Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Camelbak Powderbak review

I am trying to fit a lifetime of running into a short period of time.

Starting running later in life, I am happy to not be burnt out or possibly suffering from an overuse injury by the time I was 30. However, it leaves me wishing I could do more, see more, and run more as soon as possible. That is why I cram in lots of cool races in a short span of time, even though I know it won't produce the best results possible. (See Cooper River Bridge Run, Around the Bay Race, Crescent City Classic and Cherry Blossom Ten Mile)  But thems the breaks.

Similarly, I would love to product test all the products in the world but my running still is, for me, a means to produce the best race results possible. I can't do that while simultaneously trying out every new product under the sun (be it supplement, shoe or what have you.) That said, if I can fit some products in without being too obstrusive to my schedule, I am glad to do so. That's why last summer, even when the heat was high and not really conducive to what the product was meant to convey, I tried out the Camelbak Powderbak.  I wore it a few times and was quite pleased.  But I wanted to wait until winter to give a full test since that was what the product was designed to be used.

Then Portland never had winter. Hell, we barely had a chilly fall. As such, I never really got an opportunity to put it to the full test. Then I realized using a product for its not-intended purpose is the perfect way to give something a proper test. If it performs where it shouldn't, it most assuredly will do much better where it should.  (As always, in the interest of disclosure, I am a Camelbak sponsored athlete.  However, nothing I get from Camelbak is predicated on me reviewing it, positively or negatively. So take what you read, as all things, on a "This was his opinion. Let me try it out for myself" line of thought.)

At 6'1'' 180+ pounds, many things don't fit me that well. I am not a huge guy but bigger than many, especially runners my speed. In addition, I have a long torso, so many products just don't fit me well. I live with it and move on.  The Powderbak, however, seemed just long enough to feel nice and snug.  That snugness is on purpose, as well, considering the product is meant to work as a compression-type shirt. Hugging close to your body, it uses your body heat to keep your drink from freezing. Again, I never got to test how effective that was during SunFest 2015. However, the insulated pack and hose kept my drink cold even in the warm temps so I think that is a good sign.

The reservoir is completely removable from the back pouch for easy filling and cleaning of both the reservoir and vest. The pouch gives you a little bit of a hunch, especially if you are wearing it as a baselayer with other clothing on top of it. But who cares? Are you out there for a fashion show or do you want a product which works as it is intended.

I was told this was not the best-selling product they had and I am not exactly sure why. The full-zip vest is made from a very thin and breathable polyester/spandex mix. It has a shorter bladder hose which I wish was in more of the packs I have. It's wicking, quick drying and is the perfect definition of "wearable hydration."  Was it tighter on my body than expected? Well, yes because I had nothing to go by in forming that opinion. Plus on my initial test runs I wore it over my Skins compression top in order to try and see how uncomfy it would be.  (Look at me sacrificing for you. I should win a Nobel.)

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the Powderbak.  Looking at cons sections I saw some say it sized a little small or that it could do with a small zippered pouch. I think a small pocket on the vest couldn't hurt too much but it is not a make or break type of thing. It is not supposed to be the outermost layer you are wearing, or if that, the only one. Pockets should come in some other form, for the most part.

In reading other reviews I found some runners wearing this in California in the heat and they experienced the same problems I did with finding cold weather to test it out in. Like me, they also were surprised to see how well it kept their drinks cold in the insulated pouch and tube.

Retailing for an even $100 (and I am sure you can find it cheaper online) this is a tidy little product. I think you would like it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run (sorta)

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 7th Edition 
75.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run (sorta)
Place: Washington, DC.
Miles from home: 2798
Weather: 40s; Sunny

Concluding a whirlwind tour of four absolute must-do races in 15 days, found me in my old home of Washington, D.C. this past weekend. We often overlook the most wonderful things under our noses in search of the fantastic elsewhere. The Cherry Blossom Ten Mile definitely fits that bill. To my credit, I did know the race was wonderful when I lived here. I just never made the time to run it. However, with a new book in the works talking about cool races, I knew I finally had to run this iconic race.

I spent the previous days before the race speaking at the expo with noted running legends Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Jen Rhines and others. This is the second time in two weeks I got to see my friend Bill but unfortunately we couldn't carve out time for a run together as we have on other occasions. Would have loved to have taken him to some of my old running haunts here in DC if we could have, not unlike when he visited Portland a few years ago. We did get to share a book signing/autograph session, which was quite fun. I hope the 3 or 4 fans I had did not deter the This is Sparta!-esque legion he had waiting for him.

The weather forecast promised to be absolutely perfect and it did not disappoint. I was staying a few metro stops away from the start of the race and very boldly attempted to use this system to get to the start. I say bold because I probably rode the metro ten times in the four years of DC living. Fortunately, my metro adventure worked out just about perfectly for me as I got to the starting area about 7 minutes before the start. Unfortunately, I had very little time to locate the bathrooms. I also assumed the lines would be beyond long to get in them once I located their whereabouts.  However, as I was thinking about potentially violating 14 DC laws to find a bush and TCB, I happened across a bank of porta-potties which were essentially unmanned. In I went and with 3 minutes to spare was in my starting corral.

Mere seconds before the race started, the organizers announced that just minutes before, an accident involving a pedestrian and a motorcycle occurred on the course.  Because of this, the race needed to be re-routed.  It appeared the course would fall .25-.5 of a mile short of the intended distance.  My two emotions were as such:
1. Well, there goes my attempt at running my first ten mile race ever.
2. Holy mackerel, that is absolutely amazing that with mere minutes to go before the start, the organizers were able to make use of what had to be a contingency plan they probably hoped to never use.

So while the wind was sucked out of my sails a little bit, I was still in awe of the race organization. For a race just shy of 18,000 finishers, THIS is the sort of thing that makes a race a must-do. Forget the bling and the bands. If you know anything about racing, you want people running it who pay attention to the things which matter.

First 10k:

Even with two 10Ks and a 30K prior to this weekend under my belt since April 4th, I was still feeling rather fresh. In fact, I was feeling oodles better than I was in New Orleans last week when I ran a personal worst in the 10k at the Crescent City Classic. I knew the culprit (cat allergies from staying with a friend in Canada) but was unwilling to believe that something so "innocuous" could destroy my lungs so much. Runners, especially those who go pretty far, like to believe in their invincibility. Which is funny because when weather or the course or anything else isn't ideal, we can often become whiny babies. So, while I was feeling better, I knew I wouldn't be running anywhere close to my potential. In addition, while running a 9.5 mile race is just as arbitrary as running a 10 miler, I could tell my heart wouldn't be in this very much. So instead of "racing", I decided to simply enjoy as much as the race as I could, while still putting in a hard effort.

As we ran down the first stretch of road, I pulled to the side a bit. I really don't like to have people around me when I am racing. There is something about wanting my own personal space which is paramount to me. I would probably have been terrible in track meets with more than a few runners. So even in crowded races I find my way to the areas where people are not most of the time.

Once over out of the crowd and after a guy inexplicably decided that he needed to run around me and then immediately cut in front of me (getting a "OK come on." from me) I noticed another runner also seemed to enjoy getting out of the crowd at the start as well. Then I noticed that other runner was Joan Benoit Samuelson. We chatted oh so briefly and then, after running a 6:10 first mile and realizing I didn't wan to run that fast today, I bid her adieu. She ran, at age 57, a fantastic time of 58:56. Dang.

The unaltered portion of the course took us down Independence Ave with the Washington Monument in the background.  After that we passed over the Memorial Bridge toward Arlington Memorial Cemetery. Before even getting two miles into the race, watching the leaders already a full minute or more in front of you can be both awe-inspiring and disheartening at the same time. I went with the former so my ego didn't take too big of a hit. Heading back toward the Lincoln Memorial, massive hordes of people filled the other lanes on the opposite direction. They were just where I had been. I hoped someone was silently cursing me for being so far ahead of them.

