Monday, July 28, 2008

7/19/08 El Scorcho!

The El Scorcho 50k was my 177th marathon+ultra since being sick. You'd think that after 176 long races, I'd know how to run them properly. I still make mistakes, though. Sometimes lots of them. Lots of rookie mistakes.

Welcome to my race at El Scorcho.

But first... what kind of funky race has a name like "El Scorcho"? A 50k held in Ft Worth, Texas, during the hottest time of year. Fear not, though. To help with the heat, El Scorcho starts at midnight. And that's why I signed up. A 50k at midnight! With a funny name!

Actually, that was the secondary reason why I signed up. The primary reason was because I was planning a trip to Dallas that weekend anyway. My sister had arranged a surprise party for our parents' 35th anniversary, and the whole family would be there. Groovy - I could go to a party and run a race. In fact, I'd have to leave the party in order to run the race. I had no idea how my body would handle running all night long, so I figured that filling it up with party food might give me that extra kick I'd need to stay sharp.

Ok, not really. Welcome to the first of several rookie mistakes I'd make for my 177th marathon and ultra: screwy nutrition. Think about the typical race. You wake up on race morning and eat a little something. How about chicken fajitas! And chips and salsa! And cake! In fairness, I topped it off with fruit. I also stayed away from the beer. Instead, as I was sitting outside of my parents' house in 95 degree heat at the party catered by Pappasitos, I drank 5 or 6 diet cokes. Yum. Just what a person needs a few hours before an ultra. It wasn't supposed to be that way; I meant to be good. But I was hungry, I was at a party, and it was there. Besides, I figured that if I ate about 7p, it would be...uh... processed within 5 hours.

I've run a few midnight races. There's a 5k in Seattle that's held every Independence Day exactly at midnight. I've done that race in "serious" race mode. I've also showed up to it somewhat tipsy. I've never done well there. Something about running at night is wacky - my body gets confused. That midnight 5k is usually 2 minutes slower than my typical 5k time, and that's a lot for 3.11 miles.

El Scorcho is a 5k course that participants repeat 10 times... except for the folks registered in "La Scorchita", the 25k sister event. The course meanders along gravel and asphalt bike trails (and a bit of grass, like a cross country course) in Ft Worth's Trinity Park. It is not at all technical, though being held in the middle of the night makes it a little trickier. Some of the course is lit, and some is not. Although this year's race was held on a full moon weekend, a couple sections seemed very dark indeed. Most of us had headlamps and/or flashlights. A few brave souls did not.

Counting both the 50k and the 25k, the event was kind of a big deal. Lots of runners and lots of friends-and-family spectators... at least for the 25k. The organizers utilized chip timing, and thank goodness for that. Who wants to be counting laps at 4a? Additionally, the course offered two aid stations - a chance to drink every 1.5 miles. No need to carry a bottle nor worry about food.

Thinking that parking and finding the race site might be confusing, I showed up about 90 minutes early. I was wrong... Trinity Park was easy to find. The parking situation was phenomenal - a football stadium's parking lot that could easily fit 10x more cars than necessary for El Scorcho. And the lot was lit, an amazingly important detail for a middle-of-the-night event. I picked up my stuff, and with 85 minutes to spare, I went searching for Maniacs and 50-staters. Many people were setting up for the night with camping chairs, coolers, and a few tents. I met Maniac Claude and The Boones, the 50-stater royalty. Some folks who know me at various internet message boards (hello, RunningAHEAD) came up to say hi. Wearing pink is like having a bright shining beacon sometimes. It was great meeting everyone.

Finally, it was about time to start. The 50k would go off promptly at midnight; the 25k would start 10-15 minutes later. I was amazed at the number of people who had signed up. I didn't think all-night running would be a big attraction, but I was wrong. And the 25k seemed to be an even bigger draw. How cool.

Off we went. I didn't really have a solid goal for this race. I didn't know anything about the course, and I didn't know anything about how my body would handle running at night. I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before either. I knew it wasn't going to be technical, and I didn't think there would be hills, so I decided on a round number: I wanted to finish somewhere near 5 hours. Assuming I ran the race evenly, this would be easy to track; I needed to run 10 30-minute laps. No sweat. Except that it was dark and there were no mile markers. The only way I could tell how fast I was running was by my breathing and pulse. Both of which were different at night, especially while I was talking to folks. Hmmm. If anything, I wanted my first lap to be slow. I'd get the lay of the land, get warmed up, and then go faster later.

The course had an out-and-back section with a bit of grass running, then it cut through the "woods" (hey, it was dark. In the daylight, the trees might have been sparse. I don't know) over to the aid station. Then, back on the trail, over a couple bridges, out to a road by a bunch of neon lights, back on the trail to a playground, more trail, and then the start/finish area.

My 1st lap was 27:18. Uh oh. Rookie mistake #2: I went out too fast. A whole minute per mile too fast, and that's a lot. So I slowed down.

Even in the middle of the night, July in Ft Worth can be over 80 degrees, and so electrolyte replacement would be important. El Scorcho utilized NUUN as its electrolyte drink. NUUN is a little fizzy tablet that comes in a small tube, kind of like Airborne. I have a tube of it in my kitchen, and it has never been opened. NUUN just seems weird. Welcome to my next rookie mistake: trying something new on race day (or night). I've never had it in my life, but El Scorcho started out hot... and I was downing two cups of it every 1.5 miles. For a little while, at least.

