Friday, January 25, 2008

Goals for 2008

My 2007 recap covered a bunch of odds-and-ends, but it didn't really discuss how I did with respect to my goals for last year. Briefly, I wanted to:
  • Run 50+ marathons and ultras. Done. The secret stretch-goal version of this was actually 60. Done!
  • Complete the quadzilla upright and happy. Done.
  • Set a marathon PR. Done.
  • Run a 3:30 marathon. Not done. Sigh. I tried at Kona, though in fairness I picked a really hot-n-humid race for that. I set aside revisiting this one later in the year so I could target a Feb 2008 race. More on that below. Ultimately, I'm ok with not hitting this goal. These goals are in order, and it was my lowest priority. I did all the others, including achieving the secret stretch goal.
My training for 2007 was organized around those goals too... I chunked the year by season:
  • Winter (Jan-Mar) was base-building. I needed to get back into every-weekend running shape after my layoff.
  • Spring (Mar-June) involved a lot more speedwork so that I could try to Go Fast at Kona. It helped me PR in May and again at the beginning of June, but I spontaneously combusted in my goal race. I did not try again because it was time for the summer workouts.
  • Summer (June-Sept) was monster base building so that I could happily survive quadzilla. Lots and lots of miles. In retrospect, I should have kept some speedwork, but I did not. The week of quadzilla, I ran 130 miles. Lots of time and shoes went in to getting me ready for this.
  • October was specified as "recovery" month because I had run 11 marathons in September. I ran six marathons during recovery month, including one of my sub-3:40s. Er... yes, that's recovery. Right?
  • The rest of fall (Nov-Dec) was the introduction of speedwork again to get me ready for the February goal race: The National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer.
So, what about 2008? Well, I've vowed not to travel nearly as much this year. And I won't be targeting "x" marathons and ultras. Let's go with a few time-specific goals and one that is not. As always, these are prioritized... the first ones are more important to me than the last ones.
  • Run a 1:30 half.
  • Run a 3:30 full. If I can achieve the previous goal, then theoretically a bit more training would get me to a 3:05-3:10 marathon. I'd be pleased as punch to beat 3:30.
  • Run 3:45 or better in the Kona Marathon. Not my 3:30 target this year... but my best previous time here is 3:52.
  • Run a sub-20 5k. I haven't done that in years.
  • Finish the states. I have run a marathon in 47 different states. I still need Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Illinois. The problem is that these states don't have many choices, and it looks like all of them are in the fall. I may or may not get to them this year, but I'd like to finish.
Goal races:
  • Assuming the weather is good, I'll try for 3:30 at The National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer on 2/17. Second chance will be Eugene on 5/4.
  • Kona and 3:45 on 6/29.
  • Skagit Flats is a full and a half in mid-September. I don't know yet whether I will try for the 3:30 full or the 1:30 half there.
  • I need to find another couple halves in the fall.
Like Kona, there are a couple other races where I've attached a goal time. Unlike Kona, these aren't quite as important to me... but they'd still be nice to achieve: Lake Youngs Ultra in June ("beat 5") and Haulin Aspen in August (4:15).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2007: The year in review

Marathons and ultras completed in 2007: 64

Actually, I started my year with the Disney Half on 1/6/07. I ran the Mississippi Blues Marathon on 1/5/08... so I managed 65 marathons and ultras in one year.

I PRed at the marathon distance twice. I ran my first 3 50ks ever and my first (and perhaps only, heh) 50 miler.

A "double" is what I call a weekend where I run two races of marathon distance or longer. In 2007, I ran 14 doubles. I also ran one triple (3 in 3 days), and the elusive quadzilla (4 in 4 days). Quadzilla was cool because the 4th race was my fastest of that weekend. Then again, the first three races utilized very hard courses... the third day was also icy..., and the course for the 4th race was a simple, flat out-and-back. One other person, Maniac Brian, completed the Quadzilla in 2007. As far as I know, we were it.

One goal I had for this year was breaking 4 hours in both races of a double... or, for a weekend where the first race was an ultra, breaking 4 in the second race. I was able to do this in 9 of those 14 doubles.

Towards the end of the year, I also managed two "negative split" doubles - weekends where I broke 4 in both races AND ran the second race faster than the first race.

I did this in November at the Seattle Ghost (3:37) and the regular Seattle Marathon (3:36). I did it again the following weekend at Death Valley (3:48) and Las Vegas (3:40). 4 marathons in 9 days... two negative split doubles.

I ran 11 marathons in one month. September: two doubles, one triple, and the quadzilla.

Of the 64, 6 were ultras. Of the remaining 58 marathons...
  • I beat 3:40 7 times.
  • I beat 3:45 (inclusive) 9 times.
  • I beat 3:50 (inclusive) 18 times.
  • I beat 4:00 (inclusive) 36 times.
On the surface, 36 out of 58 is a bit lower than I wanted, but most of the 22 times that I was on the high side of four, there were obvious reasons. A few times (like Glass City and the second two races of my triple), I was just running the miles and had no intention of beating 4. Many times, the race was significantly harder than the typical marathon... Bataan, Crater Lake (my vote for hardest road marathon in the US), Haulin Aspen, Estes Park, the Tahoe Triple, and two of the three hardest races I've ever done of any distance: the Mid Mountain Marathon and the Volcano Marathon.

