Monday, May 19, 2008
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Except that I've only had so-so training between February and May. Several sicknesses and some lower mileage weeks, and that's so-so. Two things had been going well: 1) I had been able to keep 1-2 weekly speed sessions in my schedule even during lower mileage weeks and 2) I had actually pulled 3 consecutive 70 mpw weeks heading into this race weekend. So not everything was going poorly and overall, my training was getting better.
Not good enough to push it at Eugene, though. So I traded it in as the go-fast attempt for a race in June (North Olympic Discovery). I'd use Eugene to run a 3:45ish race, which would still be faster than last year. I just wanted to get in the miles.
Actually, I surely treated it that way... especially in terms of nutrition. Good race nutrition for me has always been a bit like winning the lottery. Or, some weekends, losing the lottery. I have run good races on Taco Bell. My current PR happened after a pizza-and-beer lunch and a pizza-and-beer dinner. Meanwhile, I've spent generous time in portpotties and behind bushes after eating the typical pasta, fruit, etc. And vice versa. Taco Bell is not always my friend :-). Basically, youneverknow. And so I took it easy on myself for Eugene. Lunch was sushi and a ton of beer. I stayed busy during the afternoon and evening. By the time I realized I needed to eat some dinner, it was kind of late. So I ate at the closest place. Owned by some red headed chick named Wendy. I just wanted to get in the miles, so it didn't much matter.
Race morning came a lot quicker than I expected, but I got up in plenty of time. It would be sunny and cool. I had decided to go back to the pink for this race, and I decided to try some of those funky arm warmers. They are kind of like wearing spandex tube socks on your arms. The arm version of 80s leg warmers.
I had forgotten to bring a running cap. In fact, this is part of what I had spent Saturday afternoon doing - the odyssey for a reasonable running cap. Eugene is "Track Town USA". Should have been easy. And Eugene's expo, while small, had enough vendors. Should have been easy. Eugene was the birthplace of Nike, and there's a Niketown next to the hotel where the expo was held. Should have been easy. How many hat candidates did I find in Eugene? Exactly three: one didn't fit, the Niketown hat was too spendy (and they only had ONE in the whole store. A running store with ONE HAT?!?), and the 50-stater booth was too busy. So on race morning, I pulled on my ski cap/skull cap thing. Coupled with my arm warmers, I was quite toasty. I looked like a pink turtle.
It was ok. I was just here to get in the miles.
I walked down to the start area by Hayward Field early. Last year I didn't do this... and the lines were so long that I was physically IN the portapotty when the race started. I missed Jerrod from Subway! I didn't want to miss the start (sans Jerrod) this year. Plus, I wanted to take a lap around Hayward Field. On the way to the start, I had a brief chat with a local man who was walking his dog. It was a nice, peaceful morning. The weather was nice, and I was just here to get in the miles.
Hayward Field was locked up. Boo. It made sense... this will be the location for the Olympic Trials in a month, and so they were doing construction. No lap for me this year. More time to spend in the portapotty!
Time to race. Or... just get in the miles. Right?
They had changed the course a bit from the previous year. Overall, it was the same basic feel... a loop around Eugene neighborhoods and the University of Oregon (start-M9), across a bridge and a loop on bike paths (M9-M15.5), and then a loop along the river(M15.5-M25), across the bridge again to the finish at Autzen Stadium. They eliminated the death-march last mile around the stadium as well as some neighborhood zigzags around M20 this year by adding more time in Amazon park during the first loop. There were no macaws nor feisty large women in this park. The course was flattish, but had a few roly polies, especially during the first loop. Lots of concrete.
And tons of runners. Last year, 4000 people completed the full, half, and 5k. This year, 6000 were signed up. The start of the full was packed. Off we went. As noted above, my race goal was "about 3:45". I wanted to go out a little slow and speed up. No problem. It was crowded.
I was quite social during the first mile... lots of talking. M1 showed up at 8:23. Huh. Not bad for "about 3:45", but I guess I hadn't gone out slow. And I noticed that I managed that while talking. I felt great. I sped up.
