, 2014

Dear reader, you have arrived at this page for one of two reasons: 1. you are a regular reader of my running blog, or 2. you have signed up for or are considering the Antarctic Ice Marathon, and doing your research.  Welcome!  Any questions you may have, no matter how trivial, plop them in the comments below and I will answer them!

The straightaway

Nine months, now, since I boarded the Ilushin-76 in Punta Arenas with my fellow runners, bound for the icy center of the Last Continent.  My how time flies when you’re procrastinating.  See, I’ve just found it so difficult to put into words, this experience that’s so outside the pale of my everyday life. The few days at Union Glacier Camp seem so much sharper, brighter, than what went before or after.  Writing about them using my usual, linear race report style just feels wrong.

Wasn’t it cold?  Well, yes; it was about 15 F/-9 C the day of the marathon, and that was the warmest day.  But that wasn’t my major overall impression of Antarctica.  I remember specific things, like adding a second thermal layer on the bottom after a checkout run, when my butt went numb after 5K.  Snow tracked into the sleeping tents never melted, and phones had to be kept inside your sleeping bag if you wanted it alive to wake you up in the morning.

What struck me most, and what stayed with me after, was the stillness.  The Absence not just of the background hum of electricity and traffic but of birds, dogs, insects, so far south that no life survives.  When the wind drops and the clouds lift, there’s just the rustle of your own clothing and the white plain stretching for miles to blue-etched mountains under an empty blue sky.  The sun circles high in the sky, never setting, and it all seems to take place in a timeless sliver totally disconnected from the world and its history.  Coming upon an aid station with hot drinks and biscuits in the middle of this nothingness was both surreal and absolutely fitting.

How was the course?  Was it tough?  I found it incredibly difficult.  Even though the course was groomed (and carefully checked for crevasses by the glacier camp staff), we’d had several days of blowing snow up until the day of the marathon, and so there were a few inches to maybe a foot of powder on top of the ice, which made it much like running in sand.  My calves and lats were protesting from the get-go.  Eventually the niggles built to where I just slowed it way down and made finishing without injury my goal.  It was my slowest marathon ever by a long shot, but when I neared the finish line, and all the happy drunk finishers came tumbling out into the cold from the party that had been rolling in the dining tent for hours just to cheer me in, it was the greatest feeling in the world!  It was after midnight and full daylight, and I polished off a bowl of seafood stew and hushpuppies and fell into my sleeping bag.

How long does it take to get to Antarctica?  Well, the private flight from PA to Union Glacier was about 5 hours.  As for my flights from Phoenix to PA –ugh, don’t ask.  It was fraught with unnecessary excitement, exacerbated by the merger of American and USAirways.

Did you see any penguins?  Yes, I did, just not in Antarctica – Union Glacier is too far south for any animal life!  Punta Arenas has several Magellanic penguin colonies and I made a trip out to the one at Seño Otway.  They are cute little boogers, especially when they’re making the cross-country waddle between the beach and their burrows.  I also took the tour out to the king penguin colony on Tierra del Fuego, although I don’t recommend doing this the day before a flight home as rough seas caused the local naval authority to suspend return ferry service for hours and we didn’t get back to our hotels till well after midnight.

A word now about the organizers.  The organization of this event is outstanding, from race director Richard Donovan and crew handling the logistics of getting two score runners there and back again with all the weather delays and other uncertainties involved in travel to the Far South, to the ANI staff at Union Glacier Station keeping you warm, fed, and above all safe, all the while doing a yeoman job of keeping the site pristine.

Oh, and a word about my fellow adventurers:  it takes a special breed of idiot to fly to the middle of Antarctica to run a marathon.  Most of them have far more inspirational stories than mine.  The camaraderie was great.

Finally, here’s a little video to give you a taste of my adventure.  Most of the photos are mine, but I slipped in a few by official race photog Mike King:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbpk1feuxYg

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Taper Town

Tempe Canal looking eastStand in the place where you live.

It’s taper time!  Meaning that I’ve run my last high-mileage week before the Antarctic Ice Marathon, and from here until the Big Day it’s all easy-peasy, starting tomorrow with the 3TV Half Marathon in downtown Phoenix.  According to my ARR diary I’ve logged 1003 miles so far this year.  Tempting as it is, I think it’s premature to pass judgment on my training, so instead I’d like to reflect, without judging, on the events of the past year.

About half the specialist cold-weather gear I bought last winter has since been replaced.  Tokyo showed me that the lined wind pants were fine for ordinary wear, but wouldn’t be comfortable for running.  I replaced the winter tights that kept creeping towards my ankles during the Soulstice trail run with a style with a closer fit.  The first wind shell jacket I bought turned out to be too heavy – again, fine for ordinary use, and I’m certainly not throwing it out.  My running gear is sorted now, although I’ll probably be futzing over gloves and scarves till the last minute.  Since the summer heat is only just now breaking as I type this (we are literally experiencing a 15-degree drop in temperature over this weekend), I haven’t been able to give my full kit a proper workout, so fingers are kind of crossed on that point!

I smashed the hills at this February’s Sedona Half Marathon, and feeling better prepared than for any race before, headed into the Tokyo Marathon – where I tanked.  In March I carried the torch for a pair of evening stages for One Run For Boston, feeling a little embarrassed by co-worker’s exclamations of “You’re running 14 miles, after work, in the dark?  That’s Ragnar crazy!”  I finished the last mile of the Whiskey Row half with one shoe off, one shoe on, thanks to a massive blister on my toe.  At the Bucket of Blood half in Holbrook I got lost – not unusual for that course – but had fun anyway splashing through the monsoon puddles.  The E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon left me drained, finishing with a Personal Worst after hours of staggering through the darkness repeating “Why do I do this to myself?  Why?”  Soulstice Moutain’s 7,000 foot start line led to my very first DNF.  If I may temporarily ease my ban on passing judgment, don’t ever just throw a high-altitude race into the mix without specifically training for it.

Not to mention all the every-day obligations and crises that get in the way of training, because please, who doesn’t have those?

So here I am, 17 days out from the Big Day that I first started planning for two years ago.   So now there’s a sense of relief, a sense of release, because my preparation is done, because there’s nothing left for me to do, except not screw things up between now and the 18th.  Don’t try any exotic new gels or socks or stretches.  Don’t drop a bowling ball on my foot.  And above all, don’t think of purple penguins dancing the hula!

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