Tuesday, January 23, 2007

01/21/07 Carlsbad Marathon

Carlsbad... caves! Stalagmites as big as trees! Beware falling bat guano!

Wait. Wrong Carlsbad. The Carlsbad Marathon used to be known as the San Diego Marathon, so that will give you a better idea of where it is located. However, somewhat like the Indianapolis Marathon, calling it the San Diego Marathon had been a bit of a misrepresentation... because it has nothing to do with the city in the name. Now it is the Carlsbad Marathon, and life is good. Carlsbad is about 30 miles north of SD, and the marathon makes good use of the town.

If you watch enough Amazing Race, Survivor, or Apprentice, you know that video and sound editors serve a huge purpose in adding to the drama. In fact, sometimes they place drama where it might not have otherwise existed. AND if you watch enough, you can tell when the editors are doing ham-handed foreshadowing for you. This is especially true regarding the sound and music. When a contestant makes a bold statement, and it is followed by a from the trumpets or a from the woodwinds... well, that contestant just messed up. And on Apprentice, you can always tell which contestant is considered to be The Big Dork by the editors based on the music. Whenever she/he is shown on screen bumbling around, it is accompanied by a goofy bassoon riff. On Amazing Race, Team Dork gets oompah music.

If my racing had a soundtrack, my experience at Carlsbad would have been loaded, just loaded, with and the stupid bassoon.

I raced without a plan. This is wrong. Always have a plan. I run in so many that my plan isn't always "go that way, really fast... if someone gets in your way... turn." Sometimes I want to run even splits. Sometimes I want to run X miles at a pre-determined pace. If it is a true goal race, then it'll be "go that way, somewhat fast..."

This race starts and ends in the parking lot of the local old-school shopping mall. The expo is there as well. It was a nice expo, although they made us wait in a hoooooge line (and three little lines) to get our stuff. I went to the expo on Saturday afternoon, and then tried to find something to eat. Everything in Carlsbad was packed. At 4:30pm. Everything. After driving between pizza places for an hour, I landed at Taco Bell. And it was exactly as I dreamed it would be.

There were 7,000 people racing in the half and 2,000 (or more) racing in the full. They did two different early starts... walkers at 5:30a and slower runners in the full at 6:30a. Anyone who could beat a 4:30 cut-off for the full and all half-marathoners started at 7:30a.

The race course itself is a series of different out-and-backs from a central hub, kind of like a Y shape. It also turns out that this is a hilly race... which I did not expect. Nice, challenging, endless hills. The kind with false tops. Yay.

On the plus side, they had lots of entertainment on the course. No, this wasn't San Diego Rock-and-Roll... but it was still nice. On the negative, they offered hateful Ultima as their drink. Ew.

Have I mentioned that I didn't have a plan? That bassoon you hear is there for a reason.

I decided to do this race in a bright pink shirt (female size large) on which I wrote BREAST CANCER SUCKS with a magic marker. Now, if you don't know this yet, I am a guy. I looked somewhat gnarly and low-tech compared to all the TNT runners with nice, painted messages on their shirts... but I like low-tech. Lots of people came up to ask me about it, and I met coolrunner runnerparris.

7:30a. On your mark, get set, horn blow. We were off. And I didn't have a plan. I was worried that the roads would be clogged with 9,000 of my closest friends, but I shouldn't have been. These were wide roads, and they were closed to all traffic. I didn't feel packed in.

I met a woman who wanted to know about my pink shirt, so we talked. It turned out that this was her first half marathon since having a baby. Cool. She wanted to run a 1:50. No problem, I can run that with you. (Amazing Race: )

This part was pretty fun... and M2-M5 were right next to the ocean. The weather was blue-sky perfect too, no wind. We ran together until the half marathoners turned off. I think this was around M5.5. This was also where I encountered the surf guitar dude and his band. He was great.

After the half marathoners turned off, we headed away from the ocean and up "the hill". Mind you, this race is just lousy with hills, but "the hill" is special. It starts about M4 and up and up you go. It gets steeper and steeper until you crest about M10. At which point you turn around and come back down to M13.

