Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reykjavik Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 17th Edition 
207.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Reykjavik Marathon
Place: Peducah, KY  (Just kidding: Reykjavik, IS)
Miles from home: 3720
Weather: 50s; Cloudy; humid

It's been 8 years since I did an off-continent marathon. That is just enough time to forget that you shouldn't book a flight to get you there the day before you race. Leave leeway. Some time to adjust for errors. Suffice it to say that what seemed like a good idea (and saved me a ton of cash) left me exhausted, worn-out and a plethora of other ungood things as I got to Reykjavik with about half of a day of rest before the race started.

Fortunately, one of the things which did go right was me getting a place to stay less than three blocks away from the start/finish of the marathon. With all else going less than wonderful, this was a welcome relief. I woke up with just enough time to saunter on down to start. I then realized I had enough time to run back home and use the bathroom one last time. Do not pass up the opportunity ever to make one more comfortable bathroom stop before running a marathon.

Back in the starting corral, Kathrine Switzer was the honorary starter. Her husband, Roger Robinson has spoken at the expo. Unfortunately, given my travel woes I did not have the energy to stay around.  So I missed Roger, one of the nicest and most talented masters runners around.  In fact, when speaking with Kathrine, I found out that he had just run his first half-marathon in 20 years, at the age of 73, on a replaced knee in a time of 1:48! What is amazing about Roger is his writing is even better than his running.  Read my review of his collaborative effort with Kathrine called 26.2 Marathon Stories here. I am fortunate to be able to call them both friends.

I gave Kathrine's shoe a tug from down below the stand she was on and she waved and smiled. Jumping back into the corral I readied myself. I had goals in mind and most of them were relatively unrealistic.  Why the heck not, right?

First 10k:

With the gun shot we headed down the street right next to Tjörnin, the prominent small lake in central Reykjavík right in front of Reykjavik City Hall. An idyllic setting if there ever was one for a marathon start I found myself craning my head sideways to check it out. The weather was darn near perfect with cloudy skies, a temperature right around 50 degrees, even if it was a bit humid. Two quick turns took us down a small slope towards the water and through some small streets where residents were enthusiastically out banging pots and pans. The more organized areas for spectators were called "pep stations" and were marked on the map with a smiley face.  I smiled every time we went through them.

My "A" goal for this race was to get another sub-3 in a new continent.  I have one in North America and one in Asia and this would be a nice feather in the cap to add a third. In order to do so I would have to run 4:15 per kilometer. While I was trying to be conservative in the beginning, after the first 3-4km, I knew this sub-3 was unlikely to happen. Rather than beat myself up over it I settled into the pace I was running and tried to be smart.

As we skirted the tip of the peninsula that juts out westward into the ocean, we passed a plethora of art museums and buildings that look brand new. They very well might be given the constant volcanic activity on this island or maybe they just like things tidy here. Somehow putting the goals out of my mind for a bit had made them more feasible. Unfortunately, I knew the hills of the race were yet to come.

To the Half:

Shortly before the 9th mile, a long steady climb appears in front of the runners. It's beginning was signified by the iconic Sun Voyager sculpture on our left. I later met and talked to a guy from Houston, TX, who mentioned that while hardly the biggest hill in the world, this climb here trashed his legs. I didn't get trashed legs but it definitely slowed me down a bit even as I began passing runner after runner.

Bib numbers were different colors so you could tell who was running what race. In spite of the fact that I was keeping a even pace, I was slipping by many runners without much effort. Unfortunately, next to none of them were marathoners. Instead, they were half-marathoners who had gone out too fast. While I had figured out my pace per kilometer to some extent, small deviations were hard to compute in my head to tell me how far off I was from my desired goal. Instead, knowing my biggest goals of the race were probably out of reach, I focused on competing with the runners around me.

Cresting the hill, I saw the leaders coming back at us. I knew we would go back down a small hill before turning around and climbing again. A less than beautiful part of Reykjavik, as it was simply a highway closed down, the visages just a few miles away of cliffs and water and clouds hugging both made up for any shortcomings.

I made the turn and began climbing, having counted about 60 some odd men and 6 women in front of me. I again felt better than expected and tried to turn up the juice a little. When we got to the top, after seeing the hordes of people behind us, I turned it up even more. I like running downhill. I had some of my best miles of the day here as we flew down the backside and began to separate from the half- marathoners. Unfortunately, at the bottom of this hill, we were faced with two whammies.  First, the biggest climb of the day. Second, what felt like total isolation as the crowds disappeared for a few miles and we began running on bicycle paths next to highways.

Here's the thing: I hate bicycle paths. They are always more twisty and turny than you think. The small rises come out of nowhere and look like nothing on a elevation map but always kill me. It is almost impossible to run the shortest distance using tangents without cutting someone off. Mentally I just get worn down by them. (Although, as with all things, I know many love them. I talked to an English chap named Jonathan at the Sun Voyager statue the next day and he mentioned how he enjoyed them. Different strokes!)  Instead of worrying too much about these paths, I tried to concentrate on the runners around me instead. A group of about five of us played cat and mouse, switching who took the lead and led the charge. Clustered in here was one woman who was wisely (or unfairly, depending on your perspective) only so happy to fall directly behind whatever man took the lead.

