Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rover Marathon Race Report: The Ups and Downs of Running from DF to Cuerna

Rover Marathon: Mexico City to Cuernavaca

  I slept soundly until three and then tossed and turned until my alarm at five. It was raining steadily. Rain in Mexico City is a daily event, but almost never in the morning. Hurricane Ernesto had other ideas. I unpinned my number from my short sleeve shirt that I had so carefully prepared the night before, pinned it to a long sleeve and then hesitated over my gore tex rain jacket that is most definitely a hiking jacket, not a running jacket. The thought of being up at 3,000+ meters under a freezing downpour convinced me to put it on. That and it was really cold out and I had to walk about a mile to the metrobus station, and I didn't want to be wet and cold before the race started.
  The adventure started a bit earlier than I would have liked. I arrived at the metrobus station only to wait ten minutes for a bus to show up. It was packed with people and there was no way I could have squeezed in. I was starting to get impatient and worry about missing the start of the race when finally another bus showed up. I haven't seen any form of public transportation so crowded since I lived in Tokyo and white-gloved men in suits would literally shove the passengers into the train so the doors can properly close. So I exited the station and caught a cab, which turned out to be a brilliant move and the best 100 pesos (7 bucks) I ever spent on a cab because I made it to the race start just in time to hit the bathroom at the Pemex gas station.
 I was still waffling over the jacket. There were people in short sleeves; there were folks more bundled up than I was. There was a "guardaropa" service that would haul any clothes you put into a trash bag to the finish. The deciding factor was that the line for the "guardaropa" was endless and the race was about to start. There is no chip time in these events: they are timed by hand. I started trudging uphill with a few hundred other people. I was already getting hot in my jacket.

Heading up. A rainy start.

  The Rover Marathon is the oldest marathon in Mexico. It starts in the south of the city, and climbs up over and down the mountains that divide Mexico from Cuernavaca.  According to my Garmin Data the course climbed 4,100 feet and descended for 6,000 feet (Cuernavaca is lower than Mexico City) A basic course description would read as follows: Run (ha!) Hike up for 20k, Run down for 20k. Somewhere in there is about 2k of flat. Try not to get lost. 

Runners in the mist.


  Without knowing the course, it's really hard to pace in these events. I started conservatively as I almost always do trying to feel things out. The course just went up and up. Finally the neighborhoods thinned out and we were --finally-- in the woods on trail. I would estimate the first 10k was 80% hiking. I hiked all but the shallowest grades and ran anything that was runnable, but it wasn't much. I started to get a little panicky: my marathon moment has arrived and I'm hiking?? At about 10k was the first aid station. They had small cups of gatorade.
  Advice #1: Despite the advertised aid stations, this --and every other mountain race I've run in Mexico (5 and counting)-- are essentially self-supported races. Unless you can run for 4+ hours on an hourly cup of gatorade or water (and the next aid station only had water) and the rare quarter slice of banana, carry what you need. The good news is that this marathon cost me 250 pesos (not quite 20 bucks) to run, which is the going rate for these types of races. What are they charging for the NYC Marathon these days? 250 bucks?? Ok...back to the race

Between 10 and 20k I started getting into my groove. I felt good and was starting to run up any hill that was remotely runnable. I passed a lot of people this way. At one point I lost some position because I had to duck in the woods for a moment. I discovered that I had 2 squares of toliet paper. One-ply. Do the math. It wasn't pretty. With a mental reminder not to shake anyone's hand for the next few hours, I got back on the trail.

The rare aid station.

Advice #2: Buy two-ply toliet paper. You might thank yourself one day.

 At about 20K we arrived at the top of the course. I grabbed a cup of water (to conserve the water I was carrying, which turned out to be stupid) and began running downhill.  There was some cool singletrack in this section and it was a very enjoyable section of the race. However, run downhill for long enough and a very strange thing will happen: you will start wishing for uphills. As we descended into Tres Marias, the course flattened out for a bit, and for me this was even worse. I'm not fast; I don't have a lot of leg speed. I have never broken 50 minutes for a 10k (PR: 51:19). So the second most miserable part of the race for me was the big, fat, flat road that we had to run into Tres Marias.