I'm very happy with beating 3:40 7 times. True, I did NOT beat 3:40 51 times. But 3:30-3:40 was the top end for my level of fitness in 2007... and I got there quite a few times. I'd rather run 7 races in that range while doing 64 total than only attempting one or two marathons during the year. Perhaps I could have run a 3:15-3:20 by only doing one or two. And perhaps the weather would have been bad that day, or I would have been sick, or... who knows? I liked running 64. And beating 3:40 7 times made me feel good. So did my 4:04 at Bataan :-). So did helping the guy at Disney on my way to a 4:40. So did my 5:38 at Mid Mountain because I didn't die. And I beat 5 at Volcano. Every day is different.

That said, there were a few races where I absolutely should have beaten four and did not. Most of these were at the beginning of the year when I wasn't in the shape I wanted to be in: Carlsbad (4:01), Pacific Shoreline (4:04), and Cowtown (also 4:04 in 50 mph wind). There was also my craptacular 4:40 at Disney BUT part of that time was spent helping a poor soul to first aid.

The two races where I PRed were Palos Verdes (3:36, which I'd hit again twice later in the year) and San Juan Island (3:34). Both of these are considered hilly, difficult courses. Aside from these races, I was most proud of these:
  • Bataan. I ran a 4:04 on a very challenging course.
  • Bayshore. I ran a 3:39 and served as the totally unofficial pace group leader for some gals who needed 3:40 to qualify for Boston. Check my picture here.
  • Air Force. I ran a 3:44, but my time was unimportant. I ditched the pink in favor of a shirt honoring my dad.
  • Seattle. I ran a 3:36 (within 90 seconds of my PR) on the second day of a double and banished my Seattle Marathon demons.
I was most disappointed, by far, with my performance at Kona (3:55). That was my goal race for the summer and I really wanted to beat 3:30. I didn't.

I had to skip various races throughout the year. Real-life has a habit of asserting itself at odd times, like when one of my dogs ate his leash in February. I had to skip my first double so I could take care of him. I made the right choice. I skipped several local races throughout the year because I was lazy :-). Ok, really, I was exhausted. It's hard to run this much. So sometimes, I didn't get up. I had to skip Richmond because I was deathly ill. And then I packed it in early in December.

70 would have been doable, I suppose. But really? 65 (or 64 for strictly 2007) is pretty cool. Combined with the 36 I ran in 2006, and I managed 100 marathons and ultras in two years.

How about 2008? I'll write up some goals in my next post.

Friday, January 18, 2008

1/12,13/08 My third and final Goofy (part 2)

If you haven't yet read part one of my Goofy report, consider starting there.

After the half, I did a whole lot of nothing. Because of the middle-of-the-night shuttle schedule, the day of the half generally consists of "run", "eat", "take a nap", "watch TV", "eat", "be a zombie", "eat", "eat", and finally "get ready for bed, after eating". No park visits, no runs around Port Orleans' river (the Sassagoula!). Just eating and resting.

Time for the full. As I mentioned in part one, I've never broken 4:00 in a Florida Marathon. All my Florida marathons have been the second day of something else: two Goofys, one PT Cruiser Challenge (a 15k and a 5k on Saturday, followed by the Tampa Marathon on Sunday), and my very first double (Tybee Island GA and Ocala FL). Until the middle of 2007, I wasn't in good enough shape to beat 4 on the second day of racing. I wanted to beat four in this year's Goofy... but I had run really hard in the half, and the weather felt like 200% humidity. Hmmm.

Still though, as I got to the corral an hour before the full, I felt pretty good. I ran into a guy I know from the Clif Bar pace team - Pacer Chris, who leads the 3:10 group. Well, I wouldn't be running with him today :-), but it was nice to see him. "Beat 4" seemed like a reasonable goal.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Disney has fireworks at the beginning... which I've barely noticed in years past because they start at the rear corral (boom!) and move forward (boom!) as everyone counts down to zero. I've always been in the front corral, and so I've only marginally been aware of what was happening behind. However, this year, I was switched to the second start... and this starting line is 100 yards or so behind the other one. So for the first time, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GOOOO!! was a really awesome experience.

Oh yeah, both starting lines have huge flame throwers that shoot up into the air a few times... like the Wizard of Oz!!!... as folks go beneath them. The guys beside me told me to wait until we got next to the other start. Sure enough, we passed it just as the flames went up. It was HOT. Ha... how fun. Maybe not as nifty as all the hoopla at the beginning of Las Vegas, but then again maybe so. Very cool in any case. And it surely woke me up.

