Sunday, August 22, 2010

Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight Marathon

For my second full marathon, I wanted something unique and quirky. I got exactly that on the Extraterrestrial Highway in the Nevada desert. How could I go wrong with a description like this?

Running along the fringe of the mysterious Area 51, this stretch of highway (375) has an overwhelming number of reported UFO sightings. So much so, that in 1996 the federal government officially named highway 375 the "Extraterrestrial Highway". The ET Highway has become a gathering place for UFO enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With elevations ranging from roughly 4000-5600 feet, the high desert will enchant you with gorgeous vegetation, surrounding mountains, and stunning vistas. An additional treat is the cooler temperatures. Rachel, NV is generally 15 degrees cooler than the Las Vegas Valley; coupled with a midnight run, temperatures should be in the 60's in August!

So here's my weekend schedule: fly into Las Vegas Saturday afternoon, jump on the bus to the start line in the evening, run the race at midnight, cross the finish line at the crack of dawn, jump back on the bus for the 2 and half our drive back to Sin City, and fly out Sunday afternoon. Busy itinerary, yes, but tis the life of the marathoner! With the exception of my flight being two hours delayed, everything went as planned.

When I arrived in Vegas, I was greeted by 100-plus degrees of fiery Fahrenheit hell. I'm from San Francisco, so I'm not used to this kind of boiling point heat. Thank God this was a midnight marathon! If I had to run in this heat, I probably would have melted into a puddle of Vietnamese GU.

After stepping off the plane, I quickly made my way to the Thrifty Car Rental, got my economy car, and jetted off to The Hard Rock Casino for the Expo. The first person I saw there was Yolanda "Walking Diva" Holder, my marathon hero. This lady is going for the Guinness Book record for most marathons walked in one calendar year: 101. This Extraterrestrial Highway marathon will mark her 72nd for this year.

I also made some new friends at the expo--Ray, Sarah, and Hector--all from Long Beach. While we waited for the bus, I got to know these three, and it was great hearing their stories. I know I will be seeing these folks on the SoCal circuit in the fall, starting with the Long Beach Marathon.

When the shuttles arrived at 9pm, we all got on the "quiet" bus so that we could rest. It was a two and half our drive to the start line, so any second of shut eye I can steal, I will!

Being out in the middle of the desert in the dark was fun. All you could see were neon glow necklaces! At 12am sharp, the race director shouted out "GO!" and we all took off. I was feeling pretty good the first 6 miles, but once I hit mile 7, the altitude sickness started to kick in. We were at about a 5000 feet elevation and I was really beginning to feel it. I got very light headed and I had a very hard time breathing. So I listened to my body and walked the next few miles.

Along the way, I bumped into Yolanda and a bloke from Down Under named Anthony. Anthony is from Sydney, Australia, and is on holiday in the states. He decided to run this midnight marathon while in Vegas for the weekend. The poor guy blew out his knee at mile 6 and had to walk the rest of the way. By mile 11, he was feeling pretty delirious from the altitude, just like me!

As the sun started to rise, I continued to plug along. After mile 8, I walked about 10 miles with slight bursts of jogging here and there. My legs were fine and under other circumstances I probably could have run to that finish line. However, the sleep deprivation and exhaustion got the better of me. I still was able to get a good shot in front of the Rachel, NV sign!

I kept plugging along, but by mile 23, I was really beginning to lose it. Runners and walkers were passing me up one by one. My eyes were throbbing and my head felt like it was about to explode. I couldn't breathe. I removed the Endorphin Dude head band hoping to get some air circulation to my head. It took me 24 minutes to get from miles 24 to 25, and 31 minutes to get from miles 25 to 26. The remaining runners and walkers who passed me were concerned and asked if I needed medical attention. One runner, who is a nurse practitioner, even stopped to take my pulse. I was grateful for all the concern, but I was so close to that finish line. I thanked everyone for their concern and continued to inch along the Extraterrestrial Highway.

Just when I thought I was about to collapse, who do I see? My marathon guardian angel is who. Yolanda, who had finished an hour before, walked out to the the 25.8 mile mark with her friend MG to escort me back! I couldn't believe it. Seeing Yolanda and MG gave me that second wind to jog those final .4 miles to the finish line. The Walking Diva said to me, "Good Work Tony! You made it this far! You can do it. You're almost there. You are so close to completing your second marathon!" She then snapped a picture of me and continued to cheer for me as I desperately jogged to end.

When I finally made it to the finish line, I pretty much collapsed. There was nothing left in me. I'll be honest and say that I really did not experience any runner's high, for I was too exhausted. That, however, does not mean that I am not proud. Believe me, Endorphin Dude pulled out all that he had to complete this arduous race, and I am damn proud of myself for finishing!

Yolanda later sent me the picture she snapped when I struggled at mile 25.8. She wrote a little inspiring note on it, and I choked up a bit when I read it. I'll be honest and say that E.T. kicked my ass. I wish that alien would just phone home and go away! It took me 7:46:48 to finish this grueling race. I learned something valuable this weekend: don't expect a PR on the Extraterrestrial Highway. The high altitude, the gradual incline of 1000 feet over the first 13 miles, and sleep deprivation, don't really make for ideal marathon conditions. I also learned that it's not a good idea to attempt to stay up through the night a few nights before. On Thursday and Friday nights, I stayed up to 3am, but as it turned out, my internal clock automatically woke me up at 7am. In the end, I lost sleep, which negatively affected my performance. In spite of all this, I still crossed that finish line and earned my second 26.2 miler medal. Woo Hoo!