Down Rock Creek Parkway and under the Kennedy Center we went.  This overhang for the Center has always struck me as an odd addition limiting any truck of any large size. Perhaps that was the purpose. But it seems to be superficial, overwrought and gets far more attention than it deserves. Hey, just like JFK himself! (These are the things I think about while running.) Pondering this overhand kept my mind off the 180 degree turn we had to make a few hundred yards later. I don't really mind these turns much when I am not too crowded. But in big races, too many people don't seem to understand physics and the two objects can't occupy the same space at the same time theory. That said, going through the 5k in a sub-20 made me feel a little better.

Another 180 degree turn after mile 4 meant we were now going into the area where the course was slightly changed. To be honest, I will have to look up someone else who used their Timex GPS to see where we went because I never turned my on. In fact, I rarely do in races. I am not exactly sure why. I guess I just want to go by feel and run without being hooked up to whatever crutch is out there. It makes me feel more in tune with a race.

Before I knew it, we had run around the Tidal Basin and up the smallest of hills.  I remember this bridge from the 3k I had run on two different occasions when I lived in DC. Memories. Then the mile 6 mile marker appeared and I realized that even accounting for what ever additional mileage which would be added on, my 10k would be faster than both my Crescent City Classic and Cooper River Bridge Run 10ks by over a minute. Crescent City I can blame on cats. Cooper River had me slowed by the bridge and knowing I was running a 30K the next day.  But to best both those times barely halfway through a race shows how odd this sport can be.  It is a fickle mistress, running.

Final 4-ish miles

I knew three of the final four miles were on Hains Point.  I have a love/hate relationship with Hains Point which started when I first began running the Marine Corps Marathon. It is lonesome and fairly exposed to the elements.  In addition mthis portion was always the point where I would begin to tire in the MCM.  But I loved how it had the Awakening statue at its furthest point. That is, of course, until DC moved the statue.  When it was happening I tried to be civic-minded and express my distaste for this. I went as far as to look up the info on the creator and see that he actually had final say on where and when the statue could be moved.  All he had to say was "nay" and it stayed put. Even though I had moved from DC when it was to be moved, I felt a connection to the statue.  Often it was the only thing getting me through this part of the race.

So I wrote to the creator, his agent or publicist and told them how much  I loved where it was.  No answer. Then it was moved.  Bollocks. So now I had no Awakening to look forward to and I was actually dreading this portion of the run.  However, then came the Cherry Blossoms.


To say this changed not on my perspective on this portion of DC, let alone solidified my thoughts that this is a
must-run race, would be an understatement.  For the most part, I do not not care one bit about the scenery of a race. If I am racing hard, I care about where the runners are and where me feet are landing.  The rest of everything is, at most, something I notice for a second.  But as you run down a corridor of cascading petals from hundreds of cherry blossom trees, it felt like a dream. Or the movie Legend.

Here I would have loved to have been racing. I would have loved to be pushing hard.  You see, in a race of this relatively short distance, you should be relatively uncomfortable to mildly uncomfortable and then really uncomfortable at the finish.  The problem with running so many longer distances races it is that it is almost impossible to convince my mind that it is OK to hurt for 30 minutes or so as I will soon be done.  My body puts a governor on pain and says "Nope. We can't do this for 3 hours." The hardest part for me in a race that is shorter distance, other than the complete lack of fast twitch muscle fibers, is overcoming that governor. Fortunately, because I was not racing per se, I afforded myself the opportunity to fully embrace this 5k of beautiful running.  It truly was soft and serene, with sun flitting in and out through the branches, and a slight breeze moving he fallen petals at our feet.  I was almost sad to see it end and take us into the last mile.

But I was ready to be done. I saw if I ran a faster than what I had averaged last mile I could end up with a time of 1:01:xx.  But I saw no real point. I had no idea what the real distance was and whatever it was, it was not the time I would want as my first ten miler. Instead, I waved, high-fived little kids and the enormous headed Presidential mascot of, I think, Thomas Jefferson.

Another really cool aspect that I don't recall in any other race I have run was that in the last mile there was a 1200 meters to go sign, an 800 meters to go and then 400 meters. I am not sure how much that would help many runners who seem to avoid any sort of track workouts at all but I thought it was a fantastic touch.

A slightly cruel but hardly substantial hill with about a quarter of a mile ago loomed in front of us.  I passed more than a few people here and stretched the legs out a bit.  Even when you are supposedly taking it easy, there is something about seeing the finish line that makes you pick up your heels and get your ass going. It was too late for a 1:01 but I was glad to finish in 1:02:12.  This gave me 439th place overall.  But more importantly, of the four Danes in the race, I was tops.  My streak of being undefeated against guys named Dane is still alive.

And that's really what matters.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Crescent City Classic 10k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 6th Edition 
75.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Crescent City Classic 10k
Place: New Orleans, LA
Miles from home: 2507
Weather: 60s; Chilly; Windy

Three races in 8 days with thousands of miles flying in between is tough. I have done it before.  Many have done it before. Doesn't make it any easier. What makes it hard is when you have ridiculous airline snafus which cause major delays. I could go on and on moaning about these atrocities but we all know the saga. Instead I would rather talk about an event and the wonderful people I met during it.

For starters, I ran my slowest 10k time ever. In fact, it was almost the exact 10k time that I ran in the first 10k of the Around the Bay 30k last weekend. There are a multitude of reasons why it was so slow. Some I know, some are unknown. I do know my lungs are still messed up from allergies last weekend but I thought a few days away from that would make everything better.  I have learned, however, that I need to take better care of these lungs.

While there was a two day expo, I essentially only met people for one day. The airline snafus kept me from being fully engaged on Day One. However, I did get to meet an varied assortment of people by the end of the two days. Speaking at the expo allows me to tell my story and let others tell me theirs. Sure I get many of the same variances of people getting their life on track but it never gets old to hear so many are doing so. Often, I am blown away by the stories of self-improvement.

I often balk at the idea of mentioning some people by name because I am not sure if they wish for their stories to be shared.  Plus, I could list dozens of people who would just blow you away and still neglect to list dozens more. However, one group of runners names Team ASAP out of Lake Charles, LA deserve mention. Just a fantastic group of guys and gals who I had the pleasure to run into on multiple occasions over the weekend. This is a shout out to them in hopes that they continue to ignore their own impossible. Plus they dress really snazzy.

Weather-wise one could not ask for a better day in New Orleans in April.  It was in the low 60s with a chilly wind.  I guess one could ask to not have wind blowing them around but with low humidity, cloud cover and good temperature, it was hard to beat.

I lined up way further back than my bib allowed me to do so because I didn't think I would be all that far back form the start. I was wrong.  It also didn't really matter.  When the countdown hit zero and we shot out of the gate, I realized within half of a mile, this was going to be a slow day.  I had hoped for a nice 38 minute 10k on this super flat of courses but when the first mile felt like a 5:55 but was a 6:27 I realized nothing good was going to come out of my legs on this day.

As we left the central business district of New Orleans and ventured into the French Quarter, I hoped perhaps the first mile marker was off.  Plus, I got out of the pack a little bit and was passing people left and right. Assuredly this mile would be extremely fast and prove me wrong about the dead feeling in my legs.  However, as we turned off of the well-known bead-laden streets of Mardi Gras Town and ventured under the Spanish moss covered trees, the second mile revealed to me I was indeed going quite slow.

I now had a dilemma. What to do with a race that is basically over just two miles in. Do I struggle through and try to run a still-slow time? Do I full engage in the revelry that is the Crescent City Classic with its costume-wearers and beer drinkers?  Or something in between.  As I continued this debate, a couple of things entered my mind.

