Monday, June 15, 2015

Governor's Cup - Helena Montana Marathon Race Recap

Official Time: 4:13:07
Placement: 45th out of 106 overall, 8th out of 16 in the 40 - 49 age division
Results: Here
Race Website:Here
Weather:Low 50's at the start, 69 at the finish. Swirling wind at roughly 10mph

Mile Time Comments
1 8:30 First five miles are all sweet downhills in the shade with a nice tailwind!
28:18Enjoying the views
68:41Starts to level out.
78:47Let the up hills begin... mostly rollers, but definitely some that force you to slow down.
89:33Bathroom break... more rolling hills
119:46Hills mercifully end
128:46Some down hill. The temperature is steadily increasing and it seems I am running into the wind
138:38Crossed the halfway point at 1:59
148:39I am beginning to realize the course is going to come up long. Half mile markers and full don't line up. I can feel myself heating up.
159:11Some up hill.
168:54Managed to knock out a decent mile here
179:36Starting to have to really dig in.
189:51This is on a dirt road -- not much to get excited about here.  Baking and blazing.
199:39Crest the hill on the dirt road.
2010:01Come on... gitty up!
219:11Last good mile.  I think I had some downhill here
2210:19Beginning of the end
2311:21The end... marathon shuffle from here on out.
2411:15Slow grind up hill.
2611:57I feel like I could walk faster. 
26.34:32Up hill to the finish.
Total Miles: 26.3


In my attempt to complete a marathon in all 50 states, I jumped at the opportunity to run the 2015 Helena Governor's Cup Marathon.  I had the race on my marathon for the better part of two years and finally I had a chance and a window of opportunity to give this race a go.

So with little fanfare, I packed my bags, booked  a hotel, rented a car and made the nearly 7 hour one way drive to Montana's capital: Helena.


I rolled into Helena just after 5pm.  I was sort of freaking out about making it on time, since the expo closed at 6pm.  Luckily, the host hotel wasn't hard to find and packet pick-up took all of about 5 minutes (if that).  The Expo wasn't too interesting and I was surprised no one was selling shoes or gels.

Since we were downtown for a bit, we toured the area (pictures to come) but I had a nice veggie burger at the host hotel.  

I stayed at the Red Lion Colonial Hotel on the east side of Helena, about 3 miles from the race start.  I slept absolutely horribly there.  I think I was filled with anxiety and the room was just too warm for me.  I probably got all of an hour or two worth of sleep -- about business as usual for a pre-night marathon.

I was up before my 3:15 alarms (I actually set two of them) and gulped down an Arnold Palmer, a can of beat juice and multiple handfuls of Wheaties -- my usual pre-race meal.  After finishing my bathroom duties I headed out at 4AM.

I was sort of worried about where exactly I was to park and while I knew the race was a pretty small one (the 5K / 10K was pretty large but started well after the marathon) I was just apprehensive and left in plenty of time to catch the 4:45 bus to the race start.  

I had nothing to worry about.  There was a TON of free parking downtown and I had about 20 minutes to kill before I jumped onto the bus.  At exactly 4:45 the bus took off and made the roughly 30 minute trip to Marysville, Montana...

The Race

A lot of races that involve a bus often have a HUGE delay before the race.  I am happy to report that the Governor's Cup is a nice exception.  We arrived about a quarter mile shy of the ghost town of Marysville (sort of in the middle of nowhere) and had all of about 30 minutes to use the restrooms and prepare for the race.  By the time I got through the porta potty line (and used the woods for good measure) the race director was calling everyone to the starting line.  At 6AM we took off at a brisk pace in the chill air down the mountain road towards Helena:

I cruised through the first 5 miles or so.  It was downhill, the air was cool and the views were just spectacular.  If only the race would go this smoothly, but I knew the sun was rising in the east and the uphill part of the course lay ahead.  I tried holding back on the pace, but at the same time, I let gravity simply pull me down the hill and I felt really good.

