Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trail Factor 50k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 12th Edition 
1 mile skied, 500 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 162.8 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Trail Factor 50k
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 8 miles
Weather: 50s; HEAVY rain

When perusing reviews of products I would like to purchase on, say Amazon, I always find the ratings people give to be interesting. For example, they will order a product; it comes to them broken via shipping mishandling. So they return the product, get one that is not broken, it does all they want it to do but they give it 3 stars out of 5 because...of the shipping problem? That never makes sense to me.

The same goes with evaluating a race and how others may enjoy it. Getting misled off the course or not having the type of product you personally want to drink doesn't mean that anyone else will get led off the course or won't love that flavor of whatever. So, when I was asked to review this new Trail Factor 50K course, I had to keep that in mind. Because, well, I didn't have a very good day.

The forecast for the race called from some drizzles, but the forecast in Portland often does, even when you are staring at a beautiful blue sky. The gorgeous sunny weather the day before the race had us hoping that it was another fakecast conceived, I am convinced, to keep people from moving to Portland. But when morning broke to a pretty steady rainfall, I hoped the trees of Forest Park, where the race would be run, would at least shield us some.

At the starting line, the rain would ebb and flow a bit and as the 8 a.m. starting time approached something happened that can only happen in small races where virtually everyone knows each other. The race director asks us if we wanted to wait to see if the rain would abate or just get under way now. I loved that idea. A rather democratic voice voting decided that it wasn’t going to be getting any better and we might as well get underway.

To the first aid station at mile 6 (47:10)

The race started by immediately going uphill. In fact, the first three miles would go up about six hundred feet. Often when looking at race elevation profiles I know I am not alone in thinking of the course as being in a straight line. We see the gain but don’t think about how one gets there. Switchbacks are forgotten. Right angle turns don’t exist. The course just goes in one direction and we simply have to follow it. Well, in trail racing this is obviously even less the case than road running. As I am neither a trail racer or one who likes to run uphill, I was doing my best to hang to the right side of the trail and let anyone who wanted to pass me do just that.

When a group of what looked like 5fivein total took off, I was happy to just be where I was. For the next mile or so I ran in the shadow of another runner but soon found I was on his tail too much. Not wanting to be a pest I skipped by him on an uphill (something I rarely do) and found myself running with another guy named Jeff from Tyler Texas. (“Jeff from Tyler, Texas” is how I thought of him for the rest of the race as if that was his full name.) Jeff and I ran more or less in lockstep for the next few miles. We traded some stories and chatted about the deluge of rain and how there was no shortage of low-hanging branches on the trail (Jeff from Tyler Texas was probably as tall if not taller than my 6’1’’.)

Before long a runner had caught up to us and was running not too far behind. I told Jeff I was going to scoot forward and let Jeff run off of my shoulder for a bit, as that was only fair. He had paced me and now I was going to pace him. However, in doing so, I found I was running a little faster than Jeff and the unnamed runner behind me followed close behind. A long slow and gradual climb had the two of us in the same position as we rolled into the first aid station.

I had barely drank half of my bottle and wasn’t hungry.  This well-stocked station therefore was far more than I needed and I stopped just long enough to grab a drink of Coke and grab perhaps two potato chips. I was feeling good about my pace and my place. While the runner behind me had slipped by out of the aid station I felt I was still probably about 7th overall.

To the aid station at mile 7.9 (20:00)

Coming out of the aid station we more or less fell off the face of a cliff dropping hundreds of feet in less than a mile. The footing was treacherous, wet, full of rocks and… Holy crap two guys are passing me like we are on flat ground! Two runners who I had passed earlier in the first few miles were evidently far better downhill runners than uphill ones. Nevertheless, I could not believe how they scampered down this completely slick muddy trail with a virtual stream running down it. I tried to follow suit and more than a few times almost completely fell flat on my face as the trail gave way underneath me. I could only think of the poor people behind us who would be hitting this trail after hundreds of feet had trampled it to mud.

While a downed tree slowed the speed of the runners in front of me for a bit, even more downhill running had them disappearing further away. Well, I’m still in the top 10. That’s OK, I guess. However, no sooner had I acquiesced to my position did we begin climbing again.  Like before, I found myself gaining and then eventually overtaking both runners. I then realized it might be like this the rest of the day. Normally far more proficient in running downhill, I seemed to be excelling against my immediate competition going uphill. So much better at this point that I could employ a fast walk up some of the very steep sections and still put distance between us.