First, I came upon a woman with a completely hairless head. Obviously someone who had recently undergone chemotherapy or was still going through it, she was cooking along. Her spirit and verve absolutely made me feel horrible for giving anything other than my best.  I knew I could not jerk around and play fun on this race course.  Even if my time ended up being horrific I had to give what I had on this day.

That's my arm behind bright green shirt guy.
Second, as I really began to contemplate jogging it in, I heard the pitter patter of little feet. I looked beside me and saw a shirtless young fella, who looked like he weighed about 50 pounds if lucky. I had seen him near the start of the race and actually fell behind him right at the gun. At the time I figured he was just running near the front to feel good about himself.  But here he was.  For the next mile I watched him carefully try to pick his way through people.  Most were polite or cheered him on but only after they passed him.  Until that point, no one would really hear or see him.

Finally, right around the 4th mile, I slid up next to him and asked him if he wanted a little help getting through the crowds. I don't think he knew exactly what I meant but I basically told him to tuck in behind me.  as I made moves and passed people here and there, this tiny charger stayed right on my heels.

For my ego's sake I would like to say I slowed down to run as a fullback for Little Stone Smith (I would later learn his name) but he was simply running as fast as I was on this day.  For the next two miles, Stone and I began to cut a swath through runners. I kept imagining I would either have to slow down for him or maybe I was running him ragged. But with every step I took, he was right there. It is fun to be both physically exhausted and mentally blown away by the skills of someone else.  This little runner made me think back to the article I wrote about what is the appropriate age for a person to start running.

Unskinny Bop
As we neared the finish, I told Stone the race was all his.  We separated as the lane got a little wider and the runners got a little thinner.  Ironically, we passed one of my new buddies from Team Asap.  Nice mesh, Geoff!

The only thing pleasing about my 41:14 10K time was it was a palindrome. Without a doubt we should be happy for every opportunity we have to move forward by our own power.  However, we can still be disappointed when things do not go right.  Being glad and wanting more are not mutually exclusive.  For me, chances are I didn't help young Stone one bit.  Yet, while I am sure he gets plenty of support from home, I hope he also found a stranger helping him out as well, as something to remember.  His awesome effort, breeze of motion and seeming love for the sport stuck with me.

My best friend Shannon accompanied me on this trip and she too went through the same travel exhaustion.  She didn't run a personal best on the course but she too had a good experience. Was cool to see the French Quarter with someone who had been there before. My contact for most of the weekend Gini Davis, not only worked the race and expo tirelessly but also ran a 57:54 10k.  she is also 70 years old.  So on one end of the spectrum we have Stone. On the other we have youthful people who just happen to have circled the sun a few more times than most of us.

This was the third race which I declare is an absolute must-run for any runner out there.  Like the Cooper River Bridge Run I ran last weekend, you might not run our fastest time here (although it is absolutely flat so if you can avoid the crowds it is possible) but the experience itself is absolutely worth it. The warmness of the people and the spirit of one of america's great cities should be experienced on foot the day before Easter.

Take some time and go run the Big Easy, everyone.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Around the Bay 30k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 5th Edition 
69.1 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Around the Bay 30k
Place: Hamilton, ON
Miles from home: 2582
Weather: 20-30s; Sunny; Windy

Some races I study meticulously and some I barely look at prior to turning them.  The latter usually only happens when I have no particular time goal or when I just happen to be a tad too busy to put forth the energy.  And I was most assuredly busy the days leading up to the Around the Bay 30k.  A hectic travel and work schedule (including a 12 hour expo book signing before the Cooper River Bridge Run on the day before this race) left me with little time to delve into the minutia of this particular race. The CRBR had left me uncharacteristically wrecked in my legs.  While the race was tough, it was merely 6.2 miles. I also hadn’t run anywhere close to hard enough to warrant this soreness I felt in my quads. But nonetheless on the plane ride to Buffalo, NY, my quads were destroyed. 

Fortunately for me, a great deal of the race morning planning was being handled for me.  I was the guest of Kris Graci, one of the 17 women featured in my book, Running With TheGirls. Suffice it to say that you should get the book if only to read about her incredible story. But for me, it meant that I didn’t have to find where the race was, find parking or everything else one has to do on race morning. This was the exact opposite of the day before in Charleston, SC for the CRBR. That had been a fiasco of parking, shuttles, running back to my car and getting back to the hotel so I could fly out.

Unfortunately for me, I neglected to remember (or ask, I forget which) whether Kris had any pets.  She had three very friendly cats in her lovely home.  The problem is, allergies do not care about the disposition of that to which you are allergic.  I found out I had no medicine to treat myself either and given the late nature of my arrival had no way to get any from any store. Hopefully, I would not be too affected before the race.
Morning of:

Kris and her boyfriend Manfred, an Austrian by birth who has been in Canada most his life, took me to the start of the race. Kris was also running the race, as was a litany of her friends. We joined some 11,000 of our closest friends in the FirstOntario Centre where they play hockey (natch) and hold other events.  This would serve as the holding ground for us before the race as well as the finish line afterward.  It was going to be a chilly day for sure which the temperature hovering right around 25 degrees (or -4 Celsius for my Canadian friends. Side note: I absolutely love Canada.  I think it was just a marvelous place and have never come back from a trip there unsatisfied. I would love to spend a month there learning and living with the people and seeing how we, separated by the thinnest of borders, and looking so much alike, are so very different. But I digress.) 

I met Kris’ friends and watched all the others milling around dressed like they were Floridians dealing with 60 degree mornings.  Why were they wearing so many layers?  This is Canada!  I was wearing a simple pair of Skins shorts and a short-sleeve Skins top.  I had a Craft long sleeve half-zip on that I fully intended to throw off right before the start. However, I assumed the Canadians knew more than me about their own weather and looking around at all the heavily-clad runners decided I should keep it on. This later revealed to be a painful mistake.

Corrals were loaded with people by their estimated time, snaking around the block.  By the time I got to my intended area, the race was just some three minutes from starting. I had been given an unseeded corral bib which I intended to honor until I saw the thousands of people in front of me in that corral. So, I did what I normally detest of others and move as far ahead as possible in the corral after everyone else was in place.  I found the pace group for the time I was quite sure I would have no problem running and filed in about 20 meters behind them. I looked back at all the people I had passed, and most of those still in front of me, and knew I was still far too back. Runners may be the biggest hypochondriacs out there outwardly to the world (“Oh, I am so sick and this is so sore and I am so out of shape!”) but they seem to be irrationally confident when it comes to correctly placing themselves in race corrals. I definitely was not in the wrong place. 
Surrounded by all these bodies, even with the chilly air, I could tell I was dressed way too warmly.  Alas.
At the precise time when the race was supposed to start, the gun was fired. Go Canada!

 First 5k: 20:38

I realized quickly there would be no mile markers for this race, only kilometer. Not to tax my brain too much I decided to only keep track of my 5k splits.  That was something I could do math around to see I was on target. As these first three miles took us out from the stadium, through the slightly rundown neighborhoods surround it ad out onto a four lane highway, I was feeling very good.  My first kilometer was in 4:04 which meant as much to me as a trombone playing a sandwich does to rhino astronauts. But then I did the math to equal five of those kilometers and I thought:  “Hey, not bad.”

The next km was even faster and I was feeling good. I was also feeling hot.  I had already rolled the sleeves up of the long sleeve shirt. A kilometer later I undid the zipper.  Now, as half zips are wont to do, one of the lapels was rhythmically slapping me in the chin and neck. So I took the collar and tucked it inward.

