Monday, June 30, 2008

6/21/08 Seattle Race for the Cure

Unless you are from outside of the United States (or perhaps Pomonkey, Maryland), you already know that the Race for the Cure is a 5k event held in cities nationwide as a gigantic fundraiser for breast cancer research via the Susan G. Komen Foundation. While I wasn't able to get J-Lo to travel to The National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer last February, she makes a point of going to the local Race for the Cure each year. This year, I decided to join her.

I've done this race a few times, but not recently. The last time was in 2003. It's really a series of four events: a women-only run, a co-ed run, a walk, and then a survivor parade. This is NOT an event for a serious 5k runner looking to win hardware; there isn't any hardware. In fact, when it comes to timing the race, the best way to describe it is "sort of".

They have a clock at the end, but that's it. They don't utilize chips, and they don't collect the tabs off the bottom of runners' bibs at the end. They don't formalize results, and there are no awards. The point of the event is to raise money, raise visibility for the cause, and pay tribute to folks (women AND MEN) who have had to go through breast cancer. People like J-Lo. Lots of them, sadly.

It is possible to run this race and time it yourself... but unless you plan on starting at the very front AND running sub-7 miles (so, say, a 21:45 or faster 5k), you will be stuck in a thick crowd. This is certainly true about the co-ed run; as a boy, I've no experience with the women-only race.

Still, though, it is an interesting and exciting event for people whose lives have been touched (or stomped on) by the disease.

I decided I would attempt to run the co-ed run as fast as possible. J-Lo planned to walk the walk event with a bunch of her friends, and because she had recently broken her elbow, she planned on starting in the very back. I had enough time to run my 5k, recover, find them at the finish line, wait some more, and then walk the 5k route again.

My goal for the first race was "about 20". In a marathon, if my goal is "about x", that means I want to be within 3 minutes of that time. So, my goal of "about 3:45" at Kona means that I'm happy if I'm between 3:42 and 3:48. A 5k, however, is a much more precise operation. "About 20" is really code for "beat 20:30". A sub 20 5k is one of my big goals for the year, but I haven't really been training for it, and Race for the Cure isn't quite a race.

I lined up at the very front. I was one of 3 people, out of several thousand, who actually took a few warm up laps. Huh. I hoped I wouldn't get stomped on.

3, 2, 1. Off we went. I made two huge mistakes. First, I went out way too fast. I don't feel too badly about this. I needed to be running 6:30-6:40 miles, and that's faster than most of my non-treadmill training. So it was hard to tell. Still though, it was going to come back and bite me. Secondly, I did a poor job of reading the course. The Race for the Cure's course utilizes Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct - an elevated structure that is for the most part flat. Except that it isn't, not when you are running. The first half mile of this race is a fairly steep uphill. From the start, I was zooming UP a hill at a pace that was too fast even if it had not been a hill. My heart rate probably maxed out within one minute.

Off the line, I was probably 4-5th behind "the leader". I hesitate to call him the leader without using quotes because this guy went out at a dead sprint. Everyone around me, me included, kind of chuckled at that. Sure enough, a few minutes later, he was on the side of the road with his head between his legs. I figure he just wanted to make the picture in the newspaper.

The actual people who should be leading a 5k... the people in the CNW singlets... started pulling away from me. I wasn't stopped on the side with my head between my legs, but I had my own problems. Within five minutes, I was doing the wheeze breath. Yay.

For a race without real timing, The Race for The Cure is nice because it has mile markers. I hit M1 at 6:15. That included the hill. Uh oh. Shortly after that, we made the transition off of one part of the viaduct to a different part to make the return trip. Another set of hills.

M2 was 6:58. Nice that it still had a "6" in front. Not nice that it was over 30 seconds different from the first mile. I made up a new goal on the spot: make the third mile close but faster than the second.

My chest was hurting, and I was still wheezing. Yes, my typical 5k experience.

As I approached M3, I saw the leaders finish. This meant that they had finished somewhere around 18-19... not the area's fastest runners. Still though, they were way in front of me. M3 was 6:55. Ok, faster and somewhat close to M2 and I wasn't dead.

I was zigzagging women who had walked the women-only race which had started 30 minutes before the co-ed version. The last .11 was :42, for a finish of 20:50. Yikes. I have a lot of work to do if I want to get below 20. Plus I ran a poorly paced race. Ah well, it was my first 5k in over a year.

Besides, today wasn't about me at all.

Then I walked with J-Lo and her friends. Almost an hour and a half to repeat the same course. Very different the second time around. Insanely crowded, especially from the back. The picture at the top was taken just after we started. You can see the hill that got me in the first race... but it's now covered by a sea of people.

