Race Report – Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon, October 13, 2013

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Runners at the starting line 2013
 
This year, October 13, 2013, was my seventh time running the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon. My first time was in 2007 and I have ran the event every year since then. Last year I ran the 50K (31 miles), but it is pretty much the same course, just 5 miles longer.
 
Has anybody reading this blog knows I have been in persistent atrial fibrillation for the last two years. For the 50K last year, and the marathon this year, I was in known atrial fibrillation. I am pretty sure that I went into atrial fibrillation about two thirds of the way through the 2011 marathon. At least (in retrospect) it felt that way, but that was before I knew I was afflicted with this dysrhythmia.

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It took a long time to get to the finish line this year
 
The course of the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon is well known to me and I enjoy it a great deal. The Bizz Johnson Trail is a rails to trails project, and is about 24 ½ miles long. For that reason the race begins with an out and back on a Forest Service fire road in order to make the marathon and official 26.2 mile run. Once the runners get on the actual rail trail the course is a gentle uphill until about the 6 mile marker at which point there is a 20 mile downhill section. This might sound like it’s easy, but remember, it’s a run not a bike ride. This is the only race where afterward I typically have a lot of quadriceps and heel pain from all the downhill.

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Except for the portion where the trail crosses the Susan River Canyon the grade is very gradual. Trains evidently are unable to go up or down anything that is too steep, and the average grade is below 1%, and at its steepest probably about 2%. This is an estimate, I’m really not sure of the exact grade. One thing I can say, though, is that the steepest downhill is the last 6 miles down the Susan River Canyon. This is also where the course is the most scenic (including two tunnels) and often this section is quite warm.
 
This year the deciduous trees were changing and it was quite beautiful.

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Along the course (No deciduous trees here – sorry)
 
Some people worry about the elevation at Bizz Johnson, but to me that isn’t even a factor. I live and train at the exact same elevation as the Bizz Johnson Trail. As a matter of fact I do almost all my training on mountain biking and hiking trails which are much steeper and more technical than the Bizz Johnson Trail.
 
I have to admit I had a bad time this year. I don’t think it had anything to do with the atrial fibrillation per se, I think I worked myself into a bad attitude, or bad mental state this year – ruminating over certain past events on the two and a half hour drive to Susanville the day before the race. Also I had trained for the 50K, but I really didn’t feel up to it and the day before the race I switched to the regular marathon. This probably was a good move, but I felt somehow depressed over that choice.
 
I’m not sure how many marathons I have ran, but it’s somewhere between seventeen and twenty races. There comes a time in every marathon where I start to feel poorly, but usually I don’t start to feel that way until somewhere around mile twenty-two or twenty-three. For some reason at this year’s Bizz Johnson I started to feel that way about mile six. “It’s going to be a long day,” I told myself.


 
Ultimately I completed it, I suffered like an animal, but I lived to fight another day. It’s interesting that I finished it at almost the same time that I finished the 50K last year, that is taking into consideration that the 50K starts an hour before the regular marathon. My recollection of the 50K last year is that I felt much better, surprisingly, throughout the entire race than I have during any previous marathons. Maybe I should stick with 50Ks.
 
My friend Stephen, who ran the race this year as well, said he suffered like an animal as well, and that “it seemed like every mile hurt.” But then again he finished several hours ahead of me, came in seventh place overall, and won his age group. It was probably worth it.
 
Sometimes I wonder – am I good at marathons? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m certainly not fast. Seems like I did a good job, the night before, sitting in a motel room watching sitcoms. Maybe I’m better at something like that. Well, I guess I’ll have to keep trying marathons until I get one right.
 
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Finishing the 50K last year

Being a veteran trail runner who has to be self-reliant, except during a race, I carry my own water. I use an Ultimate Design WASP hydration vest, with NUUN tablets added for electrolytes. I refill it at the water stops if necessary. This year, for some reason, I figured I should probably drink some of the electrolyte drink that they offered at the water stops in addition to my own concoction. I should have known better. It was a pink drink that is evidently marketed by the Power Bar company. I have never tasted a urinal cookie before, but I imagine that this pink sports drink is pretty close. Every time I drank a Dixie cup of it at a water stop I had to walk a little bit and try to hold it down. In other words I was having a lot of nausea. Being nauseous will not prevent me from drinking because I figure I can always drink more water if I vomit, but it sure does keep me from eating, so I was a little deficient as far as carbo gels were concerned. I think I only had two all day (and had planned on five).
 
During last Sunday’s race I decided that the mile between mile marker twenty-three and mile marker twenty-four is definitely the cruelest mile. Suffering is maximized, and you’re close but not really close enough to the finish. If I tell myself, “it’s only three more miles!” I then start to think that three miles sounds like a terribly long distance.

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I enjoy listening to music on my iPod shuffle while I run and when I arrived at the last quarter mile of the race a terrific song came on my iPod. It was Oh Comely by Neutral Milk Hotel. Unfortunately I was feeling remarkably emotionally labile at that point in time that I knew that if I listened to the song I would start crying. I already knew I was suffering and wasn’t going to appear well coming across the finish line, but I really didn’t want to finish crying like a little kid – so I fast forwarded it. I clicked until I found a song that was a little bit more emotionally bland.

