Monday, October 29, 2007

10/28/07 Miracle Match Marathon

It seems like Jerry Seinfeld's The Bee Movie has been "about to come out" for ages. Between the commercials and those long "Bee Movie Junior" spots on prime-time NBC, the upcoming release has become overexposed. It is annoying, and I just want the movie to hit theaters so all the fake hubbub will go away.

Sunday's Miracle Match Marathon had kind of the same feeling. Certainly not because of anything the organizers did - it was a tiny marathon and I liked it just fine. And not because other people had made a big deal out of this on my behalf. I think only a handful of people even knew/know/care about it being a key race for me. However, I had targeted it several months ago as my probable 52nd marathon and ultra for the year. Because there are 52 weeks in a year, 52 is sort of a magic number when it comes to doing lots of races in exactly one year. Several people, like fiddy2 guy, have created whole self-marketing campaigns around the idea that they were going to run 52 marathons in a year. And good for them.

I had set out with the goal of completing "50+". I purposefully made the goal vague for two reasons... the main one being that real life has a tendency to assert itself, and I wanted to be able to achieve a challenging running goal while also dealing with things that came up along the way. Less importantly, I didn't want to feel locked in to a specific number except the round number of "50". 50's a lot, and 50 is a nice number. Anything beyond that would be gravy. Right?

That sounds good, but it didn't work out that way. 50 is a round number, but that's about all it signifies. 52 really is a solid number. If I can get to 52 and beyond, I will have averaged at least one a week. From a Maniac standpoint, I also will have achieved the top-tier ten star ranking. This is a completely goofy, made-up number that isn't important in real life, but it is kind of cool. The thing is, I've gotten to ten stars before. There are three ways to get ten: 20 countries in one year, 52 races in one year, or 30 races in 30 states in one year. I have no plans on running 20 countries. I did the 30 states version in 2005. As this year progressed, it became important to me to hit 52 so that I could get ten again. I only know of one maniac who has done it twice - Larry Macon. But he did it the same way twice (79 races in one year... twice... WOW). I wanted to do it two different ways so that I could compare the two methods. 30 states is tough because the travel gets really old. There are so many races in the Pacific Northwest that a runner can get 30-40 completed without serious travel. So even though "30" is much smaller than "52", I figured the comparison between the two would be valid.

I completed the Miracle Match Marathon yesterday. 52 for the year. Which method is the harder version of ten stars? Hmmm. I'm actually not sure. Turns out, it is a very individual experience. I traveled a lot to get to 52 even though I didn't need to do that. And the travel itself can be easy... or over-the-top hard depending on weather and other travel issues encountered over the year. One bad weekend of delays gets forgotten quickly, but a whole summer's worth of delays leaves a bad taste.

Anyway, I had built up "52" in my head. As it got closer, I just wanted it to be here so I could get past it. And that brought me to Waco, Texas, and the oddly named Miracle Match Marathon.

This race was created a few years ago as the "Waco Professional Firefighters' Marathon". It seemed rather curious that firefighters would recast their race as something called "Miracle Match". I'll let you fill in your own joke. It turns out that the race is now sponsored by Scott and White Hospital, a gigantic hospital that serves central Texas. The race is a fund raiser for their bone marrow donor matching program - hence, Miracle Match. When I learned that, I put the jokes away.

I knew the race would be tiny. I had a couple people warn me that the race would be "hard". In fact, the race's web site advertised it as the most challenging marathon in Texas. But this is about all I knew... and I really didn't even know what this might mean. One runner's version of "lots of hills" isn't necessarily my version. Besides, most of the Texas courses are fast courses. Houston is fairly flat and very fast. Austin used to be mostly downhill and fast, though they have changed it. Dallas White Rock has the famed "Dolly Parton" hills, but they aren't that bad (in fact, there's only one that I've noticed... and with the name, there should be two), and most of the rest of the race is flat with a downhill finish. The other Dallas marathon, the Big-D Texas Marathon, has a few roly polies, but it is still an easy course. San Antonio? Well, they've changed that course over the years. I don't know. Only Ft Worth's Cowtown Marathon has what I'd consider a somewhat challenging course. Miracle Match could have been harder than all of these and still not qualify as one I'd consider "hard".

The official verdict: it WAS hard. Quite challenging, in fact. Waco is on the edge of what's known as The Texas Hill Country. In this case, the name fits. However, Waco is ALSO on the edge of the "prairie" area of north central Texas... so I suppose it could have been flat. But it wasn't. The Hill Country won.

The course is an unbalanced figure-8. The first loop took runners on a 3 mile tour of Baylor University. After passing the start/finish area, the second loop took everyone on a 23 mile tour of Waco. Full marathoners saw pretty much everything Waco has to offer: the sleepy downtown, the Cotton Lane Castle, the well-kept big houses, the less than well-kept neighborhoods, the fair grounds, the lake, the dam at the end of the lake, the airport, and some amazing parks. Then, we ran across the 137 year old suspension bridge, and that was that. All of Waco. And it was cool.

The half marathon was different... after doing the Baylor loop, half marathoners followed the marathon course through downtown. Then they turned around and went back the other way. This piece of information will become significant later.

A couple days before the race, I asked the race director if I could have the number "52". I figured race numbers had already been assigned, but it never hurts to ask, and... she got back to me right away with an answer: absolutely! Race morning started in the dark and quite chilly. I was there in my pink and my special number 52, but it was all covered up by a throwaway shirt and gloves. This would be one of those days where the thermometer moved a lot. It was 45 at the start, but it was supposed to be 70 at the end with bright blue skies and a bit of a breeze. A great day for throwaway layers. About 10 minutes before the race started, the race director greeted everyone who had come from far away... specifically "all those folks who have joined us from the southern states. We have runners from Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia..."

Er... ok. I didn't really care that she didn't call out Seattle as being a long way from Waco. Besides, I got my special number. But it was one of the only times in my life where I felt like a yankee. And that's pretty funny because I lived in Texas for 30 years and my step-family is native Texan.

The full marathoners and relayers lined up. The half would start a little later. It looked like there were maybe 100 people at the start. It was beginning to get light. And off we went! Number 52! Miracle Match! Waco! Woohoo!

I had a hard time coming up with a firm goal for the race. I ran a 3:39 at Indianapolis last weekend, and I kind of wanted to see if that was just an awesomely perfect day or if my training would support something like that as my current "normal" time (which had been "about 3:50" during the summer). However, I had heard about the difficulty of the course and I didn't want to burn myself to a crisp trying to find out. I compromised. Instead of running an "about 3:50", I decided I'd try an "about 3:45". If the hills turned out to be as challenging as advertised, I'd stick with even-effort miles as opposed to evenly timed splits.

As I wrote above, the first three miles sent us through the Baylor University campus. There were no spectators; aside from the ones running, what college students are going to be awake at 7:30 on a Sunday morning? I know I wasn't ever up. Well, there was ONE spectator. An older dude with no shirt who painted "1 FAN" (not "#1 FAN") on his belly. And this guy was loud. Hee. This loop was flat.

I also noticed that for such a small race, the organizers had been able to convince the city to shut down a lane of traffic for us. And there were police and volunteers at the intersections. That was nice.

We passed near the start/finish area and made a left turn through downtown. Downtown Waco is similar to many small-to-medium towns in Texas. These downtowns were probably big deals back in the 1950s and 1960s. It is obvious that back then, the towns thought they'd continue growing. It didn't work out that way. The fun part now is to try to figure out what the buildings USED TO be. Now, many of them are either boarded up or converted to other uses.

South of downtown, we entered various neighborhoods. Some of these old Texas houses were really neat. Around M5, we started a section that would involve both a flat climb and some roly polies all the way out to the dam at M15. Essentially, it would be 10 miles of climbing with a couple downhills along the way. It was starting to get warm, so I ditched my shirt and pottied at the M7 aid station. We had been told that there would be water stops every mile. For awhile, this was true... so many water stops, and I skipped some. What I didn't know was that there was going to be a...uh... gap later on. I shouldn't have skipped. But I didn't know.

At M7, I also got my first taste of mismarked mile markers. This course was certified, and I assume they utilized the certified course so it was actually 26.2. Along the way, however, some of the mile markers were missing and a few were just not right. This got more and more apparent towards the end of the race.

Somewhere in this section, the half marathoners had hit their turn around and were headed back the other way. Half marathoners had yellow bibs; full marathoners had blue. I saw at least one person in blue headed back with the half marathoners. Uh oh. The race was chip timed... and this explains why the first guy in the full marathon results apparently won the marathon with a 1:41 world record. No. He was the guy I saw coming back; he'd either decided on a whim to switch to the half... or they gave him the wrong bib/chip. Also, the second finisher theoretically ran a 2:25. This is totally possible, I suppose, though I didn't recognize the guy's name. I suspect he was a misplaced halfer too. I hope they took these people out of the official results; they were listed on the results page at the race site though.

At M11, we took a sharp right turn out towards Lake Waco. When I had picked up my packet the previous night, I asked about the course markings. I am full-on paranoid about getting lost in races (and when I do, like at Lake Tahoe, I don't handle it well). I was told that there would be cones and white limestone on the pavement, like they use to mark football fields and baseball diamonds. Although Miracle Match was not the best marked course ever, I followed the limestone and everything was fine. For me. I found out afterwards that at least 7 people missed the sharp turn towards the lake and ran an extra 2-3 miles. All of these people were in front of me before the oops and still in front of me afterwards. I'm not sure what happened there. I made the turn, luckily. I'd probably still be out there otherwise.

