Monday, April 06, 2009

3/22/09 Grasslands Marathon

As noted in my last report, my 200th marathon was at Little Rock. I asked the great race folks at Little Rock for bib #200, but their numbering/corraling system apparently doesn't work that way. My next race, The Grasslands Marathon, was... obviously... my 201st. And I got bib #201 by sheer coincidence. I didn't ask for it.

Now then. There is a very specific reason why I wait a little while before writing my race reports beyond "sheer laziness" and "real life priorities". Well, those are reasons too :-). Also, some of these reports take a lot of work to make them readable (some of you would say, "apparently not enough, bud"). But the *main* reason why I wait is simple: I like to process that race experience. If I write about a race right after I finish it, I might GUSH! about the day. This is a fine thing, but if I do it too often and all races are GUSH! GUSH!, then it becomes a little like Roger Ebert giving all movies 3 and 4 stars. Actually, it's worse than that. Of all the races I've done, I've found things to like or love about almost all of them. It kind of IS like Lake Wobegon where everyone (every race) is above average. If too many of them are far above average, though, and I GUSH! GUSH! all the time, then my writing gets stale. And I miss things that I might like to remember a few years later.

Then there's the opposite issue.

Every now and then, I will have a rather crummy experience. Maybe it's because the race sucks. Maybe it's just because I ran the race in a grumpy mood. Or I was sick. Etc. If I think about this for a week or two, usually I can separate the "yes, that is important to remember" bad stuff from the, well, goofy stuff. And many times I can come up with some perspective on why something went amiss; perspective I probably did not have during the race. This helps a lot.

Welcome to the Grasslands Marathon.

Had I written this report during the evening after the race, you'd be reading something a lot darker than this :-). It is a stroke of luck that you are reading anything at all, actually. On the Friday before the race, I suddenly realized that the race was scheduled for Saturday and not Sunday. I had been working under the assumption that it would be Sunday for several weeks. Would have been a lonely Sunday.

The Grasslands Marathon and accompanying 50-miler and half marathon take place each March at the LBJ National Grasslands, which are (is?) located about an hour northwest of Ft Worth near the town of Decatur, Texas. I went to high school in Dallas and college at Texas Tech, located across the state in the panhandle. I passed Decatur many times on my way back and forth. I'm very familiar with the landscape of North Texas; 15 years after moving to Seattle, I still miss it. So I was very excited to run this race. When you picture the word 'grasslands' in your brain, you probably imagine rolling prairie with knee-high grass. As you can see from this picture, this is not wrong. HOWEVER, I was surprised quite a few times on the course by views like the one in the previous picture. Several areas had fairly thick trees (note: I mean 'tree' in Texas terms, which would be described as 'big scrubby bush' in Seattle terms). There were a few deep gullies and stream beds. And there was sand. Oh man, was there sand. Many miles of the trail had deep sand, which made running a lot harder. And falling a lot softer. The Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon is a race that is famous for a mile-long section of trail with ankle deep sand. Grasslands had about 12 miles of that. For race day, we had picture perfect weather - blue skies, light breeze, temperatures between 60 and 75. Springtime in Texas can offer up just about anything weather-wise, and I was certainly glad that it wasn't stormy. The sand and the gullies would have been so much more challenging in wet conditions. And believe me, it was challenging enough.

I can describe the course with one word: crazy. The thing to know about the trails, which I didn't really know ahead of time, is that they were created for horse riding. The trails do not have names; they are identified by colors. And they are marked periodically with little posts with horseshoes of the appropriate color. Usually. Except when they aren't. But I'll come back to that. Most of the trails consist of loops that originate and end at a central location, called TADRA Point. I have no idea what 'TADRA' actually stands for, but after running The Grasslands Marathon, I decided that it is "the place where dreams are created and ended. Also where you potty."

The courses for the three races (half, full, 50) utilized various trail loops. And this is where things get confusing. All races utilized "the yellow loop". The full and the 50 also utilized "the blue loop". The 50, but not the other races, utilized "the white loop" and "the red loop". Catch #1: depending on the race, the loops were in different orders. For example, the yellow loop was early in the half, but it was the second loop of the full. Catch #2: each race also involved a short, sneaky loop that was called "the correction loop", and the 50's correction loop was different from, and longer than, the correction loop in the full and the half. The correction loops were also, basically, not marked. Adding both catches together, you have a day where you would encounter runners going every which way... all at different miles in their respective races... with ample opportunities for choosing the wrong trail if you didn't remember your ordering. And, most importantly, because the euphemistic correction loop was the very first trail, it was an opportunity to get bad lost very early on. Which might, oh say, put one in a very bad mood and mess with one's head, leading to goofy issues later.

Here's the Cliff Notes version:
+ The 50 miler started first. It consisted of a 4.9 mile 'correction loop', followed by the blue loop, the yellow loop, the white loop, and the red loop.

+ The full marathon (my race) started 30 minutes later. It consisted of a similar-but-different 2.something mile 'correction loop', followed by the blue loop, followed by the yellow loop.

+ The half marathon started 30 minutes after that. It used the same correction loop as the full, followed immediately by the yellow loop.

One final thing. The trails merged in many places and then would randomly fork away when least expected. So, a runner might be on the yellow loop thinking "wait, I remember this area. Did I take a wrong turn?" Maybe. Or maybe it was just one of those places where blue and yellow used the same trail. The correction loop was like this. Turns out, it was both part of the blue trail and the red trail. The sharp eyed reader will note that the red trail is not part of the full. I got to learn about the red trail nonetheless by puzzling through the correction loop.

All day long, I encountered runners who probably weren't supposed to be where they were. Or maybe it was that *I* was where I wasn't supposed to be. Actually, some of both happened. I got lost once and had several confidence crises regarding the potential of being lost.

None of this was helped by the most confusing pre-race orientation I've ever heard. Ever. Five minutes before the start of the full, the race director explained the course to us. He explained it three times, and he said something different each time. In retrospect, I think he was having difficulty remembering the sequence for the various races, and while talking, he'd realize he was telling the full marathoners about the 50 or the half, so he'd stop and start over again. And oh yeah. To assist with marking, the race org had put flag tape in the trees. But based on the speech, there was supposedly pink tape in the trees on the yellow loop and (some other color) in the trees of (a different color's) course. TOO MANY COLORS! No way to remember all this. Ultimately, it wouldn't matter much as the tape was, shall we say, sparse.

The RD finished his briefing by telling us that the course was so well marked that if we got lost "it was our fault". Oh man. You have no idea how many times I'd mull over this comment in my head.

As I was panicking before the start, I threw out pretty much all my time-based goals. I wanted to finish upright, and since I knew that the course wasn't overly hilly, I figured 4:00-4:20 would be a rough approximation of my finishing time. Except that I didn't know about the foot sucking sand. I also didn't know how lost I was about to get, nor how goofy the answer I'd receive to the question "hey, roughly, where am I?" would be.

All I did know was that it was time to run and that I needed to do something called a correction loop, a blue loop, and a yellow loop. Ok then. I followed the big group of people. Now, as noted, at Grasslands, all the trails are marked by color. There is no color called "correction". Nor was there a loop really labeled that either. We seemed to be on the red loop, sort of. The people in front of me knew where they were going, so I followed them.

Until, about 10 minutes after we started, the first three guys stopped, turned around, and seemed to be heading back to TADRA with a whole "we're lost!" vibe. Uh oh. Pretty much everyone else seemed to think we were going the proper direction, so we continued. I panicked some more. We hit a place where some people decided to run on the gravel road, and some people ran on the trail that was near the road. Suddenly, 50 milers came barreling from the opposite direction of the trail. Yikes. After awhile (5 minutes? an hour?), the trail curved back up to the road anyway... and we all saw our first sign that indicated we hadn't yet screwed up. 50 milers and full marathoners, go <-- that way. So we did.

Soon thereafter, the three guys who had turned around caught us and passed us again. Huh. By this point, I was kind of feeling out the trail markings, even though I still wasn't sure what color 'correction' meant. I learned about the little posts with the little horseshoes. I learned about the paint spots on the trees. I learned that some of the little posts were knocked down and moved to little areas that weren't trails, and I learned that not all trees had paint spots. I saw a few examples of flag tape. The most important thing I learned was that some areas of trail would have posts fairly close together... but then there might be a quarter mile following a ridge or a pond that wouldn't be marked at all. There were gates every now and then too. Sometimes, we apparently were supposed to go through the gates. Sometimes around the gates. Turns and forks in the road were sometimes obvious. And sometimes, you needed to stop and peer down the road to see if there was a color down there somewhere to help you. On a positive note, aside from the sand on the trail, the landscape itself was exactly what I'd been missing. Sunrise was perfect. The weather was perfect. What a great day to stress out about getting lost.

Somehow, we stumbled back to TADRA Point. And now for one of the weirdest (but ultimately, least important) goofy things about this race. 3ish miles into it, we were all stopped at the main checkpoint start/finish area and our pull tags were collected from our numbers. What? In 99.999999% of all the races that utilize these tags, they come off at the end and are used to help race organizers know a person's time and finish order. Here, they were collected 3/26's of the way into the race and thrown into a box. I thought at the time that perhaps they were just doing this as a simple check-in to ensure they knew who was on the course. However, later on, I saw that box sitting in the same place with a jumble of numbers. I have no idea why they did this. Weird.

Time for the blue loop. Up and down. Around. Into a deep gully. The guy I was running with told me that a few years ago, this area had 3 feet of water. Ropes were used to lasso people across. This year it was bone dry. I definitely preferred bone dry. The first section of the blue loop shared the trail with the yellow loop. I'd later see that these would repeat as the last miles of the race. Fairly soon, though, yellow went THAT WAY and blue went THIS WAY. I was so proud of myself for seeing this turn.

The really fast trail runners had taken off, and I was running with two other folks. Both were 50 milers. I was following blue markers when I could see them. When I didn't see any, I convinced myself that "keep going" was the right move, and I rationalized that the long sections weren't as well marked because they didn't need to be. I hadn't seen a marker in awhile. As we rounded a curve in the trail, I saw blue tape in a tree. Cool. I was still on course. More running along a fence line.

No more markers.

