Sunday, May 27, 2007

05/27/07 Buffalo Marathon

Because I made such a big deal of this in my Bayshore report, let's start with the weather. It was 60 and muggy for most of this race. I was ok in "only" 2 shirts (one would have been fine)... BUT... all the forecasts predicted gloom-and-doom badass thunderstorms starting at the 3 hour mark of the race. I decided to take a light raincoat. Now, coats are a weird idea in most races because you are gonna be wet from sweat anyway. But thunderstorms can mean cold rain and wind... and I just didn't want to be miserable in the last 6 miles. And so, I went out with a coat wrapped around my waist. It looked dorky, and it was very clunky. I don't think I'll do that again. Didn't need it anyway. Aside from light rain for a few minutes, the weather just stayed overcast. Bottom line, the weather was great all weekend. I'd rather have that result and be wrong than to be right.

The course. Buffalo's course is apparently new this year. The first half is the half marathon course... although they started on a different street, we merged quickly (UGH UGH UGH) and stayed with them until they peeled off at M13. This part of the course was the touted waterfront section. It involved lots of little loops and out-and-backs next to the water. It was alright... but, hey, we're talking about Buffalo and Lake Erie. Bayshore or Grandmas it ain't. It was clear that this bit was new to the organizers... many of the mile markers in the first 7 miles were really wacky... and around M1.5, we were dumped onto a bike path. Mind you, we were packed in like sardines while out on the wide road... the bike path was super tricky.

In fact, it was even extra tricky for the gal who ran into a 3ft wooden post at full speed. She stopped and dropped. Most of her stuff continued. Yipe! We helped her up and she went back to running. Not sure how she did. Why did she hit the post? Well, for one, she had on headphones and didn't hear people saying "pole". But just as importantly, the gal in front of her waited until the last possible second to matador the post... so biff, oof, pow.

After we bid adieu to the half marathoners ("please save us some fooood!"), the second part of the course made a loop through some nice neighborhoods on the north side of downtown. We passed an old cemetery and skirted a golf course. I later found out that we were near the zoo too... but like in Tacoma, I never actually saw the zoo. As I recall, Memphis is like this as well.

The Buffalo course is far and away the flattest course I've run in awhile. There are a few rises and there must have been a little elevation gain in the second half because the last 2-3 miles are a nice downhill to the finish. But I never really noticed the gain.

As for the race itself, I got to the starting area about 15 minutes before the start. There was some discussion about which direction we were supposed to go, and I picked poorly. So like a doofus, about 5 minutes before the start, I had to cross over and face the other way . I met a maniac (Don) and a couple of the big kahuna 50-staters (Steve and Paula). Then Oh Canada and the SSB. 3, 2, 1, go. We were off.

I've already mentioned the wacky mile markers and the gal kapow into the post. Those were the highlights of the waterfront section. It was in here that I revisited my goals for the day... well, while I was trying dodge a couple thousand flailing limbs all around me. The first goal, as mentioned in the Bayshore report, reads "finish Buffalo in a good mood". I could tell that unless I hurt myself, I'd finish ok, but what with the mile markers and the sardines and Lake Erie, good mood might be debatable. I tried to pump myself up, but I really wasn't in a talkative social mood. The second goal and more aggressive goal was "beat 4". Hmmm. I felt alright, but I knew that if I tried to run even 9:00-9:10s for 26 very flat miles... after being remarkably even for 26 miles yesterday... I'd be bored out of my mind. So I decided to run by feel and play "guess my pace" each mile. Alas, the screwy mile markers made this difficult... but not impossible.

Turns out that I was running lots of 8:40-8:45s. I usually guessed right. Woooo. We sometimes find pleasure in odd things.

At M6.5, the half and full leaders (coming up on M12) headed the other way. At M7.5, we went across a drawbridge where the running surface was slick, painful metal grates. Ouch, ouch.

In addition to a full and a half, this race had a relay. It was, shall we say, loose in organization. And the organizers decided that the only portapotties on the course (besides the start and M13) would be at the relay exchanges. This is a problem. At the first exchange, the potties had lines. Of people not "on the clock". So when I saw the real potty at the harbor around M9, off I went. No line. The payment, unfortunately, was that I had to run a little bit extra to get to it. Lost a minute there.

Rain at M10. The runners behind me were playing some kind of game about state capitals. When I heard "Tampa" for the capital of Florida, I finally had to turn around and correct them. It's Ocala, of course (no, no. It's Tallahassee. That's what I said). The guy's response? "I thought it was Disneyland".

Didn't have the heart to tell him that this was in California.

Back across the drawbridge just before M11. Goodbye to the half marathoners at M13.

At M14, I could feel my body shift into the next lower gear. Goodbye 8:45s, hello 9:05s.

It's funny. As advertised, I think I was supposed to really enjoy the first half of the course. I didn't... though it was as much due to org as it was the blah of Lake Erie. But I enjoyed the second half quite a bit. The neighborhoods were cool, and they had spectators.

The cemetery was around M16. The golf course was M17-M18. Only golf course I've ever seen where a hole has a backstop behind it. Like baseball. Heh. I felt fairly cruddy through these miles, though I did notice that my foot... yesterday's issue... wasn't bothering me. Somewhere in here, though, my body shifted again. Hello, 9:20s. Uh oh.

