Sunday, July 19, 2015

Montana Grizzlies - The Missoula Marathon

I now understand why the University of Montana is nicknamed the Grizzlies.  More on that later. Our trip to Montana was certainly special.  These marathon adventure weekends have become more special with each one.  In the last year we (Cindy and I) have been to Alaska running through the Copper River Delta near Cordova, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a death march in White Sands, New Mexico and running wild in Missoula Montana.  Marathons have now taken me to 49 states (although I have been in all 50 states) and given me 49 distinct experiences.  Missoula was no different.

Upon arrival we always enjoy a nice refreshing lunch with local beverages.  We visited Tamarack Brewing Company on Front street.  Their original location is in Lakeside on Flathead Lake.  They had a nice selection of food including rock fish tacos (my choice) and buffalo chicken sandwich (Cindy's choice) but a better selection of beer.  I had the Yard Sale Amber and Cindy had a Sip and go Naked Apricot Ale.  After lunch we went to see the  Carousel for Missoula, just behind Tamarack near the Clark Fork River.  After watching the surf boarders on the Clark Fork, we drove around Missoula for a bit, getting up onto one of the mountains that overlooked the town and then down by the University.  It's a nice town and very dog friendly.

Tamarack's Menu

Clark Fork Surf Area

M on the mountain for University of Montana
The busiest place in town appeared to be the Big Dipper, an ice cream joint that served up some seriously good diary products including my favorite, Huckleberry ice cream.  The last time we had Huckleberry ice cream was in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.  Huckleberries grow native out west.  I devoured two giant scoops.

Both of us registered for the 5K so we picked up our bibs and shirts at the Beer Run.  Marathon weekend is filled with many events from he Beer Run on Friday night to the 5K and kids' marathon on Saturday, culminating in the half-marathon and marathon on Sunday.  Cindy had been training the last 8-9 weeks with Fleet Feet's No Boundaries program for a 4 miler which she ran in North Carolina the week before but the Missoula 5K was really her goal race.

Our 5K Bibs

Upon awakening on Saturday, rain was starting to fall.  We couldn't complain because 1) it was a great relief from the scorching, humid North Carolina summer and 2) Montana needed the rain after having months of little to no rainfall.  The Holiday Inn downtown is a block away from the start/finish line of the 5K and the finish line of the half and full marathons.  A pet peeve of mine in marathons is poor logistics (which requires a completely separate post) but Missoula, being a small town and accepting of all that comes with staging a marathon was, logistically, well done.

Ready to go!
We started the 5K in light rain and finished in a steady rain.  Cindy ran well and met her goal time of sub-40 minutes in 39:10.  She ran the first mile a bit faster than goal pace but don't we all.  She crossed the finish line and received a nice, big horseshoe shaped medal.  She placed well overall at 604 out of 1020.  Of course, she does have bionic hips!

Joy at the start

Joy in the middle

Crossing the Clark Fork

Finish line in sight

Joy at the finish

Rest at the finish

After a walk through the fabulous Missoula farmer's market and picking up a bag of huckleberries, we decided to go to the National Bison Range.  Driving the range was a real treat.  It's a long (19 miles) winding gravel road which takes about 2 hours to drive.  We did get to see our share of Bison, Mule Deer, Whitetail Deer, Elk and Antelope.  At one point we were stopped on the road by a herd of Bison which allowed for some up-close and personal pictures.

On the way to the Bison Range - Jocko River

White Tail

Mule Deer
Bison in the road

White Tail
Hidden Male Elk
We were back to town for our dinner at Caffe Dolce, a very nice Italian restaurant with superb wine and beer offerings and localized dishes made from fresh ingredients. It made for a nice pre-marathon dinner.

The Missoula Marathon starts early at 6 AM.  With having to take buses to the start, it made for an early wake-up call at 3 AM.  Of course, I was awake just before 3 and was up before the alarm.  I thought, "what a crazy thing to do, pay nearly $100 to run 26.2 miles after waking up at 3 in the morning." But, this is what I love.  The Holiday Inn was nearly a mile from the bus pick-up area at the University of Montana.  Race organizers had the walkways lit with glow sticks so finding my way to the bus was an easy warm-up for the marathon. The buses ran continuously and I was on the 4th bus.  I sat with a guy who had run the marathon previously and we chatted more about the area than running.  He lived in Stevensville.

The start line was in the sleepy little town of Frenchtown.  There were plenty of portable toilets (Sweet Pea) and plenty of room to meander around.  The baggage trucks (UPS) were right in the area as well for drop bags.  I didn't bother since it was warm and the finish line was right near the hotel.  I did get into the Marathon Maniacs' picture in front of the starting line. One funny thing I heard was that having a group maniac picture taken at the start will be the fastest you will see a maniac run in order to get into the picture.  I lined up near the 4:30 pace group and at 6 AM on the dot, a cannon went off that I'm sure woke everyone in Frenchtown.  Most of the marathoners nearly jumped out of their shoes, including me!

