Friday, May 19, 2023

Prairie Series Half Marathon South Dakota and North Dakota Recaps

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 5th and 6th Editions
91.7 miles raced in 2023 races
Race: Prairie Series Half Marathon South Dakota and North Dakota
Place: Baltic, SD and Wahpeton ND
Miles from home: 246 miles and 201 miles
Weather: Mid 50s; humid; kinda smoky

A year ago on the day when I started these back to back half marathons, I was on my third straight day of running six back-to-back half-marathons in New England. I can tell you today as I relax back home, that I’m very happy I’m not running another half marathon! Which is more a testament to how it is amazing what people can do when they decide to do a specific goal than anything else. Knowing going into the endeavor last year that I was doing six in a row last year, I am convinced I couldn't do another. But if I had planned to do seven, well, I am sure I would have. So much is about mindset.

When I was putting together my year for racing, I had a lot of different things in mind, some of which have stayed the same and some of which have changed. Running these two half marathons on back to back days in South and North Dakota was a relatively recent addition. it checked off both me racing a half marathon in those states for the first time as well as another geeky thing that I am doing where I am trying to visit every county in the United States. Having said that, even though I was to one extent, simply checking the box for a race in a certain state that doesn’t mean that I also don’t want to run as fast as I can on a well designed course.

I knew both of these races would not exactly be my favorite type of course going in, so I’m hardly surprised to say that both more or less fit my expectation. There’s no way I can say this without someone still reading into it incorrectly, but I am going to try anyway. The people who put on the Mainly Marathons seem to be very nice people indeed. They know what the vast majority of their runners want and have provided that.  A warm and welcoming atmosphere where even the slowest of the slow receive a very neat medal attached to an even neater medal holder with plenty of support along the way. However, it’s quite clear that at least on the courses that I ran, these courses skew quite long and are also not meant to help people run their fastest. This might not mean much to most of their clientele, who are obviously there just to do the check-in of a box or meet a life goal without much pressure, but for me, when I am racing, I don’t want to run any further than I have to. Again, I knew all of this going in, so I am not surprised, and I am not lambasting the organizers. The events just weren't my cop of tea. And I won them both. So it's not sour grapes.

South Dakota:

The course for what was Day One for me but Day Six for many participants, was shaped like a shepherds crook.  We began in the curly portion at the top, looped around a few twist and then ran along the "staff" portion for a bit.  Up the smallest of a hill we turned around a cone and went back. The thing is, if we didn't actually go up that tiny hill, I think this might have actually been close to the right distance.  That's what happens when you run the same course 12 times for a half! 

As we were given final instructions by the amiable race director,as to how the course will be run, it was mentioned that they purposely measure these courses long to make sure that they fit Boston marathon qualifying standards. This is exactly what many races do that in order to make up for the fact that a cone might be miss placed somewhere and they don’t want people to get short-changed on their run. But when you have such a short course and each loop is a little long, you end up with way more than you need. 

I noticed at we listened to the directions a man who had run the previous two states in the series was on hand to run his third marathon in as many days. Having just run on either side of three hours the previous two days (2:58:373:04:32) I was surprised he was still standing.  That's a heck of a run with no rest. I could tell he was looking at me like "Who is the new guy?  He looks fresh.  Damn it." because that's exactly what I had done on day four of my six last year. I figured he would soon figure out I was running the half and to not worry too much.

We directed that all of the Mainly Marathon races have runners grabbing a rubber band at the end of each lap to help them keep track of how many they have done. This seems far simpler than it actually is, especially if you are trying to maintain speed. Before much longer, we were off.

The race director led us out on the course like a rabbit showing us how to run the course.  I stayed in his back pocket hoping to run right around 7 minutes per mile. I could tell the fast marathoner was just off my shoulder and I wanted to tell him I wasn't in his race but as we passed the first 180-degree turnaround, he passed me. I had zero desire to race him today even if he was doing double the distance that I was, because I was here to run as fast as I could and hopefully win. I was surprised, however to see a small young lady behind me not too far pushing the pace as well. As we went back down the course and made the first turn to grab a rubber band, I instead grabbed two.  I didn't know if this was a foul so I tried to toss it back onto the table. I think I hit another runner/walker in the back. Whoops.