We made the loop around what appeared to be a petting zoo and whose name didn't help make that any clearer (Húsdýragarðurinn). Sneaking in under 1:34 for the 21.1 km mark meant that I still had a chance to go sub 3:10. I readied myself for the second half and hoped for the best.

To Mile 20:

I knew the rolling and undulating hills would continue from the halfway point to around mile 18. After that there were just a couple of bumps to worry about. Perhaps I could throw down a negative split and surprise myself with my overall time. More likely, perhaps not.

On occasion, I had missed a kilometer marker as they go by so fast. Your internal clock as an American is not set to alarm you to look for them and next thing you know they have gone by. Conversely, there are so many kilometers in marathon that when you are tired and still have 20 more of them to see, it can be a bit wearisome.

This portion of the race is a bit of a blur to me. As I mentioned, it was run mostly on a bike path and I really zoned out. Eyes closed, or partially closed and simply looking at right in front of me was how I stumbled through.  As much as trail runners talk about how much they love their races, this zoning out is something you can't do there lest you end up in a ravine. Moreover, it was here I began getting thirsty beyond quenchableness. I would like to take a few moments to point out how perfect the aid stations were with their liquids. They were so wonderfully cold. Even on a relatively cool day, it was absolutely refreshing to be able to douse my throat with cool drink. However, even stopping as I did twice to drink at least three cups of water, I would barely be a kilometer away and be thirsting ferociously for the next aid station. Fortunately, these breaks only put me a few meters behind my competitors and I usually made up the time very quickly. I have no explanation for why I was so thirsty, though.

We finally finished those hills and began running next to the bay. The cool breezes helped wick away some of the sweat but in spite of the moderate temperatures I was still covered in it. Time to hunker down.

To the Finish:

Earlier in the last segment I had been able to throw down some quick kilometers but it seemed they came at the expense of interminable thirst. Knowing I just had six miles left was a big help but it did not stop my need to drink. Two more times in this last 10k I would come to a full stop to drink the liquids presented. The time lost was inconsequential and even if I was racing hard, a few seconds of slowing down means nothing to get liquids in your body.

When most of your goals are gone for the day and you are not in such bad shape that just thinking about surviving is all that takes up your mind, you have time to think. I thought about why I continue to try and race during the summer when I know I am just physiologically not built for it. I don't try racing sprints because I have no speed. So why do I take on these races? Or more accurately, why do I take them on and then be surprised when they do not go as well as planned?  I think it is a delicate dance we as runners do walking the fine line between what we know is possible give our skill set and trying to ignore it and push past it anyway. We strive for more because otherwise we might as well stop doing the sport right now. Those who say they don't want to get faster are fooling no one. We run because we enjoy it. But we race because there is a clock.

How long did that take to think all of that? Crap. Just one kilometer. Nine more to go. 

And that is how the last 10k went for me. As the teeth of a biting wind bit into us a bit around a golf course/nature preserve, I put my head down and acquiesced to the fact that virtually all of my A, B and C goals were gone. Now, "Run well enough to be ready to run again in one week" was all I wanted to do.

The last few miles mirrored an earlier portion of the course and I could picture the end. I knew we had one final small but cruel hill with about half of a mile to go to contend with before the finish. I was battling it out with a few runners and wanted to hold them off the best I could. Fortunately, I did just that and came in with a time of 3:14:30. While good enough for 75th place overall it was only my 86th fastest marathon.

Because of the proximity of my lodging, I was able to shower, change, throw together a sandwich and head back onto the course to cheer for my best friend Shannon. She had to deal with a bit more of the wind and rain than myself as it picked up a tad after my finish. Like me, she was exhausted from travel (and from being a surgeon, which I have no idea how she trains after a day of taking care of people in the worst of shapes) and was just happy to be finishing upright.

Without a doubt, I do not take for granted that I can run a time many would be happy with having as their finish and be disappointed with that. I do not need a dose of perspective to understand where what I do lies in the eyes of others (both faster and slower.) However, I think, as we all should, our worth comes not necessarily from comparisons against others but against yourself yesterday. Without a doubt the day will come when I will slow and have no recourse but to deal with it. They say you have 7 years of running marathons before you start to decline. I ran my fastest marathon 8 years after my first. Perhaps my decline has happened. I don't think so, however. Just this past February, on a day that did not go as I had hoped, I ran my 17th fastest marathon ever at the Phoenix Marathon. But the fact remains that I won't run "fast" forever. I am just not ready to believe that ending is here.