At M14, I skipped the aid station because I wasn't thirsty. There had been so many aid stations. We were approaching the top of the hill, and parts were steep. At M15, we started the long trek across the dam. There were no mile markers between M14 and M17... but based on my pace, I knew basically where I was. However, when I finally got to M17, it "felt" wrong... a bit too late. More importantly, we hadn't seen a water stop since M14. And I hadn't had anything since M12. I hit the (mismarked?) M17 at 2:25. Volunteers were just then setting up an aid station. About 45 minutes late. As runners ran by them, they made no attempt to set up more quickly or pour us some water. That was frustrating, especially because I had no idea when the next aid station would be. It wasn't at M18.

Finally, at M19, there was a GREAT aid station. I had my first drink in 7 miles. Blah. At M19.8, there was another one. I guess we were returning to the original "every mile" progression.


The hills up to M15 had been challenging, but not too terrible. I was wondering if that was the hardest part. Ha. No, it wasn't. At M19.8, we entered the Cameron Park area and this race completely earned its reputation for "hardest course in Texas". Up and up we went. The scenery here was amazing in the uniquely Texan way. Houston and Dallas may have the faster courses, but Waco demolishes both races for great scenery.

The mile markers were getting fairly wonky, plus my pace got rather unsteady as I negotiated all the hills. I passed some people. A few people passed me. Some were relay folks, many were not. As I passed M21 around 3:03, I knew I would break 4 but I honestly couldn't tell if I'd be anywhere near my "about 3:45" goal. My split at M20 and M21 showed that I was slowing down... but then again, the hills were the reason.

M21 had been 9:59. M22 was 8:15. Yeah, that marker was off. M23 was 9:50. Yikes. I had no idea whether I was running closer to 8 or closer to 10. It felt like I was sprinting, but I knew I was not.

M24 did a crazy 360-degree turn up onto a bridge and over the Brazos River. I picked up my pace. Or tried. M24 was 10:30! Holy smokes. Either I was completely burned out or that marker was way off.

M25 was 7:38. No. I wasn't running that fast.

I looked for M26. Didn't see it. Then, I was on the suspension bridge. I saw the finish line at the other end of the bridge. My watch read 5:45 for this mile as I navigated the bridge. That must not be the finish at the other end. But it was, and I stumbled across. My last 1.2 miles... 1 point 2... was 6:48. No way, Jose. I kept telling myself "the course is certified". It wasn't short, it just had crazy markers. I did the best I could to speed up at the end, but there is no way that I ran a 7:38/6:48 last 2.2 miles. Huh.

3:46. I think I got announced at the end, but I was too puzzled by my splits to remember for sure. I still kind of am puzzled... though I can see where the middle miles were probably kind of long.

Ah well. At least I didn't get lost. I either came in 24th or 25th overall, depending on whether the 2:25 finisher was real or not. Last year, my 3:46 would have gotten me 2nd in my age group. This year, it looked like I was 5th. I think. Hard to tell. Little races are funny.

(Update: Turns out, I came in 23rd out of 99. Indeed, the original 1st and 2nd place finishers were misplaced half marathoners.)

And after the race, I got a second shirt. Most of the Texas marathons seem to do this... there's a race shirt, and a different finisher's shirt. Both shirts are keepers. I skipped the fried chicken (!?!).

All in all, this is a little marathon that tries to take care of runners. Tons of aid stations. A dedicated running lane with no traffic. Great medal and two shirts. A wonderfully scenic, challenging course. And as a bonus, we had perfect weather.

Now if they'd just fix their mile markers. And maybe remeasure the course just in case :-). And maybe move some of those frequent aid stations from the first few miles to the middle of the race.

Next up: The Autumn Leaves 50k in Oregon on Saturday followed by a small, local marathon (In Unity We Run) on Sunday. See you there. If you are a small, local runner.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

10/20,21/07 The IN/OH Double

Time for a milestone weekend! The Indianapolis Marathon was on Saturday... and it was my 50th marathon+ultra of 2007. This means that Sunday's Columbus Marathon was #51. And why would that be a milestone?

Ah, because the name of this year's pink campaign is "50+ Marathons for J-Lo". And with the 51st race, I've officially entered into 50+ territory. Pretty cool.

I guess I've skipped the suspense. I did indeed finish both of these races. The weather was great for both, I smiled the whole way, and my times were very good (for me at least).

I started my Mountains and Flat Double report in early September with the following:
I am mad at Indianapolis.

On Saturday, I ran the MidMountain Marathon in Park City, Utah. This was a very challenging trail run that, in retrospect, I had no business attempting five days after the triple. But I was there because the original race I wanted to do, the new Indy Classic Marathon, got moved three weeks before the event. That was mean (and disrespectful and stupid) of the organizers, and I lost some travel money on that deal.

The race I ran on Saturday was the Indianapolis Marathon... but it is wholly unrelated to this other marathon that yanked a bunch of people around. The Indianapolis Marathon is a small affair that is very well organized, and oddly has nothing really to do with Indianapolis. It is held in Lawrence, a suburb. It starts and ends at Fort Harrison, an old army base. Much of the course runs through a wonderfully wooded state park. Anyone expecting to see big downtown buildings and/or the speedway is sure to be surprised by this race.

I've done this race once. Back in 2002, it was the sixth post-sickness marathon I completed. After running a 4:49 at Portland with absolutely no running in the previous months, I trained for two whole weeks and managed a 4:33. I remember a few things about the race besides the whole "wait, where's Indianapolis?" angle. For one, I almost got hit by a car. I flirted with 4:30, but one of my knees was hurting terribly towards the end, and I literally limped to the finish. It turns out that I ran the race on very dead shoes. Very dead LIGHTWEIGHT NEUTRAL shoes for under-pronators. I later learned that I overpronate. The shoes were wrong and they were old anyway. So my knee was very unhappy with me. Nonetheless, I ran a 4:33 which was pretty cool compared to the 4:49 two weeks prior.

In between that race and Saturday's edition, I completed 133 other marathons and ultras over five years. I've also dropped my times by about an hour. I've learned a lot about running along the way, and a lot more about myself. And my knees don't hurt anymore :-).

This year's race was exactly the same... and simultaneously very different. The course was the same. The first half involved a crazy series of spirals around the start/finish area combined with a couple short "balloon on a stick" out-and-back/loop combinations, and then a loop through the nearby state park. As runners approached the finish area, the half marathoners peeled off to complete their race. The second half of the full was a long out and back alongside local roads. Aside from the hilly state park loop, the rest of the race was flat.

The weather was also the same: perfect. Blue skies. A chilly start gave way to a 65 degree finish. A couple sections of the course were a little windy, but trees protected runners for most of the race.

What was different? The size of the race. In 2002, it was a small race that ended at a little tent with a BBQ grill and beer. This year, there were over 1000 marathoners and many more half marathoners. The end was a fancy affair.

My day was spectacular. For various reasons, I did the workout I originally planned for this race sequence LAST weekend. So, what to do this weekend? I decided to start conservatively, but if I felt ok in the first few miles, I'd pick it up. This wouldn't be an all-out "go fast" race, but it would be faster than my typical "about 3:50" effort. Therefore, assuming everything was going well, I'd be shooting for a 3:40-3:45... slightly faster than September's Air Force Marathon, and without the surplus adrenaline that overflowed in that race. THEN, I wanted to couple that with a sub-4 in my Sunday race at Columbus.

I did indeed feel great as I hit M4 at Indianapolis. The first few miles had clicked right on by. The race was certainly crowded, but it was not annoyingly crowded. Plus, there were quite a few spectators clapping for us. Way more than 2002. This was fun. I did not switch gears and take off like a wild man at M4. Instead, I sped up at gradual intervals until my mile splits were in the 8:15-8:20 range. Aside from a brief potty stop at M13 and an inexplicable slowdown around M17, I never gave up ground.

Everything had come together on this day: the course, the weather, my stomach, my attitude. The miles went by, and I felt better and better as time and miles passed.

The finish was an odd juxtaposition. It had a huge banner and a big clock. Spectators lined the entire last half mile of the course. And yet, there was no announcer. There was music, but it was muted. As I approached the finish, it seemed eerily quiet. Almost spooky. Needless to say, I did not get announced.

But I *did* run a 3:39, my 4th fastest time of the year and my 5th fastest time in 140 races. Woohoo! I beat the first half of my goal, and I didn't break myself trying to do it. I just went out and ran. I ran a very even race - a 1:49/1:50 split.

After that, I hung out waiting for my friend Leslie Miller. She's another Maniac who is on an impressive streak this year: 33 in 26 weeks. We ate and talked for a little while... and then she was off to run Louisville the next day. I headed for Columbus.

The Columbus Marathon was a much bigger deal than Indianapolis. Columbus attracts the faster runners from the area. It is considered a "flat and fast" course, and people come from all over trying to qualify for Boston. But here's the thing. It was NOT flat. It had some flat sections, but it also had some multi-mile hills in the second half. Then again, it had a nice, gentle downhill finish. Overall, I'd consider it a fast course... just not flat.

The course made a figure-8 around the start/finish area, although the finish was really about a quarter mile from the start. The first half's loop was essentially flat. Then, after the horde of half marathoners cut over to the finish, the second half's loop was roly poly. Even without all the half marathoners, the course stayed fairly crowded. The last few miles meandered through Ohio State University, and then the race ended in Columbus' arena district. I think it ended where the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets play, though I'm not sure. Then again, I have no idea why they have a team named the "Blue Jackets". That's perhaps the least intimidating nickname in all of sports, which is especially unfortunate for a hockey team.

