Marathon #22 / Overall #33 / State #8 (Arizona)
Flagstaff Marathon (Trail) KICKED MY BUTT!!
Flagstaff Nordic Center, AZ
The most spontaneous marathon to date…
Some might say it’s risky behavior, others may say it’s too soon, yet even others may say it’s too random, but I think this is just who I am and part of how God designed me in that unique manner. Nothing good or bad, nothing to boast or hide, it’s just who I am.
It hasn’t even been a week since the Franklin Mountains, and being in Arizona for my away rotation, I’m already looking at nearby driveable places for another marathon challenge. I was initially looking into the Prescott half in 2 weeks after Franklin. At first when I saw the Flagstaff Marathon which was 7 days after Franklin.. my first initial reaction was “naah…”
The Flagstaff Marathon was unique in several ways:
1. It’s a marathon named after a city/town that does NOT go through the town, but instead, a 100% trail race
2. Starting elevation is 8,000 feet, total elevation gain of about 3,600 feet (about the same ascent/descent as Colorado Bend/Reveille Peak)
What was going “against me” (counting the costs and overall eval) on Friday before the race:
1. I just completed a Sky Ultra last weekend and still has residual soreness and tightness..
2. I’ve never done a race at 8,000 feet before where the air got thin. Highest point in Franklin Mountains was only 7,100 feet, and most of us hiked that thing…
3. There’s a supposedly strict cutoff of 6.5 hours. That’s about 15 minute miles. Too fast for my trail hiking speed. Of course I had no idea how the trail is like nor how technical it is…
4. Chicago is coming up in 3 weeks, and that has priority…
And then I did a heart and reality check:
– I wasn’t doing this to boost my ego or for more bragging rights…
– The challenge is what’s compelling me to go for it, wasn’t for me, wasn’t for anyone else, just b/c I’m a bit “wild at heart”…
– I really believed that I was going to struggle and perhaps not finish, especially since the cutoff was 6.5 hours and it was high in altitude…
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed”.
Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)
This would be the time to seek some advice from the people who best relate. So, I consulted 3 of my Marathon Maniac friends.
– One of them called me crazy and said focus on Chicago. Edward, I thought you are a Maniac… get with the program maYn!! Lol
– One of them said, “yeah I’d be worried about the 6.5 hour cutoff”
– One of them said, “You can do it! you are a much stronger runner than me and I have managed to run marathons at elevation in less thn six hours.”
I blocked out the first 2 and only listened to the third… In the meantime, the race director replied back saying that there is still room left to register, but cash only. And then I remembered the famous words of Capt’n Karl (imprinted on all the race ribbons lol):
“Those who don’t take a chance never get a chance.”
Right away, without hesitation, I booked a motel in Flagstaff, packed my stuff, got ready, and took off for Flagstaff around 2pm from Phoenix.
The drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff was only about 130 miles, but it literally was like traveling to a different land, with different weather, different scenery, different culture, different elevation. Most of I-17 north consisted of climbing as I saw signs that said “Elevation 2,000… 3,000…, 4,000… 5,000…, 6,000” = from the low and arid desert to high altitude, breezy piney forest.
When I got to packet pickup at the coffee shop, I met the race director and asked him a few questions. Of course if I don’t make the cutoff, I don’t get credit for a half.
I sighed and said, “Alright, I’m going for the full.”
And I walked out of the coffee shop thinking that I probably just made a fool out of myself in front of the race director and crew…
And I was thinking… what did I just get myself into…?? This seemed surreal, in that yesterday I wasn’t even thinking about it, and yet less than 24 hours, I’m signed up for the race, and I have no idea how my body will react in those conditions…
After getting my packet, I went and checked in to the motel, and carb loaded at this Indian place – it was an order of Lamb keema naan AND lamb biryani – because I thought one wouldn’t be enough right?? WRONG…!!! It was a good idea at the moment, and sure was tasty, but a BAD idea later that night… I won’t go into details b/c that’s just TMI hahaha
— RACE DAY —
Sunrise was 6:15. it was about 35 degrees at 7am, but surprisingly it felt chilly but not cold, for there were minimal humidity. The race site was about 25 minutes NW of Flagstaff at the Nordic Center off US 180.
The race director was making announcements about the course as 8AM was approaching…
At 8, the race started. People were running. Some of them were fast. When I took off running, I immediately felt like I was getting out of breath. So I decided to slow down a notch, and run-walk it, knowing that the first mile or so is primarily uphill. The first aid station came about 1.3 miles later, and I was already feeling parched for water.
