“What did you just do to us?” “We are going to shrivel up and die!” “I will no longer support you!” If my muscles could talk, I am sure that these are the things that I would be hearing from them right now. Twenty four hours ago, I managed to bring my very tired, lactic acid filled body across the finish line of the Revel Canyon City Marathon. I went into Revel thinking it was, as they state on their website, “a smooth downhill slope”. For the most part, yes, the race is exactly as it states. It is a fast course. So fast in fact, that I found myself forcing to slow down because the grade is so steep (approximately 5%) that the course will get away from you, if you are not careful.
I had the most amazing training cycle leading into this race. My coach, a 7 time Boston Marathoner, accomplished marathoner, and intelligent runner/athlete worked on a plan designed specifically for me and what my strengths and weaknesses are. I followed that plan to the letter. Early on, we found that speed work was really not something that my body tolerates well. I get injured quickly with speed work. We adjusted and went more for hilly tempo runs, pace work, and long slow distance work that kept me within the minute to minute and a half race pace projection. I trained on hills. I had races and training runs where the hills were long descents and ascents to help my muscles acclimate to what I was about to endure. My neighborhood is full of hills. My days were spent working on core work, strength training, and making certain that I was strong enough to sustain 26.2 miles of pounding that a “net downhill” course can bring.
Based on Revel Canyon City’s description, this would appear to be a good race to get a BQ and a PR. I combed through the site for months. I read descriptions of the course. I ran down the course virtually at least once a week. I was going to be fully prepared. I looked up reviews online. Nothing ever came up about the hills that one faces at mile 16 and thereafter on this course. Apparently, the end of the marathon was changed from the inaugural year, taking the participants up hill before turning them into Azusa Pacific College for their finish.
When I talk about hills on this course, I mean they are significant hills. These are hills that go on for approximately a quarter to a half mile or more. The first significant climb is right out the gate at about mile 2 where you are dumped onto hwy 39. This was actually a nice break given that as soon as you cross the start, which by the way, nobody in the back realized the race had started. There was no overhead announcement. There was no National Anthem. There was an announcement to put all our drop bags into the truck to be taken downhill, but nothing to announce that the race was beginning. Unless you were in the front of the pack, you would have been completely unprepared for the gun, and many of us were.
At mile 2 there is a hair pin turn around where runners run up a hill after starting off on a fast down hill. The change in muscles being used was a nice break on what would and could eventually harm runners who did not take care to slow themselves down. Runners are still fairly high in altitude so the breathing started to get heavy at this point. The hill is quick and over fast. It was a nice little reprieve. Runners are sent flying down the hill for another 11 miles of winding turns on a road that cambers to help with water run off. This camber began its slow chew through my ankles and tendons of my feet. My outer calves began to feel the stabilization work I was doing to keep myself centered.
I was running with my dear friend and coach, Jackie, from FitSparrow. For the first few miles that we were together, we kept checking in with each other knowing that we both wanted a BQ on this day. We also had a understanding that if one needed to break away, the other would let that person go. We run well together. Our relationship is such that we understand each other without having to express much. However, our mutual respect for one another keeps the communication open so that there is never a question or doubt. Jackie had to separate from me, I went on without her wondering if I would see her again later on the course. I had a lot of race left ahead of me. She is pretty fast, so I anticipated her arrival.
At Mile 10 or so, after Jackie and I separated, I tucked in with the 3:45 pacer till about mile 16. I asked her what to prepare for ahead because I had been warned that there were significant hills on the second half of the course that would make all my muscles feel like they had been slammed against a wall. The pacer named Jen from Beast Pacing, was amazing. Even at a 8:13 avg. pace, I was not winded, and could talk in complete sentences. This shows me how fast the course is. For example, just a week prior, I won my age group in a 5k and my average pace was 8:11. I could barely talk when I got over that finish line. I was having full conversations with my friend Jackie and the pacer for the first half of Revel. I was told that at mile 13.5 there would be an uphill. And there was. My half time was a solid 1:47:50. I had built a beautiful 10 minute lead that I could work with. I was trained to run and finish a 3:50 marathon. All my pace work was solid. All my training was solid. I was running faster than pace in a lot of my training runs. I was strong. But mile 16 hit. Mile 16 is a hill that comes out of nowhere and it is a solid climb. The change in muscle groups that are used to try and climb this hill demolished all in our running group. We had an accomplished marathoner who was aiming for a sub-3 hour marathon who fell apart at this mile due to the hill. While she did finish the marathon in 3:18, a stellar performance by any standard, she also claimed that mile 16 and all the rolling hills thereafter were what finished her off. It was also at about mile 16 when Jackie caught up with me. She ran with me again for about 5 minutes, but I was struggling. She went on ahead. I kept her in my sights for a few miles. Mile 20 was the last I saw her.