And my race? As I wrote earlier, my goal for the second day was simply to beat 4. I didn't really even care if I ran the race evenly. However, in the back of my mind I remembered the last time I ran a 3:39 on the first day of a double. It was at Bayshore in Michigan. The next day, I ran a 3:53 in Buffalo. Combining the two times, it was my current double PR.

I had run a 3:39 in Indianapolis. I wasn't thinking I had a 3:53 in me for Columbus, so I decided to focus on 4.

After a neat flyover by three Blackhawk helicopters, off we went. I was a little stiff, which is completely normal for the second day of a double. It was slightly windier than it had been in Indianapolis, but it was also warmer. Columbus had spectators all over the course. Cool!

By M5, I had ditched my extra shirt. And pottied. I hit the first half at 1:53. Hmmm. A little fast. And then I hit the hills. Around M20, the 3:50 Cliff Bar pace team caught me. Two pacers were running with them, and one pulled up to talk to me for a second. He asked me if I was doing ok, and I told him that I had run my good race the day before... I was just putting in some easy miles. He took the time to explain the hills (mostly downhills) in the rest of the course. Then he wished me luck and rejoined his little pack of people. Thanks pacer guy!

As we went into the downhill, the pacer's words of wisdom filled my brain. I did a physical and mental check-in. My right foot had been hurting earlier in the race, but now it felt fine. In fact, I felt great. I took off. A few people in the last miles asked me about my pink shirt. As we sped through OSU, one lady told me that she was a breast cancer survivor and thanked me for running for the cause. I'm always touched by moments like this, and sometimes I don't know what to say. Sometimes I meet people who had family members that did NOT survive cancer. Those are tough moments. Survivor meet-ups are more upbeat, though all of these encounters are inspiring.

And I was inspired. I sped up some more.

No, unlike last week, the last mile of Columbus was not my fastest mile of the weekend. It wasn't even my fastest mile at Columbus. But it was fast enough. At M17, I was still just trying to beat 4. At M21, I knew I had a chance to match Buffalo's 3:53. At M24, I knew that I'd beat it.

And I did. I completely sprinted the last .2. I recall hundreds of spectators lining the course. I recall waving my arms to get them to cheer for me. But I don't remember much.

Robert Lopez, joining us all the way from Seattle. Thanks, Robert!

I got announced.


A new double PR... kind of out of nowhere, too. I had managed a 1:53/1:55 split, so I had run both ends of the double quite evenly.

That was a good weekend.

Had my hotel not had a fire alarm while I was napping in my 11th floor room... necessitating a trip down 11 flights of stairs after running two marathons... it would have been a GREAT weekend :-).

But good is good!

3:39/3:48 while hitting the "50+" target. In October, several months early.

Next up: The oddly named Miracle Match Marathon in Waco, Texas. Turns out, "Miracle Match" has to do with bone marrow donor matching. Should be interesting. It is also supposed to be the hardest marathon in Texas.

I'll see you afterwards! Please save me some cake.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

10/13,14/07 The CT/MA Double

This was a weird weekend. I wanted to do a double somewhere. I was actually registered for two different doubles (four races total). Originally, I was going to run the Leavenworth WA marathon followed by Long Beach CA. The logistics were somewhat tricky, however. I couldn't find a room in or near Leavenworth. So I was going to have to get up at 3a and drive from my house. For Long Beach, I would have needed someone else to pick up my packet because they did not allow race day pickup, and I wouldn't get to California before the expo closed.

Meanwhile, another double possibility existed on the east coast - Hartford CT followed by the Bay State Marathon in Lowell MA. Once I got to that part of the country, the logistics would be quite a bit easier than the WA/CA double. I also had not yet run a marathon in Connecticut... so the CT/MA double would allow me to pick up my 45th state.

I decided to go with the CT/MA option. I found easy-to-manage flights that would get me there with plenty of time to relax... no 3a drives across the mountains... and I was set.

I'll mention here that so far this year, almost 10 months worth, I've had fairly good luck with my flights. A couple delays here and there, but nothing which completely nuked my plans.

It was time for my luck to change.

I was supposed to leave at 7:20a on Friday, fly through DC, and get to Hartford around 6p. Easy peasy. I got to the airport, checked my bag, got through security, and boarded the plane. No problem.

Around 7:10a, the pilot told us that we were going to have a 15 minute delay so that maintenance could change a lightbulb. That became a 45 minute delay. Then 90, coupled with a "you can get off the plane and get something to eat if you like". Uh oh. I didn't get off the plane.

"Well, it looks like it'll be 3 hours. We don't have the part we need, so they are sending it up from San Francisco." That was enough. Time to bail.

I managed to get off the plane and get in line at the gate's desk behind about 5 people. And in front of the other 170ish (?) who were told to get off the plane right after I left. It took the 2 (ONLY 2!!!!) agents about 30 minutes to get through those first 5 people. When it was finally my turn, I was told that they were NOT going to move me to another flight because this one was my "best option". They did change my connection in DC because I'd miss that for sure. Now I was on the last flight of the night to Hartford, which would get there at midnight.

Tick tick tick. I went to look at the Arrival/Departure board. All the flights to and from SFO were delayed. So much for getting our mystery part quickly.

More time passed. It took the two (STILL TWO!!!) gate agents over three hours to get through everyone in line. Our part arrived, and we were told we'd board about 11. I was looking out the window about 11, and I saw them haul an instrument panel from the cockpit off the plane. This was looking bad. Then we were told that it was taking "a little longer than expected" to install the mystery part. However, never fear... the flight would indeed go as planned. Then it was noon. Then it was 1p. 5 1/2 hours late. I got back in line - there was no way I'd make the last flight to Hartford through DC. I either needed another option, or I'd be running Leavenworth (but not Long Beach... no one to pick up my packet!).

At 1:30, I got to the front of the line. The gate agent... who had been suffering through angry customers since 7a... was as kind as he could be. He put me onto a flight to O'Hare, and the last connection of the night into Hartford. I'd still get there around midnight. My bags would not. United Airlines' policy seems to be that if they think a delayed plane will eventually go, they absolutely will NOT offload any bags... even if the plane is 7 or 8 hours late! Many passengers had been rebooked for different flights, but all our bags would be headed to DC. At some point. And in my case, they'd sit there because the last flight to Hartford would have long since departed. I was ok with this because I had one set of running clothes in my carry-on. I figured I'd run the Hartford race the next day and then pick up my checked bag before heading to Lowell. Uh huh.

I ran to make the O'Hare plane, just barely got to it... and... we were delayed. Not long, though, and then we were off, and we even got to Chicago a little early. By this point I was beginning to get a migraine, just like you may be from trying to follow this story. In fact, during the flight to Hartford, my head hurt so badly that I could barely see out of my left eye. Ugh.

We got to Hartford, I filed a lost bag report ("Yes sir, it'll be on the first flight in the morning, just check back around noon"), and grabbed a taxi into Hartford.

As the taxi pulled away from the curb, I spotted the free shuttle to my hotel. Crap. A 42 dollar cab ride later, yikes, and at 1a, I was finally checked in. They kindly told me I could check out an hour late.

My migraine had made me blind. Coupled with the scary cab ride, it had also made me nauseous. There was no way I'd be running the Hartford Marathon. No way. I felt so terrible that this didn't even bug me. I just wanted to sleep. For fun, I set my watch alarm to go off at 5:30a, but it was just a formality.

5:30a came. I turned my alarm off, rolled over, and fell back asleep. Fast asleep. The good kind.

Then a funny thing happened. At 6a, the room's clock radio went off. I had not set it, so I guess the previous occupant had left me a gift. No matter. I turned it off, rolled over, and fell back asleep. Fast asleep. The good kind.

At 6:20a, the clock chimed. Maybe I had hit the snooze? I checked it. Nope. I turned it off, rolled over, and... was awake. The headache was gone, but I was sooo exhausted. 6:30, then 6:40. Still awake. At 6:50, I got up. Hmm. The race would start in 70 minutes. I had not yet picked up my packet, and I wasn't completely sure where the race started. I certainly did not have the usual "get my body ready to run" time that I need.

Screw it.

I put on the pink shirt, tried to potty, and headed out the door. I got my packet at 7:30, put on my number and my chip, and threw away the rest of the packet. The t-shirt line had hundreds of people in it. No shirt for me. I learned that I had a bit of a walk to the start/finish area, so off I went. At 7:50, I was staring into the sun and squinting at the starting line of a marathon I had not planned on running just 61 minutes before. This was going to be an interesting experience.

Before the travel mess, my goal for Hartford was simply to run an evenly paced marathon at my normal "about 3:50" pace. I felt ok while I was squinting into the sun... perhaps overdosed on "move! move! move!" adrenaline... so I decided to stick with the goal.

I didn't know much about the Hartford Marathon. It was the first year of a brand new course, and it was described as "flatter" and "faster". Flatter does not mean FLAT; the course had some rolling sections. However, it was not hilly. It was essentially an upside down "balloon on a stick" or "lollipop" course... a loop with an extended out-and-back section in the middle. The weather was spectacular.

