Monday, November 24, 2008

The Big November Race Report

November has been a very busy month, both in terms of racing and real life. So much so that you haven't seen a report from me in awhile. It didn't help matters that I developed a severe case of writer's block regarding my first race weekend - the Manchester City Marathon. And since I couldn't figure out how to write about that one, everything else backed up too.

Fear not. Real life is going ok. The races? Well, that depends on the race. In an effort to push past my imaginary block and to catch up, I'll briefly report on each race in one report. Well, 'briefly' in terms of what I write for each race. Added together, this could be long.

As noted, the month began with the Manchester City Marathon (11/2). This race represents one of three possible choices for the marathon runner who wants to pick up New Hampshire in the quest for all the states. And I needed it for state #49. Alas, it is a long day (or, in my case, night) to get to Manchester from Seattle. Blah. I was a zombie for most of my time in New Hampshire, which is probably why I've had a hard time writing about it.

Here's the main thing you should know about this race: Manchester is a hilly place. I was warned by fellow Maniacs that the course would be hilly. Indeed. It wasn't the hilliest race I've run this year by far, but it was a challenging course. Let's see... it was two different loops that gave the runner a nice tour of the city. I think. Mostly, I was disoriented. And cold! At least at first. It was 25 at the start and blowing wind. This is why I look like I'm bundled up to go skiing in the pictures; I do not like to be cold. Fortunately for everyone except me, the wind kind of died down. I wound up being too hot. Combined with my zombie-like state, I didn't have a very fun time while I was running. I set out with a "beat 3:45" goal and struggled in with a 3:48. Three minutes isn't terribly disappointing, but I never felt good the whole day. Interestingly, an 81 year old guy ran my 3:45. At 81! According to marathonguide, that's a 2:17 age graded time. Some of my more competitive friends feign embarrassment in a situation like this. I have to admit that I feel a little weird when someone hauling a stroller beats me. But an 81 year old running a 3:45? No embarrassment. I'm just bummed I didn't run closer to him or meet him. Heh.

I picked my hotel based on proximity to the race. Purely by chance, this place (the Hilton Garden Inn) was attached to the local minor league baseball stadium. My 2nd floor room offered me a perfect view from left field. In fact, I was essentially the left field fence. Wow. My own luxury box! Too bad that November isn't during baseball season. I did witness something curious, though. Thankfully, they allowed me to check in very early. When I first looked out my window, I saw a coach and a young boy practicing his hitting from a tee. I zonked out for a nap. When I awoke an hour later, I looked again. Coach and a young boy with a tee. Except the boy was now taller. I watched some football, then looked out again. The boy was taller and thicker now, and the tee had been replaced by a BP pitcher. This process continued throughout the day. My last view, just before sundown, was of a high school batter. It was like I had witnessed a boy growing up compressed into about 8 hours.

And, alas, that was much more interesting than my race :-(. The organizers did a fine job; I just wasn't that into it.

The following weekend involved no racing. I actually tapered! And that brings me to my trip to Texas for the new San Antonio Rock N Roll Marathon (11/16).

I have not had very good luck with the rnr events in the past, and I don't usually like the big races. They let in 30,000 runners for the half and full (combined start). I was quite nervous. On the other hand, I used to live in San Antonio, and I love that city very much. Racing aside, it was wonderful to go back for a visit. The weather was spectacular... blue skies and warm. Once again I wondered "why exactly do I live in Seattle?"

Well, it wasn't all warm. Race morning was ice cold. 30 degrees. And because of the crowd, J-Lo (the name on my pink shirts) and I had to be at the start very early to avoid traffic. She was going to walk the half with her sister. Me? I was going to try to run a 3:30. And since my current post-sickness PR is 3:28, I thought that maybe just maybe I could make a run at that if I noticed I was close around M20. I had tapered. I had eaten correctly. And to avoid clothing difficulties similar to New Hampshire, I had gone with several throwaway layers.

The rnr course was a very cool tour of San Antonio. Although it was factually a point-to-point, it seemed more like two loops. The first was a loop of downtown's north side (note: NOT the north side of San Antonio) including the Alamo. About M10, the half veered off towards the finish at the Alamodome, and the full took a nice tour down south by all the missions and then back towards downtown along the river. The course was mostly flat... way flatter than Manchester... with a few roly polies along the way. Including a rather unfortunate hill at M26. Boo.

I did well with the cold; in fact, it didn't stay very cold. Unfortunately for me, it was one of those days where my stomach does not like me. I have races like this more frequently than I'd like, and they do not trace back to specific food choices. youneverknow. A race with 29,999 other people is a bad race in which to have potty issues because the potties tend to be crowded. Sure enough, I lost 4 minutes (spread across 3 stops, ARGH) waiting and utilizing the facilities. Sigh. I was trying to get close to 3:30. I actually finished at 3:36. Had my stomach been happy, that would have been a 3:32. And if I had known I was on pace for a 3:32, I'm 100% certain I could have compressed that into my 3:30. So, huh. I feel good about my training and I feel fine about how I dealt with what I can control. But even so, I missed my goal. On a perfect day, on a fast course, in front of some old friends and family. I felt great afterwards, though, and the remainder of my trip was fine.

