Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Downhill Running Tips

More and more races are incorporating downhill sections into their events.  In fact, if you live in Utah, which I did for four years, good luck finding a marathon or half that doesn’t have some quad busting long stretches in it. I learned a long time ago that if I am good at one thing in running, it is running downhill. As with most running gifts, some of it is genetics. But you can also work on ways to take what you have and use it to your advantage.  

First, some science:  Muscles contract in two ways—concentrically (muscle shortens: think about picking something up) and eccentrically (muscle lengthens while contracting: think about putting that something back down). From an energy and wear and tear perspective, eccentric contractions are much more costly. Running downhill requires a great deal of eccentric contraction, especially in the quadriceps. Hence super sore quads after your local Parachute 10k.

Now, here are some secrets to lessen the stress on your legs and can help you make up time in your next race.

* You want to go with gravity and lean with the hill.  

But make sure you do some from the hips, not your head and shoulders. You don’t want to tip over on the way down the hill.  Many try to lean back to fight the feeling of toppling over.  However keeping your body perpendicular to the ground is the best thing you can do. 

* Splay out your arms.
Downhill running does not require a runner to use their arms like on a flat section or in uphill running. Picture yourself on a tightrope and imagine how you would keep your arms out for balance. Now, don’t go that far but somewhere between there and what you are currently doing is ideal. The arms out will give you balance and control which you will need since you will be going much faster than normal.

* It might be tiring but you also want to really think about engaging your core.

The reason many runners have great abs and a nice ass is not because they spend time in the gym working on those muscles. It is because they are flexing them in runs all the time and making them part of their exercise. Get a strong core, be a better runner, especially in the downhill.

* One of the most important things to remember when running downhill is to shorten your stride.  

In race after race I will see someone beating the heck out of their legs by over-striding. When the course flattens (or even if it continues downhill) after a while their legs are shot. Doesn’t matter how strong your engine is if you have flat tires. Long loping strides not only are slower because of physics (more time with both feet off the ground means wind resistance and gravity are both working against you) it is also going to wreak havoc on your quads with each pounding stride. Lessen that impact by taking shorter steps. This will also help keep your body in that perfect perpendicular lean mentioned above.  

* With this quicker stride you will need to spend less time with each foot on the ground.

Almost like walking over hot coals you will have a faster turnover in your legs which will help your speed even more. I always think of my feet making a pitter-patter type sound. At first it feels like you are using more energy but when all I said and done the energy saved from the pounding is far greater.

* Keep your head up.

This works well in uphill running as well. When you look down you bring your body down.  You induce neck flexion and actually facilitate your flexor muscles, which turn off the hip extensor muscles (glutes, hamstrings, back muscles). Those muscles are the ones which help keep you upright and neutral.  By looking at the ground you actually are increasing your chances of kissing it when you pitch forward.

If you follow these steps, you will make me regret having told you my secrets when you fly down me on the downhill. That’s when I trip you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Very Poplar Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 18th Edition 
253 miles run in 2014 races
Race: A Very Poplar Run
Place: Boardman Tree Farm, OR
Miles from home: 180 miles
Weather: 50s; Partly cloudy

A few months ago I was on my way to run the Windermere Marathon in Spokane.  Having traveled this particular stretch of Route 84 through Eastern Oregon numerous times, I finally decided to take a picture of this exceedingly large tree farm I passed each time.

 I posted it on my Facebook and mentioned running through the trees would be akin to the GET OVER HERE! scene from the atrocious Mortal Kombat movie. No sooner had I posted this picture then someone said "They actually do run a race there." I felt like Sheila Broflovski. I knew I had to run in this place.

Fast forward the rest of this maddening year of odd pains and aches in my calf muscles/achilles tendon and you have me earlier this week. On a Tuesday I ran one of my best feeling workouts in months upon months. Taking on my Bridge Run in Portland, I breezed through a workout, covering the distance in the third fastest I ever had. I had forgotten what it was like to run pain free.  Then the next day, I cut short and slowed an already planned shorter and slower run as I felt a twinge in my calf again. To paraphrase John Wayne, this whole leg business was getting Ri-god-damn-diculous. So I slowed down my runs the rest of the week and realized that merely experiencing the race was the main point of this weekend. Getting to the finish of the awesomely punnily named A Very Poplar Run was the only thing which was important.

The Boardman Tree Farm where the race takes place (races, actually, as there was a 1 mile kids run, a 5k, a 10k and the 15k I ran) comprises nearly 30,000 acres of space. In this farm, there are roughly twelve million Pacific Albus poplars. Twelve million. Symmetrically planted close together, these trees create an almost optical illusion of sorts with rows and rows of identically shaped and sizes trees roughly 8 feet apart.

Even with my less than stellar preparation, given the niche nature of the race, the fine people both staffing ad volunteering it, and the fact that the race benefited the Agape House, an outreach program whose mission is to provide basic services to those in need in the surrounding areas, I was extremely excited to take part.

The race itself had a rather later starting time of 10:30 a.m.  For this night owl, there are few things better than a completely respectable race time.  Given the weather is almost always cool this time of year here, finishing close to noon is not much of a problem. In addition, we had a special treat from the weather gods.  While it did not rain the day of the race, there had been a fair amount of rain coming into the race weekend.  This water, badly needed in Eastern Oregon also wet down a lot of the sand and dirt we would be running on.  Not only did it keep the dust from flying it made the sand itself much easier to run on (picture a beach at low tide.)

