Saturday, March 29, 2008

3/16/08 Seabrook Lucky Trails Marathon

Seabrook is a suburb of Houston. Its big claim to fame is that it is the home of the Johnson Space Center. So that whole "Houston, we have a problem" thing is a bit of a misnomer. I could live a long life and never hear "Houston, we have a problem" again, but "Seabrook, we have a problem" sounds even lamer. Heh.

Anyway. A couple miles down the road from the space center, there's a park. And this is mission control for the Seabrook Lucky Trails Marathon. Why is it lucky? Because it is always held near/on St Patrick's Day. This race is indeed a trail marathon, but it isn't really a TRAIL marathon... we're talking big, wide bike path (and a little road shoulder). Nothing technical.

An out-and-back. Repeated four times. Many people don't like out and back courses, especially repeats. I like them a lot because I like seeing everyone else in the race. That's fun. This out and back course was not the most exciting course ever, but it did have some nice twists through the woods... and the turnaround was at a point (I don't know the name) on Galveston Bay. Very picturesque. Well, it would have been in most situations. Race morning came with nice blue skies and moderate temperatures, but it was quite windy. And this unprotected point offered up blow-you-sideways wind. The course was not pancake flat, but it was one of the flattest courses I've ever run.

When I gave up trying for my 3:30 at the Breast Cancer Marathon, I had thought about utilizing Seabrook for my next attempt. Unfortunately, I got really sick a couple weeks after that race and it was hard staying focused with my training. So even though the weather was reasonable (though windy) at Seabrook, I decided to try for "beat 3:40".

Off we went. I felt good. I focused on keeping an 8:20 pace, and for the most part everything went well. Loop one. Loop two. Loop three was a little harder and my 8:20s became 8:45s. Uh oh. "Beat 3:40" became "about 3:40", which is the same as "beat 3:43". About a mile into loop four... somewhere around M20, I lost it. 8:45 became 9:00 and 9:00 became 9:30. It didn't feel like glycogen depletion. Based on later evidence, I think I was dehydrated. Ugh. I tried to bring my pace back below 9:00, but it wasn't happening. Not my day.

There weren't any spectators on the course, but the volunteers were peppy. One teenager was a bit TOO peppy and kept pressing the button on her air horn when a runner went by. At M23 when I was struggling, that air horn was a bit disconcerting. BOOOOP. Ugh.

Talking to other people helped the final miles pass by.


Hmmm. Same time as the Breast Cancer Marathon. Same dehydration issues. At least I didn't lose any fitness during my sickness. But I guess I was pushing too hard to try for 3:39.

I enjoyed this race a lot, and they gave out absolutely gigantic huge medals at the end. I spent most of the race chasing a relay team of women dressed as "German Beer Girl". That was fun too. I think I'll come back and do Seabrook again.

Next up: Already happened. Last weekend's Easter Marathon. I was also supposed to run a 50k today but, ta-da, I'm sick again. I made it through eleven months of 2007 and tons of travel without any big sicknesses. Now, since December, I've been sick three times. Boo.

Friday, March 21, 2008

3/9/08 Mercer Island Half Marathon

Half marathon weekend. Mercer Island sits in the middle of Lake Washington... what separates Seattle proper from all the communities we collectively call "the east side" (with de-luxe apartments in the sky). As a whole, Mercer Island is known for its multi-million dollar homes with priceless views. The local Rotary holds an annual half marathon that allows runners to chug all the way around the island.

I have an interesting history with this race. Way back in 2001, it was supposed to be my very first post-sickness race. However, I showed up on what I thought was race morning only to find out that the race had actually been held the previous weekend. Whoops. I made sure to show up on the right day in both 2002 and 2003. Unfortunately, I also showed up both years without training at all for the race. My 2:05 and 2:07 really took it out of me those years. And then I started running lots of fulls. 2004 went by. 2005. 2006. Then 2007. Many real life changes. Much of my hair turned gray or fell out. I stopped working at the Borg. The cats died and I got dogs. I moved into Frasier's apartment for awhile, then I moved into The Money Pit. I started and finished a Masters degree.

I also lost 15 pounds and started running a lot more miles. And that brings us to 2008.