Next up, what can only be considered a fantastic personal scenario, running a marathon in a town in Germany which I share a surname with: the Burgwald Marathon in Rauschenberg, Germany!  It is forecasted to be very warm and the course is not forgiving at all. Fortunately, I am already in Germany so no flight delays should mess up my travel!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Camelbak Circuit Review

This marks the 187th Camelbak product I have reviewed. OK, not really. It just feels like that because I love talking about products that are awesome.  So much running gear is just "meh" that when someone repeatedly makes good stuff, you wish to share it with everyone. For your reading pleasure, in no particular order, here are some of the other products of Camelbak's I have reviewed:  The Rogue; the Powderbak; the Quick Grip and Arc Grip handheldsthe Cloud Walker18 and Fourteener 24 and the fantastic Marathoner.

I admittingly do not put all the products through hundreds of miles of testing before giving my reviews. While an ideal way to review, I only have one back and can only wear one at a time. I do, however, wear the products in race situations which is where they matter the most or more likely, where a fussy runner like myself will notice all the things that go wrong with them. While I currently have a partnership with Camelbak, know I have been wearing their products for almost a decade, including my first 100 mile attempt back in 2007 at Old Dominion.

The latest product I will be reviewing is the Camelbak Circuit (roughly ~$80). The outside-the-norm testing I did for this pack included my running to the top of Corcovado in Rio De Janeiro and winning the Dam 15 Miler in Utah.

Here are some of the basics:

The back pouch holds a 1.5-liter Antidote reservoir, included as part of the product. a 2-liter reservoir will fit but defeats the point of efficiency with the pack.  On the front there are two stretch pockets which can hold additional water bottles for longer runs.  I can see how that might be handy in a race where time is of the essence and you want a fast change of bottles.  For me, this is where I store my Shurky Jurky, Body Glide or a few gels and the like.

It also has a smaller “envelope” pocket for quick-access items and a secure zippered sweat-proof pocket for a phone or MP3 player. I found it just barely did not fit my iPhone 6 with a bulky cover all the way but it did zip 90% of the way. At a total weight of 9.5 ounces sans bladder, the Circuit is minimalistic in design. It is not meant to carry all your other gear and socks and kitchen sink. Use this for a race or a run, not for hiking the Appalachian Trail.

On the runs I used above in Utah and Brazil, I was drinking my fluids at ridiculous speeds.  As such, I was curious how the sloshing would be in the pack. I found however, when you drink the liquid the elasticity of the bladder pouch retracts to cut down on sloshing! How ingenious! If that isn't enough to battle the watery motion just grab and adjust the side compression straps.

The pack sits perfectly between the shoulder blades, high up on the back and completely out of the way of your elbows as you run. It is almost as if you have cutest hunchback possible. Furthermore, and most importantly for someone who sweats like I do, is the ventilation pad with sundry and large holes where the pack meets the back. If you happen to have ice in your pack, even better as it helps keep you cold. As I sweltered in the dusty hot Utah sunny and humid Brazil "winter" this was beyond appreciated.

The dual chest straps were a major plus as they kept the pack snug on my oh-so-big runner chest. they adjust quickly, even on the run which I found I wanted to do when my breathing got a little ragged at 6,000 feet going up a hill. While I mentioned it above, I want to go back and talk about the waterproof pocket. Many things say they are waterproof but I was astounded how dry this pocket kept my phone.Battling my sweat is like a war of attrition with any product where the product loses.  This time, however, dryness prevailed.

All told, this is one fantastic product that you most assuredly need to add to your repertoire.   Lightweight, inexpensive, efficient and useful.  You can't ask for anymore in a pack!

(If you want to see a video of the product in motion, check out this little one here.)

    Hydration Capacity: 50 oz / 1.5L
    Total Capacity: 1.5L Reservoir
    Total Weight: 9.5 oz / 270g (pack only)
    Dimensions: 17 x 13.5 x 2 in
    Torso Length: 30 cm
    Back Panel: Air mesh
    Fabric: 70D reverse chain nylon.
    Harness: Fixed harness with cargo pockets and dual 
    slider™ sternum strap. Fits 30″—46″ chest.

Update: I have won four separate races in this pack, including two 50ks, a trail 15 miler mentioned above and a 16 mile trail race just this January.  To say it has held up well would be quite the understatement.

Me, on the other hand...

Monday, August 17, 2015

Falmouth Road Race Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 16th Edition 
181.1 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Falmouth Road Race
Place: Falmouth, MA
Miles from home: 3140
Weather: 70-80s; Relentless sun; humid

Oh yeah, I am awful at running in humidity.

As I continue to cross race after race off my to-do list, I am reminded of many things. I am not getting any younger, I am not great at short distance races, and humidity absolutely decimates me. But Life is good, right? That is what I was telling myself throughout this tough 7.1 miler on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Partly because I was trying to think of anything which would get me through a race where if a cab had showed up at the 4-mile mark I would have taken it to the finish area and taken a DNF.

But mostly because I was running this race as part of the Life is good Playmakers. When you are trying to help people through exercise you can't quit halfway through.

Running can amaze you. One day you can go for a gallivant through the woods on a whim for 31 miles, over hill and dale no problem, as I did in Forest Park on my birthday. The next day, you are wondering if seven miles might kill you. However, that unknown is why we lace up the shoes every time. Each day is an adventure which we rarely know what the outcome will be. Sometimes, though, we have an inkling what that day will be like at the onset.

