Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Miami Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 2nd Edition 
39.3 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Miami Half Marathon
Place: Miami, FL
Miles from home: 3256
Weather: 40s; Sunny; Windy

Two races into the year and I have already had better weather for both of them than I have for the vast majority of my races for the past two years.  That can't last! Of course, it is all relative.  One of the organizer for the race shared with me his story of talking to some of the elites athletes in a pre-race meeting.  Speaking in both English and Spanish, he said those understanding him in English were probably quite happy with the cold weather; those listening in Spanish were probably going to want to bring mitten and a scarf.

What will make he headlines for this race is the fact that it was the coldest Miami Marathon ever as well as the closing of the MacArthur Parkway in both directions for the first time since the filming of Bad Boys 2.  Whatcha gonna do?  This change in the course was facilitated by some construction the the Venetian Causeway which was always one of my favorite parts of the race.   This meant that runners would twice have to cross the Parkway mentioned above which meant some decent sized hills both coming and going.  Not ideal but hardly a bad thing.

I have run the Miami Half or Marathon previously on five occasions, including in 2006 as part of my 52 marathons in one year.  I have almost always been doing something which required a lot of extra energy.  This time, however, I would "only" be running the race.  That doesn't include working the expo with a book signing the two days prior.  Always invigorating, it is also rather tiring.  Far from an ideal way to ready oneself for a race but worth it for all the wonderful people I get to meet. Even the rather rude, uncouth ones make for good stories later.

Race morning:

As predicted the temperature was a record-breaking low of 47 degrees at the start line. I was in heaven.  While I knew the wind that was present would make things difficult, I was just so pleased it was not the typical hot and humid weather I deal with in Miami. I was dressed in nothing but my ASEA singlet and shorts; everyone else seemed to be dressed for nuclear winter.

I was hoping to pace a friend but our different corrals made it impossible to find one another.  I assumed since I wasn't expecting that fast of a time that she would eventually pass me and then perhaps we could run together.  In the meantime, I was just carefully trying to keep the increasingly invigorated running peeps from bumping int my broken hand.

As the dance music pumped, the electronic voice counted down and the flare guns shot into the sky (one a little low helping me get out that last little pe I still had in me), away we went.

First Three Miles:

Credit: MarathonFoto
Regardless of the changes, the beginning of this race stayed the same as always.  Run for about a quarter of a mile from the American Airlines Arena, make a left onto the Parkway and climb a hill.  Soon after cresting that hill, slide down the other side, past the first mile and under the shadow of huge cruise ships in harbor. Well, you would be under shadow if it was not a 6 a.m. start and it was pitch black for the first five or six miles. This is not a complaint. Anytime you can run NOT in the sun in a marathon or half is a good idea in my book.

My plan was to take the first 3-4 miles at a 6:42 pace which would keep me right around 1:28.  If I felt god, I could pick it up later and slide into the 1:27 range. As I picked my way through a few runners, and a few passed me, all systems were go.  Even climbing the big hill of the parkway and going back down it, my miles were solid.  Even the climb back up the parkway and back down it again to South Beach went according to plan. I recalled running this race numerous times before and being completely drenched in sweat by this point.  The cooling wind was a welcome respite.  It was time to hit the beach.

To Mile Seven:

One of the things I always look forward to seeing as I hit the fourth mile on South Beach is the always present Raven, Robert Kraft. You may have read about him as the man who has run the stretch of beach on South Beach for the past 40 years without missing a single day.  Later, after running this race, I would join him for the 5th time. That run would be his 14,999th in a row.

Raven quietly protests this race and I am not exactly sure why he does.  As I am a fan of the race, I don't look forward to his protests. But I do look forward to seeing him out there. Unfortunately, it appears I was running a tad too quick for him and ran by before he set up shop.  Luckily we would catch up later and I would grab a quick photo with him prior to sharing the beach with him.

This section of South Beach gave us an idea of what the wind was going to be like later. While cooling, it was rather strong and on a few occasions a conga line of runners formed. On other occasions, some runners would run three abreast and I was only happy to run behind their wind break.

Even though it was now 6:30 in the morning, some ladies were just now making their way home from their all-night reveling.  As they looked disapprovingly (or drunk, I am not sure) at us scantily clad runners, we looked back the same (maybe not drunk) at their scantily clad-ness. When one shouted out to us "Run Faster!" I replied with "Make better life choices!"  This got a hearty laugh from the few runners around me.