My favorite section of both of these races is Magic Kingdom. Even though runners pass by lots of fans at the starting lines, a few bands, and EPCOT, everything before Magic Kingdom's transportation center is dark... and lots of lonely highway. Well, aside from several thousand close running buddies. I vaguely remember the first miles through EPCOT.

M3.5, the merge. We came to the merge, where the other start/course combines with this one. In prior years, this was congested and kind of a pain. Not this year, because they assigned all the faster people to the same start. So when our side hit the merge, there were only a few people (slow elites and/or blazers assigned to the wrong corral) merging. Woohoo.

I do remember the first band. Disney has all kinds of music stations. Many are recorded songs blasting over speakers. Some are professional Disney bands. A few, like this one, are marching bands from local high schools. They were playing Smoke on the Water... a song I'd heard several times during the half and would hear several times today. And... well... it was really good! I don't know who had the bright idea of arranging this song for marching bands, but it works. I don't remember hearing this song from marching bands when I was younger; this seems to be a recent thing. I liked it. Of course, I grinned from ear to ear because, like Stairway to Heaven, Smoke on the Water is precisely the song that aspiring guitarists use to annoy their parents, SOs, roommates, and neighbors. Danh danh danhhh, danh danh da-danhhh, danh danh danhhh, DA DA. Ad infinitum. This song would be my special friend during this race.

M8, the Magic Kingdom parking lot. For the last couple of years, this parking lot has had an interesting "fork in the road" section. Runners can bear left or bear right. On one side, the runner hears one style of music. On the other, they play a different style. The problem is that there's only one tiny little sign listing the two choices, and I can't read this sign until I've already committed. During the half, this wasn't an issue. I was so focused on GO FAST that I just followed the person ahead of me. We all did that. Apparently the choices had been "Disco" and "Heavy Metal", and we all went Heavy Metal. Which, if I recall, meant Van Halen (!?!).

Anyway. The choices for the full were 80s music (woohoo) and country (blah). Of course, I managed to be on the country side when I got there. Yeehaw.

BUT. It was time for best part of the whole race. Entering the transportation center, runners were greeted by a solid half mile of spectators 10-deep shouting wildly. I didn't pay attention during the half... but for the full? I was high fiving and saying hello and giving the shaka to anyone who yelled my name. The course paralleled the monorail (Simpsons: monorail! monorail! monorail!), went by the Contemporary resort and then... time for Magic Kingdom.

The course plows through a backlot area. A few Disney folks were cheering here, but just a few. However, we could hear it. From somewhere... cheering. Tons of cheering. I could feel it too - perhaps because I knew what was coming. We went through a gate and here it was: Main Street. With THOUSANDS of people cheering. The scene of yesterday's Saving Private Ryan altered time/space moment. Somewhere behind the cheering, I could hear bands playing Disney songs.

I got choked up. Really. I don't remember this happening before. Maybe it was because I was having a good running weekend. Maybe it was because I knew this was the last time I'd be part of this experience, at least for a few years. Tears. It is indeed a small world.

After all.

The course veered to the right off of Main Street and into Tomorrowland. Then a hairpin turn by one of the Disney professional bands. I have no idea what they were playing, but this was no high school band. Teacups... hello again, Alice in Wonderland. High five from Aladdin's Genie.

The castle. As I entered the castle, we got a fanfare from the trumpeteers up on top. Cool.

Adventureland. I still don't know who those bears are.

And it was time to say goodbye to Magic Kingdom by running through another backlot near M11. Sniff. Seriously, this is the best part of these races, and it isn't even close. Uh oh, potty stop. Disney is kind of cheap regarding certain aspects of these races (come on, aggregate the Goofy results!), but it does not scrimp on potties. Which was nice at this particular juncture.

And, we're off. Hello, Mary Poppins and the Dick Van Dyke lookalike. Onward... I hit M13.1 at 1:53. Huh. Well, I was certainly on pace to beat 4... but was I running too fast? I felt alright. Ok, I knew I wasn't going to run a negative split, so 3:45 was out. I decided to go with "beat 3:50".

And, as I mentioned in yesterday's report, it was time to navigate a section that is almost universally despised. Except by me and a few others :-). The water treatment plant! The composting facility! Have a magical day! Those who knew what was coming alerted those who did not. (The movie Total Recall: "Get ready for a surprise!") I laughed and mentioned outloud that I liked this section. And sure enough, another guy nearby turned around and gave us a "me too!"

I was having a much more sociable experience than yesterday's half.

M14. We passed Mickey's Magical Waste Treatment Center without incident. And the 3:50 pace group, which was pretty big, passed me. In fact, they smoked me. This was odd, because I knew they had started BEHIND ME, so based on their chip time, they seemed to be running more of a 3:40-3:45 clip. And no one was yelling at the pace leader, so... I guess that's what they wanted to do? Well, more on that in a second. Anyway, I was trying to beat 3:50, and they blew by me like I was walking.

