Monday, February 8, 2016

Crewing an Ultramarathon

Off the bat, let me say I think I am absolutely horrible at crewing an ultramarathon and my hat goes off to every single person who does it.  Virtually any significant ultramarathoning achievement is done because of the work of many.  (I say virtually as there are superhumans like Ian Sharman, who I witnessed at Rocky Raccoon 100 this weekend run seemingly uncrewed and unpaced breezingly to a win in a time of 13:45. I don't think the man paused for a minute for anyone to even crew him if they were there. Just wow all around.)

I have done a few events which needed crewing and I have seen how having a prepared and ready crew can make all the difference.  I have also seen how each event needs a vastly different set of rules on how to crew and what to do.  More often than not, the work of a crew is far more complicated than he work of a runner. I won't go as far as to say it is more difficult, but it is one that is challenging for sure.

Take for example this past weekend.  I was set to crew my best friend Shannon as she attempted her second 100 mile race. She attempted the Javelina Jundred race two years ago on a day of record temperatures (and surprisingly unstocked aid stations for those temperatures which had been forecasted well in advance.) When she got to the 100k mark, realizing she was chasing cutoffs and would be for the next 30+ miles, she wisely decided her kidneys were more important than a finish and chose to bow out and get a 100k finish.  I had attempted to crew her at Javelina but think my efforts to do so weren't very good. Javalina's course was similar to the one at Rocky Raccoon in that it is a multiple loop.  Unlike Javelina, however, with a little effort, even a one-person crew like myself could get around to their runner at multiple locations.

(I don't want to get off the far broader topic here too much but here are a few words about
Rocky Raccoon.  Those who think it is an "easy" course because they see the aforementioned Ian Sharman or runner-up Paul Terranova's time are in for a massive shock. Sure there are harder races out there, especially since we are in the phase of running where course are designed to be difficult just for difficult's sake. However, after having now run the vast majority of this course in my own DNF 50 mile attempt here 6 years ago, and having crewed it, I can say it is far from easy.

Even on a relatively perfect day for running as it was this weekend, the forest at night can get shockingly cold.  The roots in the trail get bigger each loop. The new white rock strewn road which I heard was created to help trucks get across for some construction was slippery and unwieldy. The Damnation loop is lonely and goes on forever.  Do not misunderstand me.  It is a well-oiled and run race thanks to many hard years of work from Joe and Joyce Prusaitis before selling it off a few years back.  But thinking it is easy will have you DNfing at mile 60, believe me.)

As such, I was excited to be able to provide help where and when I did.  And I realized it was so much more different than running a race (if I hadn't already.) While she fell short of finishing (mile 93) because of hypothermia which fell a few dozen racers during the night, I was still very proud of her achievement. It also got me to thinking about the importance of having a good crew.  As such. here are a few things I was able to glean.

1. Be tough and firm but gentle and yielding, all at the same time, every second.  Also be funny and serious. Simultaneously.  See how easy that is?

2. Take care of yourself.  The only way you can be of any use to your runner is by making sure you are also fed, hydrated, and rested.  Don't eat your runner's favorite food, though, you ingrate.

3. Discuss, discuss, discuss. Ask your runner what they want to eat before the race. They may not have the energy to discuss this with you during the race. Sure, things will change but having an idea of what they might want is paramount to success. Same goes with whether they want you to coddle them, yell at them, talk to them during the run (if you happen to be pacing as well as crewing them) and all pre-race strategy. You will undoubtedly not be able to think of everything which may come up but no amount of talking about what may happen is bad.

4. Allow time. For everything. Whether it is getting to the start, to an aid station, filling bottles or packs or whatever. Chances are high everything will take longer than you think an the last thing you need is to be late somewhere.

5. Cheer and help others. There is a high probability you will have some downtime during your day.  If so, lend a hand to people you don't know. Obviously, don't get in the way and ask before doing so but rarely will anyone turn down another helping hand if they need it.

Besides volunteering there are few ways that allow runners to really give back to the sport they love so much. Taking part in helping someone create a lifetime memory will help you create one yourself.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Icebreaker Indoor Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 3rd Edition 
52.4 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Icebreaker Indoor Half Marathon
Place: Milwaukee, WI
Miles from home: 2055
Weather: 45; Dry; Indoors

With my third straight weekend of racing, and my third straight weekend of very solid weather predictions, I was hoping for a third week of good results. That might have been too much to ask for.

Time and time again when I am asked for advice from newbie runners, after pointing them to the 400-page book sitting in front of me that I wrote so they could refer to said advice whenever they want, I tell them to realize how often running does not go the way you want it.  You do what you can to put yourself in the best position to have a good day on race day and hope that 10% chance of having a good day happens when you are racing.

My goal for this race was to run a solid 1:25ish for the half marathon. When the morning approached, I felt perhaps I could take advantage of the "optimum" conditions and run a solid 1:22 or so.  Then I ran the first lap.

But before I get to my race, let me set the stage for this indoor marathon. Three lanes of hard surface track surrounded the longest speed skating rink in the country.  Longer, by two feet, than the rink I had run a four hour timed event to close out my 2011, it was indeed an interesting venue.  Time and again I heard people tell me they would get bored or this would drive them out of their mind, even though they had never done anything similar to this.  Sure, at first blush, perhaps some would equivocate running 47.5 laps as boring.  To which I say, run harder and you will be more concerned with your lungs than your boredom.

Credit: Bill Flaws, Running in the USA
The ice rink itself was kept a very nice 45 degrees or so, pretty perfect for racing. Or one would think. The surface was flat which again lends one to think it is perfect, but I would beg to differ on that. Fortunately, there was an additional lane added to the race as in previous years there were only two lanes for running.  Without a doubt, even three is not enough.  That said, people during the race were relatively good with keeping lane one open only for passing, lane two for faster runners and lane three for slower runners. But like closet space, you can never have too many lanes.

There were two bathrooms right on the west end of the track just a foot or so away from where we were running.  This was an extremely nice touch. I never used them, however.  There were also a plethora of volunteers there to hand you your water bottle on tables positioned right before the end of each lap. I also never drank a sip of water.

Credit: Bill Flaws, Running in the USA
Laps were on display on a big screen TV right when you passed each lap and if you paid attention you could see what lap you were on and what the lap time was, even if a slew of runners passed over the mat at the same time. (See the picture on the right with me giving some meand side eye to the TV right off screen.)  At the end of the straightaway of the first portion of each loop was a huge overhead display of constantly revolving list of runners.  Listed in order of place and also with the number of laps completed, I could count on seeing an update of myself about every two laps at my pace (I would learn later.)

All told, the event was very smoothly run. There was music played for the entirety of the race and an announcer with updates for some of the lead runners as well as when each runner hit 5 laps to go. Organization-wise I can't really think of anything that could have been done better.  Kudos indeed to the race committee, volunteers and all involved.

This leads me to my race.

I positioned myself about three rows back of the three abreast (or so) runners figuring the top ten would be where I would finish.  Given the previous results this would have been relatively correct. However, on this day, there were going to be a slew of fast runners taking part.
Previous night's 5k. Add ten more runners.

There were two half marathons being run with those hoping to run faster times running the 7 a.m. race. I can say unequivocally that I was more than pleased that all 200 of us were not on the same track at the same time.

The clock counted down and away we went.

First 1/4:
1:48, 1:52; 1:51; 1:53; 1:50; 1:53; 1:54; 1:56; 1:52; 1:52; 1:52; 1:54

We ran half of a lap before getting to the timing mat and then I began hitting my watch.  Fast goal would be 1:45 per lap. Slow goal would be 1:50. I was not happy to see 1:48.  I was even more unhappy when I ran 1:52 on the second lap.