I soon realized we were looping back to the aid station we had just left when I saw runners flying down the ski lift of a downhill. Even though I had just been there minutes before, the combination of continually watching my footing and the pouring rain had made ever tree and trail look exactly the same. I barely recognized this area. One runner who was heading in the opposite direction looked at my concerned face and said “Are you going the right way?”  I smiled and said “I sure hope so!”  I was. However, while I would have enjoyed filling my bottle here, some of the runners pushing through the area didn’t realize we were heading back toward them. As such, while I should have stopped, I simply picked my way through the crowd and continued onward.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Stayton Sprint Tri Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 11th Edition 
1 mile skied, 500 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 131.7 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Stayton Sprint Tri
Place: Stayton, OR
Miles from home: 63 miles
Weather: 50s; Cloudy; Partially rainy

I signed up for this race solely because of proximity.  After many weekends away from home, I wanted to stay local. I also wanted to do a triathlon and try to kickstart what has been a slow-starting 2013. I simply haven’t been able to get on the bike or in the pool and figured the only way I would do both would be to race. So, all the tris and duas and everything in that realm would all be basically workouts. Workouts I pay for. (Kinda dumb, but hey, whatever makes you go.) For example, getting on the bike for this race would mark only the second time I had ridden my bike since September. Of last year.  That of course, in no way shape or form keeps me from illogically expecting to do far better than I should.

As the race would start in a pool, it required the swimmer to submit a time that they expected to finish their 500 meter swim in. When all was done, I found out I would be the absolute last swimmer in the absolute last heat of the day. While the race started at 8 a.m., I would start at 11:08:30 a.m. Four swimmers to each of the five lanes with me going dead last. I could tell I wasn’t going to actually enjoy much of this event at all, at least from a competitor standpoint.

In the dozen or so triathlons I have done, only one or two have been of the kind that allows all the athletes to actually be competing against everyone at the same time. I understand in small triathlons this is rarely a problem and in larger triathlons if you are good enough to matter you will be in the fastest wave. Nevertheless, it is something I will never full enjoy. For the most part, there isn't a better ways to actually do the seeding and racing of so many athletes in a confined space but that doesn’t stop me from trying to think of one. It is a complicated sport with many moving parts and I do not envy those who have to put it together, like the nice people in Stayton.

I did, however, appreciate that I would not have to be up at the crack of dawn. I would be able to sleep in a touch, lazily saunter over to the race starting area, prep my bike, get body marked, check out the course and then watch some of the swimmers in front of me. It was all rather relaxed. I tried to see how others were handling the cluster of swimmers in the pool, how they got out of the exchange area and many other things.  It was too late to change some of my basic strategy but I saw a few things which would help me in the future. Every second counts! Sooner than I expected it to go by, we were called to the pool’s edge for pre-race instructions.

I found out we would be circling swimming in each lane with ten seconds between each swimmer. I then realized that if those in my lane actually swam what they were claiming to swim, I would have roughly 5 seconds from when I started my lap before the first swimmer in each lane would be doing a flipturn and hunting me down. When it was our turn to hop in the water, I stayed out for a second to observe those in my heat. Two of them looked like they totally belonged there. The third? He didn’t look like he should be swimming at all. I could only hope that his race performance would not reflect his warm up lap.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Delaware Half Marathon Recap

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.

Race Morning:

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.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Long Branch Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 9th Edition 
1 mile skied, 34 miles biked and 115.5 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Long Branch Half Marathon
Place: Long Branch, NJ
Miles from home: 2918 miles
Weather: 50s; Intermittent rain and wind

Marathons have recently received more coverage than usual in the national media. Sometimes it is because of something nice and fun that happens within the race itself.  Other times the attention garnered is because a participant is famous or has done something remarkable. Locally, marathons receive more attention for more homegrown reasons: the community is celebrating the anniversary of something the marathon recognizes or something akin to that. However, with probably close to 600 marathons in North America alone, marathoners have to realize that their finish isn’t exactly the “wow!” it once was.

But some events are so bad that they capture the nation.  Just last month it was the bombings in Boston. Last fall it was the storm named Sandy hitting NYC. A lesser-known side effect of Sandy was the devastation it left on the New Jersey shoreline. That destruction left much of the course for the New Jersey Marathon and Long Branch Half Marathon either underwater, washed away or ripped up.  Even though the storm hit in October and this race would take place in May, there were many questions about how the race would respond. Let me tell you right now it responded splendidly.