The 25k folks had started 10 minutes after us. By the 2nd lap, all the faster 25kers had passed me. There were lots of people to talk to, and there were lots of lights flashing around. It was surreal.

Back to the start/finish. My 2nd lap was 27:28. Crap. I had intentionally tried to slow down... and had managed a full extra 10 seconds. 10k in, and I was still one minute per mile too fast. The interesting part was that while I was too fast for my somewhat random goal of 5 hours, I didn't know if I was too fast for my level of fitness. Maybe I could keep this up. By the 2nd lap, I knew that El Scorcho's course was pancake flat. Plus, as the evening wore on, the temperature was cooling off. I had managed exactly 5 hours at a slightly downhill 50k back in May.

Extra training, flat course, warm weather. Maybe I could beat 5. Then again, maybe not. One minute per mile over 31 miles is a heck of a lot faster than 5. Had someone asked me before the race "are you ready for a 4:29 50k?", I would have given them an emphatic NO. Also, once again I let the warm weather go to my head. I like warm, and I like hot, but it doesn't make me faster. Sometimes I trick myself into thinking it does. Rookie mistake #4. Anyway, I decided that I'd try to keep my laps under 30 and try to beat 5.

By the 3rd lap, I began to realize that even in the dark, 10 laps of the same thing might get exceedingly boring. I started to learn really intricate details about the course. I counted the number of bridges we went under. I counted the number of times we crossed the tiny train tracks. Trinity Park used to have (and might still have) one of those little trains that kids ride - like in the movie The Jerk. And I could tell when my body chemistry started getting out of kilter. The first change was behavioral. By the middle of the 3rd lap, I wasn't so chatty. The second change was bigger - vertigo. Not super bad... I wasn't falling over. I was just slightly dizzy. But this was only the 3rd lap! Oh my. Then towards the end of the 3rd lap, my stomach started to go sour.

My 3rd lap was 29:19. I had slowed down, but I was right at my adjusted "laps under 30" goal. I was beginning to feel it, though. And it was not good.

My 4th lap was filled with self-doubt. Six more afterwards! Plus, the faster 25kers were into their last lap... and so some of the spectators were starting to leave. Oh man. Nevertheless, my throat kept drying out, and I kept gulping the NUUN. That's when the sloshing started; fluid wasn't clearing my stomach. I hadn't gotten any dizzier, but the dizziness also didn't pass.

My 4th lap was 30:38. The trend was in the wrong direction, and it was finally crystal clear to me that I had gone out WAY too fast. My new goal was called "finish upright". My stomach was sloshy and sour. My head was spinning. I tried not to be grumpy. On the good side of the ledger, I was still sweating properly, I wasn't breathing hard, and I didn't have a headache. I figured that I wasn't overly dehydrated and heat exhaustion hadn't knocked me down. So I continued.

The 5th lap was more of the same. I tried not to drink as much, but I stuck with the NUUN when I did drink. Sloshy. Sour. I ate a chunk of banana at the aid station, but mostly my brain was saying "No food!" My belly was now kind of distended. Yup, my stomach was stuck. 33:18. My first half was 2:28, but my splits were getting ugly. And it felt like I was running pretty hard just to hit 33 minutes. Finish upright.

I started the 6th lap as a nice walk in the park. I was waaay past the point of racing. Maniac Claude passed me in here. Good luck, dude. Onward. I did a little of the "old man shuffle". And then a lot of the old man shuffle. Wow.

As I approached the aid station, my body told me in no uncertain terms: it is time. Time for what? I won't be graphic about it. It was time for my digestive system to have a showdown with itself. I was in the OK Corral. Would the Clantons win? Or the Earps? (or the urps?) Have you ever seen a Western where the two guys in the shootout manage to shoot each other? Right, nobody wins. Or maybe everyone does.

Anyway. Time passed. Stuff came up. Stuff went out. Time passed.

After that, it finally dawned on me that perhaps NUUN was not my thing. Water and the electrolyte tablets in my pocket would have to do. Bananas if I wanted some calories. No more NUUN. The 6th lap was a brutal 35:21, though that did include a great showdown gunfight thingy. Entertaining for all! My belly was no longer distended. Nor did I slosh.

By the 7th lap, I figured I could do the whole course without my flashlight. Perhaps even blindfolded. I saw some interesting stuff on this lap, though. It helped that I was slowly shuffling. Exhaustion had set in for some, and other people were probably having the same food issues as me. Some guy had managed to go off course during the out-and-back section, and a gal was following him. Somehow, he managed to avoid a wire fence, but she did not. It caught her right in the midsection and she went face-first into the concrete. I approached her at the same time as a bicycle cop who had been patroling the course. He asked her if she was ok. "Yeah, except I busted some teeth."


Because the cop was there to help, I shuffled off. It dawned on me that I clearly wasn't feeling *that* badly. I was still coherent. I hadn't gone off course. I wasn't as dizzy as I had been. I continued with the old man shuffle, but I started to be sociable to others again. Interesting. Behavioral changes had been the first sign that my body was losing it, and now the opposite change in behavior was one of my first clues that I might be recovering. So did I switch back to NUUN at the aid station? Oh hell no. That 7th lap was a 40:11, almost the same time as if I had walked the whole thing.

