14 weeks ago, on April 28, 2018, I ran my best marathon to date. Crossing the finish line, of my 14th marathon, I was exhausted and elated at the same time. I couldn’t believe that after several attempts, I had finally succeeded in holding the pace I had trained for, a seven-minute-mile average.
The Race That Almost Didn’t Happen
I’ll be honest, the 2018 REVEL Mt Charleston Marathon almost didn’t happen for me. I trained for it, but the Boston Marathon, just 12 days prior to Mt Charleston, with its record rain and cold temps, was such a mental battle that I didn’t have anything left between my ears to get me to the start line of Mt Charleston–well, almost nothing.
I can’t put my finger on what made me get on that plane to Vegas the Friday before my Saturday race, but something did. Something I am glad I didn’t brush aside, but fed enough to get me there.
The year prior, I had pulled out of Mt Charleston after Boston. Boston 2017 was brutal in a different way than this year. And with Mt Charleston’s refund policy, I could pull out without losing any money so it was almost too simple to just stay home and not put myself under the kind of internal pressure racing requires. But, I went.
Arriving in Vegas
I arrived in Vegas, to heat, heat and more heat. After a FREEZING Boston experience, it was a welcome change, but it did have me worried about my aggressive marathon pace goal.
I was met at the airport by my cousin’s husband, Adam, and some second-cousins who were planning on running the Mt. Charleston Half Marathon. We went immediately to the marathon expo, a mere five minutes away.
We picked up our race bibs and equipment and posed for pictures. They had this goal-time clock you could pose with. They asked me what my goal was for Mt Charleston. I felt sheepish admitting I wanted to get a 3:05 or better. And although I knew I wasn’t ready to break the coveted 3-hour marathon barrier at this race, it is always out there, like a dangling carrot. It was my out-there goal. And then I had my goal of just getting a PR which would be running faster than 3:13. They convinced me to pose with the clock posting each of my A, B, and C goal-finish times. I was super self-conscious to do this. I felt like the pictures with the 2:59 goal and the 3:05 goal were “you’re dreaming” goals. I had just come off a marathon two weeks before, and the race the following day was predicted to be hot–which slows race pace. Did I really have the physical stamina to pull off a seven-minute mile for 26.2 miles??? I had never achieved this. Was it even possible? I had some significant doubts, but I started this body experiment of mine in 2014 and couldn’t deny being a little curious about what I could do if I tried.
Following the expo, we went to my cousins’ hotel and hung out before dinner. We spent time chatting and catching up. (My hotel was a good 30 minutes from where they were staying, but they had graciously offered to drop me off there after dinner.)
Being able to dine out at Maggiano’s the night before the race, with family that was also racing the next day, was a definite perk of this race. Knowing I would have family at the finish line cheering me on was encouraging as well. It was so fun to catch up with them over dinner and be with them.
I took my Maurten water bottle to dinner with me and dutifully sipped on my 320 mix as part of my carb-loading plan with the salad I had ordered. I didn’t eat at Maggiano’s even though the food there is exquisite. I have adopted a strict pre-marathon dinner meal of rice and chicken and had already eaten prior to dinner at the hotel.
The drive to the Best Western Plus North Las Vegas was long so I was especially grateful to my cousin and her daughter for taking me. (They had to drive back too!!) Las Vegas traffic is CRAZY.
The hotel we were driving to was chosen by my dear friend, Sharolyn, who was also there from Castle Rock, CO, running the marathon with her sister as a kind of sisters’ girl-trip. It was out there, but it was comfortable and affordable.
My family dropped me off around 8:00 pm and I immediately went in to start my bedtime routine. I had to be up at 3:00 am for our marathon bus-loading window from 3:30 am-4:30 am. Bus-loading was about a 25-minute drive away from our hotel at a Home Depot parking lot.
Preparing for Sleep
The hotel room was comfortable and I went through the motions of preparing my clothing and gear for the next day. It was predicted to be chilly at the start of the race, but steaming at the end so I had warm clothes to donate at the top of Mt. Charleston right before the race.
I pinned my bib to my singlet, laid out my shorts, sports bra, Altra Torin 3.0 running shoes, Boston Marathon 2018 cap, my Apple iPod Nano, my Garmin Vivoactive HR pace watch–made sure it was fully charged after my Boston 2017 experience–charged my BackBeat Plantronics wireless earbuds, and packed my throw clothes–sweatshirt, sweat pants, and gloves.