I will skip my usual details about running the course because this is already too long, and I want to tell you about the next day. Suffice to say that I hit the half at 1:54, which was on target for an evenly run "about 3:50" finish. During the out-and-back, I saw several of my running friends and shouted greetings. I pooped out in the second half. See, one side-effect of the previous day's airplane adventure was that I hadn't been able to eat properly. Being nauseous, I probably wouldn't have eaten anyway. And so I pooped out.

I hit the finish at 3:55. I was slightly bummed, but at the same time, I was able to convince myself quickly that this was cool. A little more than five hours before, I had completely written this race off. I got up and did it. And considering the circumstances, I did alright. But no t-shirt. I have about 1,000 t-shirts. I'll live.

After a shower and my hour-late check out (thanks, Crowne Plaza!), I took the hotel shuttle out to the airport to pick up my bag and get a rental car. Except that they didn't have my bag. The plane from DC had the same kind of delay as the original plane from Seattle, so United did the same thing: refused to offload bags, even though there were other flights coming up to Hartford. This was now problematic... without this bag, I'd have to run in stinky clothes and the same shoes. And I'd have to buy some Gu. Fooey. The agent told me that they might have my bag on the 6p flight. I wanted to be in Lowell by 5p so I could pick up my packet, and apparently, find some Gu. Hmm.

Off I went. The roads were crowded. Two hours later, I was in Lowell. I got my packet, some Gu, and a plate of free pasta. I was eating it, United called. They had my bag. Hmm.

I could either take it easy and run in stinky clothes and tired shoes, or I could go get my bag. But then I wouldn't get as much rest. I checked into my hotel, and then at 6p, I decided to get my bag. At 10p (after six total hours in the car), I was back in my hotel. I had my bag, woohoo!

The Bay State Marathon was not at all what I expected. Based on the website, I thought it would be a little club run with a few hundred runners. Between the full and the half, there were thousands. The running club did a great job handling the crowds. We were allowed to sit inside the hockey arena and utilize real bathrooms before the race. The weather was just about as good as Hartford, but it was 5-10 degrees colder and kind of windy.

The course was basically a loop, although it ended in the local minor league baseball stadium about a quarter mile from where it started. In the middle, there was an extra loop. M3-M13 repeated as M13-M23. Like Hartford, the course had some roly polies in it, but it was fairly flat.

I felt somewhat beaten up at the start of the race. I had managed to eat a lot more after Hartford, so that part was good. I decided to be conservative with my goal - start out slow, and put in the miles. This meant a 4:10-4:15 day.

I started out too fast. A couple people who I know from the coolrunning website caught me during the first few miles. We said hello, ran together for a bit, and then I decided to slow down. I hit the half at 1:58, which was too fast... but by the middle miles, I had settled into a calm 9:20-9:30 pace. It felt ok. People kept passing me and offering encouragement. A couple people who knew me (or OF me) said hello as they passed. By M17, I was running into a stiff headwind, and it sucked out my will to live. A 9:45 mile. M18 was a 10:34 mile. However, it was also where the course went over a bridge and the headwind disappeared.

I had a mental and a physical check-in. At this point, I was looking at a 4:15-4:20. The thing is, I felt good. Really good. The lack of wind had returned my will to live :-). I decided I'd pick it up and see if I could turn this into what's known as a "fast finish long run". I didn't know if it would hold, so I didn't set out to run a negative split for the first and second halves of the full race, but I did want to get in some good miles.

As I wrote above, M18 had been a leisurely 10:34. M19 was 9:19. I was taking it a mile at a time. I still felt good.

M20 was 9:21. Nice and even. M21 was 9:39. Uh oh. If I was really going to do this, I'd actually have to focus. That's not my normal state in the last 10k of a double weekend.

M22 was 8:54. I was catching people.

M23 was 8:51. I had finished the double loop and was headed on unknown roads to the finish.

M24 was 8:55. Ok, not every mile was getting faster, but this was still better than 10:34. I felt good.

M25 was 8:12. I was passing TONS of people. And this was my fastest mile of both races this weekend. Woohoo.

Until M26, that is. M26 was 8:01. The fastest mile of two marathons in two days was my very last one.

I heard the PA and the music from the finish area. It was the last few notes of the Superman theme. Nice song. I caught up to one of the people I had been running with early on. I tried to get her to run with me, but I didn't want to slow down.

I entered the stadium and started around the warning track... from the left field side, around to right field, and down the first base line. I think I did most of this in an all-out sprint.

And. Robert Lopez, all the way from Seattle.

3:57. That was a 1:58/1:59 split... even though M15-M18 had been quite slow.

Well, how about that? I broke 4 on both ends of the double. And in this second race, I turned a possible 4:20 into a 3:57. And I ran a dead-even split. I felt better about the 3:57 than the previous day's 3:55. What a nice way to end the weekend.


I ate some food... Bay State had heaps of food... with friends from the coolrunning site. Then I cleaned up, drove two hours to Hartford, and flew home without incident. On a different airline.

Organizationally, both of these races were great. Bay State was a pleasant surprise.

Next up: Another double. Indianapolis... not the race I was supposed to do in September (that they moved to November without warning, the dorks). This is the original Indianapolis Marathon. I ran it in 2002. It was small then, but it is big now. The next day will be Columbus. I haven't run Columbus before, but I know about it. It is one of those courses that is fast and is claimed to be "flat"... but isn't really flat at all.

Assuming I get there. I am supposed to leave in a few hours, and there's a huge windstorm raging in Seattle right now. Will I have another airline adventure? Check back and see!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

10/07/07 Portland Marathon

The Portland Marathon is special. The 2001 Portland Marathon was my very first marathon. Twice after that, the Portland Marathon restarted me on running again when I had pretty much given up on the whole marathon scene. The funny thing about this is that I've never run Portland fast. In fact, I've done some dumb things there that I tell people not to do.

A quick list. In my first marathon, I made the key rookie mistake of going out too fast. I've done that many times since then, of course, but never with such dramatic effect. I hit the halfway point at 1:45. This matched my half-marathon race times from this same period. It is generally a bad idea to hit the halfway point saying "wow, I'm running this just like a half!" That lasted until about M16. I finished the second half in 2:19 - a full 34 minutes slower than the first half. Then I collapsed in a park, went somewhat catatonic, and didn't move for an hour or so. Visually, my finish time is cool: 4:04:04.

It would turn out that this 4:04, a race that I ran poorly, would remain my PR for quite some time. And why? Because I went through a period of a couple years where I honestly didn't train. I "ran" three marathons after my first Portland and then stopped running for the most part because my job took all my time. For some reason, I had registered for the 2002 Portland Marathon. I had not trained in seven months, but a couple of my friends were going to walk this race as their first (and only) marathon, so I decided to go too. I ran it. Well, I ran what I could, walked most of the rest, and limped some of it. 4:49. Yeeks.

But it was an interesting experience that taught me several things. For one, I learned my "floor". With no training, I completed a sub-4:50. I would never ever ever recommend this approach to anyone, and I should not have done it. It's a great way to do damage to your body. I did do it, though, and I did not die. With training, I knew I could do better. And this got me interested in running again!

I learned a second important thing after the 2002 Portland Marathon. I felt like complete crap after the race, but this didn't last. I was back to normal within a couple days. This was my first real hint that my body was "good" at handling recovery from running long distances.

Unfortunately, this renewed interest did not last that long. I ran a few more marathons in late 2002 and early 2003, but work continued to get in my way. I trained a bit through my March races... but then in late March, a death in the family and a root canal (yes, those are random unassociated things) completely derailed my running. I went to Alaska to run a race in June because I paid a ton of money for the trip, and I absolutely hated it. I was done with marathons.

Except that I had already registered for the 2003 Portland Marathon. Hmmm. I trained for a few weeks, and I went. And I ran a 4:30. By my current standards, that's a bad race. At the time, though... wow... it was one of my three fastest. I felt great... and once again I told myself that if I actually truly TRAINED, for more than a few weeks, I could beat that 4:04:04. I got interested in running again. This time it stuck.

And why? Well, for one, I ditched that job and went back to school. I had more time to train, and I had more time to travel. I did both. My times did not improve that much, except for a new 4:03 PR in Houston. Woohoo! In the rest of the races, I'd alternate between running a 4:20 and a 4:40. Back and forth. That 4:30 in Portland was right in the middle. But I stuck with it because it was fun.

Until I broke my leg in the middle of 2004. Whoops. It took me awhile to come back from that.

At the 2004 Portland Marathon, two very cool things happened. I was able to run "the hill" (I'll explain the hill in a bit) for the first time. And, out of nowhere, my 4:30ish times turned into a 4:10. Again, by my current standards, that's slow. But at the time, it was striking distance from the 4:04:04, the 4:03 PR, and the magic 4 hour mark. I was pumped.

2005 was really my breakthrough running year. I didn't run Portland, though. I tried a new race on the same day, in Victoria BC. It was great and I ran a 3:48. But it wasn't Portland.

In 2006, the cancer fairy paid a visit, and there was no racing in Portland.

Which finally brings me to 2007. I could have picked Portland to be my go-fast choice for this season, but instead I completed the Quadzilla on the previous weekend. My training for the mighty Quadzilla involved lots of volume and no speedwork. Plus afterwards, I was recovering from the whole 4-in-4-days thing... so, nope, no go-fast this year in Portland.

I did something better, though. I ran with a friend in her very first marathon. Chelsey is the tall one in the picture. She trained hard for Portland. She did all the right things. I had run a couple times with her, so I hoped I could offer some support and encouragement during the race. I wanted Portland to be as special to her as it had been to me for my first marathon.

