Thursday, October 15, 2009

Recap: Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon

Sunday, I joined 359 other runners in the Lassen National Forest in Westwood, California for the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon. The trail marathon follows an old Southern Pacific Railroad route into Susanville. The trail climbs 280 feet for the first 6 miles and then descends 1,300 feet to the finish. It hails 10 water crossings and two tunnels that would make the tunnel to the batcave envious.

My only goal was to finish the race. I had never run a marathon before...not even a half marathon. I'd been training with my neighbor Scott since May, when he put the idea in my head. I'd logged 500 plus miles, joined a trail running group and was on my third pair of running shoes. I felt strong and I felt ready. It was nice to have the butterflies back in my stomach again. The kind I used to get when I competed in sports in high school and college.

I had the ultimate blessing of being invited to stay at my neighbor's inlaw's cabin at Lake Almanor. As it turned out, the cabin was only 15 minutes from the start. 15 MINUTES!!! Consider that 95% of the runners met at the finish line in Susanville at 7:45am to ride in a bus for 45 minutes to the start. I'm sure riding with the other runners was a cool experience and something I missed out on. But my wife's Subaru with seat warmers and Old Crow Medicine Show playing might as well have been a limo.

C-c-c-c-c-old. I'm on the left. Scott on the right.

"34 degrees" read the temp gauge inside my wife's car was we climbed out. We massed around the start line. The race director asked everyone trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon please come up to the start line. We hung back. We couldn't hear the race director on his bullhorn, but the herd of runners began to move forward. My first marathon has begun.

The problem with not hearing the race director is that you don't know that the first .7 of the race is out and back. "Holy crap! There are runners headed back right for me!" It was an odd way to start the race. I was told that a couple of runners fell down at the orange cone turn around. It was a rather tight spot.

The first 2 miles was slow and a matter of pulling away from the middle of the pack. Scott and I were running together by mile 3. We agreed that it was everyman for himself and that we would not stop or slow down the pace for the other. Something that came back to bite me. (More on that later).

We picked up the pace...8:30 mile pace, 8:15, 8:00, 7:50, 7:40. We felt good and were cruising. It was nice to have a comfortable pace and look around and enjoy the scenery. The trail was beautiful. It was a mix of dense trees, open fields and the fall taking hold of Lassen Park, turning green leaves into a golden yellow.

Away we go. Scott is with me step for step.

After 6 miles I was ready for steady incline to stop. I wanted to see what sort of downhill roller coaster this trail was going to be.

Not much of roller coaster, as it turned out. The trail felt very flat, even through we were going down.

At mile 14 Scott peeled off to stretch and load up on nutrients. I kept going. I also kept blowing past aid stations, not taking water or food.

At mile 15 I came up on a two runners. A man was following close behind a woman. I thought they were running together because they were so tight. I made my pass and the man tailed me, as if he wanted to draft. "???" Really? This trail is as wide as a fire road and you want to draft? I would understand if this was a single track, but if I take a tumble, he is coming with me and making things much worse. I ran on the left side on the road, he followed. I ran on the right side of the road, he followed. We came up on the mile 16 aid station, he stopped. I kept going.

I promised myself I could put on my ipod shuffle at mile 16 for the last 10 miles. I was still feeling great. I was still passing runners and not being passed by anyone. 10 miles to go!! Woo Hoo. I was still feeling great. I was smiling. Actually smiling.

Aid station well stocked with grub and very friendly peeps.

At mile 19 I ran with two other people They had a good pace and I thought it would be nice to steady the pace. I knew that there would be an incline coming up. We were approaching mile 20 and there it was. A very steep incline with a bevy of spectators cheering us on. The two guys I was with began walking the hill. For whatever reason I decided that this would be a good place to pass them. I was wrong. As I ran up the hill both my calves cramped up. I got to the top of the hill and made way to the 20 mile aid station. I didn't know if I had pulled both muscles or what.

I stopped to stretch. Just then, my buddy Scott ran by me and gave me a word of encouragement. I should have asked for help. I didn't know what was happening or what to do. I started running again and calves cramped up. This time the pain was more intense and I screamed. I stopped and walked. I realized that my run was in serious jeopardy. I jogged, walked, and stopped for the next two miles. I finally remembered to pop an SCAP. At the mile 22 aid station I loaded up on electrolite water.

The next two miles were slow. This was going to be on of the more beautiful parts of the race, and I couldn't enjoy it. I was miserable. Runners were passing by me left and right. At the mile 24 aid station I loaded up on more electrolite and for whatever reason so jelly beans. The nice man at the aid station offered me a banana. My body was telling him "Yes: but my mind told him "No." Not the best idea.

The next mile was brutal. By this time I was fighting a side stitch that would not go away. The cramping had stopped but the side stitch and tired legs were taking a toll.

I trotted up to the mile 25 marker and I stopped. I stared at the ground and told myself the following.

You are tired. You are not running your race. But this is your first marathon so don't be so hard on yourself. Your family is waiting. They are waiting for you at the finish line. They are only a mile away. One small mile. They are waiting to cheer you home. You are not running your race, but you can finish strong.

I took my left foot and dragged a line in the ground. This was my new start line. "Do it! Finish it! Go! Go! Go!"

Off I went. With the side stitch still in place I ran as hard as I could. I passed by a couple of runners. "I'm going to make it.", I thought. I approached more and more spectators. I was getting closer. The wide road turned into a single track. I could hear people. I could see the finish. My pain disappeared. My disappointment disappeared. I was elated and on top of the world. My buddy Scott was there to cheer me on. I raised my arms up as I crossed the finish line.

I was done.

Here are the results:

FINISH TIME: 3:39:39

My family wasn't at the finish line, much to my disappointment. But they eventually showed up and I was happy. My wife and daughter made me a beautiful sign. It's wonderful. I prize it more than the medal I was given.

With the kids and holding my trophy sign!

So I ran a very good 20 miles but was overcome up horrible cramps and side stitch. I had dehydrated myself and had not taken in enough fuel. I know I can run faster. I know I will run faster.

Thank you to all of the people (and there are many of you) that encouraged me on, helped me along and took the time to aid a total stranger. I hope to see you all again next year.

See you on the trail.

Hooray! It's over! Lets go eat!!!


  1. Nice race report. Congrats.

    I had my camera along - check out the photos if you get time:

    This dialogue box won't let me post a link. They are on flickr - search for bizz johnson.


  2. Congrats on your first marathon. And 10 water crossings... sweet!!!

  3. Nice job on your first marathon!
    Super great reporting!