Kris had advised me the first few miles had a series of overpasses to go over.  As I did no reconnaissance on the race, I was hoping she remembered correctly and there were only three. The bright sunshine lit our path as the empty streets and backyards of Hamilton, ON industry were our only spectators. Occasionally a few people would dot a bridge we ran under but we were out here on our own. The first 5k went by much faster than expected and I felt good in spite of my quads still be more sore from the previous day’s 10k race than they had been after running 26.2 miles at the Phoenix Marathon a month prior.

10k: 20:35 (41:16)

On our way to the first 1/3 of the race being over the race was more of the same. Lonely not-so-pretty streets with little to look at. I say that because people sometimes care about scenery in a race. I personally could not care less.  As I said in 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss, a beautiful and majestic moose on the green hill above, eating daisies and playing with the birds on his antlers does not make me run any faster.
Kris had correctly remembered there were three overpasses and for that I was grateful. We did, however, have one onramp to take us up and over the street we were on at the 10k to deal with. Prior to that I was playing cat and mouse with a slew of runners. On the flats sections I would fall back.  On the uphills (never my specialty but something that still allows me to put distance on many runners) I would push by them.  Then on the downhills, I would put even more distance between us. After that, the flats would allow them to catch up to me again and we would rinse lather and repeat.

I was shocked to see I ran this 5k faster than the first and only 12 seconds slower than the entire 10k race the day before. I didn’t know exactly what that said about my effort today or yesterday exactly but it sure was telling about something.  If only I knew what.

15k: 21:21 (1:02:35)

The next 3.1 miles can basically be summed up as one long, flat stretch where the houses appeared, a few spectators came out and I fell into a little bit of a funk. I found it hard to maintain pace and was generally tired. I simply tried to concentrate on my stride and focus inward thinking only about how at 15k I would be hallway done.

Every kilometer was marked with an inspirational quote or saying.  It was a nice touch out here especially where there weren’t many crowds to motivate you. One of them said:
”You can learn everything about yourself by running a 30k.”

I turned to the group of guys next to me, nodded at the sign and said “What if I am not that curious. Can I just stop at the halfway point?”  The muffled laughter made me feel a little better about myself and jolted me out of my slump.  Right at the halfway point, passing over a grated drawbridge helped even more. I freaking love bridges.

I saw if I repeated the same time for the second half I would run 2:05:02 for the race. That would have pleased me. So I settled down and concentrated doing just that. I have run a faster pace for a marathon than that but that is not where I am right now. Accepting where you are right now and not being too discouraged about it is the key to getting through running.  Or life, really.

20k: 21:49 (1:24:25)

When racing I have an impeccable memory. I remember street signs, spectators garb, quarter mile splits and a slew of other information. I cannot, for the life of me, remember much about this 5k at all.  I know I was happy with my split at the halfway point. I remember running down the little ramp from the cool bridge and I remember finally turning off the little slide of land which protected the Hamilton Harbour. But that is about it.  I knew I was getting tired and I just wanted to get to where I had 6.2 miles of running left.  I vaguely recall the nice house on our right with Lake Ontario behind them.  There is the smallest recollection of the Harbour on our left and me occasionally passing and then being passed by some of the same runners as we played cat and mouse.  But other than that all I have is vague memories. To be honest, it is a little weird for me.
One thing that sticks out fervently, however, is right as we approached the 20k mark, I remembered Kris telling me this was the section which had rolling hills in it. For some reason, I had a feeling she was not properly painting what these hills felt like.

By now, also, I was drenched in sweat, with my sleeves rolled up, and the zipper down on my long-sleeve. In fact, I had tucked the unzipped collar inward before even hitting the 5k.  The painful mistake I mentioned earlier was that the zipper rubbed my collarbone raw.  I learned this later in the shower.  Ouch.

25k: 22:55 (1:47:20)

A big to-do was made about how this year, due to construction, the biggest and hardest hill of the race was not part of the course. Undoubted to return next year, it’s removal made some feel cheated. People might not like obstacles but they appear to want them in their way so they can brag about having overcome them later. I was more than happy to find out this news.

Unfortunately, because so many were focused on this big hill being gone, they neglected to mention that series of undulating beasts that the course still contained from 20-25km. No less than 4 of these sat between me and what had been promised to be nothing but flat or downhill for the final 3.1 miles.

Each one of these hills took more and more out of me. Not knowing they existed, how long they were, and how much they climbed, made my legs weak. In a beautiful area around Hamilton Harbour, with homes which had to cost many a loonie, I normally would have at last glanced around to appreciate what was there.  But today, as the road twisted and turned, hiding the summit of each of the hills, my already weak legs failed me.  On more than a few occasions I walked. But each time I did so, I was buoyed by the fact that I caught and passed all those who had passed me when I was walking.  Of course, if I had been running the pace I wanted or had been earlier, they should have been around me in the first place.  But when we flag or waver we reach for small victories.

I knew I was in no way going to get a 2:05 anymore. But I thought perhaps a 2:08, the equivalent of running the pace of a sub-3 hour marathon, was still in the cards. With the hills finally behind me and a nice long gradual downhill promising to help sweep me into the finish, I knew I just had to run a 21 minutes final 5k to do just that. Not impossible but not easy.

30K: 22:41

Unfortunately, while the hill might be gone, the wind was not.  A stiff breeze which had swirled a bit earlier in the race, and had been blocked some by those very same hills I cursed earlier, was now full on in our face as we turned to head home. A group of guys numbering at least 12 went by me working together.  I fell into this pack knowing I did not wish to fight the wind alone.  But their pace was too quick. I had to internally debate whether I wanted to slow down and fight the wind alone or continue to run harder than I felt I could in order to stay sheltered. I decided too late to ease off the throttle and when I finally slowed my pace, I came to yet another walk. Bollocks.

As I geared up running again, I heard some in the crowd mention the 2:10 pacer was coming up behind me. Double bollocks. I didn’t really expect to be pushing hard to stay in front of him with 4k to go. Sure enough, however, he soon passed me with another group of guys. Like before I fell in behind them. Unlike before, however, their pace was more maintainable.

For the next mile or so I hung tight until the group started to break up. Some fell off the back, others smelled the barn and began pushing for home. As I had started the race behind the 2:10 guy I knew I had some time to spare. As such, if I kept up, I should have no problem breaking 2:10. Hitting the 29k mark I had exactly 5 minutes to go under the desired goal time. I knew that even a slow kilometer was 4:30 and with this downhill finish, I thought I might actually push hard and salvage a 2:08:59.

As the stadium came into view I noticed I couldn’t see where the runners entered for the indoor finish. I looked at my watch and realized this was going to be much closer than it should be.  Finally I saw runners turning and heading down a ramp.  A clock outside showed me I had only 25 seconds to break 2:10. I gritted my teeth, made the turn down the tunnel and was immediately made blind by the change from bright sunshine to indoor darkness. My Julbo sunglasses adjusted as quickly as one could hope. However, I can see how this could be very dangerous if the smooth cement was icy even if you weren’t blinded. At the bottom of this double-tiered ramp with a flat section in the middle, we had to make another quick 90-degree turn onto the field.  I felt I probably had no chance to break 2:10.

I gave it everything I had in the final yards and hit my watch well after the finish.  It showed 2:10:02. I knew I had some leeway but I didn’t know how much. When I finally got the official results I found out it wasn’t enough.  My time was 2:10:00.4. Oh well.

Given I have never run a 30k, my positive spin was this was an instant PR. Or, since we were in the Great White North, a PB (“they call it a “personal best”, here in Canada, ay.) I finished 268th out of 7,277 finishers. That is a ton of fast people in front of me. I also have a new race to recommend to people. 