The sun was finally popping up over the Atlantic just as we turned off of South Beach and began to make our way across the Parkway again. As a few runners here and there took up a spot on the road on my side, thousands steamed en masse on the other side.  I saw my friend Scott Douglas pacing the 4:05 group and shouted out some encouragement to him. Scott is the one who helped set up my record-breaking fastest known time for a marathon on a cruise ship two years ago on the Crystal Cruise line.  I may just be attempting something similar to that again this year. Stay tuned! 

Off to the 11th Mile:

The climb up the hill on the parkway seemed far greater than its descent over just four miles previously. I had now settled into a solid groove.  My times had slipped from 6:35s to 6:45s which gave me some food for thought. I have a PR much faster than what I was currently running.  I had just ran the Louisiana Marathon a week ago.  My achilles was protesting ever so slightly. While I wished to give a solid effort, I had to decide if there was any real difference between trying to run a 1:27 or a 1:28.  I decided that I would simply see what the wind and the other hill on the parkway would decide for me.

The wind decided I should slow down a bit.

As we filed into one long line of runners, occasionally one would make a break and quickly get overtaken by the others. One female runner, however, was doing an excellent job of shake and baking Ricky Bobby style. She would tuck in behind a taller runner and seemingly get some energy before slipping around and tracking down the next runner.  I did my best to stay with her until I realized she was going faster than I felt was prudent for me.  Even as she slipped off into the distance, I enjoyed watching her race.  It was an excellent use of what was available to her, especially given the windy conditions.

I always like how running can allow you to observe these small tactical things which someone observing would never notice. As we are not confined to a small field or court, it is hard for anyone watching to see anything more than just a few yards of the event, unless there is a constant feed from a motorcycle or helicopter.  For sports fans who think that running is nothing more than just trying to move legs as fast as possible they would probably be very surprised to know about all the little things which go on during a race such as this.

A runner I had been playing cat and mouse with here passed me on this final uphill. As I had on three previous times, I expected to pass her on the down.  Lorna (her name was largely emblazoned on her front and back - the latter was confusing to me) did not yield this time. In fact, even as I passed others she seemed to gain strength. All I could do was watch.

 Heading Home: 

This section of the race has always been an exciting one for me.  Right around the 11th mile, we enter what I call the Miami Sound Machine. A large contingency of Cuban, Puerto Rican and other Latino fans usually created a line on both sides a few deep, cheering and singing and ringing bells.  It always pumps me up. However, it was severely lacking this year. I mentioned this to a friend who lives in the area and he said "This was like arctic weather to them. They won't come out without a snowsuit on in this weather."

As I looked at my watch I realized that I was right on the cusp of running a 1:29.  I didn't want that. I was fine not running a 1:27 but I would be darned if I was going to miss a 1:28. 

Rounding through the final turns of the race I could see it was going to be close.  I had one female runner pass me and another male runner get passed by me.  At this point I was racing neither of them and only cared about the clock. With .1 of a mile left I could see it was going to be rather close but I should be able to slip in under the clock. My friend and announcer Jeremy Pate gave me a great and resounding shout out and  pumped my hand in thanks. I saved myself a few seconds to do this with my nice surge at the end and finished in 1:28:56. This was good enough for 142 out of 14,485.  In fact, it was my fastest Miami Half Marathon ever. Even with the addition of the hills and a pretty wicked wind, I had run a half decent time. I was pleased.

As with every time I have run this race, I was amazed at the organization for so many runners ina city that is not exactly known for getting things done in a timely fashion.  Beach time they call it.  But virtually everything went off without a glitch and I remembered why I almost always find myself in Miami in January to run this race. I'd highly suggest you do the same!

Friday, January 22, 2016

2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards- Hey I Won!

I jokingly bristle at being called a "blogger" as I feel that means you are basically an unpaid writer.  But then again, most writers, even those who have good-selling books, often write unpaid. So, when I found out I was up for the 2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards, I was flattered but didn't give it much thought.  I posted it on my Facebook page, asked people to vote for me and forgot about it. Heck a few years ago I was up for the Energizer Keep Going Award where my charity would win money and I would win money and all people had to do was click.  I didn't win that so I doubted I would win this with virtually nothing on the line.  Plus, well, my writing can be diversive.

My blog is not filled with beautiful epic pictures of me running. I don't have recipes or cutesy little clickbait listicles. I try to encourage others but never pander. Often, I am trying to make people think about issues that they don't normally think about and I am rather opinionated.  All of this doesn't necessarily lend itself to "most read" or "best received."