Credit: Bill Flaws, Running in the USA
As lap after lap unfolded I simply could not catch my breath. There were a few chaps in front of me that I was staying right behind so if I was slowing, so were they. But that didn't help me with my breathing.

As I began the third mile I ran a slew of 1:52s and thought perhaps it was just me needing to get the feel for the track and how people would react to being passed. My biggest concern for the race was plowing into someone who inadvertently stepped out into the passing lane. My second biggest concern was getting plowed into because, as I mentioned, some dudes were flying! (Top 5 guys all ran under 1:20 and the 6th guy missed by one second.)

Fortunately, almost every single person was staying where they needed to be.  But I can definitely say the concern for getting run into adds a second or two per lap. Especially when you have a broken hand and every person you pass is on the side of the broken hand!

To the Half: 
1:54; 1:55; 1:54; 1:56; 1:57; 1:54; 1:57; 1:56; 1:58; 1:52; 1:55; 1:53

That string of faster loops did not, however, begat a sudden burst of speed. While by the fourth and fifth miles I was finally seeming to catch my breath, I was not picking up the pace at all. I more or less resigned to running a less than stellar time. Without a doubt, one of the worst things about long distance racing is realizing early on that the day is not yours and still needing to go through the motions for another hour (or two or seven.)

Instead, I decided to simply watch the other runners around me, including those passing me and those I passed. I was still giving all I had; just all I had wasn't very much. Suddenly, I ran off a stream of faster paced loops again.  Also, with 6 miles to go, the leading runners had like three to go. That was beyond impressive.

To mile 10: 
1:57; 1:57; 1:54; 1:57; 1:55; 1:54; 1:57; 1:54; 1:55; 1:56; 1:58; 1:55;

But just as quickly and without explanation that the fast loops happened, they went away.  I felt as if I was pushing hard but there was no correlation. Undoubtedly there was some slowing from constantly bobbing and weaving around runners. But that alone couldn't account for the times I was running.

I almost had the disaster I dreaded around the 9th mile as a woman dropped something and decided to stop, turn around and pick it up, all without really looking behind her.  Only my Baryshnikov-esque skills kept us from becoming a tangled mess.

What did she drop? A water bottle or gu packet?  Nope. An old-fashioned coin purse. You know, the plastic kind that were last made in 1897. Was she expecting to make a purchase in the middle of the race that required 37 cents? What would that purchase be? A postcard stamp?

After breathing easy for not decapitating a little lady, I actually laughed out loud.  Yeah, that's going in the recap, I thought.

Last 5k: 
1:55; 1:55; 2:01; 1:54; 1:58; 1:57; 1:51; 1:50; 1:51; 1:49; 1:44

Throughout the race the lead woman was one lap behind me.  Well, she was less than one lap but I never could tell how far.  Whenever I would pass under the big board of runners it would tell me she was always Me Minus One.  But I had a feeling that was probably just a few yards as most. As there was no one else that was that close I kept using that pursuer as my whip to keep me going when I wanted to stop.

A kick to my ego was when I inexplicably ran my first two minute lap.  his lap felt no slower than the 1:55 before it or 1:54 after it.  It really goes to say how much weaving in and out of people can slow one down each lap. Realize that 5 seconds per lap was almost 20 seconds per mile.  If one were out on an outside course that amount of change would be easy to discern.  Indoors, however, it is different. This was one thing I was quite cognizant of having down a few of these indoor races and wanted to make sure that I would not fall prey to it here.  However, it happened hand it fired me up.

Another fire under my shoes was when I hit the 5 laps to go and was announced as such. Shortly there after, the announcer said the lead woman was on her final five as well.  Throw in the fact that, if my math was correct, I was dangerously close to running over 1:30 and that was all the motivation I needed to pick up the pace.

My lifetime average for 87 half marathons is 1:30:14.  Those 14 seconds bug the heck out of me.  My friend Jay, a fellow lover of numbers, had figured out what I needed to run 1:28:28 in my next 13 halfs to get that average down below 90 minutes. I was not going to do that today but I was going to be damned if I added to it! (Plus, I wanted to pass my buddy David Andrews for a fifth time but just missed doing so.  See, now you are in the recap!)

In the final five laps, what also helped was I knew that no one else would be passing me.  Being able to, more or less, run unimpeded in lane one meant that I didn't have to juke and jive. As suspected, this made everything so much easier.  I figured, even with the breathing problems and everything else being the same, if I had just ran this race solo I would have run the 1:26 I thought might be possible without much trouble.  As I mentioned above, for some reason, in spite of sweating profusely, I didn't take a single drink of water. Part of that comes from the fact I couldn't breathe at first. Part was because I didn't want to have to grab a bottle full-stride among other runners. But, mostly, I wasn't thirsty.  It was an odd experience but it wasn't even until this final three miles that it hit me I hadn't imbibed.

When I it the final lap, I saw I had to run roughly a 1:50 to finish under 90 minutes. Not wanting to leave it to chance, I picked it up and ran my fastest lap of the day.  Too bad I couldn't have done that for the previous 48.

I finished in 1:29:57 which was good enough for 14th place overall. I stepped off the track and offered congrats to those who had finished and the lead woman who came in about half a minute after me. Then I bolted quickly for my hotel for a quick shower and change to come back and do another book signing. I was sad that I couldn't hang around but my singlet was drenched and beginning to freeze me.  The singlet, by the way, was my high school track singlet. I am not sure what made me pull it out of the closet a few days before but I thought it would be fun.

Let's just say this polyester did not breathe very well at all. But I don't look that much worse in it today as I did 22 years ago. I dare say I look a touch better with no beaded necklace and white undershirt.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Miami Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 2nd Edition 
39.3 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Miami Half Marathon
Place: Miami, FL
Miles from home: 3256
Weather: 40s; Sunny; Windy

Two races into the year and I have already had better weather for both of them than I have for the vast majority of my races for the past two years.  That can't last! Of course, it is all relative.  One of the organizer for the race shared with me his story of talking to some of the elites athletes in a pre-race meeting.  Speaking in both English and Spanish, he said those understanding him in English were probably quite happy with the cold weather; those listening in Spanish were probably going to want to bring mitten and a scarf.

What will make he headlines for this race is the fact that it was the coldest Miami Marathon ever as well as the closing of the MacArthur Parkway in both directions for the first time since the filming of Bad Boys 2.  Whatcha gonna do?  This change in the course was facilitated by some construction the the Venetian Causeway which was always one of my favorite parts of the race.   This meant that runners would twice have to cross the Parkway mentioned above which meant some decent sized hills both coming and going.  Not ideal but hardly a bad thing.

I have run the Miami Half or Marathon previously on five occasions, including in 2006 as part of my 52 marathons in one year.  I have almost always been doing something which required a lot of extra energy.  This time, however, I would "only" be running the race.  That doesn't include working the expo with a book signing the two days prior.  Always invigorating, it is also rather tiring.  Far from an ideal way to ready oneself for a race but worth it for all the wonderful people I get to meet. Even the rather rude, uncouth ones make for good stories later.

Race morning:

As predicted the temperature was a record-breaking low of 47 degrees at the start line. I was in heaven.  While I knew the wind that was present would make things difficult, I was just so pleased it was not the typical hot and humid weather I deal with in Miami. I was dressed in nothing but my ASEA singlet and shorts; everyone else seemed to be dressed for nuclear winter.