The course footing definitely falls into the cross-country variety.  I was not aware of exactly what running on this would be like as I had never actually done a cross-country race.  I know without a doubt it it totally different than running on road. As I had not had a chance to check out the course prior too racing, I knew I would find out once we started.

The 15k had the lowest number of participants of the 500 or so registered for the races. We milled around in front of plentiful portapotties and a few fires lit to keep people warm.  It was a nice cool morning and I am sure those who were cold greatly appreciated it.  I actually positioned my friend Shannon between me and the fire. She was chilly and I would have burst into sweat rivulets if the fire got to close. I joked that the fires near so many trees were sorta of a threat to the trees to grow well. Sort of like the seafood concession stand at Sea World.

We ambled to the start which we could see was a well-packed dirt road sloping slightly upward. This wasn't the ridiculous uphill start of the Bix 7 mile race but it would be upward nonetheless. I chatted with a few of the people who were in charge with putting on the race and they thanked me for taking part and promoting it.  I thanked them for letting us take part in such an wonderful event on private property.

The proverbial gun was fired and away we went.

First 5k:
A quick look around and I guessed even with a gimpy leg I should break the top ten. How far up that ladder I went depended on how well my legs cooperated. We climbed the first hill and made a sharp left-hand turn, the first of 26 turns on the course. One chap sprinted out to the lead. I knew he was going to do one of two things: completely crush me or blow up. Neither of them required any response from me so I was happy to let him go. Another guy fell in behind him and started chase. Then a cluster of four of us were a few meters behind.

One guy next to me was listening to music (I guess) on an iPhone attached to his arm. He passed me on my right. He and another thin fella with grey hair and some super long shorts moved in step, tied for third. I fell back and just tested the leg the best I could. We continued on this well-packed road making another turn which took us to the edge of this packet of of trees.  This would be the last time where we did not have trees on all four sides of us.

There were a few puddles here and there from the rain but for the most part the footing was solid.  Up ahead I could see first place quickly becoming a ghost. God speed, Senor Speedy!

Another turn had us back into the trees and I could hear breathing behind me. A woman who I had seen earlier and correctly guessed would be quite fast, caught and passed me. At roughly the same time, I passed the iPhone guy. They say you can't judge a book by its cover but I correctly judged his burst of speed would last about 1.5 miles. Up ahead, I saw runners turning into a tree thicket and leaving the road for the first time.  Here was where the real tough running would begin.

We made our turn north and I quickly learned this would be my first ever cross-country race.  In between the trees, the ground was relatively flat but uneven and unpredictable at the same time.  The race crew had painstakingly raked the areas we would run through and it was easy to see their effort.  In the other rows where the course did not go, I could see how much more difficult it would have been to traverse the ground.  their efforts to keep it clear did not go unappreciated. I had wondered if the rain would make the ground muddy or treacherous but then realized that the ground surrounding the trees is actually mostly sand.  The rain actually made it a little more dense and runnable!

I heard breathing behind me again but there wasn't much room for anyone to pass me in here.  After roughly a quarter of a mile introduction to this style of running, we were spit back out onto a harder packed service road between the rows of trees. Up ahead I could see the second place runner just turning into another set of trees like we had just plodded through.  Just two plus miles into the race I was not only winded but frustrated. My calf muscle had protested furiously on the uneven ground and I was very worried.  I have basically one race left this year and then I am packing it in for a while. The last thing I needed was to injure myself here. So, I reeled in the speed and fell back. The runner who had been on my tail easily passed me and fell in step behind the lone female in front of us. As we entered the trees, I dutifully made sure to run smart and easy.

To the 10k:

Fortunately, the next mile was run on the packed roads again.  Here, I could worry less about  in my calf and
just try to catch some wind. I knew it would take me a good four miles until I felt like a runner as per the usual. I could see I was in seventh place and it appeared nothing about that was going to change. No one was catching me from behind as the gap between us and the rest o the pack was already widening. I watched the guy in front of me sit in the hip pocket of the female and for some reason it just bothered me. She would switch sides of the path and he would tail along. There was no wind for him to try and use her as a break. Almost out of curiosity, I picked up the pace to see what his motive was. Also, for the first time, my legs felt pretty fine. Maybe I would have a chance to actually race.

As we wound down through another tree-lined section I noticed I could see every competitor but first place. He was so far ahead that even the out and backs revealed nothing about his overall position. In spite of the overall runner putting distance on me, I had staved off the bleeding from falling further behind the runners. In fact, it appeared I was gaining ground.

During a race it is amazing what you can learn about your competitors in such a short period of time. I could tell one of the men who was in front of me was not really adept at the off-road portions. Whenever we hit the more groomed road he would surge ahead and pass the other runner who was fighting him for third place. I laughed thinking that one of them was going to be very happy and the other really ticked at getting the worst place in sports: fourth.

Suddenly, I found myself right on the heels of the woman who had been in front of me.  She looked like she was flagging a bit and slowing even more. Or maybe I was speeding up. My engine was warm and my wheels were not hurting so perhaps it was a combination of both. Now in sixth place I knew there was approximately four miles left. (The race did not have mile markers but instead had small kilometer markers put into the ground.  It took me until the fourth of these to realize they were there specifically for the race and not markings for the tree farm.) Maybe I could crawl into the top five if I caught the mustachioed gentleman who had been running in the girl's wake previously.