I want to run a 1:29 half this year... but this race was NOT the race for that. The Mercer Island half along with the following weekend's St Patrick's Day Dash signal the start of racing season in the Seattle area. Many serious runners show up, and everyone gets a serious workout. This is a very roly poly course. I had no dreams of 1:29, but I did want to do a reasonable check-in with myself to see how my training has been going. And banishing the old 2:07 time might be nice too.

The weather was perfect for racing, too. 45-50 degrees, overcast, not much wind. The winner would run a 1:06, and six people would run sub 1:15. Considering the course's hills, this shows that the area's great runners did indeed show up. On the normal people side, I had 3 friends complete the race. Their goal had been 2:15, and they all managed 2:05. Good for them, and thanks for the weather.

As for me... two weekends prior, I had run the Cowtown Marathon. Within a couple days, I got really sick. It didn't last long enough to have been the flu, but I felt terrible for awhile. I only ran 30ish miles that week, and I had to skip the following weekend's race. I managed to run a bit more during the week leading into the Mercer Island Half, but most of these were slow miles.

So, huh. This was a bit like a forced taper, but I had also dropped intensity as well. I hadn't been planning on going for the 1:29, but I did expect somewhere between 1:35 and 1:40. Before the sickness, at least. I decided to go out conservatively and see how I felt. If it turned into a medium-length slow run (1:55ish), fine.

And so off I went. At 7:30/mile. So much for being super-conservative. Up and down the hills. I didn't feel great, but I also didn't feel like death. I felt I was running "comfortably hard". A tempo run. Then I looked at my split for M3. 6:45. Uh oh. That was too fast. I settled down and hit the 10k mark around 45:00. I decided I'd see if I could hit 1:35, which would be a PR and a nice number, and all on a hard course too.

There were a couple big ups in the later miles at M11 and M13. At M13! I slowed a little in the final miles. This is where I learned what the low mileage and sickness had done to me. I had been fine through, say, 9 miles... but the last 4.1 were something else. And they would have been challenging miles even if I had been in top form.

1:36:27. I didn't make 1:35. I did, however, set a new PR by 18 whole seconds. Well, I've run two half marathons in two months, and I ran a 1:36 in both - on very different courses in completely different courses. I'd say "a 1:36 half" is a fairly good estimate of my current running shape. I'm a little bummed that I haven't improved in two months, but considering the sickness and the hills, perhaps I have some.

I'm alright with that PR, though!

The following weekend, I ran the Seabrook Lucky Trails Marathon in Houston. It was windy, and I didn't do quite as well as I wanted. Tomorrow is the local Easter Marathon. It's just a training run. Back with reports on both of those Real Soon Now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2/23/08 Cowtown Marathon

I used to really despise this race. However, I ran it last year because it fit my schedule... and was pleasantly surprised by how it had improved. You can read my report for last year here.

A couple of Maniac friends came from Seattle to do Cowtown... founding Maniac Chris and "Little" Leslie. Last year, Leslie completed 47 marathons and ultras. She and Chris have been keeping up that pace this year too. Woohoo!

Although we all registered at different times and no one asked for special numbers, somehow we got assigned #27, #28, and #29. We were a little team. In honor of that, I stuck with Maniac colors for the race (and that really dorky beanie). This was my first race after the big pink campaign... the pink clothes needed a breather and some woolite anyway :-). I will wear the pink in certain races going forward, but the yellow and red will reappear more frequently. Cowtown was the first.

I've described the Cowtown course previously, but here's a summary: rolling loop that shows off lots of Ft Worth's sights. It isn't a PR course for most people, but I seem to do well on roly polies. The race includes a half and full... and the course is quite crowded until the half marathoners turn towards the finish. This year, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the race, they also had a 50k option - it was the marathon course with an extra 4.8 mile out-and-back around M23 of the full. I considered switching to the ultra, but I didn't.

I had also considered using this race as a go-fast attempt at 3:30. I was going to try for my 3:30 at the previous week's big goal race, but the weather was too hot and humid. So, I was theoretically in shape to try - though Cowtown's course is harder. The weather on race morning was conducive to going fast: a little chilly, blue skies, and only a bit of wind. Ft Worth is almost always windy, and this was the biggest issue at last year's race. The last few miles in 2007 had gusts around 50 mph. Portapotties blew over spewing that blue stuff on people. Tornadoes even showed up later that day in nearby counties. Nothing like that this year!

