Friday, September 30, 2016

Quad Cities Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 14th Edition 
167.7 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Quad Cities Half Marathon
Place:Moline, IL
Miles from home: 1100
Weather: 70s; humid, sunny


That's about all I can say about my race performance here at the Quad Cities Half Marathon, if you can even call it a performance.

A friend once posted something about how when you toe the line of a race, you should give your all. For the most part I agree. That is what differentiates a race from a run.  I also know that there are certain caveats. In long distance racing, if you know it is simply not your day, there is nothing wrong with mailing it in. The thing about this sport is, unlike other sports like football, or baseball, or other ball sports, there is no downtime. You can't take a play off. You can't milk the timeout. You can't draw a foul and take free throws. If your day sucks, well, guess what pal, it is going to suck nonstop until you cross the finish line. The only question is how you mitigate the suck.

For myself, given that I have Gilbert's Syndrome, (a relatively benign but potentially bad disorder that inhibits recovery from hard exercise - to generalize) I know that if I redline too much, I'm gonna have Trouble. And that starts with "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "physician, gonna need one soon." So I pick and choose my battles.

I was in town to run this race for the 4th time in 10 years because it is a must-do race.  The course is not particularly beautiful, although it has its moments. The crowds aren't ten deep but they have their spots. The weather is a little volatile but can be fine. But the organizers put on one of the best races in America and for those who are stuck on bling or mountain visages and do not realize what really makes a race tick are all the things you haven't the foggiest CLUE go on behind the scenes, you go with the people that make those things work. That is the Quad Cities Marathon for you.

The last time I ran this race it was part of my Dane to Davenport- a 165 mile stage run over 3 days that tacked on the Quad Cities Marathon after for nearly 200 miles of running. I was happy to be back and just running 13.1 this time. Doing a book signing at he expo, meeting some really salt of the earth people and talking about how ASEA helps me recover was all just icing on the cake.

Posting an APB for a Diet Mountain Dew and having not one but two separate people from the Quad Cities bringing me one at my booth just goes to show you what sort of awesome people live here. (Also, seriously, Mountain Dew, I do more for you than X Games. Hook a brother up.)

I met a slew, a litany, a plethora of fantastic people at this race and knew I would be seeing many of them after the race. As my hotel was so close to the finish, I knew I could quickly shower after my race and head back out to hand out medals. People often praise elites for doing this sort of thing but if I ever have an opportunity, it is something I jump at doing.  It simply warms the heart.

Race Morning:

I got an excellent night of sleep both before the expo and before the race. I was hoteled mere yards from the start courtesy of the awesome RD, Joe Moreno.  Having just moved to Austin, TX, I was still living amongst boxes a week ago. Being a tad more rested than I had been when I ran a 1:22 half in Utah two weeks ago, I was hoping to have a solid performance here on a less forgiving course.

The weather forecast called for some potential thunderstorms. I didn't like that but that at least meant it wouldn't be sunny and hot.  Humid, sure, but the other two would be gone. I woke up, threw open my curtains...and a mostly cloudless sky and warm sunshine penetrated my window.

Eat me, weather.

Honestly, if climate change doesn't bother you for the myriad of reasons it should bother you, at least be selfish and realize how it is ruining so many good racing days. I would move to Barrow Alaska but I just checked and their high the other day was like 49. Even that is too hot.

So I begrudgingly made my way to the start wondering that perhaps I could suck it up, be a man and power through this race.  I got close to the start, saw Will Leer (wait, wow. I thought I recognized him ushering his girlfriend Aisha Praught past my booth the day before when she stopped and looked interested in talking) and readied myself for the howlitzer to start the race.

Away we went.

First Three Miles: 6:45; 6:42; 7:24

The race runs straight down the street, underneath an American flag (that would make Howdy Honda in Texas jealous of its size) and then curls up on a ramp onto the I-74 Bridge. This first mile didn't feel particularly fast so when I ran a 6:45 I wasn't surprised. However, as we ran across the bridge, and a drip of sweat or 17 had already dropped from my short race haircut onto my Julbo sunglasses, I was hoping the downhill would give me a boost. It did. All of three seconds. Consarnit.

