Tuesday, December 18, 2007

12/9/07 Dallas White Rock Marathon

Sunday was the Dallas White Rock Marathon. This is one of several races that I consider a "home course" because I grew up in the Dallas area, and my parents still live there. That said, I've only done this race once before; there are so many great races in early December and I've been to most of them. Back in 2004, I ran this race just after I started training towards the then-mystical "beat four" goal. I didn't beat four at White Rock... I wasn't ready... but I had a fun race on a gorgeous day. I outkicked the 4:15 pacer at the very end (4:14:50). Ok, maybe she let me outkick her :-).

This is a well-organized big city marathon, and while the crowds can't compare to NY or even Houston, the city does come out to root for the runners. They also broadcast the marathon on local TV... 3 hours of coverage. And people seem to watch it!

The course is a pinched loop that starts and ends at the AA arena (where the NBA Mavericks and NHL Stars play). After blowing through downtown, the course offers runners views of spectacular "old money" neighborhoods in Dallas. M8 through M19 go around White Rock Lake, and that's why the race has its name. Now, the race plays up White Rock Lake as a very scenic place. It is not. There's not much to see at all, really. However, the lake section is mostly flat and that's nice, because the miles leading to the lake have lots of uphill, and M19-M21 after the lake is the course's famed hill. Technically, I guess it is considered multiple hills because it/they is/are called "The Dolly Partons". That should indicate two very large hills, right? Having run this race twice now and studying the elevation chart with an eye for detail, I can tell you that I only remember one hill. But it IS some badass hill. Two miles long and relentless. At the bottom, there are always men dressed in drag with large Dolly Parton assets in place. Serving up beer. Also somewhere in this section (I honestly don't remember where) is the Hooters water stop. Gotta love Dallas. The last 5 miles are gentle downhill through more nice neighborhoods, into downtown, and back to the finish. All in all, it isn't a hard course. In good weather.

We had good weather in 2004. This year was another matter altogether. I could write several pages on how the weather forecast jumped all over and was completely wrong even at 5a on race morning. I'll just provide the summary: it was 48 degrees at the start and that was the warmest it would be all day. A cold front plowed through just as the race was about to start, and temperatures dipped to the mid-30s by the end. The cold front brought a stiff breeze from the north that made it feel much colder... but most of the course runs east and west, so runners only had to deal with the Arctic blast to the face for a few miles. We got very lucky in terms of rain. 10 minutes before the race started, the rain came. It was strong and it was cold. And wet. It was also amazingly brief... as the Star Spangled Banner wrapped up, so did the rain. It drizzled lightly a few times during the day, but it never dumped like the forecast said it would. No thunder, no lightning. No locusts. The lake did not boil with fire. But it was very cold, and I spent the whole race in fear of the impending storm. I later found out from my parents that it rained hard to the south and to the north... but not in Dallas. It rained super hard just 5 miles west in Irving... but not in Dallas. Wow.

Dallas was my 63rd marathon+ultra this year. Looking back over my races, I've had very good luck weather-wise overall. Not perfect, of course. Birch Bay way back in February was the most miserable... but "miserable" is the general condition at Birch Bay in the winter. It was very wet at Chuckanut and the course's vampire mud stole my shoe. And it has been really cold a few times - namely Glass City in April where I dressed like the little brother in Christmas Story. I had to run on ice (yuck) for day three of the Tahoe Triple. There were a couple other races that have been rainy and/or windy. And some hot races. I like hot, though. All in all, I recall lots of races where the weather was supposed to be cruddy, but turned out fine. It was fairly cruddy in Dallas, but compared to what it could have been like, it was juuuuust fine. In fact, some people thought the weather was perfect. And Little Leslie, one of my Maniac friends, set a PR.

Ah, but this is hindsight. Beforehand, I thought the weather was going to turn awful during the race, and I dressed for that - which means I was in my Sherpa look: 3 shirts, a raincoat, and pants over my shorts. And gloves. But no chemical glove warmers. That's an odd thing. Island Boy hates to be cold, and chemical glove warmers have become my secret weapon. I forgot to bring them.

That brings me to the start. I had chosen to take the DART light rail from the outskirts of Dallas into downtown and over to the AA Arena. This worked really well, although I had to factor in extra time. It also meant that I'd need to check a bag with my car keys and spare clothes. No problem; this race had a simple bag check. No problem before the race, that is. It would turn out to be a near fatal mistake afterwards. Ok, I'm overstating AND jumping ahead... but if there's one thing I'd ask the organizers to adjust, it would be the bag check. I'll come back to that.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was lined up at the start. I had run a very challenging Sunmart 50k the day before. It had beaten me up and I was certainly still dehydrated from that experience. What a difference in the weather... from 70 and 100% humidity one day to mid-30s, wet, and blustery the next. And what a difference in races... from a trail race with lots of elite, hardcore ultrarunners to a big city road marathon with tons of spectators and runners with all kinds of different goals.

Still lined up at the start. MY goal, based on how I was feeling, was simply "about 4". These days, my normal race has moved to "about 3:40" territory. But not today, and certainly not with the Impending Weather of Doom situation. So... "about 4".

Every year, Marine fighter jets from the Naval Air Station in Ft Worth (formerly Carswell Air Force Base), buzz the start. Then a couple guys on horseback fire confetti shotguns, and the race gets moving. This year, there were no fighters because of the cloud cover. Like Las Vegas, the elite women left 15-20 minutes early. Then the rain and wind blew through. As I mentioned before, it disappeared by the end of the Star Spangled Banner. Confetti shotguns, and... we were off.