It was a comfortable morning, particularly after running for weeks in high temperatures and humidity.  Locals said that it was the coolest Missoula Marathon in years, maybe in the 9 year history.  It was a welcomed 60 degrees and overcast but slightly more humid than one would think. Nevertheless, it was a good morning.

Most of my times this year have been between 4:24 and 4:34 so I decided to pace with the 4:30 group led by Rachel Toor and Lisa Weinreich.  Over the years, I have enjoyed Rachel's articles in running magazines and read Personal Record, one of her four books.  She has a wonderful, creative writing style and fittingly is a professor of Creative Writing at Eastern Washington University, Inland Northwest Center for Writers MFA Program.  I've been Facebook friends with her for years and although she has never known me, I knew her by her writing and of course, her dog Helen.  Helen provides some of the most glorifying pictures on Facebook.  Rachel also lived in Durham for nearly 14 years and was an editor at Duke University Press.

I don't run with pace groups a lot but have had success with really good pacers yet not all are good.  One of the best things about running with a pace group from a race perspective is that the pace prohibits you from going out too fast, a constant issue with me, even after 87 marathons, I still seem to go out 20-30 seconds per mile too fast.  You'd think that I would have learned by now.  Another good thing is conversation.  The miles pass by quickly when engrossed in conversation.  I'm certainly not one to "engross" myself in conversation with another runner but it does help pass the time.  So, Rachel and I "met" somewhere between mile 1 and 2.  Rachel and Lisa are accomplished runners and they knew how to help guide the group, got to know us, and offered tips at certain points in the race, particularly on "the hill."  Marathons, to me, are all about fundamentals.  Just like in my football days, training started every year with the fundamentals, blocking, tackling, technique.  Rachel re-enforced the fundamentals of relaxation, hill climbing and descent, and pace along with many other things.  However, there was one thing she told us early in the marathon, which I did not heed, and wish I did and that was to stay with her and Lisa through at least 22 miles.  I didn't.  I left the group at about 16 miles or so, feeling good and thinking I could be well under 4:30.  Rachel and Lisa caught me around mile 24 and as much as I wanted to run and finish with them, I cramped and had to drop back a bit. I still finished in 4:30:13 just 16 seconds after they finished.  Rachel and I were able to chat a little about everything and I thank her and Lisa for pacing the group.  For awhile, we ran with a lady who was running to bring attention to soldiers with PTSD, that 22 vets commit suicide each day.  Rachel told her own story of a vet in one of her classes.  Without rehashing the story, the bottom line was that we runners are doing this for fun.  Whatever pain and struggle we go through for 26.2 miles is not even in the realm of comparison to what soldiers go through in war and when returning from war.  It's something to keep in perspective.

The course is relatively benign with one decent hill halfway.  As a matter of fact, I could have used a few more rolling hills.  In Montana, as Rachel said, there are prettier places to run.  The first 9 miles is straight, no turns and not much to see except open areas with distant mountains.  Once you turn to head toward the mountain, crossing over the Clark Fork River on a one-lane bridge, it feels a little more Montana-like.  Ironically, the hill from miles 12-15 is on Big Flat Rd.  Its really not that tough of a hill but still requires good fundamentals.  After mile 18, you are into Missoula with more houses and more people. The finish on Higgins Street Bridge was lined with spectators with a nice downhill to the finish line.

Cindy, as always, was waiting at the finish line.  It always puts a big smile on my face when I see her and can run over and give her a "finish line" kiss.  She is definitely my crew chief and loves being part of the marathon and running scene.  Truly, these events are joyous occasions for everyone, smiles everywhere, proud and humble moments in one, spectators, volunteers and runners alike all finding joy in the day.

Heading down Higgins St. Bridge to the finish, looking for Cynthia Anne
Time for food
Rachel and me after finishing
Only runners can stand here
The day was yet to be done.  After cleaning up and eating some fine burgers at the Missoula Club (that is all the food they sell) we decided to go to Seeley Lake for a 5.4 mile hike to Morrell Falls.  We have done some pretty serious hikes both before (not recommended) and after (recommended) a marathon.  A hike breaks up the lactic acid built up in the legs and helps recovery.  The hardest we have done after a marathon was in Utah, hiking to the wind cave climbing 1000 vertical feet on a 90 degree day. The Morrell Falls hike was not nearly as difficult but it was moderately long for us.  We have this thing about once we start, we won't turn around until we get to our destination.  Usually, the destinations are beautiful.  Morrell Falls was no exception.

Burgers and beer, what else could you ask for?

Wild Huckleberries

Forrest Hike to Morrell Falls

Lake on the way to Morrell Falls

Morell Falls

It was an amazing day,starting at 3 AM and 31 miles later feeling the exhaustion of mind and body and a bed ready to lay our weary selves to rest.

This was the first leg of vacation., On Monday we traveled to Glacier National Park for more adventure, including seeing Grizzly Bears, which deserves another blog post.