Monday, April 4, 2011

So this weekend I was faced with a choice. Should I look at a race where I finished below my initial expectations as a failure, or should I look at all the circumstances surrounding the race and realize that I had done fairly well. Sometimes it takes a few days to realize that initial expectations are not realistic and that one can still be proud of hitting a lesser mark, all things considered.

I enjoy running, both for the relaxation it gives me and the sense of accomplishment. Some days I enjoy running because of the satisfaction it gives me to merely complete the distance - I can run seemingly effortless for miles and miles, and just enjoy my surroundings. Other days I enjoy pushing myself and gauging my own performance level. Those are the days that you hate the experience while you are actually running, but at the end of the run you can feel the satisfaction of the hard work.

Sunday at the Brew to Brew was supposed to be one of those days where I could gauge my performance level. For the past two months I had set my mind to running a strong Brew to Brew, with a goal of around 7:30 miles for the 43+ miles. While my training hadn't gone perfectly, I believe coming into the weekend that I had what it took to meet this goal.

As I stepped out of the door of the hotel room on race morning, I knew the day would have much in store. Warm. Humid. Windy. Forecast of 87+ degrees, and 40+ mph winds. No shade. No protection from the headwind (point to point course directly into the wind).

These first few miles in the dark went as expected. I headed out at around a 7:30 pace, hoping to simply get in a grove that would hold me for 30-40 miles. After a few quick miles alone in second place, I was joined by a few other gentlemen. The four of us would chat for the next 7 or 8 miles, keeping each other company during the early morning hours.

Somewhere around mile 10, we would begin to split off. By this point the sun was beginning to warm us up, as was the wind. The next 10 miles were supposed to be some of the flattest and fasted on the course. But sure enough, with the headwind, they were anything but the effortless early miles that I had hoped. The day was shaping up to be less than expected.

By mile 20, the game turned to a battle between the mental and the physical - not a battle to see which would win, but a battle to see which would break first. I had given up hope of sub 5:30, but held on with hope of 6 hours (really my #1 goal and something I knew I could still be very proud of). Physically, despite a long stretch of fairly flat and fast miles, the wind was beginning to take a toll. And then around mile 20, the course hangs a solid right hand turn, straight up hill. Next came a series of steep inclines, and only very limited breaks from the wind (interestingly, even with the limited breaks from the wind, I discovered that the wind equated to somewhere around a 3% grade). By this time even downhills became tough to maintain a strong pace while fighting the wind. I slowed my pace. Something that I wished wouldn't happen until 35+ miles. And mentally that hurt.

I hit the 26.2 mile mark in around 3:25, and regained some confidence. Surely I could run the next 18 in 2:35, right?


Around mile 30 I realized that my early morning application of sunscreen on my ultra-white body had long ago faded. I was beginning to fry. Having suffered through a very cold and cloudy winter, my body was not yet accustomed to any heat, let alone bright sunshine. I was suddenly bright red and salty. Unfortunately I knew it would only get worse before the day was over. These two factors (the sunburn and the salt) were taking a huge toll.

After applying sunscreen and refilling bottles at the 7th aid station, I returned to the course along with two gentlemen that I had spent some of those early miles with. By this time they were still able to maintain a solid 8:30-9:00 minute pace up and down the hills. For some reason, however, I couldn't function at a 9 min/mile pace, and my body insisted on either 8 min/miles or walking. So I began the 12+ mile homestretch with an inability to merely trot it on in. It became frustrating as I would yo-yo to and from those two runners who had now passed me.

Stations 8-9 are some of the hilliest on the course. I battled through with my unfortunate run-walk routine. By mile 38 or so, I had given up hope on a 6 hour finish.

In past years, I had come to realize that while the last 5 miles are entirely flat upon a levee, they offer no shade and no blockage from the inevitable southeast wind. This year would hold true. What should be very easy flat miles were anything but. I struggled to run standing straight upright, and even struggled to muster a run. After 2-3 miles headed nearly south, the course curved to the west, and a row of trees appeared to knock the wind down to something manageable (felt more like 20 mph than the 40+ it felt on the levee). My pace picked up some, but not like I had hoped.

Finally, I rounded the last bend to what I had expected (from past experience) to be the finish, only to learn that now we must cross an additional bridge and run to City Hall. I was heartbroken and merely broken. I refused to run, but eventually trotted in the last 100 yards or so.

I crossed the finish in around 6:21 (will need to verify). 4th place scratch time. But I could only feel disappointment. I had believed that sub 5:30 was possible and likely, and that 6:00 was easily within reach. At this time I chose to look at the day as a failure, not because I didn't place where I wanted to, and not because I didn't hit my time, but because I didn't think I held up well to the miles.

Postscript: Soon after the race ended, Jennifer (my awesome crew person) and I headed back out on the course to crew my friend Hannah in. We waited at the 8th aid staion, and as I saw all the solos and team runners struggling through the heat and wind. I began to regain some satisfaction in my efforts, as I came to realize the conditions were absolutely brutal. Jennifer would join Hannah and pace her in the last 10 miles. I would crew. Seeing them agian at the 9th aid station, and then everyone at the finish line (now having reached 92 degrees), I realized that expectations must be thrown out when winds reach 40+ mph and the temperature 90+ degrees (at least in April).

