Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fox Valley Fall Final 20 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 33rd Edition 
471.2 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Fox Valley Fall Final  20
Place: St. Charles, IL  
Miles from home:  1357 miles
Weather: 50s; light to moderate rain

I had two very simple goals for this race:

1. Help my new friend Shannon Bixler get through the first 10+ miles exactly on pace for a 3:10 marathon.
2. Try to subsequently pick up the remaining 9+ miles to bring it home strong and test where I stand for my PR attempt in two weeks at St. George.

The first of these goals did not take shape until I did both a talk and run at the Dick Pond athletic store in St, Charles on the Tuesday before the event. I met Shannon and her mother during the run and in the midst of talking about her goal for the marathon that weekend she told me she was hoping for a 3:10.  I asked her if she wanted someone to pace her for the first 10-plus miles as the 20 miler I was running followed the exact same course of the marathon for the first half. Shannon said she would be happy to have the company and now I had something to "do" in a race which would have just been me running by myself previously.

At this book signing I met a ton of people who I would later meet at the expo where I was partnering with the Illinois Beef Association for the second straight week to help spread the word about the positive ways in which lean beef helps keep athletes fit and fuel them for the finish. In a cozy expo, it was easy to get to know my other boothmates who kept the two long expo days lively with their chatter and exploits. They might have eaten as many of the beef samples as I did too. No, that is probably not possible.


Being a night-owl and a marathoner really do not go well together. I try and try to go to bed early but it rarely happens. When I do not feel like I am necessarily needing to give my "best" that urgency is even less and has me staying up forever.  Part of this was to blame on the wonderful Bixler family who invited me into their home to share in a huge family reunion dinner of sorts as varying members of the extended family were in town for different events. I was treated to tons of tales and it was fun to simply sit back, for the most part, and not have to talk. This wonderful dinner pushed back everything else i had to do that night so when I finally got around to trying to sleep it was once again just a few mere hours away from when I would need to get up anyway.  blast.

The morning broke beautifully.  I mean, like we need to make a postcard out of this beautifully. There had been a threat of rain and a few droplets had fallen on my cheeks as I arrived but things were looking up. I met with the Illinois Beef Association who were setting up their grill to hand out samples of lean beef to runners post-race when the sky clouded over and the rain began to drizzle.  As the cool temperatures stayed the same and the cold rain fell, I knew that this tent would be jam backed a few hours later. I meandered to the start and got ready for the run.

First 10 : 7:14, 7:04, 7:26, 7:10, 7:16, 7:00, 7:10, 7:35, 7:21, 7:21 (1:12:41)

The Fox Valley Marathon, Half and Final Fall 20 were all run on the same course which consisted quite frequently of a narrow bike path. As such, there were waves of runners sent out every 15 seconds to  minimize congestion on the path.  As my own Drake Well Marathon grows, this idea is one I may have to steal for the Pikermi (aka "half-marathon") which does not have the luxury of two big hills to spread runners out before it immediately goes on a very similar bikepath.

I looked for Shannon at the start and soon found her. She was, as I had always seen her, in very good spirits. I realized here that the race had pace groups and my helping her run a 3:10 was not necessarily as needed as I thought it might be. However, later after the race, Shannon mentioned that when we had split, she was extremely grateful to have me with her at the beginning as I had been much more lively then a rather somber pacing group running the 3:10 pace. That makes me feel pretty good.

When our wave, which was first, went off we soon found ourselves in the thick of the second group of runners which consisted of mostly the 3:10 group. This was Shannon's 5th marathon and she looked absolutely at ease, relaxed and ready to rock it.  I could see my only real goal was to not get in the way of her training and keep her on exact pace.

As the miles ticked by, the weather got a little sloppier but was far better than a hot and humid day. There were plenty of twists and turns, and river crossings and loops and reverse loops and at every turn their were volunteers directing runners the right direction.  This was actually the easier part, here in the beginning, as every runner was going the same direction.  Later, when the halfers, then the 20 milers split off from the marathoners, it would become what could have been a convoluted logistical mess.  The race director in me was already marveling at how well things were going.

Even the early morning and rain did not dampen the spirits of the volunteers. There did not seem to be many true spectators out on the course and we abutted a plethora of backyards and front yards, I wished this had been different . I wish this is different in every race I have ever run, including the ones I direct in my hometown. Being able to walk out of your door and see, for free, the human struggle in an event where elites and average joes compete against all obstacles seems to be too wonderful to pass up.  But many do.  At one point, while admiring the homes along the Fox river, we saw some couple siting in their living room, feet away from us, watching TV.  I said we needed a pebble to throw at their window so they could at least turn around.

Around the 5th mile I heard some footsteps and we were soon joined by Angie Dudman.  I met Angie the previous day at the expo and knew she was running the half-marathon.  I asked her how her race was going and she said she was on PR pace. I was pretty sure that she was also in first place for the women but did not want to say anything.  About a mile later, we crossed the Fox River again and Angie turned off for home. I wished her the best and hoped for the same.  Not only did she set a new personal record a few miles later but at the age of 49, Angie won the entire female half marathon! Way to go, Angie!

Shannon and I continued onward crossing bridges and making loops and she looked like she was out for a jog. I was beginning to wonder if I was holding her back too much and whether we should both pick it up.  But I told her we would get through the first 10 miles at 3:10 pace exactly and I was not going to start deviating from the plan at this point.

