Monday, February 11, 2008

2/10/08 Valentine Marathon

Bob Green is a guy who puts on lots of very low key races south of Seattle. A great many local Maniacs have Bob to thank for bumping our counts up. The Valentine Marathon, the Easter Marathon, the Halloween Marathon, and the Christmas Marathon are all Bob's "holiday" races that he manages at a state park near Olympia. Actually, I'll amend that. Maniacs consider these to be Bob's holiday races. He also does a half-only event around the fourth of July, and maybe near other holidays. Additionally, he directs the Gateway to the Pacific Marathon in late September (it used to be July) at a different park.

But wait, there's more. Marathon days also offer up a half, a 10 miler, a 10k, a 5k, a one miler, and either a duathlon or a triathlon later in the day.

That's a ton of stuff. The races are rarely crowded... and with good reason. The organization is, shall we say, lax. He's actually gotten a little better over the past couple years. And once you've done a couple Bob Green races, you know what to expect (example: always check the time they record for you at the end if you care). Last year, he had Maniac Tony measure, mark, and certify his main marathon course. This was very cool. Of course, he doesn't always use that course. He has two different out-and-back courses. And sometimes, he only puts aid out to the half marathon turn around and has full marathoners do this course twice. Needless to say, there's always some poking and ribbing about Bob's races. "Where everyone is a winner!"

Every time I show up for a Bob Green race, there's a prospective 50 stater who has traveled from afar to do this race as her/his Washington entry. I feel kind of badly for that person... then again, I've run lots of races in other states that were worse than these. I have a list. These aren't that bad.

But all that ribbing and poking is mostly good natured... Bob is a SUPER NICE guy and he and his family work very hard on race days. He takes feedback with a smile.

Bob's in the hospital. He had to have abdominal surgery and apparently, he developed an infection. Oh man. We might make fun of his races but we like Bob!

So, whether you've ever heard of Bob Green or not, even if you've grumbled about one of his races, please send out some good mojo.

This brings us to yesterday and the Valentine Marathon. It went on as scheduled, managed by Mrs Bob Green. Holy smokes! She was great, and she did a good job.

Honestly, there's not much to say about these races, and I've written about them before. This edition utilized the main out-and-back course. It's roly poly from the start through about M5, and then from M21 to the end. The middle is mostly flat, through farmland, near I-5, and always in barking distance of random country dogs.

The norm for February in the Olympia area is cold, windy, and wet. As we all lined up for the early start (because the weather is generally dismal for these races and there are only 20-30 people anyway, it's always nice to start early and be done early), it was about 43 degrees with a bit of wind and some ugly skies. I was sure it would rain. I made a questionable wardrobe choice... 2 shirts, a fleece, and a jacket (but no gloves!) and shorts. The top half of me was ready for arctic survival, and the bottom half of me was ready for a normal day. I was sure it would rain, though.

It never did rain. By the end, I was soaked with sweat and completely dehydrated. I did *look* like I had been rained on. It was windy, however... and it was one of those crazy wind days where everything was a headwind no matter which way I was facing. It was interesting. I was too hot, and then I was too cold. I never found Goldilocks.

Anyway. This was a "just get in the miles" long run which I spiced up by intentionally running my body out of energy. I wanted to do this and then see if I could push the last miles at a reasonable pace. I also wanted to see how far I'd make it before my body complained. So I very carefully restricted my calories in the two days before the race, and aside from a small breakfast and diluted gatorade, I didn't take in any calories during the race. Well, except for one gel. I had taken 3 gels with me for insurance - if I got into trouble with the actual "the wall", then I'd have something to set myself right. However, this isn't why I ate that gel. I ate it because I'm a dork. Seriously. I was so zoned out around M16, that I forgot what I was doing and popped that shot of raspberry. Whoops.

I also intentionally went out a little faster than I would have for a long run. Last week at Orlando, I threw in some fast miles into the middle of my long run. This week, I put those miles up front. The "go out too fast" strategy. Why be boring?

Turns out, this was kind of cool. A bunch of us started early, like we always do... up front, there was Maniac Steve, me, and Maniac Hope - a womaniac who I hadn't met before. Right away, she asked me, "What's your goal for the day?" Er... I didn't really want to explain everything you just read above. "I don't have a time goal; really, I'm not sure."

She didn't like that. "No, really, what's your goal?"

"Seriously, I don't know. I'm going to run some miles fast and some slow. We'll see."

Her GPS wasn't working, and she mentioned that she wanted to run a 3:40. I asked her if she was trying to BQ, and she was kind of "maybe" about it.