It took us almost 90 minutes to do this second 5k. Not sure exactly how much; I wasn't really looking at my watch.

Friday, June 27, 2008

6/14/08 Lake Youngs Ultra

Lake Youngs is a water reservoir located in beautiful Renton, Washington... this sort-of suburb of Seattle is where Boeing finishes out 737s. There's a nice 9.6 mile trail around Lake Youngs, which is remarkable for a few different reasons. Most noteably, you can't actually *see* Lake Youngs along the entire trail, except for a peekaboo view that lasts for approximately 50 feet. It's also an interesting trail because it is inexplicably HARD. Well, for me at least. BRB (my Best Running Buddy) agrees with me, but many other people just consider it to be moderately challenging. Sure, it is hilly. But not really any hillier than many other trails in the area. And the gravel footing does not make a runner faster. But it doesn't seem any rougher than other trails. In fact, while a few miles of the trail is single track, it isn't at all technical. And most of the trail is big and wide - wide enough for a vehicle.

I find this trail to be incredibly hard, though. I am always slow, and I always feel beaten up after I run on it.

Several Maniacs utilize this trail for various trail runs during the year. Most of the time, they set up a race of three loops: 28.8 miles total. A slow marathon for me these days is 4 hours, so let's say we even give me an extra 15 minute penalty for trail running shenanigans: 4:15. 3 loops is an extra 2.6 miles beyond a marathon, so a "slow" time for me on this course ought to be around 4:45. People I know who finish just before or just after me in 3:40 road marathons seem to complete a Lake Youngs 28.8 race between 4:20 and 4:50.

Me? I've done two races here. The first race (2006) was a brilliant 5:11 where I came in DFL. In fairness, it was 90 degrees that day. The second race (2007) was 50 degrees... and I finished 6 minutes slower, 5:17. And I was in slightly better shape in 2007. Huh.

Anyway. It was time for Maniac Arthur's annual version of a Lake Youngs race. His is the original (I think) and it goes by the succinct-and-meaningful name The Lake Youngs Ultra (LYU).

What would this year bring? Actually, I was just happy to be there what with J-Lo's broken elbow adventure. The weather was perfect for a run. Like last year, it was in the low 50s. Unlike last year, it was not raining. When I wrote my annual goals earlier this year, I stuck a "nice to have" goal at the end of the list:

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).
Incidentally, I am writing this oceanside in Kona. A guy paddling standing on a surfboard just cruised by. It is easy to get distracted. But more on all that in my Kona report.

Beat 5. Sounded like a good goal. Based on how I felt the morning of the race, I decided it would actually be my fall back goal. I absolutely can not figure out why I am so slow on this course, so I decided that I wanted to average 10 minute miles. This is very slow based on my road marathon pace, which is usually 8:00-8:30 depending on the race. 10 minute miles would mean 288 minutes, or 4:48. Still faster than my previous two experiences.

For whatever reason... variety perhaps... Maniac Arthur decided to have everyone run the course in the opposite direction from last year. I got the ok to run the course backwards (no, not physically backwards... I mean "the other way") which was cool because it meant I'd get to see everyone repeatedly. Also, it would allow me to hit the hills the exact same as the previous two times I've attempted this course.

I learned one reason why I run this course slowly. Most ultras, really. It's the aid station factor. LYU had one aid station at the end of each 9.6 mile loop. In a road marathon, I'll blow through, grabbing a cup of something as a pass by without breaking stride. At an ultra, I might stop for 3-5 minutes. It's the Perpetuem Problem. I have to stop, get out my drink powder, add it to my bottle, and fill my bottle with water. This gives me time to get distracted by the ultra station's cookies and M&Ms and cokes. Not only do I tend to linger, but when I finally get started again, it takes me at least a few minutes to find the pace I was running before stopping.

Sure enough, I figure I spent 5-10 minutes during the race at my two aid station stops. This included drinking an entire 12oz can of full-sugar coke and eating cookies. Tasted great. Probably didn't make me run faster :-).

I managed to run my loops fairly evenly. It's still a hilly course with slow footing. And I lingered at the aid station. Twice.

I didn't quite hit 4:48. My time was 4:49. I have no grand stories about the race. The first time I did this course, I ran into a deer. The trail has a 6 foot chain link fence on both sides, and when I spooked this deer, I was somewhat scared that she'd charge me. She made a move to do this, but then simply swooped over the fence. That's the year I came in last.

I really can't beat that with anything that happened this year :-0. It was a lot of fun waving at everyone as I chugged around the course in the wrong direction. Wrong Way Robert.

I'm ok with my 4:49. I made my goals. Sure enough, the people I usually run with generally finished below 4:30. Even if I hadn't lingered at the aid station, I would have run a 4:40-4:45.