Having now thought about the weekend in hindsight, 6:20+ wasn't a failure. I stayed with it and finished the race. 8:37 pace isn't bad for 43 miles, regardless of the conditions, and I should be happy with that accomplishment. And I am. But another year will come and I will again try to beat the Brew.

Thank you again to Jennifer for crewing, and congratulations to Hannah for her first ultra in some really tough conditions. Great job also, Joggers and Lagers teams!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mother Road 100.3

This race report is somewhat unique for me. I generally write these reports to take the reader through the race milestone by milestone (luckily not mile by mile, as that might get a little long with a 100 mile race), hoping to give you a perspective of the race from a runners perspective as near to real-time as possible. The race, however was unlike all others for me in that I don't recall many milestones. So I am taking a different approach. What I set out below is my observations and feelings in black, and my crew chief and wife's observations and feelings in red. Here goes. So Scott and I are "tag teaming" the race report! Suffice it to say, I was very nervous when we were talking and planning for him to RACE a 100 miler. Finish a 100 miler? I can do that. Race one?

The Mother Road 100 has a brief but interesting history (and I believe this is all correct). Four years ago, race organizers put together a 100 mile ultramarathon to take place near the 80th (I think) anniversary of the opening of the Route 66 highway in Oklahoma. The race would run essentially from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, and was intended as a one time offering. But after much demand, organizers agreed to give it two more shots (with a year off in between). The 2nd running of the race would cover a southern route, while the third and final running would cover the northern route, from just inside Kansas at Baxter Springs, to Catoosa, Oklahoma, just outside Tulsa.

I entered the race some 5 months ago. I'd taken my training very seriously in hopes of laying down a personal best. This course, unlike other that I have run, was pancake flat (relatively speaking) and nearly all run on paved roads (that I knew would be fast, but painful). I had high hopes of beating my previous best of 17:27 (set last year at Heartland), and hoped to break 17 hours (for those who know me understand that I would still be proud of finishing, or finishing in under 24 hours, or even 20 hours, but I wanted to attempt something more on this occasion). And while "winning" wasn't really important to me, seeing that the previous two winners were all north of 17 hours, I thought a good sub 17-hour race just might be enough to cross the finish line first. But whether I finished first or fiftieth, I'd be very proud of a personal best and sub 17-hours. I knew Scott could improve on his 100 mile PR because I knew he had trained in a different way than he had in the past. I knew he was stronger from his cross-training and weight training. I knew he was faster from his intense shorter distance training. It all added up to so much excitement. In running there are thousands of runners but only one winner. I tried not to even fathom a "W" but knew it was completely possible

We arrived at the starting line in Baxter Springs very early, and in fact I was maybe one of the first couple of participants there. I had previously believe that the race would begin at 6 am, like most other 100's, but learned the week prior that in fact the race began at 9 am. While this detail doesn't seem too important, a 3 hour later start only means that you finish 3 hours later as well. With high hopes of 17 hour race, this means that I would finish at 2 am, instead of 11 pm. And if I was slower on the day then planned, a solid 20 hour finish would still cause me to run until nearly sunrise. This had me very nervous. I did NOT approve of the late start time. From a runners' safety perspective I wanted the runners through more miles before day time traffic. Alas, the foolish race directors had not contacted me for my expertise. They were, however, the most fun and hip ultra organizers I'd ever been around. Huge sound system blaring Lady Gaga, awesome signs for crew cars, great road signs so you could actually follow the course.

We milled around to kill time, and set out a crewing plan. Jennifer I believe was as nervous as I was. When the gun finally sounded, the runners were off. I could relax knowing that I was now "there" and Jennifer could travel on to the first stop and relax and wait. I was beyond nervous. I was a complete wreck inside, just trying to hold it together for Scott. I had crewed for 4 other 100 mile races for Scott. This was the race that I was MOST concerned about as it related to him causing himself an injury or going out so hard he couldn't even finish!

Within a mile I was on my own. I had settled into an 8:10 or so pace, which felt very comfortable. While there were a few runners in front of me, and several very nearby behind me, my race was about me and my pace. Even though some company would have been nice at least for a few miles, I was strictly following my own plan, pace and comfort.

This continued out of town and into Oklahoma. Nearing mile 5 I approached another runner, and enjoyed his company for about a mile. By the first aid station at mile 7, however, I was again alone. Being early and having sufficient supplies for the first 15 miles or so, I avoided stopping at the aid station, and merely said hello and goodbye to Jennifer who was there waiting. I took pictures of all or almost all the aid stations. We were in redneck offense meant of course! But random diners and filling stations were the primary places we stopped. The locals did NOT know what to make of a bunch of crazy runners and their families coming through. But they were very welcoming and we had a good time together.

The next 7 miles seemed to be brutally windy, as the course headed largely west. I joined up with another runner for a few miles and enjoyed his company as well. But again by the next aid station (mile 13) I was alone. I met Jennifer briefly at the half-marathon mark for some Tylenol and some PowerGel, and a refill of fluids. In and out in a matter of less than a minute.

