Saturday, April 28, 2007

04/22/07 Mt Si 50 Miler

Mt Si is a little mountain near Seattle. If you watched the weird show Twin Peaks, you saw Mt Si. This 50 Mile ultra (and the accompanying 50k and 57 mile relay race) is not held on the mountain itself... you actually run a couple out-and-backs on rails-to-trails paths nearby. But the mountain is always there watching you. In my case it watched me sternly. For a very long time.

I have run 34 miles previously, several times. It always worked like this: run a marathon, rest, go back out onto the course, and run in with friends. That's been awhile. The most I've run recently was Chuckanut, a 50k I did last month, but that included a whole lot of walking up monster inclines, falling into ferns, and losing my shoe in mud. On the other hand, it also kept me on my feet for almost 7 hours, and that seemed like good training for a 50 miler. I also recently completed a "double" - a marathon on Saturday and another on Sunday. I felt great after those.

I was still a little worried, though, at 5:30a as we all got ready to head out. I certainly haven't done anything quite like a 50 miler. And, as I learned later from the accomplished ultra runners, it turns out that Mt. Si is deceptively hard because all 50 miles are "runnable". There are no climbs-that-must-be-walked. 50 miles. Of running.

As I mentioned, the course is a rails-to-trails deal. These are always good news/bad news propositions. The good news is that a rails-to-trails trail will always be wide and generally have a nice, even running surface. Not at all technical. And these trails will never have steep ups or downs because trains don't like steep hills. The bad news is that the gentle elevation gains and losses can really add up. A gentle hill might go on and on and on for 3, 6, maybe 10 miles.

Essentially, the 50 miler is a 19 mile out-and-back along a section of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail (SVT). There's a bit of road running at first (and therefore after) before dumping out onto the trail. The road contains a significant-but-brief hill. After this first out-and-back, the course utilizes a different section of the SVT as well as a short piece of the Iron Horse Trail in order to create a 31 mile out-and-back. This is basically the 50k course... and yes, it was weird running 19 miles and then thinking "ok, let's do a 50k now." There's also a 57 mile relay that has a couple different starting times and utilizes slightly different trails in sections. This means that all day long, runners whiz by you and exit/enter your path at odd times.

Did I mention that I was a little worried about running 50 miles? I was. I knew the trail was "easy" as ultras go, but I didn't really factor in the whole "it's runnable the whole way" impact. I was hoping to beat 9 hours, with a secret goal of 8:30.

The course starts and finishes at an elementary school. I got there in time to use the little boy-sized potty, talk to friends, and realize that I was getting kind of freaked out. I put together a couple drop bags (one for M14, the other for M29). My drop bags? Two white trash bags with some perpetuem powder and kleenex. Which, btw, was an awesome last minute addition. Other drop "bags" included rubbermaid bins of various sizes, backpacks, and all kinds of cool stuff. I felt like Axel Foley checking in at the Beverly Palms with his sad little bag.

At 5:59a, right before the "go", one of my ultrarunner friends made fun of me for holding my watch so I could press it right at the "go". Yeah, I don't want to be a second off during a 50 mile run. Heh.

6a. Off we went. No bands. No spectators. Not a lot of runners. Not quite dawn yet. It was pretty cool. I went out too fast... which I knew I would do... and I tried to settle down by talking to people around me. Several other people were doing their first 50; most were not. I ran for awhile with a lady who taught me about the Canadian Death Race. Nice name.

The aid stations were anywhere from 4 to 7 miles apart and seemed to offer typical ultra fare. Which is to say, junk food, fruit, and potatoes. The potatoes (grab a hunk with your hands!) kind of weirded me out, but everyone swore by them. I went with pepsi and sugar wafers.

We hit the turnaround around M9.5ish, and that's when I knew I was in trouble. Stomach pains. I ignored them for a little while. I kind of remembered some portapotties back at the road, M19ish?, so I played mindgames trying to think of anything except for the incredible urge to... well... you know. Well, let me say this. "Stomach pains" is entirely inaccurate. That would imply a need to puke, which I did not have. YET. No, this was that other thing. The thing that a bear does in the woods.

