Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Marine Corps Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 31st Edition
517.59 miles raced in 2007
Race: Marine Corps Marathon
Place: Arlington VA / Washington, DC
Miles from home: 2
Course Difficulty: 7.5 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 7 out of 10
Weather: 50-60, bright sunshine
Finisher's Medal: 9.5 out of 10

I have done decently well in races this year. My desire to show you can do well at all different distances without specifically training for any of them is one more race away from being a resounding success. However, I have done so under varied, and often quite horrible weather conditions. From slippery icy trails, to blisteringly cold days to scorching hot and humid afternoons to well, I guess I am about "malaria" short of a completely bad year.

So I was hoping that in my last (planned) marathon of the year, I would finally be cut a break by whoever it is who controls the weather. For the most part, I would have to say that I was.

When it comes to the Marine Corps Marathon both my love affair with this race, and my recent confusion over exactly why certain courses changes were done in the manner that they were done has been well documented. And to be 100% honest, I was not really looking forward to this race per se. Sure I wanted to be able to sleep in my own bed, know 99% of the course and not have to travel. But I also wanted the course that had really been the best rendition of the MCM and that was what was run in 2005 and 2006. But that wasn’t the case and I had come to grips with that.

As was the case often last year, and many times his year, a great many of my friends would plan their races or trips to DC when I was out of town. However, this weekend, a bevy of friends were making the trip and I was going to be here. Great! Except for the fact that all I wanted to do was lounge around and do my normal nothing prior to the race. But I could not pass up the chance to meet so many friends and many for the first time in person. So Friday and Saturday I made the rounds seeing friends willy-nilly and I am glad I did.

The night before the race, I had a very fitful and interrupted sleep. I was not too worried about this as I had been well rested the rest of the week but it was enough to make me a little jittery. But when the morning broke and the cool temperatures were still hanging around, the jitters were gone.

As I walked from Iwo Jima to the start I noticed I had planned my arrival pretty perfectly. Not wanting to mill around too much, I got to the starting line with about 15 minutes to spare. Not too much time to fret. At the beginning I saw Keith Knipling, who earlier this summer accomplished the incredible feat of not only running 3 separate 100-mile races in three weeks but also finishing 3rd, 1st and 1st in those races. We exchanged pleasantries and he told me he was going to shoot for a 3:10 to qualify for Boston. I had no doubt he would do it.

As the start drew nigh, we noticed that a massive amount of runners had moved from one of the two lanes of people to the other. Not one to follow blindly but definitely curious I tried to figure out why. It was then I noticed that the right lane was definitely on the inside curve. Those in the lane I was presently standing in would assuredly be running much further at the start of the race. So I aligned myself with those in the right and began to weave towards the front.

This was only after I made one last, no modesty allowed, trip to a tree which barely had enough leaves to cover itself, let alone me and the three other guys who were doing out best to make sure the foliage was watered. I was hoping this would be the last time I bothered with this sort of thing.

As I ran back to the start with mere seconds to go before we began, I realized another curious design of the MCM this year was no enforcement of corrals by start time. Having been a victim to this starting-time-by-honesty fiasco before wherein runners lined up not with what they could do, or had done but, apparently what their wildest dream ever was, I refused to play that game today. My finish time that I planned on running would have netted me a 74th place last year so I eyeballed about 70 people in front of me and stayed put. When the overweight, clueless-looking man wearing a shirt with a collar (for chrissakes) got close and personal by trying to shove past, I gave him a look as if to say “Not happening today, pal.”

The cannon fired and the runners were off and running.

Mile 1-2: 12:54

When the very first mile of the course is mis-marked, you have reason for trepidation. While I was making sure not to get caught up with the speedsters, I also knew I was hoofing it a great deal faster than the 7:35 the first mile said I ran. Of course, when we passed the second mile (which contained part of the biggest hill on the course) and I had ran a 5:19, I figured out the perhaps the distance had been corrected by the shorter second mile. Taken the average of the cumulative time of 12:54, I was quite pleased with the two 6:27 miles to start.

Mile 3: 6:32

The 3rd mile also contained portions of the big hill but was also the beginning of the biggest downhill of the course as well (in terms of total length). So the time lost on the uphill was more or less made up on the downhill.

Mile 4: 6:25

The downhill dropped even further in this mile and would have been even faster except for one thing. I really had to pee. I could not decide if I should pull over to the side of the road here and do my business in the middle of the downhill. On one hand, I could finish my business, and get rolling again on the downhill. On the other, I would kill the momentum of my jaunt. In the end the urge to purge won over. Unfortunately, I could barely squeeze out a drop. I stood there for a few seconds (in the only portion of the course guaranteed to be both wooded and spectator-free) before finally realizing nothing more was going to happen. Fellow Georgetown Running Company member Max Lockwood ran by and told me to hurry up. As I caught him on the downhill, I told him the break was needed. I had been going too fast. And since Max was shooting for a low 2:40 time, and at this point had been behind me, I had just proven to myself the stop was worth it.

As this mile flattened out, we came across a group of four running abreast. Given their relatively slow gait and the fact that they were somehow in front of us, I knew something was afoot. Sure enough, at least one of the runners was visually impaired. I shouted a few words of encouragement and smiled at the coincidence of this situation. You see, last week, in reading an article about visually impaired runners and their guides by Mitch Albom (click HERE to read), I was moved to contact Mr. Albom to inquire about how I could be such a guide. I was then put in touch with on of the subjects of the article who provided me with a great amount of information. As soon as I figure out exactly where my life is taking me in the next few months, I will most assuredly follow-up on that email conversation to fulfill yet another goal in life.

We then went up a small hill and passed onto the Key Bridge. Bruce and Steve, two members of the one of the running clubs to which I belong, shouted some encouragement and took the picture below. I think they were surprised to see me this close to the front. I was too.

Mile 5: 6:35

Coming off the Key Bridge I was glad to have a little shelter from the wind. Having made itself present near the start of the race, we had gone a few miles without feeling it blowing. However, on the bridge, the cross-breeze had been quite stiff and seemed to say “Still here. Just in case you were curious.” Down Canal Road the runners went and to the steepest uphill portion we ran. It would have been bad enough alone, but the fact that there were gigantic tour buses idling on the hill, spewing out diesel fumes, made it all that much worse. As with the reference above to the end of the race, I would simply like to have an explanation as to why this had happened. I cannot think of a single reason and I am the biggest devil’s advocate out there.

Mile 6: 6:45

Because of the steep hill and the next mile of less steep but steady hills I was not at all unpleased with my time for this mile. I exchanged a few words with a runner who was hoping to “just” run a 3:10. I told him we were on a 2:50 pace and he may wish to slow down. He evinced that he wanted to bank time so when he got tired at the end he could rely on that banking to pull him through. I did not want to say too much but mentioned that is not the best strategy but I wished him luck. I knew he would not last at this pace, as he pulled even further in front of me.

Mile 7: 6:23

The quick drop-off of Reservoir Road onto Canal was as steep as I recalled on my trial run and running at a much faster pace the turn was even more ankle breaking. I looked down Canal Road and sure enough there was a good amount of road, which could have been utilized. I shook my head as one of the wheelchair runners blazing down the hill actually had the wheels of one side of his ride come off the ground on his turn.

Mile 8: 6:32

While this portion had not been too pleasant on my trial run, it was much more pleasant on race day. First it wasn’t during the middle of the day, which meant the temperatures were lower and the road was shaded. Second, I wasn’t dodging oncoming traffic, which is always a plus. Third, well I was racing and everything is easier during a race.

Mile 9: 6:37

We finished with the small risers of Canal Road and its loneliness and burst back onto the main drag just south of Georgetown. Thousands of other runners streamed down the other side of the road, just getting ready to deal with the hill and the killer fumes.

My good friend Christine was running her second marathon in 21 days and I was hoping to see here somewhere. But running into the sun, even with sunglasses, made seeing anything difficult. Plus, there were honestly, no exaggeration, thousands of similar looking people parading past me on the other side. It was then I heard: “Go Dane” and saw Christine and a friend of both of us, Andrew, running together. I gave a fist pump and shouted back “Good luck!”

