Todd and Ken Bob on the trail

Park City Marathon (2007 August 25)

Todd and Ken Bob on the trail

Todd and Ken Bob on the trail

Summary

… or The Lost Boys!

It was the best of roads…

It was the worst of trails!

Statistics

  • 26.2
  • time
  • any interesting statistics
  • etc…

Last Minute Marathon Trip

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First of all, I wasn’t planning on running Park City Marathon, in fact, I wasn’t planning on running a marathon this August at all. But Barefoot Todd wanted to continue his marathon-a-month streak, and asked if I was interested in running the Green River Run With the Horses Marathon in Green River, Wyoming?

Todd thought the Green Valley event seemed like the easiest August marathon to get to from southern California. Just a quick plane ride to Salt Lake City, Utah, and a two and half hour drive to Green River, Wyoming. Sounds simple… right?

Todd, stuck in security at L.A.X.

Todd, stuck in security at L.A.X.

Only one minor issue – Todd was also one of the race organizers for the Guts and Glory 5K Run and Walk on Sunday, August 26th! OK, not so bad, just got to make sure we get an evening flight back from Salt Lake City to southern California. But the last available flight was at 4:45pm.

Green River Marathon, is mostly county maintained dirt roads. Todd would wear shoes, but I hadn’t run much more than 5 miles on trails recently. Even with shoes, Green River would be a challenging trail marathon, and I don’t run in shoes! At least not more than half a mile in the past 9 years! Not likely we would finish before early afternoon, making it a real rush back to Salt Lake City to catch our flight!

With a little search on MarathonGuide.com I found out that the Park City Marathon is also on Saturday the 25th, and it’s less than a half hour drive from Salt Lake City, which was good, since Todd had already booked his flights. Course description looks like mostly paved roads and paved bike trails, with just a 7 mile stretch of “smooth” gravel trails along a rails-to-trails path. The rest of the marathon on paved roads, and finishing the last 5 miles on a “paved” bike path to the finish.

Custom Marathon Maniac T-Shirts

Ken Bob, ironing out the details

Ken Bob, ironing out the details

So I booked my flights, to match the flights Todd had already booked for himself. And on Friday, Cathy, my wife, drove with me to Todd’s home in Long Beach. We ironed “Todd” on Todd’s Marathon Maniacs shirt, just as I had ironed “Ken Bob” on mine a day earlier, so that the throngs of cheering fans along the course would know who to cheer for. It also helps us remember our own names after running 20+ miles in the sun :~}

Canceled Flight

Then Cathy dropped us off at Long Beach Airport, where we checked in, and waited for our flight. Half an hour before our flight, it was announced that boarding was being delayed. Then 10 minutes before the flight, it was canceled. We were put on a later flight out of Los Angeles, and given a taxi voucher to Los Angeles.

Finding a Subway in Salt Lake City

Finally, we arrived in Salt Lake City, picked up our rental car. Todd asked one of the car rental employees if he knew where we could find a Subway restaurant, and we found out, that there was one, just about a mile from the airport. So we drove up Redwood Road, about a mile, and didn’t see a Subway sign anywhere. Just as I was about to make a U-turn, I saw the Subway on our left. It’s large bright yellow sign… hiding behind a large tree!

We grabbed our sandwiches and headed up the freeway to Park City, where we had a similar experience with our hotel (it’s sign, too, was cleverly hidden from view). After driving a couple miles up the road where the Travel Lodge was supposed to be less than a mile from the freeway, we turned around, and on the way back discovered that the Travel Lodge sign, on the front lawn of the hotel, was blocked by a big “Grand Opening” banner (which had no reference to the hotel’s name).

To Be Barefoot Todd, or Just Todd?

Then we went to the expo and picked up our race numbers, and took a couple of pictures. Todd hadn’t decided to wear shoes or run barefoot, since we hadn’t inspected the gravel section of the course yet.

So we took one picture of Todd with one barefoot, and one foot in his sandal. Then we drove on down the course toward mile 5 to check out what the course description described as a “smooth gravel” trail.

We found mile 3 and zeroed our odometer. Then at mile 4 we found the Trailside school and Trailside park mentioned in the course description, but couldn’t find a road or bike path that led to mile 5! We drove around some more, and checked out the paved roads, which were some of the smoothest asphalt I have ever run on!

Ken Bob in the tunnel

Ken Bob in the tunnel

But, still we found no sign of the tunnel under the highway that led to the gravel trails. We drove through a tunnel under the freeway, but that just took us further and further away from where the trail should be. Maybe the course map was completely wrong? In which case, we would have no idea where we were supposed to be running on Saturday.

We decided to get back on the freeway, exit on the highway and drive down to mile 10, where the trail crossed the highway.

We found a place named Deer Valley, but this was 3 miles from the Deer Valley on the course map. Then we found a big lake, which obviously the trail did not cross, so we turned around, and just as we were about to give up, I saw the trail passing under the highway.

We took the next exit, and found the trail just east of the highway. This was mile 10. And Todd was not pleased with the gravel! He would be wearing shoes, at least for this part of the course.

