I haven’t run a blacktop race in a long while now. Even the Western Pacific Marathon was on gravel and dirt, though pretty flat. Morgan Hill Marathon would be my first full-length marathon on nothing but blacktop. I picked up my bib on Friday and made the mistake of driving part of the course to get a sense for what I was going to encounter. WIth a 1,200 ft elevation again (and loss), the Morgan Hill Marathon is a hilly one for sure. But the anxiety that I felt wasn’t because of the hills nor the distance. I know this sounds cocky, but I was a little afraid of DNF’ing this race, ‘cos I thought I might get bored on the blacktop. All I could think of during the drive was, “that’s a lot of pavement“. But it turned out to be an almost perfect race. Almost, almost.
Morgan Hill Marathon
After an early am start and a 40 minute drive, I toed the starting line shivering with 2 layers, gloves, headband, Luna Sandals and my SJ Ultra Vest loaded with Clif Shots, Succeed S Caps and a couple of Onigiris. I had a few simple goals going in: To run most of the course barefoot, to try and get through the hills in about 2 hours and maybe, a 3:30 finish. The weather seemed to be cooperating, only hitting the 80’s around noon.
Soon after we started, I tucked in the Luna Sandals in front of the SJ Ultra Vest and switched to running barefoot. The sun was just rising over the farm lands, horses grazing in their stables and the morning chill permeating from my feet up. After turning into Uvas Road at mile 4.6 in under 38 minutes, I got my Luna Sandals back on to deal with the coarse grained road that was cutting into my feet. It was warming up and the Uvas Reservoir looked gorgeous under the morning sun. I remember passing the 8 mile marker right around an hour. Around mile 10, my partially-torn, never-fully-healed ligament on my right ankle let out its first cry. My posture was fine, calves, quads, feet all holding up, wasn’t thirsty, wasn’t panting. So what was it?
There wasn’t much dirt or gravel next to the winding roads, so I had to stay on the blacktop. Winding roads! Banking! Damn it, it was the camber! Last time I had outer ankle pain was when I ran on a sloped beach. I was proud of myself about the self diagnosis, but there was no place to hide. Mile 12 through 15 up to the top of the climb was, to say the least, tricky. I stopped, massaged my ankle and then started down the descent, moved to the center of the road on the double yellow lines and picked up speed. I reached the Hale Avenue intersection around mile 16 at 2:07 and became very mindful of the camber on the road. Took off my Luna Sandals again and started running with Marc Lowe.
He turned out to be great company. We were kidding around, making jokes, trading a few stories and kept pushing. He was shooting for a 3:25 time and I felt like I could make it too, but for my ankle. The highlight of this 10-mile stretch was when Marc hollers out to a police officer: “Officer, someone stole this guy’s shoes. Can we file a complaint please?” Everyone was cracking up.
I ran with Marc until about mile 23, but I was slowing down, dunking cold water on my calves and ankles to keep the inflammation down. Marc took off to make his goal time and I walked a little bit trying to shake things off. I saw the 3:35 pacer cross me and started chasing him down. Apparently the pacer was a little ahead of his time. I pulled into the finish line with a new PR of 3:34 placing 5th in my age group. Marc helped me get a bag of ice for my ankle and a couple of friends handed me an ice cold gatorade. I was pleasantly surprised at how I felt. Other than the ankle situation, I was fine. I didn’t bonk, didn’t have to eat a lot, wasn’t exhausted physically or mentally, calves, quads and knees still holding up and most importantly no blisters on my feet. But the camber played a nasty surprise on my weak ankles.
I also ended up running 15 of the 26.2 miles barefoot and the rest in Luna Sandals. Even as I’m writing this race report, just a day later, I’m realizing that road races are probably not for me. Especially ones with camber. The incessant, relentless pounding on the pavement takes a toll. As I wrote about in Trail running vs. Road running, the active recovery that takes place on trails is just not there on blacktop. Though, I have already registered for the inaugural Berkeley Half Marathon in November, which does have a couple of miles of gravel. That said, I couldn’t have asked for a better run and I’m still here in one piece. Thanks to all of the awesome volunteers who helped cheer us along the way. The sign that said “I eat hills for breakfast” at the start of the climb, brought a smile to my face.
What was your experience at the Morgan Hill Marathon? How do you run on roads with camber?