Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quad Cities Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 21st Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 316.2 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Quad Cities Marathon
Place: Moline, IL
Miles from home: 1960 miles
Weather: 60s; bright sunshine

Writing this recap of the Quad Cities Marathon as it is a single race wouldn’t really do it justice. It was, more accurately, the final stage of my Dane to Davenport which I had started on the Wednesday prior.  But as I am not quite ready to go into detail about that 160ish mile run just yet, I will treat this recap as a separate entity with a nod to the warm-up prior to it. Consider it nodded.

Race Morning:

I can count on one hand the number of times in 145 marathons run where I was even remotely close to not wanting to run a marathon as I was when I woke up the morning of this race. I was wrung out. I was sick. I did not want to leave the bed. Whether it was illness brought on from being tired or exhaustion brought on from being sick, I know it took everything I had to get out of the hotel.  A little bit of dry-heaving seconds before I left definitely did little to persuade me.It also surprised the heck out of me. All I had was my usual strawberry milk and my body was rejecting it.

I found myself walking to the start with my expansive and numerous crew for the Dane to Davenport (my best friend, Shannon.) She was also running the marathon after safely helping me navigate my run and I can only imagine how tired she was. After making sure I got to the finish line of my 3-day trek, with just as little sleep as I had, all while tending ot every need I had, I knew she wasn't at her best either. But in spite of a bad foot, a week's worth of travel, and ushering me around the expo for both a book signing and a speech the night before the race, she was heading out the door.

We parted ways at the corrals and I tried to steady myself for the upcoming 26.2.  Could I do it in roughly a Boston Qualifying time? Would it take me north of four hours to traverse the course or would I be somewhere in between? I really and truly had no idea what to expect.

First Six Miles: 8:23, 7:42, 8:16, 7:37, 8:22, 7:56

If you don’t know about the Quad Cities Marathon you should really learn about it. It is truly a one of a kind race that needs to be run if you are a running aficionado. 4 cities, 3 bridges, 2 states, and 1 island, all along the mighty Mississippi River.  It starts off with the first of these bridges in the first mile as you leave Moline, IL and head over to Bettendorf, IA. Here the largest of the not-so-numerous and far-from large hills await you. I was far from feeling well but after a few miles and a few hills, I hadn’t gotten any worse so that was a positive. While the starting temperature might have been in the 50s, there was not a single cloud in the sky.  It was going to be an absolutely beautiful first day of fall, which means it was going to be far too warm for me running.

After a few ups and downs of hills, we found ourselves heading back to the Mississippi to run one of the very few miles of this great river which runs east to west.  It is rather disconcerting for many who think of the Mississip as being north-south only. Personally, I needed a bathroom and wasn’t too keen on observing anything but where those wonderful blue oases might be located. During my run to Davenport I had randomly seen a portapotty on the side of the road and tried to use it. A padlock on the door kept me from doing so and I decided right there that was the cruelest thing I had ever seen in my life.

Running a pace much slower than normal for me, I was experiencing a totally different race. I describe this phenomenon of how two runners on the same race on the same day can experience two completely separate races in my book. Here, I was experiencing just that.  While the portapotties were very plentiful, I was always getting to them right as another person was entering one or I could see they were already occupied. When you are one of the first runners and nature calls, this is not a concern.  This was different.
Finally, around the 5th mile, a free bathroom awaited me.  I far from hurried as I did my best to do what was necessary and also use it as a respite from my exhaustion.  I was already drenched in sweat and it wasn’t even 60 degrees yet. I was curious if I could peel off at the halfway point and plead my case to the race directors at the end to give me a half finish and not a marathon DNF.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Mt. Nebo Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 20th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 290 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Mt. Nebo Half Marathon
Place: Payson, UT
Miles from home: 820 miles
Weather: 60s; bright sunshine

Mt. Nebo is the highest mountain in the Wasatch Mountain range. While the half marathon doesn't start at its peak, it sure does feel like it. Without a doubt, the half marathon (and the marathon) both have a benefit of a seemingly ridiculous amount of downhill. While running a downhill race conveys somewhat of an advantage, I strongly feel that advantage lessens as the distance of the race increases. Once you hit 13 miles of mostly downhill, the advantage of the downhill is more or less leveled by the ferocious pounding that your legs take. If you run into some surprise uphill in the last 5k, well, that is another story altogether.

Race Morning:

As with virtually every long-distance race in Utah, the morning of the race begins with an extremely early wake-up call and then a bus ride to the start. While my previous weekend's racing had been very warm, this weekend was supposed to dip in temperature a bit. Plus, as we would be starting at 8,000 feet, in the shadow of mountains, the air would be even cooler. The only question remained was how long it would remain so.

