Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 6 of 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 12th Edition 
91miles run and 7600 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 91 degrees; sunny; humid

After I did this race in August, one of a series of seven, I promptly began concentrating the best I could on running. With two marathons coming up in the next few weeks, swimming was something I didn't care much about. But the day before the race I decided I should at least get a few yards in so I hit the pool. It wasn't an inspiring swim but a treadmill run after told me I might have a decent race.

For the past ten days or so Austin has been getting a ton of rain. The temperature has been down after what was the third hottest summer in Austin history. But the rain cleared out and today was right back up there with a race time temp around 91 degrees. Luckily, as I dove into the water for a quick warm-up, I could tell the rain had cooled the quarry a bit.

The usual cast of characters was there but I couldn't see my age group nemesis, Chad. A perfectly affable chap he has beaten me in virtually every race this year as a Master's. Almost every one of those has come after I led him in the swim, if even a few seconds. Perhaps I could eke out a victory today with him not here.

Swim:

As is the norm, the gun fires and a group of about five guys just explode out to the front. I then fall into my usual place amongst maybe three others who begin duking it out. Then I saw Chad's telltale legging trunks swim by me. This happens often in our swim battle and usually within half of the swim I have passed him. But for whatever reason today I simply couldn't do it. My swim was also a little erratic as I had trouble staying in a straight line. That isn't normally something I deal with but oh well.

By the time we were approaching the end of the swim, I had narrowed the gap to just a few seconds.  We both rushed to our gear and I stumbled just a bit putting one of my shoes on.  Funny how just the smallest thing can cost you three seconds.

Crossing the mat for the swim and transition, my time was 12:31. I laughed. For two years I have been doing this damnable race and one thing improves, another gets worse, the weather affects me worse when I am trained, the weather is great when I am untrained and time after time I post the same results. Just this year alone my times for the swim and transition have been 12:50, 12:30 12:20, 12:27 and 12:30.

Run: 

This was the first time Chad had ever beaten me out of the water and I wondered if I might run a bit better being the chaser rather than the chased. However, as has been the norm, after an opening little surge on the small downhill side of this loop, I slowed on the upward swing on the back side. Every flippin' time this happens to me. Thrice a race. The question was how far back I fell. The twisty-turny nature of  this course makes it hard to track down runners in front of you. When you begin the second loop and are joined by all the swimmers behind you, it is even more difficult. I lost track of Chad and assumed he was his normal distance between us on the run.

Normally my second loop just about undoes me. But the "slightly" cooler temps and whatever else was going on today made the second loop almost a mirror of the first (4:32 to 4:30). Furthermore, as we began the third loop Chad suddenly came back into view. Crap. He was just far enough away that it is going to take a herculean effort to snag him. First, I am not sure I have a herculean effort in me. Second, I have a marathon on Saturday and moving one spot up in this race means far less than not hurting myself before the 26.2 miler. So I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't catch him.

Then he slowed even more. Damn you, Chad, I muttered. You are going to make me work. And work I did, narrowing the gap even more, regardless of the hill that kills on the backside of the loop. I unfortunately ran out of real estate to close the gap fully in spite of seeing another of the many younger fish-like swimmers who are far less good at running appear in front of me as well. I finished n 25:59 which put me just nine seconds behind Chad and ten seconds behind the fish. This was my second fastest time of all these aquathlons over the past two years and only my second time under twenty-six minutes. My final lap of 4:24 was my fastest lap all year. I can tell you I was not expecting any of this going into the race. It says nothing about my preparation for the marathon this weekend but without a doubt having a good race is never bad for the mental health.

Time to head to Ely, MN and take on marathon #162!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Wausau Half-Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 12th Edition 
89 miles run and 6850 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Wausau Half-Marathon
Place: Wausau, WI
Miles from home: 1346
Weather: 65 degrees; cloudy; 100% humidity

When I saw that the weather for this race was going to be in the mid-60s and cloudy I had second thoughts about running the half-marathon. Having not seen temperatures that low for a race since this past winter, the marathon seemed like a good option. However, by the time race day rolled around and given the humidity at the start was 100%, I am happy to say I stuck with the right race distance. (I have recently been told by someone that "dew point" is the only number that matters but considering virtually no one I know would understand what the dew point is, I will continue to stick with a combination of temperature and humidity in my race recaps.)

It is difficult to deal with race results which don't go the way you want it to go. Yet, as a running coach myself, I know that is the key to getting back on the horse. In fact, in the 48 hours around my own race, two of my athletes suffered disappointing finishes after training that showed they would do much better. All we can do is examine the evidence around us, sift through the ashes and attempt to be faster next time.

For the past month or so, I have been running on the treadmill almost exclusively. Tired of trying to clock miles in what is already the third hottest year in Austin history, I resigned myself to running indoors. I found it far more palatable than I expected, mostly because it was nice to be able to do a double-digit run and just be sweaty at the end - not sweaty and ready to die. By hopping on the conveyor belt, I twice ran the longest run I had ever run on a treadmill. It isn't far (10 and then 11 miles) but more than enough to get into good half-marathon shape.

The packet pickup for this quaint but well-organized race in Wausau, Wisconsin was a little bit
dampened by a pretty steady rain. However, more than a few people brightened up my day as I did a book signing and talked to the locals. One rather nice fan who told me he signed up specifically because I was running the race in his new town (hear that race directors?  I bring you money.) was beyond flattering. The need to wear a jacket while under the large outdoor tent was a feeling I haven't had in months. I loved it.

Race Morning:

With a hotel just a hop skip and a trot way from Marathon Park where the race began and ended, I was able to get a good sleep in. The race takes place in Marathon County and this park is just an absolute gem in what is a truly lovely town. With an amphitheater, a child's train, a splash pad, and clusters of trees that campers from all over come and spend the night it in, it truly was an ideal place to begin our race. Getting to the start just minutes before the race began, I saw a few runners I had met the day before, even though I normally walk around with blinders on when race morning draws nigh. People asked me what I was hoping to run and I truly had no idea. I said I could run a 1:25 and not be too surprised or I could run a 1:35 and still not be surprised. The humidity was going to play a huge factor for me but I thought I might be able to power through. My goal was right at 1:30.

A quick countdown to the start and away we went.

First Three Miles:


Being right at the front of the starting line felt nice and I see why people who don't belong there sidle up to it all the time. Nevertheless, within about 15 yards of running, I was in third place. The leader shot out in front. My intuition told me he wouldn't stay out there for very long.  A shirtless fella soon followed him and he looked more seasoned. (I would later learn he was the previous year's second place overall runner.) A few yards later, and before we left Marathon Park, a yellow-shirted chap passed me. Now I was in fourth.