The course was all on dirt or crushed gravel, which definitely slows you down compared to running on the road.  I saw some people parroting the physically incorrect statement about how the dirt felt better on their knees that the road races they usually run and just shook my head. Sometimes, just ignoring people is best.  (What are you talking about, Dane? Well, your foot hits the ground with the same force regardless of what surface you are running on. Running on softer or uneven surfaces like grass or dirt do nothing for the impact, but they actually DO make you work harder, and can hurt your ankles and joints because of said unevenness. Which actually tires you out more. But I will just be over here with my correct but unpopular knowledge. Because people "feel" something does something regardless of what it does.) 

That said, I was pretty pleased how in the first 3 to 4 miles I was maintaining a 1:35 marathon pace. As the fast marathoner continued on, actually increasing his lead increase on me, I noticed that the female runner behind me was running the 5K. I was a little bit bummed she was as I was hoping for someone to push me along other than just the marathoner. However, that’s how the rest of the race went. Me occasionally making up a little distance on the guy running the marathon, but mostly just going through the motions. 

The weather was pretty humid and a low-level fog and hazed continued on for most of the day. It was only later I learned that the wildfires in Canada were creating this haze. I don't feel it affected my running and at least kept the sun at bay for most of the day. It also made for a lovely sunrise.

On at least two other occasions, I had a muff up on trying to grab a rubber band as my had was too sweaty. Also, with lots of people coming in at their own paces, and the feed table being right in this tight spot, there was plenty of milling around going on. When I am running hard, I really don't like milling around. Alas.

When it became clear that I was going to run much longer than a half marathon I was a little bummed. Granted I was using these races as hard training runs but I also didn't want them to artificially inflate my lifetime average. This is beyond nitpicking but all of racing is. This is all frivolous. But that doesn't mean it doesn't matter to me.  I have been trying to get my lifetime average under 1:30 for a few years and running a 1:39:06, like I would end up running today, when the course was a half mile (3.5 minutes worth of running) was a bummer.

I got my very nice medal, wished all those still running good luck, and headed back to my hotel. Time to shower, pack, and drive four hours to the next state.

After driving through all of South Dakota I got to North Dakota did a little bit of sightseeing, including checking out the "Wahpper"; a 40-foot long fiberglass sculpture of a catfish beside the Red River of the North in Wahpeton, ND (get it?) and also the Tent Pole Monument to Circus Dead. Yes, I am still single. Why do you ask?

Then it was time for bed. Fortunately, I was much closer to the start of this race than I was the previous day.  I had to drive 20 miles from Sioux Falls to Baltic and also pick up my bib number. For this race I was less than three miles away, had my bib, and as such could catch an extra 20 minutes of sleep! 

This course was a little different than some of the others the Mainly Marathons people put on as it included a slightly different first lap due to some changes in the park we were running in that didn't allow them their normal starting point. 

Like the day before, and I’m assuming every day, the race director took the lead runner on a tour of the course. It’s clear he is quite speedy and it was nice to have this rabbit for the first three miles of the course.  as we approached the end of the first loop,the RD told me that I did not have to grab the rubber bands off the table this time as long as I could remember how many laps I was on.  I think it was clear to him I had difficulty the day before so this was greatly appreciated.  I said "I think I can count to five."

And then, from there, on out, it was simply the same thing as the day before. Dodging runners and trying not to get in their way as well (they paid for the race, too) while also not trying to run too much further than I had to on each lap. People were very friendly and encouraging. I tried my best to do the same. I sometimes got in my head and didn't say it to someone I had just seen in the opposite direction four minutes earlier but I hope they will forgive me.

I could tell that today's course was going to be even longer than the previous day and with absolutely no competition whatsoever it was hard to push myself that fast. The same runner doing the 5K the day before I was again doing it today so that was a nice little push.  That only lasted  for 25% of the race, however.  I did see her out running the course with a marathoner which was nice of her to do. But for me it was simply concentrating on running hard on the one mile of each loop that was paved and then trying to find the best places to run on the back half of each mile which was gravel and dirt road.