The three of us started wondering if we had missed something. Nope, there was nothing to miss. Then we realized that the "trail" we were on wasn't really a trail... it was simply just really short grass next to the fence. We kept running, but more slowly. About 10 minutes later, we hit a fence corner.

And the end of the line.

Uh oh. No trail. And no more short grass either. Bushes, trees, nasty sticker things. I scanned around. I saw some trail markers in a disconnected area. Orange trail markers. No blue. Uh oh. What to do? Now, if we had been thinking normally, we simply would have turned around and figured it out. Instead, we just stood there for about a minute dumbfounded. When we did turn around, we were amazed. 20-30 other runners had followed us! And there we were. Middle of nowhere, not on a trail, milling around. Ok, we had to go back. Or, I suppose we could have continued even deeper into The Land of the Lost.

15ish minutes later, we saw people making a turn we hadn't noticed and waving at us. Was this turn marked? Why, yes. Yes it was. Remember that blue tape I mentioned above? When I first encountered it, my brain had processed it as "this marker indicates that you are on the trail" and I had chugged on by. What my brain SHOULD HAVE processed was "look behind that tree and notice that there's a blue marker down there... TURN". Ooops. I felt really stupid, though in retrospect, this was an easy thing to miss. Seriously, it just looked like one of the sparse markers indicating "trail", not a special one indicating "turn".

But turn I did. And after not knowing if I was going the appropriate direction during the entire correction loop AND losing 20-30 minutes getting lost on the blue loop, I was now running slower and much more paranoid. "Running paranoid" is not a great strategy for a trail run if one has an important time goal. Luckily, I didn't. But I was getting bummed out, and this was sad because the day was truly glorious.

I reflected on all those who had followed my two buddies and me into The Land of The Lost. NOBODY took that turn. They followed the person in front of them like a sheep. Amazing stuff, really. Oh well. I kept on going. Not that I had a choice!

Towards the end of the blue loop, I came across one of my friends - Maniac Claude. We chatted as we finished the loop. I noticed that the end of the blue loop seemed to be the correction loop in reverse. Ok. As Claude pulled away, I encountered half marathoners coming through the loop. Mind you, this was about three hours into my race, so two and a half hours into their race. The correction loop was supposed to be the first thing that the half marathon folks did... and the blue loop wasn't part of their course at all. These people were lost too.

The end of the blue loop and TADRA point. I visited the potty. Now, you might wonder why I had not just utilized one of the many bushes. I invite you to google 'chigger' to learn why. In a report where my tone might seem a bit negative, BIG THUMBS UP for the portapotties. And the volunteers. And the great aid stations.

Speaking of, while refilling my bottle at the main aid station, I saw the race director. Trail runs almost never have mile markers, so I usually ask aid station volunteers "where am I?" After the smart-alec answers (Earth, Texas, "having fun"), I usually learn what I need. I spotted the RD, and who better to ask? So I did. "Where am I?" "You are at 18."

You are at 18.

Outstanding. So, this meant that the upcoming yellow loop would be 8 miles. I assumed that I was running about 10:00/mile pace, so this made for an easy countdown.


I should have remembered the challenges that our RD had with the pre-race briefing. I didn't.

Off I went, down the yellow loop. It was now warm enough that I switched to a singlet. 10 minutes went by. 19 down, 7 left. 10 more minutes... 20 down. I did not linger at the next aid station. Onward. 21 down. 22 down. I wasn't speeding up, but I wasn't slowing down. I pulled into the next, and I assumed final, aid station. I grabbed some cookies and coke. Woohoo. Almost done.

And there I made my fatal mistake. By habit, I asked, "where am I?"

You are at mile 21.

Holy crap. My brain melted down and poured out my ears. I was expecting to hear 24, 2 miles left. I had been running an hour since I left M18. I had encountered an aid station before this one. How could I have run for 60 minutes and 2 aid stations and only be 3 miles down the road??? GAHHHH.

Maybe the aid station volunteers were confused. Nope, they seemed sure of themselves. Maybe I had gotten lost. Very possible, but if so, then what was that other aid station? It's a heck of a race with aid stations in lost areas. Plus, other people had been running with me. One guy told me, "sorry, my Garmin says we're at 21."

I couldn't wrap my brain around it. Nor could I overcome the fact that I had a whole lot more than 2 miles left. A small piece of me kept hoping that everyone was wrong. Off I went. All I could think about was the math. What had happened? Did I run through a rift in the space/time continuum? It was a spectacular day on trails that mean 'home' to me. And I was missing it because I was preoccupied with being bummed out.

I started encountering people on horses, the first horses I'd seen all day. These seemed to be volunteers out looking for lost people. Great. Search parties. "Am I lost?" "Nope, you're fine."

Another aid station. "Where am I?" "24.4. 1.8 left." They were adamant, and this time I was a believer. I was also completely dead on my feet, so I didn't have much choice but to believe them. During the last 1.8, I finally figured out the probable answer to my question. Maybe I didn't get lost. Maybe I didn't imagine running so far and the extra aid station. Maybe, just maybe, I was told a fib. Perhaps TADRA Point was not really M18.

I passed a few spectators who told me that I was almost there. I believed them, just like I believed in the aid station. The only place on the whole course with spectators would have to be close to the start/finish. And there it was. And there I was.

Done. 4:55. 4:55! Oh dear.

The RD gave me my medal. As there were no other finishers coming in, I asked him again about the distances. "You were at M15.5. I said 18? Oh sorry, I thought you were a 50 miler." And indeed, you may remember that the 50 miler had a much longer correction loop at the start of their race. Ooops. It all made sense now. And I couldn't really be mad at him. I can see how he might have been mixed up - I had come into the aid station with several 50 milers.

I cleaned up and drove to my parents' house near Dallas.

That was some day. Like I said at the top of this report, I'm glad I wait awhile sometimes before I write my articles. At the time, I was not loving life. But I wasn't super down at the end either - I remember taking pictures for a couple walkers who finished the half just behind me. I was upbeat and coherent.

Looking back, it really was kind of a fun course. It was a perfect day, and I love that part of the country. The aid stations and the volunteers were OUTSTANDING. The M15.5 vs M18 thing was a simple mistake. I did not like getting lost, not at all. But even that was a weird deal. The trail should have been better marked, but the turn I missed WAS, in fact, marked. I missed it. So did a bunch of other people. The correction loop was bizarre and needed to be better marked too.

Without the stress, I would have run faster. And without getting lost, I certainly would have finished faster. But as it turns out, that was a fairly challenging course regardless. My 4:55 landed me 28th overall out of 70. A 4:35 (removing my time in The Land of the Lost) would have put me in the top 15! Well maybe. It is almost certain that some of the other people who finished near me had gotten lost with me.

Many of my trail loving friends look at getting lost kind of like they look at falling: it's gonna happen and you sort of have to embrace it. My issue wasn't that I got lost. My issue was that I freaked out about getting lost and it dragged me down. This made me tentative and slow. Had I seriously been trying to race, this would have been a hooooooge liability.

I wasn't really trying to race though. I was out for a nice day in the sticks. I got that. It's a shame I missed it.

Overall, the race organizers did a fine job. If you had asked me that day if I would return, the answer would have been a simple "Hell no." Looking back, the answer is "Probably." It is reasonably convenient to my folks' house and aside from the deep sand, that course almost certainly offers up more fun than I had. Now that I know how it all works... and what doesn't work... I don't think I'd get so stressed about things. Probably.

So maybe I'll come back! Fingers crossed that it doesn't rain. I can't imagine doing that course in rain or fording deep streams. No sireee.

Next up? It already happened. The race known as "Dizzy Daze". 10 loops of a 3.2 mile path around Green Lake in Seattle. The day started at 40 degrees with steady rain. The rain stayed and the temperature dropped. Every time I went around, it was a little cooler. By my 5th loop, it was 35 and still raining hard. I couldn't feel my fingers. The RD had put up a special out-and-back so that folks who ran 8 loops and this out-and-back could finish with a marathon. And that's what I did instead of 10 loops. 4:35 to do a frozen, wet marathon. This was ok. I stopped several times in the middle to eat, talk to people, and use the facilities. Then I went home and found the big blister on my achilles tendon. Yikes. It was not a fun day, but I *did* get to see lots of my friends who I hadn't seen in a long while.

And Maniac Linda ran 50k in a dress.

Next up after that? The Yakima River Canyon Marathon, which was also the first Marathon Maniac Reunion in two years. More on that Real Soon Now.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

3/15/09 Little Rock Marathon

I look a lot worse in this picture than I actually felt!

In mid-February, I ran the National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer as marathon #198. On the first weekend in March, I ran an obscure 6-hour race ("run as far as you can in six hours") near Seattle called Invest in Youth. I ran it slowly on purpose, and once I had run 26.5ish miles, I stopped. That was #199.

It was time to hit a milestone. There's nothing magic about "200" except that it is a round number. It's a whole lot of marathoning. I remember running the San Francisco Marathon a few years ago: it was my 39th. It also happened to be some lady's 100th, and I saw signs all over the course wishing her a happy hundred. I remember thinking that "100" seemed really, really big and wondering if/when I'd ever get there. Turns out, I got there in 2006 at Yakima. Fast forward, and now it was time for 2x100. The odd thing is that as I've kept running them, my sense of scale has changed. 200 doesn't really seem like a lot... heck, it's a lot of most anything... unless I think about it hard. It is. 200 marathons and ultras since September 2001. More than 5300 miles of running races spread over 7 1/2 years.

At the same time, though, it's just a number. One more than Invest in Youth. A couple hundred LESS than a few runners I know pretty well. I didn't really feel like targeting a 'special' race for my 200th and I didn't feel like creating a bunch of hoopla around it.

I had registered for Little Rock because I knew I was going to be in Dallas (nearby in air travel terms) during mid-March to help take care of my Dad. I've not done this race before, but it has a very fine reputation. And by coincidence, it was going to be my 200th. No extra hoopla, but enough of it just as a function of being a well organized midsize city race.

Little Rock is one of those cities that has a big river running through (or next to) downtown. I didn't know what to expect out of downtown Little Rock, but what I was NOT expecting to find was... a Russian submarine in the river. There is one. Ho-kay. There's also a ton of cool things to check out and a nifty trolley to take you other places. And a race.