The Falmouth Road Race is an iconic east-coast race in its 43rd running. (Read more about its history and why it was started here.) It can also be a sullen reminder of how non-elite you really are. When the winner ends up running a 4:37 per mile pace, for a second it can be a shot to the ego. Then you suck it up, realize you don't have the same genes, and simply give the best you can.

The best I could give on this day was not very much. I knew it would not be very much when the forecast called for a 75 degree starting temperature, not a cloud in the sky, and high levels of humidity. As we milled around near the starting line, a place which logistics necessitated us to be there well over an hour before the race started, the sun baked and baked. Before the race could actually start there were apparently some snafus along the course which needed to be take care of in order for me and 11,000 of my closest friends to run through this quaint little town.  As such, our starting time was pushed back a good twenty minutes or so.  By the time the gun went off, I was already sweating down the small of my back and wondering how bad today was going to hurt. But for some other reason, I felt like I might have a good day.

Mile 1: 6:24

This mile went about as well as I could have hoped as you begin running and immediately go uphill (not unlike the other 7-miler I have done  at the Bix in Davenport, IA.) Starting a race as such bodes poorly for me given my lack of talent in running uphill but I held everything in check, keeping it nice and tidy. Even those I was pleased with my effort, I had really hoped the mile might be a few seconds faster. However, I didn't feel like I had pushed too hard, I wasn't winded and when my friend and fellow Life is good fundraiser, Melissa, passed me looking crisp, I fell in right behind her. The undulations of hills continued for the remainder of this mile as we snaked around a twisty road and headed toward the Nobska Lighhouse. Sweat was already covering me in a thin veneer. Melissa's Boston Athletic Association kit was cutting a swatch through the crowd and I was right behind her.

Mile 2: 6:48

The semi-shaded nature of the road continued for this second mile as did the undulating hills. After the initial large crowd at the beginning there was a noted lack of people here on the course. With virtually no shoulder on the road to speak of, there was little place for them to be even if they wanted to.  We passed under the Shining Sea Bikeway which appears to have been a converted railroad track. A handful of people were up there shouting encouragement. It was appreciated but I would have probably appreciated an icebath shower more. At the conclusion of this mile I could tell that any of my "A" goals were out the window. It was not going to be a great day. Maybe it would still be a good day.  I did not know just quite yet how bad of a day it would end up being. I fell back just a bit from Melissa's pace and she got swallowed in the crowd.  I figured I would pick it up and see her again soon.

Mile 3: 7:03

At no point during the first three miles were you running in a straight line for very long. Even in the first few hundred of runners where I was, running the tangents was nearly impossible. It seemed no one else understood that hugging the curves saves you extra steps which you do not get credit for. The course, known as a 7 miler, is actually 7.1 and I would like to not run 7.11 if possible. Furthermore, the up and down of the hills never abated and while hardly killer, they were taking their toll on me. Then the shade we had enjoyed in parts disappeared. Treeless and exposed, the road opened up to the sun above which said hello in the worst way possible

Oh my, I thought. This is not going to go well. I knew the hills, or at least the worst of them, were over at the end of this mile. I slowed my pace for a bit in hopes of regrouping and crushing the flat sections. I tried telling myself the race was only seven miles long and three of them were now gone. I would make up the time soon.

Mile 4: 7:33

After another brief respite from the sun, the flatness of this mile also put runners directly into the teeth of the sun. If there was any wind, it was a tailwind only which helps push you along but doesn't cool you. Unfortunately, cooling is what I needed. Up ahead of me I saw another runner walking. I tried to ignore him and not let it sink into my brain, But 100 meters down the road, I couldn't resist. I too began walking. What I hoped would be the small break to kickstart my legs was actually the beginning of the end. I was finding it hard to believe I need to break here.

I then walked for way longer than I wanted to initially and when I finally began running again, I could tell my day was over. Here is where I almost wished for the aforementioned imaginary car to whisk me to the end. Calgon take me away!

Mile 5: 8:18

The only thing good I have to say about this mile is I am surprised it didn't take me 9 minutes. As sweat just poured off my body, even the plethora of aid stations did little to stave off the deluge of perspiration. It would have been nice if the water had been a little cooler as when you reach the oasis and it is lukewarm it is so disappointing. But in this heat there is little the fantastic volunteers could have done to keep it cool. At one point I began to wonder if I was going to need an IV at the end of the race.

At this point, I was running with eyes mostly closed just willing myself forward.  I missed the ocean to my right and the throngs of cheering people all-around. Again proving my theory that scenery means absolutely nothing if you are racing hard or hurting bad.

Mile 6: 8:24
The crowds were unbelievably supportive starting from the third mile on. People who were simply beaching it came out to raise a toast as we struggled on by. I was asked if I still felt this race would be one I would recommend to run in spite of the heat, humidity and logistics. I have one quick story to explain why I definitely feel this race should be on your list.

