A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 10th Edition
1 mile skied, 34 miles biked and 128.6 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Delaware Half Marathon
Place: Wilmington, DE
Miles from home: 2954 miles
Weather: 60s; Sunny; Humid
In writing both of my books, See Dane Run and 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss, I shied away from giving the utmost in course descriptions. I remembered reading a book which purported to detail some of the best marathons in America and realized how something so tied to a point in time could become obsolete so quickly. Other than a few courses like New York or Boston, which have stayed virtually the same for decades, most courses will experience some changes. Be it from necessity or restlessness, course changes happen and trying to tell someone how to run a course which is no longer the course you ran seems pretty absurd.
The perfect example of this would be the Delaware Marathon this past weekend. When I ran it in 2006, it was multiple loops of the same course. Some people like that type of course and others not so much. That sort of course, where one knows what to expect and removes the unknown, is right in my wheelhouse. Nothing proves that more than how it remained one of my fastest marathons of the year until the last ten weeks of that 52 marathon journey when I broke through a glass ceiling and blew away my previous marathon PR by 8 minutes.
So I was looking forward to experiencing this new Delaware course which could not be much different than the one I ran 7 years ago (Seriously? Seven?!) Moreover, running as part of the Pennsylvania Beef Council’s Team Beef I was trying to show people how well being powered by the protein of lean beef can help an athlete recover and move forward. Given the severity of a foot condition just a month prior, the mere fact I was running today proves something is working in my make-up.
The day of the expo was interesting if only because the King and Queen of Sweden floated down the Christina River in a reproduction ship midway through the day. The expo cleared out to view this procession even if it was not only impossible to actually see the dignitaries but I would have bet my life savings that 99% of the gazers couldn’t have given even one of the two first names of their Royal Highnesses (Highnie?) Although some research showed that the Christina River was named after a Queen of Sweden which might explain their visit. In addition, Google maps needs to start naming bodies of water. But I digress.
My second favorite part of the expo, over meeting oodles of great people? The avowed vegan who signed up to win a basket of beef-related products. I hope she wins if only to find out exactly what she planned on doing with the goods.
The marathon and half-marathon started 20 minutes apart with the marathon going first. Sharing the same course (the marathon doing two loops) there needed to be some separation of runners, especially given some narrow portions of the loop. As I stood in line for the restroom I saw some old friends (such as Keith, known to many as the Pink Fairy) and some new ones. The marathon started and as the runners streamed by on the river walk of the Tubman Garret Riverfront Park, all those holding in a pee were able to at least give a rousing round of applause.
While I stood in line I was finishing both a low-fat chocolate milk and one of the small beef sticks I would use to fuel me for the race. One runner who I had met the previous day came up to me and said he had noticed my beef singlet and figured it had to be me. We spoke for a bit about his upcoming cruise and how he was going to still fit running in whenever he could. That is such a fun thing about runners: even on vacation we take our running seriously!
Before too long, I had made my way through the line and found myself standing near the opening arch. I was hoping to better my time from the previous week at the Long Branch Half. However, I knew this course was more challenging, the weather less forgiving, and me far more tired. I had a tall order in front of me.
First Five Miles: 6:33, 6:40, 20:37
This race consisted of three rather distinct portions. The first five miles were, for all intents and purposes, flat as could be. More than a few twists and turns awaited runners as we ran away from Tubman down into an outdoor mall sidewalk and then back again along the river walk. Just like last week my first mile seemed to go faster than it actually did. Nevertheless, I had quickly moved up from somewhere in the top 25 to somewhere in the top 15. I would barely move from this position for the remainder of the race.
When the next mile was even a tad slower than the first, even though I passed a few runners. I figured this might not be the day I was hoping for. I happened to miss both the third and fourth mile markers and before I knew it I was beginning to run into more than a few of the marathoners. Over the next few miles, as we ran on some narrower bike paths, more and more runners began to clog the path. I thought it had been folly to have the half marathoners start after the marathoners until I realized those of us running the 13.1 distance far outnumbered the marathoners. So, if the reverse had been done with start times, the fast marathoners would have had to run through many more half marathoners. In reality, if the runners at the back of the pack had just used some runner common courtesy, either situation would have worked fine. Too bad far too many seemed to be oblivious of staying to the right, or turning down their music players or not running three abreast.
I think my next expo speech is going to be on not how to run a race from a physical standpoint but how to run a race where the entire thing does not revolve around you. Situational awareness is very important.
Next Five Miles: 6:52, 7:18, 6:58, 6:53, 6:55
I knew the biggest challenge of this course was just around the corner, both figuratively and literally. First, however, I have to take a moment to mention how much I thoroughly enjoyed the massive changes this course has undergone. Running through beautiful Brandywine Park with a creek to our left under a canopy of trees was delightful. While the temperatures were far from hot, the sun was bright and the trees provided much-needed shade. After about a mile we crossed over the river on a swinging bridge. Soon thereafter, I could see an acute angle turn ahead and runners heading up a pretty steep hill in the opposite direction.
Here, some runners I had been playing catch and mouse with pulled ahead of me. Anytime there was any sort of uphill these two gentlemen would put me in the rear view. When we went down the other side, I would do the same to them. To be honest, I think they were working far harder than I to take advantage of their strengths.
