Monday, June 5, 2017

At Least It Wasn't 40's and Windy -- Casper Marathon Race Report

State #42, marathon #51. My last two marathons, OKC and Fargo, have both been cold, windy, and a little bit wet, and I was really hoping that Casper would have nice weather. When I finally got around to checking the forecast a couple days before the race, I saw that the forecast was for sunny with a high of 89 degrees. That was pretty warm, even for someone like me who loves warm weather, but it had a 6:30 start time so I figured I would beat most of the heat.

My foot felt okay going into this one, though of course I never really know whether it's going to start hurting during a race (or randomly not during a race). Everything else felt okay too. I finally lost the 5 pounds I gained during class and vacation, so I was closer to race weight, and I was happy to be out West again and out of Michigan.

Wyoming is not a particularly interesting state to me, but at least it was a western state and not Michigan. I flew into Denver and then drove four hours north to Casper. My impression of Casper as a town was moderately crappy with beautiful scenery. It's an oil and gas town on the banks of the North Platte River. Of the parts of Casper I saw, most were at least a little rundown, but with gorgeous mountains in the background and a pretty river in the middle. Also, there were just enough dirty guys with missing teeth walking around at random hours that I didn't want to leave anything valuable in view in my car. I was afraid that a pile of loose change in my car might attract the attention of some desperate tweaker. It was that kind of town. But at least there were plenty of cheap motels to choose from, including the host hotel, the Ramada. At $89 a night, it was one of the cheapest host hotels I've ever come across. I stayed at an even cheaper motel right next to the Ramada, and all I had to do was walk next door to catch the shuttle on race morning.

The race starts at the Events Center, which is up on a bluff overlooking the city. The start line is a little over a mile walk from the Ramada, but the race also had a shuttle from the Ramada. I opted for the shuttle. I would've enjoyed the walk, but was afraid to chance any extra miles with my foot.

Weather at the start line was perfect, sunny but with a little chill in the air. The Events Center was open to runners, and the race had put out a table of food -- muffins, bagels, fruit, peanut butter, even Clif Bars and gels -- and coffee. If I had known there would be that much food there, I would've skipped McDonalds. There were also free massages available in the Events Center pre-race. Pretty classy for a marathon with just over a hundred people! I alternated between standing outside looking at the view and going back inside to stay warm. It seemed like everyone I talked to was a Maniac or 50-stater or both, and most of them were pretty high up in their numbers, in the 40's like me. I think a lot of people leave Wyoming for the end because it's not easy to get to. Like with Fargo, you either have to buy a really expensive plane ticket or else drive from the closest big city, in this case Denver.

The first four miles of the course consisted of a loop around the bluff where the Events Center was. My legs and feet felt good, but I was sucking wind immediately because of the elevation (5000 feet). I hate being a flatlander! I remember when 5000 feet was the number of feet in elevation that I gained during a typical weekend trail run. In Michigan I can run 20 miles and gain no more than 25 feet in elevation. Anyway, these first four miles were the hilliest of the race. I was so happy about my foot not hurting at all that I didn't mind not being able to breathe comfortably. I was also happy about the views. I could see far in all directions, and wasn't hemmed in by trees like I am in Michigan! Also, there were pronghorn antelope, and that was cool. This race's slogan is "Run With the Herd" because of the pronghorns. I was glad I actually got to see some.

After the loop around the bluff, we went down a long, steep hill into town and got on the bike path. Most of the rest of the course was on bike path. This is usually a pet peeve of mine because I think of those as places for training, not racing. Casper's bike path was less annoying than most of them, just because the scenery changed a lot (some tree-shaded stretches, some industrial areas, some mountain views) and because the Platte River is prettier than other rivers.

At Mile 10 or so we passed the Ramada. I could see my car but for once had no desire to quit running. I was feeling pretty good, all things considered. I could breathe again, my foot didn't hurt, my stomach was fine, and it was still cool. I began hoping I could get back to being under four hours.