Miles 17 and 25 would come and go quickly. I would see Jennifer both times for bottle exchanges (now on my 5th 100 miler, we have a system. Its brilliant. Instead of taking the time to refill the bottles each time I stop, she just hands me two full ones and I give her whatever I have left. Rocket science.) I was in and out of mile 25 in around 3:35. A few minutes slower than I wanted, but still around 8:15 miles. And frankly, 3:30 was right on schedule so I couldn't complain. Off I went. We were definitely more efficient than we had EVER been during an ultra. It was sort of fun and I truly felt like a pit crew. I was changing out Scott's bottles and feeding him PB&J's like a pit crew changes tires and refills the tank!

At mile 34, I would begin feeling the warmth of the day. I had applied sunscreen prior, but the sun was beginning to beat down on me. I continued to drink heavily, and in fact grabbed a 3rd water bottle to make the next 9 miles. At this stop I would pass the second place runner. Not that it mattered, as a there was still 65 miles left in the race. I asked for all my Facebook friends to pray for cloud cover. Heat and sunshine are always the things that can kill an ultra-runner, especially Scott. I posted on Facebook throughout the day, where Scott was on the course, how he looked and other details. I cannot believe the outpouring of support, cheering, excitement, updates on college football (GO IRISH) and just flat out love the cyber world provided. We are very blessed to have such amazing friends and family.

After mile 35, things get fuzzy. My pace remained solid. While running I maintained an 8:30 min or greater mile, often finding comfort in a 7:45 or faster pace. I would walk some, but really kept pressing on trying not to walk more than ten or fifteen seconds every half miles or so. By mile 50 (total of 7:15) I was feeling pretty good, and my pace was dead on perfect to plan. Scott was obviously tearing up the course. His speed was almost other worldly. And it was the first time as a pit crew member that I had ever gone ahead to the next aid station, only to find it wasn't even set up yet. Several times through out the day, the race volunteers had not yet even set up their table with supplies for the runners when I arrived. Scott was running so fast, he was ahead of the race schedule. It was crazy and hilarious.
The next 7 miles or so were a bit scary, with dusk setting in and without a headlamp. These miles were also without a shoulder much of the time. My mind focus on simply surviving these miles. By mile 57, I was ready for some warmer clothes, a headlamp, some fluid refills, Tylenol and food. Jenn was there with all. The busy roads the race was ran on made me so nervous. I was literally nauseous from point to point until I got to see Scott again.

Now into the darkness, I covered the next 18 miles or so without slowing too much. I was continuously desperate for the pain in my feet to stop, and my knee was beginning to act up from the pavement and the ever so slight crown of the road. Around mile 67 we hit the Chelsea Motor Inn (yes, the aid station was in a motel room), and I used that stop to warm, and recover for a couple of minutes. I continued to eat my PowerGels, supplementing only with a PB&J here and there, maybe some crackers, and my Accelerade. On the upside, this was the best aid station ever. They took care of me here like I was runner. I was waited on hand and foot while the owner of the motel made me hot cocoa and bottled water. I was like 'no really' I'm not a runner, just a crew member! On the downside, Scott was starting to take a beating. We changed out shoes a couple times to try to ease the wear and tear on the feet. Scott's knees were getting the worst part of it and we luckily had an old knee support strap. It definitely helped him get through the race.

I hit a stop just slightly over 75 miles in good time (total time of around 11:25 or so for 75 miles). Jenn was getting nervous for me and my knee. I ate a bit of sandwich, but couldn't take much as I had just eaten another PowerGel (by the end of the day, I would ingest 18 gels total). I was again off. Best aid station EVER!!! The TATRS (Tulsa area trail runners) set up an aid station with smores, a campfire, food, Jimmy Hendrix and Christmas lights. Pretty fun to hang out at their campsite for sure! They were loving Scott and the race leader's times. Very very impressive.

Miles 75 to around 90ish are always tough on the psyche. The hours are drawing late, the legs are growing tired, and the desire to just be done is ever present. By mile 86 or so, my sister (surprise to me) and brother-in-law had joined Jennifer to watch the finish. It was honestly a great feeling to know they were there, and had driven nearly 2 hours on a late Saturday evening just to watch me run. I said a quick hello at the aid station, and moved on. I knew I was still running well, but my real fear was that 3rd place was running well also. And I had no idea what was going on ahead of me. Carrie and Terry drove down because they really wanted to see Scott finish. He was so excited and surprised by them showing up! It was fun for me too because I was able to have some company :)

I continued though the outskirts of town, trying to walk as little as possible. These were easily the toughest miles of the race. Still hours left of running, but yet so close. My feet were killing me and my knee was not having it. I just needed to get within striking distance of the finish(mentally, that is somewhere between 7-10 miles). I kept running hard. In my mind I was thinking, "I'm so close." But I also had the thoughts of "there is no way that guy is still on my heals behind me. I'm racking up miles too fast, but I can't shake him. And at the same time, who is this guy in front of me? I can't believe I'm not gaining on him." While I am not generally a competitive person, I will admit that at this stage in the race, my mind did shift over from "finish hard" to "run as fast as you frickin can and try to catch this guy in front of you." It was a bit surreal for me. I honestly wanted the best for the guy in front and behind me, I didn't want them to slow because I knew they were running times to be proud of. But could I just pick it up and run a bit faster, and while they don't slow I can still possibly take the lead? I took care of the race leader all day because that is what you do in an ultra, as a crew member, you take care of all runners. Yours and everyone else. The leader did not have any crew and most of the day, he just blew through the aid stations. At this point in the race though, the leader looked rough. He was starting to have a choppy stride. I offered him pretzels, water and Gatorade. He was getting less and less conversational. He had previously led Scott by 45 minutes but the lead was getting smaller.