At M14, we hit the aid station with the drop bags. I asked Aid Station Guy if there were indeed potties at M19ish. He said no. I fished out kleenex from my drop bag :-). I also learned that the glory of drop bags isn't always about what you can get from them; it can also be about what you leave behind. The day had warmed up and it wasn't raining, so I ditched my coat. And I was off.

Remember my bit about rails-to-trails being good news/bad news? I learned another piece of the bad news. This particular railroad had been cut into the side of a hill. This meant that there was an embankment on one side and a big dropoff on the other. Not a lot of options for potty privacy. So I ran. I ran so far away. I was 100% sure that there were portpotties back on the road, so I went back to the mindgames. I talked to my friend Arthur (who would wind up finishing almost an hour in front of me... that tells you how much too fast I started). Around M17, like the holy grail beacon shining down at Sir Galahad, there it was. Another trail! Into the woods! I bid Arthur adieu and took a side trip into the unknown.

Skipping forward a bit.

I felt better, but unfortunately not that much better. And guess what was about another mile away? Right. The road. And the portapotties. HA. Oh well.

More SVT... and finally we cut over onto the Iron Horse Trail. Now, it was clear that Iron Horse had also been a railroad, but the up grade on this part was a bit steeper. Out and out we ran. I ran a little bit with my Maniac friend Linda. I chatted with MM Hippo. I ran with Canadian Death Race Lady. I played leapfrog with another Maniac, Barb. I ran by myself. The fast folks, the early start folks, and all the 50kers were coming back the other direction. This was M30-33ish, and I was really starting to hurt. Not coincidentally, this matches up to my longest runs ever. My stomach hurt. The other part of my digestion hurt. My head hurt. My legs? Petrified. The worst was (were?) the balls of my feet. Oh my. It hurts just thinking about it six days later.

Sam Thompson, the guy who beat Dean K to 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, went screaming by in the other direction and shouted loudly for me. That was... weird... but it was very nice too.

Onward. Right before the aid station turnaround at M34ish, there was a significant hill that kind of stunned me. I was not expecting this at all in my little rails-to-trails adventure. It was down to the aid station. And then it was back up. I walked this section... maybe a quarter mile. From here allll the way back to the finish, it would be a nice gentle downhill or flat. On normal days, this would have been ok. But I am still a poor downhill runner, and at M35, I was a molasses runner anyway. But I ran.

The rain started. Not hard, but definitely annoying. I kept hearing airplanes that my brain processed as thunder. Actually, my brain processed them as "OH HELL! THUNDER!" But no. Jus' planes, bruddah. Jus' planes.

Around M40, I ran through the first of two crowded relay exchange points. Relayers were headed both directions from here. And wouldn't you know it... gal-with-ipod took the handoff and sprinted right at me while looking at the ground. "Look up! Look up!" She didn't hear. So the man with the molasses legs pulled a matador move on her. Not that she ever noticed. The good news was that the rain stopped around this part.

I swallowed a bug somewhere around M43. It made me cough. Coughing made me puke a little. Puking a little made me want to puke a lot. I didn't. But it was here that I realized that my stomach felt weird. I was pretty sure that I wasn't truly digesting those sugar wafers, bananas, cookies, pepsi, and perpetuem. It was all right there.

M46.5, I hit another relay station and the last aid. Every part of me hurt.

M47. 48. 49... we had to walk down steps off the trail... OUCH... back through town. M50.

Robert Lopez, Seattle Washington. 9:20:51.

I missed both goals, but I did finish my 50 miler. Factoring out 20 minutes of aid station and potty action, and factoring out about 15 minutes of walking... I ran for about 8 hours and 45 minutes. I ran for probably 48.8ish miles. Slowly.

I can't think of anything I've done solidly for 9:20. Not one thing. I certainly haven't been on my feet that long without sitting down.

Six days have passed. I waited this long to write up this race because I wanted to think about it long and hard. There's something still funky about my digestion and/or my kidneys. Not enough that I think I should go to the doctor... but certainly enough to tell me that recovering from a 50 miler is not exactly like a marathon. Not that it should be.

I didn't really have a lot of fun. I'm supposed to do another 50 miler in August. I may switch to the 50k. Ask me again in a month.

Next up: Tomorrow's Eugene Marathon. Gonna be a slow one. I'll see you there.