I have impeccable memory when it comes to race courses and what happens during them at random spots along the way. Why in the sam hell I always forget about this bugger of a hill before mile three of this course is beyond me. However, the 1:30 pace group leader passed me with a gaggle of runners behind him as we just about crested this hill. I thought that perhaps with the hill behind me I might finally wake up and salvage the day.

To the 10k: 6:50; 7:08; 7:23

After this hill, there is a slight downhill and then another much smaller uphill before a nice screamer of a downhill on 18th street. When it only yielded a 6:50 mile for me, I knew my day was done.  Well, my racing day anyway.  Now what to do with the finally 9.1 miles.

A nice grouping of people had shown up in the neighborhoods we had passed through and as we crossed over an overpass next to The Isle of Capri riverboat casino for a short but cruel hill, there were even a few more people from Iowa out to cheer us on.  By now, any cloud cover we had experienced at all was gone. While I do not do well in heat and humidity, at this point it wasn't so hot or so humid as to explain my lethargy. I just couldn't get my motor running.

We slipped down onto the riverfront and joined a nice bicycle path that I have run virtually every time I have been to the Quad Cities. Fortunately, here the morning sun was on our back. Unfortunately, I ran way way too slow to even be remotely pleased with how this day would go. I just had to run hard enough not to embarrass myself.

Right at the 10k mark I looked over and saw the statue of Bill Rodgers and Joan Samuelson celebrating how they helped put the Bix 7 mile race on the map.  This made me a smile for a bit as Bill is a friend and Joan was kind enough to sign this awesome poster I found of the 1984 Olympics at the World Famous Golf & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas (made famous by the show Pawn Stars on History Channel.) But soon that memory faded and I knew I had 7 more miles to go.

To Mile 10: 7:21; 7:24; 7:28; 7:15

I knew the next four miles were all flat and I just had to keep progressing at this pace and nothing would go wrong. I knew for whatever reason pushing it was not going to happen. But I most assuredly did not wish to go slower.

As we crossed under the bridge which lead to Arsenal Island around mile 8, I could see the race leaders were crossing overhead on their way to mile 10. That was a touch disconcerting for me as I should not already be that far behind. Nevertheless, even if I had been on my "A" game I would have been extremely far behind them. Just not that far! But it was a nice reminder that there is normal, there is faster (me) there is really fast and then there is "Are you human?"

A plethora of signs told runners that those running the half were supposed to stay to the right and I knew the Modern Woodman Stadium was approaching. This was where I ended my Dane to
Davenport and I so wished I was ending my run today here. I had next to nothing left in the tank and it took all I had not to run a 7:30 mile.

We passed this beautiful stadium and headed onto 2nd street where we were shaded from the sun. For the first time all day I felt good. My speed did not increase but it didn't take everything in me to get going. I began to rev my engines a little bit as we approached the bridge I mentioned above. I raced a gentleman to the top, told the guys holding warning signs that "Mats on Bridge are Loose" that they shouldn't make judgment calls on the morals of the mats (ha!) and began to try and build some steam.

The reason for the signs were that a red carpet of mats had been laid down over the metal lattice work of this bridge to keep runners safe.  But they were not completely nailed down or anything and could possibly budge. Picking up my feet and racing for the first time all day (I was making it hard for the guy behind me to pass by picking up the pace) I saw the sign for the tenth mile at the end of the bridge. Thank goodness.  Double digits.

Bringing it home: 7:26; 7:18; 7:13

The last time I was on this island was right before the last six miles of the marathon in 2013.  As I passed by the cemetery on that day I saw a man go down in the distance.  Running the half-marathon this man had a heart attack. Before I could even get to him members of the military post stationed nearby were administering aid. I was extremely happy to learn later that he fully recovered. AS those memories flooded back, I knew when I left the island today I would be almost done. Now all I had to do was get through it.

Arsenal Island is the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the United States.  And we get to run on it.  It is always eerily quiet as spectators are not allowed on the island (I don't think) but the quiet is serene and wonderful.  It also often provides a great deal of shade which was undoubtedly needed today.

