Monday, March 31, 2008

National Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 3; 3rd Edition
58.6 miles raced in 2008
Race: National Marathon
Place: Washington, DC
Miles from home: 2089 miles (weird that DC is that far from my new “home”)
Weather: 30s. Sunny. Windy

I experienced a feeling in the week before this marathon that I have not for quite some time: nervousness. Having run 73 lifetime marathons, I still felt a sense of trepidation before the start of the 74th. Granted, this feeling was not necessarily of the “Can I finish this race?” ilk as I knew that was not going to be a problem (hopefully, at least). But mainly the feeling of slight dread was present because I was setting my sights on previously uncharted territory: a marathon in the 2:40s. Let me be perfectly clear, a 2:49:59 is IN the 2:40s and that was what I was shooting for in the National Marathon on the last Saturday in March in our nation’s capitol.

Some feelings of uneasiness were also aroused for various other reasons. First of all, I have only run one marathon in the past five months. My only foray in the 42 kilometer distance since the Marine Corps Marathon in October had been the impromptu race in Carlsbad in January. While I had added some pressure to myself by signing up to be the pace group leader for the 3:10 group, I knew I had no problem running that time. Even with the 52 marathons in one year bringing all sorts of my average marathon time down, 31% of all my lifetime marathons have been in that Boston-qualifying range. But this would be my first time racing in 5 months. That sort of lay-off gives one plenty of time to think. I am pretty sure I don’t want to do it again anytime soon.

In addition, I have moved from Arlington, VA to Salt Lake City. While the added elevation should help my training, of the 8 weeks I have received mail at 84105, I have only spent half that time living there. And it was not consecutively. In that two-month span I have been to Phoenix and Atlanta before actually going to DC. With a very successful speaking tour in the greater DC area, combined with sundry other job duties, this was not exactly the taper and resting week one would prefer going into a race.

Finally, I knew the course was far from easy. Not exactly hard but some hills would definitely make this a challenge.

All of these things had me toeing the line on race day feeling a little nervous. A long wait in the bathroom line aborted 5 minutes before race time when I realized that I would not make it in and out before the gun did not help. I finally had to call it quits and just run to the race start line. (But not before a pitstop in the bushes.)

In the brief seconds I had before the race started I saw many a familiar face. Most were surprised to see me and I got many "I thought you moved!"s. I saw Luke Merkel, a young chap and a heckuva a runner who set his previous personal best in a marathon at last year’s race (2:48 and change). We chatted for a bit and realized we were going to be running close to the same pace at the start. So when the gun sounded we decided to stick together.

I knew eventually Luke would peel off as we had a goal differential of a few minutes. My aimed-for pace was going to be a 6:29 minute mile, his about 5 seconds faster. Needless to say, the 6:16 we ran in the first mile was not what either of us wanted. Nor the 6:17 and 6:18 that followed. Here I bid Luke and other familiar face, Max Lockwood, farewell and forcibly slowed my pace. (Luke went on to a huge PR himself in the 2:44 range.)

Missing the fourth mile marker I only could tell at the start of mile five that I was back on pace. After leaving the familiar scenes of DC proper behind (Washington Monument, White House, et. al) we began the biggest climb of the day. Roughly three miles of hill through the heart of DC helped bring my pace back to where I wanted it. DC is always asleep on weekend mornings but I have to say I was rather disappointed with the turnout of spectators. Most people just needed to step outside their door to cheer runners as we raced through their neighborhoods but few bothered. Those who did, however, were very vocal and greatly appreciated. A few friends surprised me with hellos (Hi Adina, Elizabeth, Laura, Mike, Elyse and others!) and the band near Howard University was a very nice touch.

Next up was a long, straight slight downhill down North Capitol street with the Capitol building looming in the distance. DC’s finest patrolled every street and kept traffic at bay: no small feat, that is for sure. I thanked every officer I could until winded breath later had me nearly waving thanks. I hope they all know how much we appreciate their efforts.