BTW, if it matters, I do not think Mt Si is the hardest race I've ever done. I felt like crap for most of it, but I never seriously considered stopping. The hardest race remains the Leadville Marathon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

04/15/07 Glass City Marathon

Apologies for the delay on posting this... actually, I don't really have a lot to say about this experience. So I should have just said that sooner :-).

The Glass City Marathon is a small and low-key loop course run mostly in view of the Maumee (not Mommy) River in Toledo. It's basically flat, so on a good weather day, it makes a great course for a go-fast goal race. I last ran this race in 2005 with some friends from the coolrunning website. It was my fourth in four weeks - the first time I'd ever done marathons on back-to-back weekends, much less four-in-four. I had 20 good miles in me and then slowed way, way down and finished at 4:03 (after all the pizza was gone. BOO.)

This year, my plan was to do a simple long slow run in preparation for my 50 Miler on the following weekend. I'm really glad that I hadn't targeted Glass City as a goal race. You may have heard about the awful weather for the Monday Boston Marathon. Similar weather blew through the Toledo area the weekend before. Saturday was cold, windy, and blowing rain and snow. At race time on Sunday morning, the rain and snow were gone, so we had clear blue skies. It was cold, though, and windy. With the wind chill, it was about 21 degrees.

That's like a whole new dimension in cold for Island Boy. I wore five shirts, a coat, two pairs of pants, hat, gloves, and chemical hand warmers in my gloves. And shoes, of course. I looked like the kid brother (Randy) in Christmas Story.

I ran like him too. Ugh.

Although the course is a loop, it is really more like a fat out-and-back... the out is mostly due south, and the back is, yes, mostly due north. The wind was from the north, and as the day progressed, the wind became stronger. By M20... where I fell apart in 2005... I was frozen. Also, my puffy clothes kind of formed a sail, and it was like I was running in place.

My current marathon race pace is somewhere around 8:30-8:40/mile. So as a long run, I wanted to keep it around 9:30/mile, which would have been about a 4:08 finish. Slow for me, but planned slow. I was able to keep that pace through M20.

I finished at 4:15. As I crossed the line, a big gust blew the results tent upside down. That's always fun. No one seemed hurt, so I went inside and drank a bunch of Special K protein water. And ate GREAT bagels. But still no pizza. Oh well.

Up next: Well, hmm. It took me so long to write this that my next race has come and gone. My first 50 miler. One word, courtesy of Clubber Lang: PAIN.
I'll write about it in the next couple days. Meanwhile, my next next race is the inaugural Eugene Marathon. I'll see you there.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Spring injury report

As much as I enjoy running... and I surely wouldn't run so much if I didn't... I have to say, I don't remember very many runs where I didn't have something bugging me. Every now and then, something icky will happen that will stop me from running completely for a few days. I've hurt my back a couple times recently doing landscaping work, and both times I didn't run for 3-5 days. This was painful and certainly not fun, but it didn't really affect my training. I've also had a few weird "airplane sickness" sinus infections (and/or bronchitis) over the past couple years. The last one, in January of 2006, was evil enough that I canceled my trip to the Mississippi Marathon and I didn't run for almost three weeks. I still haven't run in Mississippi.

The only really bad injuries I've had happened back in 2003 and 2004. In 2003, achilles tendonitis didn't stop me from running... but it should have. I ran very slowly and wore a special brace at night for many months. I blame the cushioned, no-structure shoes I was using at the time. In the summer of 2004, I had a stress fracture in my right femur. This did stop me from running for a couple months.

So what's bothering me now? Nothing awful. Several small things.

My right quad was hurting terribly in January. This had me spooked because it felt a lot like the stress fracture. But it went away. Yay. Right now, the right leg is fine. My left ankle has been funky. This is the same side that had the achilles tendonitis - and after my more brutal races, I can feel it. But the front side of the ankle and the lower part of the shin also burns at the end of some runs, a bit like a shin split. It never hurts a lot, but it isn't pleasant either. And just this week, I've noticed that my left knee is hurting during some runs. The only time I've ever had knee pain was when I've run on dead shoes. Maybe one of my pairs has given up. I track my mileage judiciously, and it isn't time yet. But sometimes shoes don't make it as long as they should.

