31 May 2010

Coeur d'Alene Marathon Race Report: How I Stamped My Ticket to Boston

I'm still smiling.

I'm not really a run-for-time runner (I often take 30-75 photos during a race) - that's not to say I don't care about time, it's simply never the top priority for my runs and races.  But I'd be lying if I said the Boston Marathon wasn't one of my dreams, and to get into Boston I have to focus on time by running a 3:10:59 marathon (my PR is 3:34:00).  A few weeks ago I thought that I should at least give it a shot to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  So I gave myself a couple months to work on my speed and pacing. 

The Coeur d'Alene Marathon was meant to be a test marathon to see how my legs handled actually trying to run fast.  Then I'd have a few weeks to work on speed for my first "real" attempt at a 3:10:59 in July.  I figured I would be close in July, and if I didn't make it then, I'd have a few months to train for an October attempt.

I had a few race strategy options for Coeur d'Alene:
Option 1 -- Beat the world record.  Sure, probably not going to happen at this one, but maybe later this summer.
Option 2 -- Run at a 7:30/mile pace and shoot for a sub-3:20.  This would take over 14 minutes off my PR and move me in the right direction. My PR last month was run at an 8:10 pace on a hilly course, so this option seemed reasonable.
Option 3 -- Run at a 7:17 pace (the pace I need to qualify for Boston) for as long as I can just to see what it feels like.  Maybe I make it 20 miles, maybe I make it 15 miles, but I expect that I'll hit a wall hard at the end.  But I'd at least know that I can run the correct pace for X miles.

I chose Option 3.  And for the first time I didn't carry my camera with me during a race. Time, time, time.

Almost didn't get to start line in time
(got there with 3 minutes to spare)

I started at a brisk pace for the first mile (6:40) and felt pretty good.  I hit mile 3 in just under 21 minutes and -against my better judgment- I spontaneously changed my race strategy to:
Option 4: run at a 7:00/mile pace for as long as I can. (What's the quote about guts and glory?...)

Mile 5: Just under 35 minutes...still going strong at 7-min pace.  So then I made it a mini-goal to make it to mile 10 at a 7-min pace.

Lake Coeur d'Alene is beautiful
(Photos of course taken after the race)

Mile 10: Under 1hr 10 min...still on pace.  It was around here that I started running with a guy named Cory.  We both had similar goals for the race: run 7-min miles for as long as we can, then hang on at the end.  He was looking stronger than me when we hit the race's hills.  After a mile or so I told him my goal was to make it to the half-marathon mark at a 7-min pace and that I didn't think I could hold the pace much longer than that.

Much of the race was along Centennial Trail

Mile 15: Surprisingly, I'm still at a 7-min pace at this point.  Cory's looking good too; it's great to having someone to run with so we can pace off each other.

 Near turn-around point

Mile 18: For the first time, the thought crossed my mind that today was going to be the day I qualify for Boston.  Though there were still over 8 miles to conquer, I was feeling extremely strong and my motivation was high.

Mile 20: I reach mile 20 just under 2:20 -- still on 7-min pace.  Cory fell back and yelled to me, "Go for it!"  My motivation is getting higher - with some quick math (okay, not so quick...took me about half a mile) I realized I simply needed to run the last 10k in less than 51 minutes to qualify for Boston, so I had a bit of breathing room even if my legs got tired.  But my legs were still feeling strong.

Mile 25: Now I'm tired, but still keeping a 7-min pace. Legs are starting to feel like bricks, but somehow I feel like I'm floating. Tears well up in my eyes...I mean: a bug flew into my eyes...because I know that this is the day that I'm going to qualify for Boston.  I finish strong.

Finish: I did it!  3:03:25 (6:59.74 min/mile); 7/403 overall; 1/22 age group (overall winner couldn't double dip); ticket stamped to Boston.

Happy runner

Finisher's medal and 1st place age group medal

Only one?!?

So there it is.  I knew I had it in me to qualify - I just didn't expect it to be this race.  I'm a happy runner right now.  I'll see you in Boston next year.  :)

And there's lots more running to do in the meantime.

Keep running!


26 May 2010

I Wonder Where That Road Goes

Water bottle

Follow an I-wonder-where-that-road-goes dirt road through the rolling hills, and explore an unmarked trail.

A great day to be alive.

A little slice of heaven (with extra frosting)

Sadie enjoying the view (of a squirrel)

Trails like this make me happy

Keep running!


21 May 2010

250-km Atacama Desert Crossing (March 2011)



In the biggest news I've had since I began this blog, I'm very excited to announce that I've submitted my application to participate in the 250-km stage race across the brutal Atacama Desert in Chile, March 2011.  It's one part in the infamous four-part 4 Deserts endurance competition, also known as "Racing the Planet."  (And a fellow running blogger may be joining me.)

It's six stages over seven days with the longest stage being around 75km.  The event will cross the entire country of Chile.

It will undoubtedly be the toughest event I've done so far, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.  I have several months to build up my mileage and endurance: attempting to qualify for Boston and my "normal" ultras will no doubt help with my fitness.