Okey doke. Time for me to run too fast. I rabbited her for the first half of the race... 8:10-8:20/mile for as long as I could. I knew I wasn't going to be running a 3:40, but I wanted to have some fun, and I figured that I could help her find the pace. Turns out, she didn't really need that - her whole family leapfrogged her in a van for the race, and I think she got a spare GPS somewhere along the way. But it was still nice running fast.

While I could. She passed me at M14. Because we started early, there was no aid set up on the course. As I am a pro at Bob Green races, I knew this would happen so I carried a bottle. A few people did not. The first open aid station was at M16, which is where I accidentally popped that gel. And that gel made my stomach hurt anyway :-(.

My pace was creeping up. My 8:15s were now 8:45s. When Maniac "rogue wave" (sorry, I don't know her real name) flew by me at M17, I was in the 9:00 range. No problem... that should be my long run pace anyway. Heh. I lost sight of both Hope and rogue wave by M20.

It happened at M22. The bell went off. Ding! I was low on energy. My 9:00s became 10:00s. Yikes. Not gradually, either. M21 was 9:05, and M22 was 10:08. Remember, I did this partially because I wanted to see if I could focus and keep a reasonable pace. What's reasonable? Not 10. 10 was all I could muster. Physiologically, though, this is what should have happened. It meant I really was low on glycogen. Considering how much I'd eaten in the previous two days, making it to M22 was actually pretty sweet.

The last 4 miles and finishing this race? Not so sweet. Ugh. Sometimes having fun is not so fun.

But I did it.

3:54, which is just about where I'd have finished if I had run 9:00s evenly as a normal long run. I would have been a lot less grumpy though.

In the end, Hope did indeed finish at exactly 3:40 and got her BQ. WOOHOO! Rogue wave came in at 3:47... which means she gained 7 minutes on me in 9 miles. I really slowed down.

It's ok. Now I will pack on the calories and I know how far I can go before that bell goes off. This is a confidence builder.

I mentioned I was dehydrated. Yes, indeed. I lost several pounds and my shirts were literally dripping. Ew.

Next up: This is it. Sunday is the National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer... my super-goal race for the last 13 months. It's weird that it is here. I was hoping to shoot for my 3:30 at this race. Frankly, that's going to be very aggressive based on the past two months of training. Race day call. If it doesn't happen, "there's always another race". Specifically, Seabrook in March and Eugene in May. In any case, wow, my race is here. Maybe I'll see you!

Get better, Bob.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

2/2/08 Orlando Xtreme Marathon

With a 3 week (two weekend) gap after the Disney races, you'd think I could do a proper taper heading into this weekend's Orlando Xtreme Marathon. You'd think. The reality is that my mileage since late December has been down... I went from 80 mpw down into the 30s and 40s... fair enough to "maintain" most of my fitness, but certainly not much work there to improve. So instead of doing a taper, I started rebuilding my mileage back into the 60s. I've decided not to do the 80 and 90 mile weeks this year. I won't have the time, and it's not like 90 mpw was helping me run 2:45 marathons.

The Orlando Xtreme Marathon. Three things were extreme about this race, and none of them involved course difficulty. The course itself was a two mile loop and then a six mile loop (repeated four times) around a couple lakes in Orlando Wetlands Park. The course was FLAT and although it wasn't paved, it was nice-and-wide gravel/dirt/sand road. The race touted the soft running surface as something groovy and comforting for legs that had been previously beaten senseless with too much concrete and asphalt running. I suppose. However, the dirt roads were rutted in places, and my feet DO NOT like this. I tend to tense them up... almost balling them into little foot-fists (when I'm running a trail 5k, these are tiny little foot-fists of fury), and they got pretty achey during this race. All that said, it was an easy course.

It was also a scenic and peaceful course. The name "Orlando Wetlands Park" is 2/3rds correct, and the correct parts lay out the scenery for you. It is indeed a nice away-from-traffic park through wetlands. This means lots of little lakes and tons of birds. I saw an owl, hawks, herons, other waterfowl... and... well, I don't know what the big giant black vulture birds were. There were hundreds of big giant black vulture birds hanging out in the trees, on the little bridges, and on the shores of the lakes. MENACING looking. I didn't want to stop to tie my shoe. Heh. The incorrect part of the park's name is the "Orlando" part.

Welcome to Extreme Thing #1: Finding Orlando Wetlands Park. It's 30-45 miles outside of Orlando, officially in a place called Christmas, Florida - which isn't on most maps. It is located off the highway, and off the connector road... on an unmarked road (called "Wheeler", but you won't know this 'cause there ain't no sign) and behind a No Trespassing sign. I am glad that I came to scope out the place while I was at Disney a few weeks prior. Trying to find this in the dark at 5:30a on race morning would have been challenging.