I was hurting. Because of the rain before the start, I had my coat on. I was cooking by M4, so I took it off. I've run a few races with that coat wrapped around my waist. It can be annoying when it gets wet because the knot comes loose easily. So I have to fumble and retie it... then a mile later, fumble and retie, etc. That's exactly what happened in this race. I wasn't cooking anymore, but the annoyance factor was high. That didn't help the way I felt.

Potty stop by M6. Grrrr. I hit M6 right at 54 minutes. Too fast for an "about 4" goal. I slowed a little, but not dramatically.

At M8, we started the slog around the "beautiful" lake. Ugh. The organizers did the best that they could to make this part bearable (not that they consciously tried to make it "bearable": as I mentioned, the lake is viewed as the gem of the course. Not.). Plenty of aid. Music stops. Spectators. Even though the lake section was the most exposed to the blustery weather, it WAS bearable.

On the far side of the lake, I crossed M13.1 at 1:56. Still a little aggressive for "about 4". I didn't feel great, but I wasn't feeling any worse. Mostly, I just wanted to be done. I started talking to people around me to pass the time.

Unfortunately, I was running about the same pace as a guy who really wanted to tell everyone else how his day was going. This wasn't a bad thing, except that he'd surge and then drop back to us. And every time he dropped back, he seemed to develop temporary amnesia, and he'd tell us the exact same stuff, using the exact same wording. Heh. I think he was flirting with girls... which of course is a fine thing :-)... and he had developed what HE THOUGHT was a good set of lines. And so he was using them on various different women. What he didn't seem to quite grok was that these women were all in the same group. And so we got to hear about his race strategy and his problems going pee pee six different times as we went around the lake. He also talked as if he was a race expert. Too bad his insight and advice, which we heard six different times, was poor. GAH. At first, he was kind of annoying. By the third time, he was VERY annoying. But by the fifth time? Some of us were kind of getting a kick out of it. When he'd surge ahead, we'd discuss whether it was coming again. Ultimately, it was kind of sad when we all pulled away from him around M18. So much for his expertise.

At M19, it was time to make the big pull up the hill. Up and up. Spectators telling us "you're at the top!" when we totally were not. Then, at M21, we were. Midway up the hill, my group and I had hit M20 at 2:57:10. For me, this generally means that "about 4" can become "beat 4".

Dallas is a nice course because it heads downhill from M21 to the end. I checked in with my body. Still felt crummy. Still wanted to be done. Didn't feel any crummier than I had at the beginning except for the typical mummy legs. Downhill. Ok. I decided to see how close I could get to an even split, which meant a 3:52 finish. That would require a 55 minute final 10k. Downhill. Totally reasonable. For a second, I thought about pushing that... and in retrospect, I wish that I had. In the moment, though, I just decided 55 minutes was fine.

This section of the course runs down Swiss Avenue... a straight shot to downtown that crosses tons of busy streets. The police did wonderful traffic control, but the traffic was heavy, so the police were letting cars through with little room to spare. Despite the downhill, it was difficult to really speed up wondering if I'd clip the back of a moving car (I didn't).

This section is also where the half marathon course merges back in with the full. The half starts an hour after the full. Even so, by the time I hit the merge, it was mostly half walkers. Time to dodge. Like the Millennium Falcon through the asteroid field in Empire Strikes Back! Ok, not really. The end of Las Vegas and Seattle were both like that because I was running a little faster. (sorry about the Star Wars reference too)

M24 was 9:03. I started playing leap frog with a woman in white. We were both focused on finishing and we were both tired. We had words of encouragement for the people we passed, but we didn't say anything to each other. It was pretty clear that she knew we were leapfrogging.

M25 was 8:23. She took me around some walkers, and I did the same for her. And at this pace, we were now passing marathon runners as well.

M26 was 8:03. And... say it with me... it was my fastest mile of the day. I love it when I can do that.

Finished. 3:51. Certainly not the greatest day recently, but given how I felt AND remembering the 50k 24 hours before, it was very nice. It was also a nifty 1:56/1:55 negative split. Woman in white gave me a finger point attaboy (like Elvis!) and disappeared into the crowd.

Oh, and was it ever crowded. Yikes. I went into the AA Arena and down the stairs to the post-race food. Tons of food. And beer. And people. I tried to be sociable, and I tried to eat, but it was overwhelming. I learned that the elite male leader had overtaken the elite female, but then it was time to leave.

Except that it wasn't really time to leave. I went to grab my bag. They made us wait outside in a single line. By this point, the weather was taking a sharp turn downhill. 34 and windy. It felt like it was 20. I was in pants and my coat... but they were soaked with sweat. I was really cold. Everyone else was too. We waited. Finally, a half hour later, I had my bag. I was a popsicle.

And that was that. I took the light rail back to my car, ate at Taco Bueno (one of my high school memory places), and went back to my parents' house.

It was a good weekend. I experienced all forms of weather except lightning. All types of running except running on ice. And I got to bet other people who I've never met whether a third person I've also never met would say the exact same thing seven different times to seven different women.

I lost that bet.

It was a good weekend.

Next up: Yeah, it has already happened. The Christmas Marathon in Olympia. I was supposed to run this race last year, but a huge wind-and-snow storm messed up the race start/finish area, and it got moved to a day I couldn't do. Now I've done it. Don't expect great tales of running... it was super low key. Nonetheless, I'll write it up realsoonnow.

Happy Holidays... whichever holiday works for you. If none do, then please support Festivus.

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