Monday, November 26, 2007

11/17/07 Louisiana Trails 50k

My 56th race of the year was a return to trails... always a dicey proposition for me. It was also the first hardcore 50k (and only my third 50k ever) since my debacle at Chuckanut back in March. Yes, I ran Autumn Leaves last month, and I did well. But Autumn Leaves was a nice jaunt in the park - totally NOT the same thing.

THIS race was the Louisiana Trails 50k. Held in a state park a few miles outside of Shreveport, this race consisted of a 13 mile loop done twice, followed by a 5 mile loop that was really just the bottom section of the 13 mile loop. The course was 90% single track trail and 10% grass/dirt road. I was expecting flat... it was hilly: many sharp ups and downs, creek jumps (that were luckily dry), and switchbacks. The trail itself contained lots of roots, which made for some fancy footwork in places, but it was dry and there weren't any rocks to navigate. Fall weather could have made for some difficult navigation if the trail had been covered in leaves. But it wasn't - the park ranger (caretaker?) worked hard to clear off the trail. It was immaculate. In fact, it was probably the best maintained course at this difficulty level that I've ever run on. A real treat.

The weather for race morning was outstanding - partly cloudy and a little crisp. It would drizzle a little during the race, but mostly it stayed PERFECT. So much so that I had to ditch some of my clothes. Usually I stay bundled up like the Michelin Man. What a nice day.

My goals for the race were "don't get hurt" and just practice running down hills. I didn't figure that I'd match the 5:08 I ran at Autumn Leaves... that course had been short AND very easy. Then again, I didn't think I'd have to settle for the 6:54 that I experienced at Chuckanut. The weather was too nice and I didn't figure to lose my shoe in the mud like I did back in March. Any time in between would be fine; I just wanted to have some fun.

And so, off we went. There weren't lots of people in this race, unlike the Mid-Mountain Marathon I did in September. When that race funneled everyone onto the trail, it got quite crowded. This race wasn't nearly that bad, but I did get sucked into the little group running near the front of the pack. Not THE front runners... just a pack towards the front. There were actually two races going on at the same time: a marathon and a 50k. I figured that most of these people in this pack were marathoners, but that the pace would be close enough to what I needed without spontaneously combusting later.

I learned right away that the course was hillier than I expected. Up we went, down we went. I passed a few people, and a few people passed me. It's very normal for me not to be able to judge my pace on technical trails... and this race was no exception. I was breathing a little hard, but it was impossible to tell whether this was because of the sharp ups and downs, or because I was running a bit too fast.

The woman running in front of me wiped out around M8. BOOM, somersault, dust. I stopped to help her, but she waved me on.

As I approached the start/finish area, my watch read 1:35. I knew I hadn't run 13 miles yet, and sure enough, the peek at the start/finish was a tease. There was more to this loop - a whole lot more, in fact. Onward I went. I finally finished the first loop at 2:15. Very slow by road marathon standards, but a trail race is a different thing.

I was very confused. As a 50k runner, I was told to go through one side of the start/finish transition area. Everyone else I had been running with seemed to be going through the other side. The finish side. And stopping. What? A marathon is 26.2 miles... they had another loop to run, right?

Then it dawned on me, and I asked one of the guys I had been running with... "There's a HALF marathon today, isn't there?"

Indeed, that's exactly what was happening. And that meant something bad: I had been running at half marathon pace. Even if 2:15 was a slow half marathon on the road, I had probably been running too hard. Or not; it's really difficult to judge.

All I know is that when I embarked on the second loop, I ran more conservatively. By a lot. I talked to a couple people as they passed me and just focused on running the hills properly. Somewhere around M20, I realized that I had a lot left in the tank. I had allowed the half marathon pace thing mess with my mind, and I had slowed too much. So I picked up the pace.

I hit the end of the second loop at 4:35, which meant my splits were 2:15/2:20. Hard to say exactly how pokey I had been going before I picked it back up... but overall, I was ok with this. Had I been running the marathon, I would have been ok with a 4:30ish time considering this course.