The most annoying thing is my right elbow. It might be tendonitis or bursitis, I'm not sure. If I leave it in the same position too long (bent, as if running... or extended), then transitioning it to the other position hurts a lot, albeit briefly.

Should I go to the doctor?

The Glass City Marathon is tomorrow. Factoring in the wind chill factor, it will feel like 21 degrees with a 20+ mph headwind during the last 12 miles of the race. I can hardly wait.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

04/07/07 Easter Marathon

There's a guy near Olympia, Washington who puts together a marathon (and lots of other races) for several holidays each year: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter. These aren't the best organized races you'll ever do... and I always feel badly for the person who has traveled here from afar to do one... but we do them anyway because they are close, and once you've done one, you know what you are gonna get.

Saturday was this year's Easter Marathon. The races start and finish in a local state park... Millersylvania State Park (where the vampires are In The Mood)... and are out-and-backs alongside roads open to traffic. Dodging horse trailers is half the fun :-). In fact, this race was a double out-and-back. I don't mind these because I like interacting with runners going in various directions, and it is always fun to see the leaders blow by.

When I got to the park, it was raining. The cold, soaking kind. And it wasn't supposed to let up. The race director asked me, "are you going to do the early start? Most everyone in the race is going to start early. It'll be in a few minutes." Huh. Well, I guess it would get me out of the rain sooner. So I ran back to my truck to pin my number and get my raincoat.

It was here I realized that I hadn't brought any gel or nutrition of any kind (cue the ZONK noise from Amazing Race). Hmmm.

I ran up to the starting line right as he was about to say go... and he told us, "you realize there won't be any aid stations for another hour, right?... and... go!" Huh. (cue another ZONK)

Off we went. All twenty of us, an hour before the official race start. It turned out that there were only 30ish people signed up for this race. Really weird things happen in tiny races. Last year I was in a tiny ultra and came in DFL. Yeeks.

Many of the early starters drifted back, and I was with a little pack of 4 people as we loosened up. Around M2, it occurred to me that I only recognized one name on the race list who was a sub-3 type - a fellow Maniac named Gregg. My only goal for the race had been "put in the miles" and finish somewhere around 4 hours. But. Well, I wondered if I could finish before Gregg (and any folks I didn't recognize) could catch me.

I was cold and wet. My raincoat was weighing me down. I had no calories and there was no water on the course yet. However, if I ran a little faster, then provided I didn't explode, I'd be done and warmer faster.

The mind works in mysterious ways. So I took off. I didn't notice anyone else take off with me, so I ran alone. I hit the turnaround at M6.5... and on the way back, I didn't see the next people until I was past M7 (before their M6). Around M8, the people driving to set up the first aid station stopped and gave me some water. My first drink. Warm water - yum! Luckily, after this point, the aid stations would be up and running. Good.

Around M9.5, the first regular-start half marathoner and the first regular start marathoner... Gregg... went by on their outbound leg. I passed a few more, and then around M10, I started catching lots of 10k people on their way back to the finish. I said "hello", or "nice job", or provided a shaka to each person as I went by them.

I hit the half at 1:52. I stopped long enough to drink and ponder whether I should ditch the coat. I kept the coat (ZONK) and off I went. Almost immediately, the guy behind me came into the aid station. It was clear that he was actually chasing me. COOL.

I passed a few more people on their way back in. Some of them looked beat, so I smiled at them. But most were hooting for me. Believe me, this never happens.

Onward. The rain continued, and I was getting a little tired... but mostly, I was trying to stay focused. I generally can't stay "race focused" for things longer than a half. And definitely not when there's no one else around. This was a run in the country. In the rain.

I passed the first regular-start marathoner once again. We said "hey"... it looked like he was gaining steadily. Go, Gregg, go. As I approached the turnaround for the second time, I could tell that my legs were starting to tighten up. My brain wanted some calories, and I was behind on fluids. At the M19.5 turnaround's aid station, the volunteer asked me if I wanted some gel. YES. Ooops, she didn't have any. D'oh! Thanks for bringing it up.

Off I went. There was the guy who had been chasing me, coming towards the turnaround. I told him, "I'm fading... I'll see you in a few minutes." We slapped five.

M20. M21. Still out front. Gregg, the real leader, was coming the other way. "See if you can catch me." "I don't know..." was his reply.