It seemed like forever before we hit M20... which I did hit at 2:58. It's usually pretty certain that if I hit M20 before 3 hours, I'll beat 4. However, I wasn't feeling it... and constantly retying the silly coat around my waist reminded me that hour 3 was supposed to involve thunderstorms of Biblical proportions. Time to psyche myself up again.

At M23, a spectator or course marshal said "all downhill from here!" You know as well as I do that 95% of the time, this is a complete fabrication. Today it wasn't; the guy was right on. We started a very gentle downhill. We also went through a couple traffic circles... the traffic control was fine, but they were still a little scary.

I was speeding up. I was back to 8:45s.

I'm gonna beat 4.

I will beat 4.

I ran M26 in 7:51. This was my fastest mile not only of today's marathon, but also of yesterday's marathon.

As I neared the finish line, I heard the announcer guy asking his spotters, "Where's he from? Where's he from?" So I just told him - SEATTLE!

Robert Lopez, from SEATTLE!

3:54. Ok, officially 3:53:59.

I beat 4. And I set a new double PR of 7:33.

After the race, they gave me a bottle of water and a single apple. Dude. I looked around and couldn't find anything else. So I came back to my hotel, ate an energy bar and took a bath. Afterwards, I wandered back to the finish area and learned the truth. In the building, up the secret stairs behind the secret wall in the secret place... was the party. Seriously... no signs or people directing folks up to the party. Not that this seemed to trick the local folks. There had been tons of food and free beer. By the time I got there, all that was left was oreos and free beer. Not a winning combo. Believe it or not, I went with the oreos and left the beer alone.

No matter. I beat four on both ends of a double. I celebrated by eating an entire pizza.

Next up: Not a double! Next week is the San Juan Island Marathon. No, this isn't a fun trip to Puerto Rico. The San Juan Islands are in the Puget Sound near Seattle.

I'll see you there. But you have to take a ferry or a seaplane.

05/26/07 Bayshore Marathon

I did my second double in two weeks this weekend. The first race was Saturday in Traverse City, Michigan. The Sunday race was in Buffalo. This involved a bit of logistical square dancing, including two flights to get me from one to the other on Saturday.

The weather outlook for Saturday in Michigan was not promising: thunderstorms. I was nervous because this would be annoying to run in... but more importantly, this could really wonk up my flights.

My goals for the weekend?

A little history first. I ran Bayshore back in 2005. It's a great race with a fast course... and the weather in 2005 was perfect (though Island Boy was cold). But for some reason, I ran a slow 4:11. And it wasn't like I was intentionally doing a long, slow run or walking parts of it. I ran the whole thing... and did the best I could. But I wheezed it out. Some days are like that.

So my primary goal for the weekend was to beat 4:11 at Bayshore and then finish Buffalo in a good mood. Yeah, it was a pretty conservative goal... but then again, the weather was ready to play a factor in these races. Oh, and I ran a double (including a PR) last weekend. Conservative seemed ok.

If I felt good enough, my other more aggressive goal was to beat 4 on both ends. Although my double PR (add the two races together) is 7:46, I've not broken 4 in both of the races in any of my five doubles. I'd like to do that, even if it is 3:59/3:59.The Bayshore Marathon is an out-and-back held on "the peninsula" in Traverse City Michigan. The race does not attract true elites, but it does offer prize money, so a lot of people I consider fast DO come. The xBIL of a coolrunner holds the men's course record here (at least I *think* it is this race - 2:17). It wasn't broken today, but the winner did run a nice 2:22ish time.

The course is described as flat, and it pretty much is flat compared to many courses... but it is in no way 'pancake flat'. Lots of little roly polies that you notice throughout the whole race. However, you are almost always in view of Lake Michigan (specifically Grand Traverse Bay)... so you can tell that the elevation isn't changing all that much.

Being next to the lake helps make the scenery spectacular. In fact, I like to call this race "Grandmas-lite". Somewhat similar scenery, slightly cooler weather, way WAY lower on the PITA scale for registration, lodging, etc. I last did this race in 2005 and didn't recall too many spectators... but they were out in force today. No, not packed start-to-finish. This is mostly a rural run. But certain intersections WERE packed with loud fans, and lots of local folks were out at the ends of their driveways in lawn chairs (and sometimes offering beer).

They offer a full, a half, and a 10k. For the half, they bus you out to the full's turnaround, and you run the back portion of the out-and-back. This is significant because right before the start, I was standing next to a woman with a half bib.

"Uh... you know you aren't supposed to be here, don't you?"
"I'm not? Maybe that's why I can't find my friends."

Whoops. I pointed her to the spectator buses that were heading out. I know she made it to the line and started because I saw her on the course. But I think she started very late .

Before I continue, I'll just spill the beans on the weather. Wow. What perfect weather we had for the race (although some would say it was a little warm towards the end... not me). I don't mind that gets the cloudy/sunny thing wrong, but lately they've been particularly pessimistic about wind. For several recent races, like The Pig and Bayshore, has predicted strong winds that luckily didn't show up. And they didn't today. It was a bit nippy at the start, but it warmed up to the mid-60s. Bright blue sky, low humidity, and no wind. Perfect. Of course, I still wore 3 shirts (2 long-sleeve), but I'm weird like that.