In spite of the wildfires in Alberta, we lucked out in the weather department. Mid 50s with mostly cloudy skies helped combat the relatively high humidity. Nevertheless, I was completely drenched in both races. I was also doing an experiment of sorts by running both of these half marathons without taking a single drop of liquid. Being these were also my third and fourth races in the last past 19 (one marathon and three half marathons) I was surprised how unsore I was even if I wasn’t necessarily running as fast as I would like. That’s something to look into for sure in the coming months when I try to change my training up and see if there still are some fast races in these old legs. The lack of soreness tells me that I can run faster but I don’t know if that engine still burns as hot to turn the legs over and allow me to do so.

My mind drifted to my mom here and there. Most of what I am writing here I would bore her with in a post-race recap. Then in a nanosecond I would remember that I can't tell her any of this boring stuff anymore. I would then try to shake that feeling off and find something else to think about.

All told, my GPS, which usually skews low, told me I ran 13.55 miles (I later measured it online and came up with 13.85 miles) for a near-identical-to-yesterday time of 1:39:13

Two more races in two new states, two more wins, 23 new counties visited, and some snazzy medals. These were my 110th and 111th (out of 118) slowest marathons ever but likely closer to 90th and 91st if the courses were right.  Either way, I have another half in two weeks where I hope to set the course for the rest of the year with my first race as a 47 year old. I am making a prediction here of a 1:24. Let's see how right I am.

(Oof, just looked at the forecast and it looks like it will be in the 70s during race time in Fontana, California. Let's hope for low humidity and some tree cover!)

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Colorado Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 4th Edition
65.5 miles raced in 2023 races
Race: Colorado Half Marathon
Place: Fort Collins, CO
Miles from home: 854
Weather: Mid 40s degrees and party cloudy

When I had originally signed up for this race, I had a much different plan in mind. But then I DNFd my first ever marathon and with that gnawing away at my psyche, decided to throw in an impromptu marathon a week ago. 

That race's success cleared many of my ills but undoubtedly left me a little bit tired for this half marathon. When I initially threw the Redemption Marathon into the mix, I figured that I would be absolutely decimated for this race. But somehow I felt surprisingly good not only after the race but all week.  My shakeout runs were tragically slow but I figured some of that was me being at altitude from Wednesday on. But when I feel good for seemingly no reason that only means I will simply expect more out of myself than is reasonably smart to do. I’m sure I can look back over about 20 different recaps of races where I said something akin to “just because there’s no reason to believe I should’ve done as well as I hoped doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed anyway.” Is it any better if I recognize the insanity?

As one of the sponsors of the race weekend, we were happy to meet and greet runners at the expo and get them excited for the pending launch of Sherpa.  The continued feedback we get from people of all skill levels tells me we have a homerun on our hands here. Cannot wait to let everyone use it!

Race Morning:

I have raced four times this year and three of them have required me to get up at an ungodly hour. This race was no different as even with staying close to where the buses would pick up the runners and take them to the start, I still had to get up at 4 A.M. Just not a good start for Mr. Nighttime Circadian Rhythm. I felt I had done an excellent job getting to bed at 10 p.m. but still didn't fall asleep until after midnight. That said, I woke relatively refreshed. Took a very comfortable bus ride to the start that went by too fast, and then got into the bathroom line basically three consecutive times just trying to kill the hour from when I got there to when the race would begin. 

As time drew near for the start, a director had us all line up at the 13th mile marker. Then, when it was time to get started, we moseyed down the the starting line en masse.I  heard some runners behind me giving each other the business so I joked with one of them that their timing chip wasn't on their shoe. It wasn't because it was attached to our bibs. They still freaked out for half a second. I'm fun to be around in the mornings.

First 5k:

This race course boasts a mostly downhill run, but is rather gradual in its descent for the most part. The biggest downhill section comes in the first 2-3 miles, and I decided to try to take advantage of that the best that I could. My 1st mile went by in 6:39 but felt like a 6:30 effort. I sat back on my haunches for a little bit of the 2nd mile and this netted me a 6:52 mile. I wondered how long I would be able to keep a sub 1:30 pace, and simply decided to see where the day took me. The 3rd mile ending with a 6:56 told me I was going to hold on to the desired pace for a little bit more at least.

In these first three miles, while super speedy runners took off, a couple of less speedy but still fast groups formed. Occasionally one runner would get spit out of one group and join the one behind or one would spurt forward and leave the one they were in. I always enjoy watching these little games within races and wonder what everyone's plan is and how much it changes on race day.