I still don't get it. There's lots in life that I don't get.

Next up: Already happened. Seattle's version of the Race for the Cure. This is a very important event for J-Lo, and so I took part too. It's a weird 5k for people that want to run it fast. It is sort of timed, but not really, and it is very crowded. More on that real soon.

And after that is the Kona Marathon, which is where I am now. The race was ("will be", as I type) a couple days after I wrote this post. I've run the 5k twice, the 10k, the half twice, and the full four times. This will be my fifth. Hopefully I will run it smarter than last year!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The big injury

Here is how the broken elbow has progressed. It is very exciting.

The first one is two days after the fall, but before starting physical therapy:

Four days after the fall and two days of physical therapy. Here comes the bruise:

Seven days now. Pretty colors:

And just for fun, I fell while I was running on a nice, smooth asphalt bike trail. It left a heck of a mark. The Mark of Zorro!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

6/8/08 North Olympic Discovery Marathon

Why do I look like this at the end of the race? Read on.

The North Olympic Discovery Marathon (NODM) is a nice little race held on the Olympic Peninsula of my (current) home state, Washington. A point-to-point course from Sequim... pronounce it "Squim"... to Port Angeles, the course utilizes a good mix of road and rail-to-trails asphalt bicycle trail. For the most part, the course is gently roly poly, the way that rail-to-trails tend to be. HOWEVER. However, between M16 and M20ish, the runner is faced with a challenging set of sharp inclines and declines as the course blasts through various creekbeds.

The course winds along the Strait of Juan De Fuca, which connects the Pacific Ocean to Puget Sound. Port Angeles itself is the gateway to the Olympic National Park and the Olympic Mountains. While Port Angeles can be sunny thanks to the "rain shadow" effect of the mountains, the surrounding geography means that it can also be quite windy, grey, and grim here.

I was fairly happy last year by pulling a sub-4 (3:57) at NODM on the same weekend as a 20 minute 5k and a 28.8 mile ultra. It was definitely one of the grim days too. Somewhere after the 2 hour mark, the rain and wind showed up, stuck around for a long time, and put the G in 'grim'. But I finished, I beat four, and I left with a smile.

This year was different - I wasn't running multiple races on NODM weekend. I could have targeted this as a 'go fast' attempt, I suppose, but I didn't. I hadn't run a regular race in a few weeks. There was the 12 hour race in 95 degree heat, Andy Payne in 90 degree heat and 30 mph wind, and the downhill 50k. NODM is a regular race, and I just wanted to go out and have a "regular" day. I decided on three not-very-different goals for the race:
  1. Beat 3:45
  2. 3:42 (because that would be 15 minutes faster than last year's time)
  3. Beat 3:40
Based on how I felt before the race, I knew 3:40 was probably out of reach. The weather was fully cooperative - overcast and 50 with only a light breeze. I just didn't feel particularly fast, nor terribly motivated to work through that feeling.

3:45 was going to be my best bet.

Because the race is a point-to-point course, this meant the s-word for race morning: shuttle. I caught the shuttle from the finish to the start area juuust before the race started. About two hours before the race started. Heh. This was ok. I sat and talked to lots of maniacs. Ate something. Pottied a few times. Talked some more. Then it was finally time to race.

Off we went. And yes, that feeling stayed with me. I wasn't sick, and I wasn't that sore; I just didn't feel particularly fast. I also realized about two miles into the race that I wasn't feeling particularly sociable. I did talk to Maniac Ashley for a couple minutes. She had graduated from college the day before. What a way to celebrate :-/.

Most of this course is very pretty. I didn't really notice last year partly because the weather had been uncooperative, but mostly because it was the second race of a double (plus a 5k bonus). I paid attention this year.

Unfortunately, the course also has some screwy mile markers. Not the totally hosed kind where you know immediately that the markers are off and so you just stop paying attention. No, in NODM's case, they are subtly long/short... and more of the long miles are in the teens. This just added to my general feeling of not-fastness. And it was way hard to run evenly. Or it seemed that way.

Maniac Coconutboy passed me at M20. He had run a marathon on the previous day.

Maniac Ashley caught me at M21, which we hit right around 3:00. I mentioned to her that 3:45 seemed pretty likely. And it was. But she was having none of that. She told me she wanted 3:40, and off she went.

Maniac Coconutgirl passed me at M23. She thanked me for being her rabbit and off she went too. She had run a marathon on the previous day. Yes, with Coconutboy. The Coconut Family sticks together.

The miles were going by faster now. Of course they were. They were shorter :-D.