We climbed a small hill and then made a right and ran down a nice little decline towards the center of town. Crossing the Wisconsin River and Big Bull Falls Park we approached the first mile with a cloudy sky and quiet streets making us all feel quite as if the town was all ours. Right then the ladies' overall leader passed me followed by two pacers for the 1:30 group. I kinda giggled as it was quite clear that there weren't many who would be needing that pacer today. Then my giggling stopped when I realized it felt like I was running a 6:20 mile and instead it was a 6:54. I began hoping the mile markers would be off.

A nice young fella I had met the day before, Pluto, exchanged some words with me and followed the pace group. I was beginning to feel like this might not be my day. The next mile, which was all but flat and only produced me another 6:55 mile (more or less) confirmed my suspicions. Alas, I had to play out the string.

We went through some sleepy neighborhoods whose occupants definitely were not up yet to cheer us on but a few spectators had appeared here and there. A little bump right before mile three netted me a 7:19 mile and I think I audibly sighed. Most of the runners who had passed me were still within 30 seconds of running but might as well have been forever away. The shirtless runner had taken the lead and the young buck who started out in front was falling back. Now it was time for the climb.

To the Turn Around:


A rather large hill cresting at mile four loomed in front of me. I wanted to simply do what I could to not make this an embarrassment of a mile, so I pulled out all the stops and knowledge I have of running uphill. With the fourth mile marker right at the crest of the hill and an identical 7:19 to boot to go along with it, I was more than pleased.

Sliding down the backside of the hill I was beginning to catch up to some of the runners in front of me. Any chance of winning this race was gone but a top three finish still existed.  Then I felt my shoelace coming untied. Oh, come on, really? Is this my first race ever?!  I had double knotted the shoelaces but apparently my superhuman sweating skill had worked its way down to my feet and moistened the knots. As I stopped to tie it another shirtless runner passed me. Tying as quickly as possible, I began to give this man chase and use him as a wagon to pull me along to catch the others in front of us.

We turned onto Highway K (I love Wisconsin's use of the alphabet for highway demarcation) and I knew it was a simple mile from the turn to the turnaround. I finally started to feel OK. The next mile was one of the fastest of the day. Then I began to catch in on the runners between me and the second shirtless runner (who was catching and passing people as well). I slapped hands with the leader on his way back, and then the next few people came back at me before too long as well. I was beginning to feel some confidence and swung around the turn-around point.


To Mile Nine:

As I began my trek back I felt so much better. I felt faster. I felt stronger. I felt awake and ready to take down some competitors. My first mile back was an excellent 7:05 (given what I had just run in the previous six, I will call that excellent) but that's where the excellence ended. The next mile, approaching the big hill again, felt wonderful as I cheered on virtually every other runner heading out the same was I had just come. I was picking up distance from those in front of me but it was quite clear we were all slowing. I just happened to be slowing slower than the rest. I was the fastest slower-downer.

Right before the top of the hill I passed the young buck who shot out early. Then a few yards later when the lead woman hopped into the bushes for a second, I passed here as well. Next up was the yellow-shirted fella from the beginning and as we ran down the other side of the hill, I saw I was catching him. One of the nice things about running behind runners over a series of varying terrains is that if you pay attention well enough, you can learn their strengths. I knew the woman was excellent at flats. The yellow-shorted guy was great on uphills. And I could toast them both on downs.

I approached the ninth mile and remembered the race director told me that at mile nine, if you want to make a move, this was the place. Unfortunately, a slower mile than expected sort of took the wind out of my sails and I fell further back. Drats.


Heading Home:

On this flat mile, true to form, the women's leader passed me. She offered a urging but polite "Come on, let's go" and man I wish I could have responded. I just couldn't speed up. I didn't feel tired per se. I felt I had the energy to go but the legs wouldn't respond.

I had driven parts of the course the day prior to just get a feel for what were some moderately rolling hills. I knew the return trip home was not a simple out and back meaning we would not be retracing out steps.

As we went down a nice little hill to pass over the Wisconsin River again, I closed the gap on the runners in front of me. Again, felt like I was flying and my watch told me differently. As we did a couple of little quick turns through a neighborhood, I was soon on the heels of the women's leader once again. Seeing a PortaPotty, she jumped in.  I felt for sure that she was not feeling that great today (and speaking to her afterward confirmed that) which made passing her bittersweet. I have zero deference or compassion for women runners when we are racing because I see them as competitors that need no "mmlady-ing". But you never want to best someone who is not having a good day.  This point after mile eleven was the last time I would see her.  Now I began focusing on yellow shirt guy (hereinafter YSG).

Up a short but steep soul-crushing rise we ran and I grabbed a glass of energy drink. A long straightaway appeared in front of me. I watched YSG hop up onto the sidewalk and for some reason that seemed like an act of a tired runner. I began to speed up.

The course map had us running a straight line until one street but a few blocks before it we were turned by a course marshal. I assumed it was to avoid an intersection and dutifully complied.  However, as I ran the tangent, YSG stuck to the sidewalk and I easily made up a few yards on him. Cruising down this street I was trying to decide when to make my move. I knew I did not have much in the tank so when I did pass him it had to be decisive. I absolutely love racing like this. Some random race in Wisconsin. Two guys running way slower than they are able to. Battling for a meaningless place with no prize money.

We approached the turn ahead which would be the last before we re-entered the park. There was an aid station right on the corner and I was ready to grab one last drink. I didn't think YSG was going to grab a drink and I was right on his heels. Suddenly he reached out and snagged a cup. It was too late for me to grab one myself and I had a decision to make. I ran wide on his outside shoulder and utilized the fact that he was looking back to see if anyone was behind him to catch him by surprise. I immediately thought of Roger Bannister passing John Landy in the same way many years ago. I wasn't quite ready to pass him with well over a half of a mile left but the decision was made for me. It was a full three steps before he realized I was in front of him.

We went up the street with one last very short but cruel hill. I turned into the park and used my
peripherals to see where he was. Just a quarter of a mile left and I felt like my lead was safe. I cut the tangent as close as possible between a winding road in the park and knew I had about one minute of effort left. Then I heard his footsteps. I cut behind a dumpster in a narrow space hoping to hold YSG on his final charge. However, even though he had to run wide, he had more in him. He passed me as we entered the final .1 of a mile in the chutes of Marathon Park and simply wanted it more than I did. I slowed to a trot, my body spent.