I prepared my gear bag that I was taking to the top with my 2:59 pace band (gave myself some rest-stop minutes to achieve my 3:05 goal), Base Salt Performance salt vial, my pre-race and post-race recovery Maurten 320 drink, a Clif Bar, my course notes, some Ibuprofen, water and my six nutrition gels I would need for the course.
I was going through the motions, anxious to get to bed, get to the start line and begin the race. Pretty much every marathon eve is the same. There is so much anxiety between the night before and the start of the race. All the moving parts to get you to the start line and the waiting to start. It’s brutal. I just want to skip over all that and start running!
My mental depletion after Boston was still there and all I really wanted was to get this race done and get home! But, I did the best I could to focus on the experience at hand and enjoy it….
Early Up, Early Out
I slept fine, awoke, and did my pre-marathon drill. I took my teaspoon of Mio in water first to get my system moving, then had my Quaker oatmeal. I would save my Maurten drink for the bus. I got dressed, grabbed my gear bag and headed to the Lobby to meet up with Sharolyn and her sister.
There were so many buses at the Wal-Mart and Home Depot bus pick-up locations that it was challenging to find our marathon bus. The Wal-Mart buses were for the half-marathoners, and the Home Depot buses for the full marathoners, but the buses just lined the streets and weren’t labeled in any noticeable way. We had chosen to board our bus as close to the end of the loading window (4:30 am) as possible so we could get more sleep and have less time waiting at the top of Mt Charleston in the cold.
We were slightly anxious since 4:30 had arrived and we weren’t on a bus, but eventually boarded the with the rest of the marathoners–a large group–that had also decided to board on the 4:30-side of the boarding window.
The buses were comfortable and had a bathroom on them–yes! We got on and prepared for the 30-minute, dark drive to the top of Mt Charleston.
It is always a little intimidating to drive the distance of the course and take-in just how far we are running. It always feels very far. I guess because it is!
Prior to leaving for Las Vegas, I had studied the course and watched a REVEL Race Series video, with mile-by mile coaching on how to approach the course. I took notes of the recommendations and hills to help me plan my race strategy. The last 10k of the race was going to be the most grueling. Not only because of the hills and then flatness of the course after coming down Mt Charleston, but also because the heat was going to be a real speed zapper those last six miles of the course.
I tried to visualize what I had learned about the course as we drove over it. Mt Charleston was definitely scenic. I was getting excited to get my feet on the road.
Arriving at the Top
We arrived at the top of a warmer-than-expected Mt Charleston at 7,633 feet of elevation. The road race would take us from the forests of Kyle Canyon on Mt Charleston to Las Vegas, Nevada, on a 2-4 percent downhill slope through the spectacular scenery of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. From start to finish you lose 5,126 feet in elevation. That’s some significant downhill, but my body is built for it. I have learned on other REVEL courses that I handle downhill impacts well.
The warm temperatures of the peak of Mt Charleston were worrisome. That meant it was definitely going to be a warm finish. They were estimating it would be in the low 80s at the finish. It was in the mid-50’s at the start. Perfect temps for starting. The winds were going to be an issue at different parts of the course because they were headwinds, but there was nothing to do but embrace the weather for what it was. I was thrilled it wasn’t going to be freezing and raining the whole time like Boston had been!
Our bus arrival was slow so we only had like ten minutes before race start once we arrived. We booked it to the bathrooms to get in line so we could go once before getting on the course. I had been drinking my Maurten 320 drink on the bus and was feeling really full. I couldn’t even finish it.
It was time to take my Clif Shot Cherry Chocolate pre-race gel–I take it 15 minutes before start–but my stomach felt so full and, well, “off” really, that I didn’t want to put it in me. I opted on taking half of it on our walk to the porta potties.
The porta potty lines were moving slow and I was starting to get really nervous about missing the start of the race. I really wanted to get in with the 3:05 pace group to help me stay on track for my goal.
Sharolyn and I were a ball of nerves at this point. She was going for a 2019 Boston entry spot with a BQ at Mt Charleston and also felt the stress of the looming start with us still in line for the bathrooms!
I gave her a hug and wished her luck, made it in and out of the porta potty and started jogging to the start line, shedding my “donate layers” as I ran.
The Start Line
Lucky for me, the race didn’t start on time. I was able to weave myself up to the front of the starting pack close to the 3:05 pacer. I felt out-of-place among all the men and again questioned my sanity for thinking I belonged there. A few women were also sprinkled there among the men and I began wondering who would stay the course.