At the highest level, The Little Rock Marathon course is a loop that starts and ends downtown. It is an extremely interesting course. After a roly poly 5 mile loop that hops across the river to North Little Rock and then back through downtown, runners are treated with a long, gentle uphill through various neighborhoods in (what I assume is) the central part of the city. At about M14, this hill gets substantially steeper. Up and up you go. Just past M16 on a road rightly named "Lookout", the course winds along a ridge and then SWOOP - down you go. At M18, the course turns along a road through a park near the river. This is a fun and flat out-and-back between M18 and M23.5. The final 2.7 miles follow the same road along the river back into downtown and the finish. Described differently, after the turnaround at M20.5, the rest of a race is a straight, flattish shot to the finish. Well, flattish except for a couple evil little bumps.

The race prides itself on its hills. Everybody describes the Little Rock Marathon as hilly. They sell shirts with the slogan "What Hills?" It is hilly. But compared to some of the races I've run, it's really not *that* hilly. The reputation is earned mostly by the big ol' hill in the middle. Not unlike the hill in the middle of Flying Pig.

The race also prides itself on its organization. This is well-deserved. My favorite aspect of this turned out to be something which they don't really advertise, and something I don't recall seeing at any other race. The course offers up a great tour of all kinds of Little Rock history. And to help ensure that everyone knows a little about what they are seeing, the race puts up little signs in front of historic buildings explaining their relevance. This was so cool! The only thing I knew I wanted to see in Little Rock was Central High School. I had heard it was on the course, but I didn't know where. Sure enough, there was a sign. I didn't need a sign for it, as it turns out, because Central High School is huge and remarkably pretty. This was unexpected. It turns out that Little Rock has all kinds of OTHER nifty buildings and parks. Thanks to the signs, now I know about them too. You know, I bet that this is true about many, many of the other 199 races I've run in various (and sometimes obscure) places. But I'll never know. Little Rock? I know. Little signs add value.

Little Rock also offered up great aid stations with friendly volunteers. The occasional band too. And permanent mile markers: blue versions of those highway markers you see on Interstates. I suppose it helps that the governor of Arkansas is a big fan of marathoning :-). Two race shirts as well.

Now, what Little Rock seems to be most proud of is the medal they provide to finishers. It is very, very large. I knew this coming into it, but I didn't realize HOW big. I'll come back to that.

Let's play Where's Waldo. This is Corral B at the start. Where's Roberto?
Race morning offered up perfect weather. Overcast and 45. It was a bit breezy and threatened to get quite warm, so Island Boy went with various pink and black peel-offable layers. As a well organized medium-sized race, Little Rock had a reasonable corraling system to help ensure that folks lined up appropriately. And pacers. I stood in corral B wondering about a race goal. I was *in* corral B because I had estimated a finish time between 3:30 and 3:45 when I signed up. Was this reasonable? Hmmm. I mentioned in my 2009 Goals that one of my big goals for the first half of the year is to get ready for a race in the 3:15-3:20 range. To get there, I promised myself to run fewer non-goal marathons and to be smarter about how I ran them. This is specifically why I took Invest in Youth slowly. I decided that since Little Rock would have mile markers (Invest in Youth didn't) that I'd try to run it "medium slow(ly)" but more importantly, I wanted to run as even a race as I could. At this point, a medium slow pace would be 3:45ish. I lined up with the two 3:45 pacers and waited.

Not long. Boom, off we went. For about half a mile. I needed to potty. This wasn't a surprise. What WAS a surprise was the number of portapotties after the start of the race. I figured I'd be holding it for awhile. No need. I ducked in, I came out, and I started running again. However, I had lost the 3:45 group and my legs were telling me not to try to catch them.

I settled in where I was. Tons to see in this race. Many people to meet. Lots of historical signs to read. I did it all. I also took the time to reflect on 200 races.

The first miles of this race were uneventful. This was the loop that sent us over the river to North Little Rock and back. I thought about my very first marathon - 2001's Portland (Oregon) Marathon. It was a few weeks after 9/11, and we all wondered whether the race would happen. It did. I ran a stupid race, including a half marathon PR in the first half followed by a major slowdown in the second half. But my finishing time was really cool to see: 4:04:04. I had picked a good race to start with, and I've returned to it several times since. Back in Little Rock, my legs were still really stiff as we passed back through downtown and M5.5. I saw that the course looped back on a different road and noticed the elites run by. Turns out, they were at M9 as I approached M6. Zoom.

I have a weird relationship with speed. I like to run fast, but I don't do it that often. My fastest recent half is 1:36. My fastest full has been my 3:28 at last year's Eugene Marathon. I'm trying to take 10 minutes off that. Yikes. Not counting ultras, I've "run" six marathons over 5 hours. My slowest road marathon was my second one. A couple months after my 4:04:04 at Portland, I ran the Seattle Marathon with a friend. Only after our 5:03 finish did he tell me that he had wanted to break 5 hours. Ooops. Still, though, that's almost two hours faster than the 6:53 I spent on the Leadville Marathon course. None of that compares to the 12:30 I spent going up and down mountains at the White River 50 Miler. Twelve and a half hours!

Anyway, Little Rock wasn't shaping up to be a slow race, nor a fast race. As planned. It was a great day for running fast, so I had to hold back at first. The half marathon course broke off somewhere around M11.

Just past M11, the course turned onto Park Street, and there it was: Central High School. It was big and really pretty. Standing out in front of it, a woman yelled something like "hey, thanks for running for breast cancer!"

My response? "You're welcome. (pause) But actually, I'm against it."

The lady looked at me kind of like I insulted her, but many of the runners around me broke out in laughter. I like making people laugh. More importantly, this told me where my brain and emotions were - in a good place. This meant that my nutrition was fine and that the day was going ok SO FAR. Based on the laughter, this seemed to be true for those around me as well. Cool.

Looking at the marathon course map, it is obvious that the organizers went out of their way to ensure that we saw Central. The course made almost a two mile detour to run past it. Thanks, organizers!

I find cool things to look at in many of the races I've done. As I mentioned earlier, it is 100% likely that I've run by cool things in races and didn't even know it because they weren't marked. It's hard to beat the Marine Corps Marathon for thing-specific sights. The two miles through Magic Kingdom during Disney are close, though. For overall scenery, I'd pick Crater Lake and the now defunct Kilauea marathons as my favorites. The thing is, you expect places like that to be pretty ahead of time. I like unexpected things. Like hitting the turn around in the middle of Frank Maier (Juneau) and suddenly noticing the BIG GIANT GLACIER.

Too bad the half marathoners didn't get to see Central. We merged back onto their course around M12. I was running behind a guy in a "Brasil" shirt. He looked very confused. About M12.5, the full turned left and the half went straight. It was marked ok and they had volunteers telling us this. In English. I realized why Brasil was looking so confused when he turned to me and said, "Fool? Fool?" And pointed.

Hey there. I'm no fool, no siree. Oh wait. I thought about it quickly. He had a thick accent, and he wasn't saying "fool". He was saying "full". Ah, he wasn't sure what to do with all the merging and de-merging of the half and the full! Aha. In broken Spanish, I told him to follow me because the full was turning left.

Of course, they speak Portuguese in Brazil/Brasil. Heh. He figured me out, though, and off we went. My legs were having trouble keeping the pace. By the time we hit THE HILL at M14, off he went.

Hills. I love hills. I don't always run them well, but I do like roly poly races. Leadville and the obscure Mid-mountain Marathon (going between ski resorts in Utah) have been the hilliest races I've done. Message boards light up with discussion periodically regarding the flattest courses in the nation. Skagit Flats, and there's no debate :-).

I hit the halfway point of Little Rock at 1:56. So much for 3:45, and I wasn't sure if my legs could deal with a second 1:56. Especially going up the hill. Up and up. Spectators were extremely encouraging through this section. In general, spectators don't make or break a race for me. Most of my races have none and I still like them fine. The biggest exception to this for me was Twin Cities. That course was lined with people for 26.2 miles and they were REALLY into it. I loved it. Marine Corps had lots of spectators too, but this was the night-and-day opposite experience. At Marine Corps, people kept trying to cross the street right in front of me. Including a lady with a stroller that I had to hurdle. GAH.

Up and up. I had slowed a bit, but so had everyone else. I wasn't being passed, but then I didn't pass anyone either. I crested the hill somewhere around M17 on a street named "Lookout" as in "lookout below!" I wish I could say that I ran down that hill super fast. But I didn't. I rarely do; I am a poor downhill runner. My favorite downhill of all time is the second half of Haulin Aspen. Aside from that, I usually merely tolerate downhill, and that's how this one went. I did not make up the time I had lost.

At M18, the course turned onto the out-and-back section. I was in a pretty good place emotionally and I was still having fun BUT my watch was telling me I had slowed. I could tell that this was starting to bug me, so I decided to play a game. I consciously tried to speed up, but I decided to stop staring at the numbers on my wrist. I love out-and-backs because I get to see folks going the other way. The fast folks in front of me and later on, the not-so-fast folks behind me. I call out to people I know; I offer up encouragement. My favorite race, Kona, is an out-and-back. While I don't love the Seattle Marathon, the out-and-back section across the floating bridge is one of my annual favorite memories.

As I started into this section, a guy I know from a message board (Maniac Matt) called to me from the other side. That was nice. He'd go on to PR with a 3:01. WOOHOO! I had no such designs on a PR, but I was running noticeably faster now. I was passing people too.

About M19, I saw Maniacs Yolanda and Larry running the other way. They had started early; I decided to try to catch them. I ran 65 marathons in 2007. Yolanda ran 65 in 2008. I've mentioned Larry before. He ran 95 in 2007 and 105 in 2008. Ok then. Just before the turnaround at M20.5, I caught up to my friend Jim. He ran 72 in 2007.

Time to head to the finish. I wanted to make some of these final miles as fast as my early miles. It would be hard, which reminded me that this race advertises itself as hilly and hard. It is hilly, but it isn't THAT hilly. The hardest marathons I've run were Crater Lake and Estes Park. Little Rock wouldn't make the top ten. But that's ok! It was going to be plenty hard to finish fast and even out my first half/second half split.