I was feeling a little bit better. Off I went. I don't remember much about the 8th lap... not because I was out of it; actually I was fine. An uneventful lap was a GOOD thing. 34:22. Still slow, but better than the previous two laps. My belly was working again, and I was able to do something between a shuffle and a run. I remember asking the spectators at the start/finish if it was really 4a (YES!), and off I went.

It's amazing how many details I was still learning by my 9th lap of the exact same thing. This was good. As I hit the aid station, I decided it was time to turn my semi-shuffle/run into an actual run. I didn't know if I could, but I was bored, and it was time to try. Ouch. It was kind of like my running muscles had gone to sleep and I was slapping them into wakefulness. They didn't like it, but reluctantly... slowly over the next mile... they did indeed wake up. I finished the 9th lap at 33:39, but I'm pretty sure that the second half of that lap was much peppier than the first. It certainly felt that way.

Oh man. Time for my last lap! I did not dawdle at the start/finish. No loitering. It was ok; most of the spectators were asleep. I noticed that the trash bucket was filled with beer bottles. Hmmm. Must have been quite the party.

No loitering. I ran. It felt like I was running my 5k race pace, although I was actually going much much slower. As I passed little clusters of awake spectators, I told them thank you and goodnight. I blew through the aid station. Thank you and goodnight. I knew how many steps to the two bridges, I knew where the turns were, I knew when to step off the curb without adjusting my stride... I was FLYING! At maybe a 9:30/mile pace. HA. That's slow for me, but hella faster than the previous few laps, and anyway it felt like I was sprinting. I was passing all kinds of people, but I didn't know what lap they were on. When I could, I whispered some encouragement and then I disappeared into the night.

As I approached the finish, the guy in front of me decided to do a cartwheel for his big finish. Woohoo. I didn't do anything quite so dramatic. I just sort of stopped.

5:21. Yuck. I had run an ugly 2:28/2:53 split. But a bar graph of my laps would show an interesting bell-shaped curve:

27:18, 27:28, 29:19, 30:38, 33:18, 35:21, 40:11, 34:22, 33:39, 29:38

Had I not made so many goofy mistakes, that middle part probably would look better. I was happy that my last lap was in line with my 3rd lap (the 1st two laps were clearly too fast). Based on the last lap, I'm pretty sure that "about 5 hours" was the reasonable goal. Now I know.

The food at the end of El Scorcho was really odd: bottles of water and pasta. I was happy to have some water, but who wants pasta after a race? Especially at 5:30a? There had been fruit, but it was all gone. I needed some calories and I wanted to go to bed, so I didn't stick around long.

I did run into Claude before I left. He had run a 4:52 and came in 15th overall! WOOHOO!

I came in 28th out of 91. I think a few others DNFed. Lots of people had issues with the heat and the whole "middle of the night" thing. I'd be really happy about a top third finish had I run a smart race. I did not run a smart race. I'll stick with being happy about that last lap :-).

So I drove 45 minutes to my parents house and managed a few hours of fitful sleep before spending the rest of the day at the emergency room :-(. My father was feeling poorly. Turns out that he has an aortic aneurysm. Boo for that, but he's doing ok now.

Next up: the race that has scared me for the past few months. The White River 50 Miler. How did I do? Well, I didn't come in last. More about that RealSoonNow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

7/13/08 Missoula Marathon

The Missoula Marathon was a new race last year. I did it; I was pleasantly surprised by both the town of Missoula and the race itself. You never know how a first-time event is going to go, and it was really good. A lot of Maniacs signed up for the race last year... for this year's version, even more signed up from all over the place. Never underestimate the drawing power of a well-managed small race, especially during a month with few choices :-).

I felt quite blah during last year's race and struggled to the finish. My 3:53 wasn't out of line with my other summer times, though, and I wrote in the report "I definitely could have had a 3:45 race". Afterwards, a local TV station interviewed me. This made the day even more interesting. The blahs didn't last.

I guess I'm famous in Missoula. This year, a nice guy from the local ABC station emailed me a few weeks before the race to arrange an interview. Sweet. And so, when I showed up in Missoula to pick up my packet, I also got to spend a few minutes in front of a camera.

I've done a few TV things, and they've all gone the same way. The guy/gal running the camera asks questions and kind of interviews me while recording my responses. Then later, some of what I said gets spliced into video of other things and narration by another person (not the guy/gal I talked to). This sounds like it could be nefarious and end poorly, but in all cases... so far!... the organization has gone out of its way to make me look good. The ABC gig was no exception. He probably talked to me for 15 minutes and asked me all kinds of questions. We talked about the 65 marathons I ran last year. I told him about my favorite race. How to train to run lots of races. Food. How leukemia and breast cancer have affected me. How much I like Missoula (which wasn't a lie - it really IS a neat place). Of all that, I got a 15 second sound bite in the middle of the story. Hee. But they chose a good one.

Anyway... after my 15 minutes of fame, I did a nice recovery run through the downtown area and across a rail-to-trails trail near the university. I had wanted to run up to the giant M...

...but they'd recently had a big fire on that mountain and the trail was closed. After that, some of my Maniac friends picked me up for dinner (great food, nice people, miserable service) and then ice cream at the KOA Kampground. Then back to my hotel and sleep. For a few hours, at least. The Missoula Marathon is a point-to-point course with a 4:30 shuttle to the start. I had to get up at 3:30 to prepare.