My stomach still felt too full and unsettled. It was too heavy for a race start and I didn’t like the feeling of it. It was my first time racing with the Maurten and I felt like I just had too many carbs in my system. I was too fueled. There was nothing to do about it, but it was troubling me a bit.
Time to Run
The countdown began and it was time to run. I knew from my course studies that I wanted to keep the first mile easy. One, because my 41-year-old body always takes a mile to get to pace and I didn’t want to burn through too much glycogen right out the gate, and two, because the course climbs the first mile.
I started the course at 6:07 am.
I was feeling sluggish out the gate and surprised when I could no longer see the 3:05 pacer. I kept to my commitment to run “my race” and didn’t panic. About a mile in, my side started to hurt. I could hear the liquid sloshing around inside my stomach with each foot fall. Yuck. I knew that side aches typically resolve if you just keep going and try to breathe regularly so I did this.
After the first mile I found that I was running with the 3:30 pace group. What??? This was not the plan. I needed to start accelerating, but it had to be a steady increase so I wouldn’t ruin my race in the first three miles–yeah, I’ve done that before.
I slowly kept speeding up, to try and make up for my slow first mile. I kept my eye on my heart rate at regular intervals to make sure it wasn’t climbing. My side was still killing me and I could tell it was affecting my speed. I was cursing my Maurten drink at this point and wondering what to do.
I had read that if you can hear water moving around in your stomach it means you needed more sodium; that the body isn’t absorbing the fluid properly because there isn’t enough salt. So I reached for my salt vial–the salt vial I had never used before but was counseled to take because of the predicted temps–and attempted to consume some salt while running. That was an epic fail. I found out (after the fact) that you tip the vial over on your finger and lick off the salt particles to get a few granules. I had attempted to put it to my lips and lick out some granules while still staying at my 6:30 per mile pace. The result was WAAAAY too much salt. I sputtered, spat, and swallowed. Oh, well. There was nothing I could do but hope for the best at this point, but needless to say I was not feeling too optimistic at this point on reaching my goal.
Sometime around mile four my side ache stopped. Maybe the salt helped? I’ll never know, but I was able to continue at my 6:35-6:40 pace and was slowing getting back on track. I hadn’t even passed the 3:15 pace group yet! I wouldn’t until around mile six.
So, I’m running along and the 3:05 pacer runs by me. What?? I look at him and mention how I had been trying to find him. He had stopped to use the bathroom at the most recent water stop and was running to catch up to the 3:05 group. I followed him and finally landed myself with the 3:05 runners. All male except for one other female by me.
I was meeting my split goals at this point, and keeping my heart in check. Anytime I saw my heart rate start to climb I would slow a bit until it would steady out and then keep on. My body felt good. I was keeping up with the group. The scenery was beautiful, the grade was perfect. Not too steep, but just enough of a descent that my lungs weren’t dying from the speed I was maintaining. So far, so good.
The 3:05 pacer was funny. He had a cyclist friend biking beside him while he ran. The cyclist was barely peddling, but when he did pedal you knew you were on a climb. There were several rolling sections thrown in there over the course of the race, but nothing terrible. Really, the first 19 miles are pretty dreamy.
One to Drink, One to Drench
Around mile six, I began to take two water cups at aid stations. I would drink one, and then pour the other one on me. I hadn’t really taken in any water until mile six because my stomach hadn’t been up to it. I had even delayed my first gel. Typically I would take it at mile six but ended up taking it at mile eight. I worried about this, but, again, my stomach was just not happy.
The temperatures were already warm and I just kept on, hoping to stay on pace and make my goal.
And Then There Was One
It is pretty exhilarating to find oneself competing at a level you trained for, hoped for, but weren’t sure you could do. I was 16 miles in and I was keeping pace with the 3:05 pace group. The men I ran with encouraged me. “Doing good, Timex!” (I seemed to pick up this nickname since I was sporting my Timex Factory Team singlet. I was called “Timex” through the entire course.)
After we turned onto the highway at around mile 20, the 3:05 group really started to thin. The girl I had been trying to pass for forever, slowed and I passed her. I was slowing too which was concerning, but I knew I would the last 10k. I just had to make sure I didn’t slow too much.
It was so hot.
It came down to me and the 3:05 pacer in front of me. Everyone from our pre-existing pack was gone. At one point, we pass a guy who had been with us, but who had pulled out to go faster. He cursed loudly when the 3:05 pacer passed him, with a frustrated and drawn-out F-bomb. He must have been trying to qualify for Boston. 3:05 is the time for men ages 18-35. The pacer told him not to quit; that he could still do it. But I could tell as I ran past the guy that he was done.