Approximately 600 people were in a small field with barrels of fire burning to keep the slight nip away from them. I personally did not think that 50 degrees (my guess at the temperature) required it but some were dressed like it was winter. I chatted with my good friend Chris (Vanilla Bear) and his wife (Mrs. Bear) and another friend Rebecca who was kind enough to visit me at the expo the day prior. We made small talk, laughed at some absurdities of some runners, and just bided time until we headed from the field to the small road and mat which served as our starting line.

It was no secret I was hoping for a new personal best in spite of a year that put enough obstacles in my way to make that pretty much an impossibility.  Nevertheless, I remained a relatively strong downhill runner and I wanted to take a crack at what was my oldest personal best.

My half-marathon PR was set over five years ago at a race where I was in shape to run fast but on a course that had obviously been long. That race has gnawed at me every since and the opportunity to break a new PR was here. I would give it all I had. Admittingly, I knew I was not in the shape to run as fast as I want and I felt the amount of downhill in this race, while helpful, would actually detract from running the fastest one could.

I am going to break down this race into three parts.  I think there are three distinct and separate portions of this race and there is an approach to each section that will assuredly help you run a new half-marathon personal best.

First Four Miles: 5:48, 5:49, 5:55, 5:55

Right out of the chutes a few runners took off and I could tell they were just going to be flying. I was very jealous as while I don't think I could have hung with the overall winner the next three or four were definitely in my range of what I could run. But I was here to run what was possible today, not some hypothetical possibility. I knew the first three or four miles would tell me if I was even going to attempt a PR today and I anxiously awaited the mile markers.

As the marathon was run on the same course we would encounter the marathons mile markers .1 of a mile before we would run past the half-marathon marker. I loved this. It gave us another marker upon which to test our pace. Without any doubt the downhill was assisting in getting me out to a fast start and after the second mile mirrored the first mile's split I felt I might have a shot today.

As this beginning section of four miles is going to be where your legs are the most fresh it is really an opportunity to open it up a bit. Not too much, as the elevation of 8,000 feet will keep your lungs from allowing you to go out too fast, but enough to make it burn a bit. I could tell I was racing and not just running as many others post-race were talking about how beautiful the scenery was and how much they enjoyed this or that. I saw none of this. All I saw was an imaginary blue line cutting the tangents of every road as I laser-focused my eyes on the next mile marker ahead.

The third mile marker was off a touch but when the next one made up the difference I simply took the average of the two miles. With all of the first four miles under a 6 minute pace and I knew I had a shot at cracking my personal best. But the first four miles would be the easiest. I knew the next six would contain slightly less downhill, a flat portion and more than few turns.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Layton Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 19th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 276.9 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Layton Half Marathon
Place: Layton, UT
Miles from home: 739 miles
Weather: 70s; bright sunshine

The Layton Half Marathon (and all its other races)  is put on by On Hill Events and Joe Cole. I had previously done my first ever duathlon as one of the On Hill events back in 2011. Given how well the Legacy Duathlon was run, it gave me hope that the Layton Half Marathon would be run very much the same way.

As the race would begin at 7 a.m. and we had to be bused out to the start, it called for one of my most favorite things in the world: early morning wake up!  YAY! Honestly, if there is ever a study which fully explains why some people simply cannot function in the mornings, I would like to take part in it so I can figure out why I love the night so much more.

Arriving at the bus pickup around 5:45 a.m. to catch the last shuttle I saw a long line of people. I found out the buses were running a little behind.  I hopped in line with a friend and tried to kill some time. It wasn't even remotely out of completely darkness yet and it was already 70 degrees. This was going to be a warm one.

Once we were finally on the buses, we were treated (if that is the right word) to one of the chattiest bus drivers in the history of bus driverdom. A stream of consciousness seemed to come over the driver and since she had control over the PA system, we were powerless to not listen.  Every extra sentence about something out in the pitch black which we were supposed to look at or how we were not supposed to forget to check our "shorty shorts" for keys and phones we had on us when we got off the bus, made it all the more hilarious.

While the eventual start of the race would be delayed by some 20 minutes to make sure that all participants would arrive, have time to use the bathroom and get lined up, most of the participants were in a good mood. We would have liked to start before the sun peaked up over the Wasatch Mountains but alas. I had outfitted myself with no only a pair of Julbo sunglasses but my Timex visor. I knew that the vast majority of this race would be running due east - right into the teeth of the rising sun. I came prepared.

One last knock on the portapotty doors by the RD to make sure all were out and we were off.

First 5k: 6:22, 6:39, 6:52

Out of the blocks, two runners took off. I knew the runners and knew I would not be competing with them today. Adios, fastleggers. The remaining handful of runners, however, I did not know and would spend the next few miles feeling out.