Last year's race started at 65 degrees, but quickly spiked to 90 with high humidity. This year was much more tolerable. It was a chilly 48 at the starting area and thanks to the 4:30a shuttle/6a start, we were there for awhile. I had planned well and had tons of layers which I dumped in a bag just before the start. I actually started the race in what would be considered skimpy by Island Boy standards: shorts, singlet, ditchable gloves, and a ditchable long sleeve shirt.

While waiting at the start, I got to meet so many Maniacs. Lots of folks I know in Seattle came over, but there are lots of new Maniacs who I don't know. And July in Missoula attracted them. It was fun talking to everyone, and it made the chilly wait go by quickly.

Time to start. They changed the course this year somewhat, but the basics matched last year's race: a point-to-point course from Frenchtown down backroads into downtown Missoula. The course is flat-to-gently-rolling, except for one big hill between M13 and M15. This is a fun hill, roughly equivalent to the one I call "mama bear" in the middle of Yakima (aka "the second of Yakima's three progressively harder hills"). Amusingly, the only hill in this race happens to be on a road named Big Flat Road. No it isn't, I promise you.

Yeah, still time to start. How about a race goal? I had the same blah feeling that I had at last year's start. Maybe it's the Montana water? Or getting up at 3:30? I don't know. Based on my recent training, the ease of the course, and the weather at the start, it could have been a 3:35 day. However, the blahs made me relax that to "about 3:45". Plus I knew the weather might be a wildcard. It was supposed to stay in the 60s-70s throughout the morning with bright sun and a little wind. But I know about Montana wind. If it got truly windy from the wrong direction, or if the temperatures spiked higher, then the day could get rough. So that additional 10-12 minutes seemed reasonable.

And with that, BOOM, we were off. BOOM. A cannon has signaled the start of the Missoula Marathon both years. A real cannon, not one of those confetti poseurs. BOOM. Woohoo! What? I can't hear.

As predicted, I started off blah. Or is it "blahly"? Whatever it is, it felt yucky. The first half of the course wandered through farm/ranchland. At M4, the course ran through a papermill. Ok, not technically through the main building, but the buildings were on both sides. Last year, this was where I went offroad to visit a portapotty in the middle of nowhere. This year, I looked for the portapotty, but it was gone. This was ok; I didn't need to go :-). I just wanted to spot it for nostalgic reasons. Isn't that weird? As I approach 200 marathons, some of my memories involve portapotties. Right-e-o.

The ABC guy showed up somewhere in here to film me as well as a couple other folks. He'd be on the side of the road with his camera. Then after I had passed, he'd drive ahead, set up, and do it again. A bit later, he drove up next to me and filmed me for a minute or so while he drove. Is this legal? It felt incredibly strange, and it seemed like far longer than a minute. I enjoy speaking in front of people. If you've read enough of these reports, you know I usually don't mind being the center of attention. Heck, I run in pink. But by the end of that minute, I was beginning to feel incredibly self-conscious. Hmm. I can't imagine being an elite at the front of a big race with motorcycles and cameras on me for a couple hours. Luckily, Mr "about 3:45" won't ever have to face that. Heh.

I hit the halfway point at 1:53. To actually beat 3:45, I'd have to run a negative split. For "about 3:45", I was right on the money. Not bad for the blahs. The weather had indeed warmed up... and the ditchable shirt had long since been ditched. But it wasn't too warm, and the wind had not become a factor. Time for the big hill.

Going up the hill, I passed a guy walking up it backwards. I had a strong sense of deja vu... I'd seen him last year too. Seems as though he has weak or damaged quad muscles and he firmly believes that walking up the hill backwards is the only way he can get up it. Okey doke. Given that I passed him at M14ish, this meant he had been running faster than me before the hill. Perhaps he'd catch me again on the other side.

By the two hour mark, all the runners were spread out. I was never completely alone, but it was easy to tell when someone was "sneaking up" from behind. And around M16, I began to notice a slender, blonde woman in black gaining on me slowly. She caught me around M18. She seemed pretty focused, so I decided not to try small talk. We just ran. She had a red shirt balled up in her hand. Aha. A pace group leader. Pace groups are/is one reason (of many) why Missoula is a cool small marathon. For this race, some leaders stick with their groups for the whole race, and others swap out halfway. So here was a woman who had passed off her pacing duties and was now attempting a negative split. Maybe I could stick with Negative Splits Chick.

And maybe not. She passed me around M20 as the course turned into Missoula. It wasn't a complete dusting, but it was clear that she was going to pull away. She had a huge negative split coming her way; I did not. As she went by, I glanced at her face. Huh. I think I know her. My brain started flipping through its face recognition rolodex trying to figure out why... or if... I knew her. Nothing came up, so I figured that I must have seen her at a race somewhere. I see lots of people. I could have asked, but she really did look intense. And "don't I know you?" felt too pickup-y. Off she went.

I still felt blah. The final miles were ticking down, and I was trying to keep my pace. This was where the organizers had changed the course. Last year, we zigzagged through neighborhoods and then a mall parking lot. Then it was a grueling sun-blasted last few miles over a bike trail to the finish. This year, we did a lot more neighborhood zigzagging. This was weird because at many points, I could look over a couple blocks and see runners on different streets. The very pleasant side-effect, though, was that this section offered a ton of shade. No mall and not much bike trail.