He finished sixth overall 12 seconds ahead of my 1:36:13 which is an exact tie with the last half-marathon I did in January which, wait for it, was 65 degrees and 100% humidity. That means it was my 88th slowest half-marathon ever (out of 102) which should go to show you how bad of a day I had. One more man slipped in behind me and the women's leader and then the next two finishers were female as well. That's a strong showing by the ladies on a tough day.


After the race I hung around and signed books for a while. I saw people who I talked to the day before finishing their first races, I witnessed police officers running in full gear to commemorate a fallen comrade, and so many other examples of good humanity and people pushing their boundaries.

I used to believe that all I need to know about someone was whether they ran. I realize now in today's climate that I was naive and foolish to think that way. Nevertheless, in a race, or while running, I think that there is something which brings out the absolute best in everyone. If only more of us ran more often with more people, perhaps things would be a bit better.

After the race, heading back to the airport in Minneapolis, I acted on a tip from a local to check out a geographical anomaly nearby. The 45 x 90 Geographical Marker (learn more about it here) was just a few miles out of my way heading back and I absolutely had to make a visit. I was not disappointed and the geek in me gladly laid down next to this point and grabbed a selfie. Since the only one of the 45x90 spots on land is in the middle of desolate region of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China near the Mongolian border, let's just say this one is a bit easier to get to.

And stay tuned because I may have reason why you runners especially might want to visit it in a year or so!


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 4 of 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 11th Edition 
75.9 miles run and 6850 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 101 degrees; sunny; humid

I wasn't going to write this recap because quite honestly, this is the tenth one of these I have done in the last two years and it is getting a little difficult to come up with something interesting to say about a race that almost always churns out the same result for me.  However, I decided that, in and of itself was the interesting part.

If you have read any of my other recaps of this series the race is a simple format: a 750-meter circular swim of a quarry and then three loops around the trail around the quarry. What is interesting is that outside of one major outlier which was my first race back after being assaulted last July, the vast majority of these races have been clustered together time-wise. Yes, it is a short-distance race so the time shouldn't be all that different per se but with a sample size large enough and participants who repeat the race often enough I was able to see that I seem to be the one with the smallest change in my time.

The overall time stays relatively the same in spite of the fact that some days the swim is faster and
some days the run is faster. It stays the same in spite of the fact that occasionally the weather is much more conducive to racing. It stays the same in spite of the fact that sometimes I feel rested and sometimes I am just a day or so removed from a hard run race.  To be honest, it would be so much more frustrating if it wasn't so darn fascinating to me.

For instance, in this race, the hottest of the ten I have done, I wasn't expecting too much. I had a nice swim at the Deep Eddy Mile a little over a week ago that didn't go as well as I had hoped but had been the culmination of my harder swim workouts for the summer. (In the cool water of Deep Eddy pool, I took 5th overall. It was slower than I expected but virtually everyone I spoke to said the same thing.  A 33 1/3-yard pool is definitely hard to figure out.) After that I had stopped swimming a bit and began to start to focus on running more for the fall races I had coming up. Yet somehow, in bathwater temperature quarry water, I swam close to my fastest swim yet.  But once I got out of the water the heat just smacked me around.

Last month a fella who has become a bit of a rival hung on my back for 2.5 of 3 loops before passing me. This month however, I only held him off for one loop. I could tell I didn't have it and wasn't going to push too hard.  I have a half marathon this Saturday which is going to be a barometer for how my fall is going to go and it was much more important that eking out a few more seconds in this race.  So for the most part I just kinda ran it "easyhard" and finished out the string. Then at the end I see if I had just been ten seconds faster I would have run my fastest time of the year! What the heck?!

When I ran my first of these last year in just a hair over 26 minutes (26:02) and the next month ran 25:48, I assumed I would be in the 24s not long thereafter. I haven't broken 26 since. It is an interesting thing to see. I have next to never raced the same course so many times. I know exactly what to expect. There is no unknown. Yet getting faster eludes me. Granted, because I keep ridiculous records of everything, the temperatures for the races in 2018 have all been higher than they were for 2017, but I would still like to see improvement.

There are still two more of these to go for the year. Maybe by the last one in October it will be in the low 90s. *le sigh*


Next race is a half-marathon in Wausau, WI. Shockingly this is only my second half-marathon of the year. The weather looks like it will be much more hospitable to me there.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Bix 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 10th Edition 
73.9 miles run and 4500 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Bix 7
Place: Davenport, IA
Miles from home: 1,099
Weather: 65 degrees; sunny; humid

I ran the Bix previously four years ago. You can read that recap here. I also included it in my recently published book of absolute must-run races and you can buy that signed and personalized here. As I included it in said book, you can only imagine how highly I think of the event. I can say that after my second running of it, nothing has changed in that regard.

The two days before the race I worked the expo. Hardly working in the coal mines it is nonetheless tiring. And if you haven't stood for a 12-hour day, solo, signing books, making small talk, deciphering questions, and listening to stories, it truly is hard to explain how exhausting something like this can be. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to make some new friends, see people I haven't seen in years upon years, and everything in between. (Like meeting another Dane!)

I finally got food in my belly and was back at my hotel around 11 p.m. By the time I settled into bed it was well after midnight for a 6 a.m. wake up call. I wasn't expecting much for race day but was happy the weather was as forgiving as it was (but far from "perfect" as people kept saying - they obviously meant as much as one could really reasonably hope for in July in Iowa).

Race Morning: 

Logistics of he morning required me to grab an Uber to the start.  I knew it might be a bit touch and go as the quickest way to get where I needed to be would be a bit heavily trafficked.  Nonetheless, it went by rather smoothly and I found myself at the front of the race starting line without much trouble.  I tried to move back a few rows to get into a position which would be more commensurate with where I expected to finish but the crowd was so tightly packed that moving backward was impossible.  So instead I listened to both the entire rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA", the national anthem, a presenting of the colors by the Marine Corps, a military flyover, and I think a bald eagle crapped out an apple pie to be hit with a missile fired by Babe Ruth, too. (I honestly would be perfectly fine if no sporting event ever had any further connection to "patriotism" ever but that's just me.)

A countdown to a gun that never really fired (or I didn't hear it) and away we went.

Race:

I have a whole 1/10th of a mile warm-up before the infamous Brady Street Hill took over my lungs and legs. An infamously bad early-riser, fast-starter, and hill climber, you can imagine I did not do well with the combination of all three here. I hugged the far right curb as closely as possible to allow anyone who wanted to pass me a clear path and just tried to wake up, get my legs moving, and last to the top of the hill. I am quite thankful that it was only in the mid-60s and relatively non-humid, that is for sure.

