Monday, April 14, 2008

4/13/08 Whidbey Island Marathon

Whidbey Island is one of the many islands in Puget Sound, (somewhat) near Seattle. It is also one of the longest islands in the United States, though this page gives a lot of information about other long islands. As you might guess, Whidbey Island is the home of the Whidbey Island Marathon. This race started out as a quirky little marathon back in 2002. The race director hid easter egg-like things along the course. Times pass, things change. No more easter eggs. The race got a little bigger over time, but not that much bigger. It did, however, pick up a cool sponsor - Nature's Path, the maker of organic cereals and other products sold nationwide. The winners of the marathon get their pictures on a cereal box and free cereal for a year :-).

One of the big attractions of this race through the years has been the opportunity to run over the Deception Pass Bridge at the beginning of the marathon. Getting to Whidbey Island is a bit annoying: you can wait in line for the ferry, or you can brave heavy traffic up I-5 and through the tulip festival. And they don't allow day-of-race packet pickup. I've never done this race. I figured that if I was going to go through the traffic hassle and stay overnight, I might as well travel somewhere else and pick up a new state. This year, I decided to sign up for the race so I could run the bridge. I signed up six months in advance even.

And then, one month before the race, they changed the course. No bridge. Booooooo.

Ah well... still a race I've never done in a very pretty place, and the chance to run with some friends.

I drove up the day before the race, choosing the "drive around" option because I didn't want to wait in line for the ferry. Big mistake. A drive that would otherwise take two hours turned into a three-and-a-half hour slog. Not a fun way to start marathon weekend. Aside from that, though, everything else went great. Saturday had bright blue skies and warm temperatures. My motel and packet pickup (which would also be the race finish and parking on race morning for the shuttle) were easy to find. And when it turned out that I forgot body glide and a way to mark my drop bag, I was able to find what I needed easy peasy and cheapy peepy at the expo.

That's right. Cheepy peepy.

Unfortunately, Saturday's warm and blue weather did not continue on Sunday, race morning. Instead, we had a return to normal April weather in the Pacific Northwest - overcast, cold, and a bit breezy. It would get worse as the day progressed. Rainy, colder, and more blustery. No prob... not being sure of what the day might bring, I had packed for this using the 'kitchen sink' strategy. I came with two of everything so I could mix and match what I needed. Except for the body glide, of course. This meant that I walked into my motel looking like I was checking in for a week-long adventure. Heh.

Here's something I found on Whidbey Island: Richard Kimball Park. Er... that's The Fugitive, right? Makes me wonder if One Armed Man Park is located on a nearby island.

This race was a point-to-point course from the start near Deception Pass... but again, no bridge... to basically the finish area near M17. Then the course kind of sort of but not totally followed part of the loop utilized by the half marathon around a different part of the island and back to the finish. Around the track at the high school's football stadium and done.

A point-to-point means a shuttle and, for races where the shuttle takes you to the start, a very early morning. The side effect of this can be a long and extra-chilly wait at the start. Which is what we got for Whidbey. The starting area was at a park located on the water. They tried to make this more cozy by utilizing the picnic area grills for little bonfires. This was a nice idea, but by design, grills don't give off much heat unless you hover right above them. Extra points for trying, though. Oddly, they located the plentiful porta-potties very far from the drop bag area, which was very far from the starting line. In between, they lit all the grills... but then they had a guy come by periodically asking us to move closer to the start and away from the potties "for safety reasons". Huh.

By the way, I find the names of porta-potty companies interesting because they always try to make a joke out of what they do. "Johnny on the Spot" for example. Sometimes the names are plain strange. One of the big companies in Texas is "Oboy". And sometimes, the jokes are a little more ew than ha. A big company in Seattle is "Honey Bucket". Yuck.

The potties for the Whidbey Island Marathon were provided by... wait for it... "The Wizard of Ooze". Oh man. At least they were clean (ooze free!) and, as I mentioned, plentiful.