The volunteers were top notch, the signage on the course was very well-done and the overall logistics of the race were extremely accommodating. Also, I neglected to mention, the Around the Bay race is the oldest road race in North America. That’s right, as it proudly claims, it is “Older than Boston”.  In fact, I have no doubt most of the people where were using this race as their final tune-up for Boston.  In Pure Bliss, even though I had never once run a 30k I said defiantly that it was the perfect distance to tune-up for a marathon. In the U.S., few runners do anything beyond a half-marathon in the states before jumping to 26.2 miles. I can know unequivocally state my assertion about how a 30k is a great race to test yourself before running a marathon was 100% right. You owe it to yourself, as a runner, to run more 30Ks. I would suggest you start with this one right here in Hamilton, Ontario. 

It’s aboot time you did.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cooper River Bridge Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 4th Edition 
50.5 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Cooper River Bridge Run
Place: Charleston, SC
Miles from home: 2894
Weather: 40s; Sunny; Windy

It can be difficult to try to run two races in the same weekend. When they are in different countries, it is even more difficult.  However, when the opportunity arose for me to be part of the Cooper River Bridge Run, even though I was schedule to run the Around the Bay 30k in Hamilton, ON, the day after, I made sure I could do both. But not without some tiring travel.

Suffice it to say it took a great deal of finagling and effort to make all the flights work for this trip and not make it too pricey. I am still holding out for that Sugar Mama so I don't have to worry about prices but I might be about 20 years past that expiration date.  Once in Charleston, I was reminded how wonderfully tiring working a book signing for two days (one of them being a 12 hour day) can be. Fortunately, I know ahead of time, I am not built for fast 10ks, even if properly rested. With an 18.6 mile race the next day, I knew I could keep my hopes low for this race.

Weather for the race was projected to be rather ideal. The morning of, after the previous day's rain soaking the area, proved that forecast right.  When the gun was fired, the temperature sat at 41 degrees. I was seeded right behind the elites in the sub-40 time group, something I have easily done in the past but was unsure of today.  In that group were friends I knew already, like Meagan Nedlo who was featured in my new book with Lacie Whyte, Running With The Girls) and some new acquaintances as well. My goal was to run around 6:20 per mile which would put most of them far ahead of me. I was fine with that.

As this race is going to be part of a new book I am in the process of writing, this won't be the longest of recaps. Instead, I will focus a little more on my own experience.

Miles 1-3: 6:15; 6:44; 7:04

I went out with two new friends who were expecting to run in the 38-39 minute range. Immediately I was reminded that while I am in the best shape I have been in the past few years, I am still working back to "good shape".  Hitting the first mile in what felt like a 5:50 and seeing only a 6:15 made me realize that my goal overall might be ambitious, especially given this wasn't even my "A" race of this weekend.

Up ahead, the towering suspension of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge (AKA "Cooper River Bridge")
beckoned. I asked Danielle, one of the new friends I was running with and who had run this race last year, how hard the hill was on the bridge.  "Hard," she said. I took that to heart.

Designed by  Parsons Brinckerhoff, a name that seems completely made-up, the bridge began slightly before the second mile. Being able to see the top of the bridge, it didn't look like it would be too long of a run up the hill or too hard. That thought was rather incorrect. For over a mile we climbed and never being a strong uphill runner, I assumed tons of runners would pass me. Not nearly passed me as I did but I knew I was hardly tearing up the hill. A headwind on the bridge, which made the local news race report which leads me to believe it was at least a little unusual, didn't help. 

My over 7-minute mile told me this was going to be far slower than I was hoping for.  I did, however, remember to at least look around when I got to the top and enjoy the view. It was a clear day, sunny and I can't imagine there is a better vantage point in the entire area. I normally don't give a hoot about "scenery" when I am racing but this one was pretty dang wonderful.  But now back to our normal scheduled suffering.

Miles 4-6.2: 6:21, 6:36; 6:41

Finally cresting the bridge was a relief but not the large exhale I was hoping it would be. I was able to feel a bit more comfortable and was happy to see the downhill portion of the bridge.  By now, however, I was more than holding back. I tend not to think ahead but my mind was now on the 30k in Canada the next day. There was no point of killing myself, even for 3 miles, to still get a subpar time in this race, basically leaving me worthless for the next day.  I zoned out for a bit as a few friends slid a bit ahead of me. My 6:21 mile surprised me pleasantly, regardless of the downhill portion.  I briefly considered revising the exact notion I just posited about reserving energy, as one often does when they feel good. I knew however that would be a fool's errand and simply settled into the race.

With the bridge behind us, I knew we had nothing but flat running left. The sun was bright and keeping us warm even in the coolness of the day. We were flying down Meeting Street and I could see the flag for mile five approaching. I had a young gun next to me who was undoubtedly using me as his barometer. On numerous occasions, he had gotten a distance in front of me, only to fall back and line up even with me.  My own race now of little consequence, I was curious how tied to me he was. I began throwing little surges here and there and he would hang with me every time. I am sure if there is a picture of me during this time, I was smiling. He had no problem letting other people pass him but it was like "Not THIS guy!" Again, I had half a mind to run a ridiculously fast last mile to see if he wanted to come with me.  Then I realized I have never run a ridiculously fast mile ever so bollocks to that idea.

The last mile is where the party really began with the crowds. The streets of Charleston narrow and the crowds hug in tight.  My young assassin finally began to put a little distance on me and I began doing math.  I realized I was definitely not going to break 40 minutes and I had messed around long enough that I might not break 41. Crap. There is a difference between running a relaxed hard pace and throwing in the towel.  I had not meant to do the latter.

As we passed by the finish area, tantalizing us from two blocks to our left but half a mile from our finish, I
picked up the pace again.  At the 6th mile I knew it was going to be close to breaking 41 minutes. I closed the gap on more than a few runners including the young blonde rocket but the gap had gotten too big.  In fact, according to my watch, as I crossed the finish, I also ran myself out of an acceptable time as well, hitting 41:00 on the nose. (According to the official results I ran a 41:02-crap.)  OK, this is not "unacceptable", especially given the headwind and the bridge but it wasn't what I was expecting.  I did place 283rd overall out of 27,342 finishers, which isn't horrific. I also finished 30th in my own age group which tells you something about how many fasties were in that group.  Or how slow I am.  Let's go with the former.  It helps my sore ego.

The race itself, however, delivered what it promised. Logistically, there are far easier 10ks to run out there.  There are far faster 10ks to run. But not all races are run to see if they are the fastest. Some are must runs.

The Cooper River Bridge Run is one of them.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Guaranteed PRs

People trying to sell you something always have the answer.

Regardless of your race, creed, size, beliefs, somehow they think (or more likely they don't think but think they can convince you to think) that their one-size-fits-all program/book/pill will fix what ails you. Few things irk me as much as this, especially in the running world. Running is simple. As such, it is hard to come up with something new to sell to people in the sport. But companies will try. From Power Balance bracelets to Vibram shoes to Chi Running, all claim to be able to make you run better, faster, longer or anything else with an "-er" after it.  Most of the time they fail or are, at best, placebos.   Having said that I, however, know a secret. That secret is something I will share with you on how you can run a new personal best every single time. How?

Run a distance you have never run before.

OK, that was a lot of build-up for a silly statement but it is indeed true. It is also something I am going to be doing fairly often this year. In fact, it starts this weekend. 

First I will be taking on the Cooper River Bridge Run, a 10k in Charleston South Carolina, as part of research for a new book I am working on.  I have visited Charleston a few times and it is a lovely city.  Taking part in one of its iconic races will make me quite happy.

