I ran in the Ogden Marathon, in Ogden, Utah, a fast beautiful race that is mostly downhill.  It would be only my third attempt at a road marathon in comparison to 46 finishes at the ultra marathon distance.  I was nervous going into this race, for good reason, because I had not fully recovered from a non-minor foot injury.  I had really not run seriously for five weeks, when I last raced a 50-mile race.   I had only started to do some treadmill miles a few days earlier.   My theory for going ahead with this race is that the injured tendon is not very involved in straight ahead flat road running.  On the other hand, on trails, the tendon if very involved to keep balance.   So I decided to go ahead and give it a try.   How would I do without any significant running training in five weeks?   I did swim many miles in the pool to keep my fitness up, but I was nervous that my leg muscles weren’t tuned well enough to maintain the fast intense speed of a marathon.

 I set some goals for the race.   I wanted to at least break 3:25, which would be a PR time and a Boston qualifier time for me by ten minutes.  Looking at the results for the past couple years and knowing a few runners in my age group who would likely run, I also set a goal to finish in the top 7 for my age group.  If I had a perfect race, a top-3 finish would be within reach, but I knew that was very unlikely given my injury.   I don’t really train for road marathons since I mostly stick to the trails and run longer distances.  So it is an interesting experiment to me when I give one of these races a try.

I got up very early and left my home around 3 a.m. to drive up to Ogden.  I arrived with 45 minutes to spare before the buses would leave.  Instead of standing around in the cold to wait for a bus, I sat in a warm hotel lobby and watched the enthusiastic runners making preparations.  The bus ride was long and intimidating.  It drove nearly the entire course and it sure seemed very long.

The start area was next to a wide open field at 5400 feet.   I noticed frost on the grass and quickly made my way over a warm barrel fire and kept warm for an hour waiting for the 7 a.m. start.  The course would drop about 1,100 feet and end in downtown Ogden.  

I lined up between the 6-7 minute-mile flags.  I wouldn’t keep that pace going for long but wanted to start out that fast.  Shortly after 7 a.m., we were away, following the South Fork of the Ogden River.  The morning was beautiful and the temperature was perfect.   I was a little tentative as I tested out the foot, but it seemed to behave.   I had bought some new road shoes that didn’t put much pressure on the outside of the foot where the tendon is.   I was so pleased to be running again. My first few mile splits were 6:18, 7:03, 6:49, for about a 20:30 5K time.   That split over 7 minutes got my attention.  I really wanted to keep my splits less than 7 minutes as long as possible, then under 8 minutes as long as possible.

I noticed the foot would complain a little when the road sloped to the inside or outside on turns, so I tried to stay on the more level portions of the road, which meant that I wasn’t cutting the corners very close.  I also noticed pain on the steeper downhills.  But so far, things were going well.   I had some good time to observe the other runners around me.  I saw several with fastrunningblog jerseys who I recognized but didn’t know.

My next splits (miles 3-6) were 7:06, 6:10, and 6:51 for about a 41:15 10K split, which would have been a PR by over two minutes if we were stopping there.   That 6:10 split is very suspect.  I think they had the mile marker in the wrong place.

I started to slow somewhat into a more sustainable pace. I noticed that runners who could keep a 7-minute miles were passing me left and right.   My next few mile splits (miles 7-10) were 6:56, 7:27, 7:48, and 7:33.   I carried a hand-held water bottle, but I knew that wouldn’t last so at each aid station I tried to grab a quick drink.   At certain aid stations those in the relay race would jump in a take over.  This was a little confusing because more people would start passing me.   The views were wonderful as we circled around Pineview Reservoir where I had water-skied many years ago. 

I did start having a problem.  My right calf felt like it was going to get sore and cramp.  This is my challenge in past marathons and I knew it would be a problem since I haven’t done enough recent tempo runs.   When I tried to push a 7-minute mile pace, it got worse, so I had no choice but to back off the pace.  I didn’t want to finish with a strained calf.

From miles 11-15 the course is more generally uphill, with one half-mile steeper hill after mile 14.  At the top was an aid station and someone yelled out my name and waved.   I couldn’t tell who it was.   It was good to hit downhill again, run over Pineview dam, and then hed steeply down Ogden Canyon.   My splits from miles 11-13 were 7:47, 7:34, 8:01, for about a 1:42 half-marathon split.  There was a big crowd at this location, where the half marathon race started.  My splits from miles 14-16 were 7:54, 9:06 (hill) and 7:44.   I was a little discouraged because it was now very tough to keep the splits under 8 minutes. 

I had now been running for nearly 2 hours and had about ten more miles to go.  My energy level was suffering so I started to take gels more often.  That seemed to help.   I did notice that runners were passing me multiple times.  It appeared that several would lollygag at the aid stations.

I really enjoyed running along the Ogden River as it roared down the canyon.  We now had high canyon walls on either side covered with pines.  My splits for miles 17-22 were 7:53, 8:08, 8:14, 8:32, 8:12, 8:42.  I was now really struggling.   I was keeping the cramping at bay.  An S! cap helped.  I wished I had brought more.  But my quads and hamstrings were complaining.   I was also breathing hard.  I was really giving it everything I had.  I never had any lazy stretches.    We caught up and passed many half-marathon walkers who gave us nice words of encouragement.

We entered the Ogden River Parkway, a beautiful paved trail that winds and rolls along the River.  As I looked at the time, I knew I had a sub-3:30 in the bag as long as I didn’t cramp up.  But I just couldn’t find any sub-9-minute speed.   Miles 23-24 were 9:09 and 9:02.  OK, just 2.2 miles to go as I was at 3:05.  If I could keep the pace up I could reach my goal of a sub-3:25.  I couldn’t have any miles over 10-mintues. At the last aid station, fellow-ultrarunning Cory Johnson yelled out a greeting and took a picture of me.

Mile 25 was 9:05.  As we reached the one-mile to go mark, a guy next to me gave me a high five.  “One mile left!”   We were all excited and tried to kick it up another notch.   We spilled out on a long straight city road.  I was so pleased that this marathon only had one mile of city streets.   The last mile was tough.  It felt like I had a bad blister on the ball of my other foot.  I did my best to ignore it and just pushed ahead as hard as I could.   Mile 26 split was 9:13.   The finish line was now really in sight with big crowds on the left and right.  The guy on the loud speaker was mentioning breaking the 3:25 mark.   I did it, I finished in 3:24:49!

I was pleased.  Despite my injury and lack of recent training, I had set a PR by 11 minutes and requalified for Boston.  I finished in 6th place in my age group (out of 75) and 149th overall with a large field of about 1,800 runners.  I reached all my goals for the race—barely.  My foot felt fine and I managed to finish without any muscle pulls.   People who finished around me mentioned that it had been hotter than expected.  I really didn’t notice the heat and managed to keep well-hydrated.

I think I could squeeze another ten minute improvement on this course, but I really have no interest in chasing marathon minutes.  I would much rather chase ultramarathon finishes.   I next need to get my foot healed enough to attack trails.  Squaw Peak 50 is in only three weeks.