This course may be a net downhill, but there is absolutely nothing on the site that warns a participant to prepare for the work that lies ahead of them. There is nothing on the site that talks about the hills on the second half. They are the ones that are going to change your whole race. I can not tell you enough how difficult it is to run a course downhill, monitoring your speed, making sure you are keeping your feet under you without overstriding, making sure you are not braking, making sure that your foot falls are light and quiet, for an entire half marathon. All of that is happening while you are trying to keep your wits about you and then the course changes to an uphill trek. It is like slamming on the brakes after going 100mph down the highway. Physics work against you. Your muscles are literally shredded. When you try to run the downhill again, and there are more of them, you are hurting so badly that it is hard to take anymore steps. You honestly can not believe that you find yourself walking on the downhill. At least that is what I felt. This course is not to be taken lightly or thought of as being easy. You will be trashed.
At mile 20 there is another significant hill. At this point, it became almost comical. The lack of mention of these hills in the later miles of the race left one completely unprepared. I was resigned to the fact that I would not be getting that BQ. I had watched my 10 minute lead dwindle and was now a 10 minute deficit. To say that I felt defeated was an understatement. That mountain took it all from me. At mile 23, with 3:46 elapsed on my watch, I was in cellphone range and I managed to text my husband that the BQ was gone. The PR was possibly gone as well. It was at this time too, that I began feeling the cold that I had been battling for the last 48 hours. My body was shutting down. My walk breaks became longer. I was no longer concerned about time. I merely wanted off this course. I was getting angry at the improper description of the course. I was not angry with myself. I gave it all. I had nothing left to give. I had the training. There was nothing else I could train for. I was strong, but now, I was broken down.
Mile 24 was flat, though still descending into the town of Azusa. It was hard to run in a straight line by this point. What would normally feel like a easy two mile run was now so hard to manage. Each footfall had to be thought out and controlled. The muscles in my legs were shutting down. The last mile was uphill before turning into the finish. Everything I had was left on that course. There is absolutely nothing that I would have done differently. It was not about going out too fast. That was controlled and many of my pace runs were sub-8:30. This course was a different beast altogether.
Runners exit the race through chutes filled with volunteers giving out water, a huge, and very heavy medal that is about as large as a teacup saucer, wet towels and food. I was too exhausted to go through the food tents or take advantage of the beer garden. With wobbly legs, I managed to get my drop bag and left the course. But before I did, I noticed something I have never witnessed in the 12 marathons I have run prior to Revel. I could not believe the number of people in the first aid tent and those collapsing around it. There were collapsed wounded everywhere.
Revel is definitely a different race when compared to other road races out there. However, if you are considering it, be fully warned that this race will trash your quads and all large muscle groups. Your stabilizing muscles will be extremely sore. You will feel muscles you never knew you had. My review is based on my opinion and my experience. Others ran the race and did obtain their PR and BQ. But, they all echo that it was a different and very tough race. I am not saying that a marathon is easy. I am trying to convey that this one is beyond any other course I have ever run. It is very technical. There really is no way to train for something like this unless you are used to running downhill for significant periods of time (10+ miles) at a 3%-5% grade. For now, I will let the bicycle enthusiasts keep claim of this course as their own. In my humble opinion, this is not a road for runners. The steepness and and the camber make it more conducive to a wonderful bike ride down the side of the mountain with scenery that is breathtaking. This runner won’t be going down that mountain again, unless I am in a car.