As we neared the halfway point, a few halfers showed their final sprints and passed me from behind. One chapped passed me three times. Yep, he would sprint like a madman and then walk like a dying man. I hope his last sprint carried him past the finish line.

As the halfers peeled off to finish, I hung a left to traverse the empty desolate parking lot. I say desolate because there was NO ONE around me. I turned a corner and looked back and saw no one. I peered forward into the distance and saw no one. The very cheerful Red Bull people standing at my halfway point were the only warm bodies to be seen. As I hit this section at 1:23:55 I was quite excited. That is only 30 seconds slower than my half-marathon best. I felt great and was ready to rock.
(N.B. I also hit this section after an easy quarter of a mile detour when the volunteers thought I was a half marathoner and directed me toward the finish. Only when I realized this was wrong and asked where the marathoners go was I able to backtrack and find the right course.  I was upset.)

Second Half:

For the next 3 or 4 miles I was running completely alone. There were no half marathoners around me, no marathoners I could see to track down, scant spectators and just this eerie feeling of running through the city streets when I should not have been. Have you ever seen Vanilla Sky when Tom Cruise runs into an empty Times Square? That is what I felt like.

I had somehow missed both of my good friends Diana and Anne at the half (who were there to spectate) so I was hoping they weren't worried about me.

Finally, around mile 16 I could see a solo runner in the distance. I set my sights on tracking him down. Once into the touristy part of DC again I had to dodge a few people out for their sight seeing tour and at one point needed to shout a quick and loud "Runner Here!" at some pedestrian crossing a street right in front of me wearing an ipod. As she jumped back I got a little bit of glee.

Around mile 18 a runner passed me. I had been tracking down the runner in front of me for so long I had not been paying attention to anything behind me (which is the way it should be). For the next 5 miles I would stay with this gentleman as he was running at or near the pace I wanted to run. Without a doubt he pulled me through a few miles that I might have run slower than I wanted. Passing runners often makes you feel you are running faster than you are when it may just be the other runner who has slowed. That was definitely the case here.

What I have not mentioned until this point was the wind on race day. While the temperature was a little cooler than most of us would have found ideal, it was not bad. However, there was a fair amount of wind that, in certain places, was rather difficult to run through. This was nowhere more evident than in the miles starting at 22.

Prior to that, at mile 20, I saw that in order to get a sub 2:50 I needed to run a 41:30 final 10k. Not impossible but not easy. The next few miles made it much more difficult, however. Following my pacer-of-sorts, we both knocked off another runner. I was pretty sure this put me in 19th place but I did not care one bit about that. My only goal for this race was time-related and as we ran north on the Anacostia River the wind was making that a difficult prospect. 6:41 and 6:44 miles ate away at any cushion I had. At mile 23 I saw I had 21:30 to run the last 5k. Then I realize that there was an extra .1 to tack onto that 5k. Doesn’t sound like much until you realize at a 6:30 pace that is close to another 45 seconds.

Then the time slipped away. Mile 23-24 was the hardest mile on the course as the wind stayed steady and the hills popped up. At the top of a larger hill runners went around a bend to the left. The water table was all the way on the right. I was thirsty but I was not running around that huge bend to get the liquid.

I received a few emails from people after the race who said they saw me on the news. The reason they saw me on the news was because the local NBC affiliate was interviewing the person who I am guessing was in charge of the water stop right before Mile 24. Was I waaaay in the background when this happened? Nope. I was about 5 feet away. Why? Because apparently the news anchor thought the MIDDLE OF THE ROAD was the ideal place to conduct said interview. "Boy, did you look pissed!" was one comment I received as I swerved around the crew who never once even noticed a runner going by them.

But if I had known this mile was going to be a 7:01, I might not have even cared. I knew I was seeping energy like a sieve and if that mile was 31 seconds off the pace, who knew what the next would be. It turned out to be a 7:10. Well, crap.

