NeologisticsRunning → Tucson 1998

The Answer Is Blowing In The Wind

Tucson Marathon, December 6, 1998

Official Time: 4:34:49
Overall Place: 829/1030 = 80.5%
Age Division Place: 32/45 = 71.1%

You might be inclined to ask, If the answer is in the wind, what was the question? The question is why I did not run faster than I did at the 1998 Tucson Marathon on December 6.

Bad weather threatened to spoil the event. A quirk of timing allowed the race itself to be carried off in reasonably good conditions. However, as described below, a very strong headwind became the toughest single factor to deal with at this event.

This was the second time I have run this race. Last year I ran for a significant PR through the rain, cold, and hail, and enjoyed the whole experience, though I thought that some features of the race could stand improvement.

The prediction was for rain, cold, and possibly even snow. We drove through a steady drizzle to get to Tucson from Phoenix, and arrived at the Expo by about 3:00 PM.

The Expo at Tucson Marathon is not much of an Expo at all. And the goodies they give to runners in the pickup packet are chintzy beyond belief. Personally, I don't enter marathons for the sake of the goodies bag. But when the best item in the collection is an eight-dose sample bottle of Orudis, you know for sure you'd better be there for other reasons.

This year's T-shirt is marginally better than last year's. Runners like to see the word "marathon" in big letters across the shirt where it's obvious, so people can see it and be impressed. The designers compromised. They used small lower case letters, with big spaces in between each one: "m  a  r  a  t  h  o  n". From more than six feet away, the main thing viewers see is still Tucson. Big deal. Anyone can buy a shirt that says Tucson. Not everyone has earned the right to wear a shirt that says MARATHON! Ah well.

The instruction sheet we received said that the last shuttle bus would leave at 6:30 AM. It also warned: Don't wait until the last bus, because there might not be enough room. Ha! Think about that one for a moment.

This year I took the initiative to organize an intertribal encounter at Cibaria, a very good restaurant on Oracle, three miles north of the race finish, with invitees from Dead Runners Society, the Penguin Brigade, CVRT (the Clydesdales), and CrAZeD (Arizona Dead). Some of us are members of more than group. I subscribe to all four. About a dozen people showed up in all.

We got back to our hotel shortly after 7:00 PM. I proceeded to arrange my stuff for morning. My daughter cracked up when I referred to the area I reserved as an altar. We runners do have our rituals that must be performed before a race.

At bedtime (9:00 PM sharp) things were not looking too promising. It was raining hard, and the prediction was for snow and cold. I can run in cold, and I can run in rain, but I was less than excited about the prospect of cold rain, especially since as an Arizonan, I don't have adequate foul weather gear.

Saturday night I didn't sleep a wink. At least I rested quietly, and didn't feel notably deprived of sleep when I got up. I was careful to be sure I got 9.5 hours the night before.

When I got up at 4:45 AM, I found to my amazement that though it was nippy out, the sky was clear, and the streets were dry. Later I saw that all the surrounding mountains had snow on them.

What a break! It remained clear, sunny, and dry for the entire duration of the race. Then, as we headed out of town about 2:00 PM, another storm front headed in, which we drove through. Meanwhile, we heard it was snowing and below freezing back in Phoenix, which has happened only twice in the twenty years I have lived there.

We were told at our hotel that as they did last year, they would be opening up the breakfast area early for the sake of the runners staying there. When I went down just after 5:00 AM, it was closed. The woman at the desk said that it would be open early -- at 6:00 AM. I pointed out that at 6:00 AM all the runners would be gone. Someone failed to communicate something there.

As a result of this misfiring, I got no coffee (Oh! how I need it!), and only one Powerbar to fuel me for the race. I survived by gulping two cups of XLR8 at every single aid station. The race supplies no GU or any other form of food.

The next glitch followed immediately. The hotel also told us at the desk that there would be a shuttle leaving from the hotel. Last year one of the regular busses stopped there, so I assumed the deal was the same. Someday I will learn to assume nothing.