Not even at mile 3, where there was JUST a little downward slant in the trail, I picked up running, and ended with a nasty fall that scraped my right palm bleeding, and both of my knees! It sure happened too soon, but I immediately got up and kept on going. Ain’t nobody got time to be a crybaby now lol…
To my surprise, much of the trail is very runnable. The trails were beautiful, with blue skies and intermixing of piney forest as well as aspen trees. And this was much more shaded than the 50k I did last week, SUNBURNED. Yes, I did put on sunscreen before the run haha.
There were two loops that we all ran, the “red” and the “black”. One segment of the “black” loop was just awful in that it was single track and V-shaped, and rocky, but even that, it was nothing compared to the rugged terrain of Franklin mountains, and I was thinking to myself, it’s ONLY a marathon today… haha…
The aid stations were overall well organized and had plenty of supplies when I was there. And I was one of the slow folks who dwelled at near-sea level. That’s another highlight of the race – I found my pace group, Ed and Lori, whom are also low-altitude dwellers like me. Phoenix is 1,200, and San Antonio is about 800-1,000 (Stone Oak…). Both of them were training for another event in the months ahead, including a 100k for Ed. All 3 of us were just aiming to finish less than 6 hours. And we kept at a good pace, as we walked up most uphills and came flying down the downhills… We managed to complete the first half in about 2 hours and 35 minutes.
I felt my stomach being upset after the halfway mark, and feeling kinda tight down there after starting the second black loop (mile 19.5 ish). I couldn’t keep up with Ed and Lori anymore, so I stayed behind and powerwalked a little bit.
It was getting a little warm now, and the last climb of the second loop seemed tougher, as I transitioned to focusing on my breathing. I remember staring at my GPS watch for altitude and going, “are we there yet??”.. Lol. When it finally hit 8,680 and I see donwhill ahead, I felt great relief!!
Flying down the last stretch, I came across Ed again, saying hi, giving him a little encouragement, and pressing on. As I approached the finish line, I realized that yes this race was a little short of 26.2 according to my watch (5h 26 min), but even if it was 26.2, I’d still get a PR on the trail!
That’s when I saw Ed coming in, Lori had already finished a few minutes after me, and man.. Ed was so excited to finish that he gave the 3 of us total a group hug… can’t explain it in words but here’s what it looked like:
Then, I went up to the race director, Ludo. I told him, “Man, I’m glad to be done!! I thought I wasn’t going to make it but now it looks like I have a PR, thank y’all for being out here!”
Ludo, the race director, said that he was really glad to see me choose the full and finish. Looking back, I can’t believe how UN-confident I was in front of the RD at packet pickup… LOL.
There appeared to be a bunch of people near where Ed was chillaxing after the race, and where I crashed their group photo… most of them ran the half, and they’re all from the Phoenix area, and welcomed me to join the group… for I was the loner from the Lone Star state at the time hahaha…
As Capt’n Karl once said, “those who don’t take a chance never get a chance”. The spontaneous decision to do the Flagstaff marathon less than 24 hours of start ended up with not just another medal (lesser of importance), but building new friendships/bonds that otherwise would’ve never happened.
“THE FLAGSTAFF MARATHON KICKED MY BUTT!!” – is what the ribbon said.. LOL
This was a nice little detour, as I like to call it, during my time in Phoenix, AZ. Unplanned, spontaneous, and spur of the moment. One of the most chill feeling I experienced after a race, as it felt like nothing ever happened after I descended my way back to Phoenix. But hey, sometimes the unexpected things in life turns out to be best experiences from time to time…
As Ed mentioned (sorry I’m stealing your thunder if you happen to read this LOL), the bond between runners in the back country is a quiet psychological bond that is unlike anything when you’re at your lowest darkest place. From my few moments of chatting with him, I know that this was mentally tough for him too at the end. Although I couldn’t help passing him as I was going down those hills, he was one of the few from his group that did the full, and man that is quite an accomplishment for a bunch of low altitude dwellers!!
Sometimes, strangers become great friends over many miles of trail. Commonality: the love (or hate LOL) for trail running and the company of one another… Lol
The same principle goes around for disciples across the world who meet in random places otherwise never known. Commonality: the love for Christ and for the company of one another.
To enjoy and be satisfied in what we do, as stated in the book of Ecclesiastes multiple times, is a gift from God.
Training for Chicago has reached its max, and my legs are tight and feet are aching… Time to taper down….