Around Mile 12, we started a 3-4 mile loop around the golf course. Suddenly it got hot. The aid stations had watermelon, which was about the best thing I could imagine on a hot day. I ate a lot of watermelon on this course. When I got to the halfway point, my time was 1:53, and I still felt good, and under four hours totally seemed within reach.

When we finished the golf course loop, we returned to the bike path for a very, very long out and back. The sun was out in full force now, and there was not a lot of shade. We crossed the Platte lots of times, I think nine times total. I HATE long out and backs, and I hate them more when they're on bike paths. Still, I was doing okay until the Mile 17 thing happened. What happened at Mile 17 was that my watch beeped 17 miles, but I didn't see the Mile 17 sign. No problem, I had been a little less than 1/10th of a mile ahead of every mile marker for at least ten miles. That's common in marathons. I ran underneath a road on the path and came up on the other side, still no Mile 17 sign in sight. My watch now said 17.33. I figured something must have happened to the Mile 17 sign, and kept going. Then, a few minutes later, I saw the sign. My watch said 17.55, a ridiculous distance to be off. Nevertheless, you can't argue with the mile markers. Regardless of how unfair it was, I was now just starting Mile 17 instead of getting close to finishing it.

I was mad and hot. I walked. I got a fresh piece of gum, put on chapstick, and looked at the cool lifesize statue of the Indian spearing the buffalo on the side of the course. (Casper has LOTS of cool statues.) I looked in front of me and behind me. I could only see a few runners, and all of them were walking too. It's like every runner simultaneously said, "Screw it," right there in the race.

I managed to get running again, but I never got even close to how well I was doing earlier in the race. I knew I wasn't going to, either. I know I promised I was not going to complain about running in the heat, and I'm not -- I would still choose that over the cold, any day -- but it definitely slowed me down. Also, the last few miles of the out-and-back were the most exposed of the whole course. There were a few little rolling hills, but nothing serious. I drank at every aid station and even took salt caps twice, and was still thirsty the whole time. It reminded me of Deadwood, which is this same weekend in South Dakota.

The turnaround came at Mile 19.5 (well, Mile 20 for me, since my watch was still way ahead of the mile markers). I hoped I would get my second wind knowing I was heading back, but I never really did. I mostly slow jogged, but walked the hills. I didn't see anyone running except the relay runners. Not one single thing of interest happened during the last six miles. I didn't talk to anyone; I didn't see anything interesting; I didn't feel great and I didn't feel miserable. I looked at the Platte River, which was flowing in the same direction I was walking, and fantasized about jumping in and just floating downstream to the finish line. I'm sure I'm not the only runner who thought about that.

I knew I wasn't going to be under four hours, but I hoped I would at least be faster than my last two races. I ended up finishing with EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as the last two races -- 4:14. (Well, not EXACTLY the same time, but within 20 seconds.) At least I'm consistent! Consistently bad, that is. The finish line had the best food I have ever seen at any race. They had at least ten different kinds of fruit (all kinds of berries, melon, bananas, and oranges), pizza, cookies, peanuts, Clif Bars, soda, chocolate milk, I don't even remember what else. I was too hot to eat anything but the chocolate milk and a plate of fruit, and I was in a hurry because I had that four-hour drive back to Denver for a night flight back to Michigan.

Overall this was a well-done race that I would not do again despite the fact that it is cheap, well-organized, and has lots of good things like a big selection of motels, indoor bathrooms at the start line, and that incredible food at start and finish. I wouldn't do it again because 1) the travel was a pain, 2) there were hardly any spectators, and 3) that out-and-back on the bike path. Nevertheless, pickings are slim for Wyoming marathons, and at least this one was very well-organized and didn't have actual mountains in it, so it was doable for flatlanders.

I don't have any marathons planned till Baltimore in October, but that thought is depressing, so I have a feeling I will find another one somewhere between now and then as long as my foot stays in good working order.

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