Here are my splits through M13. You can see the hill in them:

8:51 (crowd), 7:27 (huh??), 8:29, 8:20

Up: 8:31, 8:25, 8:43, 8:44, 9:55 (potty)
Down: 8:23, 8:15, 8:48 (uh oh), 8:37

I distinctly remember saying to myself on the way down "I think I can crank this" . But as I headed through M14, I could feel my body downshift from 4th gear down to 3rd. I tried to occupy my mind with other things. I like out-and-back sections because you get to see people who are faster than you and people who are not. So whenever I'd see a Maniac, I'd shout-out. Alas, I was the dude in pink, so they 1) didn't recognize me and b) didn't want to acknowledge the weird dude in pink.

Also, there was the woman running in basically a bra and panties. That matched her skin tone, roughly. Yeah, baby, yeah. This is why I like a series of out-and-backs. M14 through the end of the race really, really rolled. Up and down and up and down. We were back next to the ocean, which helped. The last "out" turned around at M18. At this turn around, all of the sudden we had a little headwind. Pleasant at first. Annoying later. Still, the ocean was great to ponder.

If what I've shown above is considered my 4th gear (no laughing, faster people), then my splits through M20 will indicate 3rd gear:

8:55, 9:15, 9:10, 9:08, 9:33, 9:41, 9:41

Yeeks. This is not good. But I remember saying "ok, I'm not feeling badly, I'm fine, I'm not thirsty, I just need to concentrate. I can pick this back up."

I hit M20 at 2:57:00. I'll be under 4 for sure.

And that was the last I'd see of 3rd gear. As with a great many marathons, the last 10k was really 'the second half'. After M20 was a different and almost otherworldly experience. I slowed down. Way, way down. It was cool because all kinds of people were coming up to me and talking to me about my shirt. And all kinds of spectators were shouting for me. Just me and my mummy legs.

M21, I encountered the surf guitar again. This time, he and his buddies were playing Misirlou. You know this better as "The Pulp Fiction Song" or maybe "that Blackeyed Peas Turn-it-up song". Surf guitar was AMAZING. But not even that could speed me up.

M23, a lady in pink put her arm around my shoulder. She said something completely incomprehensible. I'm sure part of this was because I was cooked... but it turned out that she was Australian. She repeated: "I'm running for the cause too. Breast cancer really does suck. Let's go."

I couldn't. So I watched her go.

Here was my miserable last 10k; you can see the rolling hills if you squint:

10:44, 9:54, 11:40, 10:08, 10:36, 9:24, 1:57

They didn't call my name out at the end because the announcer was obsessed with flirting over the PA system with some woman who finished a few spots ahead of me. No, it wasn't bra-and-panties gal... I figured she ran a 3:45.

4:01:23. This is actually slightly better than I ran in Richmond back in November... but I was way happier in Richmond. Why? I had a plan in Richmond, and I followed it. In Carlsbad I just toodled the bassoon.

I picked up my bag of food. The pink Australian lady came over and said hello one last time. Aside from that, I had Deep Thoughts.

Ah well. The weather was awesome. The views were wonderful. The surf guitar will stick with me as a great memory.


Next up: Pacific Shoreline Marathon in a couple weeks. Maybe there will be another surf guitarist.

Friday, January 19, 2007

01/14/07 Houston Marathon

How fast is this course? This morning, the winner of the half marathon (which shares most of the same course) ran a 59:41. For comparison, I was approaching M7 when the guy finished 13.1.

Last weekend, I did Disney's Goofy. My 1:48 half was alright, but I lost my duel in the sun with Mickey during the following day's full - 4:40.

This weekend's race was Houston. I last ran Houston in 2004, and pulled a 4:03 at a time when most of my races were closer to 4:20. It was a great day and, yes, this is a fast course.

The weather was predicted to be cool at the start, but to progressively decline during the race as a front moved through. So I dressed for the front... and it didn't materialize. The weather remained foggy, overcast, and 52ish for the whole race. Pretty much perfect, except for the high humidity.

My goal was originally 3:40-3:46. However, December was a bad month and I adjusted my goal to "around 4" (though secretly, I wanted something better than that 4:03 from 2004). After the beating that Mickey gave me, I knew this would be difficult... but marathons aren't easy.