It turned out to be an 11-passenger van that one had to make a reservation for, and it cost $4. I had the $4, and managed to get on the first van out, but numerous other runners had begun to gather, and there was only one more van run scheduled. I don't know if they had enough room to accommodate everyone, or if everyone there correctly understood what the deal was. Here was another misunderstanding that might have led to disaster for some persons.

Naturally, I thought that this "shuttle" would run us out to the race start. What we actually got for our $4 was a lift to the Allied Signal parking lot three miles away, where the race finished, and where people were registering.

The driver dumped us out in the lot and left to get the next load. This turned out to be the wrong place. The busses were being loaded at a business park a half mile down the street, which we were obliged to walk to. The folks I was with were good sports about this inconvenience, demonstrating once again that runners are generally classy people.

Things went a little better after that.

On the bus I sat down next to Simonet Bernard, a runner from Belgium who had come over just for the race, and was hoping to run a "good time", which in his case meant 2:20. Yikes! His PR is 2:18. This was the first opportunity I've had to talk personally more than a couple of minutes to a runner of that caliber.

Simonet told me that last year he was ranked among the top ten marathoners in his country. But he'd had a major medical disaster earlier this year, not related to running, and was told he'd never be able to run well again. However, he ran as a rabbit for a friend in Chicago this year, and finished in 2:25, which he said was "very easy", so had revived his hopes of being a prime contender once again. The results listing shows him to be 37 years old.

I saw him again after the race. He said he finished fifth, but didn't go sub-2:20 as he'd hoped. He was in good spirits. He reported that he had been with the lead pack of four the whole way, but that a fifth person came up from behind and smoked them all in the last two miles. According to the results listing, that would be Frank Nabity, who finished in 2:20:43.

When we got to the start, it was cold enough that every puddle in sight was iced over. There was no place to get warm. However, the sun was almost up, and the sky was clear, which was good news.

With no coffee or adequate breakfast, I was unable to allow nature to do what nature normally does before the race started. I visited the potty with only modest success, still full of the previous night's pasta.

Nature kicked in with a vengeance not long after the race started. I was uncomfortable from inward rumblings from then until the end. Fortunately it never became an emergency.

On finishing the race I immediately took care of this business. You don't want to know what happened. I couldn't believe it myself.

I blame this inconvenience on the hotel, which gave me wrong information. (Why not? I have to blame someone for something.) And surely this discomfort was at least a little bit of a factor in how well I was able to run.

Mercifully, the race started exactly on time. This year it was very easy to locate the starting line as we crossed it. Also, they put up bright, shiny and highly visible new mile markers, a great improvement over last year. I'm sure this was much appreciated by all runners. I've run races where you couldn't see any of them.

It was cold at the start, but I was comfortable almost immediately after starting. I wore only a long sleeve Coolmax shirt, with my Dead Runners Society Coolmax singlet pulled over it, and red shorts. Other runners were dressed like they were about to traverse the Yukon. I'm sure most of them later felt they were overdressed.

The course goes gently downhill the first fifty yards or so, around the corner, then steadily uphill for a long while, but it's not steep.

There is one killer hill that begins at 2.5 miles, and lasts until at least 3.5 miles. It's very steep, unrelenting, on a curve, and a discouraging energy sapper. I saw some people walking it. Fortunately, this is the only uphill even remotely like that on the course.

Coming out onto the state highway on which the whole last nineteen miles of the race is run is an exhilarating experience. The view is great. The road rolls downhill for as far as the eye can see. The descent is absolutely steady and without bumps for a solid ten miles before hitting any flat or uphill portions. It's almost too much of a good thing. If there is a race in which a person might dare to run hard early, this is it.

Less Than Half Done

Less Than Half Done

Because I had trained well, it was my hope to break my 4:25 PR this race, finishing in perhaps 4:20. I really thought I could do it. Running 4:15 would have been especially sweet. I didn't make it.

I ran a good first half, hitting exactly 2:07 at 13 miles. They still had no 13.1 marker for those who wanted to record their midpoint split time. I continued running well until about mile 21 before my wheels started to come off, though from about 17 on, I slowed down considerably, and finally started to ache. Still, until about 20 miles, I entertained real hope of making the PR.

But shortly into the second half the wind started.

