Friday, February 23, 2007

02/18/07 Birch Bay Marathon

Birch Bay is a bay (and a little town) located north of Bellingham, Washington near the Canadian Border. The bay is a part of Puget Sound, and because of the various geographical features of this area, the weather here usually sucks. Especially in February.

The Birch Bay Marathon is a tiny race... less than 50 people... with no shirt, no medals, and fairly limited aid along the way. It's also fifteen bucks. The course is a "balloon on a stick" or a "lollipop". Out 2.5ish miles, a 10.5 mile loop done twice, and then back that 2.5ish miles to the start. The aid stations were about 3.5 miles apart. Far enough that I needed to carry a bottle with me, but only to augment what was available.

I've been stuck around the 4 hour mark recently (3:59, 4:01, 4:03)... and I had to take last weekend off to take care of sick puppy. I decided to deal with this race as a long/slow training run. Given my recent race pace of slightly over 9:00/mile, this meant I'd do my slow run at 9:45/mile or thereabouts.

Three aspects of this race made it more challenging for me no matter what pace I was attempting: 1) the lack of mile markers, 2) the weather, and 3) the sneaky hills. I'm really awful at pacing myself when there are no mile markers and not a lot of runners to rabbit. The weather actually turned out to be pretty good by Birch Bay standards - it didn't rain. There was, however, a stiff headwind for about half of the course and it was cold. Well, to clarify... it was cold for me; most runners from the area thought the day was quite balmy :-).

The hills weren't too serious, really - and I like hills. But as with Carlsbad, I wasn't expecting them. I had heard that this race was mostly flat. I guess it is. Except for the mile long hill at M3 (repeated at M13.5) and The Punisher between M5 and M10 (repeated between M15.5 and M20.5). I actually enjoyed these hills a lot... the long one was pretty cool because it had some nice views of Semiahmoo Spit (yes, that's a real name) and over to White Rock in Canada.

After the hills, the course brought us back to unprotected Birch Bay - I think there were neat views of Vancouver Island and the San Juans... but I was too busy trying not to freeze and blow away.

Ultimately, I stuck with my pace for about 19 miles and then kind of lost track in the hills and wind. I thought I'd finish somewhere around 4:15, but it was actually 4:23. This included a potty stop and two aid station breaks... as a training run, I didn't want to take in too many calories, but I did need to refill my bottle a couple times. And when I stopped to do this, I lingered momentarily to thank the popsicled volunteers (all 10 of them).

Anyway, most people finished in front of me and a few finished behind me. When a race has less than 50 people, two of them go sub-3, and several more go sub-3:15, it's easy to be isolated.

The coolest part? Several of my friends did cartwheels during the race. One did 30. That's one at each (approximate) mile and one at each aid station. Who knows why?

Next up: The Cowtown Marathon in Ft. Worth - a race I've long listed in my "Bottom 5 Worst Marathons". This should be interesting.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Real life and dogs

I did, in fact, have to skip Saturday's Pemberton 50k. I skipped the Valentine's Marathon on Sunday as well. "Real life" tends to get in the way of plans like trying to run multiple races each weekend for over a year. I don't want it to work out that way, but it is what it is. Part of the charm of real life is that it is relentless.

My dogs are part of real life, so they take priority.

The nine pound dachshund is named Tobias. He spent Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday at the animal hospital. They took a bunch of xrays, gave him IV fluids and watched him. The xrays didn't show anything super serious, so the good news is simple: no surgery so far for Tobias. He's home now. He's vomited up some leash, and pooped a bunch more. I think that he's refunded about 30 inches of the 72 inches he ate (or, maybe... the 48 inches he ate. I'm not sure, but maybe the leash was only 4 foot long. I hope.). He seems to be doing well, but I am still worried. I'm pretty bummed that I missed these two races, but it was the right thing to do.

I have some buffer weekends and a couple single weekends that I can turn into doubles... so I'll be able to make it up.

Real life will hit me again sometime during the next 12 months; I'm sure of it. When it does, I'll deal with it. Because it is real life. Running races is just fun.

-2 for the weekend. I'll make it up in April, June, and/or October. No sweat.

Friday, February 09, 2007

And so the first race is skipped

I hate skipping races. Sometimes I skip them for seemingly mundane reasons, but usually it is because of something "real". Like last year.

Tomorrow, I am supposed to run the Pemberton 50k outside of Phoenix. I've been excited about this race because I like trail runs, and because it would have been my first 50k ever.

About an hour before I was supposed to leave for the airport, I noticed that my nine pound dachshund had eaten his six foot red nylon leash. All of it. I didn't believe it at first. I found the little metal hook that attaches it to his collar and nothing else. I looked everywhere. It was nowhere.

