Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Texas Ten Series - Conroe Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 18th Edition 
178.5 miles run and 8350 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Texas Ten Series - Conroe
Place: Conroe, TX
Miles from home: 168
Weather: 50 degrees; sunny

We run races, or at least we should, because we don't know what is going to happen on race day. By and large, our training evens out in the end.  When a week goes by, most of the runs go moderately the way we think they will. But on race day we ask more of ourselves, often more than we should.  Sometimes our body responds; most of the time it doesn't. Racing is hard. Unlike virtually every other sport, there is no rest, no reprieve, no timeout. The clock starts and away we go. This is nothing new and I myself have waxed philosophic about it many times (or at least have tried to do so). But it is worth reminding myself to think about how taxing racing is, regardless of the outcome.

With only one official ten-mile finish under my belt, I knew this race was going to be one of two things - a personal best or a personal worst. On the Thursday and Friday before the race, I had two of the worst workouts I have had all year. The weather was unseasonably warm here in Austin but it wasn't horrible. Nevertheless, I was reduced to a shuffle on a few occasions. I had thought about not even going to the race. Then I saw the weather was going to be almost the coldest weather I had raced in all year. I figured that I had to at least taken advantage of this break.


Race Morning:
As I waited in the porta-potty line I was shivering just a bit in my singlet and quite happy about that.  Above use the sky was hewn in two with bright blue on one side and a cloudy haze on the other. I had never seen anything quite like it before in my life. The entirety of the sky, cut right down the middle was like this. I stood staring and finally asked out loud: "Anyone have any idea why the sky is like that?"  This one gentleman two people in front of me in line exclaimed “THANK YOU!” Apparently I was not the only one staring up at the sky in wonderment.  Third chap started to tell us what exactly it was but I can’t recall the explanation. I was just happy to be slightly cold for a race.



We had a bit of a delay to the start as the race organizers were kindly waiting for the bathroom line to shrink down in size. As the weather didn’t seem to call for any change of any nature over the next hour, there were only some slight grumblings of impatience. About ten minutes after our original start time, all runners in the chute, we were off.

First Loop:


I was really hoping to run this race around 6:30 per mile or faster. It is beyond frustrating how slow my ten mile PR is considering I have run many longer races at a faster pace. As some racers shot out like they had been launched by a cannon, I knew I wasn’t racing for any particular place today – only time. Leaving the school parking lot where the race started, we immediately climbed a small incline. Already this was a hillier race than the two others I have run in the Texas Ten series (I DNFd the first one I ran back in October after an abysmal run in the heat the day before. Read more here.) Evening out a bit, we made a right-hand turn and would run straight for the next mile or so. When we passed the first mile I was running hard but not too hard and hit 6:30 on the nose. I would have liked it a little faster for the effort I was giving.

Across an intersection and up ahead was the first of two 180 degree turnarounds in each loop. I know why these are done and each were on a wide enough turn that you didn’t lose much time slowing for them but I still dislike them. Already the leader of the race was more than a minute in front of me.  Good lord. I fell into a rhythm and was curious what Mile Two would show me. When it showed me a 6:52, I really hoped that the mile marker was off. I just had to wait until the third mile to see if that was the case.

Down a rather long and steady hill we ran making another right-hand turn to the other 180-degree turnaround. Another 6:52 mile presented itself on my watch.  Holy crap, am I going to actually run slower than my last race, I thought. The sun was just beginning to peak out over some of the treetops but the air was still crisp. We crested another rise of a hill and began a nice long downhill. I heard the footsteps of runner behind me and soon a grey-haired chap passed me. Good for you, old dude! The fourth mile marker was on another long sloping hill and produced another unfavorable time for me. To tell you the truth, I was more than a bit bummed.

As we approached the turn-around point at the five-mile mark, I heard a couple of pairs of footsteps behind me. Running directly into the sun I was a bit blinded, even wearing sunglasses. I wasn’t quite sure where the turn-around was to begin the second loop and soon a man and a woman were on my heels. It was clear that they were going to pass me but I thought they would wait the extra ten feet until we had cleared the cones on the turn. I was wrong. I almost ran off course trying to avoid the fast approaching runners and had to side step a cone. At the halfway point, I was one second faster than I had been at the Katy race a month ago. I had wanted to be about 90 seconds faster. Oh well.

Second Loop:



I was really hoping my energy wouldn’t flag too much. My legs felt strong but for some reason my lungs weren’t functioning very well. When I had checked the weather app on my phone that morning it had said “Bad Air Quality” but nothing seemed off for me. The couple in front of me had pulled ahead but then just sat there, a few yards in front of me. The thing about racing is that if someone passes you but then doesn’t continuing pulling ahead, it invigorates you. You draw from the fact that they couldn’t make a definitive move. I picked up the pace and was soon side-by-side with these runners. I felt assured my first mile of this loop would be the same as the first mile of the first loop. When it produced yet another 6:52, I was just beyond confused.

Up ahead I could see I was gaining on another runner.  I might not have been speeding up but at least I was making my way up the standings, as meaningless as that is in the higher tens of placement. I decided I would make my move here to begin to pick up the pace. We made the turn, went down a small hill and then made the right-hand turn onto the big downhill from the first loop. I might not be as fast as I want, and things might be up in the air as to where my racing is going, but one thing I can still do better than most of run downhill fast. Here I picked it up and passed this runner in front of me. I also kept my foot on the throttle refusing to allow him to keep up with me. Breaking his spirit also helped lift mine and speed me up. Regardless, as I passed the third mile, I had yet another less than impressive time. I saw that with two miles left, as long as they were both under seven minutes, I would at least not run a 1:09.

What slipped my memory was what my actual PR was at that Katy race. I knew it was around 1:08:30 but I did not know if it was under or over. That time didn’t matter because I didn’t think I would come close to threatening it. No matter what I surged or pushed mile after mile in this race they seemed to be the exact same time. The only outlier had been that first mile. With one mile to go, the same 6:52 popped up again.

Refusing to make it too close to that 1:09 I finally found a bit of strength and pushed as hard as I could. The past two miles had been the first time all race that my lungs finally opened up. I have a feeling I could have run five more miles at this pace and it would have felt easier than the first five miles of the race.

In spite of the undulating hills of the last mile, I was feeling strong. Buoyed by the downhill finish, I kicked it up a tick. As the clock was not exactly in sync with the actual race time (given our late start) I wasn’t exactly sure what the real race time was. I pushed hard nonetheless and finished in 1:08:37. Upon checking with my PR in the race from last month, I saw I missed setting a new personal best by two seconds. In other words, I had my personal worst. 


I did however, finished 18th overall and won my age group. But meh. The race was well stocked with an aid station every mile, even if I only took one sip from one of them. There were no crowds to speak of, as I think most Texans were freezing in the 50-degree weather. However, it was well-marked, with police manning the intersections and wonderful volunteers at all the turns. Even if I did spend the vast majority of the race alone (as I often do), the out-and-backs made it so you could see your competitors close behind and even some people you had spoken to on social media for quite some time and never met (Shout out to Laura who ran a new PR and was the female Master's winner!)