I found out today that I not only won the North America version of the best blogger but the world version as well.  Given that I was up against some rather stiff competition when it comes to not only well- known names, but also well-established and read websites like, to say I was surprised is an understatement. Often as a writer you work in a vacuum. When people agree with what you say they rarely tell you. It is only when you make a typo or offend the delicate sensibilities of a fragile porcelain daisy that you hear any comment at all.

I know many people run more ultras in a year than I have in my entire lifetime but I do my best to dabble in every aspect of running. I will never be a great runner but I have still done things others can't or won't. That includes trying to run a fast 5k and a 50 miler in the same month type stuff. Adding in a triathlon here and an obstacle race there.

If, at the same time, I am able to bring those adventures to life and have people enjoy reading about them, then all the better. So thank you to RunUltra for this nice award and I hope to continue to produce award-worthy material over the next year.
2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards
2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards
2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Louisiana Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 1st Edition 
26.2 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Louisiana Marathon
Place: Baton Rouge, LA
Miles from home: 2460
Weather: 40s; Sunny


I was supposed to run a marathon in Louisiana ten years ago.  Then Hurricane Katrina happened 11 years ago. Needing to revamp my plans for 2006 and the 52 Marathons I ran weekly that year, Louisiana got out of the mix. Some of the races I had been planning to run were still run while others did not.  I couldn't take the chance that Louisiana would still have a marathon when I needed it so I scheduled one elsewhere.  Until last year's Crescent City Classic 10k, I had never even set foot in Louisiana.  The time to run a marathon there had finally come.

While visiting every corner of the country has always been a dream and running there as well a side dream, I was never on a huge quest to run a marathon in every state. Completion goals alone have long since left me. So, I was looking for the right time and place to run a marathon in Louisiana. I knew it would eventually happen but I was in no rush.  I needed a compelling reason to make this my 49th marathon state.  After reading all the good reviews, and getting to know the organizers of the Louisiana Marathon, I knew this was the one I wanted to be my first ever in the Pelican State.

I was told the race was flat but knew better than to believe anyone who says that about a long distance course. I checked it out myself and saw while it was flatish, there were more than a few rolling small hills.  Hardly anything to cry about but I do like to see my recaps as public service announcements. Ever since I wrote my Steamtown Marathon recap and routinely get thank yous for pointing out its deceptive hills, I feel it is my duty. Do not get me wrong; this is a solid course with no major hills to speak of.  I would categorize it as "fair" and by that I mean any time run on the course could not be argued by anyone as having been acquired with any assistance from downhill, uphill or anything else. You can't ask for much more than that. Well, meeting a slew of new friends is not a bad thing while doing a book signing. That you can ask for.  But you have to write a book to do it.

Leading up to the race, I had dealt with a small batch of the "notsofeelgoods." I hoped by the morning of the marathon, they would be gone, even though the day prior I had woken feeling like crud. The weather looked fairly close to ideal and I didn't want to waste it on being sick.  I was already dealing with the handicap of having broken my hand three weeks earlier and didn't need any further problems. Didn't my body know I had plans? Fortunately when I woke on race day, the sickness seemed to subside and I found myself standing in front of the tallest capitol building in the United States (sorry, Texas.)

I situated myself near the front of the race, grabbed a quick sip of ASEA, and at exactly 7:00 a.m. we were off.

First 8 miles:

Before I broke the 5th metacarpal bone in my hand on a fall the day after Christmas, I had designs on knocking off a sub-3 here. A leisurely 50k win in mid December showed me I was in good shape to do so and all cylinders were clicking. Then I tripped. Over a branch, that I saw. In the broad daylight. But I figured stranger things have happened (like running my first ever sub-3 in my 42nd of 52 marathons in a row in 2006) so perhaps it might happen today. The plan was to run at sub-3 pace as long as it felt it was a good thing to do. If I had to slow later in the race, so be it.

We ran through downtown Baton Rouge and across the North Blvd overpass right after mile one.  I made note of this bridge and its lovely lady humps as we would have to cross it again one mile before the finish.  In other words, it wasn't flat. (see above).  First mile was spot on pace.  Mile Two took us south toward City Park Lake and I was a few seconds off. It was 38 degrees, I was sleeveless and I was still breaking a sweat. Welcome to my body. Mile 3 was still solidly on time and I wondered how long this would last. At we hit mile four I had my time hit an even 7:00 for the mile. I figured perhaps this is where I slowed the pace. However, as we passed by LSU's football stadium on our tour of campus, my time was well under pace and I was back on track by mile five.