Onward to the Finish:

There is something about "racing" which is truly wonderful.  We often say we are only running against the clock, and most of the time that is true. But sometimes you get locked into an event and it doesn't matter what place you will get or what your time is. You simply have to beat that girl in the red shirt. Or the kid wearing the Vibrams or the Whoever doing the Whatever. They have become the thing you despise most and must destroy. That is, of course, until you finish and then they are like your best friend. Animosity gone, you are now brethren.

We entered the last 5k and I knew this was going to be the hardest section.  We had two big hills, another combo hill and then a sloping upward run until the slight downhill finish where we started.  Moreover, for me, I was rapidly catching fifth place who was rapidly catching fourth place. The course was going to be tough but now I had some racing decisions to make.

Right as we hit the bottom of the first big hill, I found myself right on the heels of both men. I did not wish to pass them on this hill just yet but I also did not wish to slow my momentum. Up the hill I go!

As they hugged the more worn parts of the path leaving me with the mushy middle, I had no choice put to pass them here. I joked "Who put this here?" and got a chuckle out of both. I was employing a racing tactic to get them to laugh which would in turn get them out of their focused zone and possibly let their guard down. I slipped by mustachioed man but grey haired gentleman gave me a little bit of a fight.  So I pushed harder to the top.  Once there, I pushed even harder.

Here's a racing tip for you: If you want to crush the spirit of someone you are passing on a hill, do NOT let up at the top. Keep going and put even more distance between you. I cannot even begin to tell you how many people I have left behind me using this tactic. You are welcome.

Now, I just had three miles left to hold off these guys and stay in the place I was: ever-crappy fourth.  But wait. Was I gaining on third? Son of a gun, I was. I can't sit back in fourth place when I know third place might be mine for the taking. Great. Now I have to run even harder. Fortunately, the guy in front of me was the one who was not too skilled at running off-road. Perhaps I had a chance.

Looking at my watch I felt for sure the course had to be long. I had close to 2 miles left but should be finishing in about the time it takes to run one mile. I only later learned that the course itself was so challenging it took nearly a minute per mile longer to run its length. Without a doubt, cross-country racing and road racing are two different beasts.

Right here was also where we joined all of the 10k and 5k runners.  I don't think they were expecting anyone to be coming up behind them and it was maddeningly to try and track down this gentleman in front of me while also dipping and dodging fellow competitors. It is, always, the runner from behind's responsibility to be careful when passing.  But it is also every runner's responsibility to not block the road. If there is anythign I wish all runners would learn, it is to be mindful of those around you.  Take out the headphones, be aware and enjoy the experience without listening to Pitbull.

Even as I closed the gap, I knew I probably was running out of real estate. The legs were feeling better but I wasn't going to risk tearing anything trying to secure third place. If it came to me, great.  If not, I was enjoying one of the most unique and beautiful races I have run in ever.

The trees were awash in colors, but done so in different swatches depending on the age of the tree being harvested.  The sun was filtering in here and there, bathing the forest in shards of light. It was, quite simply, one of those wonderful days to be alive and running ,even if you are sucking wind trying to chase someone down.

As we neared the finish , it was clear I did not have it in me to catch the guy in front of me. I later learned  he was a 2:36 marathoner in his day and a coach of cross-country as well.  I crossed the finish a handful of seconds behind him, taking fourth place overall in a time of 1:07:15.  I had a little kick at the end and was pushed by a couple of guys who thought I was in their 5k or 10k race. I wanted to telpathaically tell them to relax as I wasn't racing them but I figured the short sprint would do them good.  Given my finisher's "medal" I was found by the race director and asked my thoughts of the course. I could not stop gushing about how wonderful it all was.  I then ran out a little ways to cheer on Shannon.  Just a little over a month from having some surgery performed, her running is just coming back. Nevertheless, even on this tough course, she set a huge PR.  The echo chamber nature of the trees made me sound like I had a megaphone when I cheered for her on the way in.

I had the chance to chat with quite a few runners post-race as we stayed to applaud all the age group award winners. On top of the very neat slice of tree each and every runner received for finishing the age group awards were similar but even more top-notch.

The main reason I ran this race was to see if it lived up to my imagination. I wanted to find out if the image in my head of running through thousands of acres of tress would be as enjoyable as it was, even when a run turned into a race. I could not have been more pleased with the experience. If you don't add this race to your list of "musts", you are absolutely missing out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Des Moines Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 17th Edition 
243.7 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Des Moines Half Marathon
Place: Des Moines, IA
Miles from home: 1786 miles
Weather: 40s; Bright sun

I returned to the Des Moines Marathon as a speaker and a runner for the fourth time since 2008 for a multitude of reasons. Having one the marathon once, the half marathon three times and paced runners as part of their pacing team three times as well, I have yet to experience a race which didn't live up to its ever-burgeoning standards.

On all four occasions the weather, which can rarely be counted upon in the Midwest at any point of the year, has been stellar. The race organization is top-notch. The overall experience has always been enjoyable. This year was no different.