When I ran this race four years ago I knew I did this first mile in 7:13. I was hoping to be somewhere within 15-20 seconds of that this time. I wasn't as tired as I thought I would be at this point after everything I described above but I felt that was probably because I wasn't working as hard on this hill. Then I saw I ran a 7:11 first mile. Huh. To be honest, I was a bit scared now. Maybe I had worked harder than I should have and the second half of this race, which is definitely more challenging, was going to eat me up and spit me out.

The much more forgiving second mile had me a touch slower in 6:13 than my previous 6:07. But I had held back slightly on what is a mostly downhill mile here because of my fear of going out too fast. Perhaps if I held it together through the third mile, I might have a shot at taking down my Bix PR. Nothing to be that proud of (the average pace for that is almost 30 seconds slower than the pace for my marathon PR, just to put it in perspective) but I am just not a short distance kind of guy.

As we approached the third mile, which has the worst climb on the entire course, I was enjoying the "racing" aspect of this event. If you pay attention, you can quickly learn who around you is good at what. This girl would pass me on uphills and I would pass her on the downs. This guy could smoke me in flat portions but came to a walk on every uphill. On and on you can quickly learn who you will probably beat in a race and who you will probably lose to. It is a part of racing you miss in less populated races with a more spread out crowd. I have done enough trail races and small marathons to know that that sometimes I love these heavily-runnered events where there is so much chess going on around you. My third mile, ending right after that cruel hill, was way faster than I thought it would be. The new PR was mine to lose.

The course is not a pure out-and-back, so you turned around before the 3.5- mile mark. This
year I did not even think about taking on the slip-n-slides.  I also can't recall even seeing them.  But I was focused on the road. Heading back, even though I had 500 people in front of me, made me feel pretty good about being in front of 8000 others.  My biggest challenge lay ahead with the mile from four-five being the one which would make or break this PR attempt.

The long steady incline of this mile is at least broken up with a nice crook in the road which takes the entirety of the climb out of sight. As I played cat and mouse with those runners around me whose talents I had learned in the past few miles, something changed. The runners who had previously put distance between me on the hills were doing less of it. Those who hung with me were falling back. My lungs and legs were finally waking up. When I hit mile five, it wasn't the time I was hoping for but it was a time that told me I would be setting a new PR. The only question was by how much.

Running along tree-lined Kirkwood Ave, which comprises the bulk of the significant straightaway on this course, it was amazing to feel how, even in this mid-60s weather, the shade of the trees made running so much easier. The minute the sun filtered through it was as if a weight was dropped on my shoulders. Obviously some of that is mental but the difference was felt.

The sixth mile, the first to not have a street-wide banner going over your head to signify where you were, was also a little slower than I expect but I knew with the downhill finish leading to the straight and flat last half mile, the PR was safely in hand. I passed no less than 30 runners on that downhill, once again marveling at how well I run downhills and how poorly the uphills and sometimes the flats slow me down.

Turning on to the home stretch, with the finishline banner in the distance, I was somehow reflecting Regardless, I finished in 48:21, taking 484th place overall. Four years ago I finished in 48:44 and finished 503rd overall. Oddly enough not a single person finished in 48:44 this year even though two people finished in 48:43 and three people finished in 48:55. If someone had finished in the same time I had four years ago they would have been 506th overall. 

That's some consistency of numbers there, fellow statnerds!

on this year in the middle of the race. It has not been a good year for racing for me and I hope the latter half of the year picks that up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 4 of 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 9th Edition 
65.9 miles run and 4500 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 100 degrees; sunny; humid

I had zero expectations of anything good for this race. I was feeling lethargic, had only done two swim workouts since my previous race here last month, and it was 100 freaking degrees as we climbed into the 87-degree water. My only goal was not to embarrass myself.

I knew I had a chance to place a little higher in the rankings than usual simply because some of the usual top dogs were not present. That is why age group awards and overall placings rarely move the needle for me. All it takes is for faster people to show up to move you down the ladder. Which is why I am always focused much more on my own personal time for a race. And I figured the combination of all the above would make for my worst race yet at this Splash N Dash series.

Swim:

Nice superhero stance, poser.
My swim felt fine. Nothing great. Nothing bad. I could definitely tell the soupy water was having a slight drag on me but I seemed to be cutting through the water at a decent clip. There also appeared to be a few fewer swimmers around me which allowed me to swim more unhindered. About halfway through the swim, I was able to get around two swimmers and opened up a few meters lead on them. There I swam for the remainder of the leg and was more or less resigned to that position.

Transition:

 Getting out of the water we did not have a mat like we did last time which would give us our transition time. As I was about to hit my watch a spectator said "fifth and sixth" to me and the swimmer directly behind me. This threw me as I was not expecting to be that far up in the standings. As I would learn, I was not.

Realizing I did not hit my watch for the swim and transition, I only had the total time for both which was 12:26. I am fairly certain that is my second fastest swim and transition ever. To say I was confused how that happened given the temperature, my lack of swim workouts and everything else would be an understatement.

Run:

As I started the run, I passed one swimmer who was in the transition area. If I listened to the spectator and believed him (which I did) I was in fourth place. Was I actually in contention to podium?

Up ahead I saw one swimmer running and he looked vulnerable to attack. However, I could hear footsteps behind me and I had an inkling it was the same guy whom I had passed in the swim last time and who had subsequently beat the stuffing out of me on the run. (It ends up I was right about his identity.) As the first loop ran on the backside and the dreaded uphill, I was pulling closer to the runner in front of me. Unfortunately the runner behind me was right next to me. Yet, when we got to the top of the hill, the part of the course where I always excel appeared and I put distance between us. I was hoping that was his surge and I held it off.

By the halfway point of the next loop, two things were clear: I was going to pass the runner in front of me and the runner behind me wasn't going anywhere. Hitting the dreaded hill again I held back for just a bit as I grabbed a cup of water from a volunteer. Swigging deeply, I felt rejuvenated and pushed hard past the runner in front of me, an athlete who you would have to double his age and add ten more in order to equal my own. (He was 16.) Now I was supposedly in third place overall.

We began the third loop and I could still hear the footsteps. We rounded the bottom of the loop and right before the hill the runner behind me finally passed me. I was hoping to stay in touch with him just long enough to get close to that final downhill section and make a surge. Then, almost immediately, another runner passed me as well. One of the fastest runners on the course (he tied with the overall winner for run time) had given me a nice 1:17 cushion from the swim and transition. Unfortunately, I needed more.

