Monday, October 24, 2011

Niagara Falls Marathon Recap - Sort of

For those who have run a 5k or a 10k and have ventured into running a half-marathon, the question becomes one of whether they can run a marathon and how hard it can be to do so.  The answer, as with everything in running, depends.  But I can tell you what is harder than running a marathon – not running one you really want to do.

As I sat at the Niagara Falls Marathon expo, next to running legends Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson, the intelligent side of me which said that because of my aching Achilles tendon, not running was the wisest thing I could do began to get pushed out by the side of me that sorely ached to run. My plan for this fall was to have two attempts at setting a new personal best, one at the St. George Marathon and if that did not go well, to try here in Niagara.  When I saw St. George was not going well in the first 1/3 of the race, I pulled back and eased into the finish. Then the weekend before Niagara, while running two marathons in one weekend, my Achilles reared its ugly head and put the kibosh not only on the plans for that weekend but for this one in Niagara as well.

I am often asked if I have had a running injury.  Again, the answer to that question is “It depends.”  I am pretty certain I could run a half-marathon right now.  I might be able to slog through the full 26.2 miles as well.  But if I were to do so, it would undoubtedly be far slower than I would like it to be.  So, is that an injury?  What I do know is that if I pushed through the pain and did not heed the intelligent side of things, I am more than positive I would have an injury that none would have to bicker about the definition of.

So, on the 5-year anniversary of the first time I ever ran a sub-3 hour marathon, I decided I would be doing no racing. This decision was made with a considerable heavy heart. This race has always been one of my top three favorite races and for good reason.  When I was running the 52 Marathons in 52 consecutive weekends back in 2006, there were a great deal of factors that made it so special. Had someone run a certified weekend every year for one calendar year before? I am sure they have but the number would be very small.  That has to do a great deal with the fact that there were not as many marathons to fit the calendar say 20 years ago.  In order to fill the year there would be a lot of 26.2 mile “runs” to fill the gaps. But, and what is most important, *I* had never done it before.  That is really all that matters. 

The fact that I was working full-time, was not sponsored and had just a handful of marathons under my belt when I took on the task is why the task was impressive. I was not a runner with All-American status and past accolades checking off a run every weekend knowing that I could run much faster. I was giving about as much as my talent and experience level could handle, week in and week out.

Which is why the Niagara Falls Marathon was so special to me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hartford and Amica Marathon recaps

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 36th Edition 
527.7 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Hartford Marathon
Place: Hartford, CT 
Miles from home:  2270 miles
Weather: 60s; bright sunshine

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 37th Edition 
553.9 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Amica Marathon
Place: Newport, RI 
Miles from home:  2339 miles
Weather: 60s; bright sunshine; wind

I am writing these two recaps as one as they really do belong together.  When I began mapping out this year in 2010, I planned this as my attempt to try and do a sub-3 hour race on back-to-back weekends.  I also planned for St. George Marathon to be a PR attempt and a variety of other things to happen, if at all possible.  At the Fox Valley Final Fall 20 a few weeks ago I spoke with an older runner who said he never really plans to have a good day or bad day, he just goes out on race day and gives it what he has.  I admire that quality and when you are only doing a few races a year that is something which can be done more easily.  If you are not going to try for a PR in this race, well, chances are it will be one of the other two or so you are doing.  I am not, however, afforded that luxury.  In addition, as I think it smacks of both dishonesty and cowardice to not state your goals ahead of time and instead simply say that whatever the result was your intention, I know I have to let others know what I want to do- even if there is little shot for it.

That was indeed the case here in this double weekend. While I have had a great year of racing with new personal bests in shorter distances races, all distances of triathlon and sundry other events, the past few months have been quite exhausting. No need to get into it all but things completely outside of running (and for the most part no one else's business) have drained me. So while I can be realistic with myself in knowing what may or may not happen, I still like to stick with my stated goals. Which brought me to the starting line of the Hartford Marathon.

