Apparently, I have become one of those psychos who complete marathons as training. With no pressure and no time goal, yesterday’s Bizz Johnson trail marathon was one of the most peaceful experiences I have had running.
The setting is absolutely serene. The course is inaccessible by car, making it incredibly quiet. It starts in the town of Westwood, CA, also known as the home of the Paul Bunyon legend, and runs through the Susan River Canyon. The trail is flat and non-technical. You enjoy a number of bridge crossing, the sound of a passing train or two, and the freaky feeling of running in two very dark tunnels.
I started running with my friend Kim (remember her from Top of Utah) who was trying to hit 3:50, but she couldn’t catch her breath from the word “Go”. Then she pulled her hamstring! Poor Kim. It was a rough day for her, but she finished. I stuck with her for 10 miles, but I kept pulling ahead and taking pictures and then circling back to get her.
When she knew it was going to be a slow day, I ran on. I caught Lynn at mile 12, which was really bad news as he was supposed to be qualifying for Boston with a 3:30. He was shuffling very slowly, admitting he had no energy at all. Couldn’t even hold an 8:15 pace. He told me to go ahead and use the rest of the run as a good trainer for my upcoming North Face 50-miler. At mile 20, he ended up DNF-ing for the first time. Even the best, and both Kim and Lynn are some of the best, have bad days.
So I ran on, but at this point my pace was so “off” that I just put my Garmin away and enjoyed myself. My friend and North Face 50 partner, Carrie, caught me at mile 16 and we ran a negative split for the second half (if you don’t count our last mile… read on). We still took our time and I still took photos, but at least I wasn’t circling back to get people. Then she got a little tired at mile 25, and I was happy to take it easy, so we walked it in. I have never done that before! But it was actually really fun. We didn’t care and neither of us offered up the ‘ol, “ready to run again?”. We were laughing and chatting and having a grand ol’ time. At mile 26 we jogged to the finish.
It was interesting to compare the Bizz Johnson experience to the Top of Utah marathon that Kim and I ran three weeks ago. They both started and stopped at around the same elevation, but the downhill felt totally different. It was pretty dramatic for the first half in Utah and barely noticeable for most of Bizz Johnson.
This marathon was also different as it was run by the PCTR team. They are of course a stellar trail running organization, but trail runs and marathons are not the same thing. As a result, the support was an odd mix of trail running and marathoning, but didn’t quite capture the needs of either type of runner. For example, there wasn’t a single clock along the route. This is expected in a trail run, but a disappointment for a race billed as a “great Boston qualifier”. There was no water at the start, and no first aid that I could see. Lots of issues like that need to be worked out for next year. I am sure team PCTR is already working on improvements as they are usually top notch.
And, as we all know, part of the fun of running these is you never quite know what the day will bring. We had some good times and some not-so-good times yesterday, but it sure was memorable. Aren’t they all?