I was hoping to pace a friend but our different corrals made it impossible to find one another.  I assumed since I wasn't expecting that fast of a time that she would eventually pass me and then perhaps we could run together.  In the meantime, I was just carefully trying to keep the increasingly invigorated running peeps from bumping int my broken hand.

As the dance music pumped, the electronic voice counted down and the flare guns shot into the sky (one a little low helping me get out that last little pe I still had in me), away we went.

First Three Miles:

Credit: MarathonFoto
Regardless of the changes, the beginning of this race stayed the same as always.  Run for about a quarter of a mile from the American Airlines Arena, make a left onto the Parkway and climb a hill.  Soon after cresting that hill, slide down the other side, past the first mile and under the shadow of huge cruise ships in harbor. Well, you would be under shadow if it was not a 6 a.m. start and it was pitch black for the first five or six miles. This is not a complaint. Anytime you can run NOT in the sun in a marathon or half is a good idea in my book.

My plan was to take the first 3-4 miles at a 6:42 pace which would keep me right around 1:28.  If I felt god, I could pick it up later and slide into the 1:27 range. As I picked my way through a few runners, and a few passed me, all systems were go.  Even climbing the big hill of the parkway and going back down it, my miles were solid.  Even the climb back up the parkway and back down it again to South Beach went according to plan. I recalled running this race numerous times before and being completely drenched in sweat by this point.  The cooling wind was a welcome respite.  It was time to hit the beach.

To Mile Seven:

One of the things I always look forward to seeing as I hit the fourth mile on South Beach is the always present Raven, Robert Kraft. You may have read about him as the man who has run the stretch of beach on South Beach for the past 40 years without missing a single day.  Later, after running this race, I would join him for the 5th time. That run would be his 14,999th in a row.

Raven quietly protests this race and I am not exactly sure why he does.  As I am a fan of the race, I don't look forward to his protests. But I do look forward to seeing him out there. Unfortunately, it appears I was running a tad too quick for him and ran by before he set up shop.  Luckily we would catch up later and I would grab a quick photo with him prior to sharing the beach with him.

This section of South Beach gave us an idea of what the wind was going to be like later. While cooling, it was rather strong and on a few occasions a conga line of runners formed. On other occasions, some runners would run three abreast and I was only happy to run behind their wind break.

Even though it was now 6:30 in the morning, some ladies were just now making their way home from their all-night reveling.  As they looked disapprovingly (or drunk, I am not sure) at us scantily clad runners, we looked back the same (maybe not drunk) at their scantily clad-ness. When one shouted out to us "Run Faster!" I replied with "Make better life choices!"  This got a hearty laugh from the few runners around me.

The sun was finally popping up over the Atlantic just as we turned off of South Beach and began to make our way across the Parkway again. As a few runners here and there took up a spot on the road on my side, thousands steamed en masse on the other side.  I saw my friend Scott Douglas pacing the 4:05 group and shouted out some encouragement to him. Scott is the one who helped set up my record-breaking fastest known time for a marathon on a cruise ship two years ago on the Crystal Cruise line.  I may just be attempting something similar to that again this year. Stay tuned! 

Off to the 11th Mile:

The climb up the hill on the parkway seemed far greater than its descent over just four miles previously. I had now settled into a solid groove.  My times had slipped from 6:35s to 6:45s which gave me some food for thought. I have a PR much faster than what I was currently running.  I had just ran the Louisiana Marathon a week ago.  My achilles was protesting ever so slightly. While I wished to give a solid effort, I had to decide if there was any real difference between trying to run a 1:27 or a 1:28.  I decided that I would simply see what the wind and the other hill on the parkway would decide for me.

The wind decided I should slow down a bit.

As we filed into one long line of runners, occasionally one would make a break and quickly get overtaken by the others. One female runner, however, was doing an excellent job of shake and baking Ricky Bobby style. She would tuck in behind a taller runner and seemingly get some energy before slipping around and tracking down the next runner.  I did my best to stay with her until I realized she was going faster than I felt was prudent for me.  Even as she slipped off into the distance, I enjoyed watching her race.  It was an excellent use of what was available to her, especially given the windy conditions.

I always like how running can allow you to observe these small tactical things which someone observing would never notice. As we are not confined to a small field or court, it is hard for anyone watching to see anything more than just a few yards of the event, unless there is a constant feed from a motorcycle or helicopter.  For sports fans who think that running is nothing more than just trying to move legs as fast as possible they would probably be very surprised to know about all the little things which go on during a race such as this.

A runner I had been playing cat and mouse with here passed me on this final uphill. As I had on three previous times, I expected to pass her on the down.  Lorna (her name was largely emblazoned on her front and back - the latter was confusing to me) did not yield this time. In fact, even as I passed others she seemed to gain strength. All I could do was watch.

 Heading Home: 

This section of the race has always been an exciting one for me.  Right around the 11th mile, we enter what I call the Miami Sound Machine. A large contingency of Cuban, Puerto Rican and other Latino fans usually created a line on both sides a few deep, cheering and singing and ringing bells.  It always pumps me up. However, it was severely lacking this year. I mentioned this to a friend who lives in the area and he said "This was like arctic weather to them. They won't come out without a snowsuit on in this weather."

As I looked at my watch I realized that I was right on the cusp of running a 1:29.  I didn't want that. I was fine not running a 1:27 but I would be darned if I was going to miss a 1:28. 

Rounding through the final turns of the race I could see it was going to be close.  I had one female runner pass me and another male runner get passed by me.  At this point I was racing neither of them and only cared about the clock. With .1 of a mile left I could see it was going to be rather close but I should be able to slip in under the clock. My friend and announcer Jeremy Pate gave me a great and resounding shout out and  pumped my hand in thanks. I saved myself a few seconds to do this with my nice surge at the end and finished in 1:28:56. This was good enough for 142 out of 14,485.  In fact, it was my fastest Miami Half Marathon ever. Even with the addition of the hills and a pretty wicked wind, I had run a half decent time. I was pleased.

As with every time I have run this race, I was amazed at the organization for so many runners ina city that is not exactly known for getting things done in a timely fashion.  Beach time they call it.  But virtually everything went off without a glitch and I remembered why I almost always find myself in Miami in January to run this race. I'd highly suggest you do the same!

Friday, January 22, 2016

2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards- Hey I Won!

I jokingly bristle at being called a "blogger" as I feel that means you are basically an unpaid writer.  But then again, most writers, even those who have good-selling books, often write unpaid. So, when I found out I was up for the 2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards, I was flattered but didn't give it much thought.  I posted it on my Facebook page, asked people to vote for me and forgot about it. Heck a few years ago I was up for the Energizer Keep Going Award where my charity would win money and I would win money and all people had to do was click.  I didn't win that so I doubted I would win this with virtually nothing on the line.  Plus, well, my writing can be diversive.

My blog is not filled with beautiful epic pictures of me running. I don't have recipes or cutesy little clickbait listicles. I try to encourage others but never pander. Often, I am trying to make people think about issues that they don't normally think about and I am rather opinionated.  All of this doesn't necessarily lend itself to "most read" or "best received."

I found out today that I not only won the North America version of the best blogger but the world version as well.  Given that I was up against some rather stiff competition when it comes to not only well- known names, but also well-established and read websites like, to say I was surprised is an understatement. Often as a writer you work in a vacuum. When people agree with what you say they rarely tell you. It is only when you make a typo or offend the delicate sensibilities of a fragile porcelain daisy that you hear any comment at all.