As I ran on the back side, I noticed a ton of maniacs on the out side who I hadn't yet met. I hooted and hello'ed all these folks. Sometimes I got a big smile. Usually, I got a blank stare. Ah well. I run in pink which is 1) weird and 2) incognito for a maniac. At M18 of a hard race, I'd probably wonder why some strange guy in pink was yelling at me. If I wasn't, you know, that guy.

I felt pretty good. Not as good as I did six weeks before at Surf City when I ran my 3:39 with a negative split, but much better than I did four weeks before at the Breast Cancer Marathon. I wasn't ducking into portapotties every few miles either. Always a plus.

Thinking of the Breast Cancer Marathon made me consider some of my most 'meaningful' races. That would definitely be the main one. Bataan too. Seeing thousands of soldiers climbing the big hill at Bataan with 35 pound packs was cool. Shaking the hands of several Real-Bataan survivors after finishing was quite moving indeed.

The final miles clicked by. I felt like I was holding my faster pace, but I also wasn't looking at my watch. I thought about my other senses besides 'sight' and marathon memories based on other senses. At the top of the final hill at Twin Cities is a church with a giant Big Ben-sounding bell. I will never forget the deep "BONNNNNNNNG (pause) BONNNNNNNNNNG (pause) BONNNNNNNNNNNG" as I crested that hill. The taste of the huckleberry shake after Mesa Falls. The rumble of the C-5 passing overhead at Air Force or the jet fighter flyovers at Houston and Dallas White Rock. The smell of Wilmington! Heh.

At M26, volunteers were handing out lipstick (!). But not to me. At M26.1, another guy I know from a message board (spiderpig!) called out to me.

At M26.2 I was done. 3:52. And that meant that I pulled a 1:56/1:56 split. COOL! I didn't run exactly even miles, but I never do. And this was a hilly course. I did what I wanted to do, although I was 7 minutes slower than my initial goal. That was alright.

Did I mention that Little Rock has a big medal? Indeed. It even says so.

What a fun day. And a reflective one too. This was an incredible race, even though I personally did not run an "incredible race". I had a great time. Then I headed back to Texas to help take care of my dad.

Next up: The Grasslands Marathon. And let me tell you, that was a real adventure. Not all in a good way, but it worked out. I'm still here. I'll be back with that story Real Soon Now.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The February Race Report

Well, hello. Long time, no see. I did a single, consolidated post for January because I didn't have time during the month to write. This was mostly due to my little doggie. He's doing better, thankfully, but he has been a lot of work.

Time for the next thing! My father had to have surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm (usually referred to as an "AAA" or a "triple A"). This was originally scheduled for the first week of February and then got moved to February 13th so that he could get past a cold. Messing with a person's aorta is tricky business, especially when that person is 78 years old and has lived through the same life choices that many folks in the 1950s and 1960s made. Scary time. Now, I mean. Although the 60s were pretty damn scary too.

I knew that my races and Real Life plans would be iffy because I wanted to be in Dallas for the surgery, and I didn't know how long I'd stay. Looking back, the month went really well all things considered... though I have to say that running seems pretty unimportant sometimes, traveling to run has felt a bit extravagant (oh, and then there's the economy), and I just haven't felt creative enough to write about the runs I've managed to do. My training has really suffered too, and it hasn't helped that the weather in Seattle has been so snowy and cold this winter.

I wrote about the weather in my January report. My weekly mileage (mpw) had been down into the 40s during January, which is not good for someone training for a typical goal marathon and extra awful for someone who likes to run a bunch of them close together. That said, it was a big improvement over the single digit weekly miles I managed towards the end of December. I spent the month rebuilding... and although I ran no marathons, each weekend I ran a race that was a bit longer than the week before. Towards the end of January, I was back to a long run of 19.2 miles.

Which was good, because I was registered for the Surf City Marathon on February 1st. Well, "good" in that I knew I could make the distance. But certainly not "great" in that I did not have a good series of long runs to help ensure I was ready for a quality race. I had only that single run beyond 13.1 miles since the middle of December. Coupled with a low mpw, I had no great hopes for Surf City. It needed to be a very long training run. The first of many.

The Surf City Marathon is held in Huntington Beach, California, usually near or on Superbowl Sunday. I ran Surf City in 2007, back when it was called Pacific Shoreline. It was my 4th marathon (and my 3rd race ever in pink) during the year I ran 65. I had a reasonably fun race, but I was fairly slow. In warmish (but yummy to Island Boy) conditions, I huffed and puffed to a 4:04 finish. Then I drank beer.

The main thing to note about the 2009 edition is that the course is the reverse of the old course. Huge, huge improvement. The only hills in the course now come early instead of late. The bottleneck caused by thousands of slow half marathoners is alleviated by the timing of the merge when run in this direction. Anyway, this course is a 15 mile balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back that heads up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), shoots off onto hilly roads and through a couple of parks, and then returns on the PCH. Near the start/finish area, the course makes a turn out onto the bike path that winds along the beach. The final 11 miles are a flattish out-and-back along this beach with tons of regular bathrooms and, of course, great ocean scenery.

I showed up for this race with very low expectations. I had no idea what would happen. I knew I wanted to beat 4, but I also knew that I should be quite satisfied with 3:59:59. An improvement over 2007's 4:04. However, I also decided to run by feel... and if the first few miles felt more like I should try for 3:45-3:50, then I'd go with that and see how long it lasted. With my suboptimal training, I had no hopes of anything faster.

Waiting for the start of the race, I hooked up with one my friends from the area, Jon (or, according to his race number, Jon Boy). It sounded like Jon was in the same fuzzy area as me regarding a finish. When the race started, we ran together. Jon is the guy in the orange shirt.

I was very stiff during the first mile, but talking to Jon and other folks (hi, Barefoot Rick) took my mind off of that. So much so, in fact, that by the second mile, I got the first of several similar comments from Jon:
Hey, slow down, Speed Racer.

I had just run an 8:20 mile. I shifted down to 8:30-8:45/mile pace, but each time I got distracted, apparently I sped up again.
Slow down, Speed Racer.

Hmmm. The weather was perfect and I felt great. We made it through the parks and back out onto PCH. As we approached the halfway point, I could feel the slowdown setting in. I tried to pace off of Jon's pace. I have a feeling he was trying to do the same with me.

We hit the half at 1:50. Hmm. Did I think I had a 3:40 in me? NO WAY. I was sure I had gone out too fast. However, this was a training run and I really needed to gauge my fitness, so I decided to hold it for as long as I possibly could.

A couple miles later, we turned onto the beach's bike path for the long out-and-back. I did not feel great, but I didn't feel that much worse either. My pace settled in around 8:30 for a few miles. Jon had dropped back a little. At M18, I had the sudden urge to go to the bathroom. The good news was that I had made it 18 miles during a race without any potty related issues. This is rare. The better news was that this path has tons of bathrooms and no lines. In I went, out I came, and I was back on the course without losing too much time. And I felt better.

The turn around was just before M20. Usually the last 10k of a marathon are the hardest miles, and generally the slowest ones. Every now and then, though, my brain and body sync up in a positive place and I can unleash some weird energy reserve that I usually do not possess. This rare experience, kind of like "flow" I suppose, is one of the key reasons I race. I don't know why it happens and I can't predict when it will happen UNTIL IT IS HAPPENING, but it surely is fun when it does.

And here it was. Surf City has pace groups and as I was approaching the turnaround, I spied the 3:40 pace leader on his way back. I decided that my mission was to catch him. Didn't know if I could do it, but I felt really good. Besides, I was running next to the ocean and women were wearing skimpy clothes. Even if I failed, it would still be a good day.

But I didn't fail.

I caught my man right at the M26 marker. Then I finished the race at 3:39.


Who knew? I have no idea what happened. My training didn't seem to support a 3:39, and certainly not a 3:39 with a one minute negative split (1:50/1:49). I have Jon to thank for holding me back with the Speed Racer comments... that helped in the literal long run. And speaking of, he finished just behind me. A good day for both of us.

Also, here's a special shout-out to an old friend, FBI Special Agent Tim. He completed his very first marathon ever at Surf City. Go Tim!

Did this 3:39 mean I was in great shape? Did I proceed to BQ and win some awards in follow-up races? No. I did have a nice time sitting at the Long Beach airport drinking diet coke and watching the Super Bowl. But that was about the last "nice time" I had for awhile.

The following weekend was the local (to Seattle) Valentine Marathon. This was the most recent edition of various recurring holiday marathons that I do quite frequently. I don't have a good story to tell about this race. I knew that my father was going to need surgery five days after the race, and I was still struggling with my dog... so I just wasn't that into the run. It did not help that the race was held on a boring, lonely course with lots of car traffic. I had 13 good miles in me, but after clocking a 1:52 first half, my brain just gave up. Every step of the second half hurt and I was super duper grumpy. I ran some and I walked some. I didn't talk to anybody, not that there were lots of folks around. I finished at 4:08 (the official clock was off by about 11 minutes... huh??). The 1:52/2:16 split tells you everything you need to know. The holiday marathons are usually low-key affairs but I generally hang out to talk to friends. Not this time. I finished, got in my truck, and left. I also promised myself never to do another holiday marathon. Yuck.

What happened? A combination of things. Thinking about Real Life. Grumpiness like that usually has something to do with my nutrition. Not training very well because of Real Life played the biggest role, of course. I think what happened here is that my lower mileage got me out of the kind of shape I need to be in to run a marathon each weekend. So I was fine for the first one. But I was in no way recovered for this weekend.

The next week was tough to get any running in. I did a little. On Thursday, I traveled to Dallas for my dad's Friday surgery. We got there at 5:15am (!) for check-in. The surgery (euphemistically "procedure") was supposed to take a couple hours, but it took four. And they had to give him a lot of blood. SCARY! Yet, by the afternoon, he was in ICU semi-coherent and talking to us. I was amazed; I figured he'd be out for the count.

He had a good night, and the next day, Saturday, I had a choice to make. The Breast Cancer Marathon... theoretically, my signature event... was scheduled for the following day in Jacksonville, Florida. I wanted to be in two places at the same time. Three brothers, two sisters, one uncle, and several friends were cycling in/out of ICU to be with my dad and to help my mom.

I decided on the race. Now, while I was at the race, nothing at all unfortunate happened with my dad. He did great. All the same, if I had a time machine, I would make this choice differently. Sigh.