I showed up in three shirts, gloves, a raincoat, and pants over my running shorts. I ditched the coat and the pants before the race started, but kept the shirts and the gloves. All my maniac friends made fun of me. Later on, when the weather nose dived, I bet they wanted some of my shirts. Go me.

There weren't nearly as many maniacs at this race compared to the previous weekend at Yakima. Many folks opted not to run back-to-back weekends. The rest of us local types had two different races to choose from on Sunday. Many people went to Mt Si to run a 50k or a 50 miler. This was the 50 miler I completed (barely) last year. The rest came to Whidbey. I was feeling much more sociable, and there were fewer people - so this week, I had muuuch more fun before the race.

And then it was time to start. I didn't hear a countdown. They kept calling for Dean Karnazes to come up and say a few words, but either they couldn't find him or I wasn't paying attention. No Star Spangled Banner. But all of the sudden, there was a little WOOO airhorn and we started moving forward. We started.

Let's talk about hills. Hills are a subjective thing. Some people will call a race "hilly" and I won't think it is so bad. Then again, I think that the hill at M17 of Portland is a mean little cuss, and other people tell me that it isn't a big deal to them. So. Shrug. I like hills, though. And except for Skagit Flats, most of the Western Washington races are hilly. Some are HILLY. My current PR is on a course, San Juan Island, that is considered HILLY.

The new Whidbey Island course? Oh my.

This was HILLY.

It is possibly the hilliest road marathon up here. Coupled with my newfound freedom from sickness, I had a fun day. Because I was talking too much before the race, I didn't really do a mental check-in to decide on a goal. In a sense, this was good because it forced me to start slowly while I pondered my options and how I felt. I decided I'd try "beat 3:50", which is a basic middle-of-the-road goal for me these days - and perhaps a stretch considering the previous week and the hills.

Out we went. The first mile was flat. Then we turned onto Monkey Hill Road. The key word in this name is "hill". This was just a baby hill to get us warmed up for the big hills later. But really, Monkey Hill Road is just a funny concept. I did not see a monkey. Maybe I was the monkey.

Onward. M6 started us up the course's big hill. Two miles, steep, with lots of false tops. It reminded me a bit of Hurricane Point on the Big Sur course. Not quite that tough, but it had a similar vibe. I felt really good going up this hill. I didn't sprint it, but I wasn't completely winded at the top either. I checked my watch and decided to revive my goal from "beat 3:50" to "beat 3:45".

Somewhere around M10, I noticed Maniac May up in front of me. And I realized that she was running just behind Dean K. Oh goodie. Admitedly, this was a very slow day by Dean's standards. He can run sub-3. Maybe he was running this pace because he had jogged here from California or something. I decided to catch them.

More hills. Dean and I started playing leapfrog about M12. I seriously doubt this was a conscious effort on his part... I think I was just stronger going up the hills and weaker on the flats, and he ran a steady effort. So I'd surge past him and then he'd catch me. For a little while. See the out-of-focus runner in blue right above my cap? That's Dean.

I hit the halfway point at 1:48. Too fast for 3:45, but I felt good. Alright. I revised my goal to "beat 3:40". It was getting really cold. And windy. I pulled away from Dean. Weee.

About M16.5, the course passed the finish area. Coming the other way on this road were half marathoners heading in to the end. I saw BRB and BRB's sister-in-law, who I call flapjack. Both maniacs. I was running down a hill, and I cut over for a mandatory high-five. Which let me know that much of the last mile of our course would be up the same hill. Of course.

It started raining. The hills kept coming. To beat 3:40, I needed to be approaching M22 at the 3 hour mark. I hit M22 at 3:02. Perfect. Alas, this was also where the half marathon course merged back in. It was a sea of walkers. The road itself was open to traffic and racers were supposed to utilize the shoulder. The walkers did, in force. Sometimes walking 4 or 5-wide. Luckily, there wasn't that much traffic... but navigating the walkers took extra energy.

More hills. Rain. Cold. Walkers. Let's be careful out there!