Not more than a few hundred yards down the road, a man jumped out of the mass of humanity and screamed "Alright Dane!” Wearing a shirt emblazoned with “Elora’s Dad.” I knew exactly who I was looking at: Dan Geier, one of the runners of the Drake Well Marathon was making sure I saw him. Dan lost his daughter Elora to Leukemia last year and has championed the cause to help find a cure for her ever since then (read my blog about Dan HERE). I can only someday hope to be half as proud a father as Dan is of Elora.

Down under the Key Bridge we ran and I again saw Bruce and Steve. I heard another friend shout my name as she sat, precariously, on the end of the off-ramp. A familiar voice shouting encouragement, which I could not place until later, turned out to be my massage therapist Terrel Hale.

Mile 10: 6:25 (Cumulative time: 1:05:13)

My 10 mile time was just a few seconds slower than my time at Steamtown and I was feeling good. The familiar problem with my adductor in my left leg was present but were not debilitating.

Here, I was finally caught from behind by something I knew had been coming for quite some time: the lead women’s pack. I could hear them creeping up for miles as hushed whispers of “There are the lead women!” would echo behind me as spectators completely ignored those of us running. I wasn’t quite sure who it was at this point but felt good I had held them off so long.

Mile 11: 6:25

As we approached the huge crowd near the Lincoln Memorial, I finally had a chance to see who they were. Kristen Henehan, Lisa Thomas and Alicia Pease, all local runners, were running in a tight-knit pack with what appeared to be some male pacers. Lisa and I have met at a few races and the others I have seen at various track workouts and the like. I was so pleased to see that girls I knew were leading the charge. But I was also damned if they were going to be passing me too easily! As long as they stayed in my wheelhouse I was going to run with them.

It also helped that a huge roar erupted from the crowd as we hit this point. Both invigorating and demoralizing (I knew they were not cheering for me) I used the cheers to push me forward. One chap passed me and I told him: “I can delude myself into thinking they are cheering for me until one of them shouts: “You Go Girl!’”

Mile 12: 6:34

As we weaved down Constitution Avenue and past the Washington Monument, I fell back just a bit to allow the pack to set the pace. I expected them to blow by but instead we began running stride-for-stride. Alicia appeared next to me and I introduced myself after exchanging hellos with Lisa. Alicia was still wearing knee-length tube socks on her hands, as although the sun was shinning bright, there was still a chill in the air. And if there is one thing I have learned in 1,886.4 miles of marathon racing, it is that if your hands are cold, you are not going to be a happy camper.

Mile 13: 6:31 (Halfway time: 1:25:30)

As we ended our eastward jaunt through DC and turned back west leaving the Capitol building behind us, the wind again picked up. Nevertheless, I was so pleased to have passed through the halfway point not only close to my Steamtown time but also a few seconds faster. I decided to fall back a few steps and use the pack again to break the wind. It is rare at my pace that I have a pack to break the wind (not that I am so blazing fast but I have not run enough large marathons where there is a pack running at my pace) so I took advantage of it. I was not the only one as a few other guys trailed the lead women.

Mile 14: 6:36

For about 100 yards, it looked like the women were going to separate themselves from me at last. Then we all fell back in together and again formed quite a phalanx. George Buckheit, the coach of many of the fast women in the area, was running quite a race himself as I was seeing him on the sidelines for what was easily the 4th time of the day. He must have the course and its shortcuts memorized by now.

Mile 15: 6:33

Here Lisa was given a small bottle of water by a friend and after drinking her fill, generously passed it to Alicia and then to me. Even though I had just had a cup of water not too far back, actually being able to squirt the water into my mouth rather than try to drink from a cup did wonders.

I was whetting my whistle in preparation for where the Marine Corps Marathon really begins: Hains Point

Mile 16: 6:30

As we entered this flat but oh so windy portion of the race I braced myself for the inevitable winds. But they did not come. I was ecstatic. Seemingly happy they were not dealing with them either, the girls finally began to pull away from me. I felt like I was moving at the previous pace but I could not keep up with them anymore. I decided to just run my race and hope it was enough. Seeing I ran 5 seconds under my pace at mile 16 was a huge boost for me mentally. What exactly had they ran?

Mile 17: 6:37

Rounding the easternmost part of Hains Point, I passed The Awakening statue for possibly the last time (they may be moving it from its home here to some other place in D.C.; very dumb idea.) Almost immediately, I was pushed into a stand-up straight position from the prevailing wind. Damn it. I was so hoping that this was not going to be an issue. I also was so ticked I hadn’t stayed with the women and used there pacers/windbreakers.

Mile 18: 6:43

I lost a few more seconds on this mile as the winds gusted to and fro. I had been doing math for quite some time and barring a huge collapse, knew I was setting a PR this day. The only question was by how much.

Mile 19: 6:52
The final push out of HP provided the biggest winds. I saw Alicia had fallen off of the pace of the other two women but she was still moving along at a great pace. I was closing slightly and just wanted to stay right there with her. One guy passed me and showing great strength, made up a huge amount of time, directly into the wind. I tried to use him to break the wind but he was both too short and too fast. I did not want to blow it here.

Mile 20: 6:47

Wanting so bad to hit the 20-mile marker at a 2:10, which would give me an outside shot at my dream goal for the race (2:49:49) I was slightly disheartened to hit this area at 2:11 and change. But this still allowed me a great chance at getting a 2:52.

Mile 21: 6:42

Still a little slower than I had hoped for, I felt good as I crossed the 14th Street Bridge. Always a big barrier for me, this desolate, undulating lengthy behemoth can crush many marathon dreams. Mile 21 was at the bottom of the off-ramp and I was ready to crush the last 5 miles. The winds, which had whipped slightly on the bridge, would be negligible soon as the buildings of Crystal City would shield us.

Mile 22: 6:53

Um, hello Buildings of Crystal City?! How the hell were the winds getting through? So strong at one point I actually declared “mother effer” so loud that a Marine manning the station here actually laughed out loud. Stay together and let’s go.

Mile 23: 7:09
Damn. More wind. I was passing runners in small handfuls at this point and knew I was not “slowing down”. I knew if Crystal City was bad, the open parking lot and highways near the Pentagon would be even worse.

I was right.

A woman passed me like I was standing still. I could see she was going to catch Alicia soon and I wanted to yell out to her. It would not have helped.

Mile 24: 7:16

I passed Alicia and told her to fall in behind me and use me to block the wind if she could hold my pace. I did not have the energy to say much more or look behind me to see if she had done so until I went down the last circular off ramp and saw her a few steps behind me.

Mile 25: 7:18

Hitting this last stretch, the wind picked up again. I had been tracking one chap for quite sometime who was blatantly breaking the No Headphones rule of the MCM. So, I decided to use this to my advantage and tuck in behind him to save some energy for one last surge. However, he either heard me or saw my shadow, and seeming to not like this too much, made a direct and abrupt left sidestep. So I took off into the wind.

Seeing the turn we normally made to make the finish was extremely deflating. I was watching a few runners come back towards me on the other side and frantically searching for a familiar face of a runner who I knew was not too far in front of me. Before too long I saw Kristin with Lisa a few seconds behind. Then I realized they were running downhill. Which meant I was going to have to go up a hill to get there. Seriously, explain this portion to me again.

Mile 26: 7:24

One last direct 180-degree turn up a hill and soon I would be in the homestretch. My leg really began to bother me but I only had about four more minutes of running to suffer through. I searched frantically for the 26th mile marker.

Where is the damn mile marker?

Last .2: 1:24
Hitting the last climb to Iwo Jima with the cheers from a handful of friends and scores of strangers (I would later find out via video there was a guy right behind me who I proceeded to leave in the dust on the hill) I gave everything I had. Most of my “A” goals were gone and I was now settling for “B” goals. I wanted so bad to run sub 2:55 and get the automatic NYC qualifier but it wasn’t going to happen.

Striding across the line, I pumped both fists nonetheless and broke my personal best by almost exactly 3 minutes. A 2:55:34 was now in the books.

I accepted my finisher’s medal and paused to thank the Marines handing them out. I told them I wanted to thank them not only for today but also for what they do always. Looking at the medal, which is definitely one of my top 3 favorites ever, I was definitely moved.