Lots and lots of half marathon walkers were on these same miles. I got tons of friendly encouragement thanks to the pink.

And... 3:42. How about that? I was able to run 8:00 miles for the last five. Love those short miles. Hee.

Coconutboy managed a 3:38, matching his 3:38 on the previous day. Ashley scored her 3:40 and her first BQ. WOOHOO! And Coconutgirl landed at 3:41. Ultimately, she was MY rabbit.

Given how I felt, that was a good day. Part of me felt like I had wasted a prime opportunity for a go-fast attempt, but there will be other days.

So why do I look the way I look in that picture up above?

At the end of the race, I turned on my phone. Wading through multiple voice mail messages, I learned that J-Lo had broken her elbow while I was running. She slipped in the yard and stiff-armed the landing. Radial neck fracture, 6 weeks, one right arm out of commission.


It's just running.

Next up: Well, I was actually afraid I was going to have to cancel a few runs to play Right Hand Man. I may still have to cancel a few. But I did make the next one... the Lake Youngs Ultra, the 28.8 mile race which was on the same weekend as NODM last year. I had listed in this year's goals that I wanted to beat 5 at Lake Youngs. How did I do?

Check back Real Soon Now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

5/31/08 20th Century 50k WIMP

One of the nice things about living in the Pacific Northwest is our system of interconnecting trails. Up in the mountains, down in the city, and all points in between... we have trails, tons of trails. Everything from hardcore single track to wide, easy asphault bike path. Many of these trails were formerly railroad tracks, and some of the trails are quite long. One, the John Wayne Trail (also known as the Iron Horse Trail) is hundreds of miles, cutting all the way across Washington State and into Idaho.

The 20th Century 100k utilizes a small portion of the Iron Horse Trail as part of a point-to-point course starting at the obscure location of Easton, Washington down to North Bend. Here, the course turns onto another rail-to-trails conversion called the Snoqualmie Valley Trail and finishes up in Carnation: the original home of contented cows. 62 miles of mountain views, trees, waterfalls (including Snoqualmie Falls), high trestles, a golf course, and even a tunnel.

Now, I have no desire to run 62 miles. Lucky for me, the race organizers offer a 50k too, which they call the WIMP. I don't mind being wimpy. The WIMP starts at the halfway point of the big race... and for logistical reasons, it starts at noon - 5 hours after the big race starts.

This year, snow still covered part of the trail and the tunnel in the higher elevations of the 100k course, so that race got changed to something more like an out-and-back. The WIMP, however, stayed the same.

Rail-to-trails conversations retain the original railroad grades. Trains can't negotiate steep inclines and declines, so most of these trails never have ups or downs more than 2%. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is that the gentle ups and downs can be ridiculously long. Miles and miles long. This is certainly true about the 20th Century course.

It just so happens that the 50k WIMP involved a lot of gentle downhill. Most of it was down or flat. No up, except for a parking lot at Snoqualmie Falls. Hmmm. Sounds fast, huh?

Maybe for you. I am not a fast runner, especially on unpaved surfaces. And like most trail ultras, the WIMP would not have mile markers. It's hard for me to pace a course without markers. Actually, I'm stretching the truth a bit. The first 8ish miles on the Iron Horse Trail had really interesting mile markers. Whoever set up the rail-to-trail conversion decided to keep all the mile markers indicating how far one was from Chicago. That's where the train used to go. So it was easy to pace this section. The last 23 miles on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail had no such markers. The race orgainzers did mark each 10k. That was nice.

Nevertheless, the course was a downhill course, so I decided that my goal would be "beat 5". The closest I've ever come to 5 hours in a 50k was my 5:08 at last November's Autumn Leaves 50k. And that course was about half a mile short :-).

Given that the race started at noon on the last day of May, I suppose it could have been possible for the weather to be sweltering. But aside from a single day two weeks before (the 95 degree day I ran 51 miles in 12 hours at WP12), we've had a really cold spring here. As we got ready to start the WIMP, the weather was good for running. 50 degrees, overcast, not much wind.

As we waited at the start line, a few 100k folks came through. Not many, though. The WIMP was a small race as well, and as we got underway, I was running by myself almost immediately.

Beautiful views.

The first aid station was at 7.9 miles. Most of the aid stations would be 4-8 miles apart, which is fairly generous for an ultra. All were well-stocked with typical ultra junk. I carried a bottle full of good stuff (Perpetuem) for the whole race. But I lost my brain at each aid station. Coke! Oreos! M&Ms! Just what a focused runner needs.

I had gone out fairly fast. I knew exactly how many people were ahead of me, and into the first aid station, I was in third place. Really. Two people were ahead of me.