M22. I'm hurting and wondering where the guy behind me really was. But I smiled and shaka'ed and Good Job'ed everyone I saw.

M23. This damn coat was heating me up and weighed about three tons. M24. I needed something to drink badly. I wanted to eat a whole pie. M25. Oh crap.

M26. People setting up for that afternoon's duathlon clapped for me.


I was the first finisher. So much so that the finish line people asked me if I ran the half. "Nope, the full. But I did the early start."

3:48. Not much of a time for a front runner, but there it was.

I got my two sodas and waited. The guy who tried to catch me finished 9 minutes later. He had faded badly. We chatted. His PR was 3:50, and had he caught me, then I would have helped him set a new PR. That actually would have been pretty neat.

Interestingly, it kind of felt like being in the penalty box on Amazing Race. My actual placement kind of depended on who finished in the next hour. Generally, I do not care about stuff like this. But running out in front... way out in front... was really interesting.

Gregg pulled in about 3:09. So he started 60 minutes after me, but finished 21 minutes after. He made up a lot of time, but he wasn't going for a sub-3. The penalty box phase continued.

The first two (or maybe three) women finished. Many early starters finished. And then, just four minutes before the official race time hit 3:48, the second regular-start guy came in. Heh.

I came in 6th (or 5th, not sure about one woman yet) overall and 3rd guy.

What a weird experience.

Little races are funny that way.

I hung out talking to people and drinking soda. Lots and lots of soda. I did not eat a whole pie.

Next up: The Glass City Marathon and probable cooooold weather. Brrr.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

3/31-4/1/07 Yakima Marathon and Big-D Texas Marathon

“You aren’t running Yakima?” I’ve heard this question for several years. The Yakima River Canyon Marathon is held every year at the end of March or beginning of April, and it always seems like I have something else planned. Last year, for example, I chose to run the Moab Marathon. The race is a 2 ½ hour drive from Seattle and tons of my friends do it every year. This year it was even chosen as the annual reunion location for my running club, the Marathon Maniacs. Completely coincidentally, it also happened to be the weekend where I’d hit marathon #100 (including my two ultras). And the race director of Yakima? He just happens to lead the US version of the 100 Marathon Club. So I had to go.

Yakima happens to be a Saturday race… which opens up possibilities for “doing a double” if a Sunday race with reasonable logistics could be found. I did find one, although I stretched the meaning of “reasonable”. Usually, a good double is one that only requires a short (for me, less than five hour) car drive between the two races. The race I found was the Big D Texas Marathon in Dallas. To achieve the double, I’d need to finish Yakima quickly, immediately drive 2 ½ hours back to the airport in Seattle, catch a plane to Dallas that would land around 11p, crash for a few hours, and get up and run again. No problem! It would give me a chance to visit my parents after the race, too. Ok. I’m in.

Let’s start with Yakima. The race doesn’t actually involve the town of Yakima; it is a point-to-point course between Ellensburg and Selah, Washington. This means a shuttle bus… in this case, an early shuttle to the start. In fact, the race finishes nowhere near the morning shuttle’s parking… so there’s another shuttle from the end back to the parking. The course is run through the Yakima River Canyon along a road that mostly parallels the river as it flows downstream. The canyon can make things windy. And following a river downstream? This indicates a mostly downhill course – but gentle, nothing on the order of St George or Tucson. There are a couple little ups along the way, and one challenging “take no prisoners” hill between M21.8 and M23. After that is a screaming downhill to the end.

The weather on race morning was perfect for most people: crisp, partly cloudy, and not much wind. Of course, Island Boy was in four shirts while most people had on one. The starting area was a sea of Maniac yellow, red, and black. And one dude in pink. Of the 500ish participants, probably 100ish were Maniacs. Pretty impressive for a club that had humble beginnings four years ago.

I had big difficulties choosing a goal for this race. Once upon a time, it was going to be a go-fast race. But I’m not quite “there” yet, and I had turned the weekend into a double anyway. I’ve also figured out over the past year that I’m a fairly poor downhill runner. In fact, it was the Moab Marathon on this same weekend last year that showed me just how poor I am. So I decided to run by feel – I decided to use the long downhill stretches to mess around with my stride, try different versions of “lean forward”, maybe go really fast sometimes and hold back on others. The point was to try to discover reasonable form that felt comfortable and allowed me to stay in control without constantly braking (and trashing my quads). From a time perspective, I also needed to come in ahead of the 4 hour mark so I’d have enough time to shower and drive without raising the attention of The Man.