I don't have one of those devices, though, and I did indeed go to JAX.

I ran this race last year. It was kind of a flame out. The well-organized race started late in the morning for such a hot-n-humid day. I had initially targeted this as my "go fast" for early 2008... a great way to cap off my 65 in 2007. I wanted to beat 3:30. But with the weather, no way. I was happy to finish at 3:46 and could tell at the end that if I'd tried to go faster, it would have been very, very bad.

This year was somewhat different. The race started earlier AND it wasn't nearly as hot. In fact, I was wearing a long sleeve shirt and gloves at the start! I've learned that this race is my chance to fade into the crowd. Wearing pink does not stand out. Even so, I was standing in the right place at the right time, and got interviewed just before the start. And then there was the start and we were off.

So, two weeks prior, I had managed a 3:39 on one of those days when everything went right. I figured the 4:08 follow-up was simply a bad day. What to do here? Hmm. At first, I randomly decided that since I had recently run 3:40ish on the Pacific Ocean, I should try to run 3:40ish on the Atlantic Ocean. But very quickly, I knew that my body had different ideas. I remembered my Valentine experience. I was still tired from the previous week. Ok, no 3:40, but I wanted to run evenly.

This decision came around M2, which coincidentally was where I caught up to a very famous runner: Bill Rodgers. I asked him whether he was running the half or the full. He told me he was going to run 50. Okey doke! (It was a joke; he ran the full). I settled in with him for a bit.

My pace with Bill seemed to be fair. At least by what my breathing told me. My muscles were going to complain regardless of pace. I'd like to say that I had a fun chat that perhaps he'd remember for years, but after asking him about his race, I shut up. In any case, this was just his warm up, and he left me in the dust around M5. Bye, Bill.

This course is essentially an out-and-back, with a bypass that takes runners onto the beach between M5.5 and M7.5. It was a lot windier this year than last year - but still very pleasant. My legs remained stiff.

I hit the halfway point at 1:55... so 3:40ish surely wouldn't happen. It was very humid, so I didn't know if I could even hold an even split. That point became academic and quite moot almost immediately.

Potty Attack!

The first of several. Uh oh. I have absolutely NO idea what I messed up. I had eaten the right stuff. I had not been drinking anything too sweet nor too salty. It was just one of those days. Boo.

And so I ran as best as I could while I thought about my dad and also about The Mighty J-Lo. It was getting hot. My long-sleeves-and-gloves look morphed into a simple singlet. Quite a change. One of the reasons why I like this race is that the community really gets out to support it. All the people on their lawns and balconies hooting for me really helped get me through it. Too bad they couldn't prevent the next Potty Attack!


I remember the final miles of last year's race being quite the struggle. This year, I felt better and, in between portapotty stops, I managed to talk to a ton of runners and walkers. That was nice.

I sped up a bit for the last mile. I had passed some dude in a yellow shirt during that mile, and at M26, he suddenly decided he wanted to race me. Usually I don't play that game, but I decided to have some fun with him and I sped up to see what he'd do. He didn't seem to like it. You can see how well he kept up in that picture.

3:53. Ugh. 7 minutes slower than last year. However, I felt waaay better at the end than last year. My split was 1:55/1:58, which once I subtracted out my time in various little green buildings, was pretty good. Adjusted, I really ran a 3:47, which means my split was 1:55/1:52. Nice. And basically identical to last year's time.

Of course, we're not allowed to do that. Maybe I sped up while running the second half because of... uh... my rest breaks in the little green buildings. I dunno. But as a training run, I was very satisfied.

And that was the last race I ran in February. 3 marathons in 3 weeks. Not bad.

I headed back to Seattle to deal with my own Real Life. My sisters would be taking care of my dad full-time for the next few weeks. Long before I knew about the surgery, I had scheduled a nine day trip to Dallas for mid-March. I decided to stay with that schedule. He'd still need help by then (incidentally, I am writing this during that exact Dallas trip; yes, he still needs help).

A week after the surgery, he had to go back into the hospital because of several pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in his lungs) and other blood clots in his legs. Not good. A couple days later, he was back home. Since then, and perhaps for the next year, he's been on coumadin - super duper strength blood thinner. This helps with the clots but can have some major side effects.

It's always something.

As for me, the Breast Cancer Marathon was #198... which meant, knock on wood, that I'd hit #200 sometime during March. Did I? I'll let you know.

Real Soon Now.


Monday, February 02, 2009

The January Race Report

So... where have I been? What's been going on? Why haven't I been writing? I've been working on something else, and I learned a long time ago that my brain/fingers have a finite amount of words that they can produce each week. After working on other stuff, I've been out of words. So, let's play a little catch up. This report will cover the races I managed to attend in January. Then I'll write one for February. Hopefully, by mid-March I can get back to writing more stuff about races and training. Assuming I can make it interesting, that is. For example, I don't know how many times you need me to describe the course for the Seattle Marathon. It doesn't change :-). Anyway. Let's turn back the clock to the first month of 2009.

January was a funny month. I wish I could say it was ha-ha funny, but that's certainly not true. Then again, it wasn't the worst month of my life... no, not by any stretch. But it surely was weird.

The last two weeks of December brought two feet of snow to my house. When I stepped off the plane from the Honolulu Marathon on 12/14, there was a light dusting of snow. My little truck barely made it over all the hills and home from the airport. It did, though, and I suppose the timing couldn't have been better. I barely left my house until 12/27. The snow came and then more snow came. Then more came. It did not thaw in between.

Meanwhile, the city of Seattle decided to plow all the main roads and declare the city "clear". Except they didn't clear out any of the neighborhoods. My total running over a two week period? 8 miles. Two trips to the post office and back. Ice running was quite an adventure.

I experienced my first white Christmas in 42 years. That was interesting. Then, the next day, it started melting. The day after that, I noticed my little dachshund Tobias (he's the cute little guy you see in my profile picture and on my race schedule) was acting weird. I took him to the vet that Saturday morning and learned what it means to have an inflamed disk between two vertebrae. I was told what to do and what to look out for, including a specific set of "if you see this, take him to the emergency room RIGHT AWAY" instructions.

This shows how my luck has been working lately. Weird/bad things happen, but they flow into good things that make the bad things not so bad, which then flow into the next thing. I can't imagine what I would have done if the snow had not melted when it did.

Sunday night, it happened. I saw the magic "this", and so I took him to the emergency room. RIGHT AWAY. The inflamed disk had ruptured, and it was pressing against his spinal cord. It started as a weird stagger, proceeded to drunken walking, and then his whole back/bottom half just kind of ceased functioning.

The next day, they sliced him open from his shoulders down to his tail (10 inches or so) and removed the disk material. He had to stay at the hospital for a few days. While he was there, I half-heartedly ran a slow half marathon as part of the Last Chance Marathon in Bellingham on 12/31. The trail was icy, and lots of people fell down. I didn't fall... which is curious because I ALWAYS start falling when I'm concerned about the health of a family member. But I did run slowly.

Tobias came home on New Year's Day. He could barely move... but he was getting feeling and motion back. I was supposed to keep him confined and under 'restricted movement' (doggy bedrest) for four weeks. Four weeks! Tobias has two speeds: sprint and sleep. I was supposed to keep him out of sprint mode for a month. Oh boy.

Meanwhile, I started running again. A little. When I could. I had been running 60-70 mpw in 2008. That went to 4 mpw (!!!) during the big snow. While taking care of the little boy, I was able to get it back up to the 40-50 range. Not great, but better than nothing. Luckily, when the snow went away, the weather got reasonably nice by Seattle winter standards.

I managed to run in three races during the month. I intentionally staged each race to help me build my long run mileage back up to marathon levels. Man that was hard. Psychologically, I had to hold myself back at first. Skipping potential marathons meant lost opportunity. I had to reprogram my brain not to worry so much about running mega amounts of long races in a year. This took a couple weeks. Physically, I wanted the opportunity to rebuild cautiously.

Here's what I did:

  • The weekend of 1/3, I ran 6 miles on Saturday and 6 miles on Sunday (12 miles total).

  • The weekend of 1/10, I ran a 10 mile trail race on Saturday, and 12 miles on Sunday (22 miles).

  • The weekend of 1/17, I ran a half marathon on Saturday, and 9 miles on Sunday (22 miles).

  • The weekend of 1/24, I ran a 19.2 trail race on Saturday, and 9 miles on Sunday (28 miles).

  • The weekend of 1/31, I ran/walked 10 miles on Saturday, and ran a full marathon on Sunday (36 miles)

This did not include weekday mileage. Including that, my miles held steady in the 40-50 range. I was pleased with the longer weekend runs, but not so happy with the others during the week. But it was all I could manage.

I'll hit each race briefly.

Squishing Through Poop in the Dark
The 10 mile trail run on 1/10 was part of the Bridle Trails Running Festival. Bridle Trails is a state park in Kirkland WA. It is a very hilly place in the woods. Based on the name, you can probably guess (correctly) that it is used mostly by horses. Horses and riders, that is. Not horses just roaming. There are lots of trails through this park, and once a year, the Seattle Running Company sets up a hilly, 5 mile loop on very technical trails. Runners have the option of completing a 5 mile race, a 10 miler, or holding on for a full 50k. One small detail... the race starts at 3p. This means that by the end of the first loop, it is starting to get dark. The rest of the race is at night on those very technical trails. Early January is historically a crappy weather time too... so it is generally 30-40 degrees and raining. The course offers tons of mud and shin deep puddles. Lots of horse poop too. If it is very cold, the poop freezes and can turn an ankle. If it isn't so cold, the poop is simply squishy.

Most of my Maniac friends were in for the full 50k of course. That's the idea, at least. This race can have a high DNF rate - up to 80% some years. I had absolutely no desire to run 50k. Even if I felt I was in long race shape, I wouldn't have done it. I figured I had two loops in me, though, so I signed up for the 10 miler. I thought I might do a third loop for fun. Yeah. Didn't happen. Knowing that I am perhaps the world's worst trail runner, my two loops actually went a little better than expected. I made it through the first one in exactly 45 minutes. 9:00/mile on technical trail? Smoking! The second loop was the dark loop. I never fell, but as I started down the last hill to the finish, I turned my ankle hard enough that I had to stop completely and scream for a second. Fooey. Anyway, my second loop was 48 minutes... so 1:33 total. That was that, though; I had no desire for a third loop. Not even sort of.