At mile 93 I would hit the last aid station. By this time Jennifer had data. She knew how far the guy was in front of me, and knew I had created some distance between second and third. She knew I had 17 hours locked up and 16 was very much within reach. She told me that at the last stop, I was well over a half-hour behind, and now I was only barely 25 minutes behind. I was gaining ground, but there just might not be enough race left. But I felt good and up to the challenge. Could I kill the next 7 miles, improve my own time, and possibly have a shot at catching the leader? I could only know if I tried. At this point, the leader (his name was Tom) told me he was done! He was satisfied with second because he knew the "guy" behind him was going to catch him and pass him. I couldn't help it, I couldn't let him talk like this. I told him he needed to stay strong and positive. And unfortunately his did :)

I continued running at 8 min/miles while running, and walking only seconds here and there. I knew I had to be gaining ground, but I could have no idea of how much. I hit a stoplight with 2 miles to go (I knew very little about the course, but I did read a "warning" about this intersection with about 2 miles to go, so I fortunately knew where I was) and I began kicking in for the final pace. Oddly, I was still able to hydrate and eat. I popped my last gel of the day at around 97-98, hoping to full up before that final battle for first. In my mind, the only way I would ever catch this guy (even if he had slowed to nearly a walk) was in the last mile of the race. So I had been preparing myself for a final sprint out. Mile 99, yet no sight of first place. At mile 99.5, I would see the Hampton Inn and the stadium lights at the school where the race would finish. Still no sign of first place. I knew at the time I could choose to accept my position (I knew I had plenty of distance now before third), or I could expend that last burst I had been building for. I opted for the burst. With that half mile to go, I unloaded. 7:30 pace as I rounded into the parking lot and to the track for the last lap around the track and the finish. 7:00 pace, 6:30 pace, I suddenly felt like I was invincible. I rounded the final turn and headed down the straight away for the finish. 15:46:30. Second place, but only by 12 minutes (I had gained around 13 minutes in the past 7 miles). 9:27 average pace.

For the first time ever in finishing a 100 miler, I was disappointed it was over. Had this been a 110 mile race, I knew I had it in me. And I knew I had enough in me to finish those next miles strong and further gain ground on first place. But despite my reserved energy, the race was over. I could do nothing but smile. Tom, the winner, told me that if it had been a 105 mile race, he would have lost. We cheered him in to the finish and he pretty much collapsed. Scott raced in fresh as can be! It was an amazing sight. He came around the track like it was a speed workout, just sprinting in the last 1/4 mile. We just laughed at him as he crossed the finish line. He was unstoppable.

I could not have done this without Jennifer's support in training and along the way in the race. A crew is vitally important in a race like this. And an experienced and knowledgeable crew is something that can make a race. I owe a ton to Jennifer for getting me in and out of aid stations and keeping me going. She never let me drag. Thank you Jennifer. I'm getting pretty good at the pit crew gig. I should market and sell my services! Except truly I can only do this one or twice a year--too draining, physically and emotionally!. And frankly, it's pretty darn fun! I am so excited by Scott's race. I don't know how he will ever improve but I know he will. His time last year shocked me. His time this year...well I'm still in disbelief. All I know is the pride I feel cannot be described or quantified. His dedication, hard work and most importantly, his mental attitude make him unbeatable in my mind.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

ADT Colorado Springs Marathon

Last weekend, I traveled with some family and friends (Jennifer, Hannah, Amanda and Steve) for a "training marathon" in Colorado Springs. What is a training marathon? Good question. A training marathon to me is a pre-excuse for not pushing yourself too hard in a race, but just enough to feel a little pain. I still have fun at these marathons, but I know going in that I really shouldn't be pushing myself so hard that it takes me days or weeks to recover.

So how did this training marathon play out? I'll cut to the chase. It's now 5 days later, I didn't PR (or even close), I didn't place (or even close), yet I still hurt. Training Marathon, fail. Ok, not so much fail, as I did have a good race and a good time, but it didn't quite play out as planned. Read on.

I went in thinking altitude would be my issue. This race began at about 7,200 feet, with about 1,200 feet of net elevation loss over the course (for those math idiots out there, that means the race ended at around 6,000 feet). Despite the significant elevation loss, there would be a few bumps along the way (my watch said only about 200 feet though, but they were all pretty steep climbs). Most of this I knew going in, and planned to just charge up the hills and recover on the way down. Ultimately, I didn't find the hills (up or down) or the altitude to be a real issue. While I had these factors under control (at least in my mind), the issue I didn't have under control was the heat. So 70 degrees isn't really that hot, but with the open skies, lack of shade, and thin air in the mountains, 3+ hours in the sun can just bake you. And bake me it did.