The race started at 7a. 6:45a found me trying to navigate unclimbable fences and a sea of people to get to the red corral. Made it with a couple minutes to spare. They didn't do this corraling back in 2004, and I'm glad they do it now. Very crowded start anyway, and I almost didn't make it.

At 6:59, the cannon fired and BOOM we were off. Sort of. Almost two minutes later, I made it over the mat. And my first observation about this course completely changes what I've been telling everyone. I have consistently told people to come run Houston because it is very flat. And it mostly is... but pancake flat it ain't. In fact, the first 1.5 miles are basically uphill. Gentle, but that's a long hill to travel in a moving sardine can. We ran through some neighborhoods in the early miles that aren't high class, but they are really interesting in their own way.

"Around 4". I decided to run as evenly as I could today, since (I thought) the course was flat... so 9:10ish miles. My first 6 miles: 9:35 (uphill, sardine), 9:18, 9:10, 9:23, 8:59, 9:06.

The half marathon starts at the same time... but in a different place. The courses merge at M2 and the race would stay packed until the halfers peeled off at M9. Actually, it stayed fairly crowded until M20 or thereabouts.

Around M5, I met a faster Maniac, Dave. We ran for a couple miles until I had to do the potty thing. That would be the last I'd see of Dave. Dave's not here, maaan.

At M10, we approached a church ringing its bells. There's something enormously cool and inspiring about church bells in a race. The BEST bell is at M25 of Twin Cities. It's a serious BONG (no, not that kind). These bells weren't that earthshaking, but they were cool. And in front of the church? Dudes slinging (holy?) water on us with branches. And then... people giving communion. You could take your wafer on the fly, just like a water stop.

Body of Christ? Hmm. Never had that during a race. I barely tolerate Gu. So. "Don't try anything new on race day." No Body for me.

Right after, we turned off for a brief trip through Rice University. Unfortunately, it was so foggy that I didn't see much.

M7-13: 9:35 (potty), 8:50, 8:57, 8:48, 8:52, 8:57, 8:58... a little faster than I wanted overall, but I made up for the brief stop.

Then we headed up towards the Galleria and beyond... around M18, we made the big turn towards the parks... a straight shot to downtown and the finish. No view of downtown, though. Fog.

M14-20: 9:05, 8:53, 8:55, 8:59, 9:09, 9:13, 9:06

Two things happened at M20. The course started rolling. No big hills, but as I noted before, certainly not pancake flat either. Also, lots of runners started slowing down, doing the hands-on-hips thing.

I hit M20 at 3:01:55. Now, I usually know that if I hit M20 by 3 hours, I'll beat 4. Being two minutes over meant that I'd have to focus a little more, but it was still possible. Except that I was one of those runners feeling the urge to slow down and put my hands on my hips.

Hi, Robert! Thanks for running my race, and gooood luck. Ha ha!

I also learned at M22 that although Hammer Gel is my fuel of choice, the tropical flavor is completely nasty.

I ran next to a guy and a gal during the last miles... their shirts let everyone know that this was the first marathon they were running together... and that they were just recently married. Cool.

I also ran next to That Guy. He was wearing headphones and weaving around getting in people's way. Sometimes he'd scream out random lyrics. Every few minutes, he'd just scream. AAAAAAAAA! Like the annoying guy in the weight room. Uncool.

We hit downtown proper in the middle of M24. A spectator said "when you turn the corner, you'll be at mile 25!" Not unless I was running a 5 minute mile. We did turn the corner, we did run a little further, and M24 became M25. Nice straight shot to the finish... although again because of the fog, it was hard to see.

M21-26.2: 9:12, 9:15 (focus, dammit), 9:06, 9:29 (uh oh), 9:40 (double uh oh), 8:46, 1:40.

As I approached the finish, I thought I recognized the announcer's voice. He was standing in the finishing chutes (as opposed to up high). Sure enough, it was the announcer from the Maui and Kona Marathons. In Houston! I know this guy!

Big shaka, and a scream of KOOOOOOONAAAAAA as I crossed the finish.


That's "around 4". And better than 4:03.

The line for food was long, but the food was good. Nice medal, extra shirt (two total), and a glass mug.

Not as "fun" a race as Disney, but much more of a "race". Hopefully next year, I'll feel more like I am racing.