My struggles to race well since moving to Austin have been well chronicled on my website here. I don’t know if I am simply older now and no longer have a shot at setting PRs or if the combination of the heat here and my inability to train in it properly have just left me that much slower. A check on the weather for the next two weeks tells me I am going to have the most favorable two weeks of training of the entire year dating back to possibly January. The thing about racing is that we ride the highs and suffer the lows too much.   

We put too much stock in how well we do when we do well and how bad we performed when it doesn’t go our way. Unfortunately, my sample size of races hasn’t been large enough for me to make a definitive guess as to where I am right now. But I show up to the start of each race hoping to continue to run fast. I currently have no races for the rest of the year and while I love training, especially with the proposed forecast, I do know how well I perform when I race a great deal. So, there might be another race added before we pull curtain on this year. If so, I will toe the line and give it everything I have. 


Here’s hoping it doesn’t take as much as it has lately and doesn’t take as long.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Texas Ten Series - Katy Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 17th Edition 
168.5 miles run and 8350 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Texas Ten Series - Katy
Place: Katy, TX
Miles from home: 131
Weather: 65 degrees; downpour, windy

It didn't matter the speed as it was going to be a PR.

Somehow, about 20 years into my running career, I haven't run a ten-mile race. I tried at the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler a few years ago but an on-course emergency caused us to have to run a different, shorter route. Three weeks ago I was signed up for another race in this Texas Ten series but a combination of factors had me taking a DNF. So, all I had to do was finish ten miles and I was good to go.

Then it started to pour down rain. While it had rained on and off since the middle of the night, about seven minutes before the start of this race, the skies opened and the wind howled. The race organizers were stuck out in the middle of it, with runners huddled next to the school building which served as the backdrop, start, halfway-point, and finish of this race. I truly wondered if they were going to have the race at all as buckets of water dropped and the wind whipped tents and shirts.

Then, suddenly, the rain slowed to a drizzle, and the race director, who had been monitoring storm
patterns like a decedent of Doppler, hurried all the runners to the start. A national anthem was played while some brave soul held the flag out in the the rain. Then, just ten minutes after we were originally supposed to be running we were off. Then it started to rain again. Good timing!

First Five Mile Loop:

One guy took off and two women followed him. It was beyond clear he was going to win this race and that these women had run under some scholarship somewhere before. They were hauling ass. Good bye, speedsters! (And what irks me is that if I was in racing shape, while there was no way I was going to catch the winner, I would have hung with the two women. Damn it.)

I fell behind two separate groups of about four and was just concentrating on my own pace. In cleaning out my closet recently I came upon a pair of racing flats that had never once been worn.  They also were at least seven years old as I know that was the last time I wore this particular brand of K-Swiss shoe. As I am currently trying out a who slew of brands before I commit to one, I am running a little low on new shoes. I figured I might as well wear these shoes. I had worn the same brand before with no problem, so they should be OK today.

Approaching the first mile, three guys passed me. I didn't give them much chase right now as I just wanted to see how my first mile went. It felt like a solid first effort. My guess was a 6:20 but was hoping for 6:15. When I saw a 6:38 I was crestfallen. I know I have not been doing speed work. I know that because the weather was good in Austin for me for running for the first time in months that I put in a 70-mile week last week. I know all the things that would make me a bit slower than I would like. I just have not yet accepted them as a reality. This mile hurt a bit and felt faster. Yes, there had been a steady headwind as we headed north, and the rain indeed was pretty hard. The footing was far from perfect but I wasn't trying to use these as excuses. All I could do now was keep giving it my best.

Right before the second mile, a shirtless runner passed me. He then proceeded to basically disappear out of sight passing runner after runner. As he was anything but svelte, this was incredible to watch even as he kicked my butt. Without a doubt it shows that all kinds of body types can be fast runners.

My only complaint about the course layout was this one little twenty-yard out-and-back that was built in right before the third mile to make sure we got out official five miles loop. Any turn around a cone always bugs me. I just don't like them. I also don't like how both of these last two miles had been basically around a 6:49. I thought I could run a 1:05 today and it was clear that was not the case.

Near the cone I was awfully close to one guy I had been tracking down for a bit. By the time we entered a long straightway approaching the fourth mile he had put a seemingly impossible amount of space between us. I was no where I am in so many races: no man's land. No one seems in a position where I will be able to catch them and no one is really around me to help push me forward.

As we finished this loop, my goal was to see how much faster I could run the second loop.  I am not particularly fast but when given a looped course, knowing what is in store for me, I can often bear down and do much better. I hit the first half in 34:15. Not what I wanted at all and I was going to try and make up for that.

Second Loop:


Starting this second loop, I had one goal: pass as many people as possible. I dug in as much as I could, trying to at least equal my first mile of the first lop but was about ten seconds slower. The only thing that made me feel good about that was that I had gained tremendously on one runner in front of me. Within another quarter of a mile I had passed him.

I had also started to close the gap on the distance between the runner who had left me behind on the straightaway on the previous loop.  But by the second mile it appeared I wasn't closing enough to make up enough ground.  I was continuing to have to force myself to run harder. As a long-distance runner, even a ten-mile race is out of my normal wheelhouse. My body seems to have a governor on it which keeps it from running too fast thinking, "Whoa, pal. We are doing this for three hours here. Why don't you slow down?" I had to continue to be present, be in the moment, and not zone out as I often do in longer races. Whenever my thoughts lulled, it slowed me down and I had to restart again.

Looping around the cone before the eighth mile, I can say that I never really felt tired in this race. The rain and the wind were tough and I had the foresight to wear a hat, eschewing my normal sunglasses. It was not cold, at roughly 67 degrees, but the cloud cover was actually pretty nice. Nevertheless, my miles were hovering right under seven minutes.

As we turned onto the longest straightaway I could see one runner ahead of me. Interspersed between other race participants he looked like he might be slowing but with only about a mile and half to go, I didn't think I had to real estate left to catch him.  But I was going to try.

Turning right with one mile to go I had cut his lead considerably. I was finally feeling like I had wanted to feel all day. The decision left before me was whether I wanted to put on the effort needed to attempt to pass the last runner in front of me. Doing so was going to require a great deal of effortand even if I did, I wouldn't place high in the standings or even be close to a time I wanted.  But at this moment it started to be much more about racing and wanting to beat everyone in the race than it was about time or place. So I put down my head and began to race. He made another right turn to head toward the finish line with half a mile to go and I began counting. When I made the same turn I was 40 seconds behind him.

Even though I could tell he had picked it up a notch, probably smelling the end of his day as well, I kept going. Up ahead I saw him make his final turn and it was clear I wouldn't catch him. But I had lessened the gap to 33 seconds. I crossed the finish in 1:08:35 which was god enough for 14th place.  My second lap had been just three seconds slower than my first in 34:18. Virtually no one else had these similar set of times so I felt good about that. While it was indeed a PR, a quick look at my races shows I have run 20 marathons and 52 half-marathons at a faster pace than I did this ten-miler. But this was a good start to my attempts to get back to respectability. I haven't raced fast at all this year but this was still the fastest pace race I have run, even beating out the pace I ran for my course PR at the Bix 7 back in July.

Here is where I lavish praise on the organizers of this event who pulled it off very well. The course was wonderfully flat, with a nice running surface, and barring that one little out-and-back, about the best you could hope for. The Texas Ten Series will definitely being seeing more of me, as I plan on heading to to their December race in just a few weeks in Conroe, Texas.