As I was driving home, I learned that baby Tobias had eaten part of his floppy cone while hanging out in his crate. Boredom and dogs don't mix. So I made a detour to get a new cone. In case this doesn't make sense: after surgeries, dogs sometimes get a cone placed on their necks to prevent them from biting their stitches. Because Tobias only has two speeds (remember? Sprint and sleep) and was recovering from spinal surgery, he couldn't have a rigid plastic cone. He might whack his cone against something and wrench his back. Sooo... they had given him a floppy thing that made him look like a first grader playing "the flower" in the spring pageant.

Check out the first and second cones:

Alas, a couple days later, he ate the second one too. Bleh. That's-a my boy.

Running for Some Nooky
The next weekend, I ran the Nookachamps Half Marathon. This is an old-school race; I think this was the race's 30th year or so. I've not run it before. I knew it was a loop that started and finished at a community college north of Seattle, and I knew that it was geographically near the Skagit Flats Marathon held in September. Skagit Flats is indeed flat, and so I figured Nookachamps would be too.

Wrong! Wrong, sir, wrong!

For the most part, Nookachamps is a roly poly course, but there is a daunting one mile long uphill at M10. Alas, race morning was very foggy and so I didn't know how long the hill was until I hit the top. That was a long 8 minutes! Aside from that, it was simply a nice run on a chilly morning. Quite a few of my friends PRed. Outstanding. Not me, alas, but then I wasn't trying to PR. I started out slowly and managed speed up all the way to the big hill. I pulled in with a leisurely (for me) 1:42. I was quite ok with this and happy for my friends.

Besides, I got to experience something that doesn't happen often. About M11, the course made a left turn from one road onto a much bigger road. A couple volunteers stood at this intersection to direct runners. Pretty normal. And they were accompanied by a reasonably large group of wild turkeys. Huh. Well, they were marginally wild, I guess. They certainly weren't the brainless white feathered creatures you see at a turkey farm (ranch??). They were BIG gray feathered things, just like wild turkeys I've seen elsewhere. And, uh, on the bottle :-). But they weren't running around, they weren't trying to maul the volunteers, and they didn't chase me. They just stood behind one of the volunteers clucking and gobbling. That was as close to spectators as we'd get at this race! Well, that and my friend Bee in a car encouraging several of us. Thanks, Bee.

Meanwhile, during the week, much of my time was concerned with keeping Tobias still but not bored. I didn't want him eating blankets. Fun times.

Even If It Was Light, You Couldn't See the Lake
My third race for January was held at Lake Youngs in Renton. I've written about Lake Youngs before because I've done quite a few races there. Briefly, there's a 9.6 mile gravel/dirt loop trail...not at all technical... around a little lake. Except for a peekaboo view that lasts for a few seconds, though, you'd never know there was a lake. It is hidden by trees and brush. It's a very peaceful place to run, and for some reason, incredibly hard for me. I don't really know why. It is roly poly, but the hills don't seem to be any worse than other places in the Seattle area. The trail does not present challenging footing. Nevertheless, I've never run it fast. Other people do. But I never have, and I would not be fast on this day.

A few times during the year, various Maniacs will host races here. All the races work the same: runners can choose between running 1 loop (9.6 miles), 2 loops (19.2 miles), or 3 loops (28.8 miles). Sometimes, as was the case on this day, the organizer will also set up a little out-and-back segment to bump up the distance to 50k. I usually do three loops so that it counts as a baby ultra, but for this January version, I only planned to do two. Slowly. I knew I wasn't ready to go long, and I didn't have that much time anyway. I was scared I'd get home to find that Tobias had eaten my couch. So, two loops. I wanted to start early, which meant that my first loop would be in the dark. Holy cow - I've run three races in the dark in my entire life, and two of them were within a couple weeks of each other.

I did indeed run my two loops, and I have nothing creative to report about them. My first loop took me 1:35, and my second loop was about 1:40. The previous weekend I had run 13.1 in 1:42, and that was actually slow for me. At Lake Youngs, it took me almost the same amount of time to cover 9.6 miles. 3.5 miles less. Yikes. I finished with two other guys who had done two loops. Big difference, though. I had started an hour before they did. See? There's just something about Lake Youngs that turns my legs into molasses. I don't get it.

On the very last day of the month, I headed to Southern California to run the Surf City Marathon. Alas, that race was held on 2/1, so it'll have to wait for my next report. I was very, very nervous heading into Surf City with only one run beyond 14 miles in the previous six weeks.

How would I do? Check back Real Soon Now.

No, I promise. It really will be Real Soon Now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Goals for 2009

Well, welcome to another year. Here's hoping that in many non-running aspects, this year is better than last year. Or the year before that. Or the year before that. I have a bit of a streak going. As I seem to be "Even Steven" in the luck/karma department, one would think some good things are going to happen. Even with a bad economy :-).

But I mostly talk about running here, so let's do that.

Fingers crossed, I'll hit an interesting milestone in March: marathon #200. To be exact, it'll be #200 if I add my marathons to my ultras. I've run a whopping 14 ultras to date. Counting only marathons, I'll still probably get to 200 towards the end of the year. Which means, obviously, that I'm not planning on running nearly as many marathons this year compared to 2006 (36), 2007 (64), or 2008 (41). I think it'll be a lot closer to 20. I still have the wheels to do lots of marathons. And if I stay closer to home, I can still afford to do lots of marathons even with the crummy state of money right now. But I feel like shaking things up with my training. Also, I have a bunch of non-running things to do in 2009... and while running races all over the country is fun, the travel itself is a huge pain, and a big eater of time (and, not coincidentally, money).

This year, I've dedicated the first 6ish months to training differently. Essentially, I'll be following the Jack Daniels' Running Formula Marathon A-Plan, although I will throw in a few extra races along the way. My current PR is a 3:28, and my hope is that following this plan and not racing nearly as much will allow me to drop this into the 3:15-3:20 range by summer. As a 42/43 year old guy, this would allow me to BQ though that's not really my ultimate dream goal. It is, however, something new and different. This is good.

During this first six months, I will race a few 5ks, halves, and fulls along the way to help measure my progress. Then, starting in July (or August if my first attempt at 3:15-3:20 blows up), I'm going to focus on the shorter stuff. Although I'll keep my mileage high and run a few marathons as the days get shorter and colder, I want to get that 1:30 half that I claimed I'd run last year. Then I want to beat 19:30 in a 5k.

Heh. It feels kind of backwards, really. Most people go after the 5k THEN the half THEN the full.

I do have some specific races I'm targeting with this schedule. To summarize, in priority order:
  • I want to run a 3:15-3:20 marathon during the summer. My first attempt will be at Seattle Rock-n-Roll (6/27). If that doesn't work out, I will try again either at Missoula (7/12) or San Francisco (7/29). Seattle and San Francisco are very hilly; Missoula is not. Then again, Missoula has been HOT both times I've raced there, and I've had weird stomach issues both times. We'll see.
  • I want to run a 1:30 half marathon in September or October. I will probably try at Skagit Flats in mid-September. Not sure about other attempts, but I'll find something.
  • I want to run a 19:30-or-faster 5k sometime in October or November. The weather in Seattle can start to get dicey at the end of November, but I may look at the 5k associated with the Seattle Marathon.
As always, there are a few interesting races that I'm targeting for different and goofy reasons. These include:
  • The Yakima River Canyon Marathon. This is the 2009 Maniac reunion and I don't want to embarrass myself. Ok, not really... but last year, I was very sick and ran this race anyway. I probably shouldn't have. I want to run a 3:35-3:40 which will be an improvement of more than 30 minutes over last year's 26 miles of coughing. If I can do this, it will also show that my training is progressing for my bigger goal.
  • The new Illinois Marathon. Illinois is the only state where I've not run a marathon. I should be able to fix this situation in April, and then I'll be done with the 50 states.
  • The Tacoma City Marathon. Last year, I ran a 3:39 and finished right behind the 3:40 pacers (shouldn't I have been in front of them?). So this year, I will try for 3:30-3:35. As with Yakima, this lines up with my training for the bigger goal.
  • Although I will have completed a marathon in every state after the Illinois Marathon, there are 12 states where I have not beaten the mystical and made up 4:00 mark. I plan on going back and trying again over the next few years. Hopefully, 2009 will let me check this off for Arkansas (at the Little Rock Marathon) and North Dakota (at the Fargo Marathon). 3:59:59 will be a very conservative goal for these courses. I just need to get to the races intact.
  • The Seattle Marathon. I tried to run a 3:25-3:30 in 2008 and messed it up. If I do NOT try to run a fast 5k the day before, I'll try this again.
I have a set of streaks (races I do every year) to look at in 2009. One will end simply because it is impossible to continue: I have streaks at both Tacoma and Eugene, but this year the races are scheduled for the same day. Ooops. I picked Tacoma to continue the streak. Bye, Eugene. I also have a streak going at Missoula. This *may* continue... especially if I mess up Seattle rnr. I have a nice, long streak going at Kona. Not anymore. My eight year streak at Seattle will stay intact, hopefully. And my baby three year streak at Yakima. Maybe I'll start new streaks!

That's a lot of goals; all of them have time-based components. Even Illinois, which is more of a checkbox goal... because I need to beat 4:00 there, or it'll show up again further down the list. I do not chase the clock in all of the runs I do. As you can see from some of the races in the second list, even a race with a time goal may or may not map to "run the fastest time I can".

But sometimes it does. And that's ok too.

Running is supposed to be fun. M22 of a marathon usually doesn't feel fun. Same with M2 of a 5k and M10 of a half that I'm trying to run fast. Completing them is fun, though. Hard work IS fun.

I just want to keep it fun. If I don't have fun, I reserve the right to change my goals. Besides, they are my goals and I'm probably the only person reading (and certainly caring about) this.

Mostly I want Real Life to normalize, regress to the mean, and Even Steven.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2008: The Year in Review

Marathons and ultras completed in 2008: 41

This is quite a bit fewer than the 64 I completed in 2007 (65 if measured from 1/7/07-1/6/08). 41 was certainly better for my bank account. Over the past two years, I ran 105.