And the dude ran a 59:41.

Friday, January 12, 2007

1/7/07 Disneyworld Marathon

Today was the DisneyWorld Marathon. Last year it was a bone chilling 34 and windy. This year, it was 60 at the start, 100% humidity, and foggy. During the day, the fog would burn off and it would get sunny and quite warm.

Knowing that it was gonna be a slow day, I decided to go out at 9:00/mile. And by M9, that would prove to be too fast. Like the half, the full started out at Epcot. However, there were two different starts. The "red" start ran through the back of Epcot (the lands). The "blue" start, my start, cut through the center of Epcot. Both starts merged around M3.5. It was crowded for a bit.

As I mentioned in my half report, lots of this race is boring highway miles. I probably overstated the %... it is definitely 80% for the half. For the full, it's probably closer to 60 or 65%. That said, the miles up to Magic Kingdom, M4-M10, are my least favorites on the whole course. Highway boredom, still kinda dark, and today very foggy. And as we pulled into Magic Kingdom, my 9:00 pace plan jumped the tracks. So very humid...

Leaving Magic Kingdom behind at M11, we started the long, boring highway slog down to Animal Kingdom. And the Disney recycling/reclamation center ("The Happiest Poo on Earth", "Mickey's Great Pile of Trash", "A Magical and Funky Experience"). When you approach the mile marker right before the center, a recording points out the wonderments of this place... because what they do here really is quite cool. Of course, what they do here is also very very smelly, and the recording doesn't need to state that. You know.

I think Disney is missing a huge opportunity at self-deprecating fun here... and this is a spot on the course, right in the middle, where it could use some spice. So howzabout a character appearance by none other than Toy Story 2's Stinky Pete? It would be perfect. It didn't happen.

What DID happen, though, was meeting a stumbling, slightly incoherent new friend. I walked with him to the next first aid station at M15, and hung out there. After my 15 minute first aid break, I had a really hard time running... at all. My splits were closer to 12:00 than 9:00 as we went through Animal Kingdom. Somewhere around M16, Disney folks brought out 4 animals for us to see: a parrot (cool), a macaw (loud and cool), a goat (cute)... and a sheep that could kneel on command (hokay...). It was brief, but it kept my mind occupied for a few seconds.

Leaving Animal Kingdom, we ran down what many people consider the most boring part... a long highway stretch between M18 and M22 that includes a short out-and-back. At least it is light and you get to see people... so I kind of like(d) this section. Alas, many people were in serious deathmarch mode. And this is why folks hate this part.

Not me, though. I did at first. M19-M20 included splits of 14:44 and 15:31. Oh no. "This section sucks!" And then at M20, we came across a live music stage with a Beatles cover band (for whatever reason, "Beatles" was the theme at almost all the official music stations, but this was the only live one). I got strength from the band, I guess. "This section rules!" At M20, I pulled it together and had a very enjoyable and reasonably well-paced last 10k... while many others were in deathmarch.

Which was appropriate when, around M23, we went through the back of MGM, and there stood Darth Vader and two Storm Troopers. And a bunch of deathmarching marathoners. And me with my Sith wristband . And the music cranking out the Darth Vader theme: (DAH DAH DAH DA DEE DA, DA DEE DA DA). Too bad I wasn't carrying a camera like many other people did. But I smiled a big hoooge smile in spite of everyone's pain.

I wasn't able to find 9:00 again, but in the last miles I got back to 9:30s, which was a nice improvement.

M24 took us around Disney's boardwalk area, with lots of spectators... and then we turned into Epcot. We ran for about a mile through all the lands... except England... technical note: if you see yourself running through England, then buddy, you missed a turn... then we went through the middle of Epcot's front area, out the side past a choir, and on into the finish area.

My finish? A robust 4:40. For me, that's a big ouch. Last year in the cold, I ran 4:02. Given my less-than-optimal training, I was hoping for 4:10-4:15. Taking out the 15 minute first aid "penalty" (4:25) and factoring in both humidity and lack of sleep... yup, 4:40 is just about right.

As far as I know, my new slightly incoherent buddy was ok, but I don't think they let him continue. It was a harsh day out there for everyone.