This is my fourth straight Marine Corps Marathon and may be my last for a while. While one of my favorites of all time, there are many races out there to taste and only so many more years of my life to taste them. Given my current search for a new vocation, I am not even sure where I will be in a few months. In fact, after my 24-hour national championship race in 3 weeks, I have, for the first time in 4 years, a completely-open running schedule. I have nothing planned, nothing paid for and it may stay that way. Sure I have ideas. I want to do the 55-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa; I’d like to plan a Titusville (PA)-to-Titusville (NJ)-to-Titusville (FL) run to be completed in 30 days (40 miles per day) and eventually a trans-continental jaunt. But not being a lottery winner or a trust fund baby, those all depend on sponsors (I have none) and a job (I am looking for one).

In the meantime, I will savor this race. But if there is anyone reading this who is aware of someone who’d like to help me complete these dreams, well, you have seen my pictures: I’m all ears.

I mentioned many friends who were running this race. In no particular order, allow me to update their days.

* Christine and Andrew did not have the races there were hoping for, but nonetheless accomplished an enviable goal.
* My friend Natalie, who was expecting very little from this race given a rash of injuries, not only set a personal best but also qualified for Boston.
* Keith Knipling also showed his mettle by getting exactly what he needed, running a 3:10:21.
* Elora’s Dad? Running stride for stride with his son in what might have been his son’s first marathon, they crossed the line in 4:26:23.
* Many of my friends from various online running groups also set milestones. Some were running their first marathon ever, others were recovering from Ironman Triathlons and still others smartly stayed on the sidelines because of injury.
* Kristen ending up winning the first marathon she ever ran, with Lisa just behind in 2nd place. Alicia, in a battle to the finish with a few other girls, placed an extremely impressive 6th (4th, 5th and 6th were a mere 13 seconds apart).

I am sure there are many who I have forgotten in this recap but that doesn’t mean I did not have them in my mind both on race day and beyond. Congrats to all. I hope our running paths cross soon.

Like stats? Check these out (These are all me):

118th place with 20504 finishers behind. Less than 1% of finishers ahead.

115th place with 12456 finishers behind. Less than 1% of finishers ahead.

My Age:
28th place with 1869 finishers behind. About 1% of finishers ahead.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Two more Lake Winni Pics

Can never get enough of a good memory!

The picture here:

was taken by the guy seen taking the picture in front of me here.

This was about 5 seconds before gravity and God laid my body on the gorund for a bit

In the aftermath, Katie and I sat down. She felt really tired and lightheaded and needed pizza and cookies and coke really badly. Wait. No, that was me. Katie looked like she might havd ran 6 miles that day.

But I got to finish the relay so I get to look tired. Next year is her turn!

A Friend's Report of the Green Mountain Marathon

A good friend of mine who I have spoken of before, Rob Toonkel, writes some of the best race recaps out there. Rarely are they recaps of his actual race. His race is almost always an afterthought. Instead, they are yarns of the place he visited and his experiences there. His most recent one was I wanted to share with you. (Keep in mind Rob is the 4th youngest person to ever run a marathon in all 50 states. He also recently sent out an email with all kinds of stats about his marathons and which month he ran his best and on how little rest and on what day which I am going to flat out steal myself.) Enjoy.

A tale of two cities:

I'm going to describe two places to you by their typical weather:

A) Has an average high temperature in mid-to-late-October of 55 degrees and a low of 37. The sun shines less than half of the time, the average daily rainfall is nearly 0.10 inches and it snowed 2.0 inches last year at this time.
B) Has an average high temperature in mid-October of 68 and low of 37. The sun shines 75 percent of the time and average daily rainfall is a minimal 0.03 inches.

Now I'm going to describe what actually happened:

A) The high temperature over three consecutive days was 77, 64 and 72, with lows of 61, 58, and 51. The first day had a daily record rainfall of 1.22 inches, but the last has 67 percent of possible sunshine.
B) The high temperature over three consecutive days was 58, 44, and 59, with daily lows of 42, 38, and 37. It rained more than two-and-three-quarter inches over this span, including a daily record 2.48 inches one day. The percentage of possible sunshine on the middle day was exactly zerro percent (the first day with less than 20 percent sunshine since 06 August and just the second since 05 May)

City "B" is the city where I was told it is "always sunny," a city known as Denver, Colorado. Last Sunday (14 October), I ran a marathon in that 2.48 inch deluge during a weekend where the temperature failed to crack 60 degrees.

City "A" is the place where I was this past weekend, which started out wet, ended gorgeous with temperatures that never dipped below 50 degrees. This wasn't some southern locale. Follow along to a place where I ran my 100th different marathon, a place you'll want to remain: Grand Isle County .

Something Grand…
If you want to go to Grand Isle County , you've first got to find Grand Isle County . To do so, find New York. Then find Vermont. See that place where they are split apart by Lake Champlain? Now follow that little slice of land hanging down from Canada. The portion below the Canadian border is Grand Isle County .

Grand Isle County is everything you'd expect Vermont to be… and more. Black and white spotted cows straight out of a Ben & Jerry's ad on real working farms. Apple orchards and corn fields, again on real working farms. Red barns on green pasture. Dirt and gravel roads lined with majestic trees.

Look to the west and you'll see Lake Champlain with the Adirondacks as a backdrop. Look to the east and you'll again see Lake Champlain, only this time with Mount Mansfield majestically anchoring the Green Mountains. Everything is quaint, from the gas stations to the post offices to the country store to the Grand Isle County Courthouse.

But you won't find everything here. Starbucks? Not a single one in Grand Isle County. Applebees? No. CVS ? No. McDonalds? No. Wal-Mart? Don't even ask. Forget the cheap t-shirts and knicknacks too. If you want those, go to Ocean City or Myrtle Beach . Because you just won't find them in this little slice of paradise.

Little is an understatement when it comes to Grand Isle County . At just 83 square miles, it is the dwarf of Vermont counties. With just 6,901 people, it the least populous county north of Maryland, even though its population has doubled since 1970. (As a comparison, Kings County, N.Y. – which you may be more familiar with as "Brooklyn" – has 2.4 million people in 71 square miles).

Grand Isle County has endured an interesting history. At one time, the land was claimed by Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York. In 1764, the boundary of New York and New Hampshire was set along the Connecticut River , leaving all of Vermont in New York's hands, as part of Albany County. In 1772, it was split off from Albany County and became Charlotte County, N.Y.

Vermont claimed independence. New York and Massachusetts shrugged at this announcement. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris set the U.S. – Canadian border at 45 degrees north latitude, officially placing this icicle from Canada in U.S. hands. Not until 1786 did Massachusetts relinquish its claim to Vermont. It took New York until 1788 to give up Vermont, and then only by order of the United States Congress.

So how do you get to a place that's physically connected to Canada without crossing the border? Yes, there is a bridge from Burlington, but the simplest way to do so is to take the Adirondack Northway (the name for I-87 north of Albany) to Plattsburgh, and then take a 12-minute ferry ride across the lake. This ferry runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, although as the website (http://www.ferries.com/north_schedule.asp) notes, "departure times may vary due to wind, ice conditions or traffic." A picture of the ferry is here: http://www.ferries.com/gfx/ferry_1_800.jpg.

Ups and Downs
The days leading up to the race were not filled with anticipation, however. In many ways, they were filled with dread. That's because the forecast wasn't rosy. As the weekend got closer, the predicted weekend weather continued to worsen – from a 20 percent chance of showers on Saturday (race) morning to a 30 percent chance to a 40 percent chance, and so on. By Thursday night, the forecast for Saturday morning had become, "periods of showers and thunderstorms, some of the storms could produce gusty winds. Chance of precipitation is 80 percent."

Running one marathon in the rain is tough. Running marathons on back to back weekends in the rain is the stuff that misery is made of. Given the forecast, it came as no surprise that it began pouring Friday night. Pouring might have been an understatement. You could hear the rain pounding on the roof of the adorable bed and breakfast where I stayed (more on this 165 year old farmhouse here: http://www.adamslandingvt.com/). All I could hope was that it would rain itself out.