As for J-Lo and her sister, both completed their half marathon walks at about 3:23. Nice pace for walking. This was J-Lo's second half marathon ever, and she was faster this time. Woohoo.

The following weekend was Monkey weekend. Specifically, the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon in Nashville (11/23). Monkey was a night-and-day different experience from San Antonio rnr. a few hundred people. In the woods. No bands. There was, however, one spectator with a stuffed monkey. And it was cold. I know, I know. I keep saying that. But trust me, Monkey was COLD. 23 at the start of this one. Luckily, there wasn't any wind, and it was sunny. Monkey was also quite hilly - not the hilliest race I've done, but definitely the hilliest race I've done this year, and quite a bit more challenging than Manchester. Two times through a loop around beautiful and peaceful Percy Warner Park. What a pretty place and a pretty day. I set out to simply beat 4:00. Along the way, I had great conversations with lots of runners and volunteers at water stops. I took it easy. I met the owner of a nearby Fleet Feet store at one of the aid stations. Because I was wearing the pink, she recognized me as "that guy who came in and bought a pink top the day before". Yup, that was me.

Some very fast folks ran Monkey, and their times show that they had the legs for all those hills. Cool. This did not describe me! However, I did make my goal by running a 3:54. More importantly, I consciously ran a negative split: 1:58/1:56, my first in a very long time. Double cool. This was definitely a quirky and altogether cool race. We got two shirts; one was personalized. Personalized bib. Stickers and a tattoo. Friendliest aid stations ever. And after the race? A spread of food that makes Thanksgiving seem tame. There was so, so much. And beer! I knew a lot of people at this race and I really wanted to stay and socialize. And drink more beer. Unfortunately, real life called me back to Seattle right after I finished. Sigh. Maybe next year.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, that was four days later. Nothing truly embodies the meaning of Thanksgiving quite like running a marathon :-). And so I found myself in Atlanta for the holiday and the Atlanta Marathon (11/27). I ran this race last year... the first of three in a four day span. I really messed up my nutrition the day before and had a zombie-like day, much like Manchester... only worse. I struggled home at 3:56 and felt terrible.

This year, I was determined not to make that mistake. I ate a ton. I got the right amount of sleep. Race morning came with beautiful weather. Warmer than the marathons in the previous weeks for sure - and way warmer than last year's Atlanta race. And dry! A perfect day. I think I know why. This year, for the first time, the race was sponsored by The Weather Channel. I think this is a strategy that more races should employ.

I woke up, and I felt great. Atlanta's course is a hilly loop with a 10 mile out-and-back in the middle. Not Monkey-level hills, but comparable to Manchester. I decided to try to run about a 3:40. Now, whether that turned into a 3:42 or a 3:38 didn't matter so much, but I did want to run a smart race. Evenly or slightly negative. And unlike last year, I wanted to finish strong.

I did.

The day went exactly like I wanted it to go. 3:41, and a wonderful 1:52/1:49 negative split. I have to admit that when I hit the halfway point at 1:52, I figured that I didn't have what I needed... but I felt better and better as the race went on. Or maybe it was the hot Weather Channel reporter at M17. Hmmm. A great day overall. And like Monkey, I had to leave right afterwards to come home. At least flying on Thanksgiving evening is not a crowded experience.

Two days after Atlanta, I ran the new doesn't-roll-off-your-tongue Seattle Marathon 5k (11/29). They held this event on the waterfront at a place called Myrtle Edwards Park. A mostly flat race, but the bike trail utilized for the course was (is) somewhat skinny. I was worried about crowding, especially since I had no real plans to run fast. I wanted to run 8:00-8:15 miles (so a 25:00ish finish) to dial in my marathon pace for the next day. Alas, when the gun went off, I became preoccupied with running with my friend Bee. And she wanted to run faster than 8:00s. More like 7:00s. Whoops. I wound up in a weird place. Not fast enough to feel like I truly raced the 5k, but way faster than my goal. A 21:33 finish. Hmmm. This was not necessarily a good thing.

The next day was the Seattle Marathon (11/30). I have completed either the half or the full event here each year since 2001. Last year, I smoked a 3:36 the day after running a 3:37 and three days after my poor 3:56 at Atlanta. I suspect that I will come back and write up a full report of this race in a few days, so I'll hold off with the details. Briefly, except for being humid, the weather was perfect. And that rarely happens at this race. My original goal was 3:35, simply because this would be better than last year's 3:36. But by M4, I felt really good. So good, in fact, that I decided on the spot: This Is It.