M15. Time for Animal Kingdom. As much as I love this park, running the marathon section through here has always been a subdued experience. This is where everyone is starting to get tired, and there aren't many spectators. This year was no different. Plus, everyone who has done this race before knows what comes next - the most boring part of the race: M18-M22's highway miles. The most exciting part is seeing others going the other way in the out-and-back between M20 and M21. So, as we passed through Animal Kingdom, many of us were putting on our best game faces.

The boring section was... boring. I found a couple folks to chat with. Two somewhat interesting things happened in here. First, we were playing leapfrog with a dude wearing a red speedo. And ONLY a red speedo. Yikes. My little ad hoc group picked it up a little to lose him. By the time we were coming back on the out-and-back section, we saw him headed out. The good news was that we gained about a mile on Mr Put-it-out-there. The bad news was that now we had to look at him from the front for a second.

At M21, we saw the 3:50 pace leader. He no longer had his balloons. I noticed him because he was taking off his Clif Bar Pace Team shirt. Whoops. As I passed him, it looked like he was gonna jog it in. Whoops. But most oddly, that big pack of people that he'd dusted me with earlier was nowhere to be found. I don't know if they continued together way ahead of their planned pace, or if I was now passing people who had gone out too fast.

M21.2. Right turn up another highway towards MGM. I told one of the guys I was running with that things would get more interesting at MGM and we'd probably speed up... or minimally, time would pass faster. My thoughts would be true for me... I sped up in the last miles... but, that was the last I saw of him. Sorry, ad hoc running buddy.

M22. Double right turn into MGM's parking lot. Gotta love Disney parking lots. I saw many of them. We entered a backlot area... an area that is used on the behind-the-scenes ride. There's a tunnel through a Disney costume area. Just on the other side, M23. Hello, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers! Shortly past that, through the gate and onto MGM's version of "main street" - the faux 40s Manhattan area. Cool! Hello, sexy ladies in 1940s garb and big hats! Onward, through the front of MGM and over to the boardwalk area.

M24. Tons of spectators as we curved around the boardwalk. Lots of shakas and high fives. As I had told the guy back on the highway, the energy of this section made the time pass faster. And my pace picked up a little. I was passing a lot of people who were walking with their hands on their hips. I remember doing that last year. Humidity. Over a bridge and into EPCOT.

M25. This was a repeat mile from the beginning of the race, but now it was light outside. Not many spectators in EPCOT besides Disney employees (sorry - "cast members"). The lands were fun, though, and this was the last mile. I tried to make the last mile my fastest.

Around and around the lands. Why these countries? I mean... England, France, Germany, China, Japan, and the US make sense. But why Norway? And why... Morocco??? Still cool. Besides, faux Norway has a really hilarious ride. And a movie. "Nahhhhr-whey".

Around the front of EPCOT... a repeat of the last mile in the half... into a backlot area.

M26. Giant choir. What a nice place for this group! I was sprinting.

Thousands of spectators welcomed me back. I think I got announced. I don't remember. By chip time, I had just run a 3:47. WOOHOO for me. The last mile wasn't my fastest, but it was my 3rd fastest. A nice 1:53/1:54 split.

The happiest race on earth. My last Goofy for now. It was a nice way to go out, too. My total Goofy time was 5:24, over an hour faster than 2007 and 28 minutes faster than 2006.

Next up: right now, I'm registered for an obscure race outside of Orlando in early February. We'll see. Before that, I'll post a summary of 2007's races.

Check again realsoonnow. Aloha.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

1/12,13/08 My third and final Goofy (part 1)

2008 marked the 15th year of the Walt Disney World Marathon. Once upon a time, they offered a full and half marathon concurrently. Those who ran the full marathon got (and still get) a medal that looks like Mickey Mouse's head. Those who ran the half got (and still get) a medal that looks like Donald Duck. Pretty cool, although this means that the organizers don't have to be creative about medal designs each year.

Three years ago, they decided to split it up: the half marathon would be held on Saturday, and the full on Sunday. This was good news for runners because the events had gotten overly crowded. Of course, really this was a financial move by Disney (EVERYTHING about these races has $ as motivation)... it allowed them to sign up more folks.

When they split the races in 2006, someone in the Disney org had the bright idea of promoting "The Goofy Challenge" - a runner could sign up for BOTH races and get an extra Goofy medal. Apparently, they expected a few hundred people would sign up, and they were surprised by the interest. They closed it at 3,000. They expanded the field for 2007, and the Goofy sold out just as quickly. For 2008, they finally decided to offer a special Goofy shirt (there hadn't been one previously) in addition to the medal. And for the first time, they charged a premium for Goofy. The first two years, Goofy was the same price as the two races added together. In 2008, it cost more. Yippee. And it still sold out practically immediately. Mind you, Goofy is not a competition. There are no extra awards, and no age groups. They don't even aggregate results. But the Goofy runner gets that extra medal, extra shirt, and special bibs... and Goofy folks get a few more shout-outs. It's pretty cool.