But I was running the 50k, and it was time to do the last 5 mile loop. I went off and decided to run as fast as I possibly could, while still trying to make my "don't get hurt" goal. I almost failed... I tripped over roots several times. Right around M29, a course marshal directed me to go in a direction that I wasn't expecting. The course was well marked, but this still freaked me out a little. I hate getting lost. Off I went anyway. I passed several people in these last two miles. I got to where I *thought* the turn for the finish would be. It wasn't there. Now I was freaked out a lot. I might have said some bad words out loud in the middle of this pristine trail.

There was no need. Around the next bend was a huge sign pointing towards the 50k finish.

Up a big, long hill. Oy! What a way to end a 50k. Up and up I went.

And then I was done. 5:28... that last 5 mile loop took 53 minutes. Not exactly a smoking pace, but it felt fast at the time. It was probably a bit faster too... that 53 minutes includes some time at two aid stations drinking and chatting.

"How old are you?"


"How old are you? You just won an award."

"An award? Uh... 41."

2nd overall masters. And, 6th overall. How about that? Ok, in fairness, it isn't as awesome as it sounds. There were 15 people in the race. Little races are funny like that.

What a fun day, though. On a course that was challenging but also meticulously cared for. And, in retrospect, a course that was very well-marked - no chance for Island Boy to get lost.

If this race wasn't located 2000 miles from me in Shreveport, I would return every year. It was really good. I didn't discuss the aid stations above, but they were perfect. The volunteers were all wonderful. Everything was good.

And I came in 2nd! Hot dog.

Next up: The "almost triple" weekend. It has come and gone. The Atlanta Marathon on Thursday (Thanksgiving), the low-key Ghost of Seattle Marathon on Saturday, and the big Seattle Marathon on Sunday. And there was certainly some adventure during the almost triple. More soon!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

11/11/07 Harrisburg Marathon

Last year, I traveled back east to run the first double after my layoff: the Richmond Marathon on Saturday followed by the Harrisburg Marathon on Sunday. I did indeed run Richmond, but the next morning, the weather in Harrisburg was awful. While I've run quite a few bad weather marathons, I just couldn't do it that morning. I turned in my chip and went back to bed. Skipping any race is a bummer, really, but Harrisburg would have been a new state for me. Double bummer. On the other hand, I reeeeeaaaaallly wasn't in shape to be running a double, and I had run too hard at Richmond the day before. Not running Harrisburg was probably a smart idea.

Fast forward to this year. I signed up to do Richmond/Harrisburg again. Time to rectify this red mark in the books. I've run a few doubles, one triple, and a quadzilla this year. Being ready for a double wasn't a concern. Real life isn't that simple, however, and sure enough, I had to deal with my first over-the-top bad sickness this year. Euphemistically, let's just call it a "stomach thing". I *have* been sick this year, and I've had a few bad races due to in-race health issues (my first 50 miler comes to mind)... but this was several orders of magnitude worse. I spent much of Friday night and early Saturday morning refunding my dinner. And my lunch. And perhaps meals I ate in 5th grade. When "time to get ready"chimed on my watch Saturday morning, there was no waaaay that I was heading to the start at Richmond. Another skip. Big bummer. But unlike some skips where it was "cold" or "wet" or "I was too sleepy", this was obviously a different case.

So I slept in. Then I drove four hours to Harrisburg, making sure to take the leisurely side trip to the Gettysburg area. Did I really think I'd run Harrisburg the next morning? Nope. I picked up my packet just in case, but nope. I felt a little better as Saturday afternoon turned into Saturday evening, but I was still fairly iffy. I ate dinner with a friend... including an accidental eating of bacon (I vehemently do not eat pork, so this was not cool)... and I was no better than "iffy".

Nonetheless, I laid out the pink uniform and pinned on my number.

Sunday. "Time to get ready" chimed on my watch again. I got up and checked in with myself.


"No idea. Could go either way."

"Good enough. Let's do it."

On went the pink... and several other layers. It was going to be a blue sky day, but it was COLD. I set two fairly conservative goals for myself: go out with the intention of 1) finishing "about 4:00", but if I felt ok at the halfway point, 2) "about 3:50". This meant that I'd either be trying for even miles or a slightly negative split. HOWEVER... if at any point I began feeling sick, then both of those time goals would be dumped in favor of survival. I wanted to *finish* so that I could mark off a new state, but I also have lots more races this year. I wasn't about to blow more races just to say I beat an artificial time here.