Resisting the urge to walk I pushed on. With about half a mile to go a runner passed me. He had probably been tracking me for quite some time and seeing me falter probably gave him the boost I so often love to get. I tried to stay with him but realized I did not have the gears. I let him go and focused on finishing.

Up the last sadistic hill I ran and luckily had a race volunteer tell me to "Watch out for that car!" How a car had gotten onto the narrow access road right before the last .1 of a mile is beyond me but the police were frantically trying to direct this Mazda out of the damn way. I am sure the poor confused driver did not mean to be a pain in the ass but as I shimmied my body between it and the curb, I could not care less about their intentions. Another foot closer and I would have bashed its hood.

Cheers I could not hear from many friends emanated from the crowd. I was focusing on the clock. No way I was running a 2:52. My final one-gloved push got me in just under that at 2:51:49, nearly a four-minute PR and a 20th overall finishing place.. (Video of my finish HERE. That siren you hear is Diana's "wooooooooooooooo!")

As I as handed my medal and mylar blanket, I dodged two men dressed as a naval vessel (they had ran just the half; if they had beat me in the marathon I would have never run again) and staggered to a sideline fence. Anne and Diana were there and they were soon joined by Kristin, Christine and Fran. It was all I could do to lean on the fence as words could not even be formed. I was beat. Medics cautiously approached but were waved away. I finally gathered my things, walked around the fence and joined my friends where I promptly sat down and was as tired as I have been in a long time.

Soon my massage therapist Terrel Hale appeared out of nowhere and corralled me to a table for a post-race rub-down. Even as I am little stiffed legged today, I know how much worse I would have been if not for this. You kick butt, Terrel. Sorry for the eyes closes shot Terrel but I don't look any better!

All in all it was a good race but not a great race. I can see there is much room for personal improvement and improvement that will happen soon. My next race takes me to Boston but I know I will not be gunning for a personal best there (and I will explain why soon). But without a doubt, by June I will be well into the 2:40s.

Thanks to all my friends who came out and supported me. As you all know I will be back in May for another leg of my speaking tour and I can only hope I get to see more of you then.

Here are uber-supporters Anne and Diana. They rock. Diana felt bad when her sign was outclassed by a 6 year-old's somewhere else but I said it is the thought that counts.

I did not get a shot with Christine who made the whole trek from Alexandria via metro (yuck!) which was a bummer. Thanks anyway! Great seeing you.

For the overall winner, my fellow running club member Mike Wardian won for the third straight time in just under 2:25. Smoking fast.

Now I go on the road again for two more weeks of work. My next planned race is the Boston Marathon. Stay tuned here for my news about that. It is a doozy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Kelly Grubb

Last fall I was put in touch with the gentleman who runs races. Ross is his name and he has been running for Team In Training since 1999, which to me me is long before it was a "fashionable" thing to do. Ross stumbled across my Fiddy2 website and we have stayed in touch ever since.

For the longest time, Ross has taken special interest in a young girl names Kelly Grubb.

Kelly first began her battle with cancer in the first grade. Eight years ago Kelly was given 6 months to live. Then 6 years ago, Kelly made history when she became the first pediatric patient in America to receive a mini-stem cell transplant from a mismatched donor.

Unfortunately, Kelly's battle ended a week ago today. Brave and optimistic until the end, Kelly finally succumbed to the diseases she had been fighting for most of her life. Ross sent me a link to the following article which I hope you have a few seconds to read. Click HERE.

While I never met Kelly I feel I knew her through all the emails Ross shared with me. I have been planning a whirlwind weekend in June encompassing two states, 20 hours of driving and two marathons. One marathon was in Helena located just a few hours south of where Kelly lived. I was hoping to possibly meet her in Great Falls and tell her what an inspiration she has been to me even just through the words of Ross. Unfortunately, now I will not get the chance to meet her. However, I hope her own fight inspires you to take on those personal battles you are currently putting off.

And if you want to send a card for sympathies, Kelly's parents are listed at the below address.