It must be cool. Considering the prices they charge and the logistical pain in the ass of these races, something must be good about them. It's not just that Orlando is almost as far away from Seattle as one can travel within the continental US. It is true that if the runner stays on Disney property, the shuttle bus system is efficient. But both of these races start at 6a, and they want folks there by 4a. They encourage people on property to take the 3a shuttle. 3a! This means, for me at least, getting up at 2a. My west coast body thinks I'm getting up at 11p. Getting up. At 11p. Goofy is two loooong days.

Meanwhile, these races are NOT wall-to-wall theme park. About 4 miles of the half and 8 miles of the full are in the parks. The rest... the majority... of the races are on highways and through parking lots. The highway sections could be from races just about anywhere.

And I've been to all three editions of Goofy. They really are cool. The runner is well cared for. The entertainment is top notch. And while there aren't spectators throughout the courses, they ARE thick AND LOUD through the theme parks. Running down Main Street in Magic Kingdom as the sun comes up and hundreds of people are cheering is really special. Yes, "main street" is fake. Yes, the real crowds at something like NYCM are a different thing. But Disney is ELECTRIC... I even got a little choked up this year a couple of times. More on that later.

So, like I said, I've been to all three. When I did the first Goofy in 2006, I had not yet run a double (two marathons in a weekend). I had run one half/full combination in preparation for Goofy... but I still showed up nervous and probably undertrained for the experience. Plus it was 30 degrees and blowing wind both days. It was pretty neat, but standing for two popsicle-cold hours before each race was not fun. Here is my report from that year. Additionally, I was sick with a sinus infection and bronchitis for that weekend, although I didn't really know it until afterwards. I struggled to a 1:50/4:01 finish in those races. My half time disappointed me; I had no idea how I'd do in the full, so my time seemed ok - but I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I didn't run for several weeks after Goofy I.

Goofy II in 2007 was a night-and-day experience compared to 2006. It was 75-80 degrees all weekend. Bright blue skies. And 100% humidity. This made waiting before the races much more pleasant. But the races themselves? Not so much. I did make it onto the big screen before the half (showing my Mickey temporary tattoo) and I got interviewed before the full (which was where I went on record that I was going to run 50+ marathons in 2007). I split my report for these races into three posts: an expo/prep report, the half report, and the full report. I stayed healthy for the weekend, but my times were still disappointing: 1:48/4:40. In fairness, the 4:40 included some time where I helped a person to a first aid station... but I was toast in that race. It really kicked my ass.

I had done Goofy I just to do it. I returned to Goofy II because I had been sick at the first one, and I wanted a do-over. But my do-over stunk. So I wanted a do-over-over. And that brings us to Goofy III. I told myself when I registered that no matter how I did, this would be my final Goofy for awhile. It was nice being involved since the beginning. And I learned that Disney put together a really nice plaque for everyone who had done all 15 Disneyworld Marathons. Maybe some day, they'd do the same for the Goofy people. But it's just TOO expensive and logistically painful for me to do it every year. Plus there are other wonderful races in January. This would be it. The finale. At least for awhile. Never say never.

I'll skip all the intro and setup info for the races. I stayed on Disney property at Port Orleans, same as the previous two years. I got claustrophobic at the expo and marveled at the high prices, same as the previous two years.

Goofy III's weather was going to be a lot like Goofy II, but a little cooler: 65-70 degrees and 100% humidity. Yuck. However, I was in much better shape this year than I was last year, even with my December/January blahs.

My last Goofy. I decided I'd base my goals on what my body felt like each morning, but secretly I wanted to be semi-aggressive: PR the half and beat 4 in the full. In isolation, beating 4 in a full is conservative for me now. Even beating 4 on the second day of a double is doable in many situations. But I had never beaten 4 at a Florida race, plus it was going to be humid, and I'd really be sucking wind if I truly managed to PR the previous day. So in this instance, "beat 4" felt aggressive.

My last Goofy. I've described the courses in detail previously, but here are summary descriptions.

The half: This course is fairly fast, and by far the more boring of the two races. It is a balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back that takes runners up from EPCOT, though Magic Kingdom, and back to EPCOT. Miles outside of these parks are highway miles. Easy peasy. The course is NOT completely flat thanks to several bridges and one nifty underpass, but it is mostly flat. The race starts at 6a... lots of running in the dark.

The full: This course is a loop. The start is an interesting affair: two different start lines with corrals. Each start covers a different course before everything merges around M4. After making this complicated for two years, the organizers finally did it the easy way: the corrals for one start held people who were theoretically faster than the corrals for the other start. The elites actually started in front of the slower-start corrals. Depending on which start the runner was assigned, those first miles either went through the front of EPCOT (for the slower folks and elites) or the lands/countries in the back (faster folks). The back was more interesting... but it would also repeat later in the race as M25. They corralled differently in prior years, and although I had always been in the "second fastest non-elite" corral, I was on the side that hit the front of EPCOT. This year, I was in the "fastest non-elite" corral, and I moved to other side. So I got to see the back. Cool. Finally, I can say that I've seen everything these races have to offer :-).