The Harrisburg Marathon starts and ends on what's known as "City Island". There is a big park as well as the town's minor league baseball stadium. Ooodles of parking, which lowered the stress of race morning. The course is a 6-ish mile loop, followed by a 20-ish mile balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back/loop combo. I had been told that the course would be basically flat... and aside from some lakeside roly polies between M17 and M20, it was.

I was talking to a couple people before the start, and it was suddenly time to go. So off we went. "About 4" meant that my splits for the first half should have been around 9:10-9:15.

My first mile was 8:11. Yikes... I told myself to S L O W D O W N. My second mile was 8:04. Slow down. 8:17. Then 8:21. Well, I did indeed slow a bit, but my body was not wanting to run 9s. Not even close. I was headed for the biggest flame out in a long time. The thing is, I felt good. Putting my body and brain into 'race mode' seemed to make the lingering blahs go away. As long as I wasn't dehydrated, I'd be ok. As long as I wasn't low on glycogen (I lost a lot of food in the Night of a Thousand Vomits), I'd be ok.

So, what to do. I had tried to slow myself down, but I hadn't been successful. I decided to run what my body wanted to run. The 8:0x and 8:1x miles continued. I made it through the six mile loop at 48:50. Still felt good. We headed north for the 20 mile excursion along the river, through the industrial area, by a college, around a lake, and then back.

I hit the halfway mark at 1:47. Still felt good. The 8:1x miles continued until M18... the lake section had some sharp ups. After a few 8:30s through M20, it was time to head towards the finish. This lake section was the most challenging, but it was very pretty. I said my goodbyes and focused on finishing strong. And if not strong, then at least not dead.

Now, I had hit M20 at 2:44:51. Even with the usual slow slog through the final 10k, I had a shot at 3:40.

M21 was 8:25, 22 was 8:22, 23 was 8:29, 24 was 8:42... I was losing it. A bit. During this final stretch home, I noticed that I wasn't being nearly as sociable as I normally am. Hmmm. Hard to say whether this was because I was focused on finishing strong or because I was focused on staying not-sick. Probably both. M25 was back down to 8:04. Aha... my brain was focused on finishing strong. Just after the M25 mark, the course went up a steep hill to the pedestrian bridge that led back to City Island. A course marshal called me by name. My first name is on my pink shirt, but she also used my last name.

As I ran by her, I asked, "How do you know my full name?"

"From the coolrunning website!"

Alrighty, then. That was pretty cool.

Up onto the pedestrian bridge and around the ballpark. M26 was 7:50. It wasn't my fastest mile of the day, but it was my second fastest.

I vaguely recall passing a guy 10 feet before the finish. Ooops. I think I got announced, but I don't really remember.

3:36... of the 55 marathons and ultras I've done this year, this was my 3rd fastest. Of the 145 marathons and ultras I've done since 2001, this was my 3rd fastest. I did it on a day where I had not intended to go out fast, and I did it less than 36 hours after being the sickest I've been in a very long time.


I felt great after the race. It was probably the donuts. Yes, 36 hours after yakking up all the food in my body, I was munching on donuts. Life was good. The Harrisburg Marathon represented my 46th state. Check. Life was good.

In summary... last year, I ran Richmond "ok" and skipped Harrisburg. This year, I skipped Richmond and ran Harrisburg very well. Last year, I felt good but didn't want to risk hurting myself. This year, I felt terrible but running made me feel better.


I'm not sure if I will attempt this particular double again, at least not for awhile. I am very glad, though, that I went out on a high note.

Next up: It has already happened! The Louisiana Trails 50k! Another adventure on trails! My feet hurt!

Monday, November 12, 2007

11/3,4/07 Autumn Leaves, iUWR Super Double

This picture was taken by founding Maniac and Ironman and Tacoma City Marathon Race Director Tony Phillippi.