Credit to
As I came to a dead stop at one point, I bent over tugging on my shorts. As the bib numbers of runners have your name on them, people often surprise you by using your name to cheer for you. After a while you get used to it but it still feels like these people know you personally. After receiving some cheers to get moving again, I pulled myself up and began to jog. I made it about 100 yards before I came to another stop. As I continued to move forward at a snail's pace a guy came up to me. He put his hand on the small of my back and said some reassuring words. I thought at first he was another runner until I realized that no, this was the same guy who I had locked eyes with before just a few yards back as he cheered me on by name.  I had no idea who he was or why he was here.  The only thing I can imagine happened is he watched me when I started to move again, saw me falter, and busted ass down the road to see if I was OK. How ridiculously awesome is that?

Mile 7: 7:41

I was determined to run this entire last mile and was doing a decent job of doing so. In fact, I was picking people off here and there. But I also didn't really feel like pushing it too hard and take away from those who had worked so hard to be here by throwing down a 4:40 mile pace for 100 yards. That dilemma was solved for me though as we approached the last quarter of a mile. I had momentarily forgotten that Falmouth has its own Heartbreak Hill. However, unlike Boston when it comes with six more miles to go, here at the Falmouth Road Race, this beast pops up with about 2 minutes of running left. I pushed it hard enough to pass by the MarathonFoto sign painted on the ground and then that was it.  Another walk. That made six total walk breaks for the race coming close to half a mile or more of walking.

Close to the top I saw an older man who was needing assistance to get up the hill from a litany of what appeared to be a crew of some sort. I knew I could not simply walk by a person in this state giving his all. So I sucked it up and began running.

Credit to
As the gigantic US flag signified the end of the race at the bottom of the hill, I picked up my pace. Almost immediately a cramp hit, well, virtually ever part of my body. I pushed on to the finish and almost immediately went down in a heap. But I was able to regain my composure after a few seconds and avoid the wheelchair the wonderful medical staff had brought out of seemingly nowhere to assist me (or anyone else in dire straits). As I ambled onto the next group of medical personnel, one asked me if I was sure I was OK.  I said : "I'm not going to die and if I do at least it won't hurt anymore."  He laughed and said: "If you can joke, you are fine. Way to go."  But he said it with the thickest Boston accent you can imagine and that alone made my day.  It was wicked awesome.

I finished in a time of 52:23 and finished 573rd overall.  My bib was 581 so at least I beat that. Afterward I caught up with a group of new friends who were all running for Life is Good. Some of us jumped into the ocean and some of us hit the bar.  I was in the former group. God bless those who can throw back a beer at 11 am. Many of those in this new group of friends had exceeded their own goals for the day on a day when exceeding goals was extremely difficult. Furthermore, it was enjoyable for me to actually be able to hang around a race after it was done for a change instead of sprinting to an airport to head home.

Credit to
I actually went for another run later in the day when someone needed to retrieve one of the vehicles we had used to drive to the buses in the morning. I filled up a Camelbak Circuit and ran over portions of the course which just hours ago had 11,000 runners and countless spectators on them. Here, these streets looked like those of any other sleepy beach town. There was almost no sign that they had been filled to the brim just a few hours ago. However, it also was no less hot or humid. The four miles I ran to get the vehicle (I added a few more to make the run worthwhile) left me depleted. I realized that it was time to go and cool my heels.

We reconvened as a group of tired but happy runners and spent the remainder of the day baking in the sun, eating clam chowder, and reliving the day.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Watching a Sub-4 Minute Mile

It has been 61 years since someone first went under four minutes in the mile. I hesitate to link to who that is because if you are reading my website you should know. But I will because I guess we all don’t know something until the moment we do, right? Regardless, the fascination with those who have run under four minutes to cover 1609 meters hasn’t really ended. It may have died down a little bit but it is not over.

I have said many times I feel the best thing about running may be the worst thing. Because running is so participatory it does not necessarily lend itself to be a spectator-friendly sport. All those who are most interested in running are out there doing it, not necessarily watching it. That is a shame.

When it comes to running a sub-4 mile, I have no chance. I did not get the genes. I have, however, run a handful of sub-5 miles but they come with a caveat. One was in high school and while my coach an I know I ran it, we can’t find the actual newspaper clipping with the time. I then ran a 5:00 flat which naturally we can find because there is nothing so excruciatingly as just NOT breaking a huge barrier. I have run two sub-5 miles as an adult but they were on downhill courses. (I will add that while they were downhill, they did include three 180 degree turns, one 90 degree turn and two street crossings which were not closed. But the downhill helped.) I have run a 5:03 mile on a ridiculously hot freshly paved street in Harrisburg, PA just an hour after finishing work for the day at a law firm. So you can see I have come close to sub-5 as an adult.  In fact,  I know I have another sub-5 in me. Hopefully this fall at the Milwaukee Running Festival I will get that goal. If not, I will wait another 9 months and try to do it as a master’s runner. (It will be more impressive when I am an old guy.) But I say all of this to point out that I am merely trying to break five minutes. Not four.

Never will I not be impressed by someone running under four minutes for the mile.  In running long-distance events like the marathon you can fool yourself into thinking you weren’t all that far behind the winner. But if they beat you by 26 minutes, well, they were going a full minute per mile faster than you.  You still can delude yourself with your own greatness. But not in the mile.