We back-tracked up the side roads parallel to the highway, and passed a tiny tunnel under the highway, which came from a narrow footpath from the other side! No wonder we couldn’t find the tunnel in the car!

A little further up we found the beginning of the trail, but the road, too, for about a half mile, was also gravel.

Hiding shoes along the way

Todd Byers, transition area one

Todd Byers, transition area one

So, we found a green utility box near the beginning of the gravel road, and hid Todd’s shoes behind it, for tomorrow’s marathon. Then we were off again, back to the hotel. Since we zeroed the odometer at mile 3, we had drove more than 50 miles! Sure hope we don’t get lost like this during the marathon…

Looking for the subway in Park City

Before heading back to the hotel, we decided to stop at one of the Park City Subway restaurants. There should be one just a little ways from the marathon start and finish area.

We quickly found the highway and approximate location of the restaurant address. But, no Subway in sight. Todd called the restaurant, and talked with a confused sounding employee. “Where are you guys?” Todd asked.

“Ummm, were in a strip mall, ummm near Wendy’s.”

We drove around some more. Didn’t see Subway, or Wendy’s signs anywhere. Todd called again. “We see a Chevron station. Are you folks near the Chevron station?”

“Ohhh. You can see us from the Chevron station. Just go there and you’ll see our restaurant.”

We went to the Chevron station, and couldn’t see Subway, or Wendy’s. It was nearly 9:30pm, and Subway closes at 10pm. We drove around the parking lot behind the gas station, and saw a drive through, with pictures of burgers and such. No sign to let us know which restaurant it was! Then Todd recognized the menu, it was Wendy’s.

We circled the Wendy’s and still saw no Subway sign. Actually, we didn’t even see a Wendy’s sign on the Wendy’s restaurant. Then we recognized, just across the parking lot from the Wendy’s, through the front windows, the Subway colors. We found Subway! There was no exterior sign. In the window there was neon sign “Subway”, which was turned OFF!

Gee, I sure hope the marathon course is marked better than the restaurants and hotels in Park City. Well at least we had reviewed the first 10 miles of the course pretty well.

So we headed back to the hotel, and we figured now that we were already checked into hotel , they had no reason to try to hide from us. Sure enough, they had taken the Grand Opening banner down, so the sign was easy to find this time.

Pigging out the night before

We each showered, ate our sandwiches, watched the Wedding Crashers on television, and got about 3 or 4 hours of sleep before we woke up and headed out to the starting area, and hung around with our fellow marathoners in the field house, which, in addition to being a building in a field, there is actually a field in the building!

Once we started running, I realized we were at altitude, and that I was, as usual for the past couple years, a bit out of shape. My hands were also cold, and I had left my gloves in my luggage. Oh well, it’ll probably warm up soon. I also noticed I was coughing up a little bit of phlegm. Hmmm, I’d better take it easy.

Luckily, Todd was in no hurry either, and I had planned to run the whole marathon with him anyway, if for no other reason, so I could irritate him with my banter. But, my throat was also sore, so I withheld my banter, for now.

We ran down the road, we ran up some trails, we ran through the field, through the tunnel under the highway.

Shouldn’t ate the second submarine

Now I was feeling bloated – could it be those two 12 inch sandwiches last night – and I stopped at several bathrooms trying to lighten my load.

After we got to the gravel section starting at mile 5, I was feeling better. Hmm… maybe there’s something to that reflexology thing, after all, this gravel trail was certainly stimulating my soles.

Anyway, we tried to play with a couple of cows along the way, but they were too shy. So we said “moo”bye, and continued our run down the trail.

All rough trails must end – but no worries, there could be more later…

As soon as the gravel trail ended, we were running on really nice smooth asphalt bike paths, which was just so wonderful after 7 miles of running on gravel.

But, Todd kept his shoes on for a couple more miles, waiting for a good place to stash them, so we could drive back and retrieve them after finishing the marathon, if we had time.

Ken Bob's bare foot on gravel

Ken Bob's bare foot on gravel

As we headed into “upper” Park City, there were a bunch of fire-personal volunteers near a bicycle store. So Todd quizzed them about the extent of gravel trails further on. Some said they didn’t think there were any more gravel trails, but one of the fire-personal was certain there was several more miles of gravel bike trails starting at the big white barn.

Stashing the shoes again

But, Todd decided to stash the shoes anyway, and chance either not running into gravel, or being able to “tough” it out.

So we continued on, both barefoot, running up hill, circling around the Deer Valley Ski area, past some of the 2002 Olympic ski runs. Then running back down the hill, back towards the bike shop again, we caught up with Dale, a walker, who had started early. But, we should have turned left somewhere, before getting to the bicycle shop. All three of us were soon at the bicycle shop again. We asked if anyone there knew where we missed our turn.

The volunteers had already left, but the employees at the bicycle shop were quite helpful in looking up the course map on-line.

Backtracking

Backtracking along the course, our turn should be just past the 14-mile marker, which would then lead us back on course toward mile 18 (remember we ran a 4 mile loop toward the Olympic site).