I know many people run more ultras in a year than I have in my entire lifetime but I do my best to dabble in every aspect of running. I will never be a great runner but I have still done things others can't or won't. That includes trying to run a fast 5k and a 50 miler in the same month type stuff. Adding in a triathlon here and an obstacle race there.

If, at the same time, I am able to bring those adventures to life and have people enjoy reading about them, then all the better. So thank you to RunUltra for this nice award and I hope to continue to produce award-worthy material over the next year.
2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards
2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards
2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Louisiana Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 1st Edition 
26.2 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Louisiana Marathon
Place: Baton Rouge, LA
Miles from home: 2460
Weather: 40s; Sunny

I was supposed to run a marathon in Louisiana ten years ago.  Then Hurricane Katrina happened 11 years ago. Needing to revamp my plans for 2006 and the 52 Marathons I ran weekly that year, Louisiana got out of the mix. Some of the races I had been planning to run were still run while others did not.  I couldn't take the chance that Louisiana would still have a marathon when I needed it so I scheduled one elsewhere.  Until last year's Crescent City Classic 10k, I had never even set foot in Louisiana.  The time to run a marathon there had finally come.

While visiting every corner of the country has always been a dream and running there as well a side dream, I was never on a huge quest to run a marathon in every state. Completion goals alone have long since left me. So, I was looking for the right time and place to run a marathon in Louisiana. I knew it would eventually happen but I was in no rush.  I needed a compelling reason to make this my 49th marathon state.  After reading all the good reviews, and getting to know the organizers of the Louisiana Marathon, I knew this was the one I wanted to be my first ever in the Pelican State.

I was told the race was flat but knew better than to believe anyone who says that about a long distance course. I checked it out myself and saw while it was flatish, there were more than a few rolling small hills.  Hardly anything to cry about but I do like to see my recaps as public service announcements. Ever since I wrote my Steamtown Marathon recap and routinely get thank yous for pointing out its deceptive hills, I feel it is my duty. Do not get me wrong; this is a solid course with no major hills to speak of.  I would categorize it as "fair" and by that I mean any time run on the course could not be argued by anyone as having been acquired with any assistance from downhill, uphill or anything else. You can't ask for much more than that. Well, meeting a slew of new friends is not a bad thing while doing a book signing. That you can ask for.  But you have to write a book to do it.

Leading up to the race, I had dealt with a small batch of the "notsofeelgoods." I hoped by the morning of the marathon, they would be gone, even though the day prior I had woken feeling like crud. The weather looked fairly close to ideal and I didn't want to waste it on being sick.  I was already dealing with the handicap of having broken my hand three weeks earlier and didn't need any further problems. Didn't my body know I had plans? Fortunately when I woke on race day, the sickness seemed to subside and I found myself standing in front of the tallest capitol building in the United States (sorry, Texas.)

I situated myself near the front of the race, grabbed a quick sip of ASEA, and at exactly 7:00 a.m. we were off.

First 8 miles:

Before I broke the 5th metacarpal bone in my hand on a fall the day after Christmas, I had designs on knocking off a sub-3 here. A leisurely 50k win in mid December showed me I was in good shape to do so and all cylinders were clicking. Then I tripped. Over a branch, that I saw. In the broad daylight. But I figured stranger things have happened (like running my first ever sub-3 in my 42nd of 52 marathons in a row in 2006) so perhaps it might happen today. The plan was to run at sub-3 pace as long as it felt it was a good thing to do. If I had to slow later in the race, so be it.

We ran through downtown Baton Rouge and across the North Blvd overpass right after mile one.  I made note of this bridge and its lovely lady humps as we would have to cross it again one mile before the finish.  In other words, it wasn't flat. (see above).  First mile was spot on pace.  Mile Two took us south toward City Park Lake and I was a few seconds off. It was 38 degrees, I was sleeveless and I was still breaking a sweat. Welcome to my body. Mile 3 was still solidly on time and I wondered how long this would last. At we hit mile four I had my time hit an even 7:00 for the mile. I figured perhaps this is where I slowed the pace. However, as we passed by LSU's football stadium on our tour of campus, my time was well under pace and I was back on track by mile five.

While slightly chilly, there was a bright sun and I was wondering how long we would stay shaded from it. Approaching the 6th mile, again on pace, we still only felt the deathly grip of those sunny rays here and there. Well-shaded, the course provided respite from the sun which is soul-sucking even on a cold marathon day. Nevertheless, as always I was happy to be wearing a pair of Julbo sunglasses.  If nothing else, it hides he look of death in my eyes.

Mile seven had us beginning our jaunt around the University Lake and I again was under pace.  About here I knew we could begin 3-4 miles around a narrowish twisty-turny path. A wonderful view and no doubt enjoyable to run on a daily basis, paths like this never sit well with me in a race. Protective of my broken hand, I was even less happy with a crowd of runners in close proximity. With a slew of half-marathoners surrounding me working with a pacer, I was curious what I would do. Would I keep running with this group or would I speed up or slow down to gain exasperation.

When I hit the 8th mile, I laughed as I was absolutely 100% dead-on a sub-3 hour marathon to the second. However, I could also tell that I was working too hard. It was time to back off or things could get bad later.

To the Half:

The funny thing is that when you decided to slow down, sometimes you don't realize by how much you are slowing. You enjoy the ease of tension and relaxation and all of a sudden: CRAP!  That mile was 19 seconds slower than the last! I wanted to slow down, not stop.

The next few miles were marginally better but all right around 7 minutes.  I guessed that maybe I hadn't made the decision to slow down at mile 8 all by myself.  My body knew it was not where it needed to be to continue this pace. I did allow myself an opportunity to look around a bit, however. This is a gorgeous section of an overall wonderful course.  Lakefront house with beautiful views. One house that had an Audi, Lamborghini and Ferrari in its parking spaces out front.  Well, I am happy they are doing well.

Upon leaving this lake area we went up a small hill that I didn't remember coming down but we most assuredly had. The LSU lacrosse team was here handing out fluids (as was the rugby team later in the race and a slew of other volunteers.) I didn't count the aid stations but there was one almost every single mile.  This makes it a little more interesting that the lead female runner, Mandy West, was later disqualified for accepting outside aid.Not sure why she did that but I am not going to speculate. Rules sometimes need to be broken but usually only if there is a good reason. Some labeled her a cheater.  I think that was a bit too harsh. She broke some rules. Then again, it was not like this was her first marathon and she wasn't warned. But I digress.

I enjoyed departing this area as we began to run a bit more on straight streets. I always seem to do better on those than on curvy paths. Personal preference. The sun again was blocked by the wonderful oak trees lining the streets. Moss hanging from their limbs created a serene and cool shade.  As we approached the halfway point my only lament is the same lament I have had with any race that goes through any neighborhood: where are all the people?  When the half marathoners left us at mile 11, it got rather desolate. Here, snaking through gorgeous neighborhood, there were a plethora of opportunities for people to come out and show some southern hospitality. I have said it many times that if I ever had a home on a race route, I would have the most festive display possible (if I was in town and not running the race, obviously). This is no knock on the race itself and really on these particular people, either. It happen in cities across the country. I just wish they knew how nice it would be to have strangers cheering for strangers.

To Mile 20:

Having said all of that, I have to admit that I saw one of the more original marathon signs I have seen in a decade. The "Smile if you peed a little" and "Worst.Parade.Ever" signs are nice but a little played out. Any cheering is good cheering but variety is also good. However, when I saw a sign that said, right after the halfway point, "You have Les Miles to run than before!" with a picture of LSU football coach Les Miles, I literally laughed out loud. No one was standing around the sign for me to congratulate but that, dear creator, was a beauty.