Dean blew by me at M25. Ha. I guess when you run 100 milers, 25 miles is just when you are getting warmed up.

My pace slowed slightly. No beating Dean today. Up the final hill, around the stadium's track, and done.


D'oh! I did not beat 3:40. Looking at my splits, it was all about the final 1.2 miles. Usually I can run these well. Usually, I can muster a sprint for the last .2. Not at this race, and I'm not sure why. It was on a track! I think I just lost focus.

However, I'm quite pleased with my 3:40. Better than my original goal, and better than the first revised goal. 32 minutes better than last week, and no coughing. And also my fastest race of the year. I'll take that.

I hung out for awhile talking to maniacs and 50 staters. The consensus seemed to be that the race was too hilly and not worth an annual trek. I liked the hills! I don't know if I'll return to this race frequently because I didn't care for the logistics, but the race itself was fun.

Next up: a race-free weekend, and not because I'm skipping one. Woohoo. After that, it's time to revisit Big Sur... a race which I like a lot. Very pretty course. But the race vibe is a little too full of itself, and the course's difficulty is overrated. It's hilly and hard, but not THE hardest. That honor goes to Crater Lake. Anyway, I like hills and I am looking forward to Hurricane Point, especially right after Whidbey.

I'll see you there. If you've already registered. The race fills and closes rather quickly. Lots of mystique about Big Sur. And a Big Price to match.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

4/5/08 Yakima River Canyon Marathon

Yakima is a cornerstone Maniac event, at least for those of us in the Pacific Northwest. The race always gets great turnout by club members. Especially last year's edition, which was our annual reunion. I ran the race last year as the first day of my first double in 2007... a really challenging double, logistically. I ran Yakima on Saturday, drove 2 1/2 hours to the airport in Seattle, flew to Dallas, slept 4 hours, and ran the Big D Texas Marathon on Sunday. I had no fast goals for Yakima last year, but even though I spent lots of time talking and enjoying the scenery, I still turned in a fairly respectable (for my early 2007 fitness) 3:49.

Yakima is a fast, mostly downhill course. It has two minor ups at M5 and M14 (this one is followed by a short but steep down). And then a rather nasty, long up at M21. Unfortunately, the road is cambered... that is, quite slanty... and this can be annoying. As long as the runner isn't looking for trees, this race offers up amazing scenery. After a few zigzags on farm roads, the course dumps out onto a road that twists and bends alongside a river through a canyon for about 23 miles. It is peaceful and beautiful.

I was not at the 2006 edition of this race, but I heard that it had rained. Glad I missed it. In both 2007 and 2008, the weather was bright blue skies and COLD. This year, it was also a bit breezy too, although this wasn't a factor until the last few miles where the canyon narrowed considerably and the breeze funneled into hat-stealing wind.

I have been sick off and on since December. After recovering from sickness #1, I PRed a half marathon, and I had fully planned on trying for 3:30 at a marathon in February. It was quite hot and incredibly humid that day, so I consciously held back and managed a 3:46. A couple weeks later, sickness #2 caused me to skip my first ever run-for-time event, a local 6-hour race. Then I PRed a half again. The following week, I was at my first alternate choice for attempting 3:30 - Seabrook. However, the second sickness kind of messed me up, so I tried for 3:40 instead. And didn't get it, hitting 3:46 again. See the pattern? PR a half, run a 3:46 full. The next week, I ran a 3:44.

Then it was time for sickness #3. This one really held on, too. I skipped a 50k. I skipped practically all my workouts and training during the following week. I was coughing up lungs, pancreas, spleen. Maybe even uterus. Which is weird.

And that brings us up to date for Yakima. This had been my second alternate choice for attempting 3:30. No chance.

As I stood at the starting line, I was still coughing up major organs. I probably shouldn't have run the race. I tricked myself. Surely I couldn't be sick two weekends in a row! No way. So I ran. If you could call it "running".