As I wrote above, my goals were conservative for this weekend. Unfortunately, I got caught up talking to some faster folks and the weather was nice and I felt good and I went out fast.

There were soooo many water stations that I skipped about half of them.

Around M5, the half marathoners passed me going the other way. They were churning out 5:00 miles.

At M8, I had to do a potty stop.

Around M9 or M10, the full leaders passed me going the other way. 3 guys spread out and then a loooong gap before more.

A few minutes later, I heard the"slap, slap, slap" sound that has become very familiar to me. A barefoot runner. Now, I'm used to barefoot runners being faster than me. coolrunning's Barefoot Rick smokes me in most races. Famous Barefoot Kenbob does sometimes too. But this guy? I don't know who he was, but when I saw him, he was on pace for a 3:05-3:10 marathon. Barefoot. Dang.

I met lots of people during this section that wanted to know about the pink shirt and how many races I've done. This was good because it helped take my attention from the pain in my foot.

The turnaround was at M13 (not 13.1... the out-and-back is 26, followed by .2 around the high school track). On the way back, we hit the mat for the half's start, which was our true half split. 1:49. A couple minutes slower than my PR last week. But. Uh oh. Two minutes off my split of a PR race is not necessarily good on a so-called "conservative" day.

Do I try to hold it together and risk blowing up? If I do blow up, this would be problematic for my race tomorrow. Do I dial it back? I decided to go another three miles and see how I felt at M16.

And I felt fine at M16. Ok, next check in at M18.

Still doing well at M18. Huh. M20 then, the start of the danger zone.

Still alright. Hmmm. Although I did start feeling the need for a potty stop. Which I did at M22. And it was interesting. I'm very good at locking the portapotty door. I clearly remember locking it before turning to do what needed to be done. But sure enough, while I was doing what needed to be done, the door flew open, a lady screamed, people laughed, and the door banged shut again.

Whoops. I had slid the lever over, but not far enough.

I lost almost a minute at the potty, so I figured I'd have difficulty finding my pace again, and the last 4 miles would be slower.

M23-25 were a little slower. But I didn't go from 8:20s to 9:20s. Just to 8:45s. And then M26? 8:13.

I finished at 3:39. They didn't announce me. At least 3 different people came up to me after the race and thanked me for being their rabbit. Something about the highly visible pink shirt, plus I had a good day with my pacing. There were several women who needed a 3:40 for Boston; it was nice to help . Lots of questions about the pink shirt.

When I PRed last week with a 3:36, I was blessed with not having to potty for the entire race. Everything went well. I had to stop TWICE today. So, backing those stops out of the time, my performance this week was essentially identical... though I did pace a little better.

Last week, my split was 1:47/1:49. Today, my split was 1:49/1:50.

Last week, my second race of the weekend (Capital City) was held on a difficult course in weather that got more miserable as the day progressed. Buffalo is supposed to be somewhat flat, but the weather will be an issue, like last week. If I believe

My right foot is unhappy right now. I psyched myself through it during the race, but I'll have to see if it goes away tonight or not.

One final story. After the race, I ate at Subway. I was... and am... wearing the race shirt. It's a short-sleeve dark blue technical shirt. Not a lot of writing on it (no ads!). The guy at Subway was absolutely fascinated by my "work shirt". When I told him that I got it at the race, he asked me whether I could wear it to work. I have no idea where he was going with this. Heh.

Monday, May 21, 2007

05/19-05/20/07 Palos Verdes Marathon (new PR!) and Capital City Marathon

My friend Jon has been telling me about the Palos Verdes Marathon in Southern California for a couple years now. "It's a small race, it's hilly, and it is very old school... you'll like it." The only issue is that it is held on the same weekend as the Capital City Marathon in Olympia, and I always try to do CCM. Luckily, Palos Verdes is a Saturday race and CCM is on Sunday, so this year I decided to do both.

A few weeks ago, I told Jon that I might consider PV as a Go Fast race in my schedule... depending on how I did in the two weeks heading into PV, how I felt on race morning, and the weather. Those hills? I like hills. The past two weekends had gone well; you can see the clues in my race reports. Here's something I wrote after The Pig two weekends ago:
3:52. I made my second goal of beating last year’s 3:55 and I felt great. As I met up with various folks and heard about all their smoking times and PRs, part of me felt a little badly for not trying to hammer the last miles. But it is all part of the plan. I had goals and I achieved them.
Last weekend's Tacoma City Marathon was very hilly. I ran it with a friend and had a great time. It felt good.

Fast forward to this weekend. The weather on race morning? Overcast, 58, with just a touch of breeze. Island Boy was not cold and went with a single shirt under the pink singlet. How did I feel? Good. Very good.

I met a bunch of people from the coolrunning website at the start of this race. ilene, slojim, huskydon, dromedary, and perhaps a couple others (sorry; I was thinking about the race). And then there was Jon. He was running the half, which would start after the full, and he was wearing a white dress shirt to stay warm. A very stylish look. He asked me about my race plans. I hedged my bets (aka, sandbagged) because I didn't want to say it outloud. I told him "about 4".