Anyway, the three of us stuck together, walking back up the paved bike path, past mile 14, and just as we were thinking we should be turning soon, Dale looked back and saw a dim faded line of green paint on the pavement, pointing the way. We were back on course, running through a fancy play area, with a large chess set, and an amazing skate park.

Todd and I said goodbye to Dale, as we began running again, now that the course was more clearly marked again. We had put in a couple extra miles, and were running late, but we were running again, so things were looking good. We might just finish before the 6 and half hour cut-off time.

What? More Gravel?

Another fancy aid station

Another fancy aid station

And just ahead, there was the big white barn.

Now, even though the marathon description stated that the 5 miles from the big white barn to the finish would be on a “paved” bike path, if we had thought about it, the half-marathon description stated that it ran backwards up the last 6 miles of the marathon course, along paved and gravel bike paths, then we would have realized that we would also be running on some gravel bike paths toward the end.

Well, just as we came round the white barn, we saw the worse kind of gravel there is to run on, those big white stones with sharp edges often used in railroad beds. Todd wasn’t too happy about having left his shoes behind. But, the gravel soon improved, but only slightly.

Should I stay or should I go now?

I could have run ahead, but still, I only had about an 11 minute pace left in me at this time, and I would need to run at a 10 minute pace to finish before the 6 and a half hour cutoff, and I didn’t much feel like leaving Todd out here alone on the trail, without shoes, and uncomfortable running barefoot on the gravel.

If I go there will be trouble…

Another option would have been for me to finish, and run back with shoes for Todd. However, I would already have covered more than 28 miles by the time I finished, and 12-13 of that on gravel trails. I wouldn’t be much good trying to run another few miles up the worse gravel trails of the course.

And if I stay it will be double…

So, I decided to stick with Todd for the duration, and we ran on the road, parallel to the bike path for another half mile or so. But the trail soon diverged away from the road, and we got back on the trail, so we could continue the marathon, rather than staying on the highway, and heading back toward the hotel, away from the start area, where our car and luggage was.

So on we ran, well, more like, me running slowly, Todd practically limping – which I told him was good progress with his technique, since limping is really just bending your knees more – which is good.

Eureka!

Then as we passed the mile-22 marker, we saw on the back side of the sign, a piece of flat plastic sign material, about 24 inches by 4 inches, with the words, “Park City Marathon” printed on it. As Todd eyed this sign thoughtfully, I understood what he was thinking.

Todd tore the plastic off the back of the sign, and we both removed the strings from our shorts. I used a sharp rock to help cut/tear the plastic into two shorter pieces, and we used some of the many sharp stones and sticks on the trail to drill holes into the plastic. This was such a primal feeling, using sticks and stones as tools, to transform the raw materials from our nearby surroundings, to create a practical solution to our problem.Todd was soon, happily walking along in his new sandals.

Soon Todd was running the strings through the holes, and tying the “sandals” to his feet. Just as we were finishing the manufacturing process, Dale caught up with us, and the three of us started walking the final 4 miles toward the finish.

Rich and his family whose backyard faced the trail, and shared water with us

Rich and his family whose backyard faced the trail, and shared water with us

We ran into Rich, and his family, whose backyard bordered on the bike path, and they invited us for cool refreshing water, which we enjoyed immensely, .before we headed back out on the way.

A few places along the gravel bike path, there were some nice little cow paths, which were a relief for me, now that I was the only one barefoot. Dale chatted on his phone with his wife, and she managed to have the race organizers set aside three shirts and three medals for us, before most of them left for the day.

Still, when we straggled across the finish line, which was on a really pleasant grass park, a couple of the organizers were still there, and I enjoyed showing them that my feet had indeed survived the gravel trails intact.

It’s a Fun Barefoot Course, but perhaps not for beginners

I rarely, if ever, want to discourage people from going barefoot most places! The Park City Marathon is a beautiful course. I strongly recommend you ride your mountain bike or cross country ski on these trails, however, stimulating or invigorating Running Barefoot on gravel is, the last 5 miles of this course are perhaps the most challenging gravel I have ever run or walked on barefoot!

Though I told the organizers I wouldn’t run it again, and they completely understood, I actually wouldn’t rule out running Park City Marathon barefoot again, just to see what I could do on my own, now that I know where that one
tricky turnoff is, and with one less sandwich the night before.

Running Barefoot on a gravel which covers nearly half of the Park City marathon course, there is no question about how important bent knees and relaxing are. This stuff is too challenging to imagine, if you restrict your running barefoot to golf courses or sand. But, you won’t learn the importance of learning to run well on golf courses or soft sand. I would love to take every new barefoot runner on trails like these, before they run on sand or golf courses, just to practice learning to run gently! One thing is reasonably certain, no one is going to run too much, too soon, on this kind of gravel.

So, my advice is to get out and practice Running Barefoot on challenging gravel. When you can run barefoot 10-15 miles on gravelm, in addtion to another 10-15 miles on smooth roads, you might be ready to attempt the Park City Marathon barefoot.

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