Fund raising:
For the first time since I've been running I'm going to have to do some fund raising to be able to make a trip happen.  I've created a page devoted to raising some money (there's also a new link at the top of my blog).  If you've had some money stashed away just waiting to give someone, then consider me.  :)

Don't you love a runner's high just from thinking about running?

Keep running!


17 May 2010

Running in Texas

After my article in the paper last week my celebrity status became too stressful to deal with so I spent the rest of the week in the Texas Hill Country visiting my brother and doing some traveling with good friends.

I floated down the Frio River with hot sun and cold beer (and a little rain too).  I ate good food, swam with a water moccasin, flipped from a rope swing, danced, sang, ate some more good food, and laughed so much my stomach still hurts.  And each morning before breakfast I tightened my laces and headed for the hills.  (Sadie didn't get to go with me to Texas, but she did get some running in with a friend who watched her.)

Texas Hill Country running

Up the hills, down the hills

I'm back in Washington now and am getting in gear for a Boston Marathon qualifying attempt.  Yep, I'm going to give it a shot.  I have the Coeur d'Alene Marathon at the end of the month.  It's a relatively flat course and should be a good place for me to see how close I am to the 3:10:59 I need to qualify.  I ran a 3:34 last month on a whim, wearing a lei (but no watch), on a very hilly course, taking lots of photos - so I think I have a reasonable chance for a sub-3:20 at Coeur d'Alene.

I also signed up for a flat and fast race near Portland on July 4th: the Foot Traffic Flat.  I anticipate this to be my first "official" attempt at qualifying.  If I don't make it then (but am close enough to not shatter my hopes) then there are a few races in the fall that I'll look into - the Portland Marathon, with it's fast course and 3:10 pace group, being the most likely option.

Until then, it's "keep running!"


11 May 2010

Ultramarathon man (hint: it's me)

I was featured on the front page of my local paper today.  Here's the full article (online version here):

Ultramarathon man

Running is spiritual for Pullman's Scott McMurtrey

By Tara Roberts, Daily News staff writer, Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Every day, Scott McMurtrey runs.

He and his border collie mix, Sadie, might get five or six miles in on a weekday after work.

They love to spend weekends running some of the 50 miles of trails on Moscow Mountain.

Once, they ran from Pullman to Troy - and back.

McMurtrey took a vacation to New Mexico recently just to run. He's run up mountains and across deserts and through chest-deep rivers.

He runs for miles and miles and miles.

Running is something spiritual for McMurtrey - even though that's an idea he used to laugh at. It's a way to be free and connect with his body.

"I don't run with an iPod," he said. "I like hearing my feet hit the ground and I like hearing my breathing and I like hearing things around me."

Until three years ago, McMurtrey wasn't a runner.

He'd run a little during his time in the Army, "but that was like you have to run kind of stuff," he said. "It wasn't for fun."

One day he called his dad, who sounded out of breath when he answered the phone. McMurtrey asked if he was OK, and his dad said yes - he'd just been on a 20-mile run to train for an ultramarathon, which is any race longer than 26.2 miles. He suggested McMurtrey should try out a race, too.

McMurtrey was athletic but had always written off organized runs. Why sign up when he could just go out and run whenever?

"But the thing was, I never did go out and run on my own," he said.

He started thinking about ultramarathons, then talking about them. His boss in Washington State University's writing program gave him a Runner's World article about the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa, the largest ultramarathon in the world.

"I read it, and I was like, 'I'm going to do that one day,' " McMurtrey said.

Last year, he did.

McMurtrey's dive into the sport of ultramarathon running has been incredible. Most distance runners start gradually, running a 5K, then a 10K, a half-marathon, then a marathon.

"I just kept on running miles and running miles and running miles, and all of a sudden I was like, 'I can do this,' " he said.

He ran his first ultramarathon - a 50K in western Washington - just months after he began training. It was his first major race.

Now, he races all over the world. Running organized races is "just an excuse to go someplace new," he said. " ... The race itself is secondary to actually getting out there and running."

The Comrades Marathon was his first trip to Africa. Thousands and thousands of people gather every year for the race, which takes 12 hours, is shown live on TV and attracts huge crowds of fans that line the course.

Everywhere he went in South Africa, people would talk to him about the race.

"They're so proud of this race, they look at you like you're already a hero for just coming to attempt it," he said.

In 2008, McMurtrey entered an ultramarathon in Iceland.

He ran "over lava flows and glaciers ... the most surreal landscape in the world."

One of his major races this summer is an ultramarathon in southern Utah with his dad, who had a quadruple bypass but is slowly getting back into running.

McMurtrey also will run a 50K mountain race in British Columbia, just north of Vancouver. Mountain races are his favorite, he said, because they immerse him in nature and require a different mindset than more urban runs.

"When you're out on a road there's not a lot to worry about than how fast you're going to go," he said.

But on a mountain, runners deal with changes in elevation, bodies of water and a far greater lack of help. A city marathon might have aid stations every few miles, but mountain runs may only have one or two places for runners to refuel. Because McMurtrey often has his dog with him, he has to pack extra food and water for her, too.