M2 was 7:28. M3 was 7:19. Huh. A couple of notes about M3: 1) it was downhill and 2) it was marked short - which is why M4 was 7:58. I think I was really averaging about 7:40s.
I felt really good. M5 was 7:44. M6 was 7:35. Potty stop during M7... 8:23. I ran M7 at the same pace as M1 even though I stopped for a bit. And I was still talking.
At M9, we crossed the bridge and hit what I call the crazy trails. This section of the course... M9-M15.5 for the full... utilizes bike trails that are mostly wooded. There are lots of different bike trails and intersections. The race org did a great job of marking the course and posting volunteers to ensure we stayed on the right path. However, each race (full, half, 5k)utilized slightly different sections of trail... and different trails were utilized for runners coming back. It was like experiencing a busy time at an airport with runners coming and going in all kinds of directions. Some on the same trail, some on different trails that appeared and disappeared randomly. Like a highway stack interchange.
Onward. Last year, this section is where I slowed down and my day got reallllly long. Not this year. My 7:40s became 7:50s, but I held.
I hit the half at 1:43. I was just getting in the miles!
It was time to make some decisions. I held no hope of running a 3:26. I could try for my 3:30. I could try to beat my 3:34 PR. I could go for "beat 3:40". I decided... not to decide yet. I wanted to see if I could hold this pace through M16.
M13 had been 7:53. M14 was 7:50. M15 was 7:39. Ah, I figured out what was going on. As we started the crazy trails from M9 through M13, we must have been going up a gentle hill... and now we were coming back down.
At M15.5 we came within earshot of the finish line and I heard all the hoopla for the half marathoners. It was time for the river loop. Lots of concrete on the river loop. I hit M16 at 7:51; 2:05 on the clock. On a good day, I'm usually at 15 at 2:05. I was a mile in front of myself. New territory. I still didn't feel like setting a new race goal; I wanted to do one mile at a time.
Let's see how long I can hold this. But first, I needed to potty again - and I didn't want to hold that. I read all the time about the fast folks and elites... when they are running a fast race, they have very interesting strategies regarding potty. Some stop. Some hold it. Some, uh, get creative. I'm not that fast and I'm certainly not elite. So I stop. Which I did at M17.
M18 was 7:50. M19 was 7:54; 2:30 on the clock. Oh my.
The inevitable slowdown hit me at M20. Now, on a bad day, the slowdown is immediate. My miles will suddenly slow by 45-90 seconds. On this day, my 7:54 at M19 went all the way to 8:05 at M20. I crossed the "8" border, but it was still 11 seconds. Not 90.
Heh. There was NO WAY I was going to bum myself out for running an 8:05 at M20. I hit M20 at 2:38. A couple years ago, my magic time for M20 was 3:05. If I hit M20 before 3:05, I felt pretty positive about hitting the four hour mark. Here I was at 2:38.
M20 was where the course did a very short out-and-back (to ensure an exact 26 mile, 385 yard full) before crossing to the other side of the river for the trip to the finish. On the out-and-back, I realized for the first time that I was still in front of the 3:30 pace group. Heck, I hadn't even noticed pace groups at all before now.
Hmmm. During the last half of most marathons, my brain entertains itself by playing little math games. Some of the common ones include "if I walk the rest of this race, I will finish at x" and "if I run 10 minute miles, I will finish at x". I usually don't do either of those things... but they are leftovers from years past when it was somewhat common. My brain still goes through the exercise.
I decided to try to keep the rest of my miles at 8:05 or below. I hit M21 at 8:03; 2:46 on the clock. Recently, I've gotten used to hitting M21 right around 3 hours... that would generally lead to my 3:45ish finish. And I was 14 minutes in front of that.
I still didn't want to think about 3:30. But holy crap, if I could hold this, I'd PR. Let's do it.
