Two Marathons in Two Weeks - Valley of Fire Marathon Recap

Why would anyone want to run two marathons in two weeks?  Why would anyone want to run a marathon after spending a week in Las Vegas?  Why would anyone want to run a marathon with so many hills that afterwards it would be hard to walk for a week???

After breaking four hours at the Monumental Marathon on November 6th, I was ready to rest a little and then get set for my second marathon of the month.  Coach Greg had worked out a recovery plan for me and I was sticking pretty close to the schedule.  I walked and then started to run slowly until my legs were feeling back to normal.  Fortunately for me, I am able to recover quickly after long runs and races.

After a week of recovery, I boarded a plane for Las Vegas.  That's right - not only was I going to run another marathon, I was going to spend a week in Vegas before the run (now that's hardcore)...

My father in law (Stew) and I spent the week exploring the casinos, going to a comedy show, betting on sports and even going to a UNLV / Air Force football game.  We visited Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and then drove around Red Rock Canyon the day before the race.  It sounds like a lot, but I was sitting most of the time.

Not only was I lucky enough to have my father in law traveling with me, part of my wife's family (Kelly and Cynthia) live in Las Vegas as well.  They made me a pasta dinner the night before the race and really made me feel at home.  This would be the first marathon I ever completed without my wife, Jennifer, and my son, Peyton, at the finish line...

Stew and I woke up at 4:00am (Vegas time) and headed down stairs.  I was shocked when the elevator doors opened and I was standing in what looked to me like the aftermath of a night club party.  I must have looked strange standing there in my running gear!

Stew and I had rented a car and we drove about forty-five minutes outside of Las Vegas.  We took the exit for the Valley of Fire State Park and drove eighteen miles in the desert.  The sun started to rise and we could see the mountains in the distance.  My stomach was starting to turn.

The temperature was perfect (45-50 degrees), but it was really windy.  When we got to the park entrance, the park ranger told us that the marathon had been canceled due to a high wind advisory, but that I could still run the half.  I was in shock!  I had not come to run a half, I was there to run a full marathon!  I decided that I was running the full course no matter what and we headed to the parking area.

When we arrived, there was a lot of confusion.  I finally heard the race director announce that anyone who wanted to run the full marathon could do a double out and back of the half course.  This seemed reasonable (until I actually ran the first half) and I headed to the start.  Stew was going to do some rock climbing and then volunteer at the start/end until I finished (how cool is my father in law?).

And this is where the fun begins...

At 7:00am I lined up with about twenty to thirty runners and waited for the start (some of the other marathon runners started later, but we all had start/finish chips on).  The other races (5k, 10k and half would start at 8:00am).  I don't even remember how the race started, but we all headed into the canyons.

The first half mile of the race was straight up hill.  It was brutal and I realized right off that this was going to be tough.  The hill seemed to go on forever until I reached the top and saw the most amazing view!  I was staring at huge red rocks shooting into the sky, it truly looked like a valley on fire!

Throughout the race I would continue to be overwhelmed by the sites that appeared before me.  At every turn and at every hill top I was blown away with the vast beauty of this place.  Unfortunately, my body was being ripped to shreds at the same time!

I had planned to take it easy and run a slow pace for the entire race, but I was caught up in the moment and was running decent splits.  After mile two we headed off road and ran on gravel (big rocks and a lot of sand) for a mini out and back.  I was hoping for some flat area to run on for a while, but it was just one hill after another.  After the out and back, we hit the road again and made a descent to the valley below.  This was not a gradual descent.  It was steep hills going down, followed be grueling climbs back up hills.

As I ran the course I saw a large rock structure in front of me and, for whatever reason, I was drawn to it.  I held it in my sights for what seemed a lifetime until finally I reached the top of an unbelievable steep climb and found myself face to face with the most amazing rock formations I had ever seen.

I made it to the turn around point and emptied my shoes of sand and rocks.  I also had to tighten my shoe laces.  I really had never run on so may hills and had no clue that my feet would be moving so much inside my shoes.  I made the adjustments and headed back down the five miles to the end of the half.

The return trip was just as hard.  Every downhill I had enjoyed was now a new challenge to overcome.  I was still distracted by all the sights and felt incredible as I ran down each hill, but my legs were already starting to scream!

I made it back to the end of the first half and was wiped out.  Stew was waiting for me with a full bottle of Gatorade.  I stopped to drink it and blurted out, "This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life!".  I think Stew thought I was ready to collapse.

I had completed the first half in 2:15 (way faster than I wanted and I knew that if I didn't slow down I was going to hurt myself).  The thought of stopping at the half way point had crossed my mind at around mile eleven and I knew if I stayed at the end for more than a few seconds I might not keep going.  I cut the power to my brain and made the turn back up that crazy hill...

At mile fifteen I headed back off road again and was really starting to hurt.  My calves started to cramp and I stopped to rub them out.  I drank everything I had and took in more salt, then I just kept running.  By the time I hit the road again I was past the eighteen mile mark and knew there was no turning back.

I ran down the hill and could feel my left hamstring cramping.  I did the best I could to hold it together and just cut back my pace.  I was not trying to beat a time, I would never be able to compare this race to any other race for a PB (personal best).  This one was going in its own category (hell race, I mean hill race).  The cramping faded for the most part and I was able to run the downhills and walk/run the up hills.  I noticed this was what most of the runners were doing (much sooner than me) so I felt good about my chances of finishing.

At the turnaround point I fueled up and headed back.  All the runners were spread out at this point.  I could see a few runners in front of me and behind me each time I crested a hill.  We were like an ant colony marching down this red sandy road.

The last five miles were by far the hardest part of the race, but I felt so good!  My legs felt like crap, but I felt great!  This was an adventure of a life time and I was going to finish it!

I made it to the top of the last hill I had to climb and was filled with joy as I saw the steep slope to the bottom and the finish.  I ran at full speed (hoping I would not cramp and tumble to the bottom).  There were a few volunteers ringing bells and cheering me on.  I ended the race at 5:11:50.  It was hard not having Jen and Peyton waiting for me at the end, but I saw Stew, Kelly and Cynthia at the finish line and was grateful to have family waiting for me at the end of such an amazing experience.

Why would anyone want to run two marathons in two weeks?  Why would anyone want to run a marathon after spending a week in Las Vegas?  Why would anyone want to run a marathon with so many hills that afterwards it would be hard to walk for a week???

Because its freaking awesome!  That's why!!!

1 comment:

  1. Totally awesome that you were able to do that! You set a high standard, that's for sure.

    I ran in the Ragnar Relay Las Vegas race in 2009, and it started in the Valley of Fire. Those runs were not easy. There were some parts where, and I'm guessing you ran along these same areas, they were just all but straight uphill. Nice scenery and everything but some of those hills are brutal.

    I didn't realize that you were running in that area. For some reason I thought the marathon would be more towards Mesquite because it's not really Mesquite there in the Valley of Fire. I've stayed in Mesquite a ton of times as it's the halfway point from here to my wife's family's favorite vacation spot. That whole northern Nevada area is nice and scenic but can be brutal (the temps in the summer are ridiculous).

    Anyway, well done!


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