Go-Fast day.

It was time to PR.

My post sickness PR is currently 3:28. I decided to try for 3:25-3:27.

How did I do?

Uh. Well. Huh. Deciding on Go-Fast during a race is not the smartest way to play. Not only had I not tapered, but I had run two marathons and a 5k in the preceding seven days. Go Fast.

I think I'll save this story for next time. But I bet you can figure out the results!

Next up: Hmm. I'm registered for the Sunmart (Texas) 50 miler. I may change to the 50k, which is what I ran last year. I have very bad luck with 50 milers. Not sure yet. Check back Real Soon Now! I promise it won't be a month.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

10/26/08 Tri-Cities Marathon

October 26th was my father's 78th birthday. I had planned to go to Dallas this weekend for his birthday, and also pick up the Miracle Match Marathon in nearby Waco. Miracle Match was my 52nd marathon last year, and I had a really good time there. Unfortunately, Real Life became problematic and I couldn't travel that far.

Instead, I headed over the mountains to eastern Washington for the Tri-Cities Marathon (TCM) held in an area known as, tah-dah!, the Tri-Cities. The cities (really, big towns) are Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. TCM is a balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back course that starts and ends at a hotel in Richland. Along the way, runners touch all three cities while passing over three different bridges zig-zagging the Columbia River. The course... really, the whole area... is pancake flat except for the bridges themselves.


However, TCM is famous for wind. 'Wind' can be a four letter word, just like 'hill'. It can slow you down. In these parts, it can pick you up and throw you. It can dry you out. And on a cold day, it can freeze you solid. The good news: the layout of the course means that worst case, the wind will only be a headwind for 13 miles. Only. Hey, this beats 2006 at Napa where the 20 mph headwind lasted 25 miles. Sometimes you have to make up your own good news :-).

Many Maniacs come to TCM each year. This year, there was a new marathon held in Umatilla, Oregon on Saturday. That's about 30 miles south of Richland. Doubles do not get logistically easier. Real Life didn't let me do both races; I was very happy to get to TCM in time. However, several of my friends did try the double. Turns out that Umatilla is a lot hillier and that course was tough. Good job to all those who managed both!

Bee and I made an uneventful road trip to the Tri-Cities on Saturday afternoon with the B-Dogs. They were great travel companions; the dogs sang pretty well, though Gracie isn't so good at high harmony. The weather had been perfect on Saturday: blue skies, not too cold, and not too windy. Race morning was also blue skies. Wahoo for that. At first, it wasn't that windy. This would change. It was fairly chilly, though. And I do not like being cold.

This was one of those mornings where I was simply thankful for being able to run, and I was very happy with the bright blue skies. I decided not to be terribly technical with a race goal. About 3:45, depending on the wind. I wanted to run as evenly as possible, but if I slowed or sped up to chat, no problem. At one minute before the scheduled race start, we were all milling and talking at the start when... GO! Eek! A minute early. Well, then. Off we went.

And off Bee went. Like a rocket. Every now and then, we will run races together. We ran Tacoma (another race known as TCM) together in 2007. We also ran the first seven miles of Bellingham together a few weeks ago. Usually, though, we just sort of run *near* each other. Sometimes, she's faster. Sometimes I'm faster. At Tri-Cities, she was the road runner. Meep meep. Not me.

The first mile of the course was on roads. At M1, we crossed the I-182 bridge. Except for a few miles, most of the rest of the course would be on wide, paved bike path until we came back across this bridge and hit M25. My body felt a bit achy, but I remembered that a few folks had run a marathon the day before. I wasn't that achy.

Flat flat flat. The Columbia River is quite pretty, and the bridges across it were fun to look at. This was good because 1) there wasn't really anything else to look at, and 2) it was so flat that we got to see those bridges several miles in advance.

At M8, the course crossed the Blue Bridge to the other side. At the top of this bridge right in the middle is a giant USA flag. For miles and miles, this flag served as a big billboard for "Here is what your wind is doing!" At M8, the flag was certainly flapping. I hadn't really felt the wind to this point, and the flag told me why. It was at my back.

Across the bridge, the course headed back towards the start for a 2.5 mile (each way) out-and-back. Now the wind was in my face. Yippee. I'd only have it for 2.5 miles before turning around, BUT... later on, the course would cross another bridge at M16 and then we'd get 10+ miles of headwind.

Just as I exited the bridge, the leaders passed me going the other way. Have a nice day! I saw lots of my faster Maniac friends, including Maniac Arthur who was on his way to a PR despite the wind. About a quarter of a mile before the turnaround, Bee passed me going the other way. So she was about a half mile in front. But she was wearing a big frown. Uh oh. I made the turnaround, and the wind was behind me. Phew.

