Monday, July 30, 2018

Bix 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 10th Edition 
73.9 miles run and 4500 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Bix 7
Place: Davenport, IA
Miles from home: 1,099
Weather: 65 degrees; sunny; humid

I ran the Bix previously four years ago. You can read that recap here. I also included it in my recently published book of absolute must-run races and you can buy that signed and personalized here. As I included it in said book, you can only imagine how highly I think of the event. I can say that after my second running of it, nothing has changed in that regard.

The two days before the race I worked the expo. Hardly working in the coal mines it is nonetheless tiring. And if you haven't stood for a 12-hour day, solo, signing books, making small talk, deciphering questions, and listening to stories, it truly is hard to explain how exhausting something like this can be. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to make some new friends, see people I haven't seen in years upon years, and everything in between. (Like meeting another Dane!)

I finally got food in my belly and was back at my hotel around 11 p.m. By the time I settled into bed it was well after midnight for a 6 a.m. wake up call. I wasn't expecting much for race day but was happy the weather was as forgiving as it was (but far from "perfect" as people kept saying - they obviously meant as much as one could really reasonably hope for in July in Iowa).

Race Morning: 

Logistics of he morning required me to grab an Uber to the start.  I knew it might be a bit touch and go as the quickest way to get where I needed to be would be a bit heavily trafficked.  Nonetheless, it went by rather smoothly and I found myself at the front of the race starting line without much trouble.  I tried to move back a few rows to get into a position which would be more commensurate with where I expected to finish but the crowd was so tightly packed that moving backward was impossible.  So instead I listened to both the entire rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA", the national anthem, a presenting of the colors by the Marine Corps, a military flyover, and I think a bald eagle crapped out an apple pie to be hit with a missile fired by Babe Ruth, too. (I honestly would be perfectly fine if no sporting event ever had any further connection to "patriotism" ever but that's just me.)

A countdown to a gun that never really fired (or I didn't hear it) and away we went.


I have a whole 1/10th of a mile warm-up before the infamous Brady Street Hill took over my lungs and legs. An infamously bad early-riser, fast-starter, and hill climber, you can imagine I did not do well with the combination of all three here. I hugged the far right curb as closely as possible to allow anyone who wanted to pass me a clear path and just tried to wake up, get my legs moving, and last to the top of the hill. I am quite thankful that it was only in the mid-60s and relatively non-humid, that is for sure.

When I ran this race four years ago I knew I did this first mile in 7:13. I was hoping to be somewhere within 15-20 seconds of that this time. I wasn't as tired as I thought I would be at this point after everything I described above but I felt that was probably because I wasn't working as hard on this hill. Then I saw I ran a 7:11 first mile. Huh. To be honest, I was a bit scared now. Maybe I had worked harder than I should have and the second half of this race, which is definitely more challenging, was going to eat me up and spit me out.

The much more forgiving second mile had me a touch slower in 6:13 than my previous 6:07. But I had held back slightly on what is a mostly downhill mile here because of my fear of going out too fast. Perhaps if I held it together through the third mile, I might have a shot at taking down my Bix PR. Nothing to be that proud of (the average pace for that is almost 30 seconds slower than the pace for my marathon PR, just to put it in perspective) but I am just not a short distance kind of guy.

As we approached the third mile, which has the worst climb on the entire course, I was enjoying the "racing" aspect of this event. If you pay attention, you can quickly learn who around you is good at what. This girl would pass me on uphills and I would pass her on the downs. This guy could smoke me in flat portions but came to a walk on every uphill. On and on you can quickly learn who you will probably beat in a race and who you will probably lose to. It is a part of racing you miss in less populated races with a more spread out crowd. I have done enough trail races and small marathons to know that that sometimes I love these heavily-runnered events where there is so much chess going on around you. My third mile, ending right after that cruel hill, was way faster than I thought it would be. The new PR was mine to lose.

The course is not a pure out-and-back, so you turned around before the 3.5- mile mark. This
year I did not even think about taking on the slip-n-slides.  I also can't recall even seeing them.  But I was focused on the road. Heading back, even though I had 500 people in front of me, made me feel pretty good about being in front of 8000 others.  My biggest challenge lay ahead with the mile from four-five being the one which would make or break this PR attempt.

The long steady incline of this mile is at least broken up with a nice crook in the road which takes the entirety of the climb out of sight. As I played cat and mouse with those runners around me whose talents I had learned in the past few miles, something changed. The runners who had previously put distance between me on the hills were doing less of it. Those who hung with me were falling back. My lungs and legs were finally waking up. When I hit mile five, it wasn't the time I was hoping for but it was a time that told me I would be setting a new PR. The only question was by how much.