  The good news here was that Tania, Dean and Amanda had made the drive out to Tres Marias. This provided me a huge mental boost and kept me moving on that miserable road. The other great thing was that I had carried my phone for photos and sent a frantic text to Tania early in the race: Plz bring handheld bottle! I dumped my Nathan pack with my gore tex coat tied on to it and grabbed the bottle. Man, this was how I should have been running....

Shedding the Nathan Pack in Tres Marias    Photo:Tania

Big Boost from seeing Tania, Dean and Amanda at Tres Marias.   Photo: Tania

  About 11K to go but the descending continued through some really cool trails that were also treacherously slippery and washed out. This was another very enjoyable section but I had left my phone with Tania so I have no photos of the trail. At about 39 K we emerged into the city. Mercifully, this pavement section was all downhill. I'll be honest, if there had been an uphill in this section, I would have walked; if there had been a flat section I would have cried. My knees were done, but I could smell the barn. Jose Luis and I had been leapfrogging back and forth all race and I thought I had finally put him away in trail descending from Tres Marias. But there he was on the other side of the road cruising. They don't close streets for these races; we run with the cars. I was too tired to care, and the thought of being run over by a bus was not entirely unpleasant at this point.
  I didn't think I could match Jose Luis's pace, but as we turned into the stadium I saw the finish line and got a burst of speed and I was gaining on Jose Luis...

  ...And then I realized it wasn't the finish line but I had to run all the way around the track. This was the worst moment of the race. Seems silly in retrospect, but at that moment it was crushing. Dean was there taking photos and I actually started walking for a moment. Jose Luis was gone. No one was behind me at this point, but walking in was ridiculous, so I picked up the pace and finished the race. 5:33:55 according to my watch.  It will be at least a few days before official results are posted.

Entering the stadium, closing in on Jose Luis...  Photo: Tania

What? I have to run all the way around the thing? Jose Luis finishing and I'm way back now. Photo: Tania

Done.                                         Photo: Tania

  Incredible experience, from beginning to end.  Now I have two weeks to the Mexico City Marathon. This is going to be a completely different beast, as I won't be weighed down, there is no real climbing, but that means I am going to have to run the whole thing at a real running pace. It will be harder than this race, strange as that may seem. My knees felt terrible earlier today, but they are better now. I'm supposed to do a 10 mile Marathon pace run on Thursday, which at the moment seems about as daunting as going back over to Cuernavaca.  I will stay flat for the next two weeks and see how the legs feel. My goals for that race are:

1. Don't get injured

A goal: sub four hours. The Mcmillan Running Calculator predicts a 4:05 finish, but I think I can best that. 
B goal: 4:00
C goal: Finish

Running Geek Stuff:

Smart things I did: 
   •ate a gu every 45 minutes. Never came close to bonking, except my mental bonk at the end when I realized I had to run 300 meters around a track.
   •slow start, but started running hills at 10k. 
   •ran all the flats and downhills no matter how miserably slow I was moving.
   •Stayed on course. The course was erratically marked. At times it was over marked, and you would find three orange ribbons in a 100 meter section, but there were at least three key forks that were not marked. Twice I had to wait a moment for someone to catch up who new the course. 
   •Brought the gore tex jacket. Even though I never needed it, I think it's usually smart to respect the mountain.

 Dumb things I did:
  •I loaded my Nathan pack with 2 liters of water. When I dropped it off with Tania it still had 1 liter of water left, which I needlessly humped over the mountain. Yeah, I need to drink more, but if I'm not going to do that, I need to carry less. Two handheld bottles would be the way to go in this race, as they could be refilled at the aid stations. Refilling a Nathan Pack is also possible, but takes too long.
  •Neglected to order a Patagonia Houdini Jacket when Dean was in the U.S. This would have been the ticket. Enough protection from rain, provides some warmth and can be compressed to the size of my fist.

  I wore Brooks Cascadia 7's with Smart Wool PHD socks. No foot problems.

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