The biggest problem this race presented was a huge headwind. It wasn't bothersome at first, but became a major factor later in the race. I later learned it was not much of a factor for the leaders or the half marathoners. It was only after about three hours from the race start that those who were still on the road began to feel it.

The wind became noticeable by the beginning of the second half, problematical by mile 17, and outright unmanageable after 20 miles. You wouldn't believe what it was like at the end.

I'm no expert at estimating wind speeds, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone reported there were gusts up to 50 miles per hour. I saw spectators who had to anchor themselves against something to keep standing, and traffic cones were all being blown over.

At times I had difficulty maintaining forward progress. A surge would knock me off balance, forcing me backward and to my right. Sometimes a running step would net me only a few inches. If this had been a training run I would have given up for the day.

It was worst where it hurt most: from miles 24 through 25.5. At times the wind nearly stopped me outright. For a while I had to run with my head down and my elbows tucked in, with one hand on my hat and another on my bib, to prevent it from being ripped right off my shirt. Some gusts nearly pushed me outside the cones protecting us from traffic, and some high profile vehicles were swerving in it.

Leading The Pack at Mile 26

Leading the Pack at Mile 26
(A very small pack at the back)

By mile 22 I'd lost hope of setting a PR, but still expected to finish sub-4:30. I'd told a friend I would be satisfied with that. The last three miles I ran as hard as I could, but had to do some walking.

The extreme wind held me back to an official finishing time of 4:34:49. I forgot to stop my watch as I crossed the finish line, so don't know what the watch time was. Tucson is a small race, so I didn't have to line up far from the start. I crossed the starting line no more than twenty seconds after the start.

I finished in a dead tie with a young woman (the list says she is 29) who tried to overtake me the last few steps. There were about a half dozen people in the group she was running with, but we both pulled away about fifty yards from the end. They collected my tear strip first, though, and hung a medal around my hat. It wouldn't quite fit over the brim.

A Close Finish

A Close Finish
(I don't know who's giving the high five)

This finishing time was disappointing, considering I had given every ounce of effort I had. But it was still my second fastest of four marathons, so I was not devastated by the result.

After the forementioned potty stop, bolting down two yogurts while standing in a cold gale, and picking up my sweats, we decided not to stay for the awards, but to get back to the hotel so I could shower and check out. We headed off for the car, which was a good half mile away. I was in serious limping mode, and hobbled along leaning on Cyra-Lea, while Suzy ran ahead to get the car.

Me, Cyra-Lea, Simonet in Background

A Very Poor Picture, with Cyra-Lea
(Busmate Simonet Bernard in the background)

I've never put more effort into running a race than I did this one. External conditions beyond my control prevented me from getting my record.

These happenings serve to demonstrate that one can't pin all one's hope for satisfaction from running on the results of a race.

My biggest charge came when I finished my three-miler Wednesday before the race, and declared my training cycle for Tucson Marathon 1998 to be completed, knowing I had done absolutely everything I had planned on doing, and that I had done it all as well as I possibly could. What more could I ask for?

Running the race itself is just an excuse to take a trip out of town, go to a restaurant, and collect another cheap finisher's medal to hang on my wall.

Perhaps I should add that yesterday was the first time I've run a marathon when I haven't immediately begun looking forward to my next one. But I have no doubt that the desire will return again, given a few days to recover and to begin planning for the next one. Today every muscle in my body aches.

Oh yes, there will be a next one. My greatest race is yet to come.

On race night we got back in town at 5:15 PM. Under normal circumstances, one might expect a person to just vegetate on the couch until bedtime. However, we had tickets to a Steinway Artists concert, a series we have subscribed to for ten years and never miss. And I'm the volunteer designated driver for an assemblage of older widow ladies we take with us, so I couldn't back out. Besides, I didn't really want to.

So off we went at 6:00 PM sharp to the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, with me dressed in the sweatsuit I wore driving home from Tucson, to hear pianist Caio Pagano play three concertos, by Bach, Mozart, and Shostakovich. Believe it or not, I stayed awake and into it the whole time.

Life is still good.

Lynn Newton
Phoenix, AZ
December 6, 1998