The race itself didn't start until 7 or 7:30. So why would I be trying to find it at 5:30? Welcome to Extreme Thing #2: The parking situation. There's a tiny lot. Once it fills up, people have to park alongside the unmarked Wheeler road - and it had deep ditches filled with water on both sides. So I went early to avoid having to play Parking Bingo. It was a good thing, too... I got there shortly before 6a, and the lot was almost full.

Remember those birds? There were also turtles. And one last thing, which you might be expecting in a wetlands park (read: swamp) in Florida. Welcome to Extreme Thing #3: alligators! This was not like a trail run where you "might" see a bear. This was not like Sunmart where that park had signs warning about alligators, but none were around. This was the real deal. On each loop, I saw alligators trolling the lake. At least two - I dunno if I saw the same two every time, or different ones. The last loop was in late morning with the sun up high... and right there on the shore around M22... was an alligator lying in the sun. Twenty feet away from me, and no fence! In 157 marathons, this was one of the very few times I actually regretted not having a camera with me. I mean, I can snap a picture of myself with Mickey Mouse or a random race band whenever I want. But a wild alligator not in the zoo? WOW. Extreme, indeed.

The full marathon had about 30 participants. There was also a slightly bigger half, a 10k, and a 5k... but I bet there weren't more than 200 people total. January/February is marathon season in Florida. So many great choices. Only a few hardy souls wanted to go to this obscure race in the middle of nowhere.

Everybody else missed out. This was a very well organized set of races. Yes, the chip timing only had a mat at the end... and yes, the race only had bananas and oranges afterwards (last year there was hot food, apparently). BUT there was an aid station and a porta-potty every mile. And because it was a repeated loop, I was able to ditch my extra shirt on my car when I got too hot, and I was able to stash my water bottle at an aid station when I got tired of carrying it. And a porta-potty every mile.

I had no aggressive goals for this race - I just wanted to get in a long run in the sunshine. I came to the right place. It was 55 at the start of the race, and 70ish at the end... with bright blue skies. Certainly more pleasant than the snow and 35 degrees I left behind.

In a way, this was a do-over race. I was supposed to come to Clermont, Florida (which is also near Orlando) back in December for a new race creatively dubbed "The Florida Marathon". I had to skip it, and so I bumped the fare from that trip plus an expiring airline voucher to come do this. Essentially, this was a freebie long run in warm weather. Nice.

A long run. At my current level of fitness, this would be somewhere near 9:00 miles... or a 3:55ish marathon. I decided to throw some 8:00 miles in the middle. If I'm going to run a 3:30 race, then 8:00 miles are my friend.

The chronicle for the race is short and sweet: we started off... all 30 of us... and immediately got spread out. The half, 10k, and 5k all had different starting lines spread across the park. After the first 2 mile loop, I headed into the 6 mile loop that would be repeated 4 times. I caught up with slower half marathoners. I looked at birds and marveled at the gators. After two loops, the half marathoners were done and it got quite lonely. In a good way.

I stayed with my plan for the most part. 9:00 miles through M8, and then 8:00 miles between M8-M14. I wanted to do a couple more at 8:00/mile... but it was starting to get hot and my feet were really hurting from the trail.

Although I wasn't "racing" per se, nobody passed me during this race. Well, one friendly woman did... but as she passed me, she told me that she was running the relay. Relay? I didn't know there was a relay. Huh. After the race, I learned that this team had made their own ad hoc relay, and they were the only team running it :-).

I faded a bit towards the end... M22 and beyond were a lot closer to 10:00/mile than 9:00. Sigh. I should have been able to hold on longer. I wasn't out of energy, and it wasn't that hot. Maybe a little humid. I'm sure it was my low mileage during the previous month. That's ok. This wasn't a goal race.

Plus, as I mentioned before, I did come within 20 feet of an actual alligator around M22, and that was allllllllright.

3:51. Good enough for first in my age group. Woohoo. Small races are funny that way. I've run just about the same pace in other races and come in towards the end. In fact, once, I *was* the last person. Heh.

Next up: The Valentine Marathon, which is basically the same thing as the Easter Marathon, the Halloween Marathon, and the Christmas Marathon. These are held at a state park near Olympia, Washington. I've done all the other holiday races before, but this will be my first V. I was signed up for it last year, but my dog ate his leash that weekend and I missed it. I'm sure there won't be any surprises. Unless it is sunny. That'll be a surprise :-).