Running Weather (or not)…
Race day of the Green Mountain Marathon dawns, and two things are obvious. First, it's not pouring. It's not even raining. Second, it's not cold. Sure, it was gray, and there may have been some fine drizzle in the air from time to time, but the weather is more May or September than late October. It's 60 degrees. In October. In Vermont.

The course is a out-and-back (meaning you run to the halfway point, then turn around), beginning and ending at the local and adorable elementary school. What else can I say about the course? Well, it is half on dirt, half on pavement. It follows mostly rural roads. The lake is almost always visible to one side. And to the other side is some scene – a small, cute house set into the trees, a farm ringed by a white rail fence, an apple orchard – that makes you imagine the way things should be. It was that gorgeous.

But I haven't even begun to describe the leaves. You see, peak season for foliage in northern Vermont should have been two weeks ago. But when the temperatures refused to cool down, the trees refused to turn on their brilliant show. So the peak came late.

I'm not sure any pictures would do it justice. You can not re-create this scene using technological means. In some places, it was as if certain trees were picked to be certain shades. In other cases, it was as if someone had simply tossed paint at random. It was that kind of perfection.

Since everyone could use a little slice of Vermont, look at these pictures:


After the race, the refreshments were so distinctly Vermont, it was as if the race was crawling into my soul. Last week in the much-ballyhooed Denver race, finishers were treated (?) to a power bar and a stale bagel. That may be Colorado's way of treating visitors. It isn't Vermont's. Inside the adorable elementary school gym, tired runners were offered fresh Vermont apples, fresh cider donuts (if you don't know what a cider donut is, you're missing one of the best things in life), and unpasteurized apple cider, complete with sign warning that children and the elderly should not drink it because of the possibility of harmful bacteria. If you've never had fresh unpasteurized apple cider, I will describe it to you this way… forget it, I can't. Just imagine heaven in a glass. I happened to have four.

The fresh Vermont apples were so delicious that I wound up buying ten pounds of them at the orchard that was located just beyond the school. Six pounds made it back to D.C., and you can smell them from fifteen feet away. I may never be able to eat a months-old, cold-stored, grocery-produce-section apple again. Like Vermont itself, there is no comparison.

By Saturday night, all the clouds had given way to a canopy of stars and the sound of the lake lapping lightly at the shore. The clouds had completely cleared by Sunday morning, leaving a blissful blue sky and temperatures that sang late June much more than they did late October. I need not expand on the scene coming south down the Adirondack Northway. Let's just say glistening peak foliage and leave it there, because it just doesn't seem fair to gloat any further.

…I suppose you might be interested in the results of the actual race. As you might expect, it's kind of hard not to be exhilarated by the scenes described above. I can't say whether it was the cleanliness of the air, the sight of the lake, the smell of autumn with the feel of summer, the sound of geese in their patented v-formation, the rustling of the leaves, the mooing of the cows or the foliage that drew your attention and made you want to come closer… It might have been all of those and it might have been none of those, but the result was this – six days after running in the rain in Denver, I finished my second marathon of the week in 3:28:43, my sixth best time ever (out of 113).

I just so happened to look at the upcoming forecast for Grand Isle County . Tucked into the predictions for the coming weekend – "chance of rain or snow."

Wishing you a very Vermont (that is to say, "ideal and perfect") day.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Update on the Marine Corps Marathon

The Marine Corps Marathon is a week away (give or a take a few hours). This will be my fourth consecutive running of this marathon and quite possibly my last for a while. But more on that later.

This year, construction on the Rock Creek Parkway has forced the organizers to reroute parts of the course. Construction, especially in a city and even more so in a city that is such a high security risk (being our Nation’s Capitol and all) has got to be a race director’s nightmare. Granted the first 4.5 and the last 5.7 are not even run in DC but that still leaves a great deal of headache.

My first year running the MCM was the first year the racecourse did not start by heading south towards the Pentagon (which I am quite surprised most people do not realize it actually in Virginia). Instead, it starts by going up into a neighborhood in the County of Arlington called Rosslyn. This first section is a little bit brutal, as you must go up a 200-foot hill, which ends at mile 2. Of course, I have always thought that if you can’t handle a little challenge at mile 2, maybe you should stick to a 10k race. They are cute and fun and you don’t have to limp the next day.

The race made more changes for the better in 2005 and stayed exactly the same for 2006. There were some things I felt could be improved but, as I have said before, the MCM was my favorite marathon.

However, due to the aforementioned construction some changes had to be implemented. The Rock Creek Parkway section is a really nice place to run and race. As I mentioned in a previous post: “(The RCP is so nice because…) for the better part of 2 plus miles, those of us running in the 3 hour or under category get to see something we usually don't see in marathons: the rest of the pack!

Usually, by the time you descend the RCP section you are a good 10k into this race. Semi-elite runners have separated themselves from the pretty good runners who have separated themselves from the "local class" chaps like myself, who are ahead of the majority of the pack. But, when you turn down the hill of RCP, you get an eyeful of 20,000 runners coming the opposite direction going up the hill that you just came down. I love this. Scores and scores of people in all kinds of colorful shirts and costumes and the like are chasing after that elusive turn around point. And when you see someone you know, they can always gauge how much faster of a runner you are then they are and then know how far it is to go until they themselves turn around. There are so many reasons to like this section of the course and it is now gone this year.”

So, I acquiesced to the change and hoped it might be easier than the RCP section. Heck, the elevation profile makes it look like a simple up and down. To make sure this was the case, the other day I decided to go run on the only section of the course I have never run on. Having drive half of the section every day to work for 3 years I knew the first hill was a doozy. But I did not know that after making the turn off the first hill (Foxhall RD) that the MacArthur section was a long steady uphill. Nothing too terrible but definitely more inclines than I thought.

After that incline you have a rather short but extremely steep downhill and then a complete ankle breaking, 180-degree turn onto Canal Road. Unfortunately this will not be the last of these type of turns on the new course. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Perhaps it was the warm sun overhead or the fact that I was running on the skinniest of shoulders with oncoming traffic in my face but this part of Canal Road was also a little more difficult than I thought it would be. Instead of going constantly downhill as the elevation profile suggests there is a little up and down here before you burst out of the wooded area which abuts the C&O Canal and into Georgetown proper. All in all this could be worse but it most assuredly could be better. (see below).

Now, I was looking over the rest of the course and noticed something. Usually when you come off of the 14th street Bridge and head into Crystal City (which I have to remind myself to find out why it has this moniker) you are at mile 22. However, this year it is mile 21. Where exactly were they going to make up this extra mile?

Unfortunately, I found out. Many people have lamented how the MCM ends by going up what seems to be an excruciatingly long hill to end in front of the Marine Memorial (OTW as “Iwo Jima Memorial”). Those who do so are probably pretty happy they don’t end like they use to when you ran up the hill, and then had to do a completely loop around the Memorial before finishing. This is one of the cruelest tactics a race can do to a runner I think. So when it was changed in 2004 to simply go up the hill and end, I was quite happy.

Well, now, in order to make up the extra mile (or so), instead of running north on RT 110, making a hard left and being inspired by the Marines pushing a flag into the rocky ground of Iwo Jima, runners must instead run about .3 of a mile up the road, make the aforementioned dreaded 180-degree turn, and come back to the hill before finishing. This, my friends, is a rookie-marathon designer mistake, which I am shocked occurred at the MCM. No one, I mean NO ONE, wants to make a momentum-killing turn at mile 25.5. How they could not have found that extra mile elsewhere is beyond me. Heck, they could have tacked it onto the big drop-off hill back where MacArthur meet Canal Road which would have allowed runners to use the momentum of the downhill to carry them before making the turn and coming back on Canal. I am sure that all of Canal is going to be blocked in the morning anyway. Why could they not have added an extra few tenths in one direction?

When I mentioned the big hill in Rosslyn being difficult but a runner should be able to deal with it that is because it was at mile 2. Making a marathon as easy as possible, at the end, is almost (I feel) a race director’s duty. For some reason, however, in many of my 71 lifetime marathons, I have found that the end of marathons seem to be afterthoughts with race organizers. They make sure the beginning is smashing, and perhaps the finish LINE is wonderful but the last 6 miles, where runners need everything to go their way, they neglect. This has always befuddled me. Making the ending of a race easy seems, well, so easy. I still to this day do not understand why races do not stock up on liquids for the end of the race. I don’t need my water and energy drinks at mile 3 one-tenth as bad as I do at mile 23. But I digress.