Don and Patty Grubb
125 1st Avenue SW
Cut Bank, Montana 59427

It would be AWESOME if you could take the time to send just a postcard from where you are, to show how far Kelly's story reached. If you want to bill me the $0.29 for the stamp and whatever for the postcard, I will pay it. (Those of you overseas have to pay your own! ;^ )

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Runs in Georgia

Flying in to Georgia on Saturday night, I counted my lucky stars. If I have been here 24 hours earlier I would have had to deal with a tornado (?!) that ripped through downtown Atlanta. Unfortunately, on top of the property value lost in the storm I heard there was also a loss of life. Considering it hit the heart of the city, it is quite fortunate more people were not hurt.

As I drove all over the greater Atlanta area, I knew sprawl and highways were going to pose a problem in finding what I needed. The rerouted traffic in places most assuredly did not help. Luckily, I found some great places to run while I was there and I wanted to share a few with you.

First was the Fort Yargo State park. I took some pictures with my camera phone but I really don’t think they will do the area justice. Also, well I am not able to load them just yet. But soon. Fort Yargo is located outside of Winder, PA, and is home to many running races and triathlons.

I can see why. Loads of trails to run on, a really pretty lake and excellent foliage that must be gorgeous in the Spring/Fall made this a pleasant place to run indeed. I had to climb a few lofty hills to get fomr outside the park to its interior but the pleasant surprise of a beach (Yep, beach!) hidden in its hills was worth it.

Later in the week I had the distinct pleasure of meeting my friend Alan and his co-worker Derek for a run in the Suwannee area of Georgia just north of the city of Atlanta. Alan and Derek took me down the Suwanee Greenway which was this super nice boardwalk nestled into a little valley. It was hard to believe a few hundred feet in either direction was the hustling and bustling of about 7 freeway interchanges. Its boardwalks reminded me of the Teddy Roosevelt Islands in the Potomac and its trails of the Custis Trail behind my old apartment in Virginia.

There was even a hill just like the monster leading to my doorsteps in Arlington. Ok, not really.

But it did remind me of the hairpins on the Downhill Mile I ran last fall and both gentlemen laughed when I recounted the stories surrounding those races. (I figure this will get a comment from CharlieM). There were many more miles of trail and boardwalk to explore but my hosts had families to attend to and runs previously done early in the day so I let them get about their business. I made a mental note to get back here and explore sometime soon.

One of the things I knew my legs would want to test here was the Kennesaw Mountain National Park. As I drove by it earlier in the week, I noticed how quickly it erupted out of the flat nearby countryside. I looked up some info online and was quite pleased to see it had some runnable trails. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I had to "settle" for a jaunt to the top on the mountain on the paved road. An 800-foot jaunt UP the mountain in a little less than a mile that is! (Wouldn't be a Dane running blog without an elevation chart, right?)

Being a northerner it is odd to see so many monuments to the South and their fight in the Civil War. Raised on the "winning side" always gives one a feeling of self-confidence that your side just had to be right when they went to war. Regardless of that entire feeling, one always has to remember that the battles are not fought by ideas and theorems but rather young men (and women sometimes as well). People who gave their lives for their country, probably most without a clear understanding as to why are the ones whose blood will soak the lands. So when I came flying down the back half of this mountain hill, I nodded my head a little bit to the monument to fallen soldiers at the battles here near Kennesaw Mountain.

And Georgia DOT, how about a shoulder or two to run on. Can't be that hard, right? :) Regardless, my last run in Georgia left me just .2 shy of breaking 600 miles for the year. A little behind my desired schedule, I am still far ahead of any other year in total mileage. Last year it took me until May 6th to breach 600 miles and in the year of Fiddy2, April 25th was the day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Good Run / Good movie

My friend Kristin is finishing her PhD program and needed some assistance from some volunteers in the form of taking some test. When she asked me to help I was only glad to do so, as I did not want to be the one that kept her father from called her "Doctor". Being that we were scheduled to meet after work, I decided to up my mileage on Monday morning since I would miss my afternoon run. If you are not familiar with my non-desire to run in the mornings let me clarify: I prefer not to run in the mornings. But as I said in another blog, with the park right outside my door I could not resist.