This Saturday there was an event put on by FloTrack called the Thorwdown in Duniway Park in Portland. Even though Nike is getting a lot of crap because fan fave Nick Symmonds is (rightfully, I add) fighting USATF’s seemingly unclear contract that athletes must sign in order to be on the national team in Beijing coming up, they have done some remarkable things for the sport. The track in Portland is made up partially of some 20,000 pairs of donated shoes from Nike. That’s pretty cool. So when I saw Galen Rupp and some other highly-talented people would be making the trip to race here, I knew I wanted to watch.

There were a plethora of events going on, including world record holding decathlete Ashton Eaton in the pole vault, but everyone’s eyes were on the men’s mile. (There were some stellar female races as well and I am not shortchanging them.  They just don’t fit the narrative of this article.) Many were stunned when Galen finished fourth overall in this tightly contested race, especially since he has a 3:50 indoor (re: harder to run) mile PR to his credit. More were stunned when relatively unknown Peter Callahan upset the filed in the men's mile, kicking to victory in the final 200 in 3:58.43. Former Oregon runner Colby Alexander was second in 3:59.19. Hassan Mead finished third in 3:59.89.

Three guys, all talented no doubt, all went under 4 minutes in the mile on some random inner-city track on some random Saturday in Portland. I suddenly realized even though I am still in awe of the four minute mile, those times are so fast they are a little commonplace. A little. Then it hit me. I had never once seen someone run under four minutes for a mile. And I just saw three guys do it in the same race.

I sat there for a second and just contemplated how awesome that truly is. If I had run my sub-5 mile, these three guys would have come dangerously close to lapping me. Even-splitting I would have hit the 1200 meter mark at 3:45. They would have been less than 100 meters behind me but on the lap ahead of me. Wow.

The sport of running as a business is alive and well. Races will come and go as saturating points get met but it is thriving. However, the sport of running, ala track and field hangs in the balance. Fortunately, with social media, some of the biggest names are getting their stories heard. They are fighting for rights and causes which are just as important as those which Steve Prefontaine and Kathrine Switzer et al fought previously. Now they are looking for more than just getting paid for running or even getting allowed to run in the first place. Yet, it will take more runners getting more familiar with more of the elites and then showing up and attending events like this one here in Portland last weekend for this process to gain steam.

Running is about pushing one’s boundaries. It is relatively selfish and that is OK. But if we want to see it grow as a sport we, the hobby joggers, need to get invested. We need more people to sit in awe as three random fellas streak down the track to cover one mile in 3:xx:xx.

It will be worth your 239 seconds.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Not Since Moses 10k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 15th Edition 
174.1 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Not Since Moses 10k
Place: Five Islands, NS
Miles from home: 3638
Weather: 60s; Sunny; a bit windy

This year in racing for me has been about testing boundaries, searching out iconic races, and finding hidden gems. Traveling and racing completely different styles of race hardly leaves me in good racing shape as I go from a 50 miler in the mountains of Utah to a 10k on Bourbon Street. Yet, what I am lacking in race results, I am making up in the realm of racing experiences. No where would this experience count be so more obvious than at the bottom of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia this weekend.

It has been a few years since I heard about this race called Not since Moses. The time between me hearing about a race and me getting to run can often be many years.  Often this lag is because of my own commitments, years will pass before I get to a race that is on my to do list. (Off the top of my head I can think of ten that have been there for a decade.)  But this time, it was not my fault.  It was the moon's.

The Not Since Moses race is run in one of the most unique places in the world: the Bay of Fundy. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that twice a day, the tides completely empty thousands of square miles of the ocean floor. The brainchild of a Californian, Dick Lemon, who moved to Nova Scotia and fell in love with the area, Not Since Moses can only be run in certain conditions to guarantee runner safety. The 2014 addition did not have a weekend in August (when it is traditionally held) that met all the safety criteria.  As such, while I had thought about running it last year, I would have had to do it solo, as there was no race. Luckily, the solo satellite orbiting our pale blue dot cooperated this year and I got to join hundreds others in traversing the sand.

Getting to Nova Scotia is not necessarily the easiest thing to do when coming from Portland but some traveling snafus made it even more difficult for me. While time changes (a four hour difference for me) and jetlag are usually things which bother me little, they hit me hard on this trip. An extremely fitful night of sleep on the night before the race, which I only mention because of its rarity for me a normal heavy sleeper, had me wondering if I would even complete 6.2 miles of racing. I woke up the morning of and just sat in the edge of my bed. I knew I could run the 5k if I wanted to but wanted to experience the entirety of this natural wonder. And in reality, the hardest part wasn't running. The hardest part was getting out of the bed. If there is a more perfect encapsulation for the struggle with many things, I don't know what it is.