I think he was surprised to see that I, and I alone, still remained with the pacer. Yeah, I was surprised too!
Delusional at Mile 24
Around mile 24, my legs were starting to feel weak. I really wanted to stop and walk. I was hot, my heart rate was up there and it was all I could do to try to catch the 3:05 pacer who was now about 30 feet in front of me or more. I knew there was still one more hill to crest and then I had a slight downhill to the finish. If I could just get over this last hill and then take advantage of that slight downhill grade to recover and get me over the finish line.
In my head, I knew my friends and my family were tracking me. They knew exactly where I was on the course. They knew I was just a couple of miles from my goal. Thinking about them cheering me on–somewhere out there–kept my legs turning around.
At some point, either mile 24 or 25, I’m not sure now, I was REALLY fighting stopping and walking for a bit and I suddenly could visualize my friend, Natalie, running right beside me. It was almost like an apparition it was that real. She was yelling at me–in loving Natalie style–“Don’t you stop!! You can’t walk now. Just keep going! Don’t stop!” She ran with me. I didn’t stop.
(See me crest the last hill here at: 2:03:32)
Sometime after I crested that last course hill, I started to get some speed back. I had slowed into the 7:30s, but that last stretch I started to feel the finish line. The 3:05 pacer was still off in the distance. I kept trying to catch him, inching myself closer.
I hit a group of rowdy spectators and they saw that I was close to the 3:05 pacer, and nearing the finish line. “Go Timex!! Pass the Pacer! Pass the Pacer!” The crowd must have felt my goal; must have known that I needed to get in front of the 3:05 pacer to make my goal. I wasn’t looking at my watch anymore, just running as fast I could. Their cheering cheered me and I was able to find some kick. Pass the pacer, Krista. Pass the pacer.
I passed the pacer.
26 miles and the Finish
I hear my family but don’t ever really see them. All six of them were lined up just before the turn for the finish line. I heard them yelling, “Go, Krista! Go!” And it touched my heart. I was giving it all I had at that point. I felt like I was running through mud, but I just kept pushing. The finish line was now in sight. The clock read 3:03 something. What?? 3:03?? But I just passed the 3:05 pacer? I hadn’t known that he was coming in under time.
I passed over the finish line, exhausted with a time of 3:03:37.
I had done it. (See me cross at 2:04:45 below).
I crossed the finish line, took my medal with glee and immediately sought water. Once I had water and a towel, I worked to stabilize my breathing and approached my family on the other side of the finish line gates. They were so congratulatory and excited for me. It was so wonderful to see them and to have them there when I put down my fastest time ever.
Adam had my stats up and told me my average pace and finish time. It was definitely a time of celebration. I needed to keep on moving for a bit because I was feeling light-headed. I excused myself and went to calm my breathing and try to settle my body from the past three hours of rigorous mental, physical and spiritual effort.
I really feel like race directors need to have the finish line and then like a quarter-mile straight stretch where you can jog it out and bring your heart rate down more slowly rather than racing 26.2 miles and then abruptly stopping. I have to keep moving after until my heart rate has reached its recovery BPM.
I downed some chocolate milk–for recovery reasons only–and returned to the group. I was awash with emotions, but the ruling emotion of the moment was contentment and gratitude. Victory.
We went over to the results table to get my official time card. It was then that I learned I had placed first in my age group and 5th female overall. I was immensely proud of this. My 41-year-old body had competed with much younger girls/women and a large field of men. I was 40th place total out of both genders.
This was a happy moment.
Looking for Sharolyn and Recovery Time
I retrieved my recovery bag next because I knew I wanted a couple of my items in there. Namely my Ibuprofen and the Maurten recovery drink I had planned on taking. Typically, I cool down so fast at the end of a marathon that I also need extra layers of clothing, but it was sooo hot that I didn’t need any of those. I did want my phone, however. I temporarily left my family and went in search of my recovery bag.
On the way, I took advantage of the Deep Blue stations and had my legs sprayed to ease the muscle soreness that was present already. A youth volunteer met me in route to the gear bag check and offered to go and retrieve my bag for me so I wouldn’t have to walk as far. That was nice! Bag in hand, I returned to the course to be on the lookout for Sharolyn crossing the finish line.
