This month marked the beginning of my training for the marathon in the middle of nowhere, the Sandhills Marathon near unincorporated Brownlee Nebraska on June 11, 2011. Brownlee is located in Cherry County, Nebraska, south of Valentine, and is in the heart of the beautiful Nebraska sandhills. The sandhills area region of rolling hills comprised of sandy soil with few trees. This is big sky ranching country. Cherry County also happens to be the largest county in Nebraska in terms of geographic area, yet is the smallest in population. The Sandhills Marathon runs point-to-point down one of the few roads cutting through the area. The race is capped at 100 entrants across the marathon and the half, has a literal shotgun start, courtesy of a local rancher, and the porta-potties are hauled on a truck to runners as they need them. Marathon finishers get an engraved spur and half marathon runners receive a horseshoe. Being originally from Nebraska and generally attracted to unusual races, how could I resist? Ok, so most people I tell about the race think traveling to the middle of nowhere Nebraska to run 26.2 miles with no crowd support is easy to resist, but I like to think that they are the misguided ones.
My training officially began the week of February 1. I am generally following Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 program, which I followed successfully for a PR at the Memphis Marathon in December 2010. Novice 2 runs four days per week, works up to two 20 miles and includes mid-week pace runs. I, however, cannot leave well enough alone and have added some tweaks. First, Hidgon’s programs tend to be a bit on the low side in terms of mileage. I kind of like that, but since I want to increase my overall mileage over the upcoming year, I am adding an extra mile here and there when the opportunity arises. Next, I have been running several days each week with a friend who is faster than I am. That results in some speed work ranging from just below marathon pace to approaching tempo pace that is not in Higdon’s program. Lately, we have been running slower but over hills. I also moved the pace runs that are in the program to the day before the long run, which is more akin to Hal Higdon’s Intermediate program.
Of course, I also wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t start switching days around in the program. The first week a few days got switched up because of a blizzard. I think my refusal to run in 20 inches of unplowed snow was pretty legitimate. It was likely the sanest thing I did that week. Regardless, I still logged the 18 miles required by Hidgon’s program for that week, albeit in three running days instead of four. Week two saw me juggling days around because of life schedule issues, but I got in my 4 days and 20 miles. This week, I took a day off due to slight calf pain from my Irish Dance class. But overall it is so far so good. It looks like I got a decent enough start to the middle of nowhere.
By the way, the photos are gratuitously stolen from the Sandhills Marathon Facebook page, which is also where you too should visit should you be interested in running in the middle of nowhere, or if you would just like to see some more photos of the sandhills.