I was passing a bunch of people. Some of these were half marathon walkers. Others were marathoners who had gotten too hot. Island Boy felt blah, but at least not "blah and too hot". My pace stayed consistent. And although Negative Splits Chick had pulled away from me, she never got completely out of sight.

Over the river and across the bridge...

Robert Lopez, from Seattle.

Woohoo, I got announced. ABC guy was at the finish and shook my hand. That was nice. I didn't notice him recording, but he must have been... because my finish made the final video. Not once, but twice. Huh.

3:46. Hmm. Well, that's what I call "about 3:45". It's also a very even race - I ran a 1:53/1:53 split. Considering how I felt, I did ok. However, I had managed a couple low 3:40s and a 3:28 back in April and May on much harder courses. Something is off slightly about my training. Still though, I made my goal.

I grabbed a bottle of water and saw Negative Splits Chick walking away. I took the opportunity to congratulate her on pulling what seemed like a huge negative split. She congratulated me on my pink. And we parted. I was in search of food. I found some, including really wacky popsicles. Natural popsicles. How natural?? Well, I had a watermelon popsicle. And it had seeds. My watermelon popsicle had seeds! Perhaps a little too natural :-).

As I was recovering, I ran into sooo many people that I've seen at other races. How cool. I ran into a couple who had seen me in Kona. I talked to Maniac Chester's wife. I met a bunch of new Maniacs. And then I stumbled across Shirley Pratt. She actually lives in Kona part-time. I haven't seen Shirley since 2005, when she was running a bunch of marathons in support of folks in the military. Lots has happened in the past three years!

After eating and chatting, I went to grab my stuff and glanced at the posted results. There she was: Negative Splits Chick had run a 3:45. And, oh my. I saw her name. Rachel Toor. It clicked why my brain had been poking me. I don't KNOW know Rachel, but I certainly know OF Rachel: she's a writer as well as being a well-traveled pace group leader and ultrarunner. She wrote a hilarious column about pacing the Las Vegas Marathon for Marathon and Beyond. She has a recurring column in Running Times. And, the coolest thing for me, she writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Neat!

How I wished that I would have recognized her. I also wished, kind of, that I had spoken to her while we were running together... but she really did seem focused. So I went looking. I found some other pace group folks and, sure enough, they pointed me Rachel's way. I actually called her 'Negative Splits Chick'. Hey Negative Splits Chick, you're famous. Not my most gracious opening, but she didn't call a cop nor punch me. I finally got my opportunity to say a real hello and offer up a thanks for all the groovy writing.

And that was that. This year's Missoula Marathon. I felt just as blah as last year for most of the race, but I had more fun this time around. And randomly seeing all those people I knew after the race was very fun. Running with a celebrity too. And oh yeah, I got on TV.

See the results of the interview and the in-action video here, in the middle of the sportscast.

Next up: yes, it has already happened. El Scorcho! I won't 'splain that. To learn about El Scorcho, check back RealSoonNow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

7/5,6/08 A Trails Double

This picture was taken by Maniac Brian at the 2008 Rattlesnake Lake Marathon.

Fourth of July weekend! And a weekend where those of us in the Pacific Northwest were given the opportunity to run a triple without having to fly: Friday's Foot Traffic Flat Marathon in Portland, Saturday's 28.8 mile Lake Youngs double (a fundraiser for someone doing the Seattle Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk later this summer), and Sunday's Rattlesnake Lake Marathon at... say it with me... Rattlesnake Lake.

As you can see from the title of this report, I did not do the triple. A few folks did. Instead, I spent Friday at a local brew festival sampling beers from around the world. This was a great way to spend our nation's birthday. Some beers were great. Some tasted like pond water. Kinda like how some races are fun and some taste like pond water. If I could run on water, maybe those races wouldn't taste like that.

Had I kept better notes, perhaps I would have included beer details in this report. But I didn't. The quality of my penmanship was inversely proportional to the amount of beer I had sampled at any given point.

Oh, don't worry. I rode the bus to and from this fine event :-).

I did run the Saturday and Sunday races as a double - my first double since early December. I'm not really going for the super high race count this year for Maniac statistics, but I *am* planning on running a couple 50 milers. So I need some doubles for training miles. One of those 50 milers (White River) is in a couple weeks, and I'm very nervous. Completing this double was important to my psyche.

The Saturday race was yet another multi-loop race around good ol' Lake Youngs. I ran a similar race in the same place a few weeks before this one. Same course, basically the same weather except with some off-and-on rain, fewer people. Last time, I ran three counterclockwise loops. This time, I ran one in that direction and two clockwise loops. Weeee!

I don't really have much to report about the Saturday race. Lake Youngs is always a hard trail for me, but I managed to knock 5 minutes off my time from a few weeks ago. 4:44. That was cool. The course is really interesting. As a loop, the net elevation gain zeroes out, so it should not matter which direction the runner takes around the lake. That said, clockwise feels easier to me, and my race times indicate this as well. Huh.

I did not set out to race Lake Youngs all out, and I didn't... even though this was my quickest time ever on this course. I took it easy, and I finished strong. This was important because I needed to be strong for the next day at Rattlesnake Lake. It's been seven months since my last double.

