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.

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