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!

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