After circling through EPCOT, the next section of the full is identical to the beginning of the half: up the highways, over some bridges, through the Magic Kingdom's transportation center (tons of spectators here) and through Magic Kingdom. This is my favorite part of the whole course. There are tons of spectators at all the parks, but the Disney employees and characters seem more welcoming at Magic Kingdom - and there's a very nifty band. Also, trumpets salute runners as they enter the castle. Woohoo! Then, instead of returning to EPCOT, the full heads down a different road past Mickey's Magical Waste Treatment Plant and The Happiest Compost Facility on Earth (hold your nose!). After that treat... and really? This part of the course totally cracks me up... runners head through the middle of Animal Kingdom. Exiting Animal Kingdom around M18, the next four miles are the most boring of the race. Highway miles that seem to go nowhere, with a little out-and-back (M20-M21) just to stir things up. After this, the rest of the race is next to wall-to-wall spectators and cool theme park sites. First MGM (which, huh, is no longer called MGM), then the Disney boardwalk area, then finally back through EPCOT's lands to the finish.

My last Goofy. Each day was very different.

Half day dawned, and I felt a little achy. After going through the whole "3a shuttle then wait for 2 1/2 hours" experience, we started on time at 6a. I had been placed in the first corral, which was quite long and skinny. Somehow I got too close to the front, and when I decided to back up, it was too crowded to do so. Shades of last week in Mississippi. I went out fast, but not too fast. Well, maybe. My half PR was 1:44 - 8:00/mile pace. However, this PR was from 2005 and I have been doing much faster speedwork since then. I decided to try to settle in between 7:20-7:30/mile.

The early miles clicked by in the dark. I was focused on my pace... I've run so many marathons between 8:15-8:45/mile that I didn't want to go on autopilot and settle in at my marathon pace. I wasn't talking to people and as I entered the transportation center, I noticed that I had an odd, detached vibe with the spectators. By the time I entered Main Street in Magic Kingdom, this feeling became much more pronounced.

Some people speak of "runner's high". I've noticed that I get two wholly different feelings associated with flow, and I don't know that either one is really a "high". The first one is associated with a race where everything goes perfectly and the miles roll by with seemingly less effort than other races. This was NOT what I was feeling during this half. I was very conscious that I was pushing things. The second feeling is that whole Saving Private Ryan thing where, in the middle of a loud, chaotic situation, everything seems to go silent (or ambient sounds are replaced by a rush of air noise) and into slow motion. This is what happened to me, and it was weird but quite cool. Main Street was jam packed with spectators cheering at jet engine decibel levels. But as I turned onto the street, everything slowed down. I saw people rooting, but I heard basically nothing except my own breathing and footfalls. A little further down the street, it ended. Everything sped back up and it got loud!


We turned off of Main Street, curved through Tomorrowland and by an awesome Disney band, by the teacups (hello Alice in Wonderland!), and then came back through the castle. Danger! Danger! This is the one part of this race where I seem to play runner dodgeball every year. When exiting the castle, at least during the half, it is still kind of dark. There is a small army of race photographers squatting here and all their strobe flashes in the dark are blinding. Meanwhile, there is a series of 90 degree turns to negotiate. The problem is that some runners kind of lose their brains and come to a dead stop to pose - it is a very unique spot on the course. Who wouldn't want a nice picture of themselves with that castle in the background? Alas, I seem to be right behind the person who stops. Every year. I have to ole! around people. And this year, I was running fast. In fact, I had gotten caught up in my whole Saving Private Ryan moment and the great band... and I had run this mile in 7:05 (though I didn't know that until I checked my splits later). Uh oh. Would I be able to ole! in time??

And... no one got in my way. Turned out that at this pace, the course wasn't exactly crowded :-).

Through the zigzag, down through Adventureland (I was tangentially aware of the cowboys and cowgirls and... weird bears I don't remember from childhood), and we exited Magic Kingdom.

"Say, do you remember all those neat signs after Magic Kingdom?" My friend Lauri (nickname: PSA) also did The Goofy and she asked me later about these signs. Apparently, there were dozens of little signs, the size of Open House signs, stuck in the ground with cute sayings and jokes.

"No, I didn't see any of them."

I must have been focused.

This was the out-and-back section and I did notice the sea of humanity headed the other direction into Magic Kingdom. Around M10, I was passing a few folks who had gone out too fast for the humid morning. And I realized that there were only a handful of people running this section with me.

I caught one runner and he sped up to stay ahead of me. Weird. I caught him again, and he sped up again.

Oh my. Someone was racing me! Not just the clock... this was a dude who did not want to be beaten by me and my pink shirt. Huh. I messed with him a few times just to see if he'd keep sprinting, but I quickly lost interest. I was barely hanging on to my pace. He "won". A couple people passed me in this section and I watched surgy sprinter guy race them.