However, as I was shivering at the starting line, I realized that mentally I wasn't that into gunning for a PR. I was feeling a lot more like socializing and doing a fun long run. Perhaps this was because I had not been very social at my last race. About this time, Chris and Leslie joined me. Chris was ribbing her a lot, but also giving her lots of last minute tips. Chris is a 3:15 marathoner and has been a 2:50 marathoner in the past (and, I predict, the future). I listened in to the advice too! It seemed that Leslie was going to try to break 4 at Cowtown - a magic number for many marathoners, and a PR for her as well. I wished them well, 3, 2, 1, and off we went.

The start was very crowded, but I found myself near Leslie around M1. In retrospect, I should have asked her if she wanted company. But I didn't. We just kind of started running together. We talked some. I told her a little about the course. I didn't say this out loud, but I was also glancing at my watch every mile to make sure we were around 9:15-9:20 pace. Maybe I could help her stay on track for a good 3:59 (or below) finish. Leslie had gotten some advice from Chris regarding using her watch to keep split times, but this was the first race where she was trying to capture that information. I remember my first experience at keeping splits... it was hard to remember to push the little button each time, and then when I realized a few minutes after the fact that I missed a split, I got frustrated with the whole thing. And then that process repeated a few times. It was probably 3 or so races before it became second nature. Leslie was going through the same thing.

We hit the half split at 2:01. By "run evenly" standards, we were a little over, obviously... but this was still close enough that a slight negative split would bring us home right at 4. And even if we didn't quite make it? Leslie's PR was 4:03 (interestingly enough at Dallas White Rock, just down the road from Cowtown. I guess Texas agrees with Leslie). We were on track to get there.

Unfortunately, Leslie was getting frustrated with the whole watch thing. It was also sunny, though it was still cool, and she was beginning to sunburn. We seemed to ditch "focus on the time" somewhere in the teen miles in favor of having fun. And fun we did have.

Onward we went, back towards downtown. As we ran along the Trinity River, I remembered the winds from last year. It was in here that a 50 mph gust lifted a spectator and almost sent him down the embankment into the river. It was also in here that I really slowed last year. This year, we slowed some too. But this year I was smiling. I smiled through the entire race. It felt nice. And then we finished.

Note the "Batman TV series tilt" in this picture. Heh. We are headed to the finish.

4:11. Whoa. That made for an interesting 2:01/2:10 split. It was a good time. Afterwards, Leslie, Chris... who ran a 3:16... and I ate somewhat yucky pizza (which was my find, whooops) and then I took them to the airport. They ran the Mardi Gras Marathon the next day.

Leslie didn't get her 3:59 that day, but she did get close one week later at Napa. Then in March, she ran two ultras in one day. I'll write it again, but with a different meaning this time: Whoa. Pretty neat. 3:59 is just around the corner.

In the end, I was left with several questions for myself. Did I do a bad job at motivation and being a pacer? On results, perhaps. But then again, there was never a set-in-stone agreement during the race that I was doing that. We ran together just because we did, and we had fun. I did, at least. Was I selfish? Yes, and in retrospect, this was a learning experience for me. I didn't ask Leslie ahead of time if she even wanted company. I know that with a few people like BRB, it's totally cool when they want to run with me. With others, no way. And with many, it depends on my mood. It is possible that I was just "that guy" with her. Fooey. Next time, I'll do better. I'll ask. It's interesting, though. Even the outward goals of "provide company to someone and help her/him meet a goal" can really be selfish underneath. She provided company to me. I was the one who wanted company. And if we'd run 3:59, that would have been all Leslie, not me. I was just a witness. It was a very fun 4:11, and hard work for both of us.

Next up: I skipped a race the weekend after Cowtown because I got scary-sick during the week. The following weekend, I PRed a half marathon. That was cool. Then there was the Seabrook Lucky Trails Marathon where I did not, in fact, get lucky. Which brings us to this upcoming weekend's Easter Marathon, where it will be 28 degrees at the start. Yay.