Portland is a great race. It was once declared "the best organized marathon in America" by a now out-of-print book. While other marathons are at least as well organized, Portland still does a wonderful job. The vibe is perfect. And while lots of people run this race, it never feels too cramped.

I know several people who do not like the course. Their two basic complaints: a boring out-and-back section in the middle, and lots of industrial non-scenery miles. I agree that some of the non-scenery miles are kind of boring (and M14-M16 are completely grim), but it is hard to find 26.2 miles of jaw-dropping sights. As for the out-and-back, this happens to be my favorite part of the race. I love seeing the fast people go by, I like providing encouragement to all those folks behind me, and mostly I like being able to shout-out my friends no matter whether they are in front of me or behind me. On loop courses, I never see anyone I know except those very few people who are running my exact pace.

That said, Portland really *is* a loop course. Two loops, really. It starts and ends in downtown Portland. The first loop is a nice, roly poly six mile tour of downtown and the neighborhood to the south. M6 through about M12 is the out-and-back section dreaded by some, but loved by me. It is flat. M12 through M16 are the grim miles heading north towards the St John's Bridge. M16 through M17 is "the hill" heading up to the bridge. Runners cross the bridge and head back towards the city. M18 through M22 pass through great neighborhoods with tons of spectator support. This part of the course contains lots of uphill which oddly does not appear anywhere on the elevation chart. In 3 of my 4 Portland Marathons, these were known as the "curse miles". M22 starts a nice downhill all the way to the Steel Bridge and M25. This downhill is what gives Portland the reputation as a fast course. The hills before M22, especially "the hill" itself, are challenging, but this downhill comes at the best possible place on the course.

M25 to the end are somewhat uphill, but just barely. The spectator support towards the end is awesome, there's a great band waiting at M25.9, and then at M26.1, there's the fat lady. The fat lady is simply a big billboard of a stereotypical cartoon female opera singer in full-on Viking garb. The sign's lady is belting out opera. Point being, when you see this sign, the fat lady is singing, so you know you are done. HA. Alas, this year, the volume was cranked down and the fat lady wasn't nearly as impressive as years past. In any case, there's so much energy at the end that the barely-discernible uphill is quite fine. As opposed to, say, the end of the Seafair Marathon where the uphill is a killer.

How did our race go? As with every other year, the weather on race morning was very good. We got to the start early, which was important because the start was packed. Chelsey's goal was basically "about 4:30", and her training supported this. I thought she could do a little better.

BOOM. Off we went. Well, not really. We had lined up far enough back that it took five minutes to get to the line. And... off we went. Portland has pace groups, so we tucked in between the 4:15 and 4:30 group. The miles ticked by. I kept making conversation, partly because it was an interesting thing to do, and partly because it helped me judge how she was doing.

The first loop went great. We started into the out-and-back section at M6. Sure enough, I saw tons of people I know. Potty stop. At aid stations, I tried to run ahead and grab a drink for my friend so she could focus on running. We hit the turnaround at M9, and all was well. At M10, I saw a local (to Seattle) DJ heading the other way. He was at M7 and he already had the death stare going. It was going to be a bad day for Bob Rivers.

Around M11, Chelsey ate a hammer gel... which she had tried on practice runs.

A few minutes later she said, "I don't feel so well. We need to slow down."

Uh oh. The hammer gel wasn't agreeing with her. It passed after about 10 minutes, which was good... but it scared her from eating more hammer gel later. In fact, periodic stomach problems kept her from drinking the sportsdrink after that too. Which meant the next 15 miles would be water only. You can probably tell where this is headed. In retrospect, I can too.

We were tucked in with the 4:30 pace group as we passed the half (at 2:14) and headed into grim part of the course. "I really need to slow down." I remembered my first Portland Marathon. This is where my wheels fell off.

At that point, it was obvious that we had gone out too fast. I didn't tell her that it was going to get harder; she knew. We continued. We hit "the hill" at M16, and I challenged her to run as far up it as she could. We got about halfway up, which really impressed me. I made sure to tell her that the first THREE times I ran this race, I hadn't made it that far up the hill.

We walked about halfway across the St John's Bridge. Then we ran. Then we walked. She drank water because that was all that would stay down. I alternated between being quiet and telling stories to pass the time. I'm not sure which one was the better strategy :-).

There were some low points after M18, but we kept on going. We ran. We walked. We did not stop.

M20. "There's just a 10k left."

M21. "You've never run this far before. You are doing really well."

M22. "Let gravity help you down the hill."

M23. "Don't cry yet. The end will be emotional. Let's cry at the end. You are doing awesome." And she was.

M24. "Let's touch the Steel Bridge and try to run to mile 25."

M25. "This is it. Last mile. Notice everything around you."

M25.5. "Just five more lights, and we turn right to the finish."

M25.8. "Three more lights. We're there; you're doing great."

M26. "We're turning... this is it!"

M26.1. "There's the fat lady. Don't know why she's not singing."

I called out to the crowd of spectators, "Hey everyone, this is Chelsey's first marathon!" and everyone cheered for Chelsey. Her friends were there in the crowd to take a couple pictures.

M26.2. "We did it!"

4:56. (Ok, officially, 4:55:59).

Whew. We got something to eat and limped back to the hotel. Chelsey didn't want to eat anything, but she did anyway.

First marathons are especially tough. It's hard to choose an appropriate goal, and even with the best information, sometimes race days go awry. 4:30 was not in the cards, and we (and by that, I really mean *I*) took too long to realize it.

We did not stop, and we did not quit. Chelsey toughed it out. The medals for races like that are the really meaningful ones. It was outrageously hard, and she did it.

Go Chelsey.

Next up for Chelsey: uh, no marathons. For now. Heh.

Next up for me: It has come and gone. A double weekend in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A fun newspaper quote

That's another cool shot by Maniac Brian Pendleton.

While doing the Tahoe Triple, I got interviewed by the local paper. This was pretty neat. As with any of these things, though, the amount of information they gather is quite a bit larger than the story that they print. Many times, meaning is lost or accidentally adjusted when a reporter or editor is trying to fit a story to a particular space.

Here's a weird nugget from my interview:
While it seems an unseemly amount of running - roughly 1,700 miles or 1.3 marathons per week - Lopez knows a friend in Seattle who ran 79 one year.

"And that's just official marathons," said the 41-year-old Lopez, who works as a consultant. "There are others who have run 26.2 miles every day for some period of time, but they weren't involved in an official marathon with bibs and scorekeepers. I am not doing anything that special."
Let's clear up a couple small things. The guy who ran 79? That's my buddy Larry Macon, and he's from San Antonio (not Seattle). He's done 79 twice!

Also, I'm not really a consultant... though if you'd like to hire me to come consult, please contact me. :-)

It's the bit where they've quoted me that I find somewhat puzzling. It kind of makes it sound like I'm trying to prop my races up as something MORE SPECIAL than those folks who have day-to-day marathon streaks. Folks like Sam Thompson's 51-in-50-states-in-50-days, or Jerry Dunn's 200 in the year 2000. There's a guy right now in Louisville attempting to run a marathon for 131 straight days. Then, of course, there's the greatness that was Terry Fox.

The last bit of my quote is the only part that still makes sense absent the surrounding context. Trying to run 50+ (or 60+ or whatever+) marathons in a year is a big undertaking... but compared to some of these other folks, it's just a little thing.

See, the reporter dropped the middle out of what I was trying to say, and then he glued the two ends together.

What I was trying to say is that while running a bunch of marathons is hard, in my opinion it is quite a bit easier than trying to go out there every day to do a marathon distance. I could never have the mental fortitude to do it on my own every day. And in the case of Sam, I would imagine that the logistics associated with route finding make that marathon distance even more challenging to complete every day. Heck, I get nervous about getting lost in regular races. Trying to figure out a course on my own would be rough! 51 times in 50 days? Wow.

Give me my marked courses and my frequent (or even infrequent) aid stations. Give me a few other runners doing the same thing.

Makes life easier.

Compared to Sam, what I'm doing is just a little thing.

And compared to Terry Fox? I don't rate. The man had one leg.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

09/30/07 Quadzilla finale: Gateway to the Pacific Marathon

Well, this was it. The last race of the elusive Quadzilla. The picture above was taken afterwards, so the short version is that I did not spontaneously combust. In fact, I ran my fastest race of the weekend thanks to 1) sea level altitude and 2) company from a nice pacer. The other guy in that picture is Maniac Brian... he and I were the two finishers of Quadzilla this year. I borrowed this picture from Brian's site (plug for Brian: he turned around seven days later and ran a 3:27 in Maine... that's a PR and a BQ. After the Quadzilla. Dang!)

The Gateway to the Pacific Marathon is not an exciting race. It is organized by the same guy who does a number of "holiday" marathons (Valentines, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas) in the Olympia, Washington area. These races are low-key to the extreme. Like the first two races in the Tahoe Triple, these races are always held on roads open to traffic. Unlike The Triple, the roads are never really busy. Also unlike The Triple, the courses are flat-to-gently-rolling, at sea level, and there's plenty of aid. One more thing that is different from The Triple: the holiday marathon courses are laid back "runs in the country" which many find to be boring. This may help explain why the races are small.

Gateway to the Pacific is just like the holiday marathons, except that it is held at a completely different location. A location which, as hard as it is to believe, is even more laid back and definitely more boring than the holiday runs. Gateway to the Pacific is a double out-and-back course that starts, laps, and ends at a little park outside Elma, Washington in the shadow of a nuclear reactor.