I have to admit that this second runner sucked the wind out of my sails. I watched him gain on the runner in front of me and had a front-row seat to their battle. In less than a third of a mile, these two pushed each other to put twenty seconds in between us. They pushed each other so hard that they had a photo finish and were both left with their hands on their knees. I came in with a time of 26:08 which was my third fastest time ever and I was just stunned. If I had stayed with these two guys I would have set a new PR for this course. Racing is a fickle, odd, beast who we try to pretend we control and know what will happen, but this is a perfect example of the opposite being true.


As it ends up, the spectator was wrong by one place. I can tell you I am quite happy I did not battle to the death with these two guys just to end up being fourth overall. In addition to not taking third overall, both these guys were in my age group, so I finished sixth overall yet only third masters. That's a kick in the butt and a bunch of fast old guys!

This race came at a good time for my racing ego. After getting my butt handed to me last weekend at the Boilermaker, I was fully waiting to see a personal worst today. Anything greater than that was a bonus.

I'll take the bonus.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Boilermaker 15k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 8th Edition 
63.9 miles run and 3750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Boilermaker 15k
Place: Utica, NY     
Miles from home: 1,758 miles
Weather: 60-70 degrees; bright sunshine; slightly humid

When I was writing the best races to run in North America for my new book, Run This Place, I knew the Boilermaker had to be included. Then I realized it had been seven years since I had run this race. So even though I was severely under-trained, it was clear I had to make another trip up to Utica to run this special race in a special place.

As I have written two other race recaps of this awesome event, and have included it in my newest book, I am going to spare you the details of the race itself. I am also only barely going to touch on my own race which was, for all intents and purposes, rather disappointing. However, since two of the three Boilermakers I have run have been two of the coldest race day temperatures in its history, I think the race needs to have me on retainer just to ward away the heat. (100 hours before race time it had been 97 degrees. When we started, it was 63. You're welcome.)

When I hit the first mile over half a minute slower than I had when I set my PR here seven years ago, I knew any desirable goals were out the window. I had spent an enjoyable but exhausting few days speaking, signing books, traveling, and, well, working. I love what I do but it is not conducive to racing well. I knew this a decade ago and it isn't getting easier with age.

What was enjoyable was spending time with Roger Robinson and infinitely-more-famous-than-me Kathrine Switzer as we crammed ourselves into a cozy booth to sign books, chat about our expo experiences and throw in some talk about politics and soccer as well. I hadn't seen either of them since I was at the Reykjavik Marathon three years ago and that was fleeting. To spend the better part of two days next to these scholarly encyclopedias of running shows me how much more I need to learn about the sport. I might have run double the number of marathons of both of them combined but it reminded me that running often doesn't necessarily mean you know a lot.

I also had another interaction about which I am going to be intentionally vague to help protect their anonymity. Let's just say I had some correspondence with someone at the race which went on to a bit further over the next few days. During that time it was revealed to me this person was going to be making a huge life-changing decision. For whatever reason, something about me, what I have done, and my experiences, have inspired or helped keep this person on the path they are taking. I fully support their decision and to hear I helped even the tiniest bit warms my icy crotchety-old-man heart.

My race itself had a nice redeeming moment when, coming down the infamous hill at mile four I was able to throw down almost a six-flat mile long after I had given up on running hard and know I still had another five miles to go. It helped sway thoughts that my best days were behind me and I actually just needed to be in shape for racing. Seven years ago when I ran this race I was in the middle of a 44-race year. I had run back-to-back sub-3-hour marathons, multiple other marathons, a slew of half marathons, a 70.3-Ironman, a handful of other triathlons, a duathlon, and so much more. I had also run a ridiculously low amount of miles that year, contrary to what so many people think they have to run to race well. In fact, it took a 268-mile December that year, nearly 80 miles more than any other month, just to crack 2,000 miles for the year.

In other words, kids, make your miles count; don't count your miles.

I ended up running my personal worst in a 15k by many minutes in 1:05:30. But I beat all the Danes in the race (all three of them) and averaged a 6:59 for the day. What was really nice was getting to meet one of the athletes I coach online. Krystal was running her first Boilermaker in the middle of preparation for her Boston Qualifying attempt in a little over a month. As she is quite the perfectionist she was not exactly happy with her time but she didn't know that the Boilermaker rarely gives out good times on the clock.  It gives them out on the course and at the post-race party where, in a sea of 20,000 people, we somehow ran into each other!

Here as I sulked a bit about my own time, I was also reminded exactly why I put this race in my book as once again it totally lived up to its billing. If you haven't run this race, you truly need to add it for next year.

Hopefully I will see you there.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Surviving Running in the Heat

Summer runnin’, had me a blast!

Okay, most of us don't have much of a blast when it comes to running in the summer. As for racing? Yeah, it takes a special breed to be able to peak on a hot and/or humid day. I’m not that special breed. In fact, I burst into flames like an ant under a magnifying glass when the sun comes out.

When you can see the sweat droplets in a picture - Yeesh.
It’s no mistake that virtually all of my best marathon times have come when the temperatures were in the 40s or 50s. There have been some extremely notable exceptions where a PR came on a hot day. All that leads me to wonder is how much faster it would have been if the weather had been cooler.

Regardless, because I run so poorly in the heat, and taking it to a treadmill is just not an option for me (I’d commit “runnicide”), I’ve had to learn how to cope.

Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Ease Off the Throttle
 
I’ve had many races where I knew I was in shape to run a specific pace but knew the weather wouldn’t even come close to allowing me to do so. Rather than try to muscle through it at the preplanned pace, bonk in the middle, and crawl to the finish, I slowed my roll. By actively choosing to go at a pace slower than what I was ready to run, I didn’t have the collapse at the finish. Sure, the overall time was not what it could have been, but I didn’t need to visit the ambulance.

The general rule is: Above 55 degrees, for every increase of 10 degrees, marathon pace increases by 1.5 percent to three percent. In other words, there are going to be plenty of training runs and plenty of races in the hot and sticky months where it just isn’t going to be optimum for you to go all-out. Accept that reality and you’ll have a much better day.

You Simply Must Get Fluids
 
I’m known for being a bit of a camel. If the run is going to be less than 90 minutes, even in hot weather, I barely even think of taking a drink of water before I run, let alone taking water with me. But as the weather changes, so should your plans. I still rarely take water with me, but I know where liquid is available in case I need it. I also know that hydration is something you do before, during, and after the run, if you want the best results. Of course, too much liquid is a problem, too. But don't let the fears of hyponatremia (and the rarity with which it happens) keep you from getting your fluids.