8a, and off we went. The first few miles were easy… I had a lot of people to meet and greet. There was my friend who had to have a kidney removed late last year; Yakima was her first race since the surgery. There was my friend who is seven months pregnant, runwalking the marathon. There was the 15 year old Maniac, who I’d see throughout the race. There was a Hippo, a Slug, and a Possum Otter. Lots and lots of cool people with cool stories.

The first little up occurred at M5. This allowed me to settle into my groove. I hit M13.1 at 1:50… it would turn out that I was running a bit too quickly in the first half, but I certainly had a lot of fun messing around on the downhills. Additionally, the scenery of the canyon was stunning. Lots of time to get lost in my own mind. I was able to stay around 8:30/mile through M17, but I could tell when my body (actually, you know what? I really think it was my brain) switched into the next lower gear. Around M19, a Maniac caught me and said, “aren’t you running a little fast?” Er… well… yeah, I was… but still… don’t say that, maaan. He was right, though.

As I approached M21, the one major hill on the course was visible in the distance. I could see all the way up, which, as I learned at Big Sur, is a mind trick that makes a normal hill seem harder. At M21.8, I started up the hill. There was a sign that read simply, “False top at 0.6, actual top at 1.2.” Whoops. So I really couldn’t see all the way up. I set an instantaneous goal of running all the way up the hill, no matter what it did to my pace. And so I did. I passed a lot of people walking. My pace at the M23 marker? 11:20 for that last mile. Yikes. But I did run the whole hill, so… good for me.

Time to run downhill. Ouch, ouch, ouch. As I approached the finish line, I saw the big clock at 3:49:xx, so I sprinted to see if I could beat 3:50. The good news is that I did – my official time was 3:49:55. The bad news was that this completely artificial goal ensured that I would hyperventilate at the finish and freak out all the volunteers. “Are you ok?!?!” Yeah. I was fine.

My splits for this race were pretty rotten: 1:50/1:59. On the other hand, M26 was my fastest mile of the whole day: 7:46. Of course, it was gravity-assisted, but it was still nice to be able to spin my legs that fast at the end. It wasn’t so nice not being able to breathe.

I got my drink and my bagel and went to find the shuttle. The shuttle did not come, so a nice guy gave me a ride. And it was time to drive back to Seattle. In retrospect, this really sucked. My favorite part of most races is hanging out at the finish line and talking to people. I didn’t do that after Yakima. We all get different things out of running, and I just learned that one of mine is more important to me than I thought. And PS, that was #100. I celebrated in the car by eating a big bag of chex mix.

But drive back I did. My plane was late to Dallas, and I finally got to sleep at 1:30a. That was a looooong Saturday. 3 ½ hours later, it was time to get up. Ugh. My legs felt fine, but I was very very sleepy and my back hurt. Also, the Dallas pollen and the evening on an airplane made me stuffy. Then again, it was 52 degrees outside, and the forecast predicted a really enjoyable day for Island Boy – blue skies and 75. Everyone else would grumble about the heat, but I had to get out there and soak it up.

The Big D Texas Marathon is only four years old, and I have not done it before. In fact, the only things I really knew about it was that it was small and somewhat hilly. It is a loop course (no shuttle!) that starts and ends at Fair Park. For the record, Fair Park is a dump… I was really sad to see how this place has been frozen, stuck in 1975.

Having now completed this race (oops, it seems I’ve skipped to the end), it is easy to compare it to the two other local marathons, which I have done. It is hillier than Dallas White Rock (DWR), and about as hilly as Cowtown. None of the hills are steep, and as a loop, the course is completely fair. Except for the few miles by White Rock lake, the whole thing is consistently going up or down, though. Although it doesn’t share many of the same streets as DWR, the course is quite similar. DWR is a loop that starts downtown, runs though some nice neighborhoods, runs around White Rock lake, passes through more nice neighborhoods, and finishes downtown. Big D has the same progression except that it starts and ends at Fair Park instead of downtown. And it goes the opposite direction around the lake.