Back into EPCOT, around the corner, through a backlot and wooosh. Finish line.

1:36. A new half PR for me, by 8 minutes. This means I was more than a mile ahead of my old PR.

That's what I'm talking about!

Depending on your own experience, a 1:36 might or might not seem fast. But it is for me. And it was on that day - I finished 196th out of 12,288. Granted, a lot of those people were walking. Still cool for me.

This is as good a place as any to state one of my goals for 2008... I plan on running fewer fulls and a whole lot more halves. The half is my favorite distance and I want to break 1:30 this year. I'm pretty sure that in cooler/drier conditions, I can run a 1:33-1:35 now. So we'll see.

Part two of this report (here) covers the full.

Next up: I'm not 100% sure. I am doing an obscure marathon in Orlando on February 2nd. Depending on how I feel, I might find something before that. We'll see. In any case, check back for part 2 of this report.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

1/5/08 Mississippi Blues Marathon

"I am going to take a break from being a Maniac for an indefinite period."
It would seem that this period was three weeks :-). Here I was at the beginning of January in Jackson, Mississippi to run a marathon. One thing that I did not write in my December finale post was a note about my health: I wasn't feeling so hot during December. As I began to feel better, I decided to refocus my energies. There is absolutely no way that I am going to run 50+ marathons again this year, but I think I can work on being a better person while also running some marathons. I spent a couple weeks coming up with good goals for 2008, which I will save for a later post. Two things are relevant to this writeup, though: 1) I decided that as long as I felt up to it, I'd go ahead and do races I'd already planned and paid for, and 2) I really want to finish the states this year.

At the end of 2007, I had completed 46 states... so close. Originally, I was going to complete the state circuit in early 2007 at Mississippi. Not because Mississippi holds special meaning for me... that's just how the calendar was working out. However, my entire fall schedule in 2006 got wiped out and I missed some states. When I decided to go for as many races as possible in 2007, I had to set aside the states again... all the remaining states had their races on weekends when there were too many other easier choices for doubles and triples. I picked up a couple states during 2007 (New York and Pennsylvania), which left me sitting on 46.

It turns out that the last states are hard to complete because they tend to be the ones that don't have many races. Mississippi has three marathons and at least one ultra, and I have had a weird history with the state. One of the marathons is on Thanksgiving weekend near Waveland. This is on the coast. I was registered for the 2005 edition, but Katrina wiped out Waveland. They held the race anyway, but I didn't go. Another marathon, Tupelo, is held on Labor Day weekend. I was signed up in 2006, but it got smacked by cancer buddy duties. The third marathon has been held in January along the Natchez Trace outside of Jackson. I was registered for this in 2006, but I got sick doing the Goofy on the weekend before, so I skipped that one too.

This year, the organizers of that January Natchez Trace race canceled it in favor of organizing a much bigger urban race in Jackson. They called it "The Mississippi Blues Marathon", and promoted it heavily. Running inaugural races is always risky, but I really wanted to check off Mississippi... and the other two race weekends (Labor Day and Thanksgiving) aren't good for me. So I signed up.

Jackson is the capital of the state, and while it isn't a huge place, it could be considered a city. It is not near the coast so it can be cold in January. And it is hilly. The race website... which annoyingly plays loud music when you open it, so be warned... mentioned that the course would have challenging hills. Oh yes. It's always funny when a race downplays its hills by calling it "moderately challenging" so as not to scare off potential registrants. This race just said it up front: gonna be hard.

I don't know much about Jackson, but the course seemed to work in most of the city's sights. Starting and ending in the "historical Fondren district", the course was essentially a shamrock design: three different loops... although the third loop had a seriously boring but flat out-and-back in the middle.

The start through M4 made a loop through the Fondren area. M4-M11 made a loop through downtown, by the state capitol building, and back near the start/finish. They had a concurrent half marathon, and M11 was where the half marathoners peeled off towards finish. Marathoners went another direction. After zigzagging through a neighborhood, the course dumped out on a highway for the M13-M18.5 out and back. The remaining miles circled through some nice neighborhoods before ultimately repeating the last couple of miles from the first loop and finishing back in Fondren.

Hilly! The roly polies began right at the start and kept going until the 5.5 miles of out and back. This section was considered "flat". It was not pancake flat, but in comparison to everything else, it was close. M18.5 until the end was roly poly once again... including a serious up from M25 until the end. I've run a few courses with uphill finishes (Seafair, for example), and this was challenging. Just as they advertised.

For everyone who finished under 4 hours, the weather was perfect for racing... 45-50 degrees and partly cloudy, then overcast in the final hour. The breeze blew a bit, but because the course was a series of loops, it was never a headwind for all that long. Around the 4 hour mark, the wind got a bit stronger and it drizzled some. All in all, though, the weather was great.

So, PR day for me, right? In fact, my last marathon was the Christmas Marathon three weeks prior. This meant I had done my first official full-length taper in over a year. PR day! Right?