I fully expect to set a new PR.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 7 of 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 16th Edition 
158.5 miles run and 8350 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 50 degrees; cloudy, windy

The final of these seven races for the year came looming just two days after I DNFd the Texas 10 Mile race in Cypress, Texas. As I said in my recap of that race, a small percentage of why I even stopped in the first place was because I knew this aquathlon was on the horizon 48 hours later. The temperatures were going to be to my liking for the first time in two years and twelve different runnings of this series and I had to take advantage of that fortune. 

While the greater Austin area was dealing with a series of flash floods that were horrendous for many people, the ensuing weather made it nearly perfect for me to race in. As I got my body paint numbers on I could see that the number of participants was going to be far fewer than usual. However, as I have always said, you can never apologize for who shows up and can only race who is there. 

Walking to the beginning of the race set up, my age group nemesis Chad appeared. So I knew that no matter how few people were here, I was going to have my work cut out for me if I wanted to win my age group.

We chatted a bit about what we had been doing race wise and he seemed quite surprised by my workload in the past nine days. I could not stop raving about how happy I was for it to be so cold out. As we climbed into the water we were told that the water temperature was only 75° which was hardly chilly at all and felt quite warm when compared to the 50° air temperature. Lining up to start the swim my goal was to do my absolute best to break my fastest time for this race. Even though I had raced quite frequently in the past week (a marathon, a half-marathon, and then the aborted ten miler) and was far from rested, I was quite sure my theory of how much more temperature affects racing more than the course, preparation or anything else else would prove itself today.

We began the swim and immediately two brothers who are quite the speedsters shot out to the front. Within about 100 yards a third swimmer passed me and I simply tried to keep the rest of them in sight. The gloomy cloudy day made it a little bit more difficult to see where we were going but it provided some absolutely splendid fog lifting off of the water. 


After the first turn at the buoy I remained in the exact same position I would for the rest of the swim: fourth overall. I could not tell exactly how fast I was going but Hoped it would provide me with my fastest swim yet. As we began the final stretch towards leaving the water I took a long look back and saw that Chad was unfortunately closer than I would have liked him to have been. I felt my swim was stronger than normal and knew I was going to need all the help I could get in order to best him.

Leaving the water I had one of my quickest transitions ever and was soon running on the path around the quarry. Looking at the clock as I started the lap, I was a little disappointed. I had hoped for an overall time a little bit faster than what showed which meant that I was definitely going to have to push harder in order to break my personal best. My time for swim and transition was 12:29 and the other six this year have been, in order: 12:50; 12:30; 12:18; 12:27; 12:30; 12:31. So even though I had blazed through transition, my swim had only been so-so. Obviously, the amount of races I have done recently slowed me but  I also have not swam once since the last aquathlon last month. And before that I had only had one swim workout. As I had been trying to get ready for upcoming marathons, my swim workouts were neglected.  It is difficult to prepare for all types of races at once and if you are going to do them, you have to be OK with the fact that some disciplines will suffer. Now ,I say you will have to be OK with it, but, of course, I never am.  Just because it makes sense doesn't mean I am going to do it!
 
All, that said, my time wasn't bad but it left me with the unenviable realization that if I was going to PR, I was going to have to run my fastest run of the year.  I knew, that the only way that I was going to break my personal best for this race would be to take advantage of the weather and run much faster than usual.

Beginning my run I hoped my advantage over Chad would keep him from passing me by sooner than usual. However, I can see from the results I only had a seven second head start on him when we commenced our trot. I felt like I was fling but found I was only able to hold him off until the hill on the backside of the loop. Every time we have raced he has put a great deal of real estate between us on this backside and then I normally make up some of it on the front side which is more downhill. I wanted to stay in his backpocket as long as possible to take advantage of the competition. I hoped he would be able to pull me along like he had pushed me for 2.5 laps once a few races ago. Unfortunately, I just didn't have the leg speed today. When I hit the first loop in a time of 4:28 I realized that was my fastest first lap of the entire year. Still not what I was hoping for but it gave me a shot at that personal best.

Over the next lap, Chad increased his lead with a blistering time and I dodged the first of one or two runners that had come out of the water behind me. I tried to dig deep realizing I only had about five more minutes of pain to deal with but I could definitely feel the races in my legs from the past week. That said, I ran an identical 4:28 lap which surprised me as it felt a bit slower. It also meant that if I ran the same lap I would break 26 minutes for the swim but I would not break my PR for the course. I had to run faster.

The path was a bit more crowded now and I had to dodge one or two runners who took a little bit wide on their turns or became a little bit flustered and did not know which way they should go as I tried to pass them. It only threw me off for a second or so but it was a little bit frustrating considering how little time I had to play with. I could see that I had narrowed the gap a little bit on Chad but there was no way I would catch him. It was all about getting that PR.

Branches obscured the clock from my vision until I was merely 20 or 30 yards away. I could see if I strained I had a chance to break that PR. A few seconds later I cross the line and 25:46 for a PR of three seconds. I ended up one spot off of the podium in fourth place overall. Damn you, Chad. Suffice it to say this was an absolutely excellent way to end this series of seven races here at the quarry.

When I started these last year I figured it would just take me a few months until I was back in my high school swimming shape. Then life intervened. I had a great deal of financial troubles last year stemming from a variety of things. First, as I took a more vocal political stance in 2017, I lost tons of engagements from companies which simply wanted more vanilla partners who didn't rock the boat whatsoever. I expected that but didn't expect the people for whom I was fighting to be so silent. Then I was attacked by two muggers in Austin and fractured my face and hand. A subsequent setback from that was the cancellation of a series of races I was putting on which was another hit to my pocket. Let's just say I wasn't too much of a fan of 2017.

This year was marred by just an ungodly heaping of ridiculously warm weather. Going into tonight the race temperature for the previous six races had been: 86, 89, 77, 100, 104, 91. It is not surprising that even though I was swimming very hard in the summer I couldn't produce good times. The weather, at least for me, forbade it.

This is the happiest I have been with a race in, man, I don't know how long.  I hope to use this to springboard into the fall and with a continued forecast of cooler weather, October might actually be some good training for me.

Now it is time to simply hit the roads.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Orion Half-Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 15th Edition 
156.5 miles run and 7600 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Orion Half-Marathon
Place: Surfside Beach, TX
Miles from home: 195
Weather: Mid-80 degrees; humid; bright sunshine 

I had an opening appear on my calendar this weekend and I wanted to take advantage of two different races on two different days in the greater Houston area. The first (a half-marathon) was put on by my friend Rob Goyen and his Trail Racing Over Texas series. Rob always puts on amazing races as is evidenced by the fact that one of his events is in my book of must-run races all over North America. The second was part of a series of ten milers, a distance which I think there needs to be more focus on from runners, called the Texas Ten Series. My only trepidation? The weather.

I knew it was going to be bad. Just super-hot and humid and make me want to die bad. But I figured that I could power through. I am the guy who ran 52 marathons in one year, right? I am a bad ass! Yeah, well, I am, maybe, when it isn't hot. Part of the reason I moved to Austin two years ago was to try to get better in heat running. I have now come to the conclusion that:
1. I will never ever ever ever ever get better at running in the heat; and
2. Everyone should train in the weather that best suits them to be in the best shape possible for whatever race they plan on running. Sure you can get a little heat acclimation in or elevation training or whatnot but the number one thing to running a race well is to show up to the race in the best shape possible.