But it was Go Fast day.

Recorded National Anthem, and we were off. I knew the course would be hilly, but I didn't know *how* hilly. I had also looked at a map and expected a simple out-and-back. It turns out that the course is supremely hilly - with hills of all shapes, steeps, and sizes. It also turns out that the "simple" out-and-back isn't so simple. Some courses have a little loop at the outermost section of the out-and-back; these courses are known as "balloon-on-a-stick" or "lollipop" courses. PV? It's a pretzel on a stick.

So, we were off on our way out through monster hills towards the Pretzel of Great Confusion (ok, it wasn't that bad). As I was trying to figure out why I felt so good, the first thing that hit me was the similarity between this PV course and my dear Kona Marathon. Both have awesome views of the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. Both take you by some interesting neighborhoods as well as more isolated vistas. Both are out-and-backs with no spectators. Both have challenging hills, though PV's are in another dimension of the challenge scale. Thinking about Kona made me feel even better.

I kept splits, but the main thing this did for me was indicate that the course's mile markers were wacky. I have a couple 6:30s on my watch. Outside of a 5k, I do not run 6:30s. Heck, I don't run sub-8s unless I'm going downhill. And as I've noted in many reports, I don't even run down hills very well. Strange mile markers usually tick me off. Not today. I found the first 6:30 to be incredibly amusing. It gave me confidence. And the fact that I responded positively to the situation just reinforced that I was in a special emotional state for this race.

The hills. They started at M2, and the first one was a real treat. Straight up - a steeeep hill. On and on the hills went. As we approached the middle miles and the Pretzel of Great Confusion, I found myself talking to other runners. This is nothing new; I talk to people all the time. However, I was running 8:00-8:15 miles as opposed to my more typical 8:30-8:50 miles. And I was probably talking MORE and smiling MORE in this race.

So. It's Go Fast day. But that doesn't mean I was "focused" in the sense that I was super intense and balancing on the edge-of-puking. I *was* focused. Very focused. But I was comfortable, and that's a real key to something that's gonna take several hours. If I'm ever on the edge-of-puking at M10 of a marathon, then that just means I went out too fast.

Not on this day. We entered the Pretzel of Great Confusion, and I hit the half at 1:47. I wondered briefly if I could hold it together. My right foot had been hurting for a few miles, but I noticed that it had stopped. Hmm. That's good.

The pretzel was fairly confusing, but I never got lost even though there weren't a lot of runners to follow. As we headed back, we had a bit of a headwind. It was the nice, light, cooling kind of wind. Perfect.

Drink. Run. Talk. See the sights. Wish everyone else well. Thank volunteers. Drink more. But mostly?
Go that way, really fast. If someone gets in your way, turn.

By M20, I could tell that I had run 20 miles, but I wasn't feeling super tight. I was holding it together. Just as importantly, I had not felt the need to potty at all. And still didn't.

At M21ish, I hit the course's serious hill. It had been a long downhill on the way out... but now it was a supremely long uphill on the way back. It was a lot like the big hill at Big Sur. It was a hard hill made psychologically harder because of the geography... we were winding along the coast, so we could see allll the waaaay up the hill. Up I went. At M24, I hit the steep hill that we'd gone up at M2. Now I was headed down. And I am a poor downhill runner.

Not today. I remembered the training - lean into the hill, adjust stride, try not to brake, keep the arms in control. Down the hill I went.

At M25, I could see the end.

At M26, I could hear the end.

At M26.1, I saw Jon at the end.

At M26.2, I was at the end.

3:36. That might or might not sound like a fast time, but it is a post-sickness PR for me. It was my 11th marathon (or longer - one 50k, one 50 miler) in 10 weeks. It was a hard course. And although it was a positive split, 1:47/1:49, that's pretty close for me.

3:36. I started running again last October. My first marathon was a robust 4:29. Six months and 25 marathons later, I've taken almost an hour off that time.

After the race, I talked to Jon, slojim, and a couple other coolrunning folks (hahaoya and brwf) for a little while. They waited for ilene to finish while I went to checkout of my icky hotel. Then we ate lunch in the sunshine. It was a good day.

For fun, I went ahead and ran the Capital City Marathon the next day. This is a special event for me because in 2001, the half was the first race of any distance I did after being sick. Last year on the new hilly (but not PV hilly) course, I managed a 3:48. This year? Well, uh, my good day was the day before. The weather at CCM was icky and it got worse as the day progressed. I was a bit stiff. 4:06. 30 minutes slower than PV. A good recovery run. Lots of chatting with friends.

Next up? Another double. On Saturday, I'm running the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City Michigan. I did this race back in 2005. It was an odd experience. I was in good shape and I ran the entire way... but very slowly (4:11). We'll see what happens. On Sunday, I'm running the Buffalo Marathon. I know nothing about this race, but they did send me an "in training" T-shirt.

Which is nice.

