Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 Mount Marathon Race Report

(Sorry for the long post - not trying to bore anyone to death!  A quick picture scroll is completely allowed!) 

Friday was my 6th Mount Marathon race. After taking last year off (to avoid injury pre-Olympics) I was excited to toe the start line of Alaska's biggest race yet again. However, the forecast wasn't looking good.... for the racers at least. The 30-40 thousand spectators love the sun but for the athletes, and particularly myself, the heat is bad, bad news. Pre-race I thought our group of women had the potential to at least threaten some of the records - either overall or age group but with the temps in the high 70's (which means high 80's on the mountain) it seemed virtually impossible. My time ended up being a minute slower than my PR and Strabel, the men's winner was a full two minutes off his best time even though he's arguably in the best shape of his life. I know some accomplished and highly trained runners who were up to 5 minutes off their best time. The heat was unforgiving and I'll tell you, four days later my legs are still screaming in pain and soreness. 

Part of me wonders if I suffered any permanent, irreversible damage to my legs during my exertional rhabdomyolysis episode of 2009 or perhaps I'm just genetically pre-disposed to struggle in the heat.  My win in 2012 was a minute faster and felt exponentially easier than a few days ago. Funny thing is that I spent Friday night in Seward and woke up Saturday (July 5th) to a cloudy, overcast, 55 degree day that would have been PERFECT for racing. I have no doubt in my mind I could have gone up to 2 minutes faster had it been 20 degrees cooler. 

PRE-RACE & PREDICTIONS: I was honestly a bit anxious going into the race because of an injury I've been dealing with this summer.  Somehow I managed to pull my medial hamstring 6 weeks ago and have had to modify training quite a bit. I was unable to do any fast running on the flats, jumping, or downhill training. I knew this wasn't going to serve me well in the race and I was down playing the injury and holding my cards tight. A SPECIAL "thank you" to my awesome PT Zuzana Rogers at Advanced Physical Therapy who worked with my 3x/week to get this injury under control. I knew this was going to be a challenge because both Christy and Najeeby are former road racers and Christy was speaking openly about her love of downhill running. With my injury I was unable to train this aspect of the race - their strengths. So, I trained like I usually do, as a cross country skier :) 

Going into the race one of the local news networks called me the "pre-race favorite."  I thought this was slightly unfair seeing that Christy Marvin was the defending champion and had won NINE straight mountain races leading up to this year's big show..... but, I've run into this phenomena before. Because I have the title "Olympian" on my name I've found that people expect me to win or at least excel in anything I do. Honestly, I think this is not only unrealistic but unfair. I'm human. I can be out of shape. I have been incredibly out of shape. If you saw me trying to run down Fourth Avenue I looked HORRENDOUS.  In the future I hope that this doesn't stop me from entering events. 

Race Start taken from high on the mtn. Photo: Danielle Bailey

Photo: Jim Jager

Aubrey Smith! Photo: Danielle Bailey

Photo: Danielle Bailey

Photo: Danielle Bailey

UPHILL: I've raced very little this summer. First and foremost because I needed a physical and mental break after a strenuous Olympic year. Second, I skipped some races I wanted to do because of my injury. I also needed the extra time to get in shape! It was a low snow year here in Anchorage and many AK runners had been on their feet since late winter/early spring. I felt behind! 

For some reason I expected the pace to be fast from the gun. When it wasn't, I was surprised. So, I settled in right behind Christy to see what would happen. At the base of the mountain we took the roots and Jeebs (Najeeby) made a last minute ditch to the Cliff. When the trails came together Jeebs was a good 25 feet ahead of us and kept that gap & lead for the first 1/4 of the race. I kept an eye on her and my ears open, trying to listen and interpret how hard Christy was working - specifically compared to my own exertion. Just beyond Squirrel tree I passed Christy to chase Jeebs down. I thought we would hike together for a bit but all of a sudden found myself alone.  At first I panicked - was it too early to be attacking this race alone? While there is no real "draft effect" in mountain running it's really nice to be able to hike behind someone and follow their footsteps and route choice. At this point I didn't know if Jeebs and Christy would end up banding together to chase me down. But, you can't over think it.... I just decided to go and go hard. 

Because of the warm temps there were people lining the mountain offering feeds & water.  Folks were offering drinks and/or to pour cold water down your back or on your head. THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who was out doing this. On such a hot day it was crucial for all of the racers and I ultimately think it helped keep many people - myself included, out of the hospital. 