That's a lot, but let me change your frame of reference. My friend Larry Macon also ran 105. Except that he did that in one year. WOW. In fact, in the same two years that I ran 105, he ran something like 200. A few others have also run somewhere around 105 in two years. Maniac Van Phan is one. And her races included more than a few 50 milers and some 100 milers. I can't even comprehend a 100 miler. So WAHOO to Van and Larry. And my friend Little Leslie. Hello, Yolanda Holder. And my friends Coconutboy and Coconutgirl who run tons and tons of races as a couple. Except for when she smokes him. Heh. And some others who I could mention, but the more that I mention, the more it will seem like I'm intentionally stiffing someone I accidentally leave out.

And big props to those of you who ran two. Or one. Or took that first set of steps out the door to prepare for your very first 5k ever. Running is hard work, and hard work can be fun. It is for me. Even if some days don't feel like that, it is.

Real life barely allowed this year's 41. 2008 also included one biopsy (me), two cancer scares/tests (someone else), one broken elbow (same someone else), the death of someone I admire greatly, and two dog surgeries.

Also, I lost all the skin off of my right heel at a 50 miler in July. This made the next month of racing somewhat painful. And slow. Finally, I had a bunch of races packed into the end of December, but the two feet of snow that shut down Seattle for two weeks and trapped me at home took care of those. And helped make January 2008 "the month of being out of shape."

I PRed at the marathon distance once and at the half marathon distance twice. I ran three 50 milers (well, one was actually 51.3)even though I said "never again" after 2007. Never say never. Although, well, even after three more of them, I *still* didn't really like 50 much. So maybe I can say never again. Or not.

A "double" is what I call a weekend where I run two races of marathon distance or longer. In 2007, I ran 14 doubles (plus a triple and the elusive quadzilla). In 2008, I only ran one double. I was actually planning on none, but a fellow Maniac set up a Saturday ultra in support of breast cancer research. I couldn't pass that up even though I had a full scheduled for the next day.

Of the 41, 7 were ultras. Of the remaining 34 marathons...
  • I beat 3:30 1 time - a new PR of 3:28:17.
  • I beat 3:40 (inclusive) 4 times.
  • I beat 3:45 (inclusive) 13 times.
  • I beat 3:50 (inclusive) 19 times.
  • I beat 4:00 (inclusive) 29 times.
29 out of 34 marathons on the low side of four: I am pleased with that. Each of the remaining five has its own reason for being on the high side. I ran a 4:11 at Cowtown while trying to help a friend beat 4. Ooops. I ran 4:12 a month later at Yakima while trying to beat a bronchial infection. Bad idea. My 4:12 at Rattlesnake Lake was the second day of my double on a course with 13 miles of continuous, relentless uphill. My 4:30 at Haulin Aspen is a huge frustration, but I'll come back to that. Finally, my 4:02 at Park City was simply a weird race. It has 10ish miles of continuous, relentless uphill AND the race is up very high... but really, the reason I didn't beat 4 was because I didn't think I had a chance of beating 4. Until I finished at 4:02 and realized that I just should have tried harder.

That 3:45 section is interesting. 9 of 2007's races were specifically between 3:40:00 and 3:44:59. Of these, 4 of them were just on the edge of going into the next fastest category. I ran a 3:40:31, 3:40:26, 3:40:36, and a 3:40:53. I'd like to have the first three back because I am sure I could have pushed each one 30-45 seconds faster. Sure of it. The last one is my flame out at Seattle. I was trying to run somewhere between 3:25-3:30, I was on pace for the first half, and then my body had different ideas.

I PRed in the full at Eugene in May. This was a bit of an accident, really. I just showed up to do a long run. The day before I had sushi and "the large Sapporo" for lunch. I ate Wendys for dinner. But the day went perfectly, and I felt great. It wasn't like I finished that race merely on blood and guts with nothing left. I finished tired, but really pumped. A great day. Which didn't translate directly to future races. Heh. Maybe I really did finish with nothing left.

Let's talk halves. Originally, I was going to focus on halves in 2008. I wanted to run a 1:30. Well, that didn't happen. I managed five halves, and the trend was not towards 1:30. I ran a 1:36 (PR) at Disney in January, a slightly faster 1:36 (PR) on a hilly course in March, a 1:37 in August, a 1:41 in September, and a 1:55 on the last day of the year. That 1:37 was at the race I fondly call 'Taco Man', seven days after White River beat me up and took all the skin off my right heel. This might have been my 1:30 chance, but I got a wee bit aggressive with my schedule. The 1:42 was at the Super Jock-N-Jill half, four days after a muscle biopsy in my back; I ran the race with a stitched up hole. I call it 'my gunshot race'. I think I can cut myself some slack on that one. And, for the record, one of those exactly-3:40 marathons was the following weekend when I still had stitches. Wahoo. But really, I didn't train to focus on halves, so that 1:30 goal went back on the shelf. As for that 1:55? It was New Year's Eve and I wasn't really racing. Plus, probably seven miles of this race contained very icy sections of trail that freaked me out. I didn't fall, but I slid around a lot. I did see lots of falls!

Now, let's talk about the goals I had set for 2008. I promised that I wouldn't travel as much, and I didn't. I spent about half as much on race-related travel.

I had several prioritized goals.

  • Run a 1:30 half. Hmmm. At the beginning of the year, this was my top priority. I decided to focus on other things. DELAYED.
  • Run a 3:30 full. DONE with my 3:28:17 at Eugene in May. But I didn't get close to that afterwards. My 3:36 at San Antonio was more like a 3:32 factoring out the portapotty stops (bad day!). Had I really been closer to 3:32, I bet I could have beaten 3:30 again. I tried one last time at Seattle, and as I wrote above, I bombed miserably.
  • Run 3:45 or better in the Kona Marathon. Not my 3:30 target this year... but my best previous time here is 3:52. NOT DONE. I ran a 3:51, which is still my fastest Kona Marathon to date.
  • Run a sub-20 5k. NOT DONE. I only ran two 5ks and didn't come that close (20:50).
  • Finish the states. NOT DONE, but I'm close. By adding Mississippi, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, I'm at 49. The one remaining state is Illinois.

My goal races for 2008 were:
  • I wanted to try for 3:30 at The National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer on 2/17. Second chance was Eugene on 5/4. The first race was simply too hot. It is interesting to me that I had written 'Eugene' when I set these goals, because when I was IN Eugene, I had no plans of treating it as a goal race. But I beat 3:30 anyway. Go figure.
  • Kona and 3:45 on 6/29. Close, but nope.
  • Skagit Flats is a full and a half in mid-September. I wrote, "I don't know yet whether I will try for the 3:30 full or the 1:30 half there." I ran a 3:40 full with a stitched up hole... so it didn't remain a goal race. I added November's San Antonio Rock-n-Roll Marathon as a replacement attempt for 3:30. Then, when that didn't work out, I added Seattle. Strike three.
  • I also wrote, "I need to find another couple halves in the fall." I added one on labor day weekend... ok, officially summer. This would have been my best chance at 1:30. The biopsy changed things.
Like Kona, there are a couple other races where I attached a goal time. I wrote, "Unlike Kona, these aren't quite as important to me... but they'd still be nice to achieve." These were Lake Youngs Ultra in June ("beat 5") and Haulin Aspen in August (4:15). I *did* beat 5 at Lake Youngs. Twice! But that 4:15 at Haulin Aspen didn't work out. I ran it with the skinless right heel and although I ran it as hard as I possibly could, I barely managed 4:30. On a goofy side note, this was only one minute faster than my HA time in 2007. And in 2007, I ran it the day after Crater Lake, which is what I consider to be the hardest road marathon in the US. In 2008, I did not run this race the day before. One whole minute faster.

Great fun. I did indeed have great fun in 2008.

How about 2009? I'll write up some goals in my next post.

Look! I'm an old man.

Friday, January 02, 2009

12/14/08 Honolulu Marathon

The guy on the left is Marathon Maniac El Presidente and founding member Steve Yee. The guy on the right is more recognizable in pink and with less hair. No. It isn't a toupee. If it was a toupee, it would look better.

The Honolulu Marathon has never been one of my favorite races. It has a number of interesting aspects that attract people: the ocean, city running, and... probably most importantly... the chance to run in warm weather in December. It's Hawai'i! And attract people it does: this race brings in 25,000-35,000 each year. The big swing in attendance has to do with economic situations, primarily in two countries - the United States and Japan. Hawai'i is obviously a locale for the 'destination vacation', and when one ain't got no money, one stays home. And when one is rolling in dough, one (and one's family, of course) come(s) for longer. But even in a down year, that number is still 25,000. Way big for me.

And for a race this big, oddly, they do almost nothing above and beyond the basics for the runner. The expo is small. The shirt is cheap (though this year's wasn't quite as basic). The medal is a key chain. There is no seeding at the start and walkers seem to be proud of starting up front. The finish area is held at a nice place, Queen Kapiolani Park, but with tens of thousands of people trudging around, it can be a muddy disaster zone. And the food after the race? The runner gets an apple and two cookies. Not three. That's it; move along.

Unless you are Japanese. One of the really interesting... to me in a good way... aspects of this race is the amount of folks it draws from Japan. Of the 25,000-35,000, 60% or more come from Japan, and the race very much caters to them. The Japanese approach marathoning differently, and most people seem to come over as part of big tour groups and teams. Each of these groups hosts a lavish banquet at the finish. And sometimes before the start. Alas, as an American, you get to smell the barbeque and the wonderful fish, but you can only satisfy yourself with an apple and two cookies. Not three. And don't try to crash the party.

Nevertheless, the race pulls in figurative boatloads (ok, airplane-loads) of people each year. For the record, the race is the appropriate length, the course is well marked, and the aid stations are plentiful. The volunteers are uniformly friendly. The organizers even shoot off fireworks at the start.

Plus it is December in Hawai'i. That counts for a lot :-). It's hard to complain, but then again, it's also hard to get very motivated by the experience.