At the aid station in this section, I grabbed a clif shot from a volunteer. According to the volunteer, it was called "double shot". Ah, clif's Espresso flavor. Not exactly what I wanted, but I ate it anyway. Big mistake. It didn't kill my race, but as a point of reference - the aftertaste of the espresso gel flavors is "vomit". And it lasts a long, long time. Kind of like vegemite. Great. Even if I PRed this race, I probably wouldn't throw up. But it sure tasted like I did.
Somewhere during the next mile, my legs went south. My right quad started knotting up. My left calf and ankle felt frozen. Runners have all kinds of ways to deal with (and work through) aches and pains. For me, these are usually transitory and go away. But I didn't want this now.
Odd things go through your mind during the late miles of marathons. I will never forget the Moab Marathon in 2006. I spent most of that race trying to get Coolio's Fantastic Voyage out of my head. GAH.
I was hurting. The geek portion of my brain... the portion I keep hidden with all the knowledge of Monty Python and Unix... the geek portion woke up. And thought about Star Wars. I always thought it was weird that the fighter craft had a little R2 robot along for the ride. Of course, in the first movie, R2 comes in handy because a piece of Luke's X-wing starts to break away. Luke asks R2 to deal with it, and so R2 extends an arm/antenna thingy and stuffs the piece back down.
I needed an R2 to deal with my legs. R2, I'm losing a stabilizer. Can you do something about it?
Tweet, doodle dee doot. Wooo.
M22 at 8:17; 2:54 on the clock. I was losing it. I was three minutes in front of my M22 time at my last PR race , but my legs were unhappy.
Let go. Use the force, McLovin.
Oh man. Sometimes I hate the geek part of my brain. At least it wasn't Coolio.
M23 at 8:12; 3:02 on the clock. And those brain math games? Well, I could walk from here and hit my 3:45. And if I cranked it down to 10 minute miles, I could still get close to my PR.
Nah. I wanted to see if I could get back to 8:05 or better.
M24 at 8:03.
M25 at 7:54. Over the bridge, and Autzen Stadium came into view. I've got the PR. And unless my legs blow up like the Death Star, I'm going to beat 3:30.
M26 at 8:05. I have you now. Shut up, brain.
I'm going to break 3:30.
No, wait. I'm going to break 3:29.
The finish area was packed with spectators. Because my name is written on the front of the pink uniform, I can usually count on people calling out "Robert!" Someone in the crowd called out my first and last name... which isn't on the shirt. I tried to spot the person, but I couldn't.
And from Seattle, Robert Lopez.
I was tired, but aside from the freaky leg pains, it had been one of those great days where most everything went correctly "just because". Had it been a potty-free day, I think I would have run about 3:26. But I beat 3:30, and I beat my old PR by six minutes. I didn't mind the potty. Not at all.
Here I am now. The time you see is gun time.
Turtle! Turtle! Turtle!
I guess I should drink beer and eat at Wendys for more races. I am quite sure that putting no pressure at all on myself had a big part to play here. And yes, 70 mpw is better than 40.
Next up: already happened. The Tacoma City Marathon. Not a PR course and I didn't have a PR day. Still though, it was fun. A big city marathon organized and sponsored by the Marathon Maniacs. I even worked at packet pickup. They did not make me clean the bathrooms, luckily.
I'll have that story RealSoonNow.
As for goals, I have now achieved my marathon time goal for this year. I've already been asked if I'm going to press for a BQ (3:20). Nope. If I run a few more sub-3:30s, ask me again.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
You will pay dearly to get into Big Sur. The race is spendy, and it sells out very early. You will also get up at 3am to catch a shuttle to the start, where you will wait for a couple hours in a small area with thousands of your closest friends. Probably shivering. And during the run, you will likely have to play snakey-snake with groups of walkers who are spread across the road. The road itself is cambered badly... aka "slanty". This is great for traction in your car. Not so much for running.
Sound fun? The views are worth it. Trust me. And the "I did it" factor after finishing these hills is also worth it. Along the way, you also get to pass a dude playing a grand piano in the middle of nowhere. Not something you see everyday. Nor in every race. Worth it.