This didn't last. For one, I had to linger at this aid station because it had a nice potty. For two, Van Phan was just getting warmed up. She had been behind me. She left the first aid station ahead of me... and that's all I'd see of Van for the day. She finished a full half hour in front of me. Go Van. A few other people went by me as I lingered. Oh well.

At this first aid station, we said goodbye to the Iron Horse Trail. Hello Snoqualmie Valley Trail. The SVT offered better footing, but the views weren't quite as wonderful. Still cool. SVT also brought some rain. Blah.

Onward. 4 miles later, and aid station #2 in the town of North Bend. I passed a couple people heading into this aid station. I wasn't racing, so I didn't much care, but it was something to mull over in my mind.

The SVT cuts through the Mt Si Golf Course, which is sort of a bizarre experience if you aren't expecting it. As I stumbled into the golf course, I realized that I had run this section of trail in other races, including the Mt Si 50 Miler that almost killed me last year. Aid station #3 and the halfway point of the WIMP (3/4ths for the 100k) was at the far end of the golf course. I chatted with the volunteers, ate more junk, and headed out.

This section was wonky. Apparently, some of the SVT had washed out, and so the course was routed through the town of Snoqualmie. To find our way, the organizers marked the roads with flour and little signs stating "LOST DOGS". Hee. I hate getting lost, and I was pretty paranoid that this would happen. It didn't. I found my way... slowly... though the town and the neat railroad museum/tracks, over to the parking lot of the Salish Lodge and Snoqualmie Falls.

It was raining pretty hard and my legs were unhappy with me. I had raced in serious heat on both of the previous two weekends. It was obvious that I hadn't recovered yet. I tried to do some math in my head to see how I was doing on my "beat 5" goal. I seemed to be on track, but I wasn't really sure. It was clear that I was NOT way ahead of 5.

At Snoqualmie Falls, runners had to navigate various parking lots and a steep uphill to find a nondescript single track trail (remember, LOST DOGS) disappearing into the woods. I am terrible on technical trail, but this offered a nice diversion from the rest of the course. Somewhere during the single track, I caught up to a 100k runner. He was really tired. We spent the rest of the race leapfrogging.

The single track only lasted a few miles, and then we were dumped back out onto the SVT.

Aid station #4 finally appeared around M23. This would be the last aid station. I lingered. More junk. An entire can of coke. Off I went, still leapfrogging my 100k buddy.

I knew that we had about 8 miles left, but I had absolutely no idea how fast I was running, nor how close to the end I was at any point after the aid station. The miles went on forever. Luckily, the rain let up.


Finally, the course cut under the highway that I knew led to the park where the finish line was located.

"Cut under the highway". Yeah. The highway bridge was about 4 1/2 feet above the trail. Then the course followed a road for bit. A long bit.

Finally, a little LOST DOGS sign pointed into some high grass. There was a single track trail hidden in here. I still had no idea where I was, but I decided to sprint. Occasionally, I could see through the grass, and I realized I was running along a river.

Pretty soon, there was a suspension bridge. Up and over... and... FINISH.


The time? 5:00:42. DOH!!!

I managed a 4th place finish, 3rd guy. As I wrote above, Van managed to blow by me early on and gain 30 minutes. The next day, she'd run the San Juan Island Marathon (where I PRed last year). I slept in :-).

So, I did not make my goal. I did set a 50k PR. I could have beaten 5. A little less lingering at the aid stations would have done it. Plus, now I know the course... if I do it again, I'll have a better feel for where I am at any given time. I don't think those last miles would feel like a death march next time.

I definitely had fun, but man, my legs were tight. Not sure when I'll do this race again, but I will. It's the same weekend as several other wonderful races. It has some great advantages though: it's local, it's cheap, and the course is beautiful.

Next up: already happened. The North Olympic Discovery Marathon, better known as "NODM". It would turn out to be an absolutely horrible day, though not for the reasons you might guess. More on that soon!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

5/24/08 Andy Payne Marathon

The Andy Payne Marathon is an obscure race held on Memorial Day weekend in a suburb of Oklahoma City. A 5k and 10k are held on the same day, and collectively these are known as the "Andy Payne Memorial Races".

So who was Andy Payne?

Ah. A Cherokee from Oklahoma, he was the winner of the 1928 Footrace Across America... which was just what it sounds like. They ran Route 66 across the United States. Unofficially, it was known as "The Bunion Derby". Yeah, I guess so. Andy wasn't given a chance by the media, but he won it. 275 men started, 55 finished, Andy finished first. And the finish? After running from Los Angeles to New York, the participants had to run 20 miles on a track at Madison Square Garden. Yikes. Anyway, it took him just over 573 hours.