The Las Vegas sun was already so hot even at 9:30 am. There was no shade to be found. I waited and looked for my friend but never saw her. I decided to check my phone for race results and discovered she had already crossed the finish line with a time of 3:30. She had qualified for Boston with room to spare! I was so elated for her. I went looking for her and found her near the gear pick up station. We celebrated together!
I got lots of “congratulations” from strangers that saw me on the course which was fun. I still couldn’t believe it had all come together for me. Reading through the texts from family and friends post-race brought tears to my eyes. Reading their communications between each other as I raced made me feel so loved! I have awesome friends and family!
Waiting for Sharolyn’s Friend
Although we finished around 9:10, 9:40 am, we remained at the finish line for hours. Sharolyn’s friend was still on the course. She was having a really hard time and having to walk almost the entire last 13 miles. The upside of all the waiting time was that we got to take advantage of the Rapid Reboot recovery station they had. This pneumatic compression technology is supposed to improve blood circulation post-marathon by transferring higher volumes of oxygen-rich blood to muscles as they recover and rebuild. It helps reduce recovery time while curbing delayed-onset muscle soreness and inflammation. Honestly, I don’t know if the ten minutes I spent in the Reboot system helped or not, but it felt good–and it was in the shade.
When I went to look for Sharolyn, I got separated from Adam, my cousin Monique and their kids and didn’t get to see them before they left. I knew they were headed back to their hotel to recover and we planned to try to meet back up later for dinner before my flight that night.
By the time Sharolyn’s friend arrived, we were ready to go. It was approaching noon, it was even hotter and I just wanted a shower and to get out of my race clothes. It was 1:30 when we arrived back at the hotel, four hours after our marathon had ended. I had missed my 1:00pm check-out time, but luckily they didn’t tack on extra charges. I grabbed my stuff, checked out and headed to Sharolyn’s room down the hall.
Borrowing a Shower
Sharolyn and her sister let me invade on some of their sister time and use their shower since I had to check out of my room. (They were staying an additional night). They let me shower first–so nice!–and I quickly did. As we calculated how long it was going to take for me to get to the airport for my 6:30pm flight, we realized that we would have just enough time to go to dinner and then hit the airport. Meeting up with my cousin and family by their hotel was going to take too much time. I was sad that I wasn’t going to be able to see them again before I left, but it was just kind of how the cards fell that afternoon.
Holsteins – Best Burger Ever, (Other than New Zealand’s Fergburger)
Sharolyn had done some pre-Vegas sleuthing and learned about a burger place on the Las Vegas Strip called Holsteins. It was near the airport so we decided to venture down there for dinner.
Navigating through all the traffic and madness that is the Las Vegas strip was a little tiring, but we eventually found a parking garage and made it up to the restaurant situated in The Cosmopolitan hotel.
Sharolyn and I shared a pricey $18 burger called the Fun-Ghi. (All beef patty with forest mushrooms, caramelized onion, gruyere cheese, frisee and truffle mayo—DELICIOUS! That salt hit the spot. The strawberry malt shake did the trick as well. Post-marathon food is THE best.
Delayed Flight & a Sketchy Airport
I have to say, I was really happy to leave Las Vegas. The visual pollution, noise, traffic, and slot-machine heavy atmosphere that assails you on every front makes you feel like a constant passenger of a 2-star amusement park ride. The Mt Charleston course was beautiful, and apart from all that mania, but, yeah, Vegas is just not for me.
I arrived at the airport with just enough time to spare, but my flight was delayed 45 minutes so I got to hangout a little longer than anticipated. I took advantage of the extra time to FaceTime with my family and catch up on responding to texts and congrats from family and friends.
These moments when the race is over, you have completed your goal and you are just waiting to board your flight home are priceless. Your body is full with positive endorphins and life is just, well, good.
This marathon will forever be one of my favorites because of who was there and because I finally achieved a big goal I had been chasing. The marathon experience was so positive that now, months later, I have settled into a running contentment I didn’t have before. While breaking the 3-hour marathon barrier would definitely be sweet, I am so happy with what I achieved on that course that I feel peaceful. I’m still running daily, still trying to improve, but something has definitely shifted in me with the sport.
Next up for me is the Black Squirrel Trail Half Marathon in Fort Collins in September and then the St. George Marathon in October. St. George will be a new course for me and I earned a sub-elite spot and perks from my Mt Charleston finish time so it should be fun. Running it with some Fort Collins friends too which always makes a big difference. We’ll see what I can put down there.
Thanks for reading!