By the time we exited the canyon, the sun was up and bright.  It was still cool, however and there was a decent breeze that seemed to change direction as the race progressed.  I tossed my gloves at the aid station and I was in sunglasses (a must have for this race), a running cap, short-sleeved tech shirt and shorts.  I saw a lot of people who had way over dressed and who would later pay a severe price.

The four hour marathon pacer took off at a blistering pace.  I was hoping to run with him, but he had no idea how to maintain a 4-hour pace (he was hitting about 3:45 or less pace).  In fact, when I hit the half way point at 1:59 he was no where in site.

Aid stations were roughly 3 miles apart, which I wasn't a fan of.  I prefer 2 miles starting at mile 3.  They were serving Hammer gels, Heed and water at each station.  The stations were aptly managed and had large cups, so getting enough fluid wasn't a problem.  Luckily I brought my 28 oz fuel belt with me which I wound up going through and then some (I wound up filling two of the flasks late in the race at an aid station).

I was holding a pretty solid pace up until mile 18.  I wasn't going gang busters but I was building a nice head of steam.  Part of me was worried I would pay the price in the late miles, as the course gets progressively harder as the race goes on, culminating with a mild incline back into town.

Here are some pictures of the middle miles:

Grinding up hill

Nasty uphill

Mount Helena is on the right

Around mile 18 I knew it was going to be a death march.  The downhills were largely over and at that point there was a stiff breeze that always seemed to hit my face.  Also, the sun was up and burning down the Helena valley.  There wasn't a lick of shade on the course and I was dehydrated and I could feel my spirits declining about breaking 4 hours again with each step I took.

There is also a military camp on the outskirts of Helena and I saw a bomber fly overhead (or a troop transport of sorts) several times and near the base I saw half a dozen soldiers parachute out of the plane.  It certainly gave me something to check out as I baked in the Helena sun.

I think everyone started to feel it around mile 18 when we jumped onto a dirt road.  There were some passing cars (the course wasn't closed to traffic) and it kicked up some dust.  It was also a slow grind uphill.

We started getting closer into town around mile 22-ish and I was dying for the race to be over.  At this point I was doing the marathon shuffle and actually I wasn't the only one.  I was passing a few people who were worse off than I was and the people I had passed early in the race never were able to catch me.

The course was extremely well marked and there were a few extra water stops at the end, which probably saved me from catastrophe.  The final few miles were on bike trail and I really enjoyed that section of the course.  There were people about and there was scenery to look at.  Also I got a chance to check out some of the architecture of downtown Helena that I had not seen the previous night.

They had gated off Last Chance Gulch (Road) and running through the walking mall was really nice and afforded some spectators a chance to cheer us on.

The final few miles were on bike trail -- some paved, some dirt

Yeah for Eddie's Bread. Heading down the home stretch.

Sorry for the fuzzy photo. I think the lens was covered with gu

Sorry for the fuzzy photo. I think the lens was covered with gu

By the time I reached the finished line, most of the spectators were around the awards ceremony, which were being conducted.  I did get some cheers including a catcall from two (hot) girls who said my legs were sexy.... I won't soon forget that one.  The fan support on this one was pretty lackluster and probably was better for the half marathoners.

I finished in 4:13:07, a mild disappointment after my spectacular Ogden finish just a month ago.

Post Race Medical Episode

I was pretty beat up after the race.  Immediately after finishing I grabbed an orange slice and a cup of lukewarm water.  I was looking for most post race nourishment and a way too cool off.  Shari was back at the hotel, so I really didn't have anyone to assist me.

I did find the refreshment area and grabbed a bunch more Heed.  I normally try to walk around 10 minutes after the race to prevent blood pooling but I was so tired and hot that I found a shady tree and sat on a planter and sipped on water and ate another orange.

A few minutes later I started to feel really bad -- like woozy bad.  I normally get a wave of it after a marathon (and sometimes a half).  Normally it goes away on its own if I just sit still, but it didn't.