I stayed on the east side of town knowing that it would allow easy access in and out to the starting line on race morning. Doing so put me in an area that might not have been the nicest section of Des Moines but also allowed me to see something new.  For the three days I was in town, I would begin my day with a run in a local cemetery named Laurel Hill.  Oddly, Des Moines has two cemeteries with that name separated by
roughly 9 miles.  I don't know why, they just do.

Having written previously about running in cemeteries and wondering if it is kosher, I was again reaffirmed by my decision to do so by three very pleasant runs around a rather hilly loop. I was also treated to a little humor when I saw a headstone with the name of "Worms".  Now, that is just rubbing it in, I thought.

My participation as a speaker at the expo also included me pacing the 1:40 half marathon group.  running this time actually presented a challenge.  I have run 78 half marathons and only four have been slower than 1:40.  Two were pacing efforts, one was a fun run I did and the last was an extra 3/4 of a mile long run I did in my fastest 70.3 triathlon ever. running that speed (note, I did not say "that slow") would be something I would find a little out of my normal running. As such, it would keep me on my toes.

I agreed to run this time mostly because of this challenge and for the chance to bring in more than usual the number of people I do when I pace. More often or not, regardless of how big the group starts off with, when I get toward the end, I may only have one or two people with me. Sure, many more will be not far behind but just as many take off near the end and even many more set PRs nonetheless.

Chill temperatures (hovering around 40 degrees) with just a touch of wind and bright sunshine greeted us runners as we milled around near the start.  I was actually co-pacing this run with a chap named Brian who has done multiple pacing efforts himself.  A tall fella of around 6'4'' Brian joked our pacees were lucky to have such large windblocks to be leading them.

As the race started,  it was exceedingly difficult to not run way faster than the planned 7:38 pace but the thick crowds in the beginning kept me in check.  Brian was a bit of a cheerleader, rousing both spectators and runners.  I chose to play the quieter foil, mainly there as his guest and the pied piper of others.  More than a few runners were taking part of the I-35 challenge.  this feat had runners competing in either the marathon or half in Kansas City down the road the day before and then duplicating that feat here in Des Moines. M y goal for the day was to help as many of these tired legs to get through the course as possible.

The Des Moines Marathon has a few hills in it that I recall from running it in 2006 as part of my 52 Marathon journey.  The half marathon, however, is about as flat as one can get running a city marathon that branches ut into a couple of different park areas. When we split from the marathoners right before the third mile, I told the runners to not smile too broadly as we watched them climb a big hill we did not have to mount.

After winding along an underpass we headed into Waterworks Park. This section had a 1.5 mile loop that split runners before allowing each other to pass within inches of one another on the way in/out.  It is the only "tight" portion of the course and at this pace definitely had more than a few people coming and going.  On our way out we marveled at the speed of the leaders (who would take it home in 1:08) and then were happy to see so many people behind us as we followed suit.

Not necessarily an easy place to get to for spectators, many were out here to cheer runners on, something which is always appreciated.  It was also a section where I could feel our large group of 30 or more might be beginning t fall off the pace.  With about half the race to go I was hoping we would keep as many as possible just a few miles longer.

Our exit from Waterworks Park spit us out across Fleur Drive and then around a loop of Grays Lake Park. One of my favorite part of any race is the walking bridge you cross here.  With colors glass reflecting the sunlight (or if it is at night, using the lights of the bridge) a rainbow effect is thrown at your feet. I like to use this portion to remind me that I have just about three miles left in the race. I told the runners the same thing and then told them a slightly off-color joke.  The laugh told me they forgot about their run if only for a few seconds.

The rest of the race is quite simple with a shot down a city street with a view of the capitol building's dome you saw at mile two in the background in front of you.  This also contains a short out and back that I have always disliked as it comes right before the 12th mile.  It is not horrible but it seems like it could easily be removed by adding distance elsewhere.

When we hit that 12th mile we saw we were just a few seconds ahead of the pace for the group.  However, the pack of about ten runners we still had right on our heels was itching to be done.  We told them that we were going to let them take off so we could maintain our projected pace. Having paced on numerous occasions. I know this happens often. Runners will get so excited t be done that they wish to d so as quickly as possible. There is no longer any pacing or holding back. The barn can be smelled and they want to eat its hay.

Brian and I kept the course, hoping to both pick up some last minute runners who might be flagging a bit and also to stay just ahead of those who were using us as a homing beacon.  They might not get under 1:40 but we knew they would be getting times they were shooting for nonetheless.
Thanks to MarathonFoto for the great shot!

When I crossed the line in 1:39:43, I was a few seconds ahead of where I would be ideally but was happy to have helped so many get their finish time. More than a few came up to Brian and I and thanked us. I turned to them and thanked them for allowing us to share this moment with them. I handed my 1:40 pacing sign to Justin, one of the I-35 challenge runners. I do hope he puts it in special place to signify his effort well-earned.

I packed up my bags and headed to the airport. Time to get home and watch The Walking Dead and get ready for a very interesting race in Oregon just a few days later.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review of Camelbak Cloud Walker 18 and Fourteener 24

When I partially tore my Achilles tendon in August it put more than a few things on hold. One was my review of two separate Camelbak products. I had used them both on a couple of occasions but hadn't fully had a chance to test them further.  Fortunately, I have healed up, taken both packs out on some runs/hikes and am happy to share my thoughts on both.