Someone made the comment to me that I didn't have my usual "Holly Race Smile" so I must have been working hard. I'll admit, I was in the zone. So I'm really sorry that I can't thank individual feeders personally. I don't remember who you are!  But THANK YOU! 

I stole a glance at my watch half way and decided that I was feeling good enough to turn the jets on a bit. If you're going to go for it, go for it, right? I had a good top half of the climb and somehow managed to round the summit rock with a two minute lead. Some people thought the race was said and done but I have enough experience with Mt. Marathon to know that it's not over until you cross the finish line, literally. I had my work cut out for me.... 

Photo: Todd List Photography

Photo: Danielle Bailey

Near the top  Photo: Andrew Dougherty

Photo: Andrew Dougherty

DOWNHILL: I think I was quoted directly after the race as saying that I felt like a marionette trying to run down a mountain. I felt great on the uphill and wasn't expecting my legs to feel as flooded as they felt once I hit the high-speed scree.  The complete lack of snow this year also meant that we had to stay on our feet for the entire race and robbed us of the high-speed snow glissade which I happen to like quite a bit. I did my best to lean into the hill but felt myself relying on the breaking ability of my heels to much; not the technique I was going for. It's one thing to practice the downhill at speed and it's a hole nother ball game to race the downhill after a hard uphill in the sweltering heat. The scree and "gut" felt slow and un-coordinated but not disastrous.  People along the way were cheering, "no one in site" & "you've got it!"  But again - Mt. Marathon isn't over until it's over. 

Then came the road and things immediately got really painful.  Everyone who watches the race automatically assumes that the 38 degree step pitches of the mountain are the most difficult part of the race but that actually couldn't be further from the truth.  A friend told me last night that he was standing with a high school boy who was commenting on racer's running form once they hit the road. Now I'm not a pretty runner to begin with but if you saw the last five minutes of my race one would probably never think that I was the race leader. Again - you don't know how bad this hurts until you try it for yourself.  

I think that Rob could tell that I was in the world of hurt and lucky for me, he sprinted down the mountain with a full backpack in time to dose me with cold water one last time. (Thoughts and flashbacks of 2009 were a bit too close & personal....)  

Most of the descent ends up being pretty quiet and it's not until you round the Cliff that the explosion and  noise of thousands upon thousands of people hit you. There is also a cop car waiting at the bottom of the Cliff for the leader to follow and warn spectators that race leaders are entering the city streets.  And now begins possibly the longest 5 minutes of my life. I felt like death. My legs wouldn't move. Rob told me I looked horrible. Strabel told me I looked like a race walker that wasn't racing. Both of these statements were entirely true. It was ugly.  The worst part is that I had no idea where Christy was - or how fast she was catching me. I usually have a rule of not looking back but in this race, I looked over my shoulder many times - only to learn nothing. I either couldn't see her or I was too delusional to differentiate her charging stride from the tens of thousands of people that lined the course. People also told me that when I looked back it was a quick flick of my head and shoulders but instead my entire body turned and I almost started running uphill.  I don't remember this but pictures reveal that I was "running" from side to side, rather than a straight line. (This is funny when you consider how little time I had to spare) 

Despite the intense pain I was experiencing I'm impressed with my ability to remain positive in the moment. A large part of this I attribute to working with a US Ski Team Sports Psychologist over the past year. I've spent time with Pam working on affirmations and positive mantras. So, for example, I was thinking "you can do this" rather than "S***, she's going to pass you!" This stuff is really powerful and I plan to write about it more later when I share with you my professional and academic aspirations (soon!) 

It took everyone once of strength in my body and my brain to get across the finish line and when I did, I immediately collapsed right in front of the hard charging Christy Marvin. She was gaining on me FAST and I gave up anywhere between 45-1 minute of my lead on the 3/4 mile road alone.  Christy had an AMAZING downhill nearly two minutes faster than mine and her split rivaled many of the top men! After talking with many racers it seemed like the people that had good uphills suffered on the down and vice versa. It was hard if not impossible to excel at both given the hot conditions. That said, I was incredibly impressed with Christy and had the course been 25 yards farther than it was, she would have certainly passed me! 

Photo: Danielle Bailey

Photo: Jim Jager

Photo: Zuzana Rogers

The "Gut"
Photo: Freeze Frame Photography

 Photo: Glynn Strabel

Chasing the cop car with the ER in the background... Photo: Rebecca Mcgee

Photographic evidence that I did what I don't like to do! Photo: John Browne

Following sequence from KTVA.... 

Gave it my all.... 