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When the finish line mercifully appeared I was glad to be done. I strolled over to the feed section and as usual there were a lot of great things to eat, but I was feeling so nauseous – there was not one thing there that I could’ve eaten. Claude, who also ran the race that day, was waiting for me and we took the shuttle back to the parking area. I had some food in my truck for post race meal, but as soon as I walked over there I became quite sick and expelled a large quantity of pink water. It must have just sat there in my stomach – there was a lot of it! I felt much better, changed into my dry clothes, and ate my post race meal. I started to wonder – emotionally labile, tearful, and nauseous – was I pregnant? (Ha ha)

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Next Event: Bizz Johnson 50K – October 13, 2013, Susanville, California

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Race Director Wendel Doman gives pre-race instructions

My next event in the Bizz Johnson 50K – October 13, 2013 in Susanville, California – although at this point I am considering bagging it and just running one of the shorter events – maybe the marathon. Bizz Johnson has something for everybody – a 10K, two half marathons, a marathon, and a 50K.

As far as trail 50Ks in the West are concerned this is probably the easiest course. Bizz Johnson is organized by Coastal Trail Runs, an organization that is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it takes place primarily on a rail trail (Rails to Trails). That’s why the course is easy – trains are, I think, unable to go up or down any more than a one or two percent grade. Plus the trail is as wide as the railroad tracks it once was, and as smooth as a dirt road. Most 50Ks in Oregon and far Northern California are on technical single track that go up and down mountains and canyons.

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Along the course

This will be my seventh year running the Bizz Johnson – I’ve ran the marathon five times and the 50K just once – last year was the first year they even had a 50K. I even came in second place in my age group – but then again there were only two of us in that age group.

The entire rail trail is only about twenty-five miles so both the marathon and the 50K start with an appropriately measured “out and back” on an adjacent fire road to make the races end up being the proper distances. Last year this worked perfectly for me because the 50K started an hour before the marathon, so I ended up running into the back of the pack runners, who had just started. It was sort of like running a normal marathon . . . after going for a one hour morning jog.

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Last Minute Preparation

The race begins with a six mile out and back (three miles up and three miles down) on a non-technical fire road; then it joins the Bizz Johnson Trail. The first couple of miles on the Bizz Johnson are uphill and then there are essentially twenty miles of gentle downhill running. The trail is smooth and a delight to run and goes through a pine forest at first with final six miles going down the Susan River canyon ending in Susanville.

There is one canyon crossing at about the twenty-five mile marker (the twenty mile marker for the marathon) that looks easy on the course map but is in reality quite brutal – probably my perception is based on the fact that this is the point where the course often becomes pretty warm (lower elevation in a deeper canyon).

Also there are two tunnels late in the race that are fun, but freak some people out – very dark and cold in the tunnels!


Sorry if I seem to be about to die – this tunnel is at 24 miles in the marathon (29 miles in the 50K)

The race is a small, well-organized point-to-point event with no expo, and bus transport from Susanville to the starting line. There are aid stations every two miles along the marathon course. For me the altitude in no problem (5600 ‘ to 4200’) because I live and train at the same altitude – some folks from sea level complain about it, however.

The cool thing, at least as far as last year was concerned, is the mile markers were all based on the marathon distance so psychologically it was easier. For example – when I pass the eighteen mile marker while running the 50K I am actually at about twenty-three miles – but psychologically it seems like I am only at eighteen. It might have something to do with my being so familiar with the course.

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Twenty-three miles – but it only “seems like eighteen”

The race ends in a picnic area in a grove of tall pines and there is transport back where all the cars are parked.

The reason I am thinking about bagging it is that my training doesn’t seem as good this year as it was last year. I was in persistent atrial fibrillation last year, as I am this year – but my mileage was much higher last year. I was running fifty to sixty miles per week with one seventy-five mile week (my all time highest mileage week).

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Age Group – Second Place in my first 50K – but only two runners in my age group.

This year I bonked out on my first two long runs (I’d planned on two twenties and ended up only running sixteen and thirteen – that was five and six weeks ago). Over the past three weeks I have completed three twenty or twenty-one mile trail runs in the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

The reason I bonked out on those long runs may not have anything to do with my atrial fibrillation – I think it is more related to my intolerance to heat. Both of those days were too hot, especially later in the runs. For the past few weeks I have moved my long runs to high altitude mountain trails that are actually much more technical and hilly than the course of my upcoming race – in other words much more difficult training runs than the ones I bonked on – but I am able to complete them because it is shady and cool up there. I have one more long run scheduled this weekend (twenty-four miles?) and then I start my three week taper prior to the race. It’s supposed to be cold and rainy this weekend so I will probably do fine.

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Almost Done

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Finish Line

My biggest problem occurs when it is hot on race day. I should clarify that for me temperatures in the seventies qualify as hot. I think this is what I am going to do: If my last long run goes well I will go to the race and check the weather report. If it looks like it is going to be cool I will run the 50K, but if it looks like hot weather I’ll run one of the shorter events – either the marathon or the half marathon.

My Bizz Johnson Photos (from the past several years) on Flickr 143 photos and two videos (including a tunnel video)

UPDATE: My final twenty went fine – I started getting sort of tired at mile thirteen but pushed through. I reviewed my training log and discovered that I had actually ran a twenty miler the week prior to the first of my failed twenties – so I have ran a total of five twenty mile training runs (three of which were more like twenty-one milers in the Sky Lakes Wilderness). I still haven’t decided whether to run the 50K or the 26.2. I’m going to see how I do during the taper (I always cheat and run too much) and also keep an eye on the race day weather.