Cloud Walker 18

The Cloudwalker has served me very well for its intended use: to be a no-frills backpack without the extra bulk. I used it as pack when I recently took part in Hood to Coast with some buddies. I found myself during and after the race being a bit of a sherpa for a few of them and it worked very well.  Spacious yet slender,, what I really liked about the Cloudwalker was the Air Channel in the back.  Along with the comfy shoulder straps, this air channel added an extra layer of breathe-ability helping to kept moisture and heat off of your back.

There are no external zippered pockets which might be a little bit of a drawback bu there is a mesh sidepocket on either side of the pack for a bottle or camera or things which need to be more accessible. But since the pack is not necessarily made to be one where you are grabbing and replacing while moving at a high-speed, this is not much of a problem.

It comes with a 2 liter Antidote® Reservoir which is ample for any type of adventure you might with to take it on.  It is sturdy and hardy without feeling too heavy or starchy.  There is no waist belt on this pack which I found to be actually better for hiking. I plan on doing a little more vertical climbing when I am hiking versus running and as such would be bent over more. Not having a waist belt freed up my big gut. This is one solid product, especially for just $80.

Fourteener 24

This is a big boy and I loved it. Coming standard with 3 liter Antidote®  Reservoir The Fourteener is ready to do more than I have put it through. With multiple lash points for ice axes, trekking poles or other gear this is a pack meant to go hard.

Even better than the Air Channel back of the Cloud Walker above is NV™ Back Panel which actually separates the entire back from your pack with elevated or raised panels. There is a waist belt on this pack as it is obvious it is meant to carry more than just a few items.  The belt helps distribute the weight of the entire pack evenly.  I used it when doing some light hiking at a recent race where I went to spectate up around Mount St. Helens where I deftly was able to scamper along some trail and rocks wit ha litany of items in my pack.  I didn't have any poles so I am not sure how they work with this pack but I have no doubt to believe they would work well too.

Because it comes with a separate zippered opening, the reservoir can be easily refilled without removing it from the pack. Again, like with the Cloud Walker this is not necessarily a pack you will be using for speed running through the Grand Canyon but not having to shuffle everything around to get to your bladder is a nice touch.

The side compression straps helped keep the entire load stabilized which was extremely appreciated even though I wasn't ever packing it to full capacity. Also there are a coupe of external zippered pockets to allow you to throw items in which you might need to take in and out more often.

As it comes with a few more bells and whistles than the Cloud Walker it has a higher price tag at $145 but I think anyone who uses the pack would say that is well within its worth.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Running Streaks (Or When It Is OK to Take a Break)

I have written before about my feelings of going on running streaks. (Was it really 7 years ago?  Ugh. I don't even want to link to this as I am sure it is horribly written but oh well.)  I am not going to repeat my feelings as they pretty much remain the same, but I will sum them up. Streaking, for the sake of streaking alone, is rarely good.

Just ask Will Ferrell.

Joking aside, rather than explain why it is not good for you, let me list some times when it is imperative that you take some time off. But what do I know? I just ran 52 marathons in a row without injury setting a PR in the 42nd week.

1. You are sick. This one is a no-brainer.  If you are ill, your body is weakened and trying to fix itself. Don't make its task more difficult by putting it through the wringer. Granted there are degrees of illness ad a simple headcold might not be enough of a reason to stay home but be judicious with your miles on days like this.

2. You are beat up. Let's say you hit the gym too hard or perhaps a race left your quads trashed. It is perfectly OK to take time off after that to recover.  My medicine for a hard race is to almost always go for a short, slow run the day after. THEN, I take a day off. 

3. You are coming back from injury/pregnancy/time off.  I was sick for about a month earlier this year. I took an entire week off. I was well enough to try and run after that week.  But when I did, it felt like I hadn't run for a year.  Now imagine if you haven't run in a year, or more.  Reward the choice you have made to get back into shape by not sabotaging your efforts with too quick a comeback. Same with rebounding from injury or after a pregnancy.

4. Pain. You are not in a life or death situation.  You do not need to push through a broken fibula in order to keep the wolves that ate Liam Meson (spoiler alert) from coming after you next. Pain is not weakness leaving the body. Pain is an indicator that something is not going well in your body. It is far harder to stop when you want to go on then it is to simply HTFU and injure yourself. I DNF my first 100 mile race at mile 87 even though I was in 2nd place. Did it suck? Sure. Am I glad I had the brains to do it? Yep!

5. Life intervenes. The crazy thing about existence is that sometimes you simply aren't going to be able to make the time to get your workout in.  Don't make it a habit but don't force the issue either. No race plan has ever been laid to waste because of one missed workout.  But many races have been sabotaged by trying to shoehorn a workout that didn't need to be done.

These are just a few ways to make sure you get not only to the finish of your next race but the starting line as well. You are welcome.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Evansville Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 16th Edition 
230.6 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Evansville Half Marathon
Place: Evansville, IN
Miles from home: 2206 miles
Weather: 40-50s; Bright sun

Running and traveling as much as I have for the past decade it is not uncommon to have a few friends in one location.  If the location has a high population, that coincidence is even less surprising.  But to have so many friends, met in so many different ways, in a place which has approximately 120,000 people in it like Evansville, IN, is definitely interesting.