I had tried one back-to-back weekend before at the Mississippi Blues and First Light Marathons in January of last year. In preparation for my upcoming 202 mile running of the American Odyssey Relay in April of 2010 I had, on New Year's Eve, ran for 6 hours straight around the 1.5 mile loop in Liberty Park across the street from my home in Salt Lake City. Then one week later I proceeded to run a 2:59/3:17 at this back to backer in 16 degree weather and only the second and third times I can ever recall wearing tights in a race. It was darn cold.  I had no business running those speeds but it happened, proving my theory that one simply has to get to the starting line to see what the day will hold for you.

The second day's 3:17 has been even harder than it sounded because I was trying to run exactly a 3:17.  Even when I had the urge to run a tad faster, I had to keep it in check.  I am pretty sure I had a sub 3:10 on that day but definitely not a sub-3.  So on days which seemed to be much better weather-wise forecasted for this weekend, I was hoping to get it done here in New England.

However, when things went sour at the St. George Marathon two weeks ago, instead of being macho and pushing through in a futile attempt to salvage a still-fast-but-not-PR time, I tried to focus instead on a quick recovery for this double. I knew it would be hard  to get sub-3 on consecutive days but if the outcome was known, what would the point be. Running a time that is easy for me and then declaring it to be something special is insipid. That is one reason why I been more impressed by those who are giving as much of their effort as possible, regardless of what the time is on the clock. So after a couple of wonderful days at the Hartford Marathon expo I was ready to take on race number one.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reviews of Three Running Books

One of the good things about criss-crossing the country is that time in the plane or in the airport allows for tons of time to read. I came across a review I had written about three separate running boks while searching for an answer to a question a friend had posted.  As such, I thought now would be the prefect time to repost these reviews as many are flying themselves to marathons all over the country this fall. Enjoy!

Recently I had three books all which were in the middle of being read. Why would I start and not finish them? Well, mostly because they were located in different parts of this vast country and I forgot to bring some of them with me when I started others!

But in my quest to read a book a week this year (and to report on the sports related ones to my readers here), I present you with these 3 gems.

First is Pam Reed's autobiography The Extra Mile: One Woman's Personal Journey to Ultra-Running Greatness.

When I first started getting involved with ultramarathons, I knew two names pretty well: Dean Karnazes and Pam Reed. The two have become intertwined in recent ultrarunning history. Dean I met and became friends with a few years ago. I have not had the same pleasure yet with Pam. And I say pleasure because I think knowing her would be a wonderful thing. (Dane note: since I wrote this, I have met Pam on several occasions, had the chance to speak at the marathon in Tucson she was the director for and had a lengthy discussion with her on how both of us love to eat beef the night before the race. Getting harder to discount the benefits of lean beef when one of the greatest ultrarunners of all-time feels it fuels her or the finish.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

St. George Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 35th Edition 
501.5 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: St. George Marathon
Place: St. George, UT  
Miles from home:  300 miles
Weather: 60-80s; bright sunshine

Sometimes when you go for broke, you break.

Fortunately, nothing on me actually broke at the St. George Marathon on Saturday. But my desire to break my marathon PR was definitely far ahead of where it should have been, logically-speaking. I knew deep down I was not trained properly enough, not rested enough and wouldn't be running in weather cool enough to try to run fast but thought I could will myself to a new PR nonetheless. That said, I won't be the first to bite off a little more than I can chew in a marathon attempt and I damn sure won't be the last.

However, while the attempt itself needed to be forfeited during the race, I was extremely pleased that I was smart enough to realize the day did not have to be one where I limped across the finish under some false pretense of bravado. I did not need to leave my entire effort out on the course. Why? The goal was not to just run semi-fast or break three hours or try to tick off some little-known box on a checklist I invented for myself after the fact.  The goal was to break the PR I had set in Ogden in 2009 with this being my first attempt to even do so in two years. When it became painfully obvious that was not going to happen, pulling back and focusing on the remainders of the goals I have for this years (which may include another shot at a marathon PR) made far more sense.

When I had the desire a few months ago to make St. George my PR attempt, I definitely thought I would be spending more time at my home resting and training prior to the race. Unfortunately, circumstances and life get in the way of even our grandest plans. To begin with, a few trips were necessary in the past few months to my hometown to help take care of personal matters which definitely did not help my training at all, either physically or mentally.  However, as I stood on the starting line of the St. George Marathon, a thought came to mind that I once told a friend. We cannot get to the finish line if we do not make it to the starting line.  Here I was on the starting line. I might not get the PR, but I was going to give it a try.