Suddenly I had to throw up.  I texted Shari I was gonna get sick and I turned around and dry heaved into the plants.  Nothing.  I waited another minute and another bought of heaving.  This was bad and finally a third one and I thought for sure I was gonna hit paydirt but still nothing.  I was probably making a scene as other marathoners were around recovering and here I am trying to puke what little I had in my stomach.

Finally I just laid on my side on the planter and that's all I remember.

A few minutes later I had a pair of paramedics looking me over and putting ice bags on my neck and thighs.  I guess a passing by nurse saw me and got the medics called over.  It took me about 10 minutes before I could stand up and luckily I didn't create too much of a scene. 

They were worried about me driving back to the hotel by myself and I had no friends at the race that I could bum a ride from.  I was fine though after about 20 minutes and I was able to drink some more and my body temperature finally came back down.  I think the paramedics were kind of pushing me to go to the hospital but I've done that trip before and I didn't want to have to pay big bucks (my last run to the hospital set me back $2000).  I knew I was fine and after getting a salty bagel down I was good to go.  I actually was wandering around downtown Helena a few hours later.


Finisher's Medal and t-shirt

I was disappointed with my time, to say the least.  I knew around mile 15 I was going to be lucky to break four hours, but I figured that I was good for 4:07.  The heat just got to me and I really think the race could've used another water stop or two.  Every 3 miles just isn't enough, especially on a warm day.

The finisher's medal is definitely very cool and unique.  It weighs a ton too.  The t-shirt is a bit on the ho-hum side.  It is a nice grey tech shirt, but doesn't really stand out.

Post race food consisted of sports drink (Heed), water, bagels, oranges, and bananas.  I was hoping for pizza or soda (I would've paid money for a Coke at the finish).  There were a TON of 5K / 10K racers which had started and finished well before I arrived back in town. Helena is into beer and I was surprised that a local brewery wasn't handing out beers to the race finishers.

For $95 I got a nice race though and the scenery was really cool.  Despite the overall downhill nature of the course, this is NOT an easy course.  There isn't any shade so bring sunglasses and suntan lotion.  The course was well marked and at each major intersection there was someone guiding traffic.  I had zero issues with the very light traffic on the roads and there was no confusion as to which way to go.

I think I had finished around 3:30-ish I would've gotten a lot more fan support.  But the overall experience of crossing the finish line was a bit of a let down.  I got my named called out when I finished but there wasn't a lot of cheering.  Although a few people at restaurants sipping coffee or doing their shopping gave me a big cheer as I ran up Last Chance Boulevard.

The course, on my Garmin, measured 26.3 miles.  I knew it was going to be long.  When I crossed the half marathon point, my Garmin read 13.2 miles.  The mile markers were spot on with my Garmin until mile 24 when it seemed like they were switched over from the finish.  The course was measured from the side of the road that runners are supposed to run on too, and they actually had a rule that if you crossed the center divider you would be disqualified.

I have very little post race soreness.  Go figure.  Sure on Sunday I was stiff, but overall, I was tempted to go out for a shake out run on today (Monday).  But I know better to give myself a break.

Overall, I'd run this race again.  I thoroughly enjoyed the course, the medal was cool and despite only a few hundred full marathoners, I didn't feel like I was cheated out of the experience.  Plus I was able to knock out Montana off my state's list.


  1. Dang man, glad you're alright! That's pretty scary to pass out like that. I've felt like vomiting a few times lately after marathons, but haven't lost consciousness yet. Be careful with that. Sorry the race didn't go as planned, but a marathon that get's progressively tougher is just not fair. I've only been to Montana once and loved it, maybe we'll go back sometime. Get some rest this week!

  2. Yeah the Helena Marathon was a mild disappointment from a performance standpoint. I was really hoping to get 4:00 - 4:05 and I think I would've made that if the weather had been cooler or if it had rained.

    I also think I need to build my base up again. I was sort of banking on the training I had done in the spring and hadn't really kept up with a long run and I just didn't have the endurance to finish strong.

    Thanks for reading and shouts of encouragement.