After holding off the runner on the bridge, he passed me on the flats here. But when we hit a small incline I passed him back and this time I made it stick.  If you are going to pass someone, do it definitely. Someday I am going to find out why I am not a very good runner on flat courses but it always happens to me in race. Give me miles of flat and watch people pass me. Give me small hills, and I win it all back and then some.

Now, feeling decent for the first time in the whole race, I began to pick up the pace. A few runners came into focus and I knew I had just enough real estate left in the race to get a one or two of them and put them behind me.

Over the last bridge and into a throng of people cheering on both sides I went. Down the last bit of street toward the finishline I was so happy to see I ran. I mercifully crossed in 1:35:01, good enough for 48th place and 4th in my age group.  My friend and announcer Creigh Kelley called me over and we chatted for a bit.  Other than being mildly out of breath, I felt fine. Not sore, not tired, just completely realizing how bad of a day I had just finished. Sometimes there simply is no explanation.

I sauntered over to my hotel and thought about showering and taking a nap. It was still only 9 a.m.  But I knew I would much rather go back outside and cheer on as many people as I could. I could not have been happier that I made that decision.

Back out at the finish, I saw numerous people I had met the previous day and many seemed surprised to see me, let alone the fact I recalled some of the minutia of their life stories. When I am asked what inspires me and I say all people, some people think that is pablum. But truly, seeing people meet their own goals, apropos of their speed, is what really makes me smile. If I am able to share in a small part of that, it is even better.

As I celebrated with some, consoled a few others, and on occasion acting like a wall for some to
simply hang onto lest they fall down in weather which had become warmer and more humid, the disappointment of my own day faded.  I knew it would. Part of the reason I came back out was to salve my wounds with the victory of others.  That is one of the reasons why after running that half marathon two weeks ago in Utah I went to the end of the Wasatch 100.  I wanted to witness the triumph and emotion of people pushing themselves to their limits.  It truly is a feeling I don't think any other sport can generate. You can be happy your football team won the SuperBowl but you have never been there.  Same with the Masters in golf or the World Series.  But anyone can run a 5k and cross the finish, giving all they can.

Then you get up, sign up for another race, and experience it all again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Big Cottonwood Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 13th Edition 
154.6 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Big Cottonwood Half Marathon
Place: Salt Lake City, UT
Miles from home: 2797
Weather: 40-50s; dry sunny

I originally scheduled this Revel Big Cottonwood half-marathon race as having a two-fold purpose. First, I wanted to set a new PR in the half-marathon and to do so as a Masters. Second, it was going to be a barometer race for attempting a new PR in the marathon about 6 weeks later.

On my birthday, I ran 40km around a track to celebrate turning 40.  It was a hot day as you can read here.  I crashed post-run, slept in late...and missed the tiny window for registering for the marathon at which I wanted to set a PR. So throw that out the window. Then at the end of July I decided I would be moving to Austin a month later. The majority of August was spent packing and all that was moving-related. I then took a 6 day road trip with my Trump Pinata to make it to Austin. Right before I left, I got a notification that I was off the waitlist for the marathon. There was, however, no way I could get into shape to train the way I wanted to in order to run fast. Long has the day passed in which I just run marathons to collect finishes and medals. When I race 26.2, I am by and large, racing. So no marathon.

Given how tiring moving to Austin was, and then the subsequent unpacking, the chances of a new PR in the half were slim to none. Doesn't mean I still wasn't expecting to do so. I often refuse to let logic or reason cloud my judgment when I get uppity about trying to run fast.

For the first time in a long time, I wasn't working an expo before a race. I cannot tell you how liberating a feeling that was. I might be tired, at elevation, staying with a friend who has cats (which I am allergic to) but I thought not having to expend so much energy the day before a race might just be the boost I needed.