The race was set to start at 6:30. After a long but necessary wait in the port-o-potty line, I found the race start at 6:29:30. No time to spare, but I had made it to the start. With about 400 people in the race, and a 10ish foot wide trail, it took a bit of time to work through some crowds and settle in to pace. When that all played out, I found my self at a comfortable 7:00 min/mile pace. While this was a bit faster than I intended to run, I decided that 13ish miles at the harder pace would be good training, and I'd just moreless relax along the last 13.

The first half marathon was fairly uneventful. The course was beautiful, the runners were nice, and I passed by many, many runners who started a bit too optimistic (with the downhill grade, this is easy to do). I seemed to be doing fine.

Then 14 and 15 hit. The thin air, bright sun, low humidity, and the failure to really hydrate in advance caught up with me. About this time I really started feeling thirsty and tired. I knew the issue, slowed down and tried to hydrate over the last 10 miles. I settled into a steady 8 min/mile pace for the next 5 or 6 miles.

At around mile 20, I met up with a local runner (ok, he caught me), who was on pace for a PR and his first Boston Marathon Qualifying time. But he needed a little help and company keeping a pace, which would require around a 7:20 pace. By this time I was beginning to feel sorry for myself, and hating my pace, so I gladly joined up with him. I love pacing people, as it gives me something else other than me to focus on.

We covered the next 4 miles in a steady pace. With about a mile to go, I began to feel the urge to finish. Why you might ask? Well, its my time for honestly. I found myself in a group of about 4 guys, non of which I really knew their age. Were they in my age group? Was it still remotely possible that I could place in my age group? I didn't know. And while I didn't really care, I knew I had plenty of gas in the tank to pick it up over the last mile and finish just ahead of them. So I did. I finished in 3:13:18, with 30 seconds plus on the gentlemen behind me (happily, I made sure my Boston-qualifying time was in well under his time before I left him).

I'd finish in in 17th place, which I was thrilled with. I was well outside my age group awards, which was fine (I'm not overly concerned with placing when I know I'm not pushing too hard).

Good time had by all. My wife and friends all did well.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

PsychoPsummer Run Toto Run

It is the middle of July in Kansas. Those of us who have experienced this know that this means hot. And humid. Speaking from my own experiences over the past few weeks, it can be so miserable that it can be nearly unbearable to simply walk outside of your house some days, let alone to try and run. With that background, for the 3 of the 4 past summers, I've headed up to Kansas City in the middle of July to run in a 50k (31 mile) race around Wyndotte County Lake. The race is intended to face this heat and humidity head on, and to spit in its face.

Only topping the difficult heat and humidity is the course itself. Kansas is flat, right? Wrong, with a capital WRONG! This course consists of two 16ish mile loops (I say "ish" miles because the race directors think the course might have been a bit longer than a 50k). There is typically some dispute over the amount of rise and fall in each loop (my Polar HRM showed 4000 total feet of climb over the two loops), but I can tell you for sure that there is well more than 1500 feet of climb and fall in each loop. That means hilly. That means some hills that you want to puke just looking at.

[Aren't I setting this up as a fun event? Truth be told, the above hell is exactly why most of us runners enter this race.]

The race heads into single file trails within the first 25 yards or so, and basically stays single file for the entire 16ish mile loop. In order to get in a good position as to not be burdened with passing dozens of runners slowly over several miles to several hours, it is very important to start out fast. While that doesn't sound like a bad plan in theory, starting fast on a course like this means some incredibly high heart rates running way too fast up some really fast trails. So that is exactly what I did.

I headed through he first 5 miles or so in about 50 minutes. I was feeling great about my time, but I knew that pace was a bit to optimistic to maintain, but at least I had earned some clear trails in front and behind me. I quickly settled into a bit slower pace (something I could maintain as the hit began rising very quickly).

I headed through the next aid station, and quickly learned what would be my Achilles heel of the day: blisters. While the course was in great shape (it can be notoriously wet and muddy if there has been much rain), there was still plenty of moisture on the grass, on the trails, in water crossings, and from sweat that my feet quickly became waterlogged. And while I typically don't suffer from blisters, I did have a spot on the arch of my foot that wore away very quickly. The aid station staff did there best to help me out, but what I really needed was to get back to the start/finish area and lube up the blisters and put on some clean socks. My attention remained on this for the rest of the first loop.

I hit the half-way point in around 2:47. I took a bit of time to treat my blisters (they would be fine the next loop), grab a few bites to eat, and refill my bottles. Oranges would be my food of the day. And water. Water would be my friend - I probably went through at least a dozen bottles of water throughout they day.

I headed back out for loop two. Those hills that I sped up and down in the first few miles had grown! I now struggled to even walk up, and my footing on the way down seemed much more dangerous. I made it through those first 3 or so miles of hilly sections fairly slowly, but I was soon to make it back onto some more runnable sections.

I hit the half-way point of loop two and I think the heat was nearing its high for the day (high 80's to low 90's, so relatively not bad). I fueled and moved on. The heat was getting to me, but I tried to make the best of it. While I had significantly slowed since the first loop, I was still having a great time. It was hot. It was humid. I was struggling with that fine line of drinking enough but not too much (I was feeling water logged at some points). But I hung in there and kept moving forward, with the best smile that I could make (which sometimes wasn't so great).