At one point, a runner went blazing out in front of me from behind. I have no idea why he was behind me but I had a feeling I wouldn't catch him. His bright pink shoes made quite a statement. One guy behind me said something akin to "If you run that fast you can wear any damn color you want." I agreed.

My first two miles were right around what I wanted to run for the day.  My third was a bit slower. The sun was fully over the mountains and even though it was close to 75 degrees, I wasn't drenched like I would be in a normal humid place. Having said that, I could tell it was more humid than normal as we ran over the causeway from severely misnamed Antelope Island. (There are no antelope in the U.S., people.  They are pronghorns.  Same with Bison being called buffalo. Just stop it right now.)  I couldn't tell if it was because we were close to Great Salk Lake or if just because it was still August in the high desert and you are going to just be warm. Either way, this heat was going to slow many people this day.

To Sixth Mile: 6:49, 7:05, 7:03

The first four miles were run on the causeway as the sun steadily climbed over the mountains in front of us.  The shores of the Great Salt Lake can be a little smelly but one of the great things about being me is I have next to no sense of smell. It is my superpower. (I think I got shafted on superpowers.)

As we left the causeway, I had gained a little bit on one runner in front of me but could hear the footsteps of another behind me. Even though I felt like I had been picking up the pace over the next mile or so, I was slowing. That runner finally passed me.

With aid stations every even mile, I would slow a tad on the odd mile and gain a little bit of speed and energy with every drink. There was hardly a soul out spectating but the volunteers at the aid stations were plentiful and helpful. Nice cold power drink and water awaited runners as we continued on what was essentially a very flat course. Not only was it very flat, you also made very few turns. You could see your competitors in front of you even if they were half of a mile away. I like that. It gives me a chance to lock in on someone and do the best I can to reel them in.  I felt good again after slowing down a touch.

I then passed the guy who passed me and set my sights on the next runner in front.

To Mile Ten: 6:39, 6:57, 7:04, 7:22

Right after the 6th mile, I took a big gulp of water from the volunteer and felt absolutely fantastic. I ran what was my second fastest mile of the whole race and thought perhaps I just needed the usual six miles to get warmed up.  I passed the runner I had been trailing and could see another run waaaaay in the distance. I figured I might have a chance to catch him.

However, even though I put distance between the runners behind me and seemed to be gaining on the runner in front of me over the next few miles, I was slowing down again. My times again crept up and over seven minutes per and there wasn't much I could do about it. I noticed I was no longer sweating and had dried off  extensively. That is not a good thing. Dehydration had definitely set in.

As we approached the tenth mile I could see many runners in front of me.  I knew these were runners doing the 10k and from here on out I wouldn't be able to use my hearing to tell if someone was catching me.

Onto the Finish: 7:22, 7:23, 7:13, :40 

The course beg an a slight uphill climb for the last three miles and as I made a right angle turn I looked behind me to see if my pursuers were close enough to worry about.

They weren't.

I looked ahead of me at the guy I was pursuing to see if he had to worry about me.

He didn't.

So I was just in this position of being what I thought was fourth place, running a time that wasn't what I want.  Runningwise it was not exactly a good day. But as for enjoying the day, I was.

I used the 10k runners to help boost my runner's ego and energy as I passed them. My 11th and 12th miles were far too slow for my tastes but I wasn't losing ground to anyone. I walked through the aid station and gulped one big glass of water and another of power drink. Within seconds of beginning to run I was sweating again. It was like my throat was tied directly to my sweat glands on my skin.

I could see the park finish way up ahead and tried to pick up the pace a bit to get under 1:31.  As the clock came into focus, I could see it wasn't going to happen.  So, I slowed and waved to the cheering crowds who were so kind to be out here applauding all the runners coming in.

I crossed the line in 1:31:35. Within seconds I was handed a printout of my finish time and place. It said I finished third. I couldn't figure out how that was possible. Later, it was revealed to me that the pink shoed runner who has passed me early in the race had been one of the marathoners. Because of our delayed start it had given him just enough time to catch us and go on by virtually every other runner. He crushed the course record in a time of 2:46.  His name is JD Nielson and it was just his second marathon ever. So not only was I happy for him I was happy I had at least snuck in a 3rd place finish.

That just goes to show you how fleeting and lucky "placing" can be.  If just a few people show up who are faster than you, you get nothing.  If you have a slightly bad day, those who are usually slower than you will beat you.  There are so many variables that it is hard to know what will happen on race day. I have won 3 marathons in my life. All three were just luck of the draw. In fact, my fastest marathon win is only my 22nd fastest marathon ever.