The Orion Half Marathon is actually part of a whole slew of races which take place on the hard-
packed sand of Surfside Beach, Texas. From 5k to 100 miles, people are running back and forth on this stretch of beach all day and night (and maybe day again). I have never run on the beach before where the sand was so beaten down. Footing is 100% not a problem on this course. It wasn't exactly the same as pavement but it sure was close.

As we lined up to start the race at 8 a.m., it was already 82 degrees on the beach. I had opted to wear a Camelbak for this race as there was only one aid station we would hit twice. Otherwise it was self-supported. Normally, in a half, I wouldn't even need water at all. But this was different. The night before the race I had frozen a 1.5l bladder solid with water. My intent was to wear it during the race hoping it would partially cool me while it melted.

Looking at the relatively unreliable race predictions from Ultrasignup I saw there was one runner who I thought might win the race. I might also give him a run for his money if I had a decent day. I figured it would be a nice birthday present for my mom and decided to give it all I had if it came down to that.

As the sun made a gloriously beautiful, yet threatening cresting over the horizon, we watched the marathon runners take off half an hour before us. After some milling around, and running into running friends I hadn't seen in years, it was soo our turn to join the rest of the beach runners.  The clocked hit zero, and away we went.

About 100 yards into the race, I knew it wasn't going to come down to that at all. One runner took off like he had been shot out of a cannon. Another runner followed suit a little bit behind. Then another shirtless fella was in front of me looking quite solid as well leaving me in fourth place. I felt maybe one of these guys might falter but not all three.


We passed the first mile marked in the sand and my 7:15 mile had felt like a 6:40. I was already drenched in sweat and the three runners in front of me were disappearing in the distance. Another runner passed me here and I had no answer. Fourth of fifth makes no difference to me. Heck, fifth is actually more palatable.

Around the fourth mile, I heard some footsteps and a fellow runner I had talked to online appeared by my side. "Katie?" I inquired and she confirmed. We chatted for a bit and then fell into a bit of silence more or less running in lockstep. As the aid station appeared at the fifth mile, Katie's partner was waiting with her with some food and/or water. I kept motoring on.

Trying to ascertain where on this long straight and flat stretch of beach we would turn around was made a bit easier by the front runner coming back at me. I figured he was close to a mile in front of me by now so I had less than a half of a mile until the turn around. Katie joined me off to the side and slowly began to slip by me. I knew I had no answer to her today. I was here to run out the rest of this race and not die.

But no other runners were coming back towards us. Katie had put about ten yards between us.  I suddenly saw the shirtless guy heading back our way. With other runners of all the races, and regular beach traffic it wasn't exactly easy to see your competitors. Suddenly I noticed the turn around sign and realized that the second, third, and fourth place runners must have all missed it somehow. Katie turned, now in second place, shirtless guy turned in third and now I was in fourth again.

As we began the 6.55 mile return trip, the wind which I thought had been in our face, showed me that I was mistaken. It was not clear that it had been more sideways than anything but running to the finish was going to include a pretty stiff headwind. I was not completely minding because, to be quite honest, without this wind, I would have been toast.

Shirtless fella had passed Katie but hadn't put a huge distance between her and me. However, at the mile five aid station, he took an extended break to refuel. Katie stopped for just a few seconds, mostly just walking forward with the aid from her partner and I, with my Camelbak, was just looking to be done. Now I was in third place. It didn't last all that long.

About half a mile later, shirtless guy passed me. About half a mile after that the former secnd place runner passed me as well. At this point, placement meant nothing. I just was hoping to get home. As my miles went from 7s to approaching 9s and slower I was just trying to stay upright. The only consolation was that all but the lead runner in front of me, while separating themselves, weren't blazing away. It was quite clear we were all suffering.

Around the 11th mile, a runner passed me and I realized this was one of the ones who had missed the turn as well. I now felt like all was right in the world as everyone who missed the turn had made up ground and was in front of me. Never want to beat someone because they made a mistake. I hung onto him as long as I could but I knew he had more in the tank than I.

I hadn't really been paying attention to my overall time but suddenly, with one mile to go, I saw that I was probably going to run the slowest half-marathon I have ever run in my life and it wasn't even going to be close. I have it emblazoned in my mind that my slowest half-marathon ever not only came in the middle of a 70.3 Ironman but was one that, because of a wrong turn myself, I ran the better part of a mile long. That was a 1:43:28. I wasn't even sure if I was going to break 1:50. Somehow, with the end in sight, and Rob in his big, goofy, all-felt and all-must-be-suffering shark bodysuit on cheering on runners, I found a gear to get me moving again and ran my fastest mile since the 9th.

I crossed the finish in 1:48:48 for 6th place overall and immediately crashed on the beach.

"Sweating as much as ever," Rob said as he high-fived me and one of his volunteers handed me a medal.

After just trying to gain my bearing in the sand for a few minutes I was finally able to walk about half a of a mile back to my car. I stripped down to just my shorts and walked toward the Gulf of Mexico. With waves crashing all around me, I submerged myself in the water and tried to cool myself. It worked minimally.

I now had a decision to make: what to do with the ten mile race the next day. After some food and a shower, I felt much better than I had just an hour before. Unfortunately, the forecast called for basically a carbon copy of Saturday's weather. This time, however, the race would begin at 7 a.m. I figured that the shorter distance, along with the early race time, would mean that I could tough through it. I convinced myself that dropping to the five mile race was not necessary and I could steel myself for ten miles.

Fast forward through three miles. After consecutive sub-seven miles to start the race, I slowed a bit
and ran a 7:20. The fourth mile was just about the same even though I felt like I was slowing. As the course was two loops of the same five-mile loop, I now knew what was in store for me. However, as we turned out of the trees, the sun burst forth onto the road in front of me and I felt like all of my organs were cooking in my juices. I made it to the sixth mile OK, but as we rounded a corner and headed for the seventh, I all of a sudden came to a stop. Twenty steps beforehand I had told myself if I made it to the next aid station I would take a long drink of water and walk for a bit. My body apparently took this as a sign to quit. Right this very minute.

 I now realized if I stopped I had to walk back two miles to the start/finish. If I continued I had to run three. Yet even if I maintained the same much slower pace for the last miles, which would put me in around a 1:15 for the day, I still wasn't guaranteed to finish. I was broiled. So I said the heck with it and turned around.

I began retracing my steps back to the start/finish cheering on every single runner who was going the right way. I got more than a few surprised looks but I had a feeling most people knew what was up.  The race itself was excellently put together with energetic volunteers, great course marking, and a super flat course. (And I will run more of these races and give them a proper recap.) But it was not for me to run today. With a marathon a week ago, the half-marathon the day before, and another race coming up on Tuesday, I said no thank you.

Interestingly enough, I still have never finished a ten-mile race. The Cherry Blossom race I ran in 2015 in D.C. was a shortened course because of a car accident minutes before the start.  With this DNF, I still have no ten-mile finish. Which means when I finally do, it will be an instant PR!