By the last aid station (mile 13.5), I knew I was nearly there, and my mood brightened. I wouldn't say I ran the last 2-3 miles quickly, but I will say that I was proud of my ability to run more than walk (despite these being the muddy parts of the course). I could nearly smell the finish for the last mile. Once I hit the trail head (about 1/4 mile from the finish), I felt like a new man ready to go again.

I finished in 6:17:05, which is a little slower than the last time I ran the race (it was a bit cooler two years ago). 13th place. 112 starters. Only 66 finishers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Boston Marathon - A dream 5 years in the making

On October 17, 2004, I ran my first marathon - the Wichita Marathon. It was a truly awesome experience that I will never forget. My time was just over 3:57, but I wasn't overly concerned (to the good or the bad). After all, I had finished what I thought was never possible - a marathon - and I lived to tell about it. And I had finished it any a time that I was proud of. I was exhausted, but I had been bitten by the marathon bug.

Fast forward now some five-plus years. In April 2010, I would run my first Boston Marathon, a dream of mine since approximately 3 hours and 58 minutes after starting the Wichita marathon in 2004. It was a dream that I thought would never come to fruition. From my first marathon I would have to improve my time by over 47 minutes just to qualify (as a male under 35 years of age, I had to run under 3:10 to qualify even to enter). Never did I think I could improve as a runner that drastically. But at last, on March 15, 2009 in Little Rock, Arkansas, I broke the 3:10 barrier (3:09:44) to finally qualify for Boston. To Boston I would go!

With a goal of this nature comes great nervousness. Sure, I had qualified to run Boston, and I had even improved on my time since March 2009 (I ran the New York City Marathon in 3:00:14). Sure, I had now run 49 previous marathons. But something as historic as "Boston" I had never run. I was as nervous as I was in 2004 before my first Wichita Marathon.

But in Boston I was, and running I would do. The evening prior was a nervous evening. I stressed about what I would eat, how much I could sleep, what to drink and how to nurse the sore hip that had seemingly crippled my running throughout the week. As fate goes, following my Eisenhower Marathon last weekend, I had developed some significant inflammation in my right hip. Throughout the week it had taken my runs to a standstill at times. I could never quite loosen it up, and the pain at times was throbbing. While it had progressively improved throughout the week with a heavy dosage of anti-inflammatories, I could tell that the underlying issue was only being masked. Would the hip give me trouble and ruin my plans for a great Boston?

Speaking of plans, my goal for Boston was a big one. As I mentioned, I nearly broke 3 hours in New York City this past November. But nearly breaking 3 hours and breaking 3 hours is a very different thing. Either you are a sub-3 hour marathon or or you are not, or so I felt. 14 seconds might as well be 14 days. So at Boston I wanted to right that wrong and actually break 3 hours. But my ultimate goal was a bit loftier. I had a glimmer of hope of a 2:55 marathon. At least that was the plan, to try for the 2:55 in the first half of the course that tends to be faster, and try to hold it through the hillier second half. If I should fade in the last half, I would have a cushion for a sub-3 hour finish.

The morning of the race I awoke at 5:30 a.m., in time to shower, prepare and head the 3/4 mile to the bus loading area for the long ride to rural Hopkinton, Massachusetts. The ride was a long one, nearly an hour, but I chatted with some interesting folks from across the county. When we arrived at the small school near town, we crowded into some open fields, and waited. And waited.

The race would begin at 10:00 a.m.. I was set in the second of twenty-six corals. If I may digress for a moment. And I do so with all humility. The Boston Marathon is historic. It is also exclusive. It is reserved for the few lucky percent at the front of each age group. I knew I was in rare company. And that is a big deal. But it is also intimidating. As I have shared before, I still haven't developed the mental confidence to consider myself in such rare company. I top this general intimidation with having to walk past about 25,000 other runners (of the 26,000 in the race) to find my way to my starting area near the front. It is beyond intimidating to take your place at the front of such an historic and exclusive event.

The gun sounded and I was off. Those unfamiliar with this course should know that the first 4 miles are notoriously fast. First, they are progressively downhill (not all downhill, as they are rolling, but eventually lose altitude). Second, they are loud with excitement, so the adrenaline pumps and pushes you faster. I felt both, and went out strong with a 6:20-6:30 pace over those first miles (with the exception of a short pit stop). The pace was well within my goal 2:55 pace but I knew the later miles would take that back. It felt fast, but it felt great, almost effortless, as I cruised down the hills. I maintained solid running form, which is critical on steep downhills, and I did so with no hip pain.

Miles 5-12 flatten a bit on overall elevation change, but continue to roll. I maintained my sub 6:40 miles through mile 9. We would pass through Ashland (were the race originally started before the standard distance or 26.2 miles was establish) and Framingham. Both towns came out in enormous support.

And then mile 10 hit. As I had mentioned, I had struggled with my hip throughout the week. At about mile 10, it was back with a vengeance. Despite popping two Alieve early that morning, and a few Tylenol about 2 hours ago, the pain was throbbing. It became incredibly painful to lift my leg as necessary for a 6:30 pace. I was suffering physically and mentally. Could I even finish with this pain? What should I do? By mile 11 I had popped two more Tylenol (probably shouldn't have done that) and had found a medical tent for some Bengay. While it cost me 30 seconds or so for that stop, I was back on pace, and the pain was beginning to subside.