This is just my perspective on the race coming up. I hope it helps those of you who are familiar with the course but not the changes. Please note that I think the race is still a wonderful race and I fully expect to set a large personal best here. The crowds are without peer and running under the monuments still gives me chills even though I run in their midst daily. But I believe preparation is the key, so I did the legwork so you did not have to.

Enjoy the race all!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I make goofy faces.

Courtesy of the BetterSportrsmen Club in Arlington.

Charlie Engle

Tonight I was able to spend about 90 minutes listening to a great ultrarunner, Charlie Engle. He was speaking at the National Geographic Center in D.C. about an awe-inspiring event he accomplished last year. You see, in November 2006, a team of three endurance athletes led by Charlie set out from the coast of Senegal to run 4,300 miles across northern Africa’s Sahara to the Red Sea. For the next 111 days, they averaged 44 to 50 miles a day in one of the most hostile environments on Earth.

What was most interesting about listening to Charlie speak was how similar our mindsets were. At one point he said he was just a slightly better than average marathoner who happens to be very stubborn (or something to that effect). I not only feel the same way but have said so often (Yet, somehow, being proud of myself for my accomplishments draws ire from some who feel I am being arrogant. Oh well).

Furthermore, the quest Charlie and his friends set out to do often paralleled Fiddy2. He mentioned how their initial goal was not to be a media-hawk or for any grand goal. No, in their initial planning their intent was to become the first modern runners to accomplish this feat. Only later did the idea to create awareness of Africa’s water crisis, and identify areas of need for programs providing sustainable clean water to communities come to life. With Fiddy2 I originally simply wanted to run a marathon every weekend. In the planning stages I came across L’Arche and made it the focus on my year (plus).

It was quite eerie as not only could I see myself saying many of the things Charlie said, I think I actually DID say them a week ago in front of a much smaller crowd at the Better SportsMen Club. As such, I introduced myself to Charlie afterward and let him know I had followed a lot of what he had done in the past year and was really interested in working together with him in the near future. To my pleasure, he had actually head of me as well and we were able to exchange a few pleasantries before his handler hustled him out the door.

I am quite excited at this possibility and I think it would be a great relationship. Charlie and I seem to hold many of the same ideas and characteristics (I say “seem” as I just met him) and it could be a wonderful start for me in the running world.

Charlie mentioned there is currently a bidding war for his movie about the experience “Running the Sahara” and to me that is awesome. Who would have thought in a society obsessed with ball sports that a story about running would create some fervor. One can only hope this is a continued upswing in the interest of running and more directly, distance running.

So if you get a chance to see Charlie speak, please do so. He is engaging and likable on top of being a phenomenal athlete. We can have a big viewing party when his movie comes out. I will buy the popcorn!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tidal Basin 3k

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 30th Edition
491.39 miles raced in 2007
Race: Tidal Basin 3k
Place: Washington, DC
Miles from home: 5
Course Difficulty: 2 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 4 out of 10
Weather: Mid 70s, bright sunshine
Finisher's Medal: N/A

As I mentioned last month I have always heard about the Tidal Basin 3ks given once a month by the DC Road Runners club. I wasn't sure if I would be around next month to give them another go so I could not miss making another run at a sub-10 minute 3k here.

Again I was shocked at that number of people who ran this month's edition of the race. There had to be nearly 80 people there.

Once again I saw my friendly rival Charlie Mercer, who was not wearing his signature too-damn-big-for-him blue shorts but rather a long-sleeved black mock turtle neck shirt. He received immediate ribbing and said if he lost to me he was blaming the shirt. I said it would be a valid point.

I saw Ted Poulos, Dan Murphy and Steve Kartalia again who took the top 3 spots last time. But I was feeling frisky. Thought perhaps I would have a shot at cracking those three.

A softly spoken "go" and away we went. Like last time, Steve was off like a shot. I was able to hold off Dan Murphy a little longer this time before he passed me as we crossed a bridge over a river which fed the Tidal Basin.

I heard footsteps and assumed it was Ted. Nope, Someone else. I hung with him for a while and THEN Ted passed me. Well, damn it.

Knowing to duck under the cherry tree blossom branches this time I didn't have to almost e decapitated. We next passed the Lincoln Memorial and ran behind it. Here finally, Ted passed both me and the unknown guy. Then Ted went onto the road when the rest of us stayed on the sidewalk. I noticed he did this last month and wondered if it was a better tangent for the S-curve ahead.

After the curve, I could see both Steve and Dan motoring away over the only bump in the course. Soon I was cresting this hill and looking forward to the homestretch. I felt I had a kick in me but also felt I was already under 10 minutes.

Knowing the straight-away was shorter than I thought I prepared for the final kick. Wait. Why could I still see Steve running? Shouldn't be done now? Damn. Where is the clock!?

It finally came into view and read 9:30. No way I can cover that distance under 30 seconds. I was right. It took me 38 seconds.

I finished 6th in 10:08 which was slower than what I hoped but not too bad. Still an 8 second PR only 9 days after a marathon PR. Guess you can do well in both at the same time, huh?

Charlie did not do as well as last month finishing in 10:30 but this was still better than his previous high. After the race, Charlie said something akin to: "I saw Dane take off like a shot and figured I would toast him in the finish. He did just run a marathon." Nevertheless, Charlie leads the battle 3-2.

Another notable was Tim Ramsey who said the weather and his training are helping him hit some really good times. You may recall Tim from running both Downhill Miles earlier this summer.

So kudos to everyone. Top 10 results below

1 Steve Kartalia 9:23
2 Dan Murphy 9:44
3 Ted Poulos 10:04
4 Tim Smith 10:07
5 Kevin Moore 10:07
6 Dane Rauschenberg 10:09
7 Tom Matzke 10:21
8 Brad Rippey 10:27
9 Charlie Mercer 10:31
10 Jeff Herrick 10:34

Friday, October 12, 2007

3 Cheers

*I try and mention many of my friends and their feats but sometimes I plain and simply forget. But my good friend Katie, on her birthday today, very quietly ran a 30 second PR in a 5k ran in the middle of the afternoon. Then she went back to work. That sort of stuff is the thing that makes me smile. Way to go Katie!

*I passed 1600 miles today for the year. As I mentioned before, I have friends on some running internet sites that are in the high 2000s already so I definitely keep it in perspective. But this is the highest mileage total for me ever and nearly 200 miles higher than this exact day last year. My goal for the year is 2007 miles but I think I will be much closer to 2300 when it is all said and done.

*On Wednesday night I had the pleasure of speaking before the Better Sports Club in Arlington. With so much extemporaneous stuff going on in my life, I actually had forgotten until the morning of that Wednesday was the day. As i stood in front of 50 odd members of the Better Sports Club, it was no matter. The story just flowed out of me like a river. My early running career which led into marathons which led into Fiddy2. I told a choice few stories from Fiddy2 and then left, hoping they would want more.

Some of the chaps were runners at one point in their lives and some were not. However, my message was supposed to ring true regardless: put your mind to something and win or lose you can never feel bad about giving your best.

I received a standing ovation but more importantly received a promise that they would pool some resources and make a donation to Fiddy2. To be honest, I have pulled back from fundraising for Fiddy2 because, well, Fiddy2 is over. I did not reach my $52k goal but still have hopes that something will happen to help me get there. In the meantime, I have had to move on. But to hear people were still willing to contribute warmed my heart.

So here is a cheer to Katie for kicking butt, to the Better Sports Club of Arlington, and heck to me for being well on my way to my goal (nothing wrong with being happy with your own progress once in a while!).

Monday, October 8, 2007

Steamtown Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 29th Edition
489.53 miles raced in 2007
Race: Steamtown Marathon
Place: Scranton, PA
Miles from home: 246
Course Difficulty: 6.5 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 5 out of 10
Weather: Mid 70s, humid
Finisher's Medal: 6 out of 10

As many of you know, I was able to set a new personal best in this marathon on Sunday. Therefore, my usual suspenseful tale has lost some of its luster. This is fine because I don't feel all that good about the time I ran. This is not the usual grumblings of a runner who wishes this would have gone this way or that had gone that way. Rather, there are two separate things about this race that make me feel I have lots of unfinished business to do.