So we headed for the emergency vet instead of the airport. They did xrays and an ultrasound. They didn't see anything that was obviously a leash... but it was clear that he had a lot of 'something' in there.

And then, as I was leaving to bring him home for observation, he pooped. And out came a piece of red nylon. Yikes. As long as he keeps pooping, the vet says it'll be ok. But he could get obstructed and that would be a bad thing.

We'll see.

No 50k on Saturday. Dunno about the marathon on Sunday.

50+ marathons is hard.

Monday, February 05, 2007

02/04/07 Pacific Shoreline Marathon

Two weeks ago, I ran the Carlsbad Marathon near San Diego... it was a hilly run, about half of it was next to the ocean, the weather was nice, and I didn't do very well.

So this past weekend brought me to beautiful Huntington Beach, California for the Pacific Shoreline Marathon. And. It was a mostly flat run with a few hills, about 3/4ths was next to the ocean, the weather was nice (warm for some folks)... and I didn't do very well.

I could definitely get spoiled by these Southern California beach marathons, though. And they both had bands playing surf music. The only sideline entertainment that I like better than surf music during a race is 1) the big band at the Portland Marathon and 2) the goofy dude playing the accordian at the top of the biggest hill at the MDI marathon in Maine. Surf music is waaaay better than the grand piano at Big Sur. And even better than Alan Page's tuba at Twin Cities.

Like so many marathons these days (including Carlsbad), PSM has an accompanying half marathon event... and the half has tons more people than the full. They do a staggered start - marathoners at 7a, followed by waves of half marathoners from 7:30a and onwards. The full marathon course is difficult to describe... basically an out-and-back-and-out configuration next to the ocean, followed by a turn inland and a loop through a park, and finishing down the same stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway where it all started. The half utilized much of the same course... but in such a way that would prove to be quite problematic (for me) during the day.

I managed to score a great room at the Hilton, across the street from the expo and the race start. So, unlike Disney where I had to catch a 3a shuttle for the 6a start, at PSM I just sort of wandered down to the starting area at 6:45a. No waits for portapotties, no stashing of bags, no bus, and no chattering of teeth in the cold. This is how to do it.

As I wandered to my appropriate spot towards the middle of the pack, I looked at the guys up front. One guy was wearing a black speedo and black reebok high-tops (aerobics shoes from 1985). And that was it. I'm running in a pink shirt, but this guy had me for 'odd looks'.

It was cool at the start (47 degrees, give or take), but the humidity was high and it was going to get warm. So I only wore three shirts instead of four. Heh. Only a slight breeze.

At Carlsbad, I completely trashed my body by running without a plan. My plan for PSM was simple: even splits around 8:50/mile for as long as possible. That was less aggressive than Carlsbad, so I didn't think it would be "going out too fast". Then again, I heard about hills in the final ten miles, so I wasn't planning on doing the whole race evenly. That would turn out to be reasonable. Alas, I didn't prepare for one OTHER sneaky aspect - the sea of half marathon walkers.

7a arrived. Airhorn. We're off. The PCH is basically flat, but it isn't pancake flat... and I noticed this very early. We were headed up or down a slight grade for this whole section... because the ocean is <---THERE, I had lots of time to ponder the changes.

M1. First water stop. Several things I noticed here. 1) the volunteers were enthusiastic kids (a theme for the day), 2) this meant that the race would have tons of water stops and 3) the race utilized Amino Vital. It wasn't Hateful Ultima. The only downside to AV is that the drink is clear... so I had to ask carefully about what was in the cup I grabbed.

M1.5 Pump jacks. Wasn't expecting to see that here, although the oil rigs off the coast should have been a clue.

3 miles down the PCH, we turned around to head back towards the starting line. Now the ocean was --->THERE. I like out-and-back sections like this because I got to see The Fast People (including several Maniacs and coolrunning posters) fly by. I shouted greetings and encouragement, not that they needed it. About M4ish, the half marathoners started coming the other way up PCH. A tidal wave of them, like in The Poseidon Adventure. I'm not even kidding... and my simile would prove prophetic. Luckily, at this point they were on the other side of the divided highway. At this point.

At M5.5, within sight of the start/finish, we cut off PCH and onto an asphault bike trail on the beach. This was very cool, except we turned around maybe .2 miles down this path and started heading back the other way. With people going both directions, this part was congested. If you are trying to visualize, the ocean is now over <---THERE.