This race used to be held in July. When starting, the park would be empty. When finished, the park would be absolutely PACKED with people making use of the park's little lake. Last year, the race was held on the hottest day of the year. It was 75 at the start and 97 at the finish. No one DNFed, but it was a hard, long day. I managed a 2 1/2 year road marathon personal worst that day. Of course, I did it the day after running my very first ultra on the second-to-hottest day of the year. Hee.

Anyway. This year, the organizer moved the race to the last day of September. Goodbye heat. Goodbye packed finish. Hello, possibility of crappy weather. And as I got in my truck on Sunday to drive out to Elma, the possibility was a certainty. It wasn't that cold, but rain pelted my windshield... and it was breezy. If I wasn't trying to finish the Quadzilla, I probably would have bailed on the race. Lots of people did. I got to the race site a few minutes before 10 or so people were going to start early. I joined them, and we would represent about half of all the runners who did the race at all.

Out we went. Into a stiff headwind and steady rain. Ultrarunner extraordinaire Van Phan was getting some miles in after a 100 miler the previous weekend. She's usually a little faster than I am. When she has recently run a really long race. In other situations, she's a whole lot faster than I am. The weather was terrible and she was a little afraid of being chased by stray dogs (with good reason, I might add) so she hung with me.

This was tremendously helpful. Van is really good about starting out slow and running negative splits. And indeed, we started out slow. Very slow for her, and even kind of slow for me. After about 4 miles, we settled into a slightly faster pace. We hit the turnaround at about M6.5. The expected tailwind did not materialize, which was weird. There had definitely been a headwind going out. Coming back, it was still... and the rain had slowed down.

As we were running back, we went past all the folks behind us. All eight or nine of them. Brian yelled "Quadzilla!" Then, as we got closer to the start, the few folks that had started at the regular time went by. The leader, Maniac Greg, also yelled "Quadzilla!" Van and I began making (no-money) bets about who would eventually catch us and where it would happen.

We hit the end of the first lap at 1:56. I peeled off to go to the bathroom. This was a mixed proposition. I needed to go, so it was a good thing. However, my legs were completely stiff afterwards. Very VERY hard to get moving again. Van slowed down a bit and helped me through it... but she also subtly started speeding up. And so did I.

Greg had apparently overtaken all the rest of the early starters. "Quadzilla!" he yelled. Okey doke. We estimated he'd catch us around M18. Brian passed me. "Quadzilla!" he yelled. Yeah, buddy.

The wind was back. The rain was off and on. I had originally started the race in a rain coat, but I had wrapped it around my waist by M4. Too hot. Then I ditched it at the first lap because it was annoying me. So at this point, by M15, I was cold and very wet. Kind of a "Sophie's Choice" thing.

M18. Greg passed us, right where we thought he would. "Quadzilla!" he yelled. Uh huh.

I was getting tired, but compared to the previous three days, I felt pretty good. I did not feel like someone had whacked me with a hammer. About M23, Van pulled away from me a bit. I was able to keep her in sight, but I couldn't catch her. That's what she does. It was fun to watch.

M25. M26. I saw Van enter the park and finish... the second person to cross the line :-). I was the third. Greg had finished about 15 minutes before us. Officially, he finished about 45 minutes before us.

3:50 for Van, 3:51 for me.

No kidding. My Quadzilla times went 4:26, 4:15, 4:27... and then 3:51. Even in rain and wind.

And. That's a negative split for Gateway. 1:56/1:55. Cool!

I celebrated by drinking full-sugar cokes and eating donuts. You can see this "in action" in the picture at the top. Ha.

A few minutes later, Brian finished too.

And so ended Quadzilla for this year.

That was something.

The next day, I woke up ready to run a fifth. Seriously, I felt great. I didn't run, though. Didn't run the next day either. On Wednesday, I went out to run, and it hurt like hell. Yikes. I should have run on Monday, I guess.

Would I do another Quadzilla? Hmmm. Theoretically, I guess I would. This is a tough call. I don't really want to do the Tahoe Triple again AND the travel logistics of my previous triple were simply too hard to be very enjoyable. So, while I'd be happy to do four... or five... races in a row, they'd have to involve a central location. And not Tahoe. As far as I know, this mystery centralized series does not exist.

That's alright. I did it.

Next up: it has come and gone. The Portland Marathon. My story for that will be quite different from any of the others you have (hopefully) read here. I paced a friend in her very first marathon ever. I'll be back with that story soon.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

09/29/07 Tahoe Triple Day Three

There I am on the beach before Day Three's race of the Tahoe Triple. Yes, that's snow. If you've just stumbled in, haven't read previous reports, and the term "triple" sounds odd... then you should probably start with the introduction to this weekend. Then, read the reports for Day One and Day Two. Are you still awake? Alright then. Day Three.

I think my tone in the writeups for the first two days is a bit down. I keep going back and forth on these races. I really don't mind running races that are basically self-supporting. And the scenery at Lake Tahoe is spectacular (though the weather on the second day was poor, so we missed it). However, the oncoming traffic really managed to do a number on my head. Plus, The Triple was very expensive... not even factoring in travel. The races themselves cost $275. From talking to the organizers, I don't think this is a case of greed; I don't really think the week is a profit-generating venture. I assume that getting all the political entities and jurisdictions to agree on allowing the races is just a big gigantic pain. The small number of triplers means that the price has to be high to subsidize the pain. With a week of hindsight and introspection, ultimately I'm ok with what I paid.

Now, I wrote all that just to get to this: Day Three was night-and-day different from the first two days in terms of support. Day Three was the REAL Tahoe Marathon. Lots more runners, a lane of the road for runners to use, and great aid stations every two miles. I don't think I'll run The Triple again, but I would totally come back to run this marathon again. It contains three things that I love in my marathons: hills, views, and... yes... great support.

Our race started at 8:30a. 8 hours and 29 minutes before... at 12:01a, 19 hardy souls (and maybe a few more if there were DNFs; I can't tell from the results) started the 72 mile ultra. All the way around the lake. In the dark for the first seven hours. In the picture at the top of this page, I'm standing on snow and grimacing about the cold. All of that snow and some ice fell during the night as the ultra folks were doing their thing. That's hardcore!

And what's harder-core? The Super Triple. Two of those 19 folks had done the first two marathons as well. Originally, eight people were going to run the Super... but six didn't start. Two did. Both finished! Let's just skip "harder-core" and call this "hardest-core". In the snow and the ice, too.

Though I did get a nice night's sleep while these 19 people were questioning their sanity, my day started pretty early. As with the first two days, Day Three's race would be a point-to-point... this time, starting in Tahoe City on the west side of the lake. It would wind down the west side of the lake, past our Day One starting point at Emerald Bay, and end at a place called Pope Beach. So, we had a shuttle ride to the start, and the organizers utilized the scenic route for this. We went up the east side of the lake, around the top, and back down to Tahoe City. For the little group of Triple folks, this was great. We got to travel around the courses we had run the previous two days. Nice, though perhaps unintended, touch.

The ride took almost an hour, and that was plenty of time to reflect on the previous two days. But what really was going through my mind was something else entirely... the coaching we'd received at the introductory dinner: Day Three is the hardest of the three races.

Day One had started with a shotgun blast that scared the beejeezus out of me. This was missing on Day Two. But it was back for Day Three.


We were off.

Two things were immediately different about this race. First, there were tons more runners. This marathon is still a small-ish event compared to regular marathons. But compared to the first two days of The Triple, this race was huge. The other different thing was much more important and scary - we were running in slush and ice. I slipped a few times, so I slowed way down. My goal for today was simply to beat my time for the first day. I figured that even though today's race was supposed to be harder, Day One was very hard *and* I lost time that day on my little detour. But as soon as I started playing Kramer on the ice, I slowed down and my day's goal was pretty much out the window.

The first 13 miles of this race rolled. Up and down. We had some good views of the lake and lots of nice country road running through rural neighborhoods. I talked to a few people, but I honestly don't remember the first half of this race very well. I think most of the ice was gone by M8. By M12, I was running with a small group of Triplers, including a Maniac we call "Ice Burg".

The start of the half marathon was a little bit strange. They started essentially at the halfway point of our race. And they were supposed to start at the two hour mark of the full. Their start was a little bit up a different road, and they merged in with us around our M14. AND they apparently started ten minutes late. The effect on our little group of Triplers... who had hit the halfway point right at the two hour mark... was that we were overtaken by a sea of half marathoners who wanted around us.

"What happened to our little run in the country?" I asked no one in particular.

It was here that I kind of missed the novelty of a teeny tiny race. It was now a big race to the finish, and it was about to get very, very hard. M15-20 are what earns this race the "hardest of the three" status. Two hills. Up from M15 to about M17. Screaming downhill from M17 to M19. Sharp uphill to M20 and the Emerald Bay overlook where this whole thing had started on Day One. And some amazing scenery through this whole section - definitely the best of all three days (And really? All FOUR Quadzilla days. And really really? Some of the best scenery of any race anywhere).

As we trudged up the first hill, the organizers did a couple fun things for us. First, there were signs to encourage us. As we approached the top, each 100 feet of elevation gain had an associated name. This included "Purgatory" and "Heaven" (which was, of course, the top). This first hill is what separated the rest of the Triplers from me. Off they went. Ice Burg was speed walking... and he was pulling away from me and my running-in-wet-cement pace.