Let me begin by saying I think the people who put on this marathon are extremely friendly and run an excellent race. They obviously pay attention to the complaints of runners and try to fix things accordingly. On top of that, as you traverse the small towns that dot the route of this point-to-point marathon, there are some exceptional shows of spirit and cheering (Carbondale, I am looking at you). So, it seems quite obvious the community wants you there. This cannot be said about all marathons and it makes you want to come back.

Now, let me get to one of the things that made me unhappy which cannot really be fixed by the race personnel. While at least partially their "fault" is not something I would blame them for. You see, I made a wrong turn.

More accurately, I made NO turn and had to backtrack to actually make the correct turn. Unfortunately, doing so at any point in the race is enough to throw a runner off of his scheme for a bit but worse for me was when I did so at mile 19.5ish. Now, I do not blame the marathon people for this because there were cones delineating where we should turn. However, I and three other runners must have all been in a haze as we rocketed by these cones and only realized our mistake when we ran out of road 20 seconds later. If anything, the Steamtown Marathon people were victims of their own success. How? Well, at every other turn or crook in the road, there had been personnel there to direct you the appropriate way. Ironically, when we doubled back, a chap on a bicycle had appeared and was directing other luckier runners down the correct street. More on this later.

Now, to the thing that CAN, and should, be changed.

The Steamtown Marathon is touted by many, including itself, as being a course where many will set not only Boston Qualifying times but also their personal best as well. With a net decline over nearly 1000 feet, this is a downhill runner's delight! Ever the skeptic, with 70 marathons under my belt, I don't ever take a Race Director or his/her website at face value. I do research. I look around and ask questions. As such, I knew that while there may be a NET decline for this course, there was going to be some uphill as well to contend with. I noticed that some of the biggest blips, and ones I had been warned about, came in the last 3 miles. As I will explain later, I checked these out and saw that they were, in fact, going to be difficult. By knowing this beforehand I removed that late in the race realization that the toughest part was yet to come which, quite frankly, will definitely crush your soul.

What made me so especially skeptical was how I had heard others say that the marathon website's elevation profile is misleading at best. I unfortunately hate to agree with those people, but it is. Let me explain.

Any detailed reading of the course tells you the vast majority of the net downhill is acquired in the first half of the marathon. So let's look at the race site's own version.

Except for the uphill from 1.75 miles to 2.25, you are looking at NOTHING but downhill or flat. Just beautiful, right? Fall of the face off a cliff for 13 miles.

However, this was not the case at all. Using a website which I have found to be just about spot-on perfect (Runningahead.com) I mapped the same first 13.1 miles. Note the differences.

To non-runners this might not seem like much but believe me, everyone of those darn uphills, when none were expected, not only did damage to your legs but also to your mind. Few things are worse in a marathon than uncertainty. It locks up your muscles and it freezes your mind. There is a LOT of time to think over 26.2 miles. When things go differently and continue to go differently than you expected, the consequences are immediate and usually fatal when it comes to the pre-race plans you had.

This may seem a little over-the-top but I assure you it is not. I have laughed out loud when I have heard people state that if you fail in a marathon it is because you were not physically prepared and nothing else. The mental aspect of a marathon is probably 75% of the race, at least.(That last quarter is tied up in athleticism and heart and that is a debate for another day). So when your mind/spirit go, you are more or less cooked.

I could do a similar demonstration for the second half of the race but my intention is not to berate or point out glaring discrepancies. Rather, I think the Steamtown Marathon has earned a name for being basically a step-off-a-cliff-and-fall-down type marathon which I do not think it deserves. I think the race people have to be a little more telling and more accurate in their reporting of how the course actually is. I know from many I spoke to, both before and after this marathon, who would have gladly dealt with the hills presented in the course if they had simply known about them.

Sure, anyone is allowed to drive a course beforehand but this is neither the most accurate way to see what it is like (always easier to miss slight uphills when all you have to do is accelerate with your foot) nor can many travelers from far away places find the time to do so. In this day and age we rely on accurate reporting from afar because we often have not set foot in that part of the country until race day. As such, this puts a great deal of responsibility upon the race's shoulders. I understand that and do indeed think a great deal of criticism on race directors is undeserved. But this correction is necessary

Let me reiterate this so it is crystal clear. I do NOT think the race was not forthright in providing information nor do I think it was not run well: it was. This was just something that really hit home with many runners I spoke with which really needs to be addressed in the future.

My Personal Experience.

My original intention for this race was to pace my sports massage therapist, Terrel Hale to a Boston Qualifying time. However, as luck often has it, Terrel suffered some injury setbacks himself in the latter part of this summer and instead had to pull out of the race. So here I was, signed up for a Marathon that looked tailored to my strengths and ready to set a personal best myself.

Joining me on my trip to the home of fictional Dunder Mifflin was my friend Christine who herself had a not so great summer of training. We were both hoping that Steamtown's big downhills would be kind to us. A rather inauspicious beginning started our stay as we checked into our over-priced hotel (the Radisson) whose "marathon discounted rate" was more expensive than the "wedding-rate" and some other rate we heard from people checking in around us. Furthermore, they charged a $5 parking fee for a lot which was chronically overflowing (and honestly, $5 is just a charge which is more insulting than anything else. Was it in any way necessary?) Throw in a mandatory two-night stay and the Radisson did everything they could to make us feel as unwelcome as possible. Did I forget to mention the open middle atrium section from the first floor to the ceiling of the building allowed every single room to hear piano music, toasts and the revelry of drunken wedding guests until midnight or later? Or how the air-duct embedded in our wall rattled my headboard so much I was forced to shove washcloths behind it to silence it? Way to go Radisson. You have definitely made me 100% sure to never stay within your walls, even if you are only 2 blocks from the finish.

In spite of all of this I was ready to do well. I have never been a fan of point-to-point courses because they always involved a bus ride to the start (or you have to know people who can get you there) which means you have to be up even early than usual. But upon getting to Forest City's elementary school gym and having the temperature, for the moment, slightly cooler than what was predicted, I was feeling good. Running into my friend Keith, who very often wears an entire pink fairy costume during races and still churns out sub 3:20 times, was an added treat. I had not seen him since the end of 2006 and was so happy to cross paths again. (Keith, who is 52 but looks 40, ran a 3:23 and change on this tough day).

I had plans to meet others before the race but unfortunately none of them came to fruition. Before too much longer, we were being moved like cattle to the starting line and, not wanting a repeat of the trepidation before the Erie marathon (where if you didn ot read my previous posting), I made it to the starting line mere seconds before the gun went off), I happily obliged. With the race starting off with a cannon fire which literally shook the bones just a few minutes later, we were off.

Mile 1: 5:57
I knew this one was going to be fast because of the huge first downhill but did not care. A few yards in I saw my friend and fellow Georgetown Running Company runner, Melissa Tanner. Running in only her second marathon ever (with a 2:58 in her first!) Melissa would have a tough go at it and eventually pull out of the race before the finish.

Mile 2: 6:32

As suspected the big hill at 2 slowed me down but I was still below my target goal of 6:40 per mile (a shade under 2:55 for the full marathon.)

Mile 3: 6:37

Another solid mile as I was doing my best to hold myself back but still take advantage of what I was told were the biggest downhills of the entire race. I began running with a man who was running his 7th Steamtown Marathon but couldn't remember if he had run 9 or 10 total in his life (Um, what? Runners make me laugh so hard. They can't even commit to the total of marathons they have run!) He gave me advice on the course and how there were plenty of rollers to contend with where everyone thought it was nothing but downhill.

Mile 4: 6:02

A brisk downhill had me soaring. I remember pulling back and letting two people fly by me as I did not want to build THAT much of a cushion.

Mile 5: 6:24

Still going downhill but being more conservative. Still running with the Steamtown vet who laments about having broken his watch but then angrily grunts at me when I tell him our splits. Kept to myself from there on out, I did!

Mile 6: 6:30 10k: 39:21
Here I am 6.2 miles into this marathon and I am only about 40 seconds off of my 10k Personal best. Man, I cannot WAIT to run a 10k on a decent course.