Mix it Up
 
Use the summer to focus on your speedwork. Think about hitting the track. Mixing up workouts is a good thing and, in the summer when it is difficult to run long, going short and fast can be greatly beneficial. This is also the time to try different race distances. The summer allows for many more opportunities of racing a variety of new lengths. Never done an 8K? Hop in and set an instant PR, regardless of the slowdown because of the heat.

Know It All Helps

 
It hurts like the dickens, leaves you crashed on the couch or side of the road, and makes you wish for the icy cold hand of winter. Yet working out in this weather, if done right, will make you a better runner. It’ll make that cool, crisp fall morning where you put on your bib number all the more savory.
Remember that much we do as runners is, or should be, delayed gratification. We put in the hard work and effort when others won't so we can achieve the things others cannot. The sacrifices we make in these not-so-prime months will pay dividends in the future.

If you want that first sub-four-hour marathon or the first sub-20-minute 5K, the summer is where those dreams are made.

Go get ‘em.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 3 of 7

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 7th Edition 
54.6 miles run and 3750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 77 degrees;cloudy

When a storm called for a temperature drop of about 20 degrees for race day from the previous day, I was excited. Then I realized how accustomed to Texas weather I have become when "77 degrees" counts as something I am excited to race in.

Arriving at the race, I was in a very good mood. I had just finished a wonderful phone conversation with the race director of the Boston Marathon and friend  Dave McGillivray. Always a pleasure to speak with him and I was excited to hear about his new running book for kids and how well it was doing. Check it out here!

While my most recent race at the USAT Off-Road National Championship had resulted in a DNF, I was feeling good for this race. My swimming as of late had been better than a long time. I knew I still wouldn't win the race given the speedy wunderkind who live in Austin, as well as a few others  but I knew I should do fairly decent. When I first started doing this series last year I assumed I would do a few, get my feet wet literally and figuratively and steadily improve. That wasn't the case last year and I hadn't started off that great this year either. But we put ourselves in the arena to attempt to get better and that is all I can do.

Swim:

The overcast skies and cooler weather didn't make the water any chillier unfortunately. It wasn't warm but I knew I would be a bit sluggish at the start. The numbers were a little lower than normal for this race which allowed me to get a slightly cleaner start. In fact, after the initial burst of swimmers, I would say twenty yards in, I never wavered from my position in the swim. There was one swimmer right in front of me who I just couldn't seem to pass. I would get about waist high on him and then fall back. I decided that it felt as if I was swimming faster than usual so I shouldn't waste too much energy here on the swim. My run in this race has given me the most problems this year so I wanted to save some energy for that.

It is a real quick sum up of this entire swim to say that in his hip pocket is where I stayed until the final climb out of the water. We were separated just by four seconds as I stumbled a bit getting out of the quarry and regained my composure. For the first time since I have begun running this race, we had a timing mat as we got out of the water, giving us a true swim split  (instead of both swim and transition.)  Granted, I didn't see my time until later (I hit the wrong button on my watch like a moron) but my 11:42 is far and away the best I have swum in this event. Coupled with a not so bad :36 transition time (I stumbled putting on one shoe which cost me probably four seconds) and allowing the swimmer in front of me to run past me on the way up the hill, thinking I would track him down later in the run, and I hit the run at 12:12. If I ran the loops in 4:30 or less (which I was more than capable of doing) I would have my fastest overall time yet by a huge margin.

Run:

As I started the run I realized I had hit the wrong button on my watch. Fiddling with it almost had me going into a culvert ditch with a drainage pipe that ran under the trail. I veered off the stone path and had to deftly run around the pipe and stream and somehow miraculously did not break an ankle. Not a great start. Recovering, I decided to forget the watch and just run. As there is a clock at each loop I could do the math to tell if I was close enough to my desired pace.

The first loop was very pleasant for there was not a single soul to run around and no one out exercising to get in the way. I just had the one runner in front of me who was, much to my chagrin, steadily pulling away from me. I was hoping that I would catch my breath, settle down and soon I would be passing him.  I knew the first loop would tell me how hard I was actually running since I felt like we were flying. Upon finishing the first loop, I saw that neither was the case. I ran a 4:39,  which is just so frustrating. It was my very first aquathlon here where I ran my fastest run of all of these events. How that is the case is beyond perplexing. During the race, my first loop was a 4:25. To be so much slower angered me I am sure quite visibly to anyone watching.

The second loop gave me a chance to run around a few other runners as I tried desperately to open up my stride. I was obviously disappointed with how slow my first loop had been but passing runners always makes me feel better. Suffice it to say I find this course to be very challenging. The footing is uneven, there are some very tight turns, a few branches stick out here and there, and a beast of a hill on the back end always challenges me. Running just one second faster in 4:38 on this loop (compared to 4:23 in that first race) upset me all the more.

The third loop is where it gets quite congested but I knew it was four minutes of pain and I would be Unfortunately it was 4:33 of pain (compared to 4:20 in that first ever race.) I finished 10th overall in 26:11, having passed one younger runner and not getting passed by any. Forty-two seconds slower on the run when it should be forty-two seconds faster now that I know the course and every nook and cranny is a bit frustrating. I know I can be faster. I just have to keep plucking away.


Fortunately, I have another shot in a month. I doubt July's weather will be as hospitable as this race was but hopefully I will have figured out the right formula for success. I will never be fast in a short two-mile race and I know at age 42 I might have lost a step, but I refuse to admit that I can't drop this time precipitously, regardless of the heat, the challenge of the course, or anything else.

It's hard to beat a person who refuses to quit, they say.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

USAT Off-Road National Championship Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 6th Edition 
52.6 miles run and 3000 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: USAT Off-Road National Championship
Place: Waco, TX
Miles from home: 100
Weather: 84 degrees; sunny, humid

I have two main goals when I participate in a race:
1. Give all I have on that day.
2. Don't get injured. 

As I just celebrated my 42nd birthday, the second axiom holds more sway than the first. I don't recover as quickly from, well, anything, anymore and I have less patience to deal with the human race if I am injured and can't exercise. So being injury free is paramount to my, nay, all of society's survival.

Which brings me to my DNF at the USAT Off-Road National Championship this past weekend. But before I put the cart ahead of the horse, let me describe why I had both a cart and a horse to begin with.