Running along tree-lined Kirkwood Ave, which comprises the bulk of the significant straightaway on this course, it was amazing to feel how, even in this mid-60s weather, the shade of the trees made running so much easier. The minute the sun filtered through it was as if a weight was dropped on my shoulders. Obviously some of that is mental but the difference was felt.

The sixth mile, the first to not have a street-wide banner going over your head to signify where you were, was also a little slower than I expect but I knew with the downhill finish leading to the straight and flat last half mile, the PR was safely in hand. I passed no less than 30 runners on that downhill, once again marveling at how well I run downhills and how poorly the uphills and sometimes the flats slow me down.

Turning on to the home stretch, with the finishline banner in the distance, I was somehow reflecting Regardless, I finished in 48:21, taking 484th place overall. Four years ago I finished in 48:44 and finished 503rd overall. Oddly enough not a single person finished in 48:44 this year even though two people finished in 48:43 and three people finished in 48:55. If someone had finished in the same time I had four years ago they would have been 506th overall. 

That's some consistency of numbers there, fellow statnerds!

on this year in the middle of the race. It has not been a good year for racing for me and I hope the latter half of the year picks that up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 4 of 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 9th Edition 
65.9 miles run and 4500 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 100 degrees; sunny; humid

I had zero expectations of anything good for this race. I was feeling lethargic, had only done two swim workouts since my previous race here last month, and it was 100 freaking degrees as we climbed into the 87-degree water. My only goal was not to embarrass myself.

I knew I had a chance to place a little higher in the rankings than usual simply because some of the usual top dogs were not present. That is why age group awards and overall placings rarely move the needle for me. All it takes is for faster people to show up to move you down the ladder. Which is why I am always focused much more on my own personal time for a race. And I figured the combination of all the above would make for my worst race yet at this Splash N Dash series.


Nice superhero stance, poser.
My swim felt fine. Nothing great. Nothing bad. I could definitely tell the soupy water was having a slight drag on me but I seemed to be cutting through the water at a decent clip. There also appeared to be a few fewer swimmers around me which allowed me to swim more unhindered. About halfway through the swim, I was able to get around two swimmers and opened up a few meters lead on them. There I swam for the remainder of the leg and was more or less resigned to that position.


 Getting out of the water we did not have a mat like we did last time which would give us our transition time. As I was about to hit my watch a spectator said "fifth and sixth" to me and the swimmer directly behind me. This threw me as I was not expecting to be that far up in the standings. As I would learn, I was not.

Realizing I did not hit my watch for the swim and transition, I only had the total time for both which was 12:26. I am fairly certain that is my second fastest swim and transition ever. To say I was confused how that happened given the temperature, my lack of swim workouts and everything else would be an understatement.


As I started the run, I passed one swimmer who was in the transition area. If I listened to the spectator and believed him (which I did) I was in fourth place. Was I actually in contention to podium?

Up ahead I saw one swimmer running and he looked vulnerable to attack. However, I could hear footsteps behind me and I had an inkling it was the same guy whom I had passed in the swim last time and who had subsequently beat the stuffing out of me on the run. (It ends up I was right about his identity.) As the first loop ran on the backside and the dreaded uphill, I was pulling closer to the runner in front of me. Unfortunately the runner behind me was right next to me. Yet, when we got to the top of the hill, the part of the course where I always excel appeared and I put distance between us. I was hoping that was his surge and I held it off.

By the halfway point of the next loop, two things were clear: I was going to pass the runner in front of me and the runner behind me wasn't going anywhere. Hitting the dreaded hill again I held back for just a bit as I grabbed a cup of water from a volunteer. Swigging deeply, I felt rejuvenated and pushed hard past the runner in front of me, an athlete who you would have to double his age and add ten more in order to equal my own. (He was 16.) Now I was supposedly in third place overall.

We began the third loop and I could still hear the footsteps. We rounded the bottom of the loop and right before the hill the runner behind me finally passed me. I was hoping to stay in touch with him just long enough to get close to that final downhill section and make a surge. Then, almost immediately, another runner passed me as well. One of the fastest runners on the course (he tied with the overall winner for run time) had given me a nice 1:17 cushion from the swim and transition. Unfortunately, I needed more.