The congestion cleared quickly and we were on what was by far my favorite section of the course. M6-11 down this bike path. Not pancake flat, but right NEXT to the ocean. Booming waves. Surfers. Bright sun. Surf music. No portapotties in this section, but tons of beach bathrooms. Onward we went.

At M8, I started playing leapfrog with Ken Bob (who would wind up finishing way ahead of me). Ken Bob? Yeah, he's a guy who runs barefoot... so it makes this sound.

M11-13 brought us into a little zigzag portion that dumped us back out onto PCH. I'll get back to that in a second.

Remember, I was trying to run somewhere around 8:50s "as long as I could". That would turn out to be 13 miles. Here are my splits:

8:51, 8:42, 8:36 (downhill grade), 8:51, 8:41, 8:27 (oops)
8:47, 8:47, 8:35, 8:39, 8:44, 8:48, 9:03 (BOOM)

So what happened at M13? We went back onto PCH and hit... the sea of half marathoners. This is the only ding I have on this race - they had absolutely no traffic control or coned off sections for the marathon runners. All of the sudden, I was playing zigzag through a vast blur of people, some walking 4-5 wide. Ugh. The sea was angry that day, my friends... like an old man trying to return soup at a deli.

I would not recover from this. I should have handled it better... but I was not prepared for it. I saw one guy running (slowly), while text messaging on his blackberry.

At M15, we hit a little hill. No worries. At M16, we turned off PCH and headed inland. Time for the actual hills. It would turn out that the hills were overrated... they weren't horrible. It's just that they came at an inopportune time. The first "big" one was M17, overlooking the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. It was quick.

At M17.5, the half marathoners split off again and we headed into the park loop section. This part of the race was completely different from the beach section. The park was wooded and therefore very shady. It was inhabited by two creatures: 1) mutant ducks and 2) overly enthusiastic kids. Ok, I'm sure that they aren't REALLY mutant ducks. It's just that I don't know much about ducks. Picture the body of a small mallard duck, only jet black. Now, glue HOOOOGE goose-sized webbed feet to it. Ok, now instead of giving it a duck bill, give it something more like a regular pecking bird beak. See? Mutant duck.

As for the kids... the race packed TONS of kids into this park and clearly instructed them to be encouraging to the runners. YOU CAN MAKE IT!!! DON'T STOP!!!! GO ROBERT!!!


Ok. This is important. I am at M19 or M20. I am not almost there. Please don't tell me this. Anyway, while sometimes the kids were a little over-the-top, it was extremely cool. I have never seen a race put together such a consolidated group of people whose sole mission was to make me feel good about what I was doing. Amazing. Go, PSM.

Ah, and most of these kids were 10-13 years old. So they snickered at my pink shirt and laughed at the J-Lo marking. And then when I went by them, they all said BREAST CANCER SUCKS. Because my shirt says it does. And sometimes, you could hear them giggle or audibly gasp. I remember being 13. I'm assuming that they found 'breast' funnier or more shocking than 'sucks'.

Anyway. At M21, we finished with the park and headed for home. But not before heading up the singular Hill From Hell right at M22. And merging back into the sea of half marathoners. GROAN.

By this point, I was cooked. I felt way better than I did at Carlsbad, but I knew my time wasn't going to be as fast... so I started talking to some of the half marathoners as I went by. I met several breast cancer survivors. At M23.5, we jumped back onto PCH for the final swoop back to the finish. Oh yeah. The ocean was now over --->THERE.

In user antagonist77's report of his half experience here, he describes the rolling nature of the course as we marched to the finish. His description is great. I can't say it better.

M25.5. Final on-course surf band. Thanks, guys.

M26.2... and from Seattle, rrrrrrrrobert lopez. The announcer rolled the 'R' in my name for effect. Hey, I got announced! Cool.

My splits for the second half were awful. But here they are:

9:10, 9:11, 9:29, 9:29, 9:43 (hill), 8:57
10:26 (very needed potty stop), 9:41, 11:13 (hill from hell),
9:44, 10:57, 10:51, 10:02, 1:44

I don't mind the time on the hill so much, but those last 3 miles bother me. Oh well.

4:04:18, which is 3 minutes worse than Carlsbad, on the wrong side of 4, and far away from the 3:45 I thought I'd be at these days. But I followed my plan until I was capsized by half marathoners, and I feel great today.

After the race, I hung out in the beer garden with MM Hippo and arc918. Somewhere in there, a guy from the clubhouse named 'brwf' interviewed me.

I also met some great people who wanted to know more about my pink shirt. That's why I wear it.

Next up: A double! The Pemberton 50k in Phoenix on Saturday, followed by the Valentine's Marathon in Olympia WA on Sunday.