On the other hand, though, the course is listed as being downhill and fast so I thought maybe I could pound out a good time. By now I should be far better at appreciating that my conjecture about possible race performance is at best 2 parts reality to 8 parts fantasy. Of course this is great for my ongoing feelings of self-worth but it causes me to come up with some pretty unrealistic expectations.
The El Paso course is indeed a downhill course…in a way. It drops a mighty 1100 feet in the first 4.75 miles give or take and if you have the quads for it you will indeed have a screaming fast time for the first quarter or so of the race. However, beyond that initial drop the remainder of the course is very flat with a few reasonable sized rollers thrown in at the end of the race, maybe between miles 19 and 23. In any case, the rollers come at you starting with a downhill just after you leave Ft. Bliss and pretty much wrap up 3 miles out from the finish line. Everything after the initial plunge and before leaving Ft. Bliss is like a pancake.
Again, with the caveat, if your quads can handle it, you might actually be able to pull off a fast time in El Paso if you are lucky enough not to be hampered by wind. We were not lucky enough to not be hampered by wind. At the very beginning of the race up on Trans Mountain there was a light breeze but it was a non-issue during the descent. However, as the day progressed the wind picked up and I spent probably a totally of 18 miles running directly into a headwind that was probably somewhere around 15 miles per hour by mile 6 and more like 25 miles per hour by mile 15. However, me and my sub-3:45 friends didn’t get the worst of it. The GeekGrl was out on the course longer and towards the end of her race the winds must have been sustained 35 mph and there was a full out sandstorm. There is a picture of her with her arm protecting her face and her clothes flapping wildly about her as she forged ahead. Visibility was probably down to 30 yards or so.
I spoke to a few locals and apparently this kind of wind is pretty common the time of year when the El Paso marathon talks place but other than holding the thing in December or January I’m not sure what the race director can do. If they waited much longer, after the fierce winds of spring, it would be too hot for a race. I guess they could market it as a blazing hot marathon; there are a few out there. Las Vegas, NV at least has one I think it’s called Run with the Devil.
The other thing I had read on Marathonguide.com was that this race is scenic. I have no idea where that came from but my guess is from a group of running masochists. I suppose the descent off Trans Mountain has some mild appeal and there is maybe a mile section while on Ft. Bliss that is kind of a nice residential area but beyond that it’s a butt ugly course. Now, I want to hasten to add that I honestly believe that the race director did their level best to pick a nice route but the raw material just isn’t there. It kind of pains me to say that because people tend to take pride in their cities, which is a good thing, and I am loath to slam anyone’s home town. However, I did make an effort to talk to some native El Pasoens (El Pasoites, El Passers) and they uniformly concurred, El Paso just kind of sucks.
On the upside though, I really enjoyed my hotel room, which I think was a Hilton Garden and it’s right on the UTEP campus so the immediate area seemed safe and clean. We also had a good Italian meal at this little hole in the wall restaurant that had been fashioned from someone’s grandmother’s house. I also have to mention that the post-race offerings, massage, food, beer, live music, was far superior to what I was expecting and to what I have experienced at other smaller marathons and as of this race I’ve done 65 marathon or longer races so I have a bit of background in this area. In fact, it was like a Southwest Texas version of the Wisconsin (Kenosha) Marathon, which had beer, brats, and a live Polka Rock band dressed in yellow with purple sequins vests. They totally rocked.
I also have to give the Race Director kudos for making the most out of what he had to work with. One snafu, the GeekGrl was left out on the course by herself and without any course aid or markings. According to her a van came by with some runners in it and the driver yelled something at her that she didn’t understand (being that the wind was howling and she is deaf in one ear). She assumed that the driver was asking if she wanted a ride because it was so nasty out and she yelled back that she didn’t want a ride she wanted to finish and so the driver left her out on the course. That was apparently the SAG wagon picking up all the runners because the course was closing down and man, that course folded like a cheap suit the second that van went by.
I honestly think that the course closed a little earlier than needed, they may not have anticipated someone being able to fight back and come in under the cutoff in the final couple miles but that is the GeekGrl’s specialty and they gave up on her too soon. Anyway, she was left to try and search out the finish line and I was left trying to search the general downtown area for the GeekGrl along with fellow Outlaw Bones. She eventually found the finish line after getting directions from one dog walker, two homeless people and one runner who had just finished the race. She wrote the RD about her ordeal and he was very apologetic and updated the race results to show her as a finisher.
I won’t be going back to this race but then again, El Paso isn’t my kind of town and I rarely repeat races anyway. However, I wouldn’t want to dissuade others from running the El Paso marathon I just think that you should really know what may be in store. Anyone from the El Paso, Las Cruces, Juarez area should definitely be running this race though but then again, maybe I’m a hypocrite. I’ve only run the Duke City marathon in Albuquerque once and I live here so…
My time ended up being 3:39 and change. A far cry from the sub-3:25 I need to qualify for Boston but given my weight and the conditions I’m actually pretty happy.