The expo for the race was held at the Monmouth Race Park- an interesting but fun venue for a runner’s expo.  This venue would also serve as the starting point for all the races making for a very different starting gun, but I will get to that in a minute.

The race was having its first ever speaker’s exposition and I was very happy to be part of that.  Working with my watch partner, Timex, I spent the two days of the expo either speaking to people or listening to their own inspiring stories.  Weight loss, overcoming the loss of loved ones, simply desiring to better their lives – I can attest that these stories never get old. I defy anyone to attend an expo and not come out feeling better about humanity.

Demonstrating the new Timex Run Trainer 2.0 (which I will be reviewing soon) I was also asked the usual questions about how to eat, train, sleep, floss, juggle, balance the budget and crochet.  Let’s just say runners are thorough. Some had seen my previous posting about how I had contracted MRSA in my foot and made me feel loved to inquire about it.  The answer was the same: I was out of the bear’s den but not out of the woods just yet. As far as I was concerned, I still had the foot attached to my body, so I was one up on
others who were not so lucky with such a bad infection.

After two long but exciting days of expoing, I threw down $20 on Frac Daddy to win the Kentucky Derby.  I mean, we were at a horse park-what else could I do? (I didn't win a dime but I heard Tom Brady won like $25,000.  It's good because that poor fella needs something to go right for him in his life.) Then I trudged off to the hotel. Weary from a red-eye flight, participating in the National Championship Duathlon race a week prior and, well, life. But the next day we would Run to Restore the Shore and I wanted to give my all.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Mt. Rainier Duathlon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 8th Edition 
1 mile skied, 34 miles biked and 102.4 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Mt. Rainier Duathlon
Place: Enumclaw, WA
Miles from home: 167 miles
Weather: 50s; Intermittent rain and wind

“Having no logical reason to believe you can do what you hope to do (and knowing this) does not mean you still won't be disappointed when you fail to reach those goals.” - Me

Yet, that is where I stood for this duathlon, an event I signed up for just two weeks prior while looking at a foot swelled to twice its size with infection. Never mind the fact that I was robbed of basically any working out for approximately two weeks. Forget the fact that I had not ridden a bicycle outdoors since September (and barring three rides on a trainer a few weeks prior, having ridden one at all.) These facts didn’t come into play when I was looking at the results of the race from the previous year and trying to determine how far in the top ten I could possibly finish. Oh yeah, this race was also a national championship race this year. So there’s that.

To put this year's race in perspective, the overall winner from last year, who more or less completed the duathlon in the exact same time –took 11th overall. The overall winner this year beat him by ten minutes. Yes Virginia, the duathletes had come out to play even if I didn’t know this at the time. I also had convinced myself that I could just muscle through the event and get by on talent alone. Perhaps I could have last year, but that was not going to be the case this year.

The evening prior to the race I scoped out the bike portion of the course. The run part didn’t bother me too much with just a 5.1 mile first leg and a 3.8 mile second leg. I knew there was a good sized hill in the first leg and nothing much to speak of in the second leg.  So the bike and its Category 4 hill in the middle is what concerned me. Even my delusional chutzpah didn’t keep me from realizing that a hill of this nature would humble me.

So after driving the nearly 15 mile loop (we would repeat it twice for the entire course distance) I thought I had a grasp on what would be in store for me during the bike portion. Namely, lots of pain. 

But that’s OK. I have a decent pain threshold. I just needed to get through it unscathed.  That, dear friends, is what was really freaking me out.  Granted no one wants to crash on their bike but with some very cool things coming up on my calendar, I simply cannot afford to do so. As such, my nerves were a little frayed knowing I would probably hit 40 mph going down the big hill on the course- twice. In projected rain. I guess I would just have to be careful.

Race Morning:

It looked like the sky had rained itself out by the time I woke and that we might have damp air but dry pavement to deal with.  However, after checking in my bike and sundry other things involved with those infernal contraptions, a rain started to fall.  It stopped and then started more than a few times before we were gathered for some pre-race instructions. Having heard the instructions, I realized I had my gear in front of my bike in transition (Which would be in the wrong place) and risked a time penalty if I did not fix it.  So, cursing the ridiculousness of this sport, I quickly remedied the situation. I didn’t need any added time artificially being put on – I would be doing plenty of that myself.

Ushered over to the starting line we were given a few last minute words of caution (Don’t hit the pavement going 40 mph. We really don’t want to call 911!) and then a deluge of rain poured down from the heavens. So much for staying even remotely dry!