I came back to my room and fell asleep in the bathtub. An indeterminant amount of time later, I woke up in cold water all prune-y. I got a cold soak without really trying.

I guess I'm gonna have to come back and do this again. I really want to break 4 in the marathon and hit my 1:40 in the half.

I did find out that my 1:48 half was a top 10% finish. Which is nice.

Too bad that for the second year, Disney did not aggregate Goofy results.

Next year, the prices are going up... and Goofy will be a $25 (?) premium over the cost of the two races separately. But I've already signed up :-).

1/6/07 Disneyworld Half Marathon

Today was half marathon day. Finish, you get a medal that looks like Donald's head. For those of you that aren't familiar with DisneyWorld and/or these races, don't think of them as wall-to-wall running through amusement parks. At least 80% of the miles you cover are on really boring highways between the parks. They try to jazz it up with bands and cheering sections, but it's still boring.

However, the time you spend in the parks and areas like the transportation center make it very special. For one, those areas are PACKED with fans at 7am. Cool! For two, you can high-five Mickey or Minnie or Goofy or, in my case, "who was THAT character?" (some bear-like thing). For three, you get to run down some "cast only" walkways, so you get a short behind-the-scenes tour. And for four? You are running through the middle of freakin Magic Kingdom and Epcot! (and in tomorrow's full, MGM). Even if Disney kind of nauseates you, the parks are really something special.

Even in the dark. See, the races start at 6a and it doesn't get light until a little after 7a. So as you are haulin ass through Magic Kingdom, it is still dark. It's cool. But the highway miles in the dark? Not so much.

Let's back up. If you are staying at a Disney Hotel, you have to take a shuttle to a staging area, and you have to do it between 3a and 4a. So I got up at 2:15a, did God's work (that's a euphemism), and caught the bus at 3. They have a two step staging process at Disney. At the first area, you sit around and listen to a band... you use the potty. You wait. Then about 4:45... still over an hour before the gun... they start poking you to head to the starting line.

And so you do, like sheep. For today's half, this was kind of important. The walk is at least a mile to the start. Once there? You watch the big screen and wait some more. I even made it onto the big screen for about 15 seconds, thanks to the temporary Mickey tattoo on my shoulder. Neat.

They did a well-organized wave start this year. I happened to be in the first wave (Wave A-1) behind the elites. 5:58, the wheelchairs were off. 6:00, we were off.

Like, out of a cannon. The road in the first mile is quite skinny and quite dark. As I mentioned in the first post, my goals were simple: finish, don't die, kiss women.

Given that I'm posting this, you know that I accomplished those first two goals. And I'm not telling you about the third. Ha.

It was 60-70 degrees during this race, but much more importantly, it was 100% humidity. Sticky day. Luckily, as the miles rolled by, it got overcast and breezy... which slowed me down slightly, but also kept me cooler (which then sped me up, or something... science is hard).

M1-5 take you up the highway, past the transportation center (which has one of the bigger fanbases, oddly enough) and up towards Magic Kingdom. My splits:

8:02, 7:54, 8:03, 7:52, 8:04.

As you can see, I did this weird surge-y thing that I don't quite understand... but considering recent races, this was pretty darned consistent.

M6 and part of 7 take you through Magic Kingdom. This is by far the best part of the half. You even get to run through the castle. Unfortunately, the castle comes with two penalties: 1) you have to make a 90 degree turn as you exit and 2) about 20 photographers are waiting on the other side to take your picture with the purple castle in the background. Sound cool? In theory. In practice, you go from darkness to thousands of flashbulbs and are temporarily blinded. Additionally, every year I seem to be right behind a doofus who comes to a DEAD STOP RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME at the right angle turn to pose for the cameras. Ugh.

Then you exit MK, and you are back on boring highways. In fact, it's really just a long out-and-back section that you've already done. I got my Goofy high-5 around M8, I think.

My splits for M6-8 show that I entered part two of the race, otherwise known as "the sun is up AND you went out too fast":

8:11, 8:33 (uh oh), 8:34

Now. Because of the wave start, the third wave (wave C) was still heading "out" while I was heading "back". I saw a lady with a stroller. And then. I saw a lady carrying a pillow. A PILLOW! That was a new one.