Friday, May 18, 2007

05/13/07 Tacoma City Marathon

The Tacoma City Marathon is brand new… a labor of love for one of the founding Maniacs. To understand this race, it helps to know a little bit about how Tacoma is treated by Seattle, its larger neighbor to the north. We generally don’t go to Tacoma. Tacoma is known for monster truck shows and the “aroma of Tacoma”. This is quite unfair, really… Tacoma has some stinky areas, but so does Seattle. And I know a lot more about Seattle’s various stinky places. Tacoma “needed a marathon”. But not just a bunch of loops through a park – the founders really wanted to show off Tacoma’s good areas.

The good news is that the Tacoma City Marathon nailed it. The price for that good news, however, is hills. Or more specifically, HILLS. Like Seattle, Tacoma is a fairly hilly place. And to see the good areas, hills are required. I don’t have a lot to offer up about this race. Not because I didn’t like it - I actually liked it quite a bit. It helps, of course, that I like hills. I don’t have much to say because I ran this race with one of my bestest running buddies (let’s call her BRB), and I’ve sworn not to share those stories.

It’s pretty obvious that the founders would like to grow this race into a bigger deal. The expo didn’t have a ton of booths, but it was held in a cavernous hall in the convention center (side note – in the months leading up to the race, my job was to try to sell it to various vendors around the country. It was a hard sell because of the one not-nice aspect of this race. It was on Mother’s Day.). All volunteers got a swell hooded jacket, which is a nice touch considering the iffy weather this time of year. The race offers up tons of aid stations, a couple ad hoc music stops, and a nice post-race gathering area. There’s a marathon, an early start option for the marathon, a half, and a 10k to choose from.

The days leading up to the race had been quite warm by Pacific Northwest standards and unseasonably sunny. Not so for race morning. We were treated to a great day by May standards, really, because it did not rain. But it was cold for Island Boy, and windy. I started out with my typical four shirts, and unlike last week’s adventure at The Pig, I wanted those shirts. I also wore ditchable gloves, and I never ditched them.

My goals for the race were simple: “about 4”, and if I could run a few miles with my friend, that would be great. Alas, when I crossed the line, I couldn’t find her. The first few miles zigzagged through the downtown area. I spotted another friend, who just happens to be BRB’s SIL. She was volunteering as a course marshal. A very cold course marshal. Who was hopped up on 3 Red Bulls. I asked her about BRB and she told me “she’s just ahead of you”. Sure enough, I looked a few streets over, and there was BRB in Maniac Red. Now, I figure she was almost a mile in front of me at this point (remember, the course is in major zigzag mode), but after the race, my friends tried to tell me it was nothing like that. I don’t know. I sped up trying to catch her, but she was absolutely smoking.

Until somewhere around M6. I saw BRB jump into the potty. Aha, my chance to catch up. And by M9, we were running together. We headed up through some hills, by Ruston, and into Point Defiance. I’m pretty sure we circled a zoo, but I never saw any animals. We *did* get nice forest views, some peeks at Puget Sound, and then a spectacular view of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Or more specifically, bridges. They are almost done with the new one that sits next to the original. Which is not really the original, because the original famously shook itself apart in a windstorm.

I chatted a lot with BRB during this race. I mention that because several times, BRB apologized for not being chatty. Everyone has different standards, I suppose. That said, many of our little conversations went something like this:

Me: Hill.

She: Hill.

We’d say this as we’d round a bend and spot the next uphill. I think we had this little conversation about 100 times.

BRB and I took turns encouraging the other. We walked the aid stations, thanked the volunteers and the poh-leece at the intersections. We said hello as we encountered people we knew. By M19, the “alright, what do we really need to do to break 4” game started. We stayed pretty consistent, but on a hilly course, this was more about even effort than precise splits.



Around M23, we started the mostly downhill trek towards the end. The “break 4” game seemed in hand. I remember saying that we had 36 minutes to run a 5k. However, I’ve had some really bad last 5ks in marathons, so I didn’t really want to say it outloud. No need. We stayed on track – gravity is a nice thing when race organizers put downhill into the last miles.

“There’s that weird bridge by the dome.”

“Just around the corner.”

We didn’t sprint the last mile, but it was still one of our faster miles.

I don’t recall whether they announced either of us. No need. 26.2 and we were done. I think we finished side by side, but for some reason I autopiloted the end. I was hungry and cold.

3:53. We beat 4. It’s worth pointing out that BRB is generally faster than me, sometimes by a lot. But on this day, we ran together, and I think it helped both of us.

I will definitely do this race again, and I’d even suggest it as a nice race for people traveling from afar.

Next up: A double. In fact, the first in a series of FOUR doubles over the next FIVE weekends. I’m racing in Palos Verdes (think Southern California) on Saturday. On Sunday, I will run… stiff like a mummy… the Capital City Marathon in Olympia, Washington. The half version of this race holds a special spot in my heart because it was the very first race of any distance I ran after being sick. Last year, I ran a respectable 3:48 on the new (and HARD) full course. This year? I don’t predict anything close. And the weather is supposed to be icky. But the weather on Saturday in Southern California will make up for all that.

I’ll see you there.

Monday, May 07, 2007

05/06/07 The Flying Pig Marathon

The Pig is a very popular (though not overly large) marathon held each May in Cincinnati. It is popular because it is very well managed, it has a challenging but fairly fast course, the community really supports the race, and, of course, it has the gimmick of the pink flying pig.