While slightly chilly, there was a bright sun and I was wondering how long we would stay shaded from it. Approaching the 6th mile, again on pace, we still only felt the deathly grip of those sunny rays here and there. Well-shaded, the course provided respite from the sun which is soul-sucking even on a cold marathon day. Nevertheless, as always I was happy to be wearing a pair of Julbo sunglasses.  If nothing else, it hides he look of death in my eyes.

Mile seven had us beginning our jaunt around the University Lake and I again was under pace.  About here I knew we could begin 3-4 miles around a narrowish twisty-turny path. A wonderful view and no doubt enjoyable to run on a daily basis, paths like this never sit well with me in a race. Protective of my broken hand, I was even less happy with a crowd of runners in close proximity. With a slew of half-marathoners surrounding me working with a pacer, I was curious what I would do. Would I keep running with this group or would I speed up or slow down to gain exasperation.

When I hit the 8th mile, I laughed as I was absolutely 100% dead-on a sub-3 hour marathon to the second. However, I could also tell that I was working too hard. It was time to back off or things could get bad later.

To the Half:

The funny thing is that when you decided to slow down, sometimes you don't realize by how much you are slowing. You enjoy the ease of tension and relaxation and all of a sudden: CRAP!  That mile was 19 seconds slower than the last! I wanted to slow down, not stop.

The next few miles were marginally better but all right around 7 minutes.  I guessed that maybe I hadn't made the decision to slow down at mile 8 all by myself.  My body knew it was not where it needed to be to continue this pace. I did allow myself an opportunity to look around a bit, however. This is a gorgeous section of an overall wonderful course.  Lakefront house with beautiful views. One house that had an Audi, Lamborghini and Ferrari in its parking spaces out front.  Well, I am happy they are doing well.

Upon leaving this lake area we went up a small hill that I didn't remember coming down but we most assuredly had. The LSU lacrosse team was here handing out fluids (as was the rugby team later in the race and a slew of other volunteers.) I didn't count the aid stations but there was one almost every single mile.  This makes it a little more interesting that the lead female runner, Mandy West, was later disqualified for accepting outside aid.Not sure why she did that but I am not going to speculate. Rules sometimes need to be broken but usually only if there is a good reason. Some labeled her a cheater.  I think that was a bit too harsh. She broke some rules. Then again, it was not like this was her first marathon and she wasn't warned. But I digress.

I enjoyed departing this area as we began to run a bit more on straight streets. I always seem to do better on those than on curvy paths. Personal preference. The sun again was blocked by the wonderful oak trees lining the streets. Moss hanging from their limbs created a serene and cool shade.  As we approached the halfway point my only lament is the same lament I have had with any race that goes through any neighborhood: where are all the people?  When the half marathoners left us at mile 11, it got rather desolate. Here, snaking through gorgeous neighborhood, there were a plethora of opportunities for people to come out and show some southern hospitality. I have said it many times that if I ever had a home on a race route, I would have the most festive display possible (if I was in town and not running the race, obviously). This is no knock on the race itself and really on these particular people, either. It happen in cities across the country. I just wish they knew how nice it would be to have strangers cheering for strangers.

To Mile 20:

Having said all of that, I have to admit that I saw one of the more original marathon signs I have seen in a decade. The "Smile if you peed a little" and "Worst.Parade.Ever" signs are nice but a little played out. Any cheering is good cheering but variety is also good. However, when I saw a sign that said, right after the halfway point, "You have Les Miles to run than before!" with a picture of LSU football coach Les Miles, I literally laughed out loud. No one was standing around the sign for me to congratulate but that, dear creator, was a beauty.

For the next few miles I could tell a pacing group was catching up to me. How could I tell? Because of the awful loud flapping of the pace leader's minimalist shoes.  I was trying to figure out which pace group it was and not until they passed me near mile 16 did I see it was the 3:05 pace group.  At this juncture, I was still on pace for a 3:03. This group of 3-4 started behind me and were moving fast. Not knowing what they had decided to run, I can't cast aspersions but if they were trying for 3:05, they were way off base at this point.

 I had a small sinking spell here and as I placed a small bit of Shurky Jurky in my mouth to help with calories, I was happy to let the flapping feet pass me by. I saw the leader was a Marathon Maniac which was a group that had a large presence at the race.  Many of them are friends who had stopped by during the expo to say hello and catch up. Always nice when that happens. Attending an expo by myself leaves me little ability to leave the booth so I always love when my friends say hello.  But I digress.