I’ve always liked DWR. It is a well organized race and lots of spectators come out to cheer you on. I have to say, though, that I liked many aspects of Big D better. It is a much smaller run, so you are never trapped in a pack. Additionally, this race is held in late spring – and believe me, green beats DWR’s December brown by A LOT. Green also means that much of the course, except for the last section, is quite shady. This is important because spring can also mean HOT. I was also surprised by the number of spectators. Not wall-to-wall, and not the same as DWR, but there were lots of people in their front yards and at the intersections. DWR beats Big D in its after-race food, but Big D was ok, especially for a smaller race.

And how was my day? I had two goals. The first was simply “finish upright”. The second is a little harder to describe. I wanted to set a double PR – that is, combining the times of the two races in a double weekend. The problem with setting this goal was that I didn’t know enough about the course, and the weather was warmish. I love running in the heat, but it doesn’t make me faster.

I was pretty much zoned out for the entire race. I chatted a bit with a woman who had come from North Carolina. At M23, one of my Maniac friends caught me. He’s a TNT coach and so he was decked out in purple… but he took a second to chase me down, check on me, and explain the last part of the course. Thanks, Phil.

Robert Lopez… all the way from Seeee-at-el
. 4:03. I could tell at M17 that I wasn’t going to beat 4… but at that point, I figured I’d plod in at 4:10ish. I recovered a bit, I suppose. My splits were definitely more even than the previous day: 1:59/2:04. I did finish upright, and with a big smile on my face. And I did finish with a new double PR. I also enjoyed the race very much. It’s always nice to go into a race with no expectations and be pleasantly surprised.

Incidentally, Texas is now 2-for-2 in that category. I ran Cowtown in February, fully expecting a crap race of epic magnitude, because that’s how it used to be. But it wasn’t crap – it was great. And Big D was great too. Alright!

Next up: the little local Easter Marathon on 4/7. My report, if I write one, will be very brief. I’ve done the course a number of times for other holidays, and unless the Easter Bunny shows up, there won’t be much to say. Maybe I’ll have a good story to tell. Or some jokes. We’ll see. If I don’t count my two ultras, then Easter will be #100.

If I don’t write a report for Easter, the next race is Glass City, in Toledo, on 4/15.

See you at one or the other.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

03/25/07 Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon

Here is the report I wrote for last year’s race. I will repeat the introduction:
I told people that I was going to do The Bataan Death March. Some gave me a knowing look. Some said "wow, what a cool name." Ok, first things first. The Bataan Death March was a real thing, a very terrible thing, in World War II. If you don't know about it, go read this. I'll wait until you are done.

Last year, I designated this as the hardest and most meaningful marathon I had ever done. I no longer consider it to be the hardest (both Leadville and Volcano are orders of magnitude harder), but it is still the most meaningful. Paying tribute to the survivors and not-survivors of this terrible ordeal is incredibly moving. And watching thousands of men and women marching up the hill in heavy packs while I’m blazing back down... all the while giving ME encouragement as I try to say something coherent to them… well, that’s very powerful too. And so I came back to do this race again. This time with a little course-specific experience.

Like last year, the day began super early. Up at 2:45a to leave at 3:45a to be on the base by 4:30a. Unlike last year, this time I decided to crash in my car for a little while instead of shivering and inhaling cigarette smoke. And sure enough, many of the marchers smoked and drank coffee while waiting for sunrise. This is a big clue that this isn’t an ordinary marathon. So here I was, sacked out in my car, and probably 30 minutes later, I woke up… startled by a very low-flying helicopter and tons of people talking. And completely disoriented because I had gone to sleep with my cap over my face. Heh. Time to go.

At 6:00a, they played reveille and started the opening ceremonies. They talked about the actual death march, introduced the few remaining survivors, and played taps for the rest. One of the survivors was in attendance even though a tornado had destroyed his house the previous day. Wow. Star spangled banner, and we began to file past the survivors to the starting line. Boom, and off we went.

The first two miles of the course were on roads in the base proper… then the course turned onto tank trail. The first six miles of the course were downhill and the tank trail in this part was in pretty good condition this year. It was fairly cold at the start, but not too bad. Unlike last year, there was almost no wind. I chugged through this downhill at a not-leisurely-for-me 7:50 pace – until I had to make my first potty stop at M6.