Mile 12 came quite quickly, and with Mile 12 comes the famous ladies of Wellesly College. The Wellesly College girls are crazy loud, and as tradition requires, will kiss any runner passing by. While this was an interesting proposition, surprisingly few in the sub-3 hour pace group stopped (we all took ourselves way too serious, and barely had a word to say to each other after we passed the first 10 miles or so). It was very encouraging, however. And it made me forget about my hip for a while.

Mile 13 came, and I hit the half-marathon point in 1:27:33, dead on for a 2:55 marathon. My hip was improving, but I knew I would have that to work against, and I knew the second half of the course is notoriously hard. So although on pace for 2:55, my real strategy was to maintain a sub 3 hour marathon, and to give as little time back as I could.

At about this time, something else weird happened. I lost myself. I'm not exactly sure of the cause. I knew I was pushing hard (for those of you familiar with heart rate, I was already well into the red zone, averaging over 90% of my maximum heart rate from about mile 11 on through the end of the race, with later mileage at the 95% in higher range). I know the pain from my hip was causing me to hyper-focus on the race as to forget about that pain. And I know I was a bit in a zone pushing through the mileage. But the end result is that I remember very little about the last half of the course.

At mile 16, the notorious Newton hills begin. These are a series of four fairly rough hills back-to-back-to-back-to-back, the forth of which is called "Heartbreak Hill." While they are steep, they are long and unforgiving. At mile 16, the first began, which summits with a false flat and then right back up to finish the hill. A brief reprieve downhill, and then back up the second hill at mile 17. The course then rolls down to mile 19 (still holding a 6:50 or so pace) and back up, flattening (i.e., rolling) until the last big climb of Heartbreak Hill at mile 21.

I maintained pace (6:50 to 7:00), but my legs were about to give by the end of the last hill. At last, we would have the last 5 miles that again lose 250 feet, but continue to roll. I was still on pace for a sub-3 hour marathon, but I had little time to give back. My pace was slowing, as to prevent cramping, but I continued to push on. Unfortunately, even though the course is progressively down those last miles, the course is rolling and you can never quite get in a good stride.

By mile 24, the course is at its lowest elevation, with rolling hills into the finish. My legs were shot, slowing me to 7:00-7:15 miles at 95%+ heart rate. Each hill proved more difficult. Nonetheless, I maintained a close eye on my watch, calculating at each mile the number of minutes and the pace to maintain to meet my goal. I had little room to spare, but couldn't pick up the pace for fear of leg cramps.

At the 25 mile point, I knew I could make 3 hours, unless a heavy cramp hit. I maintained a conservative pace (7:15) down a few downhills, and pushed up the final hill (up an underpass). I knew I had a half-mile or so to go, but until I turned the final corner onto Boylston Street, I just didn't quite know how close I was.

With 1/3 mile to go, I take a hard left onto Boylston. I can see the finish and I awaken. Seriously, that is the first moment in the past 2 hours that I really vividly recall anything. I see crowds lining the street eight people deep (too many people to find my wife and son cheering me on). I do a final check of my watch and know I can make it. My legs feel fresh, and I push on to the finish. Final time 2:59:22. I made it!

Proudly, I finished 1253 overall, and 886 in my division (Men under 39 years old). Very happy with that result. 50th marathon, first Boston and first time under 3 hours. It was a success.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Eisenhower marathon

I love to run marathons. I love big marathons and I love small marathons. Marathons long distances away and those close by. I love marathons that are well planned and I love marathons that are run on a whim. While the former describes next week's Boston Marathon, the later describes this weekends Eisenhower Marathon.

A few months ago, I began looking at this year's marathon schedule. In February, I ran the Psychowyco RunTotoRun 50k, and had a few other marathons on the list, completed with my first Boston Marathon experience to be run on April 19th. Well, when I really started looking at my schedule, I came to realize that I was approaching 50 career marathons (yes, I'm counting only "official" marathons, but I'm also including all ultramarathons, as those races are at least a marathon long). I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to have my first Boston Marathon be career marathon #50?" Yes.

Well, as great of an idea as that was, I hadn't really planned on how to transition from the PsychoWyco (marathon #48) and Boston (marathon #50). I had a few potential races, but none of them panned out (either out-of-town or too far away). As my date with Boston approached, I needed a race. The Eisenhower Marathon fit the bill.

I signed up about two weeks ago, but until the night before the race I never looked at the location, the course, the time, or any other details about the race. From a planning perspective, it was very unplanned. And I was under prepared as a result (not unprepared training wise, just under prepared mentally and logistically).

The night before the race, my wife, child and I (along with my wife's friend from Wichita) traveled to Manhattan for a "girls weekend." As great as that sounded, I was happy to leave the friend's house at 5:00 a.m. to head to Abilene, Kansas for the 7 a.m. race start.

I arrived at around 6:00 a.m. for packet pickup. I took a few minutes to stretch (something I should have considered in the days prior), and to grab a quick drink. I also had a few minutes to consider pacing strategies for the day. Knowing Boston was the following weekend, I didn't want to run too hard, especially since it was forecasted to be a 70+ degree day. I also didn't want to go too slow, as a faster paced run would help get my legs geared up for next weekend's race. I settled on a 8:00 min/mile strategy, or a 3:30 marathon for the day.