I daydreamed about sleeping on the highway (with the lady's pillow) as we did, basically, sleeprun M9-12 headed back to Epcot. But this section reminded me about one thing that never comes up regarding Disney. It's basically flat, but there are some really sneaky hills thrown in throughout the races. They are better known as "underpasses" and "overpasses". Sure enough, M11-12 has a couple of sneaky hills.

My splits for M9-12:

8:29, 8:12, 8:55 (!), 8:31

That 8:55 at M11 is due, in part, to my chatting and daydreaming.

At M12, we blew back into Epcot. You get a much better view of Epcot in the full, but in the half, you do cut through the middle of the front area. Not a lot of spectators here, but that's because they were all at the finish line.

And the finish line was quite groovy. Tons of people. I think they called out every finisher's name except mine. Oh well.

My splits for M13 and the .1: 8:10 and :46

Final time? 1:48. Certainly not my best. But better than last year. Of course I was sick last year. I feel pretty good today. Even got a 10 minute massage, the first massage (albeit short) I've ever had.

Now if I can only eat the 5,000 calories I need today.

A couple coolrunners picked me out of the crowd after the race - that was a pleasant surprise. And I saw a few Maniacs, though not many.

2007 Disney's Goofy: setting the stage

This year, instead of writing one long rambly report, I'll break it up into multiple (potentially rambly) posts. Tonight we'll cover "the setup" and "the befores".

Last year was the first year that Disney offered "The Goofy" - run the half on saturday and the full on sunday. They expected a few hundred people to be interested, and had to close it when 3000 signed up almost instantaneously. This year, they were more ready for the onslaught of strange people.

I did it last year. And I was very sick... although I didn't know it at first. I had planned a 1:40 half... I managed 1:50 and was wheezing terribly. Didn't know why. The next day, I pulled 4:02 out for the full, never felt "right", and by that night I was all stopped up, coughing, sore throat, etc. Two plane rides later, and I had a full-blown sinus infection that kept me out of running for 4 weeks. Whoops.

For this year, I think I'm healthy. OTOH, my training has been less than I'd like over the past 4 months thanks to the cancer fairy. I seriously have no idea how I'm going to do this weekend. My goals are "finish", "don't die", "kiss women". Ok, the first two. Just seeing if you are reading.

Last year, I showed up at the expo on the second day and all the Goofy stuff was gone. So this year, I had the bright idea of being there when the doors opened on the first day. Alas, about 10,000 of my closest friends had the same idea. The line was out the door and down the street. Once I got in, and after waiting in several lines (runner relations, goofy, vip, chip check, tshirts), I made it into the merchandise area and got my goofy stuff. Yay.

That was yesterday. Today I visited some parks.

One thing I forgot to pack for this weekend's races was something to deal with excess sweat, like a wristband. And it is gonna be 100% humidity.

So after riding the (wheezing and old) Star Wars ride at MGM, I saw some wristbands in their little gift shop.

I bought one that says SITH in faux-Harley Davidson lettering.


This is funny to me for two reasons:

1. That I am going to be tremendously geeky enough to wear a wristband that says SITH

2. If you think about it, if I was, you know, Sith, I seriously doubt that I'd be sporting a wristband that spells out SITH. Either I'm gonna be incognito because dark lords work that way, or I'm gonna be all mutated out like Darth Maul or Darth Vader. SITH. Right.


Darth Runner is taken.

Darth Stevie Ray is too long.

Darth Moose and Darth Aardvark might work, based on past nicknames.

Total side note. While waiting in line for Soarin', I was standing behind a family. Randomly, the 10ish year old boy breaks into I... like... big butts and I cannot lie!!! Neither the parents nor the boys siblings reacted. At all.

I'm not sure which was the highlight of my day at the parks... I went through MGM, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot (twice). I guess I'll go with SITH.

One more observation (because I can't sleep), then we'll get to some racing.

For those who have been to The Animal Kingdom... does it weird anyone else out when you see people walking by munching on a giant turkey leg? Or, at least, what I hope is a turkey leg...

It doesn't phase me in other places. But at Animal Kingdom? Hmmmm. It's like eating seafood at Sea World.