We soon began the longest stretch of straight running for the entire race that we had yet to encounter.  It allowed us to settle into a nice groove and just feel how things were going.  Even when the rain intensified, for the most part we were sheltered by a vast array of trees and foliage.  the bike path continued to remind me of the Drake Well Marathon and I told Shannon she had to come run it next year and set a new course record.

We soon entered North Aurora, the 10th mile and what would be my final few steps with Shannon. I told her to stick to the game plan and slowly close the gap on the pace group which was about 30 seconds ahead of us. I said they had been running fairly consistently the past few miles so she could rely on them to hold the correct pace.  After about mile 16, she should, if she felt good, begin to start to lower her times. I really felt like I was telling someone something they didn't need to know and for the most part kept my yapper shut. Up ahead lie where Shannon continued on the path and I made a turn to head back home,  I bid he adieu and listned as she headed into an aid station which echoed with cheers.

Last 10: 7:13, 6:49, 6:58, 7:00, 7:13, 7:07, 6:21, 7:02, 6:57, 6:50 (1:09:36)

The second half of my race was quite uneventful and in a long-distance race that is a good thing. From the split around mile 10.5 to mile 14, the course was quite lonely. Actually, the runners were alone but I would not actually call it lonely. It was a chance to reflect, feel what your body was giving you and play with what you have.  I was hoping to run about 30 seconds faster per mile for the second half of this race but for the most part I could see that was not happening.  So while I would pick off the occasional racer ahead of me, I spent those lonely miles thinking about, well, sometimes everything and sometimes nothing.

At mile 14, the Fall Final 20 course rejoined the half-marathon course and now I had more people to call out to and try to encourage.  i had no idea whatsoever what place I was in with regards to my race and I did not care. I was taking in the wondrous beauty of the course and the shared spirit of all those out here working their butts off.  And this included both runners and volunteers.  As each bib was color-coded for each race, it was very important, giving the twists of the race, for the volunteers to play close attention to who was wearing what.  Only by seeing who was running what race could they correctly tell you where you needed to go.  I felt so catered too and cannot thank the volunteers enough for being so friendly, helpful and happy to be out in the cool rain.

Around the 16th mile I passed the lead female and offered her some words of encouragement.  She looked like she might be having a rough day but I knew there was no one close to her.  It was here where I realized that if my math was right and my pace was true, I could possibly run a 2:22:22. I love stuff like this.  It is quirky little number games I play with myself in races that aren't actually "races" in order to keep me interested and fresh. So with each mile i passed I tried to see how much I had to sped up or slow down in order to accomplish this task. Passing runners (which I did a few of in my race here) was fun but it was not what I was thinking of doing as the miles ticked by.  I did see another runner in front of me and while I was closing the gap with each mile, I figured i would really have to haul over the last two miles to pass him and really saw no reason for that.  First, I had no idea what place we were fighting for.  Second, this was meant ti be a training run for me and I needed to keep it as such.

A little sidenote on this training run business.  A super kudos goes out to the Fox Valley Marathon people for adding this race this year.  It is really just a stellar idea to allow those training for an early fall marathon to have an opportunity to do a final training run in race conditions. It allows these people to feel what a packet pickup is like, to feel the nerves of race day and, quite possibly, run the furthest they ever have with a bunch of people cheering them on and handing them fluids.  Really just brilliant.

So while I had an outside shot at moving up in the rankings (and the be completely truthful, if I had known that he guy in front of me was 5th place, I might have picked it up a little bit. I mean, it is the top 5.) I was more than content to continue to have fun.

Nearing the end, I could see I was running too fast for the 2:22:22 and even though I began to slow a bit to try and get it, I realized I would have to come to a dead stop in order to do so.  Even though one of the race organizers said that would have been fun to do, I thought It might have been a little too weird.  So I cruised through the finish in 2:22:14, enjoying a 6th place overall finish and my first ever 20 mile race. I have actually run over 14 minutes faster at the 20 mile mark of a marathon before but as this was the first actual 20 mil race I have done it was an automatic PR. Moreover, I had more fun with the people involved with this city and this race than I have had in few places.

Shannon would come through in the end running a 3:06:10, fast enough to win the entire darn marathon for women and was smiles all the way. It was really special for me to be even in the smallest way helpful to her in winning this marathon. From what I experienced it could not have happened to a nicer girl.

Throughout the weekend that was more or less my theme: meeting ridiculously fun and nice people.  As the Illinois Beef Association fed runner after runner delicious prime rib, which was made even more savory by the cool temperatures and rain which always seemed to be misting around, I had the chance to instantly reflect on the race with a few interviews to TV and newspaper. As I tried to think of anything which was wrong with the race, there really was nothing that came to mind.  Sure, a mile marker here and there seemed a little askew. Perhaps parking could have been more ample. But the core of the race was absolutely rock solid. Having dealt with the organizers personally all weekend long, I could not have been more pleased that it went so smoothly when so much could have went so wrong.

I would very much like to return to this race next year and continue to build what is already a wonderful tradition. And to tell you the truth I am already looking into booking my tickets and maybe going for the 20 mile win. Kudos to you St. Charles residents, Fox Valley Race organizers and all the fantastic people who laced up their shoes this past Sunday.


Kerri said...

Enjoyed reading your FVM recap, Dane. Hope to see you again soon! Good luck with that PR.

RunningRob said...

Just got around to reading this. This was an excellent recap of the FVM. The organizers really do an excellent job. I hope to meet you in person at the 2012 FVM my first marathon.