In the previous day I had already seen what is really hard to believe with my own eyes. Tide coming in so fast and over such a vast area that even a brisk walk doesn’t keep the water from nipping at your heels is the stuff that tsunami movies are made. After being dropped off by buses for a short walk down a private drive, runners take a set of old wooden stairs to what would normally be the bay. But here, at 7 a.m. in the morning, you are walking on the ground. You can see the water line, well above your head, on the walls around you. It is almost unsettling when you realize what will happen in a few hours. If not for having actually seen the water filled in here previously, it would almost be hard for me to believe there could be such a difference in where the level would go.

Runners gathered in the gravel and mud and, like me, make at least one trip back up to the portapotties at the top of the stairs. With bathrooms at the place where the buses picked you up as well, the race was covering all their bases. It was indeed a nice touch to have so many places to make sure you were comfortable come race time. Speaking of which, as the 7:45 a.m. approached, the official race director simply climbed aboard a rock, sat down cross-legged and talk to all of, rapt with attention.  It could not look more Moses like if it tried.  Then, for a brief few minutes, a local geologist told us about the rock formations and how unique they were with a history of how they got to be there. Some smartass asked him when he was done if any of this was going to be on the test. (I was that smartass.) Soon we were ready to begin.

The RD jumped down, drug his heel in the stand for a starting line and we all lined up. It was time to start.

To The Stairs:

We started our jaunt by running across the timing mat (I am kidding; although we did have a timed finish) and then hanging a sharp left around the rocky abutment. Runners would simply head straight as possible over the sand to a fishing weir which I learned is a type of trap to catch fish. There, a woman with a flag would be waiting for us and as we ran around her we would make a 180 degree turn and then head back toward the start.  However, our return trip would be closer to the water and therefore more challenging because of the softer sand and mud. The first portion of this run gave a small taste of what was to come footing-wise as the hard-packed, but still wet and mushy sand, definitely added an element of difficulty.

Personally, I had no idea what to expect time-wise from this race. I also didn’t know if the baker’s dozen of runners who went out in front of me did either and whether I should try to stay with them. What I could tell was that they were all, at least at this point, better than me at running in this uneven footing. I was simply trying to pick and choose where to go. Sticking to the advice I gave the previous day to runners at the
packet pickup, I was not being first. I figured allowing a good 6 or 7 people to run in front of you would allow you to find the easiest route through the muck. Fortunately, the faster runners made sure I stuck to that plan.

The squishy sand was interlaced here and there will a small bit of standing water or small rivulets ebbing out into the bay. Also, as was the case in many places through the race, the floor was not flat but rather made up of small rolling waves of sand dunes. These foot-high embankments would provide quite a bit of challenge to me and many other runners throughout the day. It felt as is a rug had been bunched up at one end and you were forced to run over every one of the waves.

Back to the Start (and More!)

A few runners had seriously separated themselves from the pack and I could tell that they were serious about racing. Any potential though about taking home the lead place went the way of the two or three guys who bolted ahead. A small pack of about 4-5 was a ways behind them and then I was in a cluster of another 3-4. Occasionally, the ocean floor would provide us with a small stretch of flat, if not still rutted, rock to run on.  What was extremely interesting was how when I would hit these small portions, I would immediately either gain on runners or put runners behind me in just 10 or 20 yards of running. It completely reminded me of running the Gorge Waterfalls race where a small mile or so section of road allowed me to separate myself from the more accomplished trail runners who did nothing if not turn their nose at this concrete abomination. I used these to the best of my advantage as running in the sand was not my bag, baby.

We passed the starting point and even in the minutes it took to get out here, the tide had receded
exponentially. I had made note of one particular rock jutting out of the water which was not fully exposed when we started. Now, not even two miles into the race, it was bare and all the ocean floor around it was open as well.  Even though I was breathing hard I was still marveling at what was going on around my feet.

Up ahead I could see we ran straight for quite some time and it was interesting to see which route some of the runners would take. Some branched off on their own and others would fall right behind.  Others would strike out on a different tact and none would follow.  As the path along the beach was extremely wide, runners were given the choice of where to run down the beach. Some chose the sand and some chose to run elsewhere.  What was amazing was how different the sea floor was in so many places. From sand to flat rocks to small boulder fields to more, it was completely different from one mile to the next.  I would have never expected such a vast difference.

There was one female in front of me wearing the toe-shoes which were all the craze a few years back and have rightfully faded.  However, on this particular day, they very well may have been useful.  I was supplementing an older pair of Karhu shoes which were ready for the dustbin with my ICESPIKE. Unfortunately, as solid as the spikes were, they were no match for this terrain.

Around this point I begin running with one runner who would become my shadow for the remainder of the race. Meanwhile, I looked ahead to see where the runners were going and tried to triangulate the best course. As I did so, the chap near me would either run behind me or beside me. Whether he was using me as a water-tester, or I was picking the best way to run, this is where he stayed.  Regardless, it was quite clear he was a superior runner in the mulch; I could best him when it was solid ground. It was going to be an interesting rest of the day for sure.