My point is that the race should be about much more than your time and place. It is about what you gain from the experience.  It is about the friends you make and the camaraderie of the day. Sure, running fast is fun but so is realizing how luck you are to be out there on race day.

Cheers for friends, like my buddy Katie Kramer who won the marathon for the second straight year in virtually the exact same time. Or 55 year old Bryan who I first met at the Little Grand Canyon Marathon four years ago and crushed another strong marathon finish. Or all the others I met and hope to stay in touch with as we put more and more races under our belts.

As I go for a new half-marathon personal best this weekend I am going to try my best to remember all of those. I might forget them in the moment but I have a feeling they will come back to me after the race. You know, when sanity creeps back in.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Competitor Group Nixes Elite Program

If you haven't heard by now, the Competitor Group, which owns the ubiquitous Rock N Roll Racing Series, has abruptly ended its support of elite athlete fields in North American events.  I, for one, am completely unsurprised by this turn of events. I also am far from outraged as some people seemed to be.

Why am I not bothered? Well, it is Competitor's decision to do what they wish to do with their own races. They are a business about making money and providing an environment that will make sure that happens. They know what is making them money and what is not.  For the most part, supporting elites was not making them money. Producing cookie-cutter events that cater to the new runners and for those for whom simply finishing a 13.1 or 26.2  mile distance is a unique and exhausting challenge does. So they went with what brought home the bacon.

What does it signify for elite running? Well, it shows something I actually have stated many times and have benefited from personally: a large majority of runners do not know or care about the elites or the storied history of their sport.

The most wonderful and most limiting thing about long-distance running is that, for the most part, it is a participatory sport and not a spectator sport. This trickles down to how most of the participants view what is going on during race weekend at Rock N Roll events. The expo, the race, and the post-event blinging is all about the achievements of those who have put in the sweat and tears. Those who have worked hard to put themselves on the starting line sometimes do not want to be reminded how infinitely slower they are than the seemingly other-worldly talented elites.

Armchair quarterbacks and YMCA basketball gym heroes all think that if not for a slight tweak here and there, they may have been able to play in the NFL or NBA. Runners rarely have that delusion. If you have run a 1:30 half marathon you know you are nearly two minutes per mile slower than the elites in the sport.  That is humbling. It is also unavoidable in its complete absoluteness. You are a runner. You are strong. You have some speed. But you will never, ever, ever (Taylor Swift "ever") going to be paid to run.

I say I have benefited from this because in a bygone era there were next-to-no four-hour marathon finishers. Virtually everyone who ran recreationally as an adult had already competed in high school or college. They were all pretty damn fast. But with the advent of more of the "finishers" of races, small niches were created for people who were not exactly "fast" (re: me) to fill that allowed them to share their race experiences. I gladly fill that niche and do so unabashedly. (Granted, I know I have done some things which even those who are much faster couldn't or haven't done so I am not necessarily a back-of-the-packer.)

I completely understand why Competitor is doing what they are doing. In addition, having dealt with certain members of the higher echelon of the company (and done so distastefully), I am in no way shocked that the decisions were made that were made, even if I do not fully know the exact reasons why they were done. I have run some Rock N Roll races. Some are good, some are bad. None have been "great."

Does this decision signify the end of the support of elite athletes in running events? Well, it definitely shows Competitor doesn't care anymore. But that is where other sizable races could pick up the slack. Make the event about both participation and spectating. Capitalize on the recent rebirth of elite American running.  (I have lots of ideas how that could be done but I am definitely not sharing them for free.)

Regardless, Competitor seems to have been digging its own grave as of late. More and more mishandled race. Tons of vocal unhappy runners. Seeming over-expansion. Relying too much on the "music" aspect when most who want it carry their own music with them. Is this just more of the same?

Of course there are always new runners who will run their races because of the catering to the "experience."  But with what seems to be a slow eroding of public interest, perhaps Competitor was simply looking at is bottom line. It is a business after all, regardless of how much runners sometimes like to think it is all about community.

Perhaps I actually am bothered by the decision.  I am just pragmatic enough to realize why the decision was made. But as with anything, if you are bothered, you can speak most loudly with your time and money.  Don't run the races. Don't volunteer. (That is where the biggest threat could be made.  If local running groups pull back their volunteers, the series would collapse faster than a house of cards in a hurricane.)

Or, and I highly suggest this, learn about the history of your sport. Become more involved in knowing how and why running is where it is today. Look outside of your own running someday. You will be surprised how exciting the sport of running is when it is no longer just about your finishing time.

Perhaps the sport can be both participatory and spectator-friendly but it will take the 40 million people who call themselves runners in America to make that happen.

Imagine the possibilities.