McMurtrey's next goal is to race in South America - maybe a race that follows the Peruvian coastline, or a 28-mile run along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Such trips are expensive, however, so he hopes to find sponsors to support him. He doesn't have any paying sponsorships yet, but this year he was selected to be part of the "Inspire Daily" program for Brooks running shoes and gear. The deal provides him a race uniform, deals on his favorite shoes and a community of runners to be part of.

With all the races across the world, McMurtrey still loves running close to home. He moved to Pullman six years ago from Houston, and has "fallen in love with the Palouse and the Inland Northwest."

He's run through the Snake River Canyon and completed the WSU 100K through Whitman County, but more than anything he enjoys the peace and beauty of Moscow Mountain.

"Me and my dog, sometimes we'll go out on a Saturday and we'll run 30 miles out there."

Tara Roberts can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 252, or by e-mail at troberts@dnews.com. http://www.dnews.com/


Pretty cool, huh?

Keep running!


08 May 2010

Trails, Rain, Squirrels, Bears

Some snow, some rain, and winds knocking over trees like toothpicks.

I like feeling rain on my face when I'm running.  Yes, Sadie needs a bath when we get home, but it's worth it.  The best thing about the weather turning sour is that Sadie and I will usually have the trails to ourselves.

After work earlier this week the weather was particularly wild when we made our way up to Moscow Mt.  We were the only car parked at the trailhead of my favorite 5.5 mile loop.  Seems the wildlife weren't expecting any visitors with the weather being so poor because they were out in force.  Sadie chased maybe a dozen deer (I tell her she'll never catch one) and had a couple epic battles with her nemesis: the squirrel.  But we see deer up there all the time.  What we've never seen until this run was a bear.  I was hammering a downhill when out of the corner of my eye I saw something off to the left:

Momma black bear and two yearlings

Momma had her eye on me for a couple minutes

Momma watched us for a few minutes then trotted uphill into some bushes.  I made a mental note not to run by that bush on the way back.  There's a grizzly research center in town that we run by sometimes and we can watch them out in their field playing around.  But that's with two layers of electric fence between us.  It's a little different seeing them out in the wild.  Bears make me nervous.  I'm glad my first encounter was a safe one.

Sadie wasn't very impressed with the bears.  "Boring," she said. "Can't we keep running?"  She had more important things to deal with.  There was a squirrel that was taunting Sadie like she'd never been taunted before.  It would climb the tree a couple feet out of the reach of Sadie and just stared at her.  Sadie was going crazy.

"Don't worry, squirrel. I won't hurt you."
(you can see the squirrel on the left side of the tree)

Sadie climbing the tree. She climbed higher
with each try and finally the squirrel took off.

Today Sadie and I did 20 miles in the rain.  She'll be joining me for a 50k trail race next month, so we need to make sure she gets in shape.  :)  My next race is the Coeur d'Alene Marathon on May 30th.

"I always loved running...it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs."
-Jesse Owens

Keep running!


03 May 2010

Bloomsday 12k - 2010

I started this blog three years ago as a motivational tool as I trained for my first marathon.  The first event I ever ran in was this little race called the Lilac Bloomsday Run.  Little did I know that the race wasn't so little.   50,000 people toe the starting line year after year for this 12k run, making it one of the biggest road races in the country.  After running Bloomsday three years ago and experiencing the energy and excitement, I was hooked on running.

Yesterday was my second time running Bloomsday, and I think it was more fun.  I'm in better shape than I was then.   I get more excited about running now than I did three years ago (I hope that never fades).  And I even had the chance to say hi to Olympian Dan Browne outside the Expo.

I had a dream earlier in the week that I won Bloomsday.  I thought it was a sign of a legendary athletic performance in the making: "Unknown stuns field of world's top runners to win Bloomsday!" But it wasn't meant to be.  I didn't win, and I wasn't even the top American finisher - that went to Dan Browne for the second year in a row.

Men's elite field. Winner Peter Kirui is in blue at far right.
(courtesy of Spokesman.com)

The biggest news of the day was Lineth Chepkurui.  She won the women's race in with a 12k road world record of 38m10s! -- on a tough course.  Also, '84 Olympic marathon gold-medalist Joan Benoit-Samuelson was in attendance and shooting for the age-group record (she just missed).  Here's a short clip of the elite women zooming past me near the start:

Chepkurui is leading (in purple) on her way to the world record.
Benoit-Samuelson is in rear of lead pack in purple tank and white hat.

I had a good race too.  A slow first couple of miles, but with such a big crowd there's no use getting frustrated by that.  And isn't running more than just seconds on a clock anyway?  After a couple of miles the course widens a bit and there's (a little) more room to pick up the pace.  Enjoy the pace while you can, because the infamous Doomsday Hill slows everyone down a couple miles later.

The (Green) silence before the storm

Where's Scott?
White hat, yellow singlet, just above lower red-shirted ROTC unit.
(courtesy of Spokesman.com)

I crossed the finish line in 48m41s - which placed me 344 out of 49,674 finishers.  This has been my sixth race of the year and my fifth PR.

Three years into my running life and my legs feel as young and strong as they ever have.  I'm so thankful to be healthy.  I'm so glad I found running.

Keep running!