For the next few miles I could tell a pacing group was catching up to me. How could I tell? Because of the awful loud flapping of the pace leader's minimalist shoes.  I was trying to figure out which pace group it was and not until they passed me near mile 16 did I see it was the 3:05 pace group.  At this juncture, I was still on pace for a 3:03. This group of 3-4 started behind me and were moving fast. Not knowing what they had decided to run, I can't cast aspersions but if they were trying for 3:05, they were way of base at this point.  I had a small sinking spell here and as I placed a small bit of Shurky Jurky in my mouth to help with calories, I was happy to let the flapping feet pass me by. I saw the leader was a Marathon Maniac which was a group that had a large presence at the race.  Many of them are friends who had stopped by during the expo to say hello and catch up.  Always nice when that happens. Attending an expo by myself leaves me little ability to leave the booth so I always love when my friends say hello.  But I digress.

However, about a mile or so later, I felt revived. We went through another small neighborhood with plenty of people cheering us on at another of the plentiful aid stations. Even though the pace group stayed far in front of me, I was beginning to move up on other runners. Or they were beginning to slow.  Sometimes it is hard to tell. As we passed over a timing mat at a weird point of mile 19 (my guess is that it was there to catch people tempted to cut the course earlier) I began to pick it up.  I often am able to really turn it on in the last 6 miles and I felt I might just be able to do that here. I wouldn't go sub-3, barring a miracle, but maybe a 3:02 was in the cards. Yet, hitting the 20th mile at a 7:20, when it felt like a 6:52 was a wrench in my plans.

Finishing Up:

The next mile had me in 6:18 and I knew that wasn't right. Was this mile marker askew or was the previous? Or the next? Only way to find out was to run. When I hit mile 22 it said 8:15.  OK, I guess the last three miles have all been around 7:15-7:20.  Given the people I was passing, this just didn't feel right. But given the average of the last three miles, it probably was what I was running. Now, while some of the mile markers seemed to be a touch off here and there, don't let it seem like I am complaining. Having mile markers is a luxury and runners should know they are placed as close to the miles as possible. They are not, however,  certified. I say this as I often hear laments about mile markers when runners do not know how lucky we are to have them in the first place.

I hit the 22nd mile shortly after seeing the friendly face of a runner I had met the day before.  Out taking pictures of his wife, Dixie, who herself was running her first marathon, I was flattered he remembered my name. I gave him a wave and steadied myself for the last 3 miles.  

I knew the next mile would include a little uphill as it was the wrong way of the downhill we had run after splitting from the half marathoners earlier. I steadied myself for the hill and it turned out to be not as bad as I thought it would be.  Right around here I caught up to a runner who had been running near me around the 8th mile.  He was discussing with some friends  his race pace and they seemed to be encouraging him to slow a touch.  "But these legs want to run!" he said with hubris. I had a touch of schadenfreude that I was catching him here but was far too focused on my own race to care. After I passed him, he must not have liked it too much as he caught up to me.

"Let's finish this thing!" he said.
"I appreciate the help but I am just going to have to run the pace I have when I have it," was my reply.

We then proceeded to run near each other but not with each other. We hit the 25th mile and then I remembered we still had the North Blvd overpass to conquer. I passed my running mate going up this hill and put a little more distance between us on the other side going down. But he simply had more in his legs than I did and soon inched by me. Then he footed by me. Soon it was meters. Keeping to my own race, I was doing math and realizing that I had lost nearly two minutes off my pace in the last 10k here.  My 3:03 turned into a 3:05 and then was inching closer to 3:07.  When I hit the 26th mile, I knew I had roughly 84 seconds to make it under 3:07 at the picked up pace I was running.  Problem is I only had 79 seconds.

I took what little energy I had left and focused on form.  I picked up my Karhu-clad feet and threw them down with what felt like grace and speed but probably looked like a drunk baby giraffe on ice. Fortunately, no time is added to one's overall finish for style or lack thereof.

I crossed over the mat in 3:06:58, good enough for 27th place overall.  In my 157th marathon I had run my 37th fastest marathon. Not exactly what I was hoping for but a time I was relatively pleased with having achieved. More importantly, after losing to a "Dane" for the first time ever in my less than stellar Dallas Half Marathon last month, I rebounded to be King of the Danes in this race, beating a nice gentleman I had met many years before named Dane McGuffee.

My announcer friend, Jeremy Pate, who had himself run his first ever marathon at Disney last weekend, was kind enough to give me an elongated shoutout. I only had the energy to wave one hand as I stood, bent over, tugging on my short. A few seconds later I was good to go and was accosted by another friend, Ted, who, well, I think Ted does a little bit of everything on race day.  He seems to be everywhere with boundless energy.  He took a selfie of the two of us in which I looked wretched and then bounded away to put out some other fire elsewhere.

I had about a mile to walk back to my hotel to think about the event.  Unfortunately, I could not stay for the post-race party which everyone raves about.  However, I can tell you my experience as a runner and a racer at this event was absolutely top-notch. In only its 5th year, the Louisiana Marathon has already established itself as one of the must-do races in the nation.  The course is solid, the weather is usually fairly predictable and good for racing and the organization was top-notch.  They have partnered with a group called Ainsley's Angels and their wheelchair pushers and athletes in chairs throughout the race were a welcome reminder of how lucky we all are to be out there pounding the pavement.

All told, while I don't repeat too many races, I would be surprised if I don't find myself in Red Stick (That's Baton Rouge to the rest of you) again in 2017.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Burn After Reading Route

The days surrounding my Christmases are usually not so jolly.  In just the last four years alone, I had my apartment burglarized, my car broken into and this year, got a spiral fracture in my hand while running. I can only wish this injury occurred while traversing some epic trail run with tons of vert.  Unfortunately, it happened on the final loop of four around the waterfront in Portland. This is a loop I have run hundreds of times. Yet somehow, even though I saw the branch upon which I tried to hurdle, I tripped, fell over, had my fingers get caught in a railing on the way down, yanked back said fingers, and voila. Three fractures later I was looking at a very long time in a cast or at the very least surgery and pins.  I was far from happy, pain, scraped knee, shoulder and elbow aside.

Fast forward 72 hours, and I am not out of the woods, but even the best case scenario didn't have me where I am now. My hand is in a small splint and while bruised and swollen, it appears luck, fortunate, and me possibly (and unwittingly) pulling my dislocated and broken finger back into place has allowed the bones in my hand to settle in an excellent position. I can type with both hands, albeit not very well. Then again, I couldn't type well before. So, there is a lot of upside here.

Rewind a little bit to a day or so ago when I was readying myself for the long haul. I was trying to be a trooper and keep a positive attitude. I was doing what I could to accept reality. So, I hunkered down and did my best to not do anything with my hands at all. This meant Netflix-watching. I needed something to cheer me up so I turned to the Coen Brothers Burn After Reading. If you haven't watched it, I would highly recommend it.

While watching it, I remembered when I saw it the first time how it seem that George Clooney's character, who "liked to get a run in" seemed to defy the geography of DC in his runs. This time I decided to see if his run held true. So, like the girl who mapped out Rocky's 50k run during his training montage, I took the brief glimpses of George's run to see if he did indeed get his "five and a deuce" in the greater D.C. area where the movie is set.

First off, since we do not know the ending point of his run (the actual location where the house is shot was in New York, so one can't even find the house) I knew this would be an approximation. But even without that my first guess was that what was shown during the run would be far more than the five he supposedly ran.  Ignoring, of course that "the odometer" was supposed to read 5.2, which wouldn't include where George actually would run, as you would see below (meaning, no car could drive where he runs on a few occasions.)