First 7 miles:

Any jackwagon who thinks that the St. George Marathon is an all-down course has obviously never run it. Then again the ability of people to parrot information they hear with no actual proof is a hallmark of the human race. Without a doubt, the first 6 miles of this race have an excellent net downhill, where, if you run it correctly, can give you quite an advantage over the rest of the course. I had consulted a few friends who had run the race and using a spreadsheet that factors in the coefficient of the uphill and downhill portions, had worked out what I wanted to run for every mile of this course. Not trusting my memory, I printed out the piece of paper, taped it up and pinned it on my singlet for reference throughout the race.

The first 7 miles of the course present about 700 feet of elevation loss total.  There are, however, three small rises in these first first 7 miles that are surprising if a runner goes in feeling it is an escalator ride to the bottom.  The times I wanted to hit for these first 7 miles, with my actual time in parentheses, were as follows:

6:31 (6:27)
6:23 (6:28)
6:08 (6:11)
6:01 (6:13)
6:16 (6:25)
6:16 (6:02)
6:16 (6:11)

My goal was, at the bottom of the infamous Veyo Hill starting after the 7th mile, was to be comfortable and at a time of 43:51. When I hit that 7th mile, I was only 9 seconds off of that and feeling great.

To mile 11:

This next section of the race presents basically the most uphill and most challenging mental portion of the race.  After having the benefit of some delicious downhill for 7 miles, this is what runners face in less than one mile.

For me, I did not care if I was supposed to slow down to a 7:01 or not, I was going to slow as much as I wanted to in order to get up this hill and feel good.  In fact, at one point, I decided to walk for ten seconds just to catch my breath and gather my senses.  I felt vindicated in doing so when I lost all of about 15 feet on the people in front of me who were still running up this beast.

When I hit the 9th mile, which is still up hill, I had only lost 30 seconds off my desired pace from both my walk break and the hills I had been running.  The sun was beginning to crest over the mountains to our left. I remembered thinking I just wanted to get to mile 10 before it started to bake me fully.  I was quite pleased that it was not nearly as hot as forecasted but it was definitely warm.  In fact, it was only a few miles later when I poured a glass of water over my heavy and rivulets of salt went into my mouth did I realize how hot it was and how dehydrated I had been.  But right now I felt great. Delusion is good sometimes.

As I passed a runner wearing a St. George Running Center singlet, I could see she was in serious pain.  I told her to keep her chin up and she responded "Thanks, Dane! I love your book." When I whipped my head around to say thank you, I could see she was already in tears.  She was obviously not just tired. I asked her if she was OK and she could not get out a coherent sentence she was so distraught.  I wheeled around and ran back to her.

Amber was her name and she inquired whether I had some ibuprofen. I told her I unfortunately did not but that there was a medical unit right up the road. I could tell that she was a trooper but there was obviously something wrong with the way she was dragging her one leg.  It looked like her hip was killing her. We talked for a few seconds and I tried to console her and let her know that sometimes the best run we do is the one we don't. Think about the long term benefits of the short term decisions we make. I then left her, hoping she would make the right decision. (At the end of the race I saw Amber again. She had indeed made a very wise decision and pulled out at mile 15. I reaffirmed that she made an excellent decision based on how badly her race was going and she seemed perfectly fine with her choice. I am sure it burned at the time and will burn still more until she races again, but she knew she was right in living to run another day.)

Addendum: Amber has since go on to win St. George and ran a 2:40!

As I came up to the final portion of the uphill, I had lost a few more seconds from my retracing of steps and the continual upward jaunt but was ready to pour it on. The sun was now fully over the mountains and the shade was gone.

To mile 15:

These next four miles sealed my fate for the St. George Marathon. Even with the beginning of some of the best downhill of course, I simply could not get my legs to turn over. The next four miles had me realizing that not only was my goal of 2:45 gone but so was any PR at all.  I hit the halfway point at 1:27 and it was all downhill in the bad way from there.

