I’m a sucker for BQ talk. BQ is runner shorthand for running a qualifying time to run the Boston Marathon. For my age (49, going on 50) that’s a 3:35 marathon. In heading out to Vegas to run the Las Vegas Marathon, I had planned to run it purely as a training run in preparation for the Disney Marathon on January 11th. However, runners talking about trying for a BQ the day before the marathon was as common as slot machines at the casinos. As infectious as the slots too.
Wife Salome, son John and I fly into Vegas at noon. By 2 PM we are checked into the Mandalay Bay Resort, the host hotel for the marathon. We meet up at the Expo with Anchorage runners Mark and John. They both state their plans to run BQ times. The temperatures are supposed to be in the high 40s to lower 50s with winds around 5 mph, ideal running conditions. I explain that I came to Vegas to run it as a training run, but that I would meet them at the start and try to pace with them as long as I could. I later call a friend of a Hawaii running buddy. She too informs me that she is gunning for a BQ.
After an early dinner, I head back to the room to prep my gear for the morning and hit the sack early. Salome & John hit the strip to see the sights. I awake to hear them come in, but fortunately fall right back to sleep. I’m up at 4 and out the door around 5:15 AM to head downstairs and outside to the start area located in front of Mandalay Bay. The temperature feels not as low as the 49 reported by the Weather Channel. Of course, what happens to me at all too many of my marathons happens again. I can not locate any of the runners I’ve agreed to pace with. This may be a blessing in disguise as I don’t know how I’ll run. I’m coming off of a half ironman run a month ago with only one long run of 20 miles two weeks ago. Not being able to find my buddies, I start talking with a runner from Tucson, AZ, who states that she is going to try to run a BQ in 3:40. I can’t get away from these people.
The race starts on the strip at 6:05 AM. A beautiful start as its still dark and the strip is lit up. Like most things in Vegas, the race organizers feel the need to kick it up a notch, so they start shooting off fireworks as we head down the strip. Bright lights, big city, very exciting. So exciting, I shoot off and get pulled out with the faster runners to a way too fast first mile in 7:10. “Slow down, Tex” I think to myself. I’m out way too fast. Mile 2 clocks in at 7:27, still too fast but better. I think the flashing lights from the casinos and all that BQ talk have me too pumped. The fact that the first 5 miles are on a slight downhill slop don’t hurt either. I hit the 10K mark in about 47 minutes: BQ time. I’m starting to buy in.
The problem with the idea of a BQ is that you’ve pretty much got to run the best you’ve ever run to hit the time. The guys at the Boston Athletic Association have figured out aged based qualifying times that make you train to be in the best shape of your life to hit the number. To hit those times, you have to in PR (personal record) condition. Everything has to click on that day: your nutrition, the weather, your head. Too many other factors to mention. I knew coming in that my training wasn’t BQ type training. But we are in Vegas and we all make stupid bets sometimes hoping that luck makes up for shortcomings. I’m all in.
I’m good, but slowing for the next 3 miles, with miles 7, 8 and 9 ticking off in 7:59, 8:10, and 8:17. A 15K split of around 1:15. Not bad, but that 8:17 is a problem. I realize I’m falling off pace. I know that the course starts to go uphill for the next several miles. Perhaps the BQ attempt should be removed from the table. Maybe I should have placed a side bet to finish. During mile 10, I notice my hams feel tight. If I keep trying to push pace, I risk leg muscle craps and walking. OK, I remove my chips from the table and decide to make this what I originally intended: a training run. I slow to upper 8 minute and lower 9 minute miles. Near the half marathon mark, Mark Schroeder passes me. “Keep it up buddy,” I say, “I’m bleeding pace. This is now a training run for me.” Mark says he’ll see me at the finish. I wish him luck and let him go ahead of me.
The psychological problem of starting at a faster pace, then slowing down, is that a bunch of runners that were running even paces start passing you. Not an ego boost. However, I temper my feelings of shame with the realization that all the runners passing me look really fit. I have not been passed by any of the over 1,000 runners running dressed as Elvis. The “Running Elvi” as they are known dress up as “The King” and run marathons doing goofy stuff, like dancing and singing Elvis songs along the course. Around mile 18, humiliation awaits. I am finally passed by my first Elvis. But its no fat Elvis. This guy is running at a good clip. No goofy antics. That comes a mile later. During mile 19, I get passed by two somewhat less fit Elvi. One of them starts goofing for the crowd, doing a hop and air guitar arm swing. OK, its funny I admit to myself. And besides, I’m approaching mile 20 and I’m not hitting the wall. Life is good.
I feel well enough to pick up the pace the last 6 miles. As I approach the finish line, I see the clock approaching the 3:50 mark. I kick it in the last 100 yards to come in at 3:49:47. My personal demarcation of whether I’ve run a good marathon is if I break 4 hours. Thus, I feel good about my run. I broke 4 hours and only got passed by 3 Elvi. Or is it Elvii? Of my running buddies, a couple made their BQs; many did not. But hope springs eternal in Vegas. We place bets, but not every bet pays off. To those that didn’t hit the jack pot, I say, throw in some speed workouts and keep playing. Me? I’ll be doing the Disney Marathon in January. I hope I don't do anything Goofy.