To the 10k:

After the third mile, I was simply trying to get to the 6th mile. From five to six, the biggest uphill of the course was on my mind. But I had forgotten about how the 4th mile also had a little bit of a bump. When I got that 4th mile under seven minutes I felt pretty happy. I sped up a touch on the mostly flat fifth mile as we continued to run on wide open roads. I love a long open road where I don't have to spend  one calorie of thought on where I am turning or if I have to hug a turn. But for the most part, this course had its fair share of long twists and turns. I was always shocked to see how few fast runners seem to know how to run the tangents. I ran every single possible "shortcut" possible and still was having my GPS ping right at the mile markers. All those people running on the long curve outside were only adding more distance to their day. And would undoubtedly say the curse was long.

The climb at mile six did a number on me, giving me a 7:20 for the mile. This was definitely slower than I wanted it to be but not as bad as it could have been. At just over halfway, I was ready for the race to begin.

Onto Mile 10:

I tried to make up for that lost time on the next mile and really pushed it hard, passing a female runner who passed me going up this hill. Unfortunately, I only ran a 6:46 mile and felt a bit of a stitch in my side. I figured maybe I could still hold onto that sub 1:30 but it all depended on how I responded to the last 5 miles. For all intents and purposes, these last five miles are flat with just a net total loss of 100 feet. I will take that over a gain of 100 feet but it was basically imperceptible. As such, the course wasn'tgoing to help me if I was faltering at all.

As we continued running down the road on this partially cloudy, perfectly temperatured, excellent day for racing I was struck once again about how I have seemed to have chosen races that leave me with virtually no spectator support. Don’t get me wrong, the volunteers were great, and the people who did come out I appreciated, but the latter were definitely few and far between. One shouldn't rely on spectators to get you through but it sure helps at times.

When we left the road and joined a bicycle running path at mile eight, I was bummed. Not only was this mile way slower than I expected at 7:13, but the fact that we would spend probably the rest of the run on this bike path was not to my liking. You see, these bike paths have always been the bane of my existence. They mentally challenge me with their twists and turns and quick ups and downs. Somehow they are just extremely difficult for me to excel at. Only fittingly, the 9th mile was the slowest so far at 7:20 and now I was beginning to wonder if I would even run a 1:31. A few runners would pass me here and there as they were able to keep up their pace and I only seem to be slowing. In fact, it was very odd how basically five of the first 7 miles were within seconds of each other and then there was a quick jump up about 20 to 30 seconds. Then that became my new normal with no intermediary slowing down. No gradual reduction. Just a big jump and that was where I stood. As much as I pushed along is bicycle trail I basically ran a 7:15 mile.

To the Finish:

I was hoping that I would be able to pick up the pace over the final 5K because I would be able to smell the barn, but the legs simply weren’t responding. It didn’t help at this juncture we joined the 10K runners who were making their way back to the finish line. Obviously they have every right to run however they see fit as they paid for their race as well. Yet, when you know you’re going to be running up the back of people who are often running two or three abreast on a narrow bike path you spend way too much energy trying did not run into them and not enough energy on your own race. Fittingly, as I maneuvered through runners, one came to a dead stop and there was almost a big ole collision. It would have been my fault even if he was the one who stopped because I was the one approaching the runner, but either way it would have been bad. Fortunately, I side stepped them and continued on.

I had another couple of runners passed me in these last three miles and I hung with them for a little bit, but I simply didn’t have the juice.There was quite a cruel mile hill at the 12th mile as we left the bike path and join the city streets that really suck the energy out of me. But once back on the streets, I found my groove again and was able to run my fastest mile since the downhill at seven. 

Even four right-hand turns in the last half mile didn't stop me from picking up the pace a little bit. I wish I would have picked it up just a smidgen more to get her 1:32, but unfortunately, I crossed the finish of my 116th lifetime half-marathon in 1:33:04. Good enough for 46 place overall and second in my age group, this was quite a stunning turnaround from just a little over a month ago when I could barely walk after my DNF marathon. Now I am disappointed that a week after my first marathon in 3.5 years that I didn't run a stellar half-marathon.

Running sure is a weird sport and one I enjoy continuing to explore its weirdness!