Very important. Turns out, the Rattlesnake Lake Marathon is tough. This race was started last year as a free and informal event by a couple fellow Maniacs. 18 people finished it, and based on their times, I figured the course was pretty basic. I should have realized that a good percentage of those 18 folks were (are) our faster Maniacs. Their times on easy/medium/hard courses have little bearing on how I might do. The race utilizes chunks of two trails that I'm becoming very familiar with: the Snoqualmie Valley Trail (SVT) and the John Wayne Trail (also known as Iron Horse). Both trails are utilized in the Mt Si 50 that I did last year and the 20th Century 50k WIMP that I completed in May. Both trails are rails-to-trails conversions with very long uphill and downhill grades. Whereas 20th Century was all downhill, the Rattlesnake Lake Marathon is a half-and-half course: 5 miles down the SVT, 13 miles up (5 miles back up SVT, 8 miles up Iron Horse), 8 miles down Iron Horse. And when I write "13 miles up", I mean exactly that. The grade is gentle but relentless. Great for trains. Great for some runners, like our faster Maniacs. Hard stuff for Island Boy.

This year, the race was a much bigger deal. No longer free, but still only 10 bucks, and a lot more than 18 people. 50 came out - the maximum that the race directors wanted to allow (and probably put on the official race permit). It was foggy and cool at the trailhead, which was how it was supposed to be all morning. Great running conditions. Singlet conditions for many people. See the picture at the top of this report? Yup, I was in a long sleeve shirt with another shirt underneath. I hate being cold.

Of the 50 runners and 2 race directors, I knew probably 48 of them. It was great seeing everybody, including my Best Running Buddy (BRB). I had no time goal for this race. I wanted to put in the miles for the double, and I wanted to socialize.

Off we went. I ran the first couple miles with BRB, my friend flapjack (who is also BRB's sister-in-law), and my other friend Ge-NEE-a. The first five miles were gently down the SVT, under I-90, to a highway intersection near the town of North Bend. Once I loosened up a bit, I sped up somewhat. But not a lot. I felt really good considering the previous day. The turnaround was at M5, and it was time to spend 2+ hours heading uphill.

Uh oh. The top of my right foot started hurting terribly. I was having trouble with my feet in Kona a week before this race, but I hadn't noticed anything at Lake Youngs. And I hadn't noticed anything going down the hill. I noticed it going up, though! Yuck. Unless it went away, this was going to be a long 13 miles up the hill.

Ouch, ouch, ouch. I passed a lot of friends heading down the SVT as I went back up because they had started later than my group. I must have looked terrible. Ouch.

I was very slow, too. As hills go, this was a gentle slope. Rails-to-trails are always gentle. But between the pain in my foot and knowing I'd need to stick it out for 13 miles, I was pokey. 10-11 minute miles. Also, two potty stops. But I digress. There was a guy following me. I kept thinking he'd pass me. He didn't. Up the hill. This is one of those races where I actually wished that I'd lugged along a camera. The views were outstanding, especially alongside the old trestles - waterfalls, mountains, trees. Apparently bears too, but I didn't see any. Up the hill. As I mentioned in my report for 20th Century, there are lots of reminders along Iron Horse of its railroad past. Mile markers representing the distance to Chicago clicked by. Every now and then, an old station or district sign would be posted in the middle of nowhere. No matching town, no matching station, no matching anything except a memory from once upon a time.

Finally. Finally, I past the old sign for Garcia. This was where 20th Century had started. Another half mile up the trail, up up up, and there was the M18 turnaround. Whew! One of the race directors, Maniac Monte, was running the aid station up there. I said hello, refilled my bottle, and was on my way. While I was there, the guy who had been following me finally passed me. I realized at the top of the hill that my foot had stopped hurting somewhere along the way.

Time to run down. The last 8 miles of Rattlesnake were the first 8 miles of 20th Century. I decided I'd try to run 8:15-8:30/mile pace for the rest of the race, which was about the same as how I started 20th Century. This would be clipping along considering the previous 46.8 miles that I had run in this race and the day before.

I re-passed the guy who had followed me up the hill. I passed a couple others as well, including one gal who told me that I wasn't allowed to pass her :-). I knew she was kidding, but this is always one of those jokes that can be hard to respond to in a snappy way. About M24, two guys blew by me as though I was standing still. This would be the overall winner and #2. See, the race had three official starts... the extra early start, the early start about 15 minutes later, and the regular start about an hour after that. I had gone out with the earlybirds in the middle start because that's when my friends went out. These two guys had gone out with the regular start, and they had made up a full hour on me in 24 miles. Pretty spiffy.

No one else caught me. Right turn off Iron Horse, left turn to the parking lot and done. 4:12, definitely not fast for me. All things considered though, especially the weird foot pain, that was a nice workout.

For a tiny 10 dollar race, this was very good. The miles were marked, and even seemed more accurate than some of the big races I've done recently. The aid stations were pretty far apart, but we all knew this in advance. They were fine, they were where they were advertised to be, and they had what I needed. Pictures were taken. There was great food afterwards, which sadly, I ducked out on. A very pleasant day. If this race is offered again, I'll definitely do it again... thanks Maniac Brian and Maniac Monte!

Incidentally, there are no rattlesnakes at Rattlesnake Lake. Bears, yes. No snakes.