Here some of the faster marathoners were beginning their descent having traversed through the neighborhoods we would soon be tromping through. I saw fellow Karhu athlete Bryan Morseman far in the lead with virtually no one close (He would go on to win by just under 15 minutes.) I simply was trying to get to the top of the hill while avoiding the packs of runners in front of me. The big hill gave me my only mile over 7 minutes for the whole race but it also took a fair amount out of me for the next few miles as well. I did my very best to keep the two runners I had been playing catch with in sight but they seemed to have a little more in their motor than I.
Rounding a right angle sharp turn I reached out to grab a cup of water. Suddenly one of the marathoners felt they needed the same cup and veered from the far right hand side and straight into my path. *BAM* Fortunately I had enough wherewithal to regain my composure, wrap my arms around her and keep her from getting demolished. After a little dosey-do and a pirouette I was able to turn this from disaster to just major annoyance. Another exhibit in my airtight case of being aware during a race.
While my energy was waning, I just wanted to get to mile ten. I knew the course was mostly downhill from here and I just wanted to do what I could to make up for the time lost going up. I had forgotten that as we ran through this one neighborhood, with runners on both sides of the road, separated by a glorious grass and tree filled median, that there were still more uphills to contend with. Somehow I had also pulled back into touch with my fellow half-marathoner competitors. Maybe I had a chance to catch a few.
Final Three Point One: 6:45, 6:48, 6:39, :43
Before we could begin our glorious descent downhill, there was this one final push uphill. I felt quite overheated and knew I needed to get another cup of water in me before hopefully turning on the throttle. I continued to weave in and out of runners and saw the aid station ahead. As I ran right toward the tables, I pointed toward a volunteer and made eye contact. I think this is a very efficient way to make sure they know you are coming to them and therefore it helps reduce spills. However, almost at the exact time as I got the cup from him, a runner in front of me got a cup as well and came to a dead stop. My second Baryshnikov move of the day averted a collision but made me completely lose my drink. “Oh no, don’t stop!” one of the volunteers said to the guy in front of me. Now I was just getting angry and thirsty: a bad combo. But the downhill beckoned and down I went.
I saw so many half marathoners now doing their best to take on the big hill of the course. Many were saying things like “It’s the Beef guy!” and I knew our presence at the expo the day before had many an impression. I tried to wave as much as I could to those cheering us on as I always think it is important to thank those cheering. However, my attempts were probably very feeble. I wanted to get a nice fast 6:2x mile to make up for the time lost earlier and be assured of running under 90 minutes. When I barely got a mile under 6:50, I realized the day was simply not going to be what I wanted. In the meantime, one of the two runners in front of me was beginning to separate himself. But another runner who had been in my sights previously was coming back into play. All told there were 5 of us all within sight. If my math served me correctly, one of us could sneak into the top ten overall.
I’d like to say this spurred me onto the fast miles I was hoping for but I’d also like to say I won the Powerball. Worse yet, I suddenly remembered that there was a slight doozy of a hill right after mile 12 to contend with. Well, blech. I also saw that my chances of catching any of the half marathoners was slim to none. They were simply just far enough to tease me into wanting to catch them but without enough real estate or energy to do so. It was time to just play out the string, as they say.
Suddenly, I saw one man looking over his shoulder. I recalled this man as one who had been way ahead of me earlier. With so many other runners around, and my focus on just two or three of them, I hadn’t been looking for him. Suddenly, I had prey.
Cresting the last hill, I used the other runners as a shield. As he swung wide left, I swung wide right at the exact same time and pushed down the throttle. He said something to me as I passed him but I had no idea what it was. I was not about to engage in conversation just yet. Down the last hill I went and I could see the finish line ahead. Of course, as with a great deal of the course, I still had three more turns to get there. I also noticed that with this final last burst of speed I would guarantee a time under 1:30.That made me smile.
As the announcer, fantastic marathoner Jim Hage himself, was kind enough to let the crowd know I was the runner who had run 52 Marathons in one year I raised my hand to acknowledge the cheers. Then I heard someone say “You can get him!” and I realized that the guy I passed might be closer than I feared. Down went the hand and I powered through the finish to 1:29:46. I ended up being able to garner 14th place overall and 3rd in my age group.
After I finished I went back to the booth where the PA Beef Council was located. I love when races have expos or places where runners can reconvene after their efforts. It is one thing to get to know runners before an event but it is entirely different post-run. Everyone is so bear and raw and ready to share emotions and stories. Also, while the spread provided by the raced was very good for the runners, the beef sticks given away by the Beef Council were a hot commodity.
I spoke to more runners about how I fuel myself for my adventures and those who might have been a little hesitant to eat some beef were now hungrily clamoring for it. As I talked about the 29 lean cuts of beef and how they are all leaner than skinless chicken thigh, one of the organizers came over and presented me with my award for my age group. One runner said, "Maybe some can argue with science but none can argue with golden trophies!" I thought that was a rather fitting way to show how results trump any ill-conceived notions people have. He is right.
The proof is indeed in the sirloin steak.