Andy was from Oklahoma, Route 66 went through Oklahoma City (it sort of still does, but Route 66's status is sort of weird), and there's even a Route 66 Park in the suburb of Bethany. What a great place to hold some races in Andy's honor.

Now, it just so happens that this park is located next to a small lake - Lake Overholser. One loop on the roads and bike paths around this lake is approximately 8 miles. So... a little loop through the park and three loops around the lake, and voila, what you have there is a marathon.

Or close to it, at least.

These races have been going on for 31 years, and I have no idea why they chose Memorial Day weekend. It's HOT in Oklahoma City at the end of May. It is thunderstorm-y in Oklahoma City at the end of May. And it's always windy in Oklahoma City. At the end of May with the prospect of thunderstorms, these winds can be the staggering kind.

And all of that brings us to my race. The Andy Payne Marathon was not a destination that had been in my calendar for months in advance. I found out a few weeks beforehand that my sister would be having her 50th birthday party in Dallas on Memorial Day Sunday, and by coincidence, the Andy Payne Marathon was on Saturday. The drive between Dallas and Oklahoma City is reasonable (though, ahem, notsomuch on a holiday weekend), so I signed up.

Logistically, this race is quite simple for travelers. Lake Overholser isn't too far from the airport, and there are several cheap and clean hotels... think Holiday Inn Express (the official hotel of men running in pink, heh)... nearby.

But the potential for weather may cause the traveler to search elsewhere. There are several great races on Memorial Day weekend. Bayshore in Traverse City, Michigan is the race I'd recommend without hestitation. I heard that they had 50 degree blue skies for their race.

Not us. At the start, it was 70 and about 200% humidity. At 6:30a. The wind was gusting. Luckily, the course was a series of loops, so the headwind was only problematic part of the time. However, on the other end of the loop, the wind never felt like a tailwind. Instead, it would get quite still and the heat/humidity combined to poach the runners. All in all, it was kind of amusing. While running into the wind, I kept wishing for the sun. While being poached, I kept wishing for wind. We got a good deal of both.

I started the race with two goals in mind: I thought I'd try for "about 3:45". My recent times have been sub 3:40, so this seemed reasonably conservative for the heat and wind. If I couldn't do that, I still wanted to beat 4. I've only run one other race in Oklahoma... the Tulsa Marathon way back in 2002 when I wasn't really training. If I could beat 4, this would mean I've beaten 4 in 35 different states. Pretty cool.

But I started out running 8:30s in an attempt to get something close to 3:45.

Unfortunately, I conveniently forgot that I had run 51.3 miles in 95 degrees the previous week. My workouts during the week had been fine, but as I would soon learn, I was still pretty much trashed from that effort.

Just before firing the gun, the guy at the start warned us that the mile markers were approximate and that the aid was sporadic. And then BOOM, we were off. And I do mean BOOM. He didn't use a starter's pistol. It was an actual handgun, of the Dirty Harry variety. BOOM. I was deaf for at least a couple minutes.

I was also worried about the aid. The mile markers weren't that big a deal. It would turn out that the aid was 1) regular, 2) stocked up, and 3) very VERY friendly. :-) The mile markers were as advertised... as I exited the 2 mile park loop, I hit M2 at 12:30. As in, 6:15 pace. Not me.

I have no great stories about the race. There weren't very many runners and we all spread out quickly. The first lap and a half around the lake were uneventful, except for the whole poaching/staggering effects. At about M15, I ran into the lead pack for the 10k. The race had absolutely no spectators, but the 10k was an out-and-back course, so the slower runners were all hooting and hollering for the 10k leaders. And me :-). I looked like a 10k leader.

Hoot! Holler!

Anyway. By the end of the second loop, I knew 3:45 was not in the cards. And even though I was at M18, it surely felt like I had run longer. Maybe the course was long. Maybe it was payback for the 51.3 miles I shouldn't have run. I could tell that beating 4 would be a struggle. But I really wanted to beat 4.

Around M21, I noticed a random guy standing near the course looking at the ground. A female runner was kind of looking at the ground too, and she had slowed way down.

It was a snake! A big snake.

It just made me run faster :-/.

I passed quite a few runners in this last loop. Lots of people were struggling with the conditions. One guy passed me about M24. At M26, the course turned back towards the park. I noticed two guys in front of me... the dude who had passed me, and another dude who the first dude had also passed. I remarked to myself that if I sprinted, I could pass the other dude. I looked at my watch and noticed that I was going to beat 4 (though not by much!) and decided not to sprint.

3:58. Yikes! And cool!

At first, I got announced... to nobody in particular... as being from some small Oklahoma town. Then the announcer corrected that to Seattle. And thanked me for giving Oklahoma City the Sonics. Dork.