To Old Wife

We passed a few volunteers handing out full bottles of water to the runners and they told us we were at the halfway mark.  I looked at my watch and thought if true, and I could maintain my pace, I was going to crush expectations for my effort and everyone in front of me was going to throw down some unexpected times as well.  I drank heartily from the bottle and threw it back over my shoulder to the volunteers.  I didn’t need any more and wanted to have my hands free for balance. On more than a few occasions I had an ankle give away slightly or clip the edge of something. Always able to stabilize myself, I now know for certain why the race organizers did not allow people to run the race barefoot.  It simply would have been devastating to someone’s feet.

Having put one last runner in my rear view mirror, there was a long expanse between me and the next small grouping of runners. I saw what appeared to be some flat surfaces ahead and hoped to make up some ground.  Unfortunately, while I was catching glimpses of the sheer cliff walls to my right and marveling at the water mark where the water would eventually go later on high above my head, I wasn’t gaining on the
runners in front of me.  This entire section was made of those wave-like undulations which just absolutely exhausted my legs. You would more or less take a step at the top of the wave, take a step down, a step across and then the fourth or fifth step would have you on top of the next wave. Each step had you sinking a few inches into wet sand which would then cling to your treads and make your feet feel like a ton. This may only be a 10k but the legs were going to feel like they had run a hard half-marathon by the end of the day.

Up ahead I could see tiny figures with many bright colored shirts. At first I thought they were drop bags of the 5k runners. Then I remembered the 5k runners did a simple out and back starting from the finish.  These were not bags but rather actual human beings. The scale of the ocean floor to the surrounding rocks allowed no perspective. Akin to running on the Salt Flats this past April, with nothing around to understand what you are looking at, reality becomes distorted.

Meanwhile, my shadow would not be shook.  I also noticed however he did not necessarily want to take the lead. Realizing he was along for the ride, I decided to save a little bit of energy on these sand dunes and hopefully save it for something with more footing solid later. Old Wife, a section where the rock juts out abruptly from the shoreline ad forms a silhouette of its name (try as I might, I couldn’t even use my imagination to see how it worked) this was an interesting section. The tides in the bay do not come in uniformly in one direction. Because of the islands that gave the neighboring town of Five Islands its name, the water flows in to the bay here in an odd manner. Rather than just in one steady flow up the shore, it sneaks in around the islands and will fill in areas closer to shore while leaving dry places further out to sea.  If one does not know how this whole tide system works they can easily get cut off from the shore and stranded.  For the slowest of the 5k runners, some will have to be rerouted because of this tide and instead of running around Witch’s Hat, go up and over a rocky lower-slung section of the rock. There was no danger of that happening for me and my runners here here and as I got closer I could see that next to the conga line of runners was a section of strewn rocks and pebbles. Instead of falling in line and added to the much, I ran next to them in the rocks. It might make for ankle-braking twist and turns but it was more solid than the sand.

As we picked our way through the 5k runners, I and my shadow took separate routes.  Before I knew it, as we crested the Wife and made a sharp right hand turn, he has passed me and put a good ten yards or so between us. With a mile or so to go it looks like he was making his move. However, he did not know about the mud.

To The Finish:

This last section is by far the hardest.  Shoe-sucking mud, well past the ankle and in some case half way up the shin, threatened to leave some in socking feet. Forget threatened; it did for more than that to a few. However, while I did not run well in the uneven footing, I seemed to be able to figure out a system to get through this mess.  Leaning forward slightly, while running mainly on my toes, seemed to allow me to not sink in as much while still maintaining some semblance of speed. This very well might work for all or simply worked on this particular day but I suggest you get it a shot. Because of it, the gap between me and my competitor narrowed and after a half mile of that slop, I was next to him.  He seemed surprised to see me and I felt I might have finally broken his spirit. The footing became more stable and we just had one more obstacle to overcome.

As we ran down an embankment, we could see a knee-high river of water 20 feet wide and growing.  I gave all I had down this hill and hit the water knees churning. Popping out on the other side and the shoes and legs were as clean as the second we started. However, crawling up the other side in loose wet sand with rocks here and there soon made them dirty again. It also seemed to be the end of my shadow.

Making one final left-hand turn we saw the arch line of the finish ahead.  I had lost track of what number I was in the race as I had spent four miles battling my foe. Give the crunchiness of the footing, I didn’t need to turn to see where he was to see if he would mount one last charge. I had enough distance between us to hold him off. I did just that and finished in a time of 49:11. This is an 8 minute personal worst in the 10k if that gives you any idea how challenging this course can be. On top of that, I finished 11th place overall. I think 11th place is second to 4th place as the crappiest of places (especially when I see now I closed the gap and finished just 16 seconds out of the top 10.)  But on this day, I was happy to finish at all.

I shook the hand off the shadow behind me, found out his name (Abdel) and said thank you for pushing me.  He thanked me for pulling him along and we shared some “Good lord that was tough” looks at the course over or shoulders. I could tell I had some sort of abrasion on my foot and upon removal of my shoe saw I had taken odd a quarter-sized section of skin and flesh from my heel. The three ounces of soot, sand and mud in the shoe had frictioned off a little bit of Dane.

Some people leave their heart in San Francisco.  I left my heel in Nova Scotia.