Race morning:

I went to bed at an absolutely unheard of time of 9 p.m. in the hopes of buttressing my potential PR chances. Given I had to be up around 4 a.m. to make it to the bus, that really wasn't even all that early. I slept well, got on one of the glorious luxury buses the Revel company had provided for runners (there were also some regular school buses - I was so happy not to be on one of those) and tried to get in a racing mindset. For some reason the bus driver thought that loud country music should be piped in through the speakers and some other racers felt the need to have their overhead lights on the whole way up the dark canyon. (Some might think it cruel to say that it may have been for last second preening but if you have seen the number of women who cross the finish line in Utah races wearing full faces of makeup, you would know I am in no way exaggerating.)

As we stepped off the buses at 7250 feet above sea level, I felt something I haven't felt in I do not know how long: cold! I could see my breath. Sweet Fancy Moses was I going to get a race day I could race in?! With a temperature that in no way was warmer than 45 degrees, I was in heaven. After a slightly longer than necessary wait in the portapotty line (not the organizer's fault but rather people with no sense of an internal clock and common courtesy) it was off to the start.

Making my way to the front I passed no less than half a dozen runners I either knew or was a social media acquaintance with. It was a pleasant surprise and also a nice little warm addition to my morning. The sky was just beginning to reveal the azure blue which would accompany us the entire day.  But for now we were still in the clutches of nighttime. There was just enough time to line up for a quick and subtle countdown before away we went!

First three miles: 6:09. 6:13, 6:12

The beginning of the race was the everything for me. I wanted to nail a couple of 5:45s to feel good about

race and then cruise into the rest. To say I was a bit disheartened with my first mile of 6:09 would be an understatement. But I know mile markers are not certified and often in races a longer mile here means a shorter mile there. So while I held my pace, and felt like I was running under 6 per mile, I was even more dismayed by the second mile. Was this entire effort going to be over before it began? Was I really that tired and out of shape? When the third mile hit still above what I wanted I began to do a great deal of assessing. I knew these miles were not as downhill as some to come so I just had to hold on.  Perhaps as I woke the body up, reminded it that it could indeed run faster, and take advantage of the downhill, I would get some better times.

To the 10k: 5:39, 5:51, 6:16

That's more like it! In a mile that didn't even feel particularly fast, I was right back in the game. But wanting to make sure this was not the mirage I mentioned before I held my celebration inward. The next mile would reveal if the previous was just an anomaly.  When I went under six minutes per again, I was quite happy. I just needed to keep this downward trend going.

However, right after the 5th mile there was a hairpin of an S-curve that, while still downhill, was banking enough to make one lose momentum. In fact, this entire course, again, while decidedly downhill, had just enough twists and turns in it to actually take away more of the advantage of the down than one would think. Nowhere was it more evident than on this next mile. A product of the turn, I slowed by almost half a minute. Bollocks. This was going to be just one big crapshoot as to what happens the rest of the way. Could I go under 1:20? Could I set a PR?

Interestingly enough, while not official, I ran faster than my official 10k at the 6.2 mile mark. This is a time I also have crushed in two other half marathons as well. My 10k PR, like a lot of my shorter distance PRs, is just asking to be broken as I have aged over the 40-year mark. But I digress.

To mile 10: 6:10, 5:52, 6:07, 6:58

The next few miles began a game of cat and mouse between me and a few runners. It also became a show how even fast(ish) people are unaware, or don't care, about running tangents. As we serpentined (Babou!) our way down the canyon, I would routinely pass and then gap runners who steadfastly stuck to the far outside of each turn. (Incidentally, even running every single tangent possible, my GPS still had me a 13.15 which means these poor people were running far too long. This is not a knock on the race - GPS are not infallible. I am simply saying that they ran further than they needed to.)

Here I also began to lose touch with some runners I had been with since the beginning. I had been in the top 15 or so since the start but I started to fall off the back a little bit. This irked me, and after realizing that if I wanted to run fast, I had to stop thinking and run, I threw down another sub-6 mile. It pleased me greatly even as I could begin to feel the soreness in my quads and a warm spot beginning to form on my right heel. This is the same heel which will blister greatly on many races in which I run downhill. Why just the right heel is beyond me. As such, suffice it to say, I began thinking again. I very much wanted to run another sub-6 mile if for only for my mind. When it was not, it deflated me a bit. I knew this 9th mile was the last one which would contain no uphill or flat. Doing the math I knew I had little to no shot to PR.