However, about a mile or so later, I felt revived. We went through another small neighborhood with plenty of people cheering us on at another of the plentiful aid stations. Even though the pace group stayed far in front of me, I was beginning to move up on other runners. Or they were beginning to slow.  Sometimes it is hard to tell. As we passed over a timing mat at a weird point of mile 19 (my guess is that it was there to catch people tempted to cut the course earlier) I began to pick it up. I often am able to really turn it on in the last 6 miles and I felt I might just be able to do that here. I wouldn't go sub-3, barring a miracle, but maybe a 3:02 was in the cards. Yet, hitting the 20th mile at a 7:20, when it felt like a 6:52 was a wrench in my plans.

Finishing Up:

The next mile had me in 6:18 and I knew that wasn't right. Was this mile marker askew or was the previous? Or the next? Only way to find out was to run. When I hit mile 22 it said 8:15.  OK, I guess the last three miles have all been around 7:15-7:20.  Given the people I was passing, this just didn't feel right. But given the average of the last three miles, it probably was what I was running. Now, while some of the mile markers seemed to be a touch off here and there, don't let it seem like I am complaining. Having mile markers is a luxury and runners should know they are placed as close to the miles as possible. They are not, however, certified. I say this as I often hear laments about mile markers when runners do not know how lucky we are to have them in the first place.

I hit the 22nd mile shortly after seeing the friendly face of a runner I had met the day before.  Out taking pictures of his wife, Dixie, who herself was running her first marathon, I was flattered he remembered my name. I gave him a wave and steadied myself for the last 3 miles.  

I knew the next mile would include a little uphill as it was the wrong way of the downhill we had run after splitting from the half marathoners earlier. I steadied myself for the hill and it turned out to be not as bad as I thought it would be.  Right around here I caught up to a runner who had been running near me around the 8th mile.  He was discussing with some friends  his race pace and they seemed to be encouraging him to slow a touch.  "But these legs want to run!" he said with hubris. I had a touch of schadenfreude that I was catching him here but was far too focused on my own race to care. After I passed him, he must not have liked it too much as he caught up to me.

"Let's finish this thing!" he said.
"I appreciate the help but I am just going to have to run the pace I have when I have it," was my reply.

We then proceeded to run near each other but not with each other. We hit the 25th mile and then I remembered we still had the North Blvd overpass to conquer. I passed my running mate going up this hill and put a little more distance between us on the other side going down. But he simply had more in his legs than I did and soon inched by me. Then he footed by me. Soon it was meters. Keeping to my own race, I was doing math and realizing that I had lost nearly two minutes off my pace in the last 10k here. My 3:03 turned into a 3:05 and then was inching closer to 3:07. When I hit the 26th mile, I knew I had roughly 84 seconds to make it under 3:07 at the picked up pace I was running. Problem is I only had 79 seconds.

I took what little energy I had left and focused on form. I picked up my Karhu-clad feet and threw them down with what felt like grace and speed but probably looked like a drunk baby giraffe on ice. Fortunately, no time is added to one's overall finish for style or lack thereof.

I crossed over the mat in 3:06:58, good enough for 27th place overall.  In my 157th marathon I had run my 37th fastest marathon. Not exactly what I was hoping for but a time I was relatively pleased with having achieved. More importantly, after losing to a "Dane" for the first time ever in my less than stellar Dallas Half Marathon last month, I rebounded to be King of the Danes in this race, beating a nice gentleman I had met many years before named Dane McGuffee.

My announcer friend, Jeremy Pate, who had himself run his first ever marathon at Disney last weekend, was kind enough to give me an elongated shoutout. I only had the energy to wave one hand as I stood, bent over, tugging on my short. A few seconds later I was good to go and was accosted by another friend, Ted, who, well, I think Ted does a little bit of everything on race day. He seems to be everywhere with boundless energy. He took a selfie of the two of us in which I looked wretched and then bounded away to put out some other fire elsewhere.

I had about a mile to walk back to my hotel to think about the event.  Unfortunately, I could not stay for the post-race party which everyone raves about.  However, I can tell you my experience as a runner and a racer at this event was absolutely top-notch. In only its 5th year, the Louisiana Marathon has already established itself as one of the must-do races in the nation. The course is solid, the weather is usually fairly predictable and good for racing and the organization was top-notch. They have partnered with a group called Ainsley's Angels and their wheelchair pushers and athletes in chairs throughout the race were a welcome reminder of how lucky we all are to be out there pounding the pavement.

All told, while I don't repeat too many races, I would be surprised if I don't find myself in Red Stick (that's Baton Rouge to the rest of you) again in 2017. Either way, get 15% OFF your entry to all races with "RUNWITHDANE"!