I met my host for this weekend, Michelle Walker, nearly four years ago when I was speaking at the Kiawah Island Marathon. Learning of her frequent marathoning history we became fast friends. When Michelle asked me to be the first ever featured speaker for the Evansville Half Marathon as a guest of The Women's Hospital, I was more than pleased to do so. It was also good to catch up with her as she is one of the subjects for the new book I am working on with Lacie Whyte highlighting inspiring female runners.

Back in April, I did a course preview of the race when I was in town for the wedding of my good friend Allison (another strange coincidence).  However, the course changed drastically since that time. Some felt I might be annoyed by the changes but for me it just meant I got to see even more of a city I was staying in.  Taking in more of a town you are in is rarely a bad thing.  Doing so on foot with people cheering for you as you do it is hard to top.

I gave a speech at Ivy Community College earlier in the week in the greater Evansville area and it was enjoyable to give a speech to a mixed running/non-running crowd.  One can easily fall into sloppy speech habits if they only speak to people who "speak your language".  I was pleased to receive some good feedback there which tells me I am at least not regressing as a speaker.  However, I was even more pleased be speaking to runners at The Women's Hospital the night before the race. As usual I end up being as inspired by hearing the stories of those in attendance as they do by hearing what I have done. I was revved up for the race in the morning even if I knew it was simply going to be a hard effort training run.

The casino hotel was my resting place for the night before the race. Just a few hundred yards or so from the start of the race it was an ideal place to stay.  It was extremely pleasant and relaxing to be able to wake up just an hour before race time, prep, go outside, realize you still need to go to the bathroom, run back up stairs, come back down, give a quick "Go Get 'Em!" to the crowd over the mic and still have 5 minutes to get ready for the race.

After the weather being in the 90s as recent as a day and half before the race started, the low 40s temperature was absolutely amazing. I only wished I was in shape to actually race. Instead, I planned on running hard, checking out the new course and cheering on a litany of friends who were shooting for new PRs.

My race would not be a personal best. There is a certain calm that can take over a runner when they show up to the starting line knowing that they will give their best that day but today’s best will be nothing close to their all-time best. For me, I wanted to simply run right around 7 minutes per mile, check out the course and hopefully make some new friends. At my speech the previous night, the pace group coordinator for the race asked if I wanted to help by running a 1:30 pace. I told him I planned on running right around there and anyone who wished to join me could gladly do so.  But I was simply going to enjoy myself.

There had been massively strong winds in the days before the race.  As a few miles would be run right on the banks of the Ohio River, we were all but assured to have it in our faces one if not both directions.  But as we gathered for a beautifully sung National Anthem there was barely a rustling in the leaves which were just starting to show their fall colors.  The Mayor of Evansville was on hand to start us off and away we went.
My first two miles were run at a pace I knew I was comfortable running but maybe a bit faster than my still healing Achilles would allow. Nevertheless, I enjoyed running down by the river and up and around a fountain in front of the Alhambra Theatre. The streets were flat and well paved.  A good way to start off a race.

 A couple of quick turns through the neighborhoods here had us running due east and right into the rising sun. I was happy to be wearing my Julbos as always.

We passed right by the Bayard Park which I fondly recalled there being some ice cold drinks back on our run in April. The crowds were not plentiful but the volunteers and traffic controllers were. We wound our way through some newly paved brick streets that originally we would have run the opposite direction on the old course. The Rocky Theme pierced the morning quiet as it emanated from an accordion and an amplifier. Out early in this brisk weather was a sprightly woman who was eighty if she was a day. I wanted to high five her but I feared I would have knocked her tiny body over.

A long straight section has us finishing our tour of the downtown area of Evansville by skirting Bosse Field.  As I mentioned in my preview, this field is known for being used for game scenes in the movie A League of Their Own, it is the 3rd oldest stadium in regular use in America, after Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Once we passed that it was time to take on the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage.

I heard a few people weren’t particularly fond of this section. I would count myself in that group but not because of anything particular with this course. I have never really liked bicycle course in the middle of the races. They are always sneakily difficult with twists and turns and sudden rises and falls.  These changes in elevation or direction are often imperceptible to a map maker but to a runner they can really sap some energy.  Of course, these small changes can also help the legs by breaking up what is essentially a completely flat course.  So you take the good, you tale the bad. (And a course that I have PRd on twice has a three mile [path as such, so there you go.)

For four miles you stay on this course where small smatterings of fans are out cheering you on.  There were also no less than two different groups of high school cheerleaders screaming your name. As the race puts your actual name on the bib you feel like a bit of a celebrity. Even more so, for well over a mile, every single name of every single city of one of the participants was listed in alphabetical order on the bicycle path.  I have no idea how long it took people to write these all out in chalk but I was very impressed.  I can’t recall any race I have ever run doing the exact same thing.  When I saw Portland, OR (the only city representing Oregon and obviously because of my presence) I let out a little whoop.

There were tons of other touches done on this race which people who haven’t run many won’t realize.  At certain sections there are poles placed in the bike path to keep motor vehicles from entering the path.  It is very easy when one is running, especially in a pack, to not see these poles. I have been on the business end of one of these and/or had to close of a call than I would like to remember.  The organizers, however, took orange marking ribbon and created a triangle of awareness from the top of the pole down to the ground. That was a small touch which took just a few seconds but really was a big deal.  I felt it deserved a special mention.