THE AFTERMATH: The finish pen is a bit of a blur as I was still pretty delirious. Once the interviews has subsided I was tasked with walking back to my car which was virtually impossible. Luckily a friend with a razor scooter was nearby and I stood on it while Rob pushed me 6 blocks uphill to get some dry clothes and my bike so I could coast down to the river to soak my legs. I also found Zuzana who gave me a leg flush immediately which helped a ton. I went from not being able to move to being able to limp around at a slow pace.

From there the afternoon & evening unfolded in it's usual manner. My annual ice cream bar tradition, talking to too many people and virtually missing my shower opportunity, etc. etc.  Today, as I sit here at my kitchen table it's been four days since the race and my quads are still incredibly sore to the touch. Not 2009 sore but alarmingly so.  I'm impressed by MM racers who are already out hiking and have resumed normal training. I'm still a couple days out from that. I know that by nature we're highly motivated people but I'd really urge people to take the rest their body deserves.  If you push this race will beat up your body and resuming training prematurely will only take you backwards.

Yesterday we started our annual women's ski training camp up here in Alaska. We have the girls from the US Ski Team here in town training with many of the other top domestic women in the field. We also have a special guest, Celine Brune-Lie from the Norwegian National Team. While I'm training with the group I'm modifying workouts to give my legs the recovery I know they need. On Sunday we'll fly up to Eagle Glacier for a week of on-snow training and my goal is to be 94% functional by that time.

Thanks for hanging with me through this crazy long post. If you made it this far you must be an endurance athlete! :)

Photo: Rob Whitney 

Top women, left to right: Ann Spencer, Christy Marvin, Me, Najeeby Quinn, Junior Overall Allie Ostrander & Denali Foldager. 

Photo: Chris Jones

APU Takes BOTH cups! Photo: Chris Jones

Here is Beth Bragg of the Anchorage Daily News' account: 

Also, here is a replay of KTVA's live TV coverage of the race in the form of a 1:28 minute YouTube video. It must be said that I'm REALLY disappointed that two networks showed the 3pm men's race LIVE on TV while the women's race was only available via Internet stream. Whatever happened to equality? Anyways.... someone pointed out that this is good treadmill material if you're in need of something like that :)  And yes, KTVA did a great job of putting this together. Thanks to their dedicated reporters and photographers, many who were covered in dirt & sweat from head to toe by the end of the day! 

Last but not least, congratulations to ALL the finishers of the 2014 Mount Marathon Race. There were many little battles out there and I'm happy to report that I haven't heard of any serious injuries!  Thanks to all the race organizers, sponsors, volunteers and water dumpers.  There are too many people to thank to thank folks individually but you know who you are! 

Cheers - have a good one! 
Holly :) 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Olympics of Alaska

......Is tomorrow, July 4th.  Mt. Marathon is without a doubt the biggest race in AK. Tomorrow will be the 87th running of the race and many claim that it's the second oldest footrace in America - second to the Boston Marathon. The hype is in full effect and I literally cannot go anywhere in town without people inquiring. To give you perspective the town of Seward has approximately 2,500 full time residents. On July 4th nearly 30,000 - 40,000 people flood to Seward for Independence Day celebrations - centered around the race. There have been lots of stories as of late leading up to the race and I thought I'd put a collection of them here, on my blog for anyone that's interested.

The race has garnered some serious national and international attention after the tragedie(s) of two years ago where one race disappeared and has never been found and another, local Mt. Runner Matt Kenney (Story on Matt HERE) fell down the Cliff and suffered a severe TBI. Two years later Matt will be "getting back on the horse" and racing Mt. Marathon again - this time in helmet. I'm already looking forward to cheering Matt on once my race is completed!

Today's Anchorage Daily News article about the women's race:

I agree that this year's women's race is going to be incredibly exhilarating. I have NO idea what's going to happen tomorrow and that's why it's so exciting. I have to admit, I'm pretty disappointed that two TV stations are showing the men's race LIVE and the women's race is only available via Internet stream. 

Christy Marvin, the 2013 defending champion was recently featured on National NPR with Melissa Block!

My story with KTVA, complete with footage from my race finish when I came in 212th place...

Maps, other videos, etc:

Max Romney made a fantastic video about last year's men's race where the long-standing race record was broken.  This year he'll be at it again filming a longer documentary. He's already done pre-race interviews with all the contenders and it's my understanding he'll be out tomorrow with 12 video cameras on the mountain and maybe even a drone for aerial shots! 

An incredibly well-written article about the 2012 race in Runner's World called the "Last Man Up." 

Race updates, results: 

Live video feed here: 

Here we go! Have a fun & safe July 4th everyone! Race report to follow......