I decided that "beat 4:00" would be a worthy goal. Fast course, good weather, and a 15 minute sickness penalty from my last race. Off we went. The sickness affected me in other ways, too. Yakima is a great run for socializing with all my friends and new maniacs. But the coughing made me completely anti-social. I was in an "I just want to finish" mood almost immediately. Boo.

By the clock, the first half of this race went very well. Smooth, even 9:00 miles and a 1:57 first half. However, I had been coughing. A lot. Every cough made me tighten my diaphragm and messed up my breathing. By M14, my abdomen was really sore. Worse, every cough was now sending my head into unbelievable pain. "I just want to finish"... "and curl up into a ball". I could also tell that I was getting fatigued. Not running out of fuel - my muscles just hurt. 9:00 miles turned into 9:30s. I was able to run the hills at M14 and M21, but my pace slowed at each hill and did not return after the hill. By the 20s, I was running solid 10:15 miles. Oh man.

I will say this: aside from walking a couple aid stations, I ran the whole thing. I looked bad enough during the later miles that one of my Maniac friends kept offering me a ride :-). Nah.

Robert Lopez, running his 164th marathon!

Woohoo, I got announced. Alas, it was really my 163rd marathon, but they didn't know that I had skipped the previous week.


Goodness. I coughed for five minutes nonstop at the finish. The editor of Northwest Runner even came over to ask if I was ok. Cough. I guess.

I did have a good time visiting with BRB, but I was mostly anti-social to everyone else. I feel badly about that. Luckily, I'll see all these people again, maybe this weekend.

So when will I try for 3:30 for real? I'm not sure. I've had to skip a lot of training during the last three months and the sicknesses have slowed me down when I have actually run. I'm pretty happy with all the 3:45ish races and my half PRs, but I don't see 3:30 happening in the next few weeks. Hmmm. Boo. I need to get well.

All that said, Saturday at Yakima really did seem to be the last true day of sickness. I started training again this week, and I've felt ok. Slow, but no coughing. I've felt ok.

Next up: The Whidbey Island Marathon, a race I've never run. The logistics are kind of challenging, and I just found out that they only offer gatorade at four stops on the entire course. This may be the only time I do the race.

But Dean Karnazes will be there. Do I seem excited?


How about now?

I'll see you there! I am more excited about seeing you than Dean, whoever you are!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Who the heck is "McLovin"?

If you've been reading my blog or have known me In Real Life for awhile, you know that one of my nicknames is Stevie Ray. That's what the SR in srlopez is about. It is not 'senior' nor 'senor'.

Now, if you've known me long enough, you also know that I've had several other nicknames in my life. Tico is the main one. It's what my family calls me. It means little in Spanish. Woo hoo. Or as Washington Mutual spells it, "Whoo hoo" (who who??).

I also have several fictional creatures I've involved in my stories over the years. The Whattapottamus (sometimes 'Whatapotamus') is my favorite. Then there's the very rare Bull Moostronaut. If you've been reading this for long enough, you may recall that this used to be the running odyssey of Bull Moostronaut... and that's why my main blog is

Still with me? Don't try to make sense out of it. There's no sense to be made.

At the end of 2007, I told everyone that I was taking a break from marathoning and being an active maniac. This lasted about three weeks... although based on my ongoing health issues, perhaps I should have stuck it out longer. Anyway, when I came back, I decided to come back with a new nickname. This way, I could say that Stevie Ray is indeed taking a break. Who knows when he'll be back?

Enter McLovin. I am McLovin. Some of you, particularly if you are younger, recognize this name. But many of you do not... and lots of people have asked me about it. If you don't know, McLovin is a character from the movie Superbad. To me, Superbad was last year's Napoleon Dynamite or Little Miss Sunshine - a movie with tons of buzz about it being The Best Movie Ever which, upon viewing, did not strike me as being The Best Movie Ever. At all. Not nearly. But... like those other movies, Superbad had some redeeming qualities. The funniest running joke, by far, was the creation of McLovin.