On Thursday night before the race I had helped lead the final 3 mile training run for a group of runners called Team 13. One and half miles of that run had been along this very same path. When we hit a certain section, familiarity crept in and after a few miles slower than I would have liked, I began to pick up the pace.

Even this small change of 5-10 seconds per mile was one I felt in my Achilles. I wanted to go faster and even being out of shape I knew I could but the legs were advising against it. The body is not a dictatorship but rather a committee ruled by its weakest partner. As such, the Turks and Caicos of my United Nations was the deciding vote.

With two miles to go I passed my buddy Ken who would end up running a solid time for the day. This poor guy is one heck of a runner but just happens to have one of the fastest fellas in his age group living right in his city. He looked strong and we exchanged some pleasantries. I passed a few other runners as we hopped onto the river walk. I didn't really have much if a desire to pass these people but I also did not wish to slow down. We could see the finish a half of a mile away and I really liked that. It is nice to be able to see where you are heading and really lock into a pace. The water looked gorgeous, the sun was at our backs and the wind from the day before was non-existent.  I had one runner pass me in the last quarter of a mile but the last thing I needed to do was sprint to the finish to get a time that was nearly a minute slower per mile than my PR. I was happy to let him take me and add the feather to his cap. I merely trotted home, waved to the crowd and was pleased with  my time of 1:31:25.  I took 64th place overall and got my butt handed to me in my age group finishing 8th.

More importantly, no less than five people I had met here in the past two visits set personal best. Jason and David ran 1:17 and 1:19 with both taking down their PRs by two minutes each.  A young fella named Reece who I had met at the past dinner the night before took 36 minutes off his time to break two hours. There were many I heard talking about their new fastes times ever who I never had met.

I got to see and experience these finishes with many of the runners as I stood at the finish handing out medals for about an hour or so after I was done. This is one of the best feelings in the world and one every runner should experience. Finally, however, the cold and tiredness got to me and I had to skedaddle back to my hotel to grab a shower.

Plus, I wanted to hit the casino.

I would highly recommend running this race to set a new PR.  If the weather is like this every year, there is no reason to not run your fastest time ever.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Huntsville Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 15th Edition 
217.5 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Huntsville Marathon
Place: Huntsville, UT
Miles from home: 741 miles
Weather: 40-60s; light to heavy rain

“A runner experiences no greater pain than the soreness following a race which goes poorly.”

I am not sure what greater thinker said that, but it is brilliant.  Actually, I just said it as I sit here feeling my quads twitch and nothing could feel more true.

My desire to run fast and well at the Huntsville Marathon was greater than most.  I felt the course suited my strengths (downhill running), I had a good race two weeks prior at the Tunnel Lite Marathon and for the first time in ages was running with virtually no pain anywhere. Unfortunately, I forgot that while I was pain free I wasn’t exactly in good running shape.

In August I had partially torn my Achilles and while it healed quickly, I obviously had limited training. Furthermore, while the Huntsville Marathon does had an almost embarrassment of riches of downhill to its course, even a good downhill runner will get beat up on too much of the slope. Finally, any race which starts at 9,000 feet above sea level is going to take its toll on a runner, especially if said runner lives just a hundred or so feet above sea level.

All of this I knew but was ignoring. While the forecast called for scattered thunderstorms, the temperature for the race was predicted to be favorable. I have had just a small handful of “favorable” weather races in the past two years.  Couple that with my own running struggles and it can wear on one’s psyche a touch. Even a deluge of rain would mean a cloudy sky and I will take that over the evil life-sucking orb any day of the week.

A later than most starting time meant that even though I had to drive to the finish and then be bussed to the start, I would not have to get up at 3:30 A.M. to do so.  I was pleased with that. When light rain sprinkled a bit harder here and there, I was fine with that as well. I shared a seat with a rather newish runner named Tyler who was hoping to run sub 3:30.  He asked for a some pointers and I provided them.  Happy to report that post-race I found out Tyler had gone and done exactly as he hoped by hitting a 3:28.  At least one of us got our goal.

My goal was to hit any time starting with a “2”. Depending on the day, how far under three hours I went would just be icing on the cake.  As we lined up at the starting line, no one seem particularly interested in getting on the front of the line.  Given the winning time here last year was a 2:19, this was surprising to me.  I think the weather scared some people away.  So I lined up and when the gun was fired, I took the lead.

For a hundred yards or so, no one joined me.  I knew there was no way I was winning this race so I kept looking for other runners.  After a small barely there uphill to start (which even fully refreshed at the start still took my breath away) we began the long downhill to start the race.  My first two miles were far faster than I expected them to be even with the downhill portion.  I hit the 2nd mile and immediately pulled back on the throttle.  There was absolutely no way I was going to run a 2:45 today and that was what this pace would be.

Immediately a large group of runners (I counted 14) swooped by me. I laughed inwardly and perhaps, in hindsight, a bit derisively. I did not know for sure that this group would not be able to continue this pace. But I had a feeling there was no way they would.  With four women in the group, maybe I was wrong and all four of them would qualify for the Olympic Trials and then next year this race would have 5,000 women all vying for their best time ever.

