9 Months Prior
I am on my way to my Sunday league soccer game with PubliMerlo in La Liga No a Violencia si al Deporte (The No to Violence Yes to Sport League). Our games are played on a pockmarked field with the center considerably lower the the sidelines. A cow often grazes on the side of the field where jocote fruit grows, and the center circle becomes a mud pit during the rainy season. After a particularly rainy and muddy game, most of the team washed their cleats, uniforms, socks etc. in the gutter alongside la carretera.
At the end of the season, after we were league champions and runners up in two tournaments, I was offered a spot on the third division soccer team from Masaya. I had scored In each of my last four games, including on a half volley, off the horizontal bar and off a direct free kick from some 25 meters. To be offered a position as a semi-professional soccer player was the realization of a dream that had really emerged when I was thirteen. I turned it down. My year-long position at a local NGO was coming to a close. It was time for me to go home.
Despite my new goal, I couldn't kick my soccer habit. After one of my Sunday games (why all men's league games are on Sunday I'll never know) and a 16 mile long run I injured my knee. I was unable to run for several weeks and I scared myself half to death. I had injured myself before through soccer - a hip ligament, two broken legs on separate occasions - however getting injured through the simple act of running seemed ridiculous. The overuse and demands of trying to engage in both sports was unsuccessful. The rubber had to hit the road at a certain point. I decided to leave competitive soccer behind (except for rare special occasions of course) and focus on running. It had been a good long road. But after 16 years and thousands of hours I hung up the tacos (no not the food) and placed my identity at the mercy of my legs.
Arriving at Crater Lake with the full fledged support of my family, I felt well prepared. The Crater Lake Marathon is a low-key event with a difficult course, a small field of runners and truly epic scenery. The night before the marathon my girlfriend and I camped in the backcountry, just several miles from the start of the race on the west side of the crater. The sunset was gorgeous, the stars were incredible and I had done almost everything I could have to prepare.
Despite having chosen a small marathon to start off my new running self, I still felt the pressure to perform. The morning of the marathon the alarm went off at 4am. I ate a few home fries that we had packed in and promptly returned to my sleeping bag for another hour and a half. At 5:45 we packed up camp and walked the mile and half back to the car. The sun was just beginning to rise over Crater Lake as we pulled up to the starting line before 6:30. There was no place in the world that I would have rather been in that moment.
The Crater Lake Rim Runs feature a 6.7, 13 and 26.2 race with runners of all distances beginning in a mass start. This makes it difficult to tell who is actually competing with you over the long haul. As the marathon began I made a conscious effort to hold my pace back a touch, rather than let my adrenaline catapult me to the front of the pack. I didn't want to be burning unnecessarily large quantities of glycogen early on. Despite my intentionally slow start, I found my self in the lead for approximately 250 meters before a couple of speed demons went by me at what I thought would be an irresponsible pace for me to match in the uncharted waters of the marathon. I held my pace and continued to run my own race. I never run based on time. I don't have a Garmin watch, and my analog watch was lost in some rapids during a mini kayak adventure the day before. Clearly fate intended that I run this race on feel alone.
Although I had been worried about smoky air due to a very active fire season, we were lucky to have nothing but blue sky and crisp alpine morning air. Although my family and I thought that we wouldn't see each other too much because we anticipated a decent amount of traffic on the road, that was not the case at all. My family quickly converted their Diesel Ford 350 into a crew truck and started handing out sports drink to myself and two other guys who were running near me. I was surprised and a little incredulous to find that only one in three of the aid stations offered Gatorade while the majority offered only water. I knew that no gels of any kind would be available, which is why I was carrying my own, but I can't help and wonder how the race directors expect runners to go the full distance while only consuming sugar every nine miles or so.
Running past the 6.7 miler finish line, two more runners had just passed me, one of whom went on to win the half marathon. He and I had exchanged a few words between breaths, so I was aware that we weren't competing in the marathon. However Loren, the other guy in our little group, was running the marathon. He passed me and maintained a small lead until I passed him as he slowed at the aid station just before mile 7. From there he tailed me relatively closely until I lost him much later on, around mile 22.
After having climbed steadily to the 14 mile marker I was happy to let gravity do the work for the next 8 miles or so. Although I knew I was running a race, most of the time I was alone. I couldn't see anyone in front of me, and the course made me feel as though I was in an isolated part of Wyoming. I guess I shouldn't say I felt all by myself though because every time my family's support truck pulled past, our trusty dog Rio would bark loudly, reminding my foolish parents that I was still out there on the road. How could they be so stupid as to not pick me up? I don't know Rio, I just don't know.
I am happy to say that despite the early feeling of indigestion, I was able to focus on my breathing and keep my stomach appeased despite a couple of unnaturally sweet Clif shots that I rammed into my system. When I hit the 1,000 elevation gain that was miles 22-24 it was the hill, heat and dust I was fighting, and not the dreaded "wall". A fear of hitting the wall differentiates all shorter distances with the marathon. Basically, your body is incapable of storing enough glycogen to cover an entire marathon at race pace. Usually the last six miles or so are the danger zone, which is why you see people bother with all kinds of fueling strategies. In order to avoid the wall you need to consume enough simple sugars while running to carry yourself through to the finish. I was able to conquer my nutrition well enough that the only challenge presented was the endurance, which was challenge enough!
I had been all smiles through the marathon until I had to climb that dusty hill towards the end of the course. I can honestly say that reaching the turnaround point at mile 24.5 was equally as exciting as crossing the finish line. Although I grimaced through the climb, I was able to break into a smile as I double-fisted a couple of paper cups of water. I was home free! My father met me on his bicycle with a mile to go and provided a couple of words of encouragement. I think he was almost as excited as I was! In the last 100 meters I was happy to find that I still had a respectable kick and I called upon my fast twitch muscles to bring me home.
It wasn't until a day or so later that I was able to read up on the winner Gary Krugger. Gary is a phenomenon. He runs marathons at an absolutely insane rate, approximately three every month, and has won dozens of them. Already impressed with my performance, I felt even more honored to have crossed paths with him.