George's starting point is right south of the Lincoln Memorial shown in the photo below.

The next shot shows him running around the tidal basin with the Jefferson Memorial behind him.  From this angle it shows he is near where the Tidal Basin Paddle Boats are. The quickest way he could have gotten from position one to position two, with his back to the Jefferson Monument (assuming he didn't run an out and back but rather ran down Ohio Drive SW from Lincoln) means he has already ran 1.75 miles. It's also clearly different day from the weather but I am trying not to nitpick.

The next shot after this has George crossing the Key Bridge heading back from the Virginia side into Georgetown. I was impressed that they at least had the continuity right here in that George's shirt had a little more wetness on it. Then if he was already sporting a chest V of wetness after 1.75 miles, I would expect it drenched at 4.85.  But points nonetheless. This was the biggest jump between shots, having George go back to Lincoln, over the bridge, down the well-worn path from runners, across Washington Blvd and the GW Parkway to join the Mt. Vernon Trail. I ran hundreds of miles on this trail and George picked a good running spot. He would head north past Teddy Roosevelt Island, into Rosslyn portion of Arlington, and then turn right to where he was below.

In the penultimate shot, we have a far more wet George, just a tenth of a mile away, looking back over his shoulder at a trailing car. Only problem: car is going down the wrong way of a one way street that I don't think in my four years of living in the greater D.C area I did not see a car waiting to come onto Canal Road.  But a car can indeed turn there, albeit illegally. (To the Coen's credit, at least they moved all the cars to be facing the right direction. Kudos!) Another problem with continuity a second later is how the car continues up 35th St (from George's gaze) but in reality makes a sharp right onto Prospect Ave (shown in the film.)  But again, I am not trying to nitpick.

In the final shot, George watches his trailer leave, and then actually makes that same right hand turn himself onto Prospect.  At this point he is 5.15 miles into his run. Seconds later, he appears outside of his destination.

I will have to admit, I was really surprised that the run could be exactly 5.2 miles.  I doubt the Coen brothers care one bit about this but if you ended your run at 3350 Prospect St NW, you would have George's five and a deuce.

If you are so inclined, and want to go for this run along the route which seems most likely to get the 5.2 miles, go right ahead and click here.  Just don't (*spoiler alert*) shoot Brad Pitt in the head when you finish your jog.

It is also possible I have missed something in this retracing of George's steps but this being the internet, I am sure I will hear about it if I did.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Pigtails Flatass 50K Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 26th Edition 
355.3 miles run; 16 miles biked; 800 meters swam in 2015 races
Race: Pigtails Flatass 50K
Place: Ravensdale, WA
Miles from home: 172
Weather: 40s; Overcast

I have now run two races with the word "Flat" in their name (the other being the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon.) Both were misleading.

I lightheartedly posted a meme poking fun at this race for having saying it was "completely flat" as it was quite clear that wasn't the case. A discussion erupted on my Facebook page where I was told I was not only wrong but had obviously tried to mislead my readers by using a skewed Y-Axis. Ignoring that it was mostly meant tongue-in-cheek, virtually any review I have given has used the same elevation profile from the same company, I stand by my assertion that while this was hardly a mountain race, it was anything but "completely flat". You know, because words have meanings.

A Snafu that actually mattered, however, had to go with something that really had no personal effect on me. This race was set up so runners could decide around mile 21 if they wanted to run either a 50k or a marathon. If you didn't make it to that point before a certain time, you would be forced to take the marathon route. The website said this time would be "Around 5 hours or MAYBE LESS DEPENDING ON WEATHER."  Both that time limit and the potential change were completely fine with all runners. If the weather was bad, you don't want volunteers needing to stay out there for hours extra for one or two runners. My best friend, however, having reached the turnoff around 4:15, was turned away saying that she hadn't met the cutoff.

Later, only after a series of personal inquiries was it told to me that the cutoff was supposed to be 3.5 hours and there had been a miscommunication between race director and volunteers. The previous year's weather had been harsh, facilitating an earlier closure. With bad weather, this area closing earlier than stated is totally understandable. However, this year, the weather was perfect, no such details of a closing happening early were conveyed to the runners, and as such my friend was robbed of a huge PR in the 50K. This might seem like small potatoes to some, but I think any runner would understand her frustration. If anything, my friend Shannon should rest easy knowing she can run 5 miles after being told her effort was for not and then going for another 2-3 miles on her own post-race to get in the miles she wanted to run that day.  That takes some serious mental toughness.

I had a much easier go.


I am not sure exactly why I signed up for this race. I knew it would be next to no-frills, as are so many races here in the Pacific Northwest. Not that a race needs to have fireworks and bands but I have run my fair share of races that have the same feel as a training run but with a result people will know more immediately about. I have come to the realization that I like a little frills. But I signed up as it was inexpensive, a short drive from home and I guess I just wanted to get in a long run where I wouldn't stop short if I was tired.

The race was named after the nickname of the RD which is something I always find curious. I know an athletic team that is comprised of any number of athletes who all compete under characteristics that are rather unique to the owner of the team. Like naming a race after yourself, I can't imagine having the hubris to do such a thing. Perhaps no one would be a part of Team SeeDaneRun but I am not about to find out.  I am not saying it is bad or good but it is assuredly something I wouldn't do.

When the morning drew close for the race it showed in spite of a particularly wet and dreary time for us in this neck of the woods, we were going to be blessed with very nice weather. Given this break, I thought about switching to the marathon pre-race.  I hadn't had nice weather for a race in eons and wanted to take advantage of it. One drawback was I was not rested to run a fast marathon. Another drawback was a gentleman I had met last year in another similar low-frills race, Sean Celli, was also running the marathon and I knew his speed would make winning the race a difficulty. I am not going to lie and say I wasn't looking forward to the possibility of a "W."  So, I figured I would simply wait and see how the day unfolded.

A very low-key start with a bunch of people who already seemed to know who everyone else was  awaited me when I arrived. Tons of Marathon Maniacs were on-hand and lots of smiling faces. I recognized some and exchanged pleasantries and wished good luck to all.  Then it was time to start.

The race began with a little halfmile-ish out and back to allow us to put in some extra-distance. Apparently, this was done so that the race at the other end of the long out and back would stay within a certain city limits and only require one permit.  Makes perfect sense to me. I participated in a 70.3 mile triathlon which had a hairpin turn at the Utah-Idaho border for this same reason.   By the time we finished that little jog and got to the Cedar River Trail, Sean had already established a lead on me I assumed would be insurmountable.

For the next five miles, as the trail would bend and twist ever so slightly, I was basically alone. Sean had gotten out of sight and no one was running with me. It was going to be yet another "race" for me where I might as well be doing a solo training run. Fortunately, this trail was quite beautiful and for the time being my mind was on my surroundings.

We crossed over what I was guessing was the Cedar River numerous times and each crossing came with a new bridge. I love bridges. I speak about them often in my book 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss (now on sale on Amazon Kindle for $2.52!)  So even if I was alone, at least I had something to look forward to crossing.

At the first aid station around mile five, I pulled over for just a quick drink of water. I was wearing my Camelbak Circuit as the aid stations were sparse but didn't mind using the course resources which I had paid for. As I left the aid station, I looked back and was surprised to see two runners not too far behind me. I guess I wasn't going as fast as I was wanting or hoping.

