Dr. J on Running

32 Morgan Valley Marathon, Morgan, UT

27 July 2013

The third time was a charm. Two years ago, United “strategically cancelled” my flight out of Syracuse, so I missed the Utah Valley Marathon. Last year, I missed the Park City Marathon with a broken foot. My journey to Morgan was my third attempt in as many years to run a marathon in Utah.

This time, I started my trip two days early to insure against flight disruptions. I arrived to Salt Lake City without a hitch Thursday noon. I drove north to Layton, where I stayed in the Towne Place Suites, and I enjoyed its proximity to stores and restaurants. In between frequent meals and naps, I crossed the road to Barnes and Noble and caught up on my reading.

Packet pickup at the Morgan County Fairgrounds foretold of good things to come. The nylon zippered bag contained many useful goodies, most notably a 20-ounce bottle of water. I met Tara, one of the six race directors, and learned about the short history of this three-year-old marathon. An avid marathon runner who ran five or six Utah marathons each year, Tara convinced her running buddies to start a marathon in Morgan on the hundredth anniversary of the county fair. Their creation, the Morgan Valley Marathon, came as close to a perfect marathon as any runner could wish.

I passed up the free pre-race pasta dinner in Morgan in favor of a Paleolithic dinner of sirloin steak, baked sweet potato and steamed broccoli at Outback Steakhouse. I returned early to my room, set three alarm clocks for 3:30am, and admired the size-small black MVM technical hooded sweatshirt that I bought at the expo. I tied the timing chip to my New Balance Minimus MR10, pinned the race bib to my Marathon Maniacs T-shirt, and checked the weather forecast one last time before hitting the sheets.

The weather had been very hot for several days, with highs in the 90s and low 100s. The forecast for race day called for a low in the 50s and high around 90. With a 5:30am start time, we contemplated a 5-degree rise in temperature per hour, giving runners an incentive to run fast early. This became my predicament, as I weighed steady early running to get out of the heat against alternating half-mile walks to deal with the elevation.

The night watch at the Towne Place made me fresh coffee to down my bagel and banana. Two months into Paleolithic living, I still have not found a suitable pre-race breakfast. I arrived at the Morgan County Fair at 4:30, and mingled with the small crowd of runners and officials.

The marathon started promptly at 5:30am. The mountains and the clouds kept the sun out of sight, giving us a good half-hour of running in darkness. Minutes into the race, I realized that I was running near the back of the pack. Alternating running and walking became out of the question – I feared getting lost in the dark. So, I settled into a four-and-four breathing pattern, and ran along. Anna, a Fifty-Stater from Oregon, joined me for a few minutes. The darkness prevented me from checking my splits, which proved to be good – I had been running barely 11-minute miles.

I reminded myself of the goal to finish uninjured the marathon, preferably under six hours, with as little wear-and-tear as possible to allow a timely recovery for Alaska in three weeks. I wanted to run at least 4.5 miles each hour, and covered 5.3 miles in the first hour. The skies lightened a bit, but the clouds kept the sun at bay. The temperature hovered around 60F. It was perfect running weather.

Sunrise brought a sensory overload. The sights, sounds and smells of the surroundings overwhelmed my senses. I wandered in the beauty of Morgan Valley, and wondered if my long-standing designation of Missoula as the most-beautiful marathon course was in jeopardy. I stopped at every water station, and drank the requisite half-cup of Powerade and half-cup of water. I ran alone from mile 2 to about mile 7, where a bathroom stop allowed to me to see the first runner in over an hour.

Becky was running her first marathon at a steady pace of just over 11 minutes. We ran together for the next six miles, reaching 10.4 miles at 7:30am, and chatted about running, the military, and the civilian furloughs. We ran past a 4-foot snake whose vitality was undetermined. We cheered on each other on the long stretch along West Old Highway Rd. Those six miles were my most social of this marathon.

At around mile 11, an acute pain in my left Achilles tendon shook me up. I felt like it was tearing sideways into multiple strands. I changed my stride from toe-striking to heel-striking, and the pain subsided gradually over a couple of minutes, much to my relief. I had been running for over two hours at an elevation of 5,000 feet with no ill-effect, albeit at a slow pace.

We reached the half in 2:28, and I bid Becky Godspeed. As it felt warmer, I made a tactical decision to alternate running and walking. Over the next three miles, I alternated running half-a-mile with walking half-a-mile, and reached 15.46 miles by 8:30am. A mile later, my luck ran out - or was it my oxygen? I was resigned to walking the last 10 miles, which I had done many times before. I reached 19.2 miles at 9:30am.

Becky motored on to finish her first marathon in under five hours, while I loitered at aid stations to thank volunteers and chat with young helpers. I reached 22.8 miles at 10:30, then the skies opened up, and a steady downpour soaked us to the bones. The rain gave the race organizers one more opportunity to impress us, by driving around the course to hand out ponchos to runners who wanted them.

At mile 26, I resumed running for the benefit of the camera. I crossed the finish line in 5:53:03, my 32nd marathon, and I received a well-deserved hug from Tara and a nice medal from her daughter. Then, loud cheers rang in the air – 82-year-old Woody sprinted towards the finish line, only minutes after me. He wore a shirt that read “if I can do it, so can you.” As Woody and I enjoyed post-race massages on adjacent tables, I bragged to Chastity that beating this guy was my claim to fame on this race day.

In hindsight, the weather forecast was fortunately off. The temperature did not reach 70F until noon, long after the marathon had ended. The course got prettier as I got slower. I noted the million-dollar mansions with attached goat pens. I enjoyed the well-stocked aid stations, and thanked the roaming cart volunteers who provided an ambulant omnipresent aid station. State troopers roamed the course on motorcycles, and blocked intersections where necessary. The volunteers were enthusiastic and numerous. All in all, I give the Morgan Valley Marathon my vote for the best run race among my 32 marathons. Tara has accomplished an outstanding marathon. It would have been perfect if the race shirt had long sleeves.

Dr Kamal Jabbour completed his 32nd marathon and 32nd state on his 56th birthday. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2013 Dr Kamal Jabbour

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