Superbad is a movie about seniors in high school who are getting ready to graduate. It is the latest in a long line of really raunchy teen movies... so when I tell someone that McLovin is a character in Superbad and that someone asks me if she/he should watch this movie, I usually warn them off of it. I figure that if this someone likes really raunchy teen movies then this someone already knows what Superbad is and has probably seen it. If not... particularly if this someone is older... then it probably is not for this person. I only marginally liked it anyway.

McLovin. There's a super-geek supporting character whose name is Fogle. Fogle goes to get a fake ID (so he can go to R movies, I assume), but he's a real goofball about it. He comes back with an ID from Hawai'i (yaaaayyyy) that shows he's way too old. And... wait for it... he decides to use the fake name "McLovin". Not McLovin Fogle. Not Tom McLovin. Just one name, like Madonna or Cher.



I am McLovin.

(no, that picture isn't me. That's Fogle.)

3/22/08 Easter Marathon

Ah, another one of those local holiday marathons. Low key and informal. I've noticed over the past few years that the Easter version hosts substantially fewer runners than the Valentine, Halloween, and Christmas editions. There's never much going on during these races and the scenery is lacking... so the big draw (aside from 'get in the miles' and junk food) is talking to my maniac friends. Except that for the Easter version, few people come. Oh well.

I ran the Easter version last year. I started early, forgot to take nutrition or a water bottle and... as is totally normal for the early start of these races... the aid stations didn't set up until I was about halfway done with the race. Nevertheless, I led the early start group from start to finish and pulled out a 3:48... which was a fair time for me at that point.

The race director utilizes two different courses for these races. He has an out-and-back course that is certified, and a double out-and-back course that goes in a different direction and is not certified. I call this second course "the other course". Both courses are quite boring and run alongside roads open to traffic. The certified course is fairly roly poly in the early and late miles, while the other course is a bit flatter throughout. We never know until we show up on race morning which of the two courses will be used. This year, like last Easter, we ran on the other course. I actually like it slightly better.

The weather on race morning was COLD and a bit breezy. It was mercifully dry. I had pulled a 3:46 at Seabrook the weekend before. It had been an ugly 3:46, though. I decided for this race that I wanted to run "about 3:45", but more importantly, I wanted to run as evenly as possible.

I arrived about 10 minutes before the early start. I decided to take it. Being done sooner meant being warm again sooner. I made sure I had a bottle of Perpetuem this year.

Off we went. I settled into 8:30ish pace and everything felt comfortable. Out I went. Back I came. This year, I did not lead the early start. Heh. It was fun doing this last year - it'll probably be the only time I ever experience what it is like to be up front. But it was kind of goofy and obviously not meaningful in The Big Scheme, so it didn't affect me in the slightest to be in the middle.

I hit the halfway point at 1:52. After a quick conversation with the aid station volunteer whilst I fumbled with a bag of Perpetuem, off I went again. Perpetuem in a baggy looks a little illegal, frankly, and it can be quite messy to get into a bottle when the wind is blowing. Sure enough, I was coated with white powder as I left for the second lap. Yuck.

My legs were very tight for the second lap. Completely normal. I like out-and-backs because I like to see other people in the race, and this certainly helps occupy my brain when my body is getting irritated at me. It helped me in this race for sure. My pace held at 8:30 for the out. Would it hold for the back section? It didn't in the final miles at Seabrook. Or the Breast Cancer Marathon for that matter. Today, it did.

3:44. This meant that I ran a perfectly even 1:52/1:52 split. Woohoo, I hit my goal!

So I celebrated by eating hostess donuts.

Don't tell anyone.

Next up: already happened - the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, a cornerstone Maniac event for those of us in the Pacific Northwest. Actually, as I mentioned in my Seabrook report, I was supposed to run a 50k the weekend after the Easter Marathon... but I skipped it because I was sick. AGAIN. That sickness hit me the Thursday before the 50k. I didn't run that weekend. I only ran 4 miles total the following week heading into Yakima. I was still sick at Yakima, but I ran it anyway. What should have been a very fun day with friends did not turn out exactly that way. I'll write about that Real Soon Now.