The second thing that the organizers did was really cool. A little caravan of vehicles pulled up next to us. From the sunroof of the first vehicle popped... the race director! He said hello to everyone and welcomed us to "the hills from hell". He took some pictures, and off he went. Behind this vehicle was a pickup. In the bed was a man and his music. A nice, professional music player (as opposed to a boombox) with big speakers. I've encountered "music stops" in many races. Sometimes these are cool... drummers, for example, are ALWAYS cool... but usually these are overrated. As runners, we're not next to a music stop long enough to listen for more than a minute. Then we're out of earshot. But pickup guy? He drove up the hill with us, just a little faster than we were running. We got to listen to his music for about 10 minutes. THAT'S COOL!

Alas, he was playing "Walk This Way"... a curious choice for runners trying to get up a hill :-). But the beat was nice, and it was kind of a funny joke without being defeatist. Besides, lots of us were basically walking anyway.

I flew down the switchbacked downhill. And then it was time for the second hill. I walked most of it. I celebrated getting to the top and M20... which meant I had circled the lake... by going to the bathroom. Weee. I'm a wild man. As I started back up, a friend caught me. We ran a little bit together.

The last 10k of the course repeated the very first 10k we had run on Day One. Mostly downhill, and quite steep for the first couple miles. I was hoping that I'd make up some time in this last section. It didn't work out that way. This was at roughly 7000 feet and I'd already run 72 miles in the last three days. No matter what I tried, it was impossible to run faster than a 9:45/mile pace. Argh. Only impossible for me, though. About M23, Maniac Brian... the only other person attempting the Quadzilla... blew by me. I really wanted to run with him, but my body had a different idea.

The last two miles took forever in brain time. The last mile in particular was strange. To get back to our hotels, this race required another shuttle after the race. This shuttle was back on the main road. The course took us down towards the beach - and so as we all pushed towards the finish, people were streaming back the other way to get to the shuttles. It was a weird dynamic.

But I finished. A friend of mine was working the finish line, but I wasn't coherent enough to talk to her.

4:27. Yuck. And at the very end, I was 27 seconds slower than Day One. While I didn't make my completely artificial goal of beating my Day One time, I was pretty darned close. Considering how I felt in the first miles of ice running, I was okay with this.

Besides, I didn't have time to be anything else. I had juuuuust enough time to find my bag, walk back up to the shuttle, ride the shuttle, change clothes, and drive back to the Reno airport to make my flight. I did those things. And I ate some cheetos.

As much as the first two days hadn't really excited me, the third day made up for it and then some.

Next up: The extremely small Gateway to the Pacific Marathon next to the nuclear power plant in Elma, Washington. The last piece of Quadzilla.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

09/28/07 Tahoe Triple Day Two

Here I am just before the start of Day Two. If you haven't read the introduction to this weekend's activities, start here. If you haven't read the recap of Day One, you might want to start there.

Day One had ended on kind of a sour note. Day Two was a brand new day! The second day would turn out to be very different in two ways: not-as-nice weather (but not bad), and an easier course (though still quite challenging).

The weather on the first day had started out very cold. However, we had blue skies and no wind... and it warmed up reasonably quickly. It never got too hot. Day two started out warmer, or at least "less cold". However, it never really warmed up, it was gray and foggy, and then it got quite windy. With the wind chill, the end of the race was nippy.

What about that course? In a sense, it wasn't that different from Day One. The course on the first day was downhill in the first half, then it rolled for awhile, then it had monster uphills in the last 11 miles. Day Two's first 11 miles had lots of downhill too, and the middle miles rolled just like Day One's course. But while there were some challenging hills in the second half of Day Two, nothing was like the monsters in Day One. Another similarity was the traffic... both days required us to run against busy traffic. Day Two's shoulder was a little wider for running, and the traffic wasn't coming quite as fast (say 50 instead of 70). And while there was some town running on the second day, it didn't occur during rush hour... so I never had the same level of fear about getting tagged by a turning SUV as I had on the first day. It was still quite stressful, though.

I should also mention the bike race.

Race week at Lake Tahoe involved all kinds of activities beyond the marathons and the ultra. They also had kayak races on our Day One. On our Day Two, there were a couple different bike races. The main one circumnavigated the lake, with the fastest riders trying to hit the 3 hour mark. That's basically averaging 25 mph on a bike. And bikes travel in packs. And the bike race went in the opposite direction from our marathon.

What did that mean to us? It meant, starting somewhere around M8, bikes started flying at us. Fast. Really fast. I felt for these folks... they had to eat a lot more wind than we did, and they had to ride mixed in with automobile traffic. Nevertheless, as a runner, the bikes were not my friend. They wanted to hug the shoulder, especially when they were riding in packs. I was on the shoulder going the other way. Gah. It never became a huge issue for me, but because they kept flying by, it was stressful. It did become more of an issue for my friend Coconutboy. Somewhere along the way, he got clipped in the shoulder. Both he and the cyclist were okay, but yikes!

Some of the cyclists were very encouraging to the runners, and when I wasn't praying for my life, I tried to yell kind words at them. Alas, sometimes I wanted to yell unkind words. But I didn't.

Let me go back to the beginning for a second. Thanks to the coaching we'd received from Sean M at the pre-race dinner, I knew that Day Two would be easier than Day One. However, Day One had beaten me up pretty badly, so I had no grand plans of running aggressively. My goals were to 1) not miss any turns and 2) match my time from the first day. The first goal proved to be simple to achieve... there were only two turns on the entire course, and they both had the promised arrows/cones/person. In fact, I'm pretty sure that when the organizers gave me their flippant "just run next to the lake; you can't get lost" answer at the dinner, they were considering Day Two specifically.

Remember the shotgun start at the beginning of the first day? Luckily, we didn't have that... I think the gun went to start the bikes. But something odd DID happen. An early start! Most races start exactly on time, which is fine. Sometimes a race will start late, which affects me differently depending on the cause and how I feel that day. But early? That doesn't happen.

It did here :-). About 10 minutes before the race was scheduled to start, a cop pulled into the starting area. This was apparently THE cop, and he was ready to get moving. So our organizer told us "ok, the cop's here so we have to go!" and 3, 2, 1 off we went. I felt kind of badly for the small group of people just arriving as we left. Although we all had chips on our ankles, this was just for catching our time at the end. With no mat at the start, we all "started" at the same official time. Including the people just pulling into the lot. Whoops.

The race started at Spooner Summit, which is why lots of the first 11 miles were downhill. I stopped at the water station around M7. The next one was at 10.4 as we turned west to go around the top of the lake. My bottle was still pretty full, so I skipped it. This was a tragic error.

M14 was the next scheduled water stop. It wasn't there. Hmm. I passed several 7-11s, and I could have stopped. I didn't, though, because I expected that the water station would be just around the next bend. The next one was supposed to be M17. Nothin'. By this point, my bottle was nearing empty. I passed more 7-11s and my money burned a hole in my pocket, but I stubbornly told myself, "it'll be around the next bend." Yeah, buddy.

By M21, the course started into some major roly polies. I kept telling myself that none of this was like Day One's monsters, and it certainly wasn't. But it WAS hard. M21's scheduled water stop? Nope. And I was now in an area with no 7-11s. Time to beg, just like people in Amazing Race who have lost or spent all their money.

Ok, really it was nothing like that. Every support crew I encountered on all three days was incredibly, well, supportive. They always had kind words for me. And the very first person I bugged for water was all "you bet!" I talked with him about the lack of official water stations. After I missed my turn on Day One, several people were adamant that the turn was marked. I was kind of wondering if the same was true in this race... maybe I had somehow blindly missed a secret turnoff to the water stops. The guy agreed with me - he hadn't seen any, and other runners had come begging. Huh. I thanked him as I left; he really helped me out.

At M23, there it was: the first official aid station I had seen since M10.4. Nice. It was Barefoot Todd. He also agreed with me that something weird had happened, but he didn't know what.

I was slowing a little by this point, and still afraid that I might miss a turn. However, I was sure that I was ahead of my time from the previous day, so I just tried to hold it together.

"You look like you're hurting!"

That's what another runner told me. YIKES. Hmmm, actually I felt ok - just a little stressed out from the bikes (all of which had passed, but I didn't know it), lack of water (which worked out), and the possibility of getting lost (which wouldn't happen today). That's not the best thing to tell someone. If a person looks like they are approaching death, I might not tell them "you look marvelous!", but I also won't give them any downers either.

"You look bad!"

Gee, thanks. All I could work up was a weak "Nah, I'm fine. Just ready to be done." And I was.

Big hill at M24. At M25, we entered Tahoe City. There was a marker for M25, wahoo. My time was alright. The finish would be in the parking lane of the road we were on, but at M25 I did not know this. I kept looking down the cross streets as I went through intersections. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but I surely didn't want to miss it.

M26. Someone said, "We still have more than half a mile!" Huh? No we didn't. And then I spied (with my bloodshot eyes) some cones that looked like an informal chute... and yes, there was the official clock... so I sped up, finished, and there it was. Done. 4:15. Not a great time for me, but a full 11 minutes faster than the previous day. I was pleased.

Afterwards, I asked this person why he thought we still had more than half a mile when we didn't. It turned out that lots of people had been told that the second day was actually 26.7 miles. I don't think it was, and I missed that little point whenever it had been made.

The Coconut family (Coconutboy pulled a 4:00 despite getting hit by a bike!) cheerfully gave me a ride back to the casino, and I repeated the process from the first day. Bathtub, eat, eat some more.