While searching local races about a month ago, I saw this national championship race was taking place just up the road. As I do not have otherworldly athletic ability and will never really participate in national championship races where the absolute best athletes compete per se, I jump at any chance to take part in an event like this. Three years ago, when living in Portland, OR I saw the US Mountain Running Championships were three hours away in Bend. I am not a mountain or trail runner, and I hate running uphills, but hey - National Championship race.  I took part, did about as well as I could expect (horrible), and was glad I did it.  I knew that an off-road bike being sponsored
by Xterra would probably be out of my league skill-wise but I figured I would give it a go.

A week before the event I did a 42-mile bike ride on my 42nd birthday, which was just long enough to be the second longest bike ride I have ever done. (It is only bested by two half-ironman bike rides. Yep, I don't ride often or far.) I had picked up my swimming a bit in the last month and felt even if I was mid-pack on the bike, I should do a-ok overall. Who knows what might happen if I held it all together.

 

Race Morning:

I got to the Cameron Park starting line way earlier than I needed to on the morning of the race, because I know how hard it can be to set up all you need for a triathlon. So it was better to be safe than sorry and arrive early.  However, even putzing around for a bit, I had 45 minutes to kill.  Unfortunately, this had me looking around at all the gear all the people who knew what they were doing had with them. I don't normally care too much what everyone else brings to a race but that is when I am aware what is in store for me. Seeing bike gloves and elbow pads, and bike helmets which looked like could protect the wearer from a meteor shower did little to assuage my fears. Fortunately, I was blissfully ignorant of what lay ahead.

We gathered near the start of the swim which was the lukewarm 84 degree Brazos River.  I was told the event had once been shortened because the water had reached 92 degrees. A swim being shortened because the water was too warm was a new one for me. Texas life. One of the guys next to me told me he had come from Denver and was shocked how I was pleasantly surprised that our 8 a.m. start time only had a temperature of 82 degrees. "I don't think we have hit 82 degree yet for the year," he mused.

Swim:

I scoped out a place to try and get an unhindered swimming start but found even in this wide river, there were still people all over each other. I guess those pushing to the front were good swimmers.  As the megaphone the RD was using had conked out on him (this seriously happens more times than it doesn't at races I have attended. How fragile are megaphones?) a quietly spoken "go" was our firing pistol.

Immediately I was caught in a tangle of arms and feet as bodies swarmed over each other. I thought perhaps the one thing I felt I would do well at today, this swim, might be a weak leg for me.  The swim was to begin heading downstream to a bridge, around a buoy, upstream past our starting point to another buoy further up the river before turning around and heading home. As I pulled a bit inside to try and remove myself from the bodies, I saw a few swimmers already out in front of me. I also saw plenty of swimmers to my right who were WAY to my right. Not sure why they started so far over there as there is no need to swim longer than you need. Maybe to avoid all the other thrashing swimmers.

When we got to the first buoy and began to swim upstream, I can honestly say I felt no difference in the current. In fact, if I hadn't known which way the river flowed, I wouldn't have even known there was movement. (Interestingly enough, I read in other reports from other athletes how they HAD noticed it.) I had heard someone say knowing the river helps as there are places where the current is stronger and can tell you I had never once in my life thought of that in terms of racing. (I also learned about a thing called "fetch" from the overall winner - and I actually still have no idea what he is talking about.  ) Talk about home river advantage!

Approaching the second buoy I was a little confused. I could only see a handful of swimmers in front of me and none had turned to come back home yet. When they finally did, I could only count a few.  Was I really doing that well?

Turning and heading for home, it appeared I was in the top ten. Huh. I finally was beginning to feel my groove and passed one last swimmer in front of me before exiting the water. It ends up I was seventh out of 126 men (and technically 40 women as well but they started after us.) In addition, while I am not necessarily going by my GPS, I will go by my time and there is no way that was only  1500m swim.

Transition:

There was a long tenth of a mile run on the road from the swim to where bikes were racked.  A bit further than I would like to run but it gave me a chance to get out of swimming mode and ready to bike. I didn't speed through the transition, as I wanted to make sure I had all my various accoutrements. I grabbed a drink of water and Gatorade from the station and was a bit bummed they were lukewarm.This would play in my decision-making a little bit later. (FORESHADOWING!) As an occasional race director I have prided myself on making sure drinks are always cold. That is so paramount to runner success, especially on a blisteringly warm day.

Bike:

I was pretty unaware of the actual bike course. I knew it was supposed to be hilly, twisting, and had lots of roots and cervices. I figured, worse-case scenario I would just take it easy when necessary and just power through. I came out of the transition right after another cyclist and was immediately on his heels (tires?). I didn't know we had about half a mile of payment riding before hitting the trails or I would have sped up a little bit to take advantage of the part I was half decent at. As it stands I passed him and another cyclist as we climbed a big steep hill.

I had rented a nice mountain bike from a store in Austin with shocks and bouncy bits and air canisters and lots of other things I had no idea what they were. What I did learn, however, is that getting "up in the saddle" as they say didn't really work on this contraption. Every time I tried it, I just bounced up and down on the shocks. No bueno.  Once I got to the top of the hill, saw the narrow entrance to the trail and motioned the two cyclists behind me to go ahead. I wasn't going to start out with two guys on my ass when I had no idea what lay in store.

Here is where I am going to cut this short. I am not going to describe every fall I took (at least four),
every time I almost fell (at least ten) and the countless times I trepidatiously scooted around one twisty-turny bend only to be confronted by a steep uphill that almost had me losing my manhood on my handlebars. All I know is that once I took a tree trunk full-onto the collarbone and chest.  I was certain I broke it as I came to a stop with a sickening thud. (Same overall winner from above in his recap mentioned he crashed a quarter of a mile in as well. I feel less bad about my skills now.)  I know I went over the handlebars twice. I almost went down about three ravines. I will say without a doubt that half of that was because of my inexperience of riding a mountain bike. But half the credit goes to this course which was absolutely ridiculous. I don't mean that in a bad way per se. If one had ridden it they would know what was in store for them. I did not and I am glad as I wouldn't have even attempted it.

After about the 30th rider who passed me (seriously) where I either had to pull over or just stayed over after a crash, I was beginning to wonder what I was doing out here. I thought perhaps I could just take it easy and go slow and make it out alive. The problem was that even taking it slow was dangerous. On one particular hill, I had pulled over after almost crashing and five cyclists went by in rapid succession. Then, this blur of a human, went down the hill like he was on rails. I have zero idea how he avoided ever hole, root, branch, rock, etc. and make it look like it was a sled ride down a water park hill.