As I mentioned above, the weather was perfect. In fact, at times, we even had a slight tailwind. Moreover, as I would see later, we would not even have the sun creep over the mountains and onto our backs until mile 11.5. It was, virtually everything I could want in a race.  I just wasn't going to get it done the way I wanted.

When the last downhill ended, we left the valley and began a small uphill climb to mile 10. I had a weird taste in my mouth and tried to figure out what it was. Then I remembered that by coming down below the pollution level in Salt Lake, we were now smack dab in the middle of the dreaded inversion.  It had never bothered me when I lived here for four years but I could taste it now. When the tenth mile yielded near 7 minutes for the time of running it, my goals were shot. Now I had a disappointing final 3.1 miles to run.  My only goal which remained was to not ruin a good start with a bad finish. But few things suck worse in a race than knowing all of your main goals are gone but you still have to run out the string.

Onward toward the finish. 6:53, 6:44, 6:50, :42

I then just got passed by two women running in tandem and chatting up a storm. Color me impressed. Not long after another woman passed me. I was fairly certain I was out of the top 20 now. Various random goals out of the way, I began calculating what I might run. I was hoping it would still be in the 1:21 range but didn't have much to base that on. I figured 6:30s the rest of the way were within my wheelhouse. But then I ran a 6:53 for the 11th mile. I knew that right after mile 11 there was a short, but blisteringly steep, downhill that I could throw my weight behind to try and salvaged the remaining distance. When I crossed the next mile marker at 6:44, in spite of giving it all I had, I just sorta sighed and called it a day.

The sun was out on a beautiful day and as we ran down the long straightaway to the finish, we could see the arch way in the distance. In fact, well over half of a mile away I could hear the announcer. I heard him announce the women's overall winner, in the time I was hoping to run. Then I heard the 1:20 barrier go by. A man and a woman passed me with less than half of a mile to go. I had no response. My PR barrier passed from the announcer's voice and I still had a third of a mile to go. I kept chugging along.

One of my best friends, Chris (aka Vanilla Bear) and his wife Kathy Jo (aka Mrs. Bear) and their baby Calvin (T-Minus 8 days old and ready to come out) were cheering me on at the finish. I unfortunately did not hear them as I was in the pain cave at this point. Nevertheless, I crossed under the arch for my 94th lifetime half-marathon in a time of 1:22:32.  It was my third fastest half-marathon ever. I finished 27th overall and was lucky enough to take 3rd Masters as well.

As I was running this race and knowing I would not realistically be going for a PR, I spent a little more time evaluating it from an organizer's perspective. I had to think about things which I would improve or change.  Right away that tells me a race is well run.The race provided not only free pictures but had them up on the website 48 hours after the race was done. The swag in the bag was very nice with gloves, a great shirt, a mylar blanket and a beanie to wear if you were cold at the start. There was a timing mat at mile 4.5 and mile 10 which means in theory the runners could set new PRs at those distances if they were certified. I have run a fair amount of these downhill races and have always told the organizers that if they threw a mat down at 5k, 10k, 15k and ten miles they could advertise how their race could provide so many chances to set PRs.

I did not stay around for the finish line festivities but if they were anything like the rest of the race I am sure they were top notch. I was however very proud that one of the athletes that I coach ran a 7 minute personal best in the half, so kudos to Jessica for that! Person after person seemed to be streaming in with a smile on their face and a new R in their pocket. Will downhill running help assist you in running faster?  Of course, but you have to take it.  No one just gives it to you.

I have had very good fortunate in running races that were put together well and most of that stems from having a pretty good idea which races to run. So if it seems as if many I run get top marks, that is why.  It is called having worked in the business in every aspect from runner to course designed to race director and everything in between.  As such, I can definitely see me running more races put on by Revel in the future.  They specialize in this downhill variety so I would highly suggest learning how to run downhill, practice and then celebrate at the end with your buddies with a big fat PR!

As for me, I am back to Austin where I hope the heat and humidity will help make the remainder of my races this year an breeze, even if I don't get the perfect weather I did in Salt Lake City.