Mile 7: 6:41

A good 50 foot hill, not on the elevation profile, gives me my first over-pace mile of the race. However, at this time I am still nearly 120 seconds fast! Dang.

Mile 8: 6:29

131 seconds fast.

Mile 9: 6:43 15k: 59:54

We leave Carbondale and their wonderful down-homesy folks cheering and yelling. Just a heartwarming thing to see a community supporting a race. We had heard of the Carbondale faithful and they did not disappoint. A quick steep hill slows this mile down below pace but I still run the fastest 15k I have ever run in my life.

Mile 10: 6:38 1:04:38

This is now the fastest 10 miles I have ever run in my life.

Mile 11: 6:42

I am running alone here having lost the Steamtown vet but am running behind a bunch of college-looking guys who loved the sign I had on my back. (Christine's idea, we both were wearing quotes from NBC's The Office.) They pull me along as we hit another short but steep (and unknown) hill.

Mile 12: 6:44

I am catching a few guys who passed me in the early going but have since steadily slowed. I get a gnat in my eye and spend way too much time trying to get it out. I haven't lowered my sunglasses yet because, thankfully, the sun has not come out. But the cool temperature in Forest City is long gone and the 70s are here to stay (and I am not talking about The Partridge Family).

Mile 13: 6:49 Half 1:25:39

I am running with a guy (Ryan) who just did the Leadville 100 miler a few weeks ago and is trying to set a personal best in the marathon. Traveling from the Denver area, I have a feeling these hills mean nothing to him.

As we pass through the halfway point he declares that is a half-marathon PR for him. I tell him it is the fastest I have ever gone through the first half by over 2.5 minutes. I am still 115 seconds above a 2:54:47 pace and feeling great.

Mile 14: 6:43

Mile 14 is always a milestone for me. Getting to half-way is easy. The first mile afterward tells me a lot about my race. Today, I know I am going to do well. Trying my best not to think about it and just get to the finish.

Mile 15: 7:06

We finally stop running on all these open roads and hit the rails to trails section of the course. I thought there was quite a bit more than just 2.5 miles of this trail running (spaced out throughout the course) but was mistaken. However, I use the brush cover to take a potty break. Even though I wasn't sweating horribly and I had to pee, I can see I am VERY dehydrated. I take the small bottle in my hands and down the whole thing. I am not going to lose this PR.

Mile 16: 6:43

I pass Ryan and never see him again until after the race. (He would end up with a 6 minute PR in 3:04). I also pass Melissa. She is struggling. I offer a quick word of encouragement but am focused on me. Jake Klim, another Georgetown Running Company chap, who I saw earlier in the race, asks me if I need anything. But I am on a mission and say "no, thanks." I think I was polite. Either way, it was really nice to see a familiar face.

Mile 17: 6:46

I am not feeling bad about losing a few seconds here and there. I figure I can lose 10 seconds for the last 9 miles and still crush my PR. I am playing it safe.

Mile 18&19: 13:45

I forget to hit my watch at 18 because I take a small misstep and am rerouted by volunteers. I only lose 3-4 seconds tops but I get a little rattled and forget to hit my watch. I have been running for a few miles with the friend of two people I ran in the first three miles with (the eventual women's winner and her pacer, Creighton). Small world. A woman passes us and we offer words of encouragement and praise. She ignored us. Awesome!

I then watch her pass the former woman in 2nd place and soon thereafter I pass her as well. I think she and Melissa both went out too fast in a deceptively warm and humid day. A little more than a 10k to go and I will have a huge PR.

Mile 20: 7:35

Wait. Why is that women standing there? Why is she running back toward me? CRAP. We made a wrong turn. How did that happen? Crap, crap, crap. People who did not miss the turn argued we only missed a few seconds but the fact remains (from the map) we ran an extra tenth of a mile which is easily 40 seconds at the pace we were going. Crossing mile 20 proves this to me as, even though anger at missing the turn sped me up some, I am nearly 50 seconds off my last mile.
Triple damn.

Mile 21: 6:51

That took more energy than I thought it would to just get a 6:51. I need to get a 6:45 to have a time cushion on the next one before the big hills.

Mile 22: 7:00 Crap. The PR is slipping away.

Mile 23: 7:21 That's it. I am done. I cannot possibly PR. I walk through the aid station, grab a Gatorade in each hand and down them. I look at my watch again and stare. Hold on. Where the hell are my math skills?! I still have a shot! Go, go , go!

Oh damn, you big steep hill.

Mile 24: 7:33 I know there are still big hills to come. But the last hill I went through took a lot out of me. Another woman passes me. Stay with her.

Mile 25: 7:14

We take one of the longest and hardest hills and enjoy a brief downhill. Looking at my watch I am pretty sure I am going to have some leeway to PR. Run smart. Run hard but not really hard. There is still the last hill to conquer.

I take the last turn off the second to last hill (long but not steep) and see the beast ahead beckoning.

Mile 26: 7:30

I put my head down and power up it. I crest the hill expecting to see the downhill finish and see about 2 more blocks of low grade uphill. Damn it. I take a 10 second walk break and then go.

Last .2: 1:24 I finally crest the last hill and the finishline is in sight. Some guy sprinting past me damn near knocks me over. I could pass the last woman who passed me but who cares. I cross the line in 2:58:31. Happy to have set a new best but angry both at the wrong turn and at myself for having given up.

My plan after finishing was to go back on the course and help Christine finish. But my leg would not unlock from the Frankenstein's monster position and I began walking around. I knew I had a little time to kill so I quickly hobbled in for a massage. Finally feeling better, I hop off the table but the top of my foot is killing me. My shoelaces unlaced and then retied lightly give my foot more breathing room. I finally get back out on the course and start to wincing walk up the final stretch. Minutes pass and I am hoping to either see Christine or get some sort of telepathic message that she has finished. Up I go and then back down. I finally see her much later than we both had been hoping for. She says she was on perfect pace until nearly mile 19 or so but then the bottom fell out.

As we jogged toward the finish, she told me she decided it was not her day so she wisely mailed it in at the end. I applauded that decision and we both lamented the hot day and the tougher than expected course. With warm temperatures across the US and many other marathoners suffering as well, I think we had the best of the worst. I will take it and run.

Well, hobble.

Final stats:
36th of of 1582
6th in my age
New PR that will hopefully last 20 days (instead of the 344 the last one did).

Even in my 71st marathon (the RD was kind enough to give me bib number 71 for the race), lessons were learned and will hopefully be applied to my next race in less than 3 weeks at the Marine Corps Marathon.

A few weeks ago, a decision was almost made to do this marathon in a wheelchair but various factors (to which this is entirely diferent blog itself) have kept me from doing so. Now I will simply have to give it my all to not only get faster for the fourth consecutive year but hopefully break into the top 100 for the first time. These are my previous MCM stats:

2004: 3:31:00 527th place
2005: 3:07:25 202nd place
2006: 3:03:56 166th place

Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Two things

1.My shortest Marathon Recap ever:

A longer one will be coming but I have job interviews Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week which will prevent my usual expediency.

Nevertheless, if I had not strayed from the course inadvertently with 3 other runners, it would have been by more, but I did run a 80 second PR and finished 36th overall in a time of 2:58:29.

2. Dane in a wetsuit. Avert your eyes.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Nation's Triathlon Recap

I wondered if this should go into my Runner's Ramblings series. I then decided that since I only did 1/3 of the tri it most assuredly should not. Throw in the fact that I know very little about my partner's legs and I could not possibly do the full race justice. But I am really proud of what we did on Saturday so I am most assuredly going to talk about it.

I first heard about the Nation's Tri by chance last year. In Philly to run my 46th marathon of the year I was also visiting my good friend law school, Heather. When we went to kill the afternoon at her friend's by watching the Ohio State -Michigan game, one of the other guests there was Chuck Brodsky. It ends up Chuck is the organizer of the Nation's Tri. Unfortunately last year, and I do not know the full story whatsoever, the swim portion of the race had to be canceled just a short period before the race was run and participants instead ran a 5k. In talking to Chuck I could tell that he was really excited about turning the race into a great world-class event.