The dude who had finished about 30 seconds in front of me was sitting by the finish line. I sat down next to him and we had a brief chat. Turns out, we were both 3:40ish marathoners, and we both took the same 20 minute weather penalty. Or was the course long too?

Anyway, dude's wife came over and told him that he had won his age group and I had come in second.

Wow. A 3:58, and I not only came in second, but I could have come in first if I had kicked a little. And I came in 10th overall. With a 3:58.

Hard day for everyone on the too-long course :-), I guess.

Overall, it was fun. And Island Boy likes hot.

Afterwards I went to the big party in Dallas and had a great time. Then I had to get my trophy through TSA and back to Seattle. That was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the weekend.

Next up: Already happened. This past weekend, I ran a local 50k that was essentially 31 miles of gentle downhill. With jaw-dropping views, lots of coca-cola, and oreos. Cookies make everything better. More on that RealSoonNow.

Monday, June 02, 2008

5/17/08 Redmond Watershed Preserve 12 Hour Ultra

Apologies for the delay with updates. Computer issues... which might be worth a whole story/post, and could be cathartic to write down anyway. Short version: Dell is a four letter word. Buy HP (or Apple if you absolutely must). If you do get a Dell, pray that you do not need technical support.
The Redmond Watershed Preserve is a very interesting park on the outskirts of... wait for it... Redmond. It isn't just in the sticks; it IS the sticks where other things get lost. I drove past this park twice a day, six days a week, for about five years traveling between home and work. And not one time did I ever stop there, much less try to run there.

The park has a ton of interconnecting trails utilized by runners, walkers, and horses. It's a great place for a race... provided the organizers mark the trails well :-). The Watershed Preserve 12 Hour Ultra (WP12) is just such a race. Most races are a set distance with the unstated rule "get to the end in the shortest possible time". WP12 is sort of the opposite: "run or walk as far as you can in 12 hours." More specifically, the race utilizes a two-loop course through the park, and the runner has to complete as many loops as possible before time expires. If the 12 hour bell rings while you are two miles into a loop, those two miles don't count. The whole racing strategy for a set time event like this is quite different from a typical race, and the 'complete loop only' bit makes for a very exciting ending to the day as people try to plan and complete that last loop.

To make things more entertaining, the two loops are different sizes: the first loop is 4.75 miles, the second loop is a tiny .625. For the first ten hours of the day, only "big loops" (both loops added together, 5.375 miles) count. At the ten hour mark, runners can continue doing big loops... or they can start circling the .625 "little loop" ad nauseam. Obviously, during the 11th hour, almost everyone remaining in the race is getting dizzy on the little loop.

Ah yes. People "remaining in the race". Another difference between this set time event and a typical race is that there are no DNFs. If a runner chooses to do five big loops (a little longer than a marathon) and then stop, then that's how many miles the runner gets in the final results. If a runner chooses to stop for a few hours in the middle for a little picnic, that's cool too. The miles before and after the break are added together - for all the loops completed during the twelve hours.

Interesting, huh?

Oh yeah, one more thing. That little .625 loop is quite a bit more technical than the 4.75 piece. Rooted, rutted, rocky single track on the little loop. Mostly wide jeep trail for the rest. This makes the round-and-round on the little loop doubly entertaining after already having run for 10 or 11 hours.

So that's the race and the course. I'd never been to this park before the race, and I'd never done a set time event before this. I was supposed to run a 6 hour race back in March, but I was sick.

Meanwhile... I had not been training to run ultras recently. My last run over 26.2 was a 50k back in early December (Sunmart). I have only run longer than 31 miles once in my life (Mt. Si 50 Miler), and it was not fun. Based on this, I set a few goals and guidelines for myself:

  1. Definitely run 6 loops (32.25 miles, a long 50k) under 6 hours.

  2. See how I felt, and do as many slow miles as possible after that.

  3. Maybe, just maybe pull out a slow 50 miles.
The 50 mile goal was somewhat arbitrary, but not completely fake. I am signed up to do a very difficult 50 miler at the end of July, and I wanted to figure out where I'd be starting a two month training cycle.

So there we were just before 7a on a beautiful mid-May morning in Western Washington. It was not raining, which was a plus. Normally, mornings during May are chilly... upper 40s. Not on this day. It was 70 and humid. Hmmm.

6 loops in 6 hours. Each loop would be 5.375 miles. Rolling, not too hilly. And only technical in the very last bit. No sweat.


Too much sweat. I carried a single 20oz bottle with me. On a normal day, that bottle will last me for about 90 minutes - 10 or 11 miles. I finished that first loop just under an hour, but I knew I was in trouble. My bottle was almost empty, and it was still "only" about 75 degrees.