The Pig is one of my personal favorites, though it lands on the same weekend as several other great marathons: Avenue of Giants, Lincoln, and Ft Collins. It’s also the same weekend as two other marathons that would be much easier for me logistically: Reno and Vancouver. AND it’s the same weekend as a few other races, like the Poconos Marathon, that I don’t know much about. But I really like The Pig. I also had a score to settle with this race because last year I had a terrible time. I still did okay for me: a 3:55 in the middle of a series of 7 in 7 weeks where I got faster each week… but I felt terrible the whole race. So I decided to come back and try again.

The course is a 5 mile point-to-point, starting by the Bengals’ stadium, crossing a bridge into Kentucky, over another little bridge, a mile or so through the city of Covington, a bridge back over to Cincinnati (which, as you can guess, has a lot of bridges), and then over to the Reds’ stadium. From here, the course is a 21 mile loop up through the big hill in the middle of the city, down the back side, and then back to the stadium area via the river. The elevation chart makes it look like there’s a monster hill on the course that ends at M8, and then a nice downhill all the way to the finish. Not really. If you squint at the chart, you’ll see the truth: a challenging (though, honestly not monstrous) up between M5 and M9ish followed by rolling hills all the way to the end. The general tendency is down, but there’s certainly a lot of up along the way. And at every one of these hills, a kind spectator will tell you “this is the last hill!” Except for the spectator at M25.5… oh yeah, there’s a little cruel joke hill at M25.5… except for that person… the rest of them fib.

The Pig starts at 6:30a, which is quite early for a non-Hawai’i or Florida race. Race morning weather was blue sky and a very moderate 52, but the humidity was high and it was supposed to be windy. It would turn out to be breezy in a few locations, but the big wind wouldn’t show up until late in the day. Of course, I dressed in Island Boy’s normal 4 shirts… and for the first race this year, Island Boy regretted wearing so many clothes. I didn’t ditch any of them, but I was hot and steamy all day.

The Pig has plenty of bathrooms before the race (and during, too – great org!), which was a much happier experience than last week in Eugene. I had plenty of time to utilize the football stadium’s potty and then wander down to the sea of humanity. This is one thing that The Pig could improve: the starting area is a sardine can. Yes, the race utilizes chips, but it seems like nobody seeds themselves very well each year. There were a few signs for various paces, but they were too close to the starting line, and even the pace teams lined up more spread out. It was packed wall-to-wall with people. I was back around the 3:50 team… couldn’t hear announcements or the Star Spangled Banner, but then BOOM (and I mean a cannon BOOOOOM) meant we were off. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. Almost two minutes later, I really crossed the line. Then it was time to play walker dodgeball. Argh.

My two goals for this race were very simple: I wanted to put in 18ish miles averaging my current marathon pace… so I was shooting for 8:40/mile. I also wanted to beat last year’s 3:55. Beyond that, I wanted to NOT feel like crap. However, because of the hilly nature of the course, I was ok with not putting in precise splits. Factoring in a mile of walker dodgeball, I decided to try to get to M19 at 2:36 plus whatever my time would be during that first mile. That turned out to be 9:18… so, I wanted to hit M19 as close to 2:45:18 as I could.

I had a lot of people ask me about my pink shirt during the Kentucky section, and I met a woman named Marlene from coolrunning. I know she was Marlene because her leg had M A R L E N E written on it :-). As we crossed the bridge back into Cincinnati, my friend Dan caught me. We talked for about a mile until the need to potty became too much for me to bear. I wished him well, hopped the fence right before M5, opened the door of the potty with the little green dot, shocked myself and the woman sitting inside, and quickly closed the door. Yeep.

Important safety tip to all runners: please lock the door. Mahalo plenty!

Business concluded, it was time for The Pig’s big hill. This is where the two runwalkers started playing leapfrog with me. Now, while some folks have a philosophical issue with the runwalking method, I think it is fine. Whether you walk, run, runwalk, hop, or dance… if you finish before I do, you beat me fair and square. I don’t like it when runwalkers stop suddenly right in front of me, and thankfully these two did not do this. But they DID do something I found very annoying. While in run mode, they’d pass me. No problem. But when they passed me, one of them would immediately drift in front of me. Right in front of me. And then slow to my pace. The first time, I played matador. The second time, the gal bumped me with her elbow. The third time, her buddy hit my foot and tripped me. By the fourth time… THE FOURTH TIME… I began to wonder whether it was intentional. I don’t think it was, really. I think they were just talking. But by the fourth “olé”, I finally had to say something and move to the other side of the street. One positive thing is that I was too focused on this to get psyched out by the hill. Up and over.

The middle miles kind of drifted by. The weather was great, and so the spectator support was outstanding all day. Part of my brain was keeping track of my effort and pace, but the rest of it sort of zoned out. M14.6ish-M16 is a little balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back before heading back towards downtown. In here, I met fellow Maniac and online buddy Perfesser. Cool guy, and I wish I could have stuck with him for longer, but I was hit with the need to potty again at M16. This is exactly where I got nailed, and nailed badly, last year. This year? False potty stop. Argh. I hate those. Off I went.