Monday, March 17, 2008

2/17/08 National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer

It has been a month since this race happened. My goal race, after 13 months of running in pink. 69 marathons and ultras overall. Why did I wait so long to write about this? Honestly, I was hoping that something/someone would hit me over the head with inspiration... and that I could turn my report into a wonderful story. Make you laugh! Make you cry!

But really?

Have you ever had a goal, and once it finally arrived, it seemed kind of anti-climactic? This surely was. Not that the race was a disappointment - it was anything but that. The organizers did a great job, the weather was wonderful, and I had a good time. I just didn't walk away with a unique story. I didn't run a PR, nothing truly bizarre happened, and I didn't meet a ton of people.

I met so many people during the 13 month pink campaign. I heard many stories... some happy, some not so happy. It was rough sometimes, but not usually. Mostly it was fun. Moving, too. And when it came to THE race? I honestly didn't talk to that many people. Tons of women in pink. Lots of survivors. So many, in fact, that it was a completely different dynamic. Being part of the huge crowd was nothing like races where one or two people came up to me and we talked about breast cancer. Actually, it was nice being able to just be part of the crowd. Much less on-the-spot.

Unfortunately, I was not able to personally meet the inspiration and driving force behind this race, Donna Deegan. I would have enjoyed meeting her, of course, but I knew that the weekend would be absolutely stuffed for her. I was not able to find out beforehand whether she was running (she had been in active chemo treatment just before the race), nor whether she'd be running the half or the full if she DID run. It turned out that she did run, and that she decided at the half's turnaround to continue onward and do the full. And she finished! Go Donna.

As for me, I completed my race too. More slowly than I wanted. And I was completely wiped afterwards. But I had a great time, and even though I wasn't overwhelmed with released pent-up emotions about breast cancer or generically achieving Robert's Big Goal, well, I had fun.

I won't offer up detailed splits and analysis of the course. It was a loop course (really a pinched loop with a few out-and-back sections along the way) with about 3 miles along the beach. Not near the beach, not in sight of the beach... physically ON the beach. I had been nervous that these would be tough miles because sand can make for tough running. And sand can hide nasty obstacles like sticks, glass, and holes. It wasn't fast, but it was a great surface for running a few miles. Hard packed with the obvious nice sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean. Now, they had elected to start the race at 8:30a to coincide with low-tide on this beach. That's probably why the surface was so nice. Unfortunately, 8:30 is very late to start a race in Florida, even a race in February. Plus, it was a warm weekend. Most of the race was 70-85 degrees with 200% humidity. Ugh.

That heat and humidity took my goal away. Originally, I had wanted to try for 3:30 on this course. I knew it would be flat, and I knew I wouldn't be cold. Plus, I figured the energy of Robert's Big Goal would push me along. I've been punished in similar conditions before, though. My last big 3:30 attempt was at Kona last year. Kona was warmer and maybe not quite as humid, but it was still similar. And I never EVER want to feel like I felt in the last miles of the 2007 Kona Marathon. So within the first mile of this race, I adjusted from a 3:30 goal to "beat 3:45". I stayed pretty consistent with my splits, but the heat finally got to me and I slowed down towards the end. I finished at 3:46. I ran a much smarter race here than at Kona, so I actually remember the last miles of this race... but I was still completely wiped out afterwards.

I really enjoyed the community's involvement during the race. It was not wall-to-wall spectators for the whole course, but MANY people came out onto their porches, balconies, and driveways to cheer us on. And everyone was so very friendly. Even people who were inconvenienced by traffic issues seemed okay with that. Thank you, Jacksonville.

So... see? No great stories, no flowing prose. And I probably won't have loads of new info about the races I've completed since then. I returned to Ft Worth's Cowtown Marathon on the following weekend. Then I got sick and had to skip my first time-based event, a "run as far as you can/want" 6 hour event at a local park. The weekend after that, I ran a half marathon PR. By 18 whole seconds :-). This past weekend took me to Texas for a race near the Johnson Space Center. I'll be back with those reports real soon now.

Next up, another one of those local holiday marathons. This time, the Easter Marathon.