They only had one aid station on this course, at the end of each loop. My bottle would need to last a full loop. Luckily, this was an ultra aid station... meaning that it was overflowing with real food, drinks, and electrolyte tablets. I lingered.

My second loop took exactly an hour. My water bottle was almost empty again. I lingered at the aid station.

My third loop was slightly over an hour. Dry water bottle. I lingered. I noticed a few people had dropped out.

By the middle of the fourth loop, I was walking some of the hills. Uh oh. One hour per loop was not only overly optimistic, but it had made me go out way WAY too fast.

As I started the fifth loop, I knew this was the marathon loop (26.875 miles total). I had figured that a five hour marathon pace would be a very conservative way to handle a 12 hour race. By the fifth loop, I was just focusing on finishing five. I told myself that I'd run five, walk the sixth, and then probably call it a day. I finished the fifth loop somewhere on the wrong side of 5:30. WOW.

It was 90 degrees at the aid station. I was caked in salt.

As I started the 6th loop, I met up with Maniacs Jess and Linda. I decided to run with them for a little while. This turned out to be a major, major help... Jess got me through the sixth loop. Almost seven hours to run my long 50k.

I had, however, passed my "moment of truth". I was moving slowly, but I was still moving, and Jess had helped improve my spirits immensely. I decided to keep on going.
73 people had started at 7a. By my sixth loop, only 33 people remained.

The 7th loop was a lot of shuffling. Jess had taken off, but as I rounded a bend, I found her sitting on a tree trunk. Blisters. We had a "do I pop it??" conversation (answer: NO!). I ran/shuffled with her a bit, but it was clear that she wanted to run faster. Off she went.

The end of 7 loops, a bone dry bottle, and 96 degrees at the aid station. I was in a remarkably good mood. That picture at the top was taken at the end of this loop. See the flip-flops that the other dude is wearing? He's "Barefoot Jon", and he ran for 12 hours in flip-flops. How can I complain about my day??

One more loop would give me over 40 miles. Off I went. Slowly. I walked A LOT during that 8th loop. I got passed a lot too. Whatever. I finished 8 at about 9:45 on the clock. The aid station volunteers talked me into trying one more. "Go get 50!!" A 9th loop would give me 48.375 miles... 3 little loops after that and I'd have it.

Alright, aid station folks. I decided before I left to grab my music player out of my drop bag. I rarely wear headphones when I'm running and almost never during a race... but it was a lifesaver in this situation. I ran that 9th loop. The whole thing. I hadn't run a complete loop since the 3rd one, but the music really helped with my energy levels. Running for 10 hours can get, well, boring :-). And boredom can bring one into the Valley of Despair. The music helped.

However, as I did the technical little loop, it became obvious why I don't generally run with music. By this point (11ish hours on the clock), lots of people were on the little loop. I didn't hear the people trying to pass me. Boo me.

By the 11th hour, the weather was cooling slightly. Could I do 3 little loops?

Yes. Yes, I could.

The first one was fast. The second one was fairly fast until I fell down. It took me over 11 hours before I fell, but when I DID fall, I made sure it counted. BOOM!

I was a bit slower after that. :-)

The third loop came and went. The aid station volunteers congratulated me on getting past 50.

For some weird reason, I decided to do another little loop. Halfway through the loop, my brain finally said "hey, you know, I'm not having fun anymore. Please be done now."

And so after the fourth little loop, and nine big loops, I stopped. 11 hours and 36 minutes. 51.3 miles. Perhaps I could have done a couple more little loops and made my finish more exciting, but my brain was telling me not to go out again. If I had tried, my brain might have made me fall down just for spite. Not worth it.

51.3 miles. I've never run that far before. And I did NOT train to do this.

11:36. I've never been on my feet that long before either.
I came in 13th out of 73. Lucky number. Had I put in two more loops, I would have come in 11th. Hey, I was just happy to get to 50 and still be ambulatory.

Huh. I will say: that is a very slow 50 miler. It took me over two hours longer to do this than Mt Si. Then again, I trained for that and felt like death at the end of it. I did not feel like death at the end of WP12.

What an interesting experience. I will definitely do a set time event again. I really liked the atmosphere. I'm not sure I'll do WP12 again. I might. I know I would HATE this course in the rain - it would be very muddy. It's also the same weekend as a bunch of other great races.

The organizers were wonderful, the aid was great, and I didn't get lost: woohoo!

Next up: Because I am very behind on reports, it has come and gone. The obscure Andy Payne Marathon in Oklahoma. I placed, which was wacky.

More on that RealSoonNow.