At 7:00 a.m., I was off. I settled into a pace early on, and said hello to a few friends. By mile 1 I had settled into pace next to a fellow-Wichitan ultra runner named Adam. I've run with Adam on a few other occasions, but hadn't seen him in a while. We found ourselves chatting for miles, and running in good company. Neither of us were (at the time) particularly concerned with the pace, so we just cruised through the first 13.1 miles very casually in about 1:47.

At around the turn-around (out-and-back course), I realized that we were well under Adam's PR (Personal Record) pace for a marathon (Adam too has run nearly 50 marathons). While he wasn't too concerned at that moment, it sort of gave me a good goal for the days run. We didn't discuss the PR, as that would surely jinx him, so we just pushed on.

Unexplainably, we found that I pace had quickened from the first half 8:15 pace to about 7:45 pace. As the miles ticked by, I was becoming more sure of a PR for Adam. We were well under his previous PR pace and could have slowed considerably over the last 6 miles. Instead, I began to realize that breaking 3:30 was within reach. It would be very much pushing it, but if we could make good time over the last 5 or 6 miles we might just make it. We pushed on, around a park, and then to the final 2 1/2 mile home stretch into town.

At about mile 24, I consulted the watch for an elapsed time check. 3:30 seemed to be out of reach. We would have to average under 7:30's, and then push very hard over the last .2 miles. I just didn't think we could make it, but we kept the pace strong just in case. At 1 mile to go, I realized that we still had a chance. Adam was well into the red zone, and cared about nothing more than finishing (I've been there, I know the feeling). It would be my job to push him on. I took the challenge, and so did he. We pushed on, clicking the last mile off in under 7:15. With under .2 miles to go, I took a quick look at the watch and realized that we had exactly 60 seconds to make it to the finish line, which was in sight. I pushed Adam on, and he held in for a 3:29:58 finish (chip time). I had started a few seconds back, so I finished in 3:30:02, good enough for 3rd place in my age group. I suppose that is close enough to my 3:30 goal.

Great job, Adam!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Back to it.

It has been a while since I last blogged. 2008 was quite a year for me, both running and blogging about running (running a marathon a week, and then daily blogging), and by the end of the year something had to crack. Fortunately for my running, the blogging was the one to go (I did complete the "marathon" a week, for a total of 54 marathons for the year).

I think I am ready to get back to it (more than a year later!).

This past weekend, I participated in the Easter Sun Run 10k. Though not always the case on organized runs, I intended to treat this run as a “race” and really challenge myself for a good finish time. Although I haven’t really be training for a hard effort, I have been able to put in some quality miles lately. The morning began beautifully with 40 degree temperatures and low wind. I was feeling up to the challenge.

As the race start approached, I headed to the front of starting area, trying to position myself as to not fight the congestion of the tight course (i.e., sidewalks) and the large starting field. I am one who gets very nervous playing with the big dogs (i.e, positioning myself in front of all other runners), as I’m not one who takes myself too seriously with running (maybe it’s a confidence issues as I don’t picture myself as one of the fast guys, maybe it’s that I’m not too sure of my abilities to finish in my goal times). As we stood there, the race director instructed all those intending to run sub 6:30 miles to cross the starting tape, to ensure that they were in fact segregated in front of the rest of the pack. While this did include me, I really struggled to cross the tape and show myself as one of the 25 or so individuals who had a goal of 40 minutes or less. I bit the bullet and crossed. I felt very out of place, although I knew deep down that I am good enough to hang with some of these folks.

On the gun, the race began. The first quarter mile is always well above pace, as the field spreads out and positions are established. I settled in with about 20 or so in front of me, at a 6:15 min/mile or so pace. This course, unlike most races I run, was marked in kilometers and not miles, so time checks were given much more frequently. As I approached the first “k”, I felt confident that I was right in my grove at a sub 39 minute pace.

I continued on. At 2 and 3 k I maintained a solid 6:10-6:15 min/mile pace. By kilometer 4, I was beginning to feel the pace and question my strategy, as my heart rate was already above 180 (my theoretical maximum heart rate based on age is only 190, so I am clearly in the red zone with nearly 4 miles to go). I decided it didn’t matter – who cares if I crash and burn, I wanted to give a sub 39 minute 10k a shot.

I hit the 5k mark in 19:07, a new 5k PR for me! This was a real pick-me-up, although I had hoped to be at that mark in just under 19:00. I continued on, knowing that every 4 minutes or so I was a kilometer closer to finishing.

By 6k, I was really struggling. I was pushing my limits, and my body was rejecting it. I didn’t let it affect my pace, but it was painful. At 7k, I was still on pace, only slowing a little from my first 5k pace. At 8k, I began trying to catch the runner in front of me by 15 seconds or so. I picked away at that deficit one second at a time, until about 200 meters to go when I finally caught him. The charge proved too much for me, and he took me by 2 seconds at the finish, but I’m glad he was there to encourage me to try and catch him. 38:35.

In the end, it was still a beautiful morning. I discovered that I finished 2nd in my age group, and 18th overall (around 750 participants). I set a PR by nearly 1:25, and really felt great doing it.