I wanted to hit M19 as close to 2:45:18 as I could. My time at M19? 2:45:09. HA. Very cool. It was here that I had to decide whether I really wanted to push things or not. The Pig was not a goal race, and I have two races in the next few weeks where I might want to push. AND I have two different doubles (two marathons in the same weekend) in the next three weeks. Naaaah. Not today. This is not to say that the last seven miles were easy… in fact, I struggled through a few of them. But not the “dig deep and almost die” kind of struggle. I met a ton of people during this section, and quite a few coolrunners and Maniacs. Some of these I was passing, but many of these folks were passing me on their way to various PRs. The 3:50 pace guy went by me somewhere around M21. His group looked strong, and he was still providing excellent encouragement. Go pace team guy.

The M25 mile marker was spray painted on the ground quite a ways before the M25 sign and clock. The spray paint was correct. The spectators energized me and I sped up for the last mile. The Pig has this weird contest where they track everyone’s last mile (M25.2-M26.2) and award a prize to the person with the fastest final mile. Of course, no midpacker will win this award, but it does seem to cause everyone to surge. Me included.

The spectators were wonderful. Tons of people shouted for me (tip: write your name on your shirt). I think I saw people I recognized… but after 25+ miles, the emotion of the last mile when everyone is yelling for you causes your brain to go into a weird state of perception. Everything seems to speed up and slow down at the same time. It’s a truly funky experience, and one of the coolest things about racing. I saw several people wearing the singlet for February’s National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer, which is my ultimate goal race. And then I was over the line and done. I got announced, but the announcer did it very oddly, saying “…from Seattle” like it was a bad thing. Heh.

3:52. I made my second goal of beating last year’s 3:55 and I felt great. As I met up with various folks and heard about all their smoking times and PRs, part of me felt a little badly for not trying to hammer the last miles. But it is all part of the plan. I had goals and I achieved them.

Incidentally, as has become my tradition recently, my 8:11 26th mile was the fastest of the last 15, and my third fastest mile of the whole race. It helped that everyone else was surging too.

After the race, I ate my yogurt and green bananas. The pig is weird because there’s the food area. And then behind that is… another food area. I got a yummy bagel in the second food area.

I was supposed to meet a bunch of cool people for beer afterwards. I got directions to the place, but my calorie-deprived brain processed them wrong. So I waited for awhile at the Irish Pub whilst they were all having fun at the German place. Ooops. Oh well, maybe next time. I did put in an extra 4ish miles walking around.

Next up: a brand new marathon next week in Tacoma. It is the pet project of one of the founding Maniacs, so we’ll all be there running or volunteering. I’ll see you there.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

04/29/07 Eugene Marathon

Eugene, aka "Tracktown USA", has a storied running history, but it hasn't had a road marathon in a very long time. This year's Eugene Marathon was an inaugural event... and I, along with many other Marathon Maniacs, had to be there for it. Although Eugene is close to Seattle and logistically "easy", I had never been there before, so I decided to spend an extra day. After a simple Amtrak ride (totally WORTH IT compared to driving or flying) and a comfortable Friday night, I got the nice tour of the town and some of the University's athletic facilities thanks to a well-placed friend.

So, thank you, well-placed friend. Stuff like this is why I travel around the country to run marathons. I can run a lot in and near Seattle. But I never would have seen an indoor practice facility big enough for smacking golf balls, a cool osprey nest on a light stand at the top of the stadium, a nifty model of a new basketball arena, and a great tour of the course. Plus stuff that I've sworn to secrecy. It was great.

The race. At the highest level, the course is a point-to-point that starts outside of hallowed Hayward Field and finishes outside of the University's football stadium. But really? It's a pretzel course... three loops that bring you in shouting distance of the finish line four times. Uh oh.

Race morning had great weather and huge crowds at the portapotties. I took a lap around Hayward Field with my Maniac friend Leslie, greeted a couple other Maniacs, and then... with 45 minutes of cushion... went to wait in line. And I waited. Tick tick tick. More waiting. The race was supposed to start at 7a, and I finally opened the door of my special room at 6:59a. Business concluded, I ran out to the sea of humanity at the start. I tried to find the 3:50 pace group to seed myself properly in the sea, but the pacers didn't have signs. And it didn't matter because BOOM off we went.

It turned out that I was right between the 3:50 group and the 3:45 pacer lady, who didn't seem to have a group. I thought about running with her, but then I remembered last week's 50 miler. My goal for this race was simple... "somewhere around 4, and don't die". So I tried to let the 3:45 lady go.

The first loop moseyed around the south part of Eugene from the start up to the river and over to the football field around M6.3 (hello #1 to the finish area). I had been worried that the start would be super packed, especially because of a scary looking right turn not 5 blocks from the start. However, it never felt crazy crowded and the turn was fine. I worked my way into the pace I wanted and took on the course's hills... all of them were in the first six miles, and only one of them was semi-challenging. That done, I pondered that the rest of the race would be basically flat. This would turn out to be true, although the course was not pancake flat. Lots of little tiny rollers throughout. And a whole lotta concrete in the final loop. But we're not there yet.