I have to admit that this second runner sucked the wind out of my sails. I watched him gain on the runner in front of me and had a front-row seat to their battle. In less than a third of a mile, these two pushed each other to put twenty seconds in between us. They pushed each other so hard that they had a photo finish and were both left with their hands on their knees. I came in with a time of 26:08 which was my third fastest time ever and I was just stunned. If I had stayed with these two guys I would have set a new PR for this course. Racing is a fickle, odd, beast who we try to pretend we control and know what will happen, but this is a perfect example of the opposite being true.

As it ends up, the spectator was wrong by one place. I can tell you I am quite happy I did not battle to the death with these two guys just to end up being fourth overall. In addition to not taking third overall, both these guys were in my age group, so I finished sixth overall yet only third masters. That's a kick in the butt and a bunch of fast old guys!

This race came at a good time for my racing ego. After getting my butt handed to me last weekend at the Boilermaker, I was fully waiting to see a personal worst today. Anything greater than that was a bonus.

I'll take the bonus.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Boilermaker 15k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 8th Edition 
63.9 miles run and 3750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Boilermaker 15k
Place: Utica, NY     
Miles from home: 1,758 miles
Weather: 60-70 degrees; bright sunshine; slightly humid

When I was writing the best races to run in North America for my new book, Run This Place, I knew the Boilermaker had to be included. Then I realized it had been seven years since I had run this race. So even though I was severely under-trained, it was clear I had to make another trip up to Utica to run this special race in a special place.

As I have written two other race recaps of this awesome event, and have included it in my newest book, I am going to spare you the details of the race itself. I am also only barely going to touch on my own race which was, for all intents and purposes, rather disappointing. However, since two of the three Boilermakers I have run have been two of the coldest race day temperatures in its history, I think the race needs to have me on retainer just to ward away the heat. (100 hours before race time it had been 97 degrees. When we started, it was 63. You're welcome.)

When I hit the first mile over half a minute slower than I had when I set my PR here seven years ago, I knew any desirable goals were out the window. I had spent an enjoyable but exhausting few days speaking, signing books, traveling, and, well, working. I love what I do but it is not conducive to racing well. I knew this a decade ago and it isn't getting easier with age.

What was enjoyable was spending time with Roger Robinson and infinitely-more-famous-than-me Kathrine Switzer as we crammed ourselves into a cozy booth to sign books, chat about our expo experiences and throw in some talk about politics and soccer as well. I hadn't seen either of them since I was at the Reykjavik Marathon three years ago and that was fleeting. To spend the better part of two days next to these scholarly encyclopedias of running shows me how much more I need to learn about the sport. I might have run double the number of marathons of both of them combined but it reminded me that running often doesn't necessarily mean you know a lot.

I also had another interaction about which I am going to be intentionally vague to help protect their anonymity. Let's just say I had some correspondence with someone at the race which went on to a bit further over the next few days. During that time it was revealed to me this person was going to be making a huge life-changing decision. For whatever reason, something about me, what I have done, and my experiences, have inspired or helped keep this person on the path they are taking. I fully support their decision and to hear I helped even the tiniest bit warms my icy crotchety-old-man heart.

My race itself had a nice redeeming moment when, coming down the infamous hill at mile four I was able to throw down almost a six-flat mile long after I had given up on running hard and know I still had another five miles to go. It helped sway thoughts that my best days were behind me and I actually just needed to be in shape for racing. Seven years ago when I ran this race I was in the middle of a 44-race year. I had run back-to-back sub-3-hour marathons, multiple other marathons, a slew of half marathons, a 70.3-Ironman, a handful of other triathlons, a duathlon, and so much more. I had also run a ridiculously low amount of miles that year, contrary to what so many people think they have to run to race well. In fact, it took a 268-mile December that year, nearly 80 miles more than any other month, just to crack 2,000 miles for the year.

In other words, kids, make your miles count; don't count your miles.

I ended up running my personal worst in a 15k by many minutes in 1:05:30. But I beat all the Danes in the race (all three of them) and averaged a 6:59 for the day. What was really nice was getting to meet one of the athletes I coach online. Krystal was running her first Boilermaker in the middle of preparation for her Boston Qualifying attempt in a little over a month. As she is quite the perfectionist she was not exactly happy with her time but she didn't know that the Boilermaker rarely gives out good times on the clock.  It gives them out on the course and at the post-race party where, in a sea of 20,000 people, we somehow ran into each other!

Here as I sulked a bit about my own time, I was also reminded exactly why I put this race in my book as once again it totally lived up to its billing. If you haven't run this race, you truly need to add it for next year.

Hopefully I will see you there.