The next few miles had times more in line with what I felt was prudent and I played a game of catch, pass, get caught and passed with a handful of runners. It amazed me that people running this speed did not know how to properly grab a cup of water from a volunteer in stride.  Even more surprising was this one guy who was employing a run/walk method.  He would pass me at a sprint speed and then a quarter of a mile down the road would come to a walk.  His watch would beep and away he went again.  As he continued to stay in front of me for more than a few miles, I wondered if he was onto some new and efficient way of training. (He wasn’t. After a while I would never see him again and not because he disappeared in front of me.)

At 10 miles, I was still on pace for a 2:53ish marathon. I knew this would drop over time, especially when the race flattened out around mile 15.  Finally, at mile 12, the rain abated.  It had been far from horrendous but to run in a cooler climate without also being completely wet was a plus.  I hoped it would stay this way throughout the rest of the day. I hit the half marathon point at 1:27:30. I knew I could slow down my average for the first half by 25 seconds per mile and still go under three hours.

The 14th mile of any marathon is always important to me.  Having just hit the halfway milestone, it can often be a letdown. I use this mile as a barometer for the rest of the race. Here, the course was flattening but we were still around 6000 above sea level. I could definitely feel my lungs working a bit harder but I knew every second under a 7:05 mile put me that much closer to sub-3. This mile and the next were both right under 7 minutes. I only had eleven miles to go.

Then suddenly, it was over.  A 7:21 minute mile was followed by me needing to actually stop and walk for ten seconds. Seven people flew past me when I did. My 17th mile ended in a time of 7:55. Four miles earlier I was wondering how far below three hours I would get.  Here I was wondering how bad the rest of the race was going to go.

Two more miles over 8 minutes per mile had me stopping at mile 19. I grabbed a drink and felt something behind me. An official looking van pulled into the aid station. I walked over and said to the guy “Does this van go to the finish?”  He nodded and said “Sure does.”  I told him I was going to get on it and call it a day.  He said that was what he was here for and would get rolling in about five minutes. I sat down on the side of the road and contemplated how I would finally be DNFing my first marathon ever.

Minutes passed by and the van driver did not reappear. A few more minutes and I began re-evaluating my decision to quit. I wasn’t injured. I wasn’t putting myself in harm’s way. I was just going to run slowly and miserably for seven more miles. I have done that before and will assuredly do it again. I got up after what had to be close to seven minutes of sitting and started running again.

I thought perhaps if I could just run an 8 minute mile average I could hit a 3:07ish time and be pleased with getting back on the road again.  But that was simply not in the cards for me. More accurately, I would run at an 8 mile pace but only for about half a mile or so. Then I was reduced to standing, bent over, pulling on the ends of my shorts in an attempt to stay upright. It was baffling to me how when I could run I would pass dozens of others who were flattering but I could only keep it up for 800 meters or so. Then it was like I couldn’t move at all.

Part of the reason I had started moving at all back at mile 19 was the rain had again started and was raining harder. I knew sitting around and longer would just make life miserable. As the miles slowly crept by and I had just 3 more to go, the deluge came.  The last 5k was done just one step at a time. Hardy volunteers gleefully handed out aid and I stopped twice to apply Vaseline into my nether regions. The two plus hours of rain had washed all my Body Glide off and I could tell there was going to be some chafing.

When the finish was finally in sight it was nothing more than a mercy killing. I gathered myself up enough to keep my time under 3:20 but my 3:18:25 was good enough for just my 103rd fastest marathon ever. I was shocked to learn I was 26th overall.  I felt like I was third from last. Later, looking at the results, I saw that only 5 people made it under three hours. That group of 14 who had gone out at a ridiculous pace only had two people who maintained close to it for the whole race. I took some consolation in the fact that every one of them were Utah residents who at least had the benefit of living at higher altitude. But I was nonetheless rather disappointed.

As a litany of friends told me, my 3:18 was something they would kill for. I obviously greatly appreciate them saying such nice things but it is no salve to my wounds. There had been a moment in the first three miles when I thought perhaps I would surprise myself with a new PR in this race. When I abandoned that for a slightly slower time of 2:52 I was already writing this recap in my head.  It was one of redemption and overcoming the past few years of bike crashes, staph infections, the flu and long, long, long running events. As it stands, that specific recap will have to wait.

The good news is that the Achilles in both legs held up. There were a few miles were it slightly protested in the manner it had before I had tore it previously.  At mile 11 I verbalized a plea out loud to my Achilles that “Today is not the day for you to tear.”  I should be (and am) pleased I could even return to racing just a few short weeks after tearing it. That is a blessing and not something I take for granted. But long are the days gone where just finishing a marathon itself will bring me joy. I don’t crave to have completions. I crave to run as fast as I can. Obviously this was as fast I could on this day. However, I know I have much more in me.

So, now with this marathon behind me (it had been on my mine and radar all year, regardless of what pace I planned on running it or even running it at all continued to change) I can work on rehabbing my Achilles fully. I can go back to the drawing board, analyze this race and see what I can do to take shots at getting faster again. The number of good races will always be not only outnumbered but overshadowed by the number of races which don’t live up to our expectations. I have come to grips with reality.

It’s just that the soreness in my legs keep reminding me that this last race was one of the group of many. Fortunately, it helps to keep me wanting more. Not for anyone else. Not to prove anyone wrong. But plain and simply because running as fast as I can makes me happy.