What is crazy is that the weather in Austin and Houston and all other areas is going to drop like 40 degrees in the next day. The race I have on Tuesday, my final aquathlon of the series I have done every month since April, promises to be the coolest race all year by over 20 degrees. Doing well in that race means much more to me than slogging through this particular 10-miler. I might still have overcooked my goose but I think I made a wise decision to call it a day.

The athletes I coach are a varied lot. However, almost every single one of them has run a race where they had to quit, or it went far worse than they expected, forcing them to walk or shuffle. I have always preached the idea that no race as important as your health, there will always be another race, and really, sometimes racing just sucks. I talk about self-preservation and knowing when enough is enough. As I have Gilbert's Syndrome - a liver disorder which makes endurance sports difficult - I am the textbook definition of needing to take it easy after exercise. I am also very stubborn and have great endurance. This combination can mean disaster. Fortunately, I often use my head when it comes to pushing my boundaries, and like during this ten miler, assess my body and realize that stopping is not only the wisest choice but it is really the only choice.


In other words, I practice what I preach. I also have a race in like two days so I need to go rest up for that.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 14th Edition 
143.4 miles run and 7600 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon
Place: Victoria, BC
Miles from home: 2270
Weather: Mid-50 degrees; rain; humid


Just two weeks after my first marathon of the year in Ely, Minnesota, I was hoping for a huge improvement in Victoria, BC. While some were worried about the rain (which was steady but almost never really much of a hindrance) I knew that clouds meant there would be no sun to draw out energy and the 50 degree temperature would be right up my alley.


As is usually the case when I am racing, I was also working. It is not the ideal way to try to get ready for endurance races, the whole sitting and standing and talking for two eight-hour days at an expo, while trying to find time to eat some sort of food, while also hoping people who just solicited you for advice for ten minutes might actually buy a book as well, but it is the way I have been doing it for quite some time. Here in Victoria it was no different but as always it brought tons of wonderful people into my worldview.


I was sharing a booth with the absolutely wonderful Russell Books store located in Victoria itself. Spending time with Andrea and her two-year old who is inflicted with a rare disorder called Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome I got to see a hard-working mother and a little boy working just as hard to have a normal life. I was also surrounded by no less than 50 different books by running authors. How any runner could walk by without getting at least one book is beyond me. I myself was lucky enough to meet many internet friends for the first time, make many new ones, and maybe, a nemesis or two. (I have no reason to believe the last part but I think it would be really cool to have a nemesis, don't you?)

I wrapped up my work weekend by being the featured speaker for around 250 people gathered for a delicious "Carob Gala" dinner. Speaking to normal mortals, and Olympians and everyone in between, was a pure treat.


Top to bottom everything about the way in which the event was run up until race day was top shelf.
Kudos to the organizers for pulling all of this off. Now it was time for me to go to bed and get ready to race.

Race Morning:


My "A" goal was to run a 3:05 marathon. I didn't think this was too far a reach for me considering my effort on a very hilly course in Ely two weeks prior. I had an excellent night of sleep, the race temperature was 48 as I shuffled to the start and promised to get no more than 50 by the time I hoped to finish. I left some of my gear right at the finish in the VIP section I was fortunate enough to be involved with and was ready to get the day under way.

First 5k:

When the horn signaled , I realized that all the half marathoners and marathoners would be running together. After running 23 miles with no one in my last race this was a welcome addition to my racing life. Over 1,000 finishers in just the marathon meant I would be running in my the biggest race in nearly four years.

After a first kilometer marker which threw me for a loop thinking it was a mile, I realized I was in Canada and would likely not be seeing many mile markers. (After a Mile One marker, they were then placed every five miles.) This meant I was going to have to do some math. I decided I would just go by what ever five kilometers told me and that would have to suffice. If I wanted to run a 3:05, I somehow figured out that was a 22:00 5k for each 5k (Actually, 21:55 I learned later which would make a difference in the long-run if it had come down to it.)

According to all the elevation charts I had seen, this race had a hill at mile two, another one at mile eight and then a series of hills between 20-22. Other than that it was smooth sailing on flat ground. Heck if you even look at my own data it more or less plays that out exactly with a few little bumps here and there. This data lies. That said, even with the first significant hill at mile two in my rear view mirror, I had a 21:47 first 5k. Sounds good to me!


To 10k:

The race is able to pick up some miles in the Beacon Hill Park area without really going anywhere. 
A few out-and-backs, a few hills I wasn't expecting, (I had run in the park the day I arrived just to see a few sites) and a few times where you got to run where you had been on another previous loop, had runners finally out on the road with the Strait of Juan de Fuca on your right.

Normally quite a view, it was mostly obscured by the rain and clouds today. I was thinking this was the Pacific earlier in the week but then remembered geography. I also furthered recalled an old Saturday Night Live skit where they pronounced Joey Buttafuoco's name like he was royalty in a Masterpiece Threate skit called the House of Buttafuoco. Give the similarity between the name of the strait and Joey's surname, you can imagine what was stuck in my head for most of the race. Thanks, Lizard Brain. 

I hit the 10k mark at 44:00 or just about exactly where I wanted. Given there had been some hills in this portion I hadn't expected, maintaining the pace I wanted was extra pleasing. 

To 15k:

This next section took us along the water with some fine views of the houses on the left which were phenomenal, and the strait on the right. We were also going to get a nice long straightway of running which has always suited me better than lots of twits and turns. I knew the last big hill for quite some time took us away from the Strait and into the neighboring community of Oak Bay. However, before we got there, we up and over a few other hills. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I had underestimated this course.

Since just a few miles in, the pack of runners had settled into more or less those whom I would see for the remainder of the day. Some random runner would pass me here and there and I would chew up and spit out the back a runner as well but you got to know people's gaits, shirt colors and other eccentricities. One runner behind me ran with the heaviest footsteps of anyone I had ever heard. I looked at his bib and upon seeing he was running the half could not have been happier. I didn't want that sound near me any more than necessary. It is amazing how the smallest things will bother you to the nth degree in a marathon. In fact, here it spurred me to pick up the pace a little bit and put some distance between us.

Approaching 15 kilometers, I was a little disappointed with my 22:33 split for this 5k but given the big hill I had climbed, knew it wasn't too far off my goal. I knew the flat sections were coming up and I should be able to make up some time there to put me back on track.


To 20k:


I was excited about this next section as now the half-marathoners would be leaving us and I would see my competition for the day other than the clock. I was surprised how many people were still in front of me when we split.  Last year, the pace I was running would put me in the top 50. Right now, I could see 20 people in front of me and I was nowhere near the leaders. Well. Look at the big shoes on Brad! (This is a Samuel L. Jackson reference from Pul Fiction that I came up while running which doesn't really make any sense but had me chuckling when I thought of it. So there.)


We approached the water again, leaving the comfy confines of tree-lined homes, and I was beginning to feel pretty good. Until this point, while I was hitting my goals, it had been a struggle and I wondered if it was going to be one of those races where I never feel great but I also never really tire. However this spurt brought me in front of a number of runners and up ahead along the beautiful waterfront I could see we had in store for us...more hills. OK, what's going on here?

Jogging through the Victoria Golf Club showed me I never need to hear about the silliness of running in the rain when men were out here in the same slop holding lightning rods in their hands. In addition, a 22:21 5k told me that I was indeed getting faster. I almost always have a good second half when I slowly get better with each passing mile so I expected I might perhaps just indeed get that 3:05 after all.