In the months that followed I thought about the tri and possibly doing one in 2007 but being I did not even own a bike, let alone one I would want to race on, I did not do much more than think about it.

A little over a month ago I noticed in my running club's email that two of the guys in the club needed a swimmer to compete in the tri as part of a relay. As I have told many people, I am naturally a better swimmer than a runner but the chances and opportunities to swim are far less than they are to run (In fact, that is the reason I turned to running in the first place; when I get my book published you can read all about THAT in greater detail). So I inquired, found they were needing a swimmer, weren't exactly expecting to blow away the competition, and welcomed me aboard. Now all that lay ahead was 1.5k of swimming, 40k of cycling and a 10k run.

That in mind, I signed up for the local pool's membership and decided to get back into moderately good swimming shape. I found that the muscle memory was still there even though I have hardly swam at all since my last competitive swim meet at Penn State for the high school championships a full... *gulp*.. 13.5 years ago. (Dear god, I am OLD!) However, it was definitely crushing to see the times I was posting on the board as I swam my way through a relatively easy workout of 2 x (5 x 200 meters) on 3 minutes. But a few workouts in and I was feeling good. With a month left I felt I would be in great shape. And then life, as it so often does, intervened.

For the next three weeks, I did not swim one lap. Sure I ran and raced but I didn't even get within a chloriney whiff of the pool. Then I found that one of our teammates had his job taking him somewhere else on race day and we had to have a quick replacement. This did not bode too well.

Luckily, when I heard of his replacement, I knew that both of my teammates (can I say "teammates"?) would be giving their part of the relay their best. Which means I definitely had to as well, in spite of my severe lack of training. On top of that, I have only done one open water swim in my life and that was 4 years ago as part of another tri relay. However, that .6 of a mile swim was a full 1/3 less than the 1.5 k I would be doing in the Potomac.

At the last minute, even though I did not think the water temperature would bother me (projected temp was in the low 70s; the other tri relay I did had been 62 degrees and I had done that in a speedo; excuse the extra chunk...I was still losing weight) I decided to rent a wetsuit.

Perusing the local tri stores I struck upon a decent deal, shimmied my way into the suit and gasped at how friggin tight it was. "...supposed to be like this?" I squeaked. The ever-so-friendly attendant replied, "yes."

Time to go home and get a good night's rest.

When I straddled my bike (a recent birthday present) to ride to the start of the race (I had thought about running there but have never ridden down the monster hill that I always have to run to get home so decided to seize the opportunity) it was a perfect race day temperature of 58 degrees. Just beautiful. Too bad I was hopping in the water.

After finding a place to lock my bike slightly away from the crowds (I was using a chain that my mother had used on her bike some 25 years ago and besides being shocked I had recently found it in some boxes while cleaning, was wondering if it would be anything more than a laugh to today's wonderful chain-cutting thieves) I walked over to get my age and number marked onto me. As I was wearing a full-length wetsuit I was a little confused by why they wrote on my bicep and calf muscle but hey, I am the novice here.

Killing time until my teammates showed up (can I call them teammates?) I ran into multiple commenter here and newest friendly race combatant, CharlieM. I knew Charlie was doing the tri solo but didn't think I would run into him with 1,000 others milling around. We exchanged pleasantries and wished each other good luck.

Finally, I happened across my runner, Mike Proulx and my cyclist Zach Desmond. they seemed as relaxed as I was feeling so I thought all was good.

Soon the first swimmers were in the water and were off. I knew I had 40 minutes until my wave began so I tried to cool my heels a little bit. I was a little apprehensive. Unlike not feeling up to snuff for running if I had not done enough specific training, this was quite different. The swim would begin in the Potomac and swim upstream for about half a mile before turning around and coming back the way we just went.

I was a little nervous about swimming upstream, in a open water and in open water that everyone who heard I was swimming in it acted like I was jumping into a toxic sludge. ("The Potomac?! Hope you got your shots!")
Time came for me and my group to be in the on-deck circle and the announcer asked who might be leading the way. I smiled thinking that at one time it might have been me but definitely not this day. He jumped right on it: "That was a devilish grin. Keep a look out for this guy, swimmers". Um, no. But thanks for putting the bulls-eye on me.

Onto the floating deck we went and into the murky water. I immediately bobbed to the top. Holy mackeral people are not kidding about how buoyant these wetsuits are! This was going to be fun!

As more swimmers piled into the river, the sculling of arms and kicking of legs began. Being one who VERY MUCH likes his personal space I could tell this was not going to be the case today. I pushed as close to the front as I felt was necessary given my relatively low expectations and waited for the gun. A siren blasted and away we went.

There is not a great deal to tell about the swim. I felt some tightness in my adductor muscle in my left leg (which is the muscle which has been bothering me for a year now) but I knew how to remedy that. Swimming long-distance in high school I was acutely aware how to stave off cramps, stitches and their ilk in the middle of a race. Soon thereafter the pain was gone and I settled in. The water was mostly brown but did not smell much or taste too bad. The water temp was fine and the wetsuit made me feel extremely comfortable.

I have never been one who alternates sides to which I breathe in swimming but today I decided to try it. The main reason I did was because I found I was listing to the right ever-so-slightly and I wanted to swim as straight as possible. So with my alternate breathing and a little bit of sighting (I think that is what it is called) I found I was swimming perfectly straight. Many times I saw others around me swimming in zig-zag patterns and felt sorry for all the extra distance they were swimming.

As we neared the turn around I noticed I was passing a great deal of swimmers. I was confused as I felt I had gone out pretty fast and didn't think too many people had been in front of me to begin with. Then I saw the different colored-caps and realized we were catching waves that had started in front of us. This only empowered me to swim harder and faster.

Turning around the buoy, I began to head for home. Unfortunately, my goggles were a little fogged and heading directly into the rising sun made everything a blur. I swam a few strokes and then decided it was going to be too much of a hassle to try and continue as such. So, I stopped for a second, took my goggles off of my head and dipped them in the water. Presto Changeo I could see again.

The rest of the swim felt great and not taxing at all. I was unsure how hard to push. I had only swam this long once before in my life without stopping and that was when we had done a timed 3,000 meter (which is just shy of 2 miles). However, that had been in a pool, with flipturns and clear water. Before too long I saw that starting platform and knew we were close to the end. Tons of people were swimming all over the place and I had to crawl over a few legs to get where I needed to be.

Up the slippery stairs out of the Potomac and 300 yards later to the transition area where Zach awaited me and I was done for the day. Zach was gone within seconds and I was feeling good. I had no idea what my time was (forgot to put on a watch) but thought I had done my team well.

I did not like the layout of the course. The swim was fine but while the bike made two loops through the transition area, the run then went off on a 10k jaunt that ended quite a ways off from where the rest of the action happened (see below).

I hear this was done to have the Capitol Building as a majestic backdrop and for that purpose it worked. But for purposes of getting around it definitely put a crimp in any plans. Luckily for me, I was able to go to my friend Anne's place of work and shower at her place. That is where I learned for the first time of the rubbed raw neck that I had. (Only afterward did a triathlete friend say: "Did you not put Bodyglide on your neck?)

By the time I had ridden across the city on my bike, grabbed this quick shower and headed back towards the finish, I was lucky enough to see Proulx striding down the final stretch of Pennsylvania Ave before he hit the turnaround to head home. I yelled for him and saw him pass by again just a few seconds later passing runners left and right.

As it turns out, our team did great. With a 3rd place overall finish in the relay competition (out of 45 teams) I think we were all quite pleased. While the final results were a little hard to decipher I could see that I was the 4th relay person out of the water. Zach then made up 16 seconds on that 3rd place team before Proulx crushed them by 11 minutes in the 10k. My time for the 1.5k swim was a rather respectable 22:19.

Charlie finished 38th (out of 128) in the 35-39 division in just his second tri with an overall time 2:30:28. Kudos to him.

All in all I am quite pleased (although I will remember the Bodyglide next time). If I can just garner some interest from sponsors to help defray the cost of a bike, I think I could give this tri stuff a real good run. But next up for me is the Steamtown Marathon this weekend. While everyone else is trying to set their PR in Chicago I will be in Scranton, PA with Dwight, Pam and Jim.