In the evening, I went to listen to Sam Thompson's talk about running 51 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. Sam's the best. A few hours after that... at midnight... Sam and Sean M would start the ultra. 72 miles, all the way around the lake. During the night, they'd encounter bitter cold, snow, and ice.

The same snow and ice that I'd see the next morning for Day Three. I only got it for 8 miles. They had it all night long. WOW.

Next up: Day Three! An actual organized race! The hardest race of the triple!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

09/27/07 Tahoe Triple Day One

That's me at the overlook of Emerald Bay on the west side of Lake Tahoe. It was taken about an hour before the start of Day One... so about an hour before the whole Quadzilla thing commenced. (If you haven't read the introduction to the Quadzilla, it is probably a better place to start. Go ahead. I'll wait.)

I was pretty relaxed when that picture was taken. That's really interesting considering the information (and lack thereof) we were provided the night before at the Triple dinner. The Triple's website had made it clear that having a crew would be beneficial... but except for the ride situation, it seemed doable without a crew. Which was a good thing because I didn't have one. However, at the dinner we learned a few things. Although the website had mentioned aid stations every 4-7 miles, we learned that these would be water only. No problem for me; I brought lots of Perpetuem powder and electrolyte capsules. We also learned that the first two days would be run facing traffic on open roads, and that the roads would be quite busy. AND that in some places, the shoulder we'd utilize would be about two feet wide. Yikes.

Then it came time for the organizers to explain the course. Despite the scary facts in the last paragraph, this is where things got dicey. The course was explained in terms of place names. Things like "you'll pass Zephyr Cove". This is a fine way to discuss a course with people familiar with the area and people who have run the roads before. But for the rest of us, they might as well have been talking Swahili. So I raised my hand and asked if/how the course was marked. The first chipper answer was "run next to the lake". Okey doke. Except not all of it is literally next to the lake. It was finally explained that all turns... and there weren't many... would have 1) markings on the ground, 2) a cone, 3) and a person. Keep this in mind for later. I have a huge fear of getting lost in races, and as I sat at the dinner listening to place names that didn't mean anything to me, I got nervous. Someone else asked them to clarify the locations of the water stops. I dutifully wrote these down. Keep this in mind for later as well. After all this, two previous winners gave us fun descriptions of the course's ups and downs. Sounded hard. We also learned about running through town during morning rush hour. "Watch out for people turning out in front of you; they will not see you." Defensive running! Cool.

So anyway, back to the start. I was relaxed. And given what I just wrote, I do not know why :-).

I met some new people, and I talked to a some Maniacs. Mostly I tried to pretend I wasn't cold... but it was 34 and I was cold. The moon was full and fabulous, and it looked like we'd have a blue sky day. Plus there was no wind. This made it much easier to pretend it wasn't cold.

Shortly before the start, I met up with a Maniac husband/wife team who I know from lots of races. John goes by the interesting nickname of "Coconutboy". Once upon a time, this made me want to call Sherry "Coconutgirl". More recently, I've learned that officially her nickname is "MMM", though I've never been sure whether that is supposed to be pronounced "Em em em", "Muh muh muh", "3-M", or "mmmm" (as in, "that's good!"). Ah well. Mr Coconut was doing the triple... apparently he's an old hand at this triple. Mrs Coconut would be his support crew for the first two days, and then they planned on running together for the third day's bigger marathon. Mrs MMM Coconutgirl offered to take my stuff and give me a ride after the first two races.

Thank you, Coconut Family. That was extremely nice of you. Really and for true.

About 10 minutes before the start, I was off in the trees doing God's work when the organizers started screaming at everyone to get to the starting line for the group picture. Alright then. Picture taken, I saw the race director whip out a shotgun. For some reason (altitude? lack of coffee?), it didn't process that he was going to shoot this gun. But it was time to start, and he raised the gun and BOOM.

No, really. I mean BOOM.

I was temporarily deaf, but we were off.

The perimeter of Lake Tahoe is about 72 miles. 3 marathons is 78.6 miles. This means we'd repeat 6.6ish miles during the process, and it was all right here. Around M0.4 of Day One, we encountered the M20 marker for the third day's race. Our first 6.6 miles would also ultimately be our last 6.6. Well, mostly. At about M3 after some screaming switchbacked downhill (oh won't this be fun at the end of day three!), we cut over to a bike path. And somewhere in here, we came across some arrows painted on the ground. Hmm. I remembered the instructions about arrows, cones, and a person. This only had one of the three, so I went with the old adage "when in doubt, if the bigger path is straight, go straight". I went straight. About two miles later, off to my left, I saw people running. They merged back onto the bike path... these were faster people who had once been in front of me. It was clear that they had followed the arrows. And when they saw that others had not, they were not happy. Uh oh.

Now, the first two days did not have markers every mile. Matching other aspects of this race (limited-to-no support), there were only markers every 5 miles. When I hit M5, my watch showed that I had probably run 5 miles. So I was fairly sure I had made the right call regarding the weird turn.

Around M7, we turned left onto a busier highway that went through the town section of South Lake Tahoe. This was the section we'd been warned about. It was morning rush hour and nobody was looking for runners going against traffic. Yikes. I waited at traffic lights and I dodged cars. A few runners passed me, but I didn't care.

Somewhere around M12, we turned off this road onto a smaller road that went behind all the casinos in Stateline, Nevada. By this point, I could see one person in front of me. I came to an intersection that had left-turn flour arrows on the ground and a cone. But no person. The runner in front of me had gone straight. Crap. What to do? As I stood there, two other runners (Maniacs Steve and Ed) caught me. We decided that this turn had two of the three proper indicators, and we took it even though the guy in front of us did not. About half a mile later, we encountered an aid station. We had chosen wisely! This station was manned by Maniac, many-time Triple winner, and ultrarunner extraordinaire Sean. He was the person who had described the courses' hills and today's traffic in great detail at the dinner. I asked him about the arrows I'd seen much earlier in the race. It turns out they were for the big race on Saturday. I was supposed to ignore them and go straight. I had chosen wisely there too! Wow. I was 2 for 2.

I should have known that this was tempting fate. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On I went. Somewhere between M13 and M14, the course merged back onto the highway and the big uphills started. M15-20 would roll, but would generally be up. M20 to the end was THE HILL. All up, all the way, somewhat steep, heading up to 7500 feet, and all on a teeny tiny shoulder with big trucks screaming right at us. Sounds like fun, eh? (Have I mentioned that I spent the weekend with a few Canadians?) This hill would bring us to the Spooner Summit... the end of day one and the start of day two.

These miles were brutal. I like hard races partly because I like hills. And the views of Lake Tahoe were pretty (though not nearly as nice as what we'd get on day three during the regular marathon). But the traffic was absolutely nuts, and it beat me down. I passed a few people, and a few others passed me. It was too hard to run with someone and have a conversation because of the narrow road.

Water station at M18. They told me it was M17. Whoops. Marked M20 right at a small tunnel, which was very cool to run through. Great mountain views as we started towards the summit. Great aid station at M23. I threw some trash in the person's (Maniac Barefoot Todd's) trash bucket and moved on. I'd later find out that he had this bucket because it had come flying off a Sparkletts truck at 70 mph. Nice.

By my watch, I knew I was somewhere near M26 when I encountered a highway intersection. I could tell that I was near Spooner Summit. There were no arrows, no cones, and no person. Well, hmm. To my left, about 30 yards down the road, were some random cones and a portapotty. No people down there. The runner in front of me had gone straight.

Rememeber: "when in doubt, if the bigger path is straight, go straight".

Ok. I went straight too. My luck had run out. This was wrong. As I crossed the intersection, I saw several cars turn left. No one said anything to me. Honestly, I didn't go very far. I saw the guy in front of me stop at a construction site to ask the workers something... it was clear he had a bad feeling about going straight. I ran a little more, but my watch let me know that something was wrong. I should have been done, but there was no finish. I turned around. The other runner had too. We turned at the intersection.

Sure enough, about... uh... 0.2 miles over the crest, there was a parking lot entrance and some runners milling around. This was the finish.

I had probably run 27ish miles. Grrrr. 4:27. I'll get back to that time in a second. I asked other runners how they knew to turn. Many of them said that the turn was marked (!!). A few said that they too had missed the turn. I went back out to look. No, it absolutely was NOT marked... at the highway. It *was* marked at the random cones I had seen 3o yards down the road. What the heck? I assume that most people who negotiated this turn had either done this race before OR followed the person in front of them. It just so happened that the person in front of me went straight. Whoops.

I was a little upset... though not quite as upset as it looked to others around me. My emotions were just amplified because I had been running for 4 1/2 hours. I had no real time goals for these races... but I did think that the first would probably be the fastest. I was somewhat discouraged by the 4:27, even if it would have been 4:20ish without the wrong turn. I felt beat up. It was hard to tell whether I was physically beat up from the hills and the altitude, or mentally exhausted from the traffic. Or both. Probably both. All I could think was "it's gonna be a looooong weekend", but mostly it came out as, "dammit, I missed the turn!"

Coconutboy? That man ran a 3:53! Goooo Coconutboy!

Later that day, I fell asleep in the bathtub (ooops), and I ate a lot. I was pretty stiff and kind of gimpy. I do not recommend the coffee shop at the Horizon Casino.

And did I mention that I missed a turn? Heh. Ah well, I could have missed two other turns. 2 out of 3 ain't bad, I suppose.

Next up: Day two, which would turn out to be an easier day in terms of hills, but a harder day for other reasons. Stay tuned.