To 25k:

My kilometers-to-miles brain got messed up and the half-marathon sign appeared a full kilometer before I expected it. That made me quite happy. Soon thereafter the leaders of the marathon were coming back at us on the other side and that meant the turnaround would be soon enough. I began counting to see how many where in front of me. Five then 10 then 30 then 50. Good lord. How many were up there?

We did the turnaround in the middle of the street which is just something I have always hated. It doesn't seem like much and I know why it is done but coming to an almost dead stop is no fun. But now I too was heading back and with no jaunt through Beacon Hill Park on the return trip home, this meant a much faster course!

There were a few more runners than I expected a little bit closer than I thought they might be as I made my turn. I lost count exactly but I think I was 86th overall. Oodles of people came out to run today! I was quite perplexed, however, when I ran past the next marker in 22:49. It wasn't too far off what I had been doing but it had felt much faster. In addition, I had passed more than a few people. I guess I was just slowing less than they were. That was great for overall placing but not great for my time.


To 30k:

I have an elaborate way to deal with running a marathon and all the miles that I won't bore you with here. However, the final portions involve getting to mile 18 before heading home for the last 6 miles after 20. I was eagerly looking forward to that 30k mark but what seemed to jump up out of nowhere were the small rises underneath us. I now know that for whatever reason, this race course is not "hard" per se but it was nowhere near as easy as I was thinking it would be.

I could feel my energy ebbing a bit so I went to all the tricks I have learned over time. Arm placement. Head placement. Making sure to run not a single inch farther than you have to by cutting every single tangent as close as possible. But when I got to 30k, my time showed me a 23:09 for this 5k. Again, not the end of the world but with 7.6 miles to go, I was beginning to run on borrowed time.

To 35k:

I remembered when we were running out this way where the 32k and 37k markers were on the other side of the road. I began to mentally picture them up ahead even though I couldn't see through the hills in front of me or the twists and turns. I was attempting to mentally lasso myself around them and pull them forward. I passed 32k in 2:24. I knew that meant if I ran a 46 last 10k I would not get the 3:05 I had hoped for (I had known this at the halfway point which I went through in 1:34) but could still get a 3:10. That wasn't too shabby.

But then the hill kept coming. I completely missed hitting my watch at 35k. I had been picturing the 37k mark telling me I just had 3.1 one to go.

To the Finish:

This last portion is the one which  is most baffling to me. We were clearly running uphill. But all elevation data shows we are at sea level. That's simply impossible. What was definitely possible, however, was how much I was slowing. More than a few runners had passed me but I had caught a handful of others who had been in front of me all race. My legs were beginning to tighten. My hamstring argued with me as I tried to up the pace to get this race over with. I could see it was more likely I would run a 3:12. I wasn't happy with this. However, the harder I pressed the more I seemed to slow. The finish was excruciatingly close but I didn't seem to be drawing any nearer.

A couple of small but steep hills and a series of last minute twists were especially cruel right here. No fewer than 10 people passed me in half a mile. Suddenly, I realized it was going to be even close for me to get my Boston Qualifying time - something which seemed like a shoo-in just three miles previous. I dug deep into the pain cave and kept moving forward. 

There up ahead was a 400 meter to go sign. Then 300 and 200 and 100. This addition of signs was an absolutely awesome touch by the race. On the right, finally, the Victoria Provincial Capitol Building was visible. And so, mercifully was the finish line.

I almost stumbled across in a 3:14:47, which procured me a BQ for the fourteenth straight year. I still somehow cracked the top 100 with a 94th finish. The master's men came out in droves today as I finished 17th in my age group. In fact, to place in the top 50 this year, you had to almost go sub-3. (48 did just that.)

Obviously not the race I was hoping for but, given the circumstances, one I think I can be proud of. With a flight leaving just three hours after I finished, I could not stay and enjoy Victoria as much as I wanted to. Luckily, I got my picture with the Terry Fox statue, like I had five years earlier on my only other visit to this fantastic city. I very much hope to be back to run the race again, visit my friends at the book store and see so much more of this beautiful island city.

Without a doubt this race should be on your list of ones to run. If I can still recommend it when I didn't have the race I was hoping for, I think that tells you how well it is run, what a beautiful course it is, how wonderful the spectators are, and all else that goes into putting together a well-oiled
machine.

Plus, if he isn't gone by this time next year, you can at least escape from Trump for a few days.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Punishing White Supremacists is Jack Dorsey's Least Favorite Thing


*I originally posted back in May but someone asked me to repost it.  I like said person so I am doing so.*

About two years ago I began using my public persona to talk about more things than just athletics. I know any athlete that does as such gets the whole "stick to sports" routine from those who don't want to think of their athletes as being anything besides one-dimensional. (Like Laura Ingraham's "Shut up and dribble" banality to LeBron.) *Edit* (Or more recently, Taylor Swift.)

That said, I still do try to talk about sports the most as they are what matter to me - namely running and the like. However, two weeks ago, during the Royal Wedding, something I could not possibly care less about, KT Hopkins, noted white supremacist and all around anal carbuncle said the following about Meghan Markle. "No competition.  You can't buy class."  Now, even with trump and his ilk allowing Nazis, racists, sexists, etc more free reign to say things out loud that they should be saying in their inside voice, KT still had the brains(?) to be mildly vague with her racist dogwhistling about Markle's blackness. So I replied.

Granted, this is not the most couth reply. But I would much rather someone speak the truth in a harsh tone than peddle bullshit with embroideries. It was well-received by many who felt the same. (And I put this picture up to show I am not afraid of what I said. You can disagree with it and that is fine. I am used to dealing with people who want to silence me. Hell even the ones who agree with me don't have the balls to say so.)

KT replied to me with some inane retort about how it was not two women getting married (intentionally missing the point) and I replied to her. Then it was done. I went about my life.

A week later I get notification my Twitter account has been suspended for "targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice." This is utter b.s. I know women on Twitter who have posted messages they received threatening to rape and kill them and THEY have gotten suspended - not the person who sent the message. So I wasn't surprised. Disappointing but not surprised. I assumed I would wait 48 hours or whatnot and be back on Twitter. But then I realized it was an indefinite suspension.

I can no longer tweet. I can no longer access my direct messages with personal information from those who purchased my book and whose addresses I need to send them said book. I  can't see virtually any tweet posted in an article online as I essentially no longer have an account  Guess who still has an account - KT Hopkins. (And trump and Orrin Hatch's Social media guy who likes to say just as insulting things about me and like a billion other people who are far worse than me. Hell, Roseanne Barr still has an account, even after she said she was done with Twitter after calling a black woman an "ape.")

I appealed this suspension. Twice. I'm on the third time right now. I have begun sending daily messages to Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter) through his email stating my case.  I don't exactly expect him to reply (and a week into doing so he hasn't) but one hopes. I have been fortunate enough to have a variety of people send tweets and messages in my support, both famous and not, as well.  (You can, too: Jack@twitter.com or @jack on Twitter.) I have also had some people gloat. And honestly, if you want to judge me as a person, look who supports me and look who is gloating. That says everything you need to know about my message.