At least once. I have now done this race twice... and unfortunately... really, the ONLY unfortunate thing associated with Big Sur... it has gotten way too crowded. Twice might be enough for me. But boy was it worth it.
I ran this race for the first time in 2006. My goal then was "beat 4" and I just did - 3:57. I confirmed that Big Sur is indeed a tough course... but I also thought it was a little overrated in that department. It is hilly, but the hills aren't that evil. The famous hill on this course is known as "Hurricane Point" because Hurricane Point is towards the top (but not AT the top) of this hill. Officially, the hill starts at M10 and crests at M12. Many people consider this to be The Biggest Hill Ever. It's tough. But it is also a psychological test. From an elevation perspective, the course gains a bit over 500 feet in two miles. That's hard, but it isn't THAT hard. It seems bigger than it really is, though, because of the geography. The road hugs the hill as it winds up the coastline... and runners can see most of the way up the hill from the bottom. This makes it seem monumental - quite an optical effect.
Plus, there's one more tricky aspect that gets kind of lost in the elevation chart. Officially, the hill might start at M10. There's another hill... not nearly as steep but twice as long - from M5 to M9.5. There's a nice downhill from M9.5 to the beginning of the Hurricane Point hill, but this is only half a mile in the middle of these challenging ups. So unofficially, this feels like one massive hill from M5 all the way to M12. With the steepest bit at the end. Wahoo! All in all, this section gives Big Sur its reputation.
Four other things add to the challenge:
- The first 5 miles are downhill. It is very easy to go out way too fast.
- The last 5 miles are very roly poly. These hills are much shorter than the famous section, but at M23, they are killers.
- Big Sur's weather penalty: otherwise known as 'youneverknow'. This is a coastal race in spring. It could be cold, it could be hot. It almost always has a nasty headwind.
- Those friendly walk-5-wide bands of walkers. Big Sur also has a 21 miler and a 10.6 miler that start along the marathon course. Additionally, there's a 9 miler that does a loop from the event finish location. What this means is that just when the pack is breaking up from the marathon start, runners have to contend with walkers who started at M5. Then more who started at M15.6. And then the last few miles are insanely crowded.
The scenery makes Big Sur seem like it would be a nice, relaxing, secluded run. Spending several hours dodging walkers damages that illusion.
So... yes, Big Sur is hard. I don't consider it to be the hardest race, though. Crater Lake has the hardest course. Estes Park is a close second. All three races are gorgeous.
Big Sur makes for a very long day. As I mentioned, you have to board the shuttles out to the start at 4:15a. For me, this meant getting up at 3:15a. After the race, you have to take another shuttle back to the hotels. And if you don't time it properly, you have to wait for the "Big Sur Caravan" of cars leaving Carmel to head down south. While the race course is still open, this caravan becomes very large and is only released by the highway patrol at sparse intervals. So when they say "go", the Carmel area essentially shuts down for 30 minutes while the next caravan moves out. And then, if you are lucky, you can catch the shuttle back.
How did this year go? I've had a rough spring training-wise. Lots of sickness and more weeks in the 40 mpw range (as opposed to 60-70) than I'd like. I set two goals for Big Sur... I wanted to beat my 3:57 from two years ago, and if I could push it, I wanted to run 'about 3:45'. The hilly course meant that I'd skip trying to run evenly.As I was milling around the starting area (for two hours), I noticed that it was really warm. I had crawled off the bus ready for arctic conditions: pants, 4 shirts, a coat, a ski cap, and gloves with hand warmers. By the time I ditched my drop bag, I was down to a singlet and shorts... and I wasn't the least bit chilly. I never expected this at Big Sur.
Starting this race is an exercise in patience. They begin asking runners to stage themselves about 30 minutes before the start. They then spend the next 29 minutes imploring those who have already staged to "step back 10 steps" so that more and more people can get to the start. Of course, the problem with everyone stepping back as a group is that this ensures that the late arrivals do not stage properly - they just sort of wind up at the front (a theme which would repeat for the post-race shuttle, but I'll come back to that).