Over the next few miles, the course went from small twists and turns to a long straightaway. I was fairly certain I saw Sean up ahead but man was he waaaay up ahead. soon, thereafter, amidst the traffic on the nearby highway, I could also hear the footsteps of a runner behind me. Eventually, he passed me. However, we were traveling very close to the same speed so he passed me very slowly. In order to make conversation,  I commented on a few things about the race and the day. With his headphones on he didn't hear a thing I said. Or he was ignoring me, which was a possibility as well. I couldn't even figure out if he was running the marathon or the 50k.

Needing a little respite, I pulled over to use the bathroom quickly. I was able to make up the distance lost during my stoppage in no time at all.  However, I then fell into an area where I was the exact same distance behind him no matter what little surge I tried. For about a mile or so we continued locked in this running dance. Finally, as he took the long way around a car blocking the passage (I almost Ferris Buellered myself through the backseat. Don't block intersections, people.) I made up some ground.  Doing so added a little spurt to my running. As we came into the next aid station around the 12th mile, I was just a few feet behind him. He slowed to get some drinks at the aid station and more or less took up the whole area, probably assuming I wasn't right behind him. I had also stopped to get a drink but then decided not to jostle him for space. Instead, I would get it on the way back. Might as well make a move while I could and make it decisive (one of the key rules of racing, by the way.)

Soon thereafter I saw Sean coming back from turning around and knew I had to be close to the turnaround. It felt like it was forever away. Then I remembered that because of the extra mile we had run at the start, it wasn't a 13 mile turnaround but rather one at the 14th mile. This knowledge gave me another huge boost in my step. I had been under the impression I was running way slower than I had wished. There were few sign markings and no mile markers, so unless you knew the trail, you didn't know how far you had run. Granted I was using my Timex OneGPS+ but as per my usual I wasn't displaying the distance run. When Sean said it was just around the corner, I took off.

Heading Back:

In this short distance since the last aid station I had put a surprising gap between me and the guy behind me (David.)  What was extremely impressive about this guy was his size.  If I had to guess he was easily 6'2'' and 215 lbs. There are very few people that size who can run the speed he was running. As he approached me, he seemed to be a little confused as to where the turn around was for the race. Behind me, across the street was a cone. I have no idea what it was there for but there it was nonetheless. He pointed to that cone and asked if that was the turning point. I pointed the direction down the trail I had just come from and said this was where he needed to go. This definitely could have been better marked. If not for Sean telling me earlier where to go, I easily could have made the same mistake.

I quickly passed a few other runners who were close behind me and realized I had a slightly larger cushion than I had thought. I saw Steve Walters, who calls himself the Marathon Freak and he deserves the name. He runs a ton of races every year and in some very good times. How he does so in the longest pair of Michigan Fab Four running shorts baffles me. He had PRd on this course last year, in the supposedly bad weather, so I was surprised he wasn't in front of me.

This time, when I hit the aid station from before, one of the volunteers and owner of The Balanced Athlete in Seattle area, Eric Sach, was kind enough to give me a glass of water from the self-serve aid stations. Leaving, I looked back and saw I had put more ground between me and my pursuers.

About a mile later I saw Shannon for the first time and I could tell she was well on her way to a new PR.  Usually running ultras where there is so much climbing and such bad terrain that a time means nothing, she was treating herself to the rare runnable course. She told me I was only four minutes behind Sean which was a bit surprising. I forgot that four minutes looks like a lifetime on a race course. I bid her adieu and took off.

What to do with this new information? Should I try and pick it up and race Sean for the marathon? Could I catch him?  Even if I did, would it be a decent time for the marathon?  Until this point, 18 miles in, I had been running a 50k.  As such, I was running a 50k pace, not a marathon pace.  I did some math and realized my time would be less than stellar in the marathon. I don't like running less than stellar marathons. I am not here to collect medals and facebook attaboys for jobs not well done. I am here to race.

I began to pick up the pace and the cloudy skies opened up just enough to cover my Julbo sunglasses in droplets. Then just a few minutes later, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  It was still a touch chilly which means it was more or less the best race conditions in which I have raced in nearly two years. As I closed in on the aid station mentioned above where one chooses what race they would run, I decided it didn't matter how close I was to Sean.  I had never won a 50k before, had come to run the 50k and damn it, I was going to do both.

I took on this little 2.5 mile out and back with a renewed vigor. It was set on a slightly more graded slope than the previous few miles, and Y-Axis or not, I felt it.  But I was eager to take out this pace as hard as possible and leave no doubt when I headed back that those behind me had no chance to catch me. The day had turned gorgeous and there were plenty of walkers out on this trail. Shrouded by trees and going under more than few underpasses in tunnels, I was feeling my oats. I made the turn around and headed back. I now had at least a 15 minute lead on my next chaser and slapped them all high-five as I passed.

Back down to the final aid station, I grabbed a swig of Coke from one of the volunteers (Matt Hagen) who actually brought all of his own equipment out, including a space heater and a tent. A runner himself, I am sure Matt would have much rather been running than volunteering on such a nice day, so a special thanks to him and the other volunteers for being out there.  Now the only question was what would my time be.

To The Finish: 

I knew the aid station was about 5 miles to the finish but I didn't know which side of "about" that was.  Did I have to run slightly over or under 5 miles? With 42 minutes to cover the distance and get under 4 hours, it was a crapshoot.

I spent the next five miles thinking about what it is like to win a race. I have won a few. Each time it was essentially because no one else had showed up who was faster than me.  I know that seems to make perfect sense but what I mean is I am not elite. I can't look down the line and think "Yeah, I always have a chance."  If some guy shows up who runs a 3:20 50k, I more or less have no shot. So winning overall and age group awards are nice but it is mostly just happenstance.

That said, in order to win, you still have to show up. You still have to cover the distance.  You still have to race. When I got passed earlier in the race I could have said today was not my day. I could have been happy to just run out the string.  But I wasn't pleased with that.  I gathered myself and took back a commanding lead. Here, just a few more minutes (or maybe ten, again, who knows how many miles were left?)  I would win a 50k for the first time ever.

I have read a great deal about what winning feels like. Often winners don't particularly enjoy it. They dislike losing far more than they enjoy winning and that is what drives them. I can sort of relate to that feeling.  Barring a bear attack, I was going to cross the finish line first. If every other race I have won was the template, this victory was going to be done with little to no fanfare, no actually tape to break and just a minute of self-satisfaction before getting in a car and driving away. If there was going to be pleasure derived it was going to be from inside. From my own personal satisfaction.

My spoils. Hope the IRS doesn't come collecting.
As I turned the final bend and saw the clock, I realized I was going to be well under four hours. If I had sprinted it would have been 3:54. Instead it was 3:55 and some change (not quite sure yet because lord forbid there be any way to find the results.) What pleased me most was how easy this 3:55 felt. I ran controlled and within myself. It could not have been any more of a glorified training run if I tried. Aside from the few signs someone had put out in the first few miles (and they were both cute and appreciated), I could have been out here on my own little Saturday morning run.

After a rather atrocious race last weekend in Dallas where I ran 13.1 miles at a 7:08 pace, it sure was nice to run 31.1 miles at a 7:34 pace. Winning the race just added some extra flavor to it.