After running that race, running 6.2 miles back to the start, showering and catching a flight to Buffalo, I will drive to Hamilton, Ontario for the oldest road race in North America:  the Around the Bay 30k.  One year older than the Boston Marathon, the Around the Bay has been on my to-do list for years.  This year I finally get to cross it off. While this will definitely make one, if not both of the races a little less than ideal when it comes to my finishing time, at least I will get to see what they both have to offer. I can't tell you pleased I am that they are run on separate days, even if they are on the same weekend.

Then just two weeks later, after running the Crescent City Classic 10k on my first ever trip to New Orleans, I will tackle the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race.  All the distances I have run in all the the place around Earth and I have never done a 30k or a 10 miler. The Cherry Blossom omission is most egregious given that I lived outside of D.C. for four years. But I am ready to remedy that error.  With Crescent City, I have done a few 10ks but have never once stepped foot into the state of Louisiana. This will finally be my foray into the Cajun world and all 50 states will have finally been run in.  That's pretty neat for a boy from a small town in Pennsylvania who until he went to college had barely been more than an hour away from home.  It is amazing where running takes you.

 Plus, no matter how good or bad the times are, I will have myself a nice shiny pair of new personal bests.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Review of (Even More) Julbo Sunglasses

I wear sunglasses on probably 95% of my runs. Most of the time I do so because it is rather sunny here in Portland (no, seriously.) But I also don shades because they protect my eyes from debris, wind, rain, falling branches, etc. When you have spent thousands of dollars on your eyes, you get even more protective than you should since they are the freaking things with which you see. Because I have them on in so many pictures, people wonder what brand they are.  It was then that I realized that it had been nearly two years since I had reviewed the Julbo sunglasses I wear all the time.  As such it was time for an update. Before I go on further, if you want to check out my review of 7 other models of Julbo, go here. 

(Note for those who are interested, I have been a Julbo Athlete for about four years now, so you are welcome to take my recommendations with that in mind.  By that I mean, the sunglasses still rock which is why I work with them.)

First up are the Julbo Run, which I have ironically, never run in.

While they are built with a trail runner and mountain biker in mind, and feature a sturdy, helmet-compatible frame and scratch-resistant, anti-fog lenses that adjust with changing light conditions, I have basically designated these as my go-to everyday Sunglasses. I have no real reason why I never attempted to take them out for a run other than the fact that when I got them I realized that they just looked like I would want to wear them all the time. So I do.

I have seen plenty of other runners wearing them in race situations and they are obviously built to handle whatever you may throw at them athletically but they are just simply understated and sweet. However, the Run is no longer carried by Julbo, so I have an awesome pair of collectibles.  No worries for you out there as there is a similar, if just as wonderful model you can substitute in.

The Kaiser

I don't want to make the Run jealous but I might just like the Kaiser more. They have this sleek, clean and classic line to them that differentiate them from other sunglasses out there, even other Julbos.  In fact, I have two different pairs (Matte Blue and Black) that look uniquely different from each other because of the color scheme.

The Kaiser are sold under the "Travel" category of Julbo meaning they are meant to be used not as performance glasses.  That said, I have no doubt they would be just as effective as the Run mentioned above. But I am too busy taking them on fun adventures of the non-running kind to dirty them with my running sweat.

The Venturi (By clicking this link, prepare to get funky)

I do, however, have a pair of sunglasses that are both made for running and I have put to the test.  When I posted pictures of these sunglasses on Facebook, I had friends comment that they looked like the covered a little more of my face than some of the other Julbos.  At first I didn't think that was the case.  Upon further review, I realized they were right - to an extent. (The lenses were still smaller than the Ultra but a bit bigger than the Swell.) The odd thing is I don't particularly enjoy larger lenses on sunglasses and couldn't figure out how I did not notice it was even close.

For one, the venting on the side of the Venturi allowed the lens to be very breathable.  I didn't feel as if I was wearing an astronaut face shield. Another may had to do with how the nose pieces flexed and bend so if there were any changes in the way they were sitting on my face, the lenses would not bounce all over.  It was like the sunglasses had shocks and struts.

A feature which helped the stability of the Venturi was the curved wrapping temples. As they do not go straight back, you may not be able to throw them on in some cool way like Horatio Caine (you'll lose an eye) but the trade-off is that they actually stay on your head.  And also you don't have to be David Caruso which is a huge plus.

All in all, you would be well-suited for both style and performance by any of the sunglasses listed above. Time for me to put a pair on and go for a run.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Timex RunX20 Review

I am not much of a gadget guy.  At least not for my athletic life. Having an aversion to lots of stuff hindering my sport is one reason why while I do fairly good at triathlons, I will just never really love them. Too much stuff to contend with just to get to the starting line, let alone during the event. Running? Sweet bliss. Pair of shoes and maybe a watch. Even the watches I have that utilize GPS capability only get used about 10% of the time. I run in the same areas fairly frequently, I know the distances, and I just want to know the time.

So when I heard about the Timex Runx20 watch, I was intrigued.  It has GPS-functionality but really, that is about it. That sounds simplistically wonderful.  Time to take it for a run.

When I want to test a watch it take it to Laurelhurst Park in Portland just a mile from where I live.  There is a loop there that is exactly .99 of a mile long where I do more than a few of my runs. The loop is not just a nice oval but rather a twisty-turny loop that goes under heavy tree cover for most of it.  In other words, it is perfect for testing out how accurate a GPS usually is (short answer: not really all that accurate.  But I expect that.)  I did four laps of LHP with the Timex RunX20 on and got .96, .94, .95 and .98 per lap. Honestly, that is far better than I expected.  But it also goes to show people who rely on their GPS too much how relatively unreliable they are (i.e., stop complaining to races when they measure "long" because your GPS says they did.)

Looks-wise, it is pretty sleek. I have the lime green which pops nicely.  I normally go for the plain black versions of watches but this one spoke to me. From a usability standpoint, I read in another review that said it has a high 'just works" factor, and I have to agree. It is rather intuitive in its interface system with easy-to-navigate face. It is customizable for each runner with height and weight, it has a solid 6 hour battery life in GPS mode, and has a pleasing little vibrate/beep every mile. Customizable watch display with a decent but not overly large watchface (with contrast control.)

I have nice nails.
From the cons-standpoint, the watch is an island. By this I mean it has no way to upload all of its data to third-party software or Strava or whatever else you use to tell people how far you ran that day.  I know for some this is a deal breaker as a run not shared on Instagram didn't really happen.  For others, like myself, I don't mind at all. Considering the watch runs for well under $100 (I saw $80 the other day) I think it is a marvel. Will it blow you away with bells and whistles? Nope.  Is it all you need if you want a reliable GPS with a few basic functions? Yes!  Here are some quick stats for you:

  • Real-time speed,pace,distance and calories on your wrist
  • Crisp, easy-to-read display
  • Simple menu-based system
  • Interval Timer to coach you through run/walk routines or speed workouts
  • 50-meter water resistance, so you cab splash and swim worry-free
With the solid battery, slick functions and usability anyone can understand in a few clicks, this watch will handle most needs of most consumers. If a watch that has a GPS in it can be a workpail watch, even in lime green, this is that watch. 

I give it a solid 3.75 stars out of 5. Good work, Timex.

*Disclaimer*  I have a partnership with Timex which means I sometimes get free stuff. I don't have a "sponsorship" which some people like to loudly proclaim when some very wise company sends them a pair of socks in exchange for those people loudly exclaiming about that company's products ad nauseum. That said, I review products and give my honest assessment of them in order to let others know how they may work for them. If you don't like this, why in the hell are you reading my posts? You know that indifference is the opposite of love, right?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Phoenix Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 3rd Edition 
44.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Phoenix Marathon
Place: Mesa, AZ
Miles from home: 1336
Weather: 60s; Cloudy; Windy

This recap is going to include a little bit of navel-gazing. Just putting that up-front for you.  Sure, I am going to talk about the Phoenix Marathon itself but this page is called SeeDaneRun, not SeeAllYallRun so a little self-indulgence should be forgiven. Plus, this race was four years in the making for me. Yet, at the end, it was almost a disappointment.

