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Bizz Johnson Marathon at Altitude

The day dawned clear and cold.  We were at about 5,000′ and a group of us were about to set out on another adventure of running 26.2 miles just for the hell of it.  The team included Kim, Chris, Pete, Jeremy, Doni (and Kimber) and other roomies at the Roseberry B&B in Susanville (built 1902).

The night before, we had all gone to the local pub/restaurant where we had a typical pre-marathon meal of pasta and beer and wine (ok some water too.)

We all boarded the busses and took the long winding road to the starting line in the trails up in the Lassen mountains.  Kim was apprehensive about lack of enough training.  Chris had just finished a 100mile run and was feeling pretty good.  Doni had just done one other marathon (Napa in the rain – see previous great posts).  I’ve done some training on Vancouver Island in the last couple of weeks but not nearly enough.

As we peeled off our sweats and outer layers, the sun was out and brilliantly shining.  The trail lay ahead – an old railroad track that had been pulled up to make room for a wide point to point running trail that would take us through two big tunnels and 14 wooden bridges to the finish line far far away.

When we started running, Kim and I could hear each other breathing hard already just 100’s of yards from the start.  The solution?  Put on headphones and crank up the music!

She pulled away and I struggled in the altitude to maintain some stride.  Soon she was long gone as was Chris and Pete, with Jeremy and Doni behind.  I thought she would finish far ahead of me, but I caught up about mile 7 and starting going strong.  I ate and drank at every aid station and reached mile 13.1 (halfway) at exactly 1;59:55 – on pace to beat 4 hours.

Kim fell farther behind, I kept going and did about 20 miles in around 3:05 – then the proverbial wall hit.  I was running behind a woman for awhile with “life, nature, love” on her singlet, but never paid another glance.  It turned out later that this was Alanis Morissette running her first marathon – and she was totally focused on her own music and pace (honestly, she looked pretty strong).

I did the last 6 miles in more than 10m/mile pace, the altitude and not enough miles finally took their toll – but finished strong and a good 4 minutes ahead of Alanis (YAY!).

It was great to finish and have some friends cheering for me at the end.  Chris and I then ran backwards along the course to find Kim and about 3/4 mile we did and escorted her in.  Turned out Chris did 3:30, Pete did 3:40, Kim 4:33 and Jeremy something like 5:50.  One of our other roomies at the inn did 6:58 which is an awful long time to be out.

Afterward, and after some good long hot showers, we all gathered at Roseberry for our customary champagne and to recount our stories of injuries, blackened toes, blisters, aches and pains and to commit to doing more training for Next Time.

I was not convicted on going until literally 24 hours before leaving but I was so glad that I did.  The feeling of being with friends and adults that I could have intelligent conversations about life and work was amazing.  The times are what they are (for me 3rd or 4th best).  Finishing my 15th of 15th starts plus 2 ultras – Priceless.  Having fun and smiling along the way – Super Priceless.

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  1. christopher mattera says:

    Hello, I am planning on running a half marathon at the grand canyon in novermber…trouble is I live at sea level and the course averages about 7000 feet. How might I best prep ;myself so that I am not overcome by altitude?

    I have heard that if a runner cannot arrive a week or so prior to the event to acclimatise (and I cant) then the runner would do best flying in and running the race within 24 hours or less rather than kick around the pre race location for several days waiting.

    Any advice, the race is a saturday and I fly in on friday.

    thanks so much,

    Dr. Christopher Mattera