Hopefully this race will help propel me forward to good things in 2016. I have, as always, lots of plans and after a rather "meh" year of racing in 2015, this was a nice way to end it all. Then again, there are ten days left and I may still find a 5k somewhere or something to remind me how slow I really am.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dallas Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 25th Edition 
324.2 miles run; 16 miles biked; 800 meters swam in 2015 races
Race: Dallas Half Marathon
Place: Dallas, TX
Miles from home: 2015
Weather: 50s; Overcast; slight wind and rain

Since I ran the Run for the Diamonds in Berwick, PA on Thanksgiving, I have been throwing down some seriously high (for me) miles. Taking advantage of a rare long period of time at home, I didn't let the record deluge of rain in Portland the previous few days deter me. If you only run when it is sunny and you feel good, you won't wrong very often. So after 87 miles in 7 days, I took a three day break before this half-marathon in Dallas. I say break but flying, speaking, and driving all over kingdom come is hardly much of a break. But I was hoping it would be enough to help me have a decent hard training run at this race.

I spoke at the expo both days to share stories about my 52 Marathons in 2006. Was so nice to spend time with old friends and make new ones as well. Part of my presence there was to talk to runners about my recovery, how I physically should not be able to do what I do because of Gilbert's Syndrome, and spread the word about ASEA (a product I have been drinking since 2009.).  The Dallas Marathon was one of the 52 Marathons which has shaped my life and it has been a special race for me. I had a crazy experience in 2010 when I ran it again where I had to help a man with a head wound seconds before the race. Having strep throat during that race made it quite memorable as well especially given the time I ran the race in. So, given all the craziness which surrounded it previously, I was hoping for something a tad less eventful for this race. The weather forecast however said that would not be the case.

Fortunately, while a very heavy rain and wind poured down all night before the race it slowed to a near stop just minutes before we lined up for the race. I wasn't exactly feeling spry at this point but I wasn't feeling too bad. I mingled with the other runners, happening across a few here and there who I had known for many years. One, Jon Anders, I had met at this exact race in 2006 when I ran the 52.  Jon, a few years older than me, is one heck of a triathlete and his son is following in his footsteps.  I wished him good luck and moved to a different part of the corral.

First Five Miles:

Out of the gate I did my very best to stay to one side. Some young buck had been in front of me before the start, jumping up high and kicking his butt like he was getting ready for the high jump. The guy next to me smirked and said. "I am sure we will see him on the side of the road at the third mile, pulling shorts." I nodded in agreement. In order to stay away from the masses, I stayed out of the middle. Doing so in a race where there are turns or twists and not wanting to run long is hard, however.  I refuse to not run the tangents as a step over the race distance for the day is too far. We all got to cheat a little bit here and there in that regard as standing water in a variety of places made one or two of us have to leap onto the sidewalk and cut 14 inches off a corner.  Don't tell anyone.

Courtesy of MarathonFoto
I felt decent here in the first mile but it was definitely work. Even in the cool weather with a little bit of rain my entire body felt uncomfortably warm. All I was wearing was my ASEA singlet so it wasn't a matter of being overdressed. When the first mile went by about 40 seconds slower than it felt, I thought Uh oh. The second mile wasn't much better. The third was the same. Yeah, today was going to be petty awful.

As people began passing me in droves, I decided to duck in the bathroom shortly after the fourth mile.  This brief respite only pointed out how tired I was. My breath was ragged and I almost wanted to sit down in the portapotty and call it a day. But I bolted out of the door intent on muscling through the rest of this race. My stomach had other plans.

Less than a half of a mile later, it made its presence known by forcing me to the side of the road and emptying the contents inside of it onto the fine Dallas streets.  Fortunately, I hadn't eaten breakfast so it wasn't much of an art display. But there it was.  And I had eight more miles of this to go.  Ugh.

To Mile Eight:

I knew that the races hardest hills were done at roughly mile 7.5.  Even in my worst state, I can run welldownhill.  All I had to get was to get to that point. Right at mile 7, the young buck I had noticed hopping up and down in the corrals earlier, passed me. I laughed thinking that I hadn't been too far off in my assessment of  how his day was going to go. Unfortunately, right now, it was going better than mine. I decided to put an end to that and surged ahead.

As we made our way through one aid station after the 7th mile, I noticed three women running rather slowly in comparison to other runners.  As I pulled up to them to see if they were OK, I noticed they weren't wearing bib numbers. Apparently they were just out for their Sunday run. Doing so in the middle of the race seemed like a good place as any to get a few miles in.  Don't mind us, ladies.

Courtesy of MarathonFoto
There was also a relay event going on today which meant occasionally some runner would go flying by making you feel quite unhappy about how lucky they were to just be running 4 miles or so. This first happened around the Turtle Creek area, which was populated with some gorgeous homes. As I have often thought when running through cities with enormous house after enormous house: What in the HELL do you people do for employment?!

Approaching the final hill, which was punctuated by a right hand turn at the Grenada Theater, a scantily-clad female Santa went flying by. Figuring she was part of a relay (I personally think the Ho Ho Hoes would have been a great name) I wanted to see how long I could keep in step with someone going much shorter than me. Suddenly, a fire was lite inside me.

Finishing the Last Five

With Ms. Naughty cutting through the crowd, I followed just a few steps behind. I figured within a hundred yards or so she would leave me behind her. Instead, my pace stayed virtually the same. We crested the hill and she put just a smidgen of real estate betwixt us. But I wasn't faltering like I expected I would.  Before long, I saw a group of people who I had been running near before my bathroom and puke break. This spurred me even further as I felt I had new life. Where had this energy been at the start?

At mile 10 where the marathon runners split off from us I was shocked to see most of those I had been running went the longer route. Good for them! If they kept this pace they would all be running 3:05 marathons or under.  (I would later check the results and see that wasn't the case for any of them but they still ran solid times.) This however, left me virtually alone with the next half marathoner at least a hundred yards in front of me. Time to go get them.

Over the next three miles, I didn't let a steadily increasing rain or some gusting wind slow me from reeling in and quickly passing a few dozen runners. Two runners however, unknowingly, let me get fairly close to them but were running just fast enough I couldn't pass them. With one mile left, I had to decide if it was worth it to surge one last time. Why work harder to just get a slightly less majorly dissatisfying time? Well, because it is a race, that's why.  If you aren't hurting yourself, by putting on a bib number you have signed an unspoken agreement to give all you have.

As this one girl and guy inexplicably went wide on a long arcing turn to miss a water puddle, I splashed through. Wet shoes for five minutes are a fine trade-off to not run an extra ten yards.  Now, there were just a few more runners within catching distance. I threw down the gauntlet and decided I would pass them as well.
Courtesy of MarathonFoto

Coming in under the finish line in 1:33:25, it was good I didn't let off the throttle.  The one girl I had passed inthe last mile must have been sparked and nearly matched my 6:39 pace. Finishing right off my shoulder (a few seconds more than that behind me by chip time) it made for a nice finish picture. Well, for me at least.

I wasn't as impressed with this course and how it was set up as I had been in previous years.  Granted I was walling in a pity party for some of the race but some of the little things which made it great before were missing.  It was not a bad race by any means. And to the countless volunteers who stood out in the elements, my hat goes off to you entirely.

In looking p my lest than stellar results, I was a crestfallen. For the first time that I have ever seen, another "Dane" beat me. I reached out to this Dane and told him I hated him for ever and ever. We are now buddies.

What happened at the start of this race?  I have no real idea. Endurance sports have so many variables that it is difficult to understand when something goes wrong. It is even more hard to explain when everything goes right.  I tell the athletes I coach that you can dissect every race and workout until the end of time but often the answer is "Dunno." 

If I can take anything from this race it is how I was able to rally and dig deep. My time was over a minute slower per mile than my half marathon PR.  But I ran with the hand dealt to me, picked up the pieces of a crappy day and put together at least a decent puzzle.  That's really all we can do sometimes and that is just fine and dandy.