So instead of my usual 3.75 miler, I upped it one lap around the park and did 5.25. I saw my new friend Henry out walking as usual and it lifted my spirit. (As an aside, when I get more time to stop and talk to Henry, he is getting his own blog. He makes me smile every morning.)

I went to work and on my way home realized what a beautiful day it was. The morning had been quite crisp with a starting run temperature of about 23 degrees. Here at 5:20 PM it was 57. 57! I called Kristin and told her I needed to postpone our meeting for 30 minutes. There was absolutely no way I was not going to do a run in this weather. She was kind enough to agree (being a runner and outdoorsy person she more or less told me that I HAD to enjoy the afternoon).

I laced up my shoes and burst out the doors. Shorts, shorts sleeves and warm skin. It immediately reminded me of the JJ72 song, Oxygen .(If you haven’t heard of them, you will thank me for introducing you to them. Their self-titled debut album is one of the top 10 best overall albums ever, in my humble opinion; I suggest you listen to October swimmer and Snow as well). People were out in droves fully taking advantage of the great evening around the park in the fading daylight.

As I began my first loop, I noticed a person on a bike seemingly pacing a rollerblader. While the cyclist should not have been on the sidewalk I did not think it would bother me. I mean, they are on wheels right? Regardless, my chase reflex kicked in and I began to pick up the pace. Before 3/4 of a mile I had passed the girl on blades. About 3/4 of a mile later, they passed me (and honestly squeezed me out a little bit from a small entrance; the park has a dividing wall to keep cars from turning with just a small hole in the middle). Well now I am just a little ticked. So even though they picked up the pace a bit, I decided to stay on their tail.

For the remainder of the loop I stayed 10 feet behind them. By the time I got home I knew this was going to be a quick run. I was right. I had run my fastest 3.75 miler in SLC in a time of 23:59 (or a 6:23 minute mile.) I was pretty stoked. By comparison, (yeah it was morning), but this morning I ran a 29:23 (or a 7:50 mile.). few things feel as good a good run.

So I called Kristin, did her experiment, grabbed some quick dinner and then we settled down to watch a movie. The movie in question was one we had both been excited to see. It was entitled "Volcanic Sprint".  The movie had been sent to me by those promoting it and they asked me if I would give a view and let my readers know what it is about. I agreed!

Volcanic Sprint tells the tale of a marathon-length race in Cameroon which traverses over 10,000 vertical feet up a live volcano, one of the tallest on the African continent. The racers, mostly local farmers, compete for the equivalent of four years' salary. But to win they must overcome altitude sickness, temperature fluctuations of 50 degrees, and loose volcanic rock— many wearing only plastic sandals.

Runner/film-makers Steve Dorst and Dan Evans just released this and have just recently returned from filming the the 2008 race.

While there they donated running shoes to the local athletes with their charity partner Soles4 Souls; and made the first attempt to map the 30 year old race using Garmin and Polar satellite watches strapped to local runners (the results of which they hope to put on Google earth).

The film definitely shows the true human spirit in all of its forms. You have the local runners who take on ridiculously difficult challenges knowing what lies at stake. they could get seriously injured or die, but they could also make in 5 hours what the average Cameroonian makes in 4 years. It is apparently worth the risk. (The volcano is shown below with the city of Buea, the starting point in the foreground).

You also see the side of humans often left out of documentaries, or at least glazed over. For example, the very first winner of this Race of Hope, John Ekema is shown with his son who is also preparing for the Children's Race. Mr. Ekema lays his soul for all to see as he shows his bitter side at being barely recognized as the first winner. He is poor and destitute and thinks that some recognition should come his way. I am sure many trailbalzers in running, or in any walk of life for that matter, feel similarly and it is refreshing to see emotions that are not as candy-coated as usual.