Some say "And he calls himself a motivational speaker!" First, I never have. Second, even if I did, a speaker who wants to motivate isn't beholden to every single person who demands they spout nothing but flowery platitudes. "Dance for me, monkey!" has never been something I responded to. I do my best to inspire people. And I have tons of examples that I have. However, because what I said made you unhappy doesn't mean I have failed at what I do.

Will I ever get my account back? I honestly do not think so. It is disappointing but for a week and counting to not see the horrible things that trump and his feeble-minded supporters have done has been a blessing. I will miss being able to do what I can with what I have to help people who are not me. But I fortunately still have other forums.

But for any other person who has an audience, especially athletes, and does not attempt to use it, I feel sorry for you. I know I am the one who has lost thousands of dollars in sponsorships, partnerships etc, but you are the one who silently stands by while others are harmed. I hope the money helps you sleep at night. I hope refusing to take a stand allows you to be able to look at your minority friends in the eye.

It appears people are finally beginning to back me up (now that it is safe for them to do so, naturally.) I bore the brunt of the worst of it for coming out first, which, well, kinda sucks, but I am who I am. In the meantime, I will continue to push my body to new heights athletically. It is what I have control over. The rest is just noise.

I turned 42 yesterday. I continue to grow as a person. Could I have just said "Now, KT, I think it is bad you don't like black people."?  Absolutely. But horrible people don't deserve niceties. They don't necessarily deserve harassment either.  Regardless, I didn't harass her.

So, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter: why don't you get half of a backbone and stop kowtowing to the worst dredges of your website and give me back my account? It is fun to be on the right side of history. Come join me.

Update 08.22.18:

When it became clear Twitter was not going to "unsuspend" my account after three months I thought I would create a new one with a kinder, gentler slant. I just so happened to have a tweet go rather viral. Chances are you saw it in the last few days. It talked about how we need to make a movie celebrating the life of Robert Smalls, a remarkable man you should read more about. The only problem with going viral is that the same sad people who reported your account for saying bad words about a white supremacist will come across your twitter profile again. Lo and behold, this morning I  woke up with another suspended twitter account.

This twitter account did nothing but talk about running, post jokes, and make a few political observations. Yet for Jack and his crew, that was enough to suspend it simply because I violated their Terms of Service by creating a new account. Meanwhile, Alex Jones does his daily horrific rants, causing irreparable harm to Sand Hook survivors and so much more, the "president" threatens the livelihoods of his citizens and neither of those people get suspended. (Yeah, Alex Jones finally got a little slap on the wrist but his week is about up.) Twitter could be so good but it is such a joke because Jack Dorsey has no spine, no conscience, and siding solidly with the worst side of humanity.

But hey, at least my tweet made it onto Snopes.com. That's pretty cool.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ely Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 13th Edition 
117.2 miles run and 7600 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Ely Marathon
Place: Ely, MN
Miles from home: 1414
Weather: Mid-40 degrees; Cloudy; Ahhhhh!


Drats.


That's a perfect summation of my Ely Marathon experience. Let me state unequivocally that my feelings have nothing to do with the event itself, which was top-notch. Rather, it has to do with the end result which I will get to in a minute. (My book on "How to Write Goodly" calls this "foreshadowing").

I haven't run many marathons lately. In fact, in 2017 I ran my first and only of the year on New Year's Eve. Determined not to wait so long again in the year to continue my streak of qualifying for the Boston Marathon (I have done so every year since 2005), I signed up for a marathon in late January. The race did not go my way and I ended up running the half-marathon instead as 100% humidity threatened to shut down my body. As such, I found myself here in late September lining up to complete my first marathon of the year.

This was going to be quite the experiment. I was severely under-trained for this marathon given mostly to the fact that the town I live in, Austin, Texas, has been on virtual fire this summer. The third hottest summer in Austin history just wrapped up and these temperatures and humidity do not make for a good training day for Dane. In addition, the Ely Marathon is also a rather challenging course with non-stop rolling hills, long hills, short, steep hills and other hills I cannot think of categories for them in which to be placed. However, race day temperature called for it to be just about the most blissful race I have run in the past, well, probably five years. So my theory to be tested was how much good weather helps an under-trained runner on a tough course. The only way to find out was to head to the starting line.

Race Morning:

What first drew my attention to this relatively new marathon tucked away in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota was the inclusion of something I had seen nowhere else in the world. Along with your marathon and half options, the Ely Marathon allowed a variety of ways runners could portage, or carry, a canoe for the entire marathon course. This sounds as ridiculously difficult as one could imagine. Yet as we lined up to run this marathon, the canoe portage-ers all seemed in remarkably good spirits. Egads.

The weather delivered as promise with cool temps, relatively low humidity, complete cloud cover, and elated sighs emanating from me all morning long. As everyone lined up for the start and no one seemed to wish to join me at the front of the line, I tried to needle other runners to join me. Finally, after much cajoling, including saying there was no need to run further that 26.22 miles if you dodn't have to, a few toed the line with me. The air horn started and away we went.

First Seven Miles:

I was fairly certain the competition for this race would not be too stiff. I was all but assured a top three finish. However, when absolutely no one went with me at the start I had no choice but to run my own race and take the lead. (The eventual third place runner did sprint out to the front to say that he was at least leading the race at one point. Oh, young kids.)

In the first 100 yards on a dirt road, we went down a hill and then back up the other side. This would be basically a microcosm of what that vast majority of the first half of the marathon would be like. After the first mile the dirt a road turned to a paved one and I was all alone except for the lead car pacing me through the quiet forest roads in a foggy morning within a stone's throw of Burnside Lake on our right.

By the second mile it seemed clear that no one was even going to attempt to stay with me in spite of the fact that I was hardly tearing up the roads, running right at a seven-minute pace. I was hoping at least one or two runners would challenge me here so I didn't have to shoulder the load. Yet as no one did, I simply tried to leave them behind. I didn't want to make it easy for anyone.

Hitting the third mile left me with a smile as we passed a woman with a sign saying we were 980 rods done. As Ely is in a canoe and outdoorsy-friendly place it has been billed since its inception as the 8390-rod portage (a rod being 5.5 yards and portaging being what canoe folk have to sometimes do to get their boat from water to water over land). This 980 rods done sign was a long way of saying it was mile three. I loved the local touch.

I knew the next few miles had some of the hardest climbs of the day so I just kept my head down, focused on running the tangents the best I could on a course that twisted and turned quite a bit. As the miles ticked by I continued to feel surprisingly good. I had been as nervous for this marathon as I had for one in years. I was wondering how I would perform given my lack of training but so far I felt very good. I almost never feel very good in the beginning of the marathon so this was a huge shocker. My time was probably not going to be stellar (right around 3:10 was my guess) but hey, it looked like I was going to win. One shouldn't think about a victory so early in the race but where there are virtually no crowds, no one challenging you, and not much more to focus on but I will admit I let my mind wander.

The seventh mile produced the steepest hill of the course and I was glad it was over. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed no one in seeming striking distance. Then I saw a few shirts a little closer than I would like them to be in the far distance. I wasn't home-free yet.