I do remember at mile 15, as we turned the corner, seeing an absolute beautiful view of the vista below me. Without a a doubt if I had been in full race mode, I would have not seen this. I would have seen the road in front of me and nothing else. But as each mile slipped by and I could tell I was completely robbed of energy needed to run what I wanted (run a 7:05 when I needed to run a 6:08, for example) this was the reality of this race. It was now just me needing to run 11 more miles to get to the finish and start planning the next event.

To the finish:

The rest of the race was more of the same.  Me surprised I could not effectively run downhill, something which has always been my strong point, while more and more people streamed passed me. I became a cheerleader for the runners as those I did not know, and a few I did, pushing them forward to what was hopefully a good day for them. I know, however, for many it was not. With the leaders being quoted as saying that they were dumping water on their heads at mile 2 to stave off the heat and times across the board being slower for elites, average joes and back of the packers, this was a tough day for many.

For me it was tough because I knew I had so many friends rooting for me. I know, like so many others, that those who care about you will support you even on your bad days, but you never want to let them down. However, I knew I could be happy with my race in the long run because I lived by one of my principles of running. I'm aware I am never going to be the fastest person out there but if I can, I will always be one of the smartest. It is hard to run with your head and not your heart but  it is something I have to do sometimes.

Chalking up this race to experience only, barely halfway through was very difficult to do.  But it was the intelligent thing to do. A month ago, with my foot killing me after the Mesa Falls Marathon, I did not even think I would be running St. George at all.  However, in the next few weeks, as it seemed to heal enough to allow me just an inkling of hope to shoot for a PR, I figured I would go with it as far as I could.

On this day, my best was not enough to accomplish what I hoped for.  But I know someday soon it will be.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Runners and Volunteers

This past weekend, when the St. George Marathon ended up being nothing but a long hike for me when thoughts of a personal best blew up around mile 11, I began thinking a great deal about the relationship between runners and volunteers.  It is a symbiotic relationship.  Without volunteers, races cannot be run and without runners, there is no need for volunteers.  However, more often than not, the two only meet for brief periods of time and usually it is not when either is at their best. Runners are tired, blunt, sweaty and abrupt with an unusual demanding nature.  Volunteers are frazzled, overwhelmed and well, tired, blunt and sweaty.  The best way for both to understand each other is to actually be the other.

Runners need to take time to volunteer at races. Besides the fact that races cannot be held without a much larger number of volunteers than most people can fathom and doing so helps maintain the sport we as runners love so much, volunteering gives runners a perspective from the other side of the outstretched-hand holding a cup of water. You can see how it is not always easy to have the aid station on the inside of the curve.  You can realize that the information given to the volunteers is often limited to the scope of their job, and that alone. You can grasp that a little nod of thank you, a second of eye contact and a smile will make them feel like standing out in the freezing cold or blazing heat was worth it to help just one runner on their way to the finish.

Volunteers need to put down the orange safety vest and pick up a pen to sign up for race (Sure, I know virtually no one actually “fills out” an entry form anymore but bear with me.) The more people running in this world, the better the world will be. Now, as a runner, you will see how important it is to not fill the cup all the way to the top as a volunteer.  You will appreciate that even if you know a volunteer may not have an answer, they are probably better equipped than you are to at least be able to find the person who does know the answer.  Finally, you will realize that it is not a slight when you don’t remember to say “thank you” to a volunteer during the middle of a race; sometimes you simply don’t have the mental capacity of physical ability to raise that hand.

I have been fortunate enough to see the race from these aspects, as well as from the role of a race director and course designer.  It seems simplistic to say that once you have walked (or run) a mile in another’s shoes, you understand them better, but that is without a doubt the case here.  I get why a course may have been directed one way rather than another. I know that it is only the extraordinarily rare soul who doesn’t actually wish to make the race an enjoyable experience for all.

So, in your next race, runners, look a volunteer directly in the eye and say: “Thank you for being out here.”  And in your next effort, volunteers, I want you to reply: “My pleasure. Hope it is you putting the medal around my neck next time.”