Next up: my return to beautiful Missoula for their marathon. A fun race in a fun place. As has become my norm, the race has already happened before I managed to write this report. How did I do? Check back RealSoonNow!

And for fun, here's what it has come to: I'm an old man. Yikes! When did I turn into a little old man? The gal on the right is Maniac Leslie. She ran the full triple!

Monday, July 14, 2008

6/29/08 Kona Marathon

The Kona Marathon is the race that I consider to be my "home race". I try to do it every year, though I skipped it in 2003 so I could run in Anchorage. I wanted to check Alaska off my 50 states list, and I figured that I'd only go up there once. Since then, of course, I've been back to Alaska several times to run races on other weekends. Oh well. I've done Kona every year since then, so if I could make it back in 2008, I'd have a nice 5 year streak... my longest streak aside from Seattle (7), and my longest marathon-only streak. The seven years at Seattle includes four halves.

I wasn't sure that I'd be going until the day before my flight. J-Lo's broken elbow and helping her get by were (are) higher priorities. Luckily for both of us, the elbow is mending well, so off I went. Had I not gone, I would have run the local Seafair Marathon. I'm really glad that I didn't because it apparently stunk :-).

My last few Kona marathons have been interesting for various reasons. I finished 2004 at 4:17. I was focused on school in 2004 and not really running much, and that 4:17 came at a time when 4:20 represented a good day. I was training a lot harder in 2005 and dropped my "good day time" to "about 4:00". At Kona that year, I pulled a 4:08. Factoring in the heat, humidity, and course difficulty, I was very pleased with that. I continued training harder, and 2006's race happened on one of those wonderous days when everything goes right. I ran a 3:52 during a phase when my "good day time" was "about 3:50". Same hard course, same hot weather, but no weather penalty for my finishing time. Plus I felt great, and I met lots of nice people. A wonderous day.

4:17, 4:08, 3:52. A substantial drop in time each year. I had my no-training bump later in 2006, but I came back really focused in 2007. My "good day time" was under 3:50, and I decided to make Kona my goal race for that part of the year. The goal? 3:30. My training supported it, and my races in May and early June showed a positive trend: 3:36, 3:39, 3:34. On my favorite course that I know well... my home course... I knew I could find that other four minutes in there somewhere. Heck, the race would be held on my birthday weekend. Four minutes should have been no problem.

Except that it was a problem. Same hard course, same hot weather. And while I'm not a person who tends to taper before a goal race, I really messed up on the weekend before Kona. I stupidly attempted my 3:30 (one weekend early!) at the Saturday race in 95 degree Iowa cornfield heat. I was on pace through 15, but preditably blew up soon thereafter and struggled home at 3:46 with a huge positive split. Then, for fun, I traveled to Estes Park and ran what I consider to be the 2nd hardest road marathon in the US on Sunday. My time wasn't important, but running a hilly race at 9,000 feet certainly added to the fatigue and dehydration that I had worked up in Iowa.

The thing is, Kona was my goal race. And so I went out on race morning in 2007 6 days after an incredibly taxing double weekend intending to hit my 3:30. You can read the sad story here. In short, I completely melted down in the middle miles and finished at 3:55. I was really bummed. I knew exactly what I had done wrong, and I vowed to do better in 2008. Part of this was to set a less aggressive goal. 3:45. This would still be quite an improvement over my fastest Kona, and 10 minutes better than 2007's effort.

A year passed. I continued training, dropped my "good day time" to "about 3:40", and dropped my PR to 3:28. All along, 3:45 stayed the goal for Kona.

And it was time to run the 2008 Kona Marathon. Same course as always: the Kona Marathon essentially utilizes the Ironman course, though not exactly. An out-and-back from the Keauhou Beach Resort up through Kailua town and out the Queen K highway to the Natural Energy Lab. And back. Hot and rolling. Only one steep hill... down from M11-12 and then back up from M14-15. But there is NO flat anywhere on the course. The whole thing is roly poly.

In one sense, we'd have a good weather year in 2008. Overcast skies kept the temperatures moderate by Hawai'i standards... 75-85 and by definition no direct sun. However... and this is an important however... it was overcast because of the volcanic smog (vog) being generated from Kilauea on the other side of the island. Not the cleanest air to breathe while running for 3-4 hours. Additionally, there didn't seem to be much wind on race morning. Wind at Kona is a good news/bad news proprosition. Wind can help with the humidity and keeps runners cooler. Alas, wind can also be really annoying to run in. When it gets windy in Kona, it gets very windy. So, no wind this year. A sticky day.

3:45. I woke up on race morning feeling good and mostly normal. I had one issue... during the previous two days of running on the same roads we'd use for the race, the top of my right foot was really hurting. It seemed to go away somewhat after I'd warmed up for a few miles, but it wasn't going away. My hope was that this was due to the slanty roads... as long as I tried to stick to the middle of the road (which I could do during the race, but not during my training runs), I figured I could deal with it. Plus, the soreness did seem to get less as I ran. My longest run in Kona had been 10 miles. Maybe by M11, it would be all better. Maybe. Anyway, it was annoying and not race-threatening. Aside from that, I felt great.

After meeting all my Hawai'ian friends and a few mainland Maniacs, it was time to start. Off we went. This year's race had a new race director. I was a little worried about the impact this might have on race organization, but I shouldn't have been worried. For one, the new race director was very experienced. She's directed other marathons on the island. For two, the race had always been kind of informal anyway. And sure enough, everything seemed to be just about right for another fun day in Kona.