There is the compelling story of Sarah Etonge, a five-time champion and mother of seven known as the Queen of the Mountain. Just days before the race, Sarah is haunted by a nagging knee injury and the strain of a hospitalized child. Sarah needs the money she earns from racing to support her children and the Race of Hope is the biggest purse in Cameroon.

For two-time champion Dominique Tedjiozem, attacked by rivals during the 2002 race, it’s a chance for vengeance. Will he be able to beat all-comers using his technique of laying low and bursting in the second-half? Will he even make it to the top of the volcano?

All in all, if the movie lacks anything it is more depth and that is a good thing. At just barely under an hour, you are left with a desire to know more. What about some of the other runners interviewed? What about the lone white female streaking by at one point? What is her story?

How can *I* take part? I know something is good when within 15 minutes, I was trying to figure out how a plane ticket to Cameroon costs. Kristin asked me "Would you really want to do this?!"

My reply: "Who's paying?"

To me it is always amazing to see people struggling against insurmountable odds and achieving greatness. In America, we often have success stories of those who, well, have all the reasons in the world to succeed. They have money, health and opportunity. Here we see people who have little to nothing putting it all on the line for a chance for a better life for themselves as well as their family. Without a doubt there are stories akin to this world-wide, Luckily, this film captures a few of those tales.

If you would like to learn more information visit the following sites:

• About Volcanic Sprint
• About Soles4Souls
• Volcanic Sprint trailer
• Soles4Souls-Volcanic Sprint partnership trailer
• Press release on Soles4Souls-Volcanic Sprint partnership
• Endorsements of film by elite American runners
• Director's Statement by Volcanic Sprint Producer Steve Dorst
• Volcanic Sprint photos with captions:
(click "Slideshow" on top left to watch slideshow. To download high-resolution photos, click on the photo you want, then click "Download Photo" on right).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Future run In Utah

Well, as I leave Utah for 3 weeks (yeah, I know) come this Saturday, I am unsure exactly when I will be able to get the run in that I had the pleasure of scoping out today. But I do know that when I do, it will be a doozy.

After doing a 12 miler this morning (on less sleep than I would have preferred; forgot about Daylight Savings) I was blessed with great temperatures and a gorgeous sunny sky. My car was begging me to go check out some potential runs in the area and who am I to argue with a talking car?

I had heard about Emigration Canyon, its trails and the like since I first moved to Utah. I figured there is no time like the present and hopped in Oksana (my car) to check it out.

Climbing up through the Canyon, I lamented being single. One can never truly check out the scenery while driving without risking becoming part of it. But what I could see what phenomenal.

When I got to a curve in the road which began to climb steeply, I knew I had to jump out and take a picture with my phone. Hardly the best quality but look at those mountains.

The hill you see behind me will be what I am initially climbing up, just to turn back around and go down. This is not a 100% accurate picture of what I will be running (I might make it closer to 15 miles) but it won't be far off.

Sometimes I wonder what the heck I am thinking. And then I remember, "Oh yeah. You do this simply because you can."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Michael Wardian Sets US 50k Road Championship Record

I have mentioned once fellow Arlingtonian (well "once" b/c I no longer live there; he does), Michael Wardian before in a few of my blogs. I have had the pleasure of meeting (briefly before he sped away) Michael at a few races and have seen him often (disappearing into the distance) on the trails in DC. I last saw Michael at the Frederick Marathon last year where he set the world record for running a marathon pushing a stroller. Given I ran on the same day and know the wind that we had to run through, I cannot believe he ran what he did (2:42; taking 3rd?!). Most of the last four miles, Michael had to run with both hands on the stroller to stabilize it.

Wel last weekend, Wardian set the US 50k Road Championship record this weekend at the US National 50 championships in Camusett State Park, NY. Iron Mike broke the existing 27 year old record by 49 seconds with a time of 2:55:05. In the process,
Mike also broke ultra-speedster, Greg Crowther's Camusett course record set just last year by 9 and a half minutes!?