So as I said, I've never been a big fan. There are several great races in mid-December which I usually do. The last time I ran Honolulu was 2002. I finished with a 4:25, which at the time was my second fastest marathon. I got to run with local celebrity 'Cowman' for about six miles, and in the last mile, I got passed by a guy wearing Pacific Islander warrior garb and a spear (and no shoes). Then a guy dropped dead at the finish line right after I crossed. Fun day that turned sad at the end. I didn't feel like eating my two cookies. Not three.

For various uninteresting reasons, I decided to run it again this year. I came over a few days early fully intending to do lots of city running and even more beach reading. Alas, my plans were waylaid by typhoon-strength rain and wind that went on all week. Sideways rain so thick that I couldn't see across the street. Sigh. When tourists complain about the almost daily afternoon showers on the islands, I remind them: this is why it is green! But. Come on. This was ridiculous. I felt really badly for families who came over for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday and had to spend it stuck in their rooms. It was raining so hard and for so long that all the attractions and activities were closed.

I picked a most convenient hotel for the race expo and the starting line: The Ala Moana Hotel. The Honolulu Marathon starts at 5a, so starting line convenience was a high priority! The pleasant side effect was that Ala Moana Hotel is next door to Ala Moana Mall and down the street from Ward Center. With Typhoon Week in full swing, my running and beach vacation became more of a shopping adventure. I really got to know Ala Moana Mall very well.

The Friday night before the marathon, the local Maniacs held a big gathering at Buca Di Beppo... and treated Maniac El Presidente Steve and me to family fun, loads of food (which they wouldn't let me pay for), and gifts. Cool! The ring leader of the growing group of Maniacs in Hawai'i who I've dubbed "the Hawai'ianiacs" is Maniac Les. Remember that, I'll mention him again later.

I got to visit with some of the Hawai'ianiacs that I see at all the races, I got to meet spouses, and I got to meet the newest Maniacs-to-be. Fun times. As a special bonus, I sat across from a lady I've met at the Kona and Hilo Marathons many times: Maniac-to-be Marie. Her brother is the sponsor of the Kona race. Interestingly, I talked to several breast cancer survivors in this group, including Marie and another very nice woman who had recently finished treatment. It is amazing when I randomly meet people who have endured the experience, and I am always moved by the almost universal positive attitudes and outlooks.

Ok. The race.

The Honolulu Marathon course is technically a point-to-point because the finish line at Queen Kapiolani Park is about 2.5 miles from the the start. This meant that my hotel, while great before the race, was a bit of a liability afterwards. There are no post-race shuttles. And in order to score a free flight, I had to leave the afternoon of the race. My marathon day would actually be a bit of an ultra. I'd need to run 26.2 miles, eat my two cookies, not three, and then run a few more miles. Great fun!

Ok, a point-to-point. More accurately, the course is a seven mile point-to-point tour of pre-dawn downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. After passing the finish line, the rest of the race is best described as a 19 mile out-and-back with a tiny loop through the Hawai'i Kai neighborhood at the turnaround. For the most part, the course is slightly roly poly. There's a big hill at M7, which repeats on the way back at M24. Lots of people describe this hill as "climbing Diamondhead", and while it is indeed the base of Diamondhead, the course in no way goes near the top. It's just a hill.

Because the race starts at 5a and it doesn't get light until 6:45ish, runners spend between 7 and 18 miles in the dark. The city and Waikiki sections are bright enough, especially with various Christmas lights and decorations, but the rest is quite dark indeed. This is an interesting aspect. Lots of people do this race because of the sights, but you can't really see much for a good portion of time you are out there.

And you are out there with tens of thousands of your closest friends. For the midpacker, the course stays crowded pretty much the entire time. It's not awful, actually, EXCEPT for heading up the Diamondhead hill at M7. The organizers squeeze everyone over into one lane so that the other lane is open for the first crankchair athletes and the phalanx of official vehicles coming back. This part of the race is just no fun. Especially in the dark.

Race day started extra early for me. I generally get up early, so for a 5a start of a packed race, this meant that I needed to get up at 3:45a. I had a friend staying in my room with no such pre-race process; he was going to sleep in. No prob. I figured that I'd simply get up and go downstairs to the ballroom floor of the hotel and complete my process down there. Plenty of room to eat, and a giant bathroom to enjoy. Except for one tiny thing. I didn't know that my hotel was the center of the universe for several of the Japanese tour companies. Giant buses were arriving, basically all night long, packed full of folks. And they all waited on the ballroom level and stood in a quarter-mile line to use the bathroom. Ooops.

I decided to head out to the starting area. On the way over, I spotted a sea of portapotties in the mall's parking garage. A blessing! But not for me. "Sorry, sir, this is for a private party." Konichiwa, sucker. After awhile, I did find a small cluster of portapotties right at the start. In ankle deep mud. Ew. But I did what needed to be done.

I lined up in the sea of humanity at the start, well, NEAR the start, and waited. Randomly, I spotted two friends - Maniacs Coconutboy and Coconutgirl, so I went to hang out with them. The drizzle began. As it got closer to 5a, the drizzle turned into rain.

How about a race goal? I had no need nor desire to truly race. I decided on "beat 4" simply because this would be a nice long run pace and it would be about 30 minutes faster than 2002. Plus, it was just seven days after my 50 miler at Sunmart. A bit of a recovery run.

Finally, at 5a, "home of the brave..." transitioned directly into the fireworks and the start of the race. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Over the line, finally, and off we went in the pouring rain.

In comparison to the long lead-in above, I don't have much to say about the race itself. As expected, it was dark and packed with people. And very, very wet. I noticed quite a few spectators, which I didn't remember from 2002. As we ran by the closed bars in downtown Honolulu, it was obvious that some of the spectators hadn't been to bed yet :-). I ran near the Coconuts for most of the first seven miles, but after checking on Coconutgirl somewhere around M7 (she had pulled over to the side for a second, but she was fine), I lost track of them going up the hill. My last Coconut sighting involved various volunteers and police gently asking Coconutboy to get the hell on the proper side of the road. Which was clogged with both people and deep puddles.

Splish splash and onward. The lead crankchairs came by me right around M8 (their M24). Wow. The lead marathoners started passing me about M12 (their M21).

I hit the halfway point at 2:02. 2:02! The crowding, the two potty stops, and the rain had worked together to slow me down. That and the residual effects of my 50-miler seven days before. I had legs of lead. Hmmm. To beat 4, I'd have to run a negative split. It wasn't out of the question, but I'd have to work for it. Between that and spotting people I knew as I headed back on the out-and-back, at least my brain would be occupied.

I saw founding Maniac Tony coming back about M15 (his M18). He looked strong. I did not. Legs of lead. And I started craving my two cookies, not three. Oh man, that meant I was running out of gas. Fortunately, as I cruised through the little Hawai'i Kai loop, it stopped raining. Unfortunately, the sun came out and it got steamy. "Great," I thought, "that should assist me with my negative split attempt."

Throughout the race, I spotted people I knew. Also lots of (mostly Japanese) people in costume. A guy with a tall white bird's head - I think he was a crane. A guy with a monkey hat. Two ladies dressed as Playboy bunnies. Lots of superheroes.

And some dude in pink.

Oh wait. That was me.

Sweaty, sweaty, sweaty. I had managed to get my pace where it needed to be, and I passed M20 at 3:06. Usually, I have to be closer to 3:00 at M20 to ensure a 4:00 finish. Although that leaves me an hour to do a not-speedy 10k, races where it takes me 3 hours to run 20 miles are usually races where I'm slowing as I go. Here I was at 3:06 and I needed to NOT be slowing. Actually, more usually, I hit M20 between 2:35 and 2:45. Sigh. Is ok.

I was winding around people, especially at aid stations where some folks would come to a dead stop. YOIPS!

Tick tick tick tick. Legs of lead. I had probably sweated off 5-6 pounds, but I had not actually lost that weight because it was clinging to my clothes and shoes. The splish splash of the rain had become a squish squish in my shoes.

Back over the Diamondhead hill at M24. I saw some of the last walkers still headed out (their M8). This was the same perspective that the crankchairs had had of me much earlier. Except it was dark and raining then. And there's no chance they saw me, even in the pink. I was passing lots of people. They had slowed, which is the typical Hawai'ian race day experience. I was speeding up. I said hello to Maniacs and good morning to my new Japanese friends ("Ohayou Gozaimas!"). At M25, I started hearing the finish line announcer. My watch showed it would be very close to 4. Which side, I did not know.

At M26, I spied a guy running in a USPS uniform. Maniac Les! He crossed the finish line; the announcer commented on his uniform. Apparently, he had tried to run the race carrying a package too... but the rain had other ideas and the package dissolved.

I looked at my watch. .2 to go, and I still didn't know if I was going to make my goal.

They didn't announce me in the pack of finishers. Lots of us were trying to beat 4.

By the official clock, I did not. But it took me a long time to get over the starting line.


Woohoo! I haven't been so happy to beat four since the very first time I managed to beat four. I can run a 3:30-3:40 marathon fairly regularly, but beating four in this race felt like a BQ.

Oh, and it was a 2:02/1:57 negative split.

I wandered through the Queen K muck to get my shirt and my keychain. I got my two cookies. Not three. I didn't want my apple. Then it was time to head back, and head out. Maniac Tony caught me and we walked back together. Only at this point did I learn that my plane was going to be 6 hours late. Usually that would suck. Not today. A small subset of the Hawai'ianiacs (Les, Johnny, and Scottish Heather), Tony, Maniac El Presidente Steve, Maniac Sue, and I hung out and drank beer. It was a great ending to a soggy, steamy day.

Even if it was at the local Hooters.

Life changed when I got back to Seattle. Snow and ice storms moved in, and I barely made it out of my house for a long time. I ran less than 9 miles over two weeks, and those were 9 snow/ice miles. THEN, when that was over, my little dachshund ruptured a disk in his back and had to have major surgery, with a six week recovery time. Who knows when I will run steadily again.

Next up: I was supposed to run the Run to the Ranch Marathon in Springfield, Missouri on 12/28. I couldn't get to the airport. Then I was supposed to run the Last Chance Marathon up in Bellingham on 12/31. I managed to run the half there, and then I had to bail to be with my dachshund at the animal hospital. Sigh.

I'll be back Real Soon Now either with a quick report for Last Chance, or my 2008 annual recap. And 2009 goals too!