I used this stopped time to take a long swig from my water bottle and drained the entire thing. I had a feeling the aid stations were going to just have beverages warmer than before. I was three miles into a nine-mile loop we had to do twice. Granted there looked to be about two miles on each loop near the end which would be easy to ride but who knows what the rest would have in store for me. Then, my last tumble ended it for me.

Just last year I had to get my thumb surgically repaired after I was attacked by two men at an intersection in Austin. I got my thumb caught in the shifter as I went ass over tincups and I felt for sure I messed it up. I sat there for ten seconds before I even tried to move my thumb. When I finally mustered the courage and could tell it was just sore, I knew it was time for me to call it a day. Sure, I think I could have pushed my bike the rest of the way and still finished high enough to qualify for the World Championship team (I am serious) but that was not why I was here.

I rode on and came to a road we had to cross. I asked one of the volunteers how I could get back to the start. Then I did the painful but smart thing and quit. I rode down the hill, passed the spot where we entered the trail, and found the referee for the event. I turned in my chip and stood there.

Finally I decided to go for a little bit of a run to just feel out my body and make sure nothing really was broken.  I have hurt myself before, gone to get x-rays and been given a clean bill of health, only to find out I did a doozy of a number to myself weeks later. (How do you miss this?!) After a short two-miler, it felt like I was ok. I won't rule out I somehow put my spleen into my stomach or something else just yet but all systems seem go.

The decision I made was correct. It still sucks. Then going to grab some consolatory food after the race I got a speeding ticket in some street that magically went from 45 to 30 for one block. That has nothing to do with anything other than let's just say the day was not a good one. In talking with a few people at the event, most of them offered consolation but at the same time told their stories of how they had continued on with a broken femur or a case of Black Death they caught at an aid station or how they fought off a lion, skinned it, and wore its pelt back to transition two before going back out to look for their arm. It is this kind of bravado which is lost on me.

There is absolutely nothing impressive about continuing on in a race where nothing but your pride is on the line when you are hurt or about to be hurt. Sure if you are stuck in the mountains and the only way down is to keep on going, then you should keep on going. But too often we applaud the efforts of people who soldier on when they were either unprepared, under-trained, or any of a variety of things where the "Come back with your shield or on it" faux toughness is paramount. I wonder how many of these people would be so willing to risk their health or well-being if there wasn't social media to tell them how epic they are.Well, I know I am not one of them. Think you are tougher than me because you would have kept going? Okey dokes. Doesn't bother me one bit. Even if our health care system didn't suck, it is not worth it to me to collect a non-precious medal or bauble, rather than return home unwounded.

But I went for a swim two days after my race and it was the best swim workout I have had since I was in high school.  So I have that going for me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

It's All About the Weather

Having been running races for two decades now, in every conceivable condition, for every conceivable type of distance, I can tell you what matters most when you want to have a good day: weather.

It is not how fit you are, what the course is like, what you ate the night before or anything else. Being under-trained, or overcoming a big hill, or puking out some bad food are often things you can't get over relatively quickly in a race.  But the weather on race day is the one variable which will bring you to your knees the hardest.

I have paid special attention to how weather affects performance mostly because of something very specific: I am horrible in warm temperatures. And by "warm" I mean basically anything over 60 degrees. So bad am I when the mercury rises in the ole thermometer that, I was asked to give a speech in Ecuador at a Gatorade Sports Science Institute on sweat loss. In addition, while there, I performed like a gerbil on the treadmill, doing a brisk 45 minute run, indoors, losing seven pounds in sweat alone. (I wish I could tell you how hilarious the owner of the treadmill, who was loaning it to the event, was when he continued to wipe down the outer plastic shell as I ran. Isn't that what the plastic shell is for? He acted as if I had Alien acid sweat that would burn through it if he didn't wipe immediately or thoroughly.  But I digress.)

In addition, I have Gilbert's Syndrome. A relatively mild disorder (if you listen to Wikipedia) it comes into play for those of us who do endurance sports as it affects one's ability to recover from strenuous activity. Since I put myself in situations where I push my body further than most people ever have, I would disagree about how mild it is. Nevertheless, you take all of what I have described and suffice it to say I look at the weather app more than I do anything else as race day approaches.

Of my top ten fastest marathons, only one came when the weather was inclement: the Steamtown Marathon in 2007. Run on the day that Chicago infamously had to blackflag its race for heat, how I was able to put this race out of the hat (after a wrong turn added extra miles) is beyond me. In fact, as I look through even the top 25 marathons I have run there are many different things which present themselves. I was in various level of fitness. I ran them over various terrains. Different elevations. Various times of my life. But one things remains the same: nice weather.

I don't say this without proof.  In fact, I have written down what the weather is for every race I have ever run. (They are all accessible on this very website on the right sidebar.) Over and over again, I perform best when it is cooler.

OK, so that is anecdotal. It is rather Dane-centric. So don't just look at what works for me.  Look at science.  Then look again. And again. Wherever you look, it shows you that when the weather is cooler you run better. If it is less humid, you run better. If it is less windy, you run better.

Obviously there are going to be some people who feel they run better in heat and when people just want to "feel" something, you can't tell them otherwise. But the science points to how our bodies warm the ambient air around us by 20 degrees when we run which is why we are told to dress for the run we will be having in the middle rather than the one we start with.  Otherwise, you end up sweating so much that your clothes get soaked and even if it is cold when you start, you will be drenched in sweat. Then when you finish you freeze because of all the wet clothing.

Note that with this analysis, I am primarily speaking about longer distances races. Shorter distance races like the 100 meter dash (which I still contend is more like power lifting than it is running) need a warmer temperature to keep those ridiculous fast-twitch muscle fibers from snapping like a twig. But the longer you run, the cooler you want the temperature to be. Again, don't take my word for it.  Read this exhaustive study here.  Researchers reviewed weather and race data from past Olympics and determined the ideal temp for elite marathoners was 49.4 degrees for men and 51.8 degrees for women. Athletes in sprint events fared better in warmer temps. For the 100m dash, for example, men did best when the race day temperature was 72.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and women excelled at 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Since they run so much faster than us mortals, elite runners are in the weather for far less time than the rest of us.  A person finishing in 5 hours for a marathon is essentially running in a different day than when they started, the way temperatures climb.

So, next time you are looking for that fast race, it may behoove you to check out its historic weather even more than what type of downhill course it has or anything else people use to determine how they will have a good time. Planning for the factor which will probably have the biggest impact on your race, shouldn't be left to chance.