But first, let me talk about the actual race, meaning the one all of you will experience if you come to run the Phoenix Marathon. This is a top-notch event. I will get to all the good things in a minute. But let me get my one and only complaint out of the way: the name. Except for the first two miles run in Usery Mountain Regional Park, the entire race is run in Mesa, AZ.  (Although an interesting feature of google maps is how, if you type in a city, it will show you the city's "boundaries."  Often those boundaries have odd slices carved out of them for what are some municipal reason or another.  In this case, as you can see, there is a tiny portion which may not technically be in Mesa. Or it may be. I don't know. Damn you internet! You give me even more things to waste my time looking up. But I digress.) I know Phoenix is a cooler moniker, logo, and has name recognition but if I had my druthers, the alliteration alone would make me want to call this the Mesa Marathon.

That, however, is my only complaint. In other words, color me impressed. Starting the day before, a
well-organized and put together expo, everything involved with the planning and execution of this race seemed  top-notch. The course itself is a solid course but one runners must not take too lightly.  There is indeed a downhill factor but many think downhill gives far more than it does. In fact, it often exacts a toll from the foolhardy who mistake human running legs for automobile tires and think they can coast down the hill. Let me break down the elevation for you.

Two of the "girls" from my new book, Running With the Girls
The first two miles are a solid downhill. Running in the dark (the race starts at 6:30 a.m. sharp and I mean SHARP) it can be hard to judge one's pace. When runners streak out like roadrunners, that makes it even more difficult. After making a right hand turn, there is, on basically every elevation map, an almost imperceptible upward bump. It looks like nothing.  For all intents and purposes, it is nothing.  But you absolutely will feel it. I promise. Then it is two more miles of the same sort of downhill. At this point, of course depending on your speed, the sun will be climbing in the East.  If you are fortunate like we were on race day, you will get a cloudy sky. A temperature right around 60 degrees is what we got as well. Far from perfect but about the best you can hope for in Arizona in nearly March.  

For approximately the next two miles you climb up a slow gradient with a few steeper sections here and there. However, once you see the 6th mile, you know that you are virtually running flat or downhill for the rest of the race. While better than uphill, this might not be as glorious as you think.  Over the next four miles, you will continue to take back the uphill and add a little more as you lose roughly 300 total feet of elevation. At mile 10 you turn out of the neighborhood streets you have been running on and head due south for a mile. Crossing over a busy intersection, I have never felt safer in my running life. Along with plenty of police officers a line of those water-filled barriers escorted runners across the highway.  It was like our own Roman Phalanx. Nothing was getting through.

I want to make a little note that the mile between 10 and 11 is mildly uphill.  Again, it looks like nothing on an elevation map but knowing it is there will help your psyche very much. After that you have a right-hand turn and three straight miles will take you under the literal halfway point arch. Then another 90 degree turn south takes you another two miles on blocked city streets. At mile 16, you make a right-hand turn and spend the next four miles chugging along Brown Road. Not 100% flat (you go under an overpass and back up) but about as flat as one could ask for.  Whether you should ask for it or not is a point I will make later.

This takes you to mile 20 where you make a left handed turn, and complete the little "boot" of the course.

Hardly an exorbitant amount of turns, this section was probably my least favorite. That probably has just as much to do with me being tired as the turns or anything else, but I recall wanting to be done. Catching up with some of the back of the pack half-marathoners can be frustrating a bit (congestion) but also exhilarating (passing people like they are standing still.)

The crowds throughout were not exactly overwhelming but they were definitely outgoing where they were.  My favorite marathon sign in quite some time was:
"Don't be a Seahawk. RUN!" around mile 6. Also, the superhero aid station between 21-22 was pretty uplifting as well. In addition, the Mormon community was obviously out supporting the race and the elders in a couple of different places on the course, with fresh-pressed white short sleeves and name tags on shirts were a welcome sight.  The LDS know how to organize!

The final 5k is pretty straightforward and once again about as flat as you can get. You make a couple of turns here and there and the next thing you know you are entering the finish area. As you take the final .2 on a slight bend, ideally I would like to have it straighter, just so I can see the finish.  This is a little nitpicky but I will explain why in a minute. After that, you have a really well-put together race finishing area with plenty of food and drink and places for the wounded to relax, reconvene and recover. When I was done, I spent a few hours here talking with people I have chased, people who had chased me and basked in the camaraderie of runners having vanquished beasts or having been devoured by them. I saw one young chap, obviously distraught when I finished and upon talking with him realized he had just had a bad day.  As did many, actually.  Which leads to my race...

I last ran a sub-3 hour race, coincidentally enough, in Phoenix in 2011.  At that time in my running I was churning out sub-3s with a fairly regular effort.  In fact, I had done one just the week prior in Mississippi, which itself was just one week after 6 hour race in San Francisco which I won outright.  The remainder of 2011 was spent training for my 350 mile run up the Oregon Coast in April of 2012. When that was completed, I expected to take a little time off, get healed, and then continue the sub-3 hour streak which I had started in 2006.  Then I wrecked my bike fairly bad. For all intents and purposes, that ruined 2012 for me. The streak was over.

In 2013, in spite of a staph infection which put me pretty close to losing my foot, I got back into the swing of things and nabbed a 3:01 in Washington on very little training.  I assumed it was a one year hiatus from sub-3s and I would be back in the saddle. A nice new PR in the half-marathon during what was basically a training run for my Dane To Davenport told me all signs were go. Unfortunately, that event simply wiped me out and the best I could must was a "slow" win at the Seattle Locks Marathon.

Setting the Fastest Known Time for a marathon run around a cruise ship in January of 2014 had me thinking I would be good to go for sub-3s all year long. But 2014 was one big, gigantic waste. First I had a horrible flu, then I partially tore my achilles. The best I could muster was a 3:06 which I basically did on zero training.  A nice moral victory but I didn't care about moral victories. But as 2014 drew to a close and 2015 started, I felt ready to take it on.

January held for me long training runs I used to never do. I wanted to double down on my usual training just to make sure when I toed the line for Phoenix I would be as ready as possible. I didn't feel unstoppable the morning of the race but I felt like I had a good shot at running 6:52 per mile for 26.2 miles. That was really all I wanted: a 2:XX:XX. I cared about nothing more than that.  The rest of the year would sort itself out after I simply ended the drought. Which takes us to the race itself.

Fireworks started our run after a very pleasant and festive gathering of runners at the start. There was a general buzz of excitement as we milled around using the bathrooms, taking pictures, and getting ready to tackle 26.2 miles. I was ready to run.

I won't bore you with mile splits but suffice it to say the first four miles went better than expected.  The next two mile splits up the worst hill of the course weren't too shabby, either.  I knew this would be the hardest portion of the course but the rest would not be easy.  All that flat later on would wear me out. I am unsure why but a completely flat amount of miles almost always takes its toll on me. That is why races like Chicago have little appeal to me when it comes to trying to set a new personal best. I have gone into races just as flat, in good shape and rarely had good results.

Down the backside of the big hill took us to mile 8 and I could see I was doing far better than expected.  I let most of the rabbits go out, knowing that many would burn out long before the race was over.  (Backing this up is the fact that I had just the 90th fastest 1st half of the marathon and the 46th fastest second half, even though I slowed down.) I did take advantage of the continual downhill; not putting time in the bank but tackling what I do best. I run downhills very well, even though there is definitely a law of diminishing returns.