“The hill” started at M6. This is some hill. It went on from M6, where the course came back out onto asphalt road, continued as the course veered onto tank trail around M11, and kept going until M13.8, gaining about 1500 feet overall. It’s not the steepest hill ever, but it is steep enough, and by M10 or so, it becomes your best friend. I can say that this year because there was no wind. Last year, the gale-force headwind made it not my best friend. The first overall female passed me around M7. I ran with the second overall female from M8-10 and then she pulled away too. Up and up we went. The trail we entered around M11 was a bit more challenging than the earlier stuff, but it still wasn’t too obnoxious. This part of the course was interesting. After leaving the asphalt road, the course traced a winding path around the circumference of a big hill (or small mountain).

Third overall female absolutely smoked by me at M13.

At M13.8, the course crested “the hill”, and started heading back down and around. After a quick aid station stop at M14, down we went. I was able to get back to a nice 8:30 pace… but no faster… as the trail conditions got a bit rockier and washboard-y. Around M16, the course provides an absolutely stunning vista to the south… and 16 miles away, there was the base. I sighted the two water towers that are big landmarks in the last couple miles of the course. They sure seemed like they were a long way from me! Closer than that, I saw what I thought was smoke from a brush fire. I would soon find out that it was a water misting station for the marchers… turned up to Spinal Tap’s 11.

At M17, the course started rolling. This section was brief, but the little ups and downs along the way were fairly steep. On fresh legs, I think I would really like this part. At M17, it wasn’t quite the same.

At M18, the course dumped back out onto the asphalt road and it was time to go back down a couple miles of “the hill”. This section is one of the main reasons I returned to Bataan. Thousands of marchers were headed up the other way, most carrying 35 pound packs. They were at M9, and I was at M19. I did the best I could to encourage them as I cruised by. They wished me well. Very amazing experience.

Just after M20, we turned off the asphalt and entered this race’s particular hell. I contemplated whether I thought “the hill” was harder than this section for a long, long time. Now after doing it twice, I will say with complete certainty that this is the harder part. The trail got bad… and then at M21… the trail got spectacularly bad. Welcome to the sand pit. M21-22 was in ankle deep sand. With hidden rocks. And, just for fun, uphill. With lots of turns. One mile doesn’t sound like a long way in marathon terms, but at M21 it really is. And both years, this mile has chewed me up, spit me out, and left me for dead. After the sand pit, the last four miles of the race should be a piece of cake because the trail widens up, the footing gets better, and there’s a bit of downhill. But “should be” is not “is”… and just like last year, these last four were a struggle. Unlike last year, I ran every step, though. At a smoking 11:00 pace. The fourth and fifth place women passed me in here.

At M24, we hit the wall. I described this last year, but I’ll mention it again. I don’t mean the marathoning glycogen-depletion wall… I mean a literal rock wall that makes up the perimeter of the base’s residential section. For whatever reason, this wall is deadly monotonous and helps make the last two miles seem like ten. Lucky for me, I remembered this in great detail from last year, so I kind of zoned it all out.

Chug chug chug. By the water tower landmarks.

Robert Lopez, Seattle, Washington. Woohoo, I got announced. At the finish line, two of the survivors were waiting for finishers. I wasn’t terribly coherent yet, and I wanted to get to the post-race food, but I wanted to shake their hands and say thanks. So I did. A simple “thank you”.

The first guy held on to my hand, looked up at me and said, “now, do you think you could do 70 more miles with no food or water?”

Kind of put things into perspective.

They saved the world, you know. They really did.

As for me, 4:04. 16 minutes better than last year, and unlike last year, I didn’t feel like someone had beaten me with hammers. I felt pretty good. 4:04 was a fine time on that course… in fact, I came in 51st out of 1671 folks who ran without heavy packs.

Seven weeks prior, I had run the Pacific Shoreline Marathon in the same 4:04. The differences between the two races are major. I must be improving.

Up next: a double weekend, with the Yakima River Canyon Marathon on Saturday, and the Big D Texas Marathon on Sunday. Including the two ultras I have completed, Yakima will be my 100th marathon and ultra.

See you there.