Of the various things I messed up in 2007, one important mistake was my pace in the early miles. The marathon starts at 5:30. Runners have just about an hour before the sun pops over the Hualalai volcano. One strategy is to go hard during this hour, realizing that once the sun comes up, everyone is going to slow down anyway. That's what I tried in 2007, and it was probably stupid. Going out too fast is going out too fast. I decided that for 2008, I wanted to run as evenly as I possibly could, although a bit of a positive split (+5 minutes) would be ok. So I set out to run 8:20-8:30/mile pace.

My first four miles: 8:09, 8:25, 7:47, 8:11. It's ok that they aren't identical because the course is roly poly. But still. Ooops. Too fast. I dialed it back a bit.

As I approached M11 and the turn down into the Natural Energy Lab, the men's leader blew by me on his way back. He gave me some encouragement and was on his way. Wow. It's almost never that the leaders acknowledge hoots in their direction; this guy was hooting me. I noticed that something seemed weird about his head, but I wasn't sure what. I found out the answer in the following day's paper. They interviewed him because, yes, he did win. The Kona Marathon provides cooling showers at each aid station. These are homemade affairs consisting of PVC pipe. He had stuck his head under a shower at M14, misjudged the height, and gouged his head open. YIKES. He spent the rest of the race in agony because the sweat made this big cut burn. I bet it did. What I had seen that seemed "weird" was his hat. The wicking fabric in his hat was slowly soaking up blood and spreading it out over the surface area. YIKES.

Just before M12, the female leader passed me on the way back. She wasn't too far behind the men's leader. Two more women were fairly close. About half a mile before the turnaround at M13, Maniac Mary passed me on the way back. She was in fourth place and about a mile in front of me. Go Mary!

I passed M13.1 at 1:50. Hmm, a little fast but not too bad. A 1:55 second half would land me at 3:45. I was pretty much on target and I felt ok. In contrast, I had hit the halfway point in 2007 at 1:44 and I felt like I was about to explode. The sun was also playing hide-and-seek in the vog. I was worried that it was about to get hot in the typical Kona fashion, but it did not.

Up the big hill at M14, and back on the Queen K highway at M15. This is my favorite part of the race because I get to hoot for everyone heading down to the turnaround. I saw lots of Maniacs. I saw Maniac Mary's daughter, who was running her first marathon. She dropped something that looked like a little i-pod shuffle. I told her about it, and thought briefly about turning around to grab it and give it to her. She told me not to worry about it. I later found out it was her little box of electrolytes. She finished upright, but I bet she wished she'd not dropped that box.

Last year, the big explosion happened at M19, just before turning off the highway. My 8:00-8:30 miles became 11:00 miles and that was that. I barely remember the rest of that race. I approached M19 this year with trepidation. And rightfully so. I lost it again. Luckily, it was much more minor, and I still had fun for the rest of the race, but there were no more 8:30 miles. They became 9:30s.

Somewhere around M21, Jeannie Wokasch caught me. She has won this race a number of times, but she's slowed down recently. This year she was wearing... well, basically she was wearing a pink bikini. She was also wearing headphones, but still took the time to tell me (in that slightly-too-loud headphone voice) that she liked my pink outfit. Thanks Jeannie! We ran near each other, though not WITH each other, for the rest of the race.

Somewhere around M22, a guy caught me. It was his very first marathon, and he thanked me for acting as his rabbit. He was now fresher than me and we played leapfrog for the rest of the race. Me, first race guy, and Jeannie.

I had hit M21 at 3:02. I can usually tell that if I hit M21 at 3:00, then a 3:45 is very doable. 3:02 made it harder. But it was very clear to me at M22 that 3:45 wouldn't happen. I wasn't slowing down, but I also wasn't finding that final burst to keep me peppy. Ugh.

I finished at 3:51. This meant a very ugly 1:50/2:01 split and a fairly big miss on my 3:45 goal. Still, this was my fastest Kona Marathon ever. Unlike last year, I felt great. I finished four minutes faster than last year even though I passed the halfway mark six minutes later. I finished basically with Jeannie, a former champ. That was fun.

Maniac Mary had been fourth female overall, first in her age group. She had been a mile ahead of me when I reached the turnaround at 1:50. She'd been about 8-9 minutes in front of me. She finished at 3:24, a full 27 minutes before I did. I slowed by 11 minutes in the second half on my own. This meant she must have sped up 7-8 minutes. Nice negative split!

Several of my Hawai'ianiac friends won awards too. No awards for me, and I missed my goal. But not by as much as last year. I had a very fun day for my 5th Kona Marathon in a row. Why did I miss my goal? I can't blame the weather. It was better than most years. I don't think it was the vog, because my breathing seemed fine. My nutrition before and during the race was fine, and I didn't feel overly dehydrated. I didn't notice my foot issue, though I suspect it was part of the cause. I think I just needed a perfect day for 3:45, and a perfect day did not materialize. It happens.

Not sure what I'll do for a 2009 goal. I might not have a time goal next year.

Next up: My first double weekend since last December. I ran a 28.8 mile ultra on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday. I obviously finished them given how I wrote that last sentence. And I'm still alive. How did I do? Check back RealSoonNow.