Oh, heck no. And this was ok... I did not attempt to run this race as a PR. In fact, because I wasn't at my best during December, let's just say that I wasn't feeling fresh as my alarm went off on race morning. My goals for the day in descending order of importance were: 1) finish upright, 2) have fun, 3) mix in some faster running, 4) "about 3:45" if I felt up to it and "beat 4" if not.

I honestly wasn't sure if I'd beat 4, and I wasn't sure how exactly to go about checking off "have fun". Running is supposed to be both hard and fun for me. I wasn't feeling terribly sociable, so I knew that this race wasn't going to be about meeting lots of people. Have fun. Hmmm. Maybe I'd sing songs.

Five minutes before the start, I was standing in the big corral with everyone. I had found my spot about where I thought the midpack should be... but as people started filling in, no one wanted to step in front of me. Everyone was lining up waaaay back from the starting line. So there I was in my first race after ditching a few, and I was standing at the front with some very fast looking men and women. The crowd behind us started pushing towards the line. I went. The governor of Mississippi talked. Last time I saw that guy was on TV after Katrina. Now he was about 10 feet away from me. Prayer. Star Spangled Banner. Oh crap, I was up front. Gun.

And we were off. I re-prayed the "please don't trample me prayer". This is, of course, St Encierro's area (who? just google "encierro" and you'll get it). Aside from the potential of getting tripped and cursed at, what happens to midpackers who start up front? Right. They go out too fast.

Because of my December, I wasn't exactly sure what "too fast" was, but my first miles were 7:47, 8:08, 7:58, 8:14, 8:04. So my body was apparently trying to run a 3:30 marathon through the hills. I thought about this for a bit. I had actually kept some reasonable speedwork in my routine during the "taper". And running a 3:30 marathon has been a goal on the near horizon. However, I had been sick and not terribly focused. Also, factoring in the week of the Christmas Marathon, my miles had been way down. That's what should happen during taper, of course, but I'd been doing low miles for at least one week longer than a typical taper.

M6 was 8:14, up a serious bugger of a hill. M7 was 9:51. Potty stop, of the "there are no portapotties, so let's swing through the bus station" variety. And going into the men's room at the greyhound station while wearing pink? Risky. Sure enough, I took some lighthearted grief from a guy in there. But I did what needed to be done.

Afterwards, there were no more 8ish miles. My body settled into the 8:45 range. If I could hold this, "about 3:45" would be reasonable. However, with no runs over 16 miles in the past 3 weeks, I still didn't know what would happen.

I chugged into the out-and-back at M13... and hit the half split at 1:51. Because I had slowed down and had no plans of speeding up, I knew that I wouldn't be running (nor attempting to run) a negative split. I also knew that it wouldn't be even - so no 3:42. But 3:45 was still conceivable.

Around M14.5 as I was still headed out, on the other side of the highway coming back was Mr 50-in-50-in-50, Sam Thompson. He was 2.5 miles in front of me. He hollered encouragement at me. How cool. And helpful... because this out-and-back was supremely boring. Luckily, it was not that long. The flat helped me keep my pace, but I didn't make up any time. I made the big turn at M18.5 still holding on to the 8:45ish pace. Barely.

Through some neighborhoods... and this is a good place to mention the spectators. There were tons! Jackson is not a huge city, and once the half marathoners finished, there were only about 400 of us spread over the last miles of the full course. It was early on a Saturday morning. And the city showed up. How cool. I saw more spectators in Jackson cheering on 400 people than I usually see at Seattle or Honolulu cheering thousands.

M22 was where my leg muscles finally told my brain "ok, dude, I thought we were taking some time off." I've hit the dreaded wall before... the glycogen depletion wall. This wasn't that. My legs just felt like someone came up and hit them with a hammer. I've been through this before too - this is what it feels like when I haven't been putting in lots of miles. My pace immediately went from 8:45 to 9:25. I was able to hold it steady for the rest of the race, including up the BIG GIANT HILL in the last mile. However, it was enough for 3:45 to slowly slip away.

There was no mile marker for M26, but I turned a corner and the finish line was right there.

...and from Seattle, Robert Lopez.

Cool, I got announced. As I was plodding to the finish, I saw the clock switch from 3:47 to 3:48. And that's how I finished. 3:48.

I survived. I was upright. And while 3:48 is a little beyond "about 3:45" (my cut-off is 3:47), it was okay. I honestly had no idea going into this race what I might run. And I certainly went out too fast... I finished with a glorious 1:51/1:57 split.

Did I have fun? Frankly, not enough. I was happy to finish a race I said I would do. Skipping races sucks.

Next up: it's time for my third and final Goofy. I'm still not sure that I will run both races at Goofy, so check back and see went down. Hopefully it won't be me :-).

In the meantime, I'll also write up a summary for 2007 and my goals for 2008.

Have fun. Be a better person. Stuff like that.