The second loop took us over some bike trails near the river and dumped us into neighborhoods in... I think... Springfield. The Simpsons! Now, it is true that the running joke is that "Springfield" in The Simpsons is specifically in a nonspecific state. However, Matt Groening is from Oregon, and this Springfield is the only one that I know for sure is near a nuclear power plant. Aside from the fact that the fish I got for lunch did not have three eyes, I'd like to consider this the real Simpsons' Springfield. Besides, we ran by Moe's Tavern at M8.

Ok. Not really.

There were some missing mile markers throughout this loop (and ONLY this loop) which was kind of a drag, but it wasn't awful. More importantly, the aid stations in this loop and the rest of the race were plentiful. Too bad they went with a sportsdrink, Gleukos, that has two big downsides: 1) it looks exactly like water and 2) it is close to Ultima on the barf-inducement scale. Which is to say, I wasn't a fan, so I stuck with mostly water. Except for when I grabbed a cup that I thought was water and ooops, well, it was not.

The 3:45 lady passed me at M8. How did I get in front of her? Uh oh. Not 10 seconds later, the 3:50 guy zoomed past me. By M8, there should be a pretty fair gap between these two groups... but it turned out that 3:50 was just sprinting to get to the potty and do what needed to be done before his group caught him :-). I really shouldn't have been in front of him either.

Right before M10, the half marathoners cut off. We kept going out, then looped back around and rejoined the half marathoners on their way back. Unfortunately, this now meant that the half marathoners (on M10ish) were at a different mile than the rest of us (almost M12ish). This caused a lot of confusion with the halfers, when they saw our sign for M12. Some of them thought they were about done. Nope. Sorry, Charlie.

I hit the halfway point at 1:53ish. This would turn out to be a little too fast, but I wasn't feeling badly at all. I knew there wasn't going to be a negative or even split in my future, but I also didn't want to spontaneously combust trying to even out my splits. M14 (hello #2 to the finish area) sent us into the third loop.

The third loop was the most challenging for me. I generally have the most difficulty mentally in the middle 1/4th of a race, basically M14-M20, anyway. This loop followed the river, crossed a bridge, zigzagged weirdly through a neighborhood, and then returned next to the river (on the other side), before recrossing at the same bridge around M24.8 we had utilized previously at M6.2. See? A pretzel. Most of this was ouchy concrete, and the wind started picking up a bit. The course itself undulated, but was mostly flat. My feet started hurting terribly around M16. Might have had something to do with the previous week's 50 miler. And the concrete. On the other side of the river, I saw the faster folks chugging back to the finish. By the time we crossed over at M19, I was kind of out of it. The zigzag through the neighborhood almost did me in, except for a couple interesting things.

The first was Nacho Libre Mexican Wrestler dude at an aid station. He screamed at the poor woman who was slogging next to me. I think he was being encouraging, and at any other point in time I would have found it funny, but at that moment I wanted to be somewhere else. He did wake me up, though.

The second thing was the bandit kids running fartlek intervals. What? Well, somewhere around M18, two teenagers dressed in tight triathlon shirts jumped in from the spectator crowd and started running. They'd sprint for awhile and then stop. About the time I'd catch up with them, they'd sprint again. I have no idea why they chose marathon morning to jump in and do this... and I *really* don't know why they chose to do this when the midpackers were roaring through. But there they were. By the zigzaggy neighborhood, I'd pretty much had enough of them rushing me from behind, stopping a few blocks in front of me, and repeating the whole thing. I think it made me run faster. By M22, I never saw them again.

I was still on pace to be "about 4" at M22, but my feet were very unhappy. This continued at M23. At M24, a funny thing happened. It was as if I'd popped open a can of Popeye's spinach. I felt renewed and was able to get a good pace going again. And more importantly, I didn't really hurt anymore. I have no idea why. It wasn't like I ate anything magic... no gel, no sports beans, and no spinach... and it wasn't like the course changed. I didn't question it; I just enjoyed it.

We crossed the river near the football stadium (hello #3 to the finish area). Some of my faster friends were standing here, so I quickly said hi and asked how they did. A gust of wind almost knocked me down, and made me remember that I still had more than a mile to go. M25, and in an interesting twist, the course would take us all the way around the stadium before heading back to the finish. From behind me, and quite loudly, I heard a guy scream "STEVIE RAY LOPEZ". I whipped around to find the source. I did not find it, but I did disorient myself and almost fell on my ass again. And the wind blew harder. Time to focus. Time to run a little faster.

M26 was my fastest mile of the last sixteen. Finish line announcer announced me and I was done. 3:56. I made my goal, albeit a conservative goal. I felt great. I found my well-placed friend and learned that yes, he was also the screamer. Heh. He had had a wonderful PR day. Go well-placed friend, go!

In retrospect, they did a very good job for an inaugural event. And there were tons of spectators. This has good potential for a go-fast course, and I'll definitely come back. Perhaps I will even go fast :-).

I just hope they lose the Gleukos.

Next up: tomorrow's Flying Pig. I had some potty issues at last year's Pig, so there's a bit of a score to settle. Unfortunately, the weather outside my window does not look terribly conducive to settling scores. I'll see you there in any case. And at The Pig? I won't be the only one in pink.