For the first weekend of November, I decided to run my longest double of the year... a 50k on Saturday followed by a marathon on Sunday. The Autumn Leaves 50k (and 50 miler) is held on a 5-mile loop course at Champoeg State Park, just south of Portland, Oregon. I won't say that it is "easy" because running 31 miles is not an easy thing, but it provides perhaps the least challenging, mildest, and best supported ultra course in the Pacific Northwest. iUWR stands for "In Unity We Run", and it is a very small -and free- local marathon held every year on the same day as the New York Marathon. The course is essentially flat. Consequently, even though this was my longest double, it did not turn out to be my hardest double of the year.

I almost didn't get to do it. If you've been reading my reports all year, you may remember my little dog eating his 6' leash back in February. I skipped both races that weekend, and luckily he was able to... uh... resolve this without needing surgery. The same dog got incredibly sick on the Thursday before this weekend. He had to stay at the animal hospital, and I wasn't sure I'd go to Oregon. By Friday night, they still had not figured out what was wrong with him, but they didn't think it would involve surgery. Since they wanted to keep him under observation anyway, I decided to run the next morning.

I've only run one 50k. Back in March, I ran the Chuckanut 50k. It was a very technical course and the crummy weather made for a brutal day. I knew Autumn Leaves would be an easier experience, but I wasn't sure how much easier. The answer: lots - several orders of magnitude easier. If you are ever looking for a PR 50k or 50 mile course, this is it. After a quick out-and-back mile to make the distance right (well, sort of... I'll come back to this), the course started into a 5-mile loop. For the 50k, runners did the loop six times. I have to admit that by the 4th loop, I was kind of zombied out by the sheer repetition. However, it *was* a very pretty loop. About 3 1/2 miles were wide, paved bike trail. The last 1 1/2 mile were unpaved trail, but the trail was wide and because it was dry, the trail was easy. The loop was somewhat roly poly, especially the unpaved section, but much of it was flat. There were two aid stations, one of which runners passed twice during each loop. So, 3 chances for aid and potties every 5 miles. Times 6 loops. And the aid stations were well-stocked in that ultra way: junk food, coke, and regular aid station stuff. Pampering!

Race morning started cold - 35 degrees. However, there was no wind, and once the sun was up, it was bright blue skies. The only issue was fog. This made for a slightly interesting first loop navigation-wise, but it also made for some gorgeous views. When the fog disappeared and it warmed up slightly, the weather was perfect. My goal for the race was simply to put in a bunch of good miles and to try to run the full 31 (allowing for a couple junk food stops and potty).

The 50k and 50-miler started at the same time, but they had also offered a two hour early start. Coupled with the fact that we were all running multiple loops, I was never alone. It was nice being able to check in with folks as the day progressed. At first, it was a little weird not being able to tell who was in what race and where they were regarding loops... but after awhile, it became a really fun mental distraction trying to figure this out. About two hours into the race, a 10k was held. They only ran one loop, and this was the only time that the course got busy. It was most interesting to see the two aid stations go into "race mode". For the 10k, the volunteers stationed themselves next to the path with lots of cups to give to the speedsters. For the rest of the day, they sat by the fire while the ultra-types helped ourselves.

Aside from recurring bathroom issues... and this was a good course for a person having those issues... my day went fairly well. I kept good information on my watch regarding my splits for each lap, but I unfortunately deleted it all before I wrote it down. I recall that all my loops were fairly consistent between 47 minutes and 52 minutes, and some of the deviation was caused by various lingering aid/potty stops. I slowed a bit on the 5th loop and a bit more on the 6th loop, but I finished the day strong. I had a great time. I didn't "race", and unless I was seriously determined to run with the pack of front-runners, I don't know how I would have raced it anyway, what with people starting at different times.

I finished at 5:08. After the first loop, I knew that if I kept my pace steady and ran the whole 31, I'd finish somewhere around 5. Close enough... I did slow a little in my last loop. Now, one would think that this would be my 50k PR. It was certainly faster than Chuckanut and it was only my second 50k, so PR. Right? Nope. A couple days later, the race director emailed everyone to tell us the course distance: 30.4 miles. Fooey. If it had been long, I'd count it as a PR. But not short, and it was a little short. Oh well. I don't feel "rooked". It was a low-key run and it was still longer than 26.2. I'm fine with it; it was fun. Just not a PR.