As we hit the tenth mile, coming out of the shelter of the neighborhood housing, one of my pre-race fears struck me: literally. Wind blowing north stood many of us straight up. I tend to like to run alone, but within ten yards or so of other runners. I like the elbow room.  However, this often doesn't happen. Being 6'1'' I often get a conga line of runners behind me, especially if there is wind.  Here, however, as I battled the wind by my lonesome, I heard a cacophony of feet. Much to my surprise a line of about six runners came up behind me and passed right by. I figured it was batter to work a little harder to fall in line than it was to work a lot harder to run by myself. For the next mile I did the former and I felt great.

I did my best to stick with this group of guys even as we got out of the wind right before the halfway point. However, running a 6:39 mile at a time when I needed basically nothing but 7 minutes, made me make an executive decision. I might be feeling good here but I didn't need a 2:57. I needed one second below 3 hours and nothing more. So I eased off the throttle. The downhills were over and it was time to settle into a pace.

I hated seeing the guys go, especially when I realized that we would be running another 2 mile straight stretch into this same wind from miles 14-16.  But I couldn't think about that right now. I had to remember the immortal words of Gold Five. I hit the halfway point in 1:28:53, giving me 67 seconds to play with over 13 miles. That was just two seconds slower than the half-marathon training run I ran at the Heart Breaker Half two weeks ago. I was feeling good about my chances.

Turning south however at mile 14, the wind bit back again. I had two female runners of contrasting size and style catch up to me and sort of sit down in front of me. They seemed to have enough energy to get with me but not enough to pull away.  I will use any wind block that wants to help me out, regardless of gender and when they chose their positions, I let them do so. Fortunately, at mile 16 we got out of the wind.  The next four miles were critical. For some reason, once I get to mile 20, for the most part, I am golden. Everyone else seems to fear the "wall." I see it as the jumping off point to taking it home.

I passed the time on this long straightaway by watching the women in front of me. The shorter "stockier" female would bounce around a great deal, from side to side. She would surge and get in front of the taller girl and then either slide to one side or the other, letting the taller girl pass. Then she would repeat. Almost always she would slide in behind the taller girl and then slingshot Ricky Bobby Style out there other way.  I wanted to yell "Shake and Bake!" but didn't have the energy.  In fact, I had lulled myself into a false sense of speed watching these two. Even though I was staying right with the women, matching their strides, they were actually slowing. The last 2-3 miles had me losing time I couldn't afford to lose. In addition, I knew this part of the race was pretty darn flat.  As I alluded to earlier, I don't run flats very well.  In fact, most don't after a certain point without at least some change in terrain. It is way too much of the same muscle usage. So I was doing my best to try to focus on trying to use different muscles, keeping my stride the same but working on mechanics the entire way.

Finally, as we neared the turn to head south again right before mile 20, I knew I either needed to pass these women or get right behind them. I wasn't battling the wind alone. However, they seemed to have worn each other out fighting for pole position, so when we made the turn and I slide right by them. I could see remnants of the group of six in front of me from earlier but they were more spread out. I was able to catch up to a few of them as I also noticed many people who had passed me earlier in the race. Some were quite distinct like a really tall guy wearing a white bandana type headpiece. It was similar to what you would wear if you were running in the hot desert.  I wanted to ask the guy if he felt it helped but he had headphones in.  Plus, I thought I might be bad etiquette to ask how a person you are passing how their gear is working for them. It might come back to bit me in the butt later, even though I was generally curious. Fortunately, the wind was not as bad right here or maybe I was delusional. I was able, however, to leap from runner to runner. Slowly and surely, I moved forward.

Because of the cushion I had at the half I knew I could run roughly 5 seconds slower per mile and still get under three hours. Unfortunately, I seemed to be using that five seconds every damn mile. The superheroes I mentioned earlier actually gave me a boost and I ran my first sub 6:50 mile in more than a few. However, in a race where I am on the cutting edge of times, whenever I run something which is a tad faster than I think it should be, I rarely think that I am doing better. Almost always I think the mile marker must be a tad off. Even though I know mile markers are not certified it is always nice when they line up with your own watch.  In fact, at almost every mile marker a chorus of watches from the runners around me would beep.  Either we were all spot-on or we were all off together. Regardless, it was comforting to be the same as everyone else. A couple of quick turns had me a little confused as to exactly we were until we hit a straightaway and I saw the 23rd mile.

When I hit the 24th mile, I seemed to have surged and had a few more seconds to spare. I almost paid dearly for this hubris and should have never thought I had any time to spare. The problem was I absolutely needed to use the bathroom and those spare seconds afforded me, in my head, the opportunity to hit the john. Blessedly, the portapotty at mile 25 was open. I think I was going before the door even closed.  My total time in the bathroom was probably sixteen seconds. I hadn't even bothered to latch the door.

With the last mile to go I couldn't do the math.  What did I have to run to get under 3?  Did I have it in my
legs to do so? One guy passed me.  About two hundred yards later, two other guys passed me.  Half a mile to go and a gentleman with "Mexico" on his shirt and another female who I had not seen for many miles slid right by me. I decided to use their pacing to take me home. Undoubtedly they too were shooting for sub-3.

I silently cursed at some half-marathoners hugging the wrong side of the road.  It is indeed their race too, but couldn't they telepathically understand how I needed to run zero more inches than necessary?  We made the final turn and this is where I sorely wish the finish was more straight.  I saw I had to travel the last point two of a mile in about 45 seconds. That was going to cut it way too close, even at the pace I assumed I was going.  Sure enough, when the clock and finishline came into sight, I had less than 20 seconds. I could tell I had about just that amount left of real estate to cover.

I turned on the jets, or what reasonable facsimile I have and gave it all I had. Another guy passed me but I cared not. I was only racing one enemy today and its red face was unblinking and unyielding. It had no remorse or conscience. So I had to make it hurt.

Passing over the timing mat in 2:59:57, I finally got what I wanted. I felt neither relief nor joy.  In fact, I was almost angry at myself for making it this close. It should not have been this hard to get this time. But I had it.  Nobody could take it away. I finished 57th in what was a very fast top 5% of runners. I have only finished worse overall in a sub-3 hour race in Marine Corps (117th), RnR Arizona (103rd) and Pittsburgh (73rd), all races which had, at the time, many more runners.

In hindsight, I guess fate should have told me this would happen (you know - if I believed in fate.)  I have run four different marathons in Arizona and never run a bad one.  My first Boston qualifier was here in 2005. Three of the four marathons I have run have been under 3 hours. Two of those have been personal bests. I guess I just run well in Arizona. Given how poorly I run in heat, and none of these were races I would consider "cool" temperatures, it is just one of those anomalies of running.

Ironically, a 2:59:57 is not the closest I have gotten to running under 3 hours. I ran a 2:59:58 at the Martain Marathon for my second sub-3 ever. Thinking back, that sprint was even more of a mad dash tan this one.  But the end result was the same: a time starting with 2. This was my 18th sub-3.  A few years ago I would have thought I would had run a few more by now.  Then again,  I have only run 5 marathons a year the past three years. Given all that is going on I am quite pleased to be running at all. The desire, however, to get faster remains.

I called this race my barometer race for 2015.  It would show me where I was not only on this day but in overall fitness. I am roughly where I thought I was and where I would hope to be. Now I must simply build on this and keep getting faster. I also have now had a Boston Qualifier every year since that race in 2005.  11 straight years. I also have started another sub-3 hour streak. I plan on making this one last longer than the first.

I would highly recommend running this race if not just for the relatively fast times you can run but for the overall excellent race organization. Hands down, this is my favorite Arizona marathon. Great volunteers, excellent aid stations, finely-tuned and of no surprise to be gaining more and more runners each year. Sincere kudos to those at the Phoenix (hopefully soon, Mesa) Marathon.