Anyway, after lots of Get Back talking and a little National Antheming, off we went. I felt terrible. My legs were really tight. During the first 5 miles of downhill, I tried to hold back while also trying to loosen up. Ugh. Around M6, the course exits the redwoods of the Big Sur area and enters the much more open coastal area. Ocean->road->hill. There are only two ways for air blowing in off the ocean to go: up the coast (a nice tailwind) or down the coast (a nasty headwind). Most years, this race gets a headwind. And that was certainly true this year. 20 mph sustained. No staggering gusts, luckily, but the sustained wind was enough to make me very cold and sap my will to live.
Time for the hills. And a potty stop. One really nice thing org-wise at Big Sur is the amount of portapotties. A wall of 3-5 portapotties appeared every 2 miles. No waiting in line. Up the hill I went. My legs loosened up, but I struggled a bit with the hill... much more than what I remembered from 2006. The organizers had lined this hill with periodic signs naming each section with something invoking pain, suffering, and torture. I don't remember any of these names :-). At Hurricane Point was a nice big sign congratulating everyone on getting there... and recommending that everyone stop and look back. Sure enough, what looked so imposing from the bottom of the hill was just as cool from Hurricane Point.
One problem, though.
Ain't the top of the hill. Onward.
The halfway point of the race is the Bixby Bridge. Here's the Bixby Bridge:
Nice, huh. Picture the runners coming toward you. This is where the dude was playing the grand piano. I hit the half right at 1:52. Right on target for "about 3:45", unless I had burned myself out. We would soon learn.
I was wearing the pink uniform for this race, and I vaguely remember talking to people about it... but not clearly. Usually this means that my brain has gotten mushy from lack of energy or dehydration. My pace was starting to slow in the second half. I think 'lack of energy' was more of a side effect. The actual issues were 'previous sickness' and 'lack of miles'. Additionally, weaving around all the walkers was starting to take a toll on my psyche.
Anyway, I don't have any specific recollections of fun conversations. Except for one. Somewhere around M21, I passed a Maniac friend. Shortly after that, the course took us by some big houses. One was for sale. I heard a walker ask the realtor, "How much?"
The answer: 6.2.
I'm assuming that the denomination was "million dollars". Just a bit out of my price range.
Onward. I had definitely slowed between about M14 and M23. I tried to pick it up; lots of downhill in the last miles. Some steep uphill too.
Man, this race is pretty and my writeup simply doesn't do it justice. 6 miles of redwoods. 14-15 miles of oceanside, with a lighthouse and big bridges. 4-5 miles of rural running past big houses. Few races can compare with the scenery you get on this course, and that's why it is a must-do even with all the logistics.
So many walkers in the last few miles. Weaving, weaving, weaving.
Robert Lopez, from Seattle Washington!
Hey, I got announced.
Gah! A 1:52/1:58 split. I definitely slowed. No 3:45 for me. But I did beat my 2006 time. I was very sore. The slanty roads did a number on my feet - my right foot, especially. I did not sleep well the night after the race because my foot hurt so much.
I ate some. Talked to some people. Then went to climb on a bus.
Ooops, I got there just in time to wait 30 minutes for the Big Sur Caravan. After that, buses pulled up to take us where we needed to go. And those of us who had waited patiently for 30 minutes got to stand there while others who had just walked up jumped right onto the buses.
And that was it for me. Too many people kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. I recommend this race to anyone and everyone who hasn't done it. Now I've done it twice. That's probably enough.
Next up: Already happened. The Eugene Marathon. If you got here from my calendar page, then you know that I PRed at Eugene. And if you didn't come from that page, well, now you know too :-). But there's an interesting story behind this. Call it 'the accidental PR' even though I said in my annual goal preview that I would try to run fast at Eugene. I'll be back with that story Real Soon Now!