To the Half:


Right around here the truck which had been my lead vehicle pulled to the side and a motorcycle took over. From what I can gather, I had built a sizeable enough lead that they needed the truck to go back to help lead the other runners. Being a little bit of a snob I wanted to say that if they wanted a lead vehicle then they needed to get up here in the lead, damn it. But soon I had a motorcycling buddy waving down opposing traffic to slow, cutting a tangential line along the roads, and being basically my only friend on the course.

Occasionally we would pass a driveway to some cabin which lead way back and a person or two had positioned themselves out in a lawn chair to cheer on runners. This sort of thing always warms my heart. Even their quiet cheers and soft-spoken "way to go"s were very appreciated.

I knew the last of the big hills ended around the tenth mile and I was looking forward to trying to use a long downhill to get me rolling. I was still averaging right at a 3:10 pace which was a nice thing. I passed the start of the half-marathon and knew I would be coming down to where the halfers spit out onto the road after doing some out-and-backs which I would also do. The Echo Trail (which was paved)  was where we had been running and as we made a hard left onto Grant-McMahon Boulevard (which was about as un-boulevardy as one could imagine nestled deep in the woods here) I enjoyed another nice steep downhill.

Up ahead I could see the half-marathoners coming out of where I was going in and all was right in the world. I passed one of the portagers and told her she was a rock star. She said I was the one winning the race to which I replied "But I'm not carrying a boat!"

The weather remained cool, the drinks were plentiful from the volunteers, and I felt I had a great lead. Time to just do another thirteen miles and call it a day!


To Mile 22:

A rather abrupt uphill here was made a little easier as the half-marathoners streamed by on the other side. Getting a little human contact helps the psyche a bit even if it only lasted about a half-mile. Marathoners branched off again here and I was all alone with my motorcycle.

I knew there was a complete out-and-back sections coming up but couldn't remember exactly where. I was aware this would give me my first glance of how far the runners behind me were and man I was really hoping it was far. I turned around on this dirt road and began heading back. Sure enough the once lead car brought some fellas into my sight. I looked at my watch to see how much a lead I had on them and it showed three minutes and twenty seconds.  A few feet later I hit mile sixteen. Two hundred seconds faster than me in ten miles is what these guys had to do to win the race. Not insurmountable but quite safe. In order to make it even harder, I ran the 17th mile as fast as I had run a mile since mile eleven. My win was in the bag.

On another lollipop portion of the course which I had hoped was another out and back so I could see any greater lead I had built, I instead saw the tail end of some of the other runners who had been behind the chasers right behind me. I figured that everything else was copacetic with regards to how far the main chasers were behind me and continued my ways. I knew I slowed a bit but the hills had been tough here and the guys behind me had to run them as well. I took just a little bit of a breather break before mile twenty and saw I ran my first eight-minute mile of the day. With a bit of a climb here it wasn't unexpected but I knew I had to get going.

As I approached an aid station perched at the top of short but brutal climb at Mile 22, I passed one of the few canoe portagers out on the course. Even though I wanted to walk this hill, doing so next to a person carrying a canoe made me push forward. At the aid station, however, I did stop to grab two cups of water. It was still not out of the 40-degree range temperature-wise but I was thirsty and sweating. I poured the two cups into one, drunk them fully, and turned around to see what was behind me.

I swore out loud.

One of the runners who had been over three minutes behind me just six miles previously was now just 50 yards away.


Heading Home:


I began running with a new vigor but I also knew that it was just a matter of time. If he had made up such a huge distance chances are he had way more leg speed than I did. I held him off for about half of a mile but soon his bright orange shirt was passing me. He didn't say "Good job" and I didn't either which to me meant we were both unsure of what the other had in the tank. I wasn't expecting a race for the last 5k but here I was in the middle of one.

For the next half mile until 24 he steadily increased his lead. It was not a lead I couldn't overcome but it was starting to get there. The road began to rise and a long hill appeared. Next thing I knew he was another 100 yards in front of me. I told someone later when he passed me he not only took the lead but he took my soul. A few yards later is where it permanently left me.

Only a small downhill kept this mile from being extremely slow and as we turned to the 25th mile, my energy was ebbing. I am fully convinced if I had been in the lead this would have not been the case. At the aid station I again grabbed two drinks and this time walked for a good ten seconds or more. I wasn't going to BQ, I wasn't going to win, and now I was just crestfallen.

I entered the last mile which not only passed the finish line before we could actually go to it but had a cruel hill running up the city streets of Ely. I came to a dead stop and just tugged on my shorts as I bent over. A concerned fan asked me if I was OK and I said "I'm not right in the head but I will make it to the finish". This got a laugh and a cheer from the people gathered there. As I started running again, the race director appeared on the side of the road cheering me on and offering encouragement. I smiled weakly, happy my sunglasses were hiding the exhaustion in my eyes.

Up the hill, two turns, back down the straightaway I went until I could see a funnel of fans, a cameraman, and the finish line in a beautiful park in the middle of town. Half an hour earlier I was wondering if there would be a tape for me to break. I have won five marathons in my life and only one of them has had a tape across the finish line. I learned later there was one here but unfortunately it was not for me.

I crossed the finish in 3:18:01 for my 161st marathon ever. I have now placed second in my last three marathons. Those previous two came as surprises as I thought I was further back. This one was just a big ole bummer. Well-meaning friends told me the time was still good and I should be happy with second place. And truth be told, give how under trained I was and the difficult of this course, I can say that if I had started the race in fifth place and maintained it the entire time, I would be much happier. But losing a marathon that late in the race is not fun. Until you have done it, "But second place is still great" rings a little hollow.



I stayed around after the race to do a book signing at the post-race party but mainly I wanted to see the canoe portagers come in. While there was the usual applause for most runners coming in, especially the slower ones, the park erupted whenever anyone carrying a freaking boat came ambling across the line. I say ambling even though the half-marathon winner literally skipped across the line to the amazement of everyone.

My trip to Ely was made specifically to see how this race compared to some that I think are an absolute must-run. While I can't say that you can't run fast here (it ends up that the man who beat me, a multiple marathon finisher, set a THREE minute personal best on this course, which is just mindbogglingly) chances are the hills will take a lot out of you. But what the scenery gives you, how well the town embraces your presence, and what the volunteers and organizers do to make you feel welcome is indeed something which must be felt. Granted a few other marathons in Minnesota get a great deal of publicity but you would be ill-advised to sleep on this new little gem tucked up in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota. I highly suggest you book a massage at the Pebble Spa Company  just a few blocks from the end of the race as well. I did and without a doubt one of the reasons I recovered even more quickly than usual was because I pampered myself at this excellent establishment.

Go run it, and then, be adventurous like I was and drive another three hours to Thunder Bay, Ontario where you can pay homage to where Canadian legend Terry Fox was forced to stop his run across Canada way back in the early 1980s.

All in all, this race really boosted my confidence and proved to me that good weather really is a huge equalizer. I look to improve greatly on the much easier course in Victoria, British Columbia in less than two weeks as I once again strike out on the 26.2 mile journey.

My first marathon in Canada since my first ever sub-3 in my 42nd marathon of the year in Niagara Falls back in 2006 beckons. I don't know how it is possible that it has been twelve years since I have run that distance in our neighbors to the North but as the featured speaker for the race, I plan on putting a darn good show.
Greatly looking forward to being the featured speaker for the race as well.  Hope to see you there!