Driving back from Portland, I noticed an exit for "Toledo Vader Road". Toledo Vader? Ah, Darth's little brother. Pool hustler.

Dude owes me money.

And that brings us to Sunday. iUWR (In Unity We Run) used to be called UWR (United We Run), but that name is apparently trademarked and so the run got renamed. Barely :-). Each year, this very low-key affair is held the same morning as the New York Marathon. Using the Green River Trail, runners go from Renton up to Alki Beach in West Seattle. For a free race, it is organized very well: aid stations every 3-4 miles, a marked course, and timing. It does not, however, have mile markers. I've gotten better at knowing my own pace, but I still like to have mile markers to check against. Also, although the course is well marked with spray paint and some cardboard signs, it does make a few tricky turns and it is possible to get lost.

Last year, I ran this race. It was my second marathon after my extended cancer-related layoff. I got lost twice and struggled to the end at 4:17. It was a slow day, but it was still almost 15 minutes faster than the first post-layoff race I had run two weeks prior. Fast forward one year and almost 60 races later. I was in much better shape. I decided to try run as evenly as possible, and I wanted to beat 4. Beating 4 on the back-end of a double feels good, and it would be extra nice to do it after a 50k and on a course with no mile markers to guide me. I'd need to run by feel. And not get lost.

The weather race morning was interesting. It started out crisp and overcast. About five minutes into the race, it started drizzling. By the 30 minute mark, it was raining steadily. This lasted for the first 2 1/2 hours. It wasn't as miserable as it could have been, mostly because it didn't start raining until AFTER we were running and I was already warmed up. Plus it wasn't supremely cold... just kinda chilly... and the wind wasn't strong. The rain fogged up my glasses, though, and I couldn't see much for a very long time. I was blind in the picture at the top of this page... that was about the 10 mile mark.

In that picture, you see a woman running just in front of me. I ran with her for the first half, and then she pulled away slightly and acted as my rabbit for the second half. I was calling her "cool tattoo chick" during the race. This is funny because I've used this identifier before. When I ran my PR at the San Juan Island Marathon, I acted as a rabbit for another person I called "cool tattoo chick" until she caught me towards the end. That cool tattoo chick tried to turn the wrong way at M25.8, and I got her back on track... and she came in 3rd female overall. And I PRed. It was a good day for both of us.

Guess what? It didn't click until the next day, but this iUWR cool tattoo chick was the SAME cool tattoo chick. Her name is Anntoinette, and I didn't recognize her because she changed her hair. And she didn't recognize me because, well, I'm not that memorable. Heh.

Anyway. The course was better marked this year, and I had run it once before, so I never got lost nor really felt like I might be getting off course. And I kept Anntoinette in sight the whole day.

I felt like I was keeping a pretty consistent pace for the entire race. I stopped briefly at a couple aid stations to fill my bottle and chat with a friend. At each aid station, I'd ask where I was mile-wise, but the answers were always "somewhere around x".

The final stretch around Alki was very long... probably 2 to 3 miles. It kept going and going. At the very end, I could see Anntoinette pass someone who had been far in front of us earlier in the day. I didn't catch the person before the finish, but that's alright. Final verdict? 3:53. Huh. Well, I beat four. I felt good, though a little chilly. None of my friends were at the finish. I gave Anntoinette a meek little smile and decided to leave - a large group of protesters was setting up near my car for a very big day protesting stuff. I wanted to get out before the traffic got really awful. I later found out that all my friends were in the restaurant across the street. Whoops. Oh well. I'll see them again.

Next up: The Richmond/Harrisburg double. As it has already happened, I just say for the record that I skipped the Richmond race. I was deathly ill. I recovered enough to run Harrisburg, though, and I'll write that up RealSoonNow. Perhaps "deathly" is a bit of an overstatement.

As of iUWR, I'm at 54 for the year. Looks like 69 or 70 is out of reach, but let's see what I *CAN* do.

As for my dog, it turns out he had a digestive system full of giardia. Yuck!