I hit the halfway point at 1:51. A bit fast for "about 3:45", but I knew that the wind had helped speed me up... and would help slow me down going the other way. Sure enough, as I passed M14 and the Blue Bridge, the flag reminded me about the wind.

Up to the next bridge to cross the river yet again. This would be a big suspension bridge, officially called the Cable Bridge. I occupied my mind in this section by tracking Bee. I was slowly gaining on her. A woman from Canada talked to me in this section as well. She was (is) a breast cancer survivor; she noticed my pink shirt. She was also running a bit faster, and she pulled away from me as we headed up to the bridge.

TCM had offered an early start. I had been passing early starters since just after the Blue Bridge. Running over the suspension bridge, I noticed I was coming up on Maniac Mel Preedy. Now, the Cable Bridge has a narrow lane for pedestrians. On the left is the outside structure of the bridge and a cable barrier to keep people from falling off. On the right is a 2 ft high guardrail to keep cars from doing the same thing. The guardrail is attached to the road surface of the bridge by concrete and metal posts every few feet. Why am I offering up that much detail? Because the wind kept trying to drive me into the guardrail. Like a sailing ship or a plane, I had to consciously steer myself diagonally towards the outside cable barrier to stay in a straight line and away from the guardrail posts.

And there was Mel dead center in the path, probably doing the same thing.

My brain started to process how to pass Mel nicely. At the same time, my brain stopped processing how to steer properly. I was easing slowly towards the guardrail and its posts.

Ok, I'm almost to Mel. Hmmm. How shall I pass.... SPLAT!

My right foot had hooked a post, and I was down. Not gracefully either. I had ricocheted off the side of my head and then into a sitting position.

Two women who had been following me stopped to offer assistance. Sort of. The first one screamed at me, "ARE YOU OK???" She wasn't screaming because I was unconscious. Nor was it a very loud environment. No, she was screaming because she was wearing headphones. I told her I was fine. She screamed at me again, "ARE YOU OK?" I guess she didn't turn her music down. I mouthed "yes" and nodded. Off she went.

The nodding kind of hurt, though.

The second woman came up. "ARE YOU OK???" Oh hell. Same thing. Headphones. And she didn't take them off either. I...AM...FINE...JUST...STUPID. Off she went.

Because it was so cold, I had worn a ski cap to keep my ears warm. This had protected my head too. I had no visible damage and no bleeding. I had not hit my head particularly hard. Just enough to scare me, jumble my wits, and give me a slight headache. My shoulder and knee kind of hurt too. I was geographically as far as I could be from the start/finish. In the middle of a bridge, not near any aid station. There was nothing I could do but keep going. So I did.

Slowly at first, but then I got my running legs back. And I did manage to pass Mel just after the bridge! :-)

I also caught Bee soon thereafter, probably around M17. She had foot surgery a bit more than a year ago. Since then (really, before then too), her foot would sometimes hurt during long runs. Today was apparently a bad foot day. I was having a bad head day.

At M18, Maniac Van passed me. She had won the Umatilla race the day before and, once again, was passing me on day two of her double. Which, once again, was not a day two for me. Go Van. As she was going by, I mentioned that I had fallen on the bridge. "It's a road marathon... you shouldn't do that." Thanks for the tip :-).

Unfortunately for me, I was no longer really into today's race. I just wanted to be done. The wind didn't help. At M18, the course passed the Blue Bridge again. Though we did not cross it this time, I did get to ponder the flag. It was now straight out, flat as a board, facing right at me. I didn't need the flag to know that, really. The wind was sucking out my will to live. I tried to keep my pace as steady and even as I could.

Back across the I-182 bridge again, just before M25. At the top of the bridge, I noticed that Bee had stayed with me. She was just behind, running with a guy dressed in a Star Trek uniform. Heh. In fact, he had a trimmed beard and a hair style that made him look a bit like the Will Riker character. Oh, and TCM had assigned him bib #1. Yes, the guy dressed as Will Riker was Number One. Perfect!

At the M25 aid station, the volunteer was dressed as a bee. Ha. Halloween races bring out the creativity in some folks. I hoped Bee would notice the bee. She did.

For the last few miles, I had been playing leapfrog with a guy who had apparently started too fast and then pooped out. He'd try to run, but then he'd walk with that particular death march stare; it was obvious he wasn't attempting a run/walk strategy purposefully. I passed him again at M25.5.

At M26, the course made the turn onto the road into the hotel. From behind me, I heard a person in a full-on sprint. I sped up a little bit to try to make it more interesting for this person, but I had no real intention of racing. As long as that person didn't fall over, she/he would go by me. And he did. It was death march guy. He didn't want to be beaten by a man in pink.

Good one, dude.

As I finished, the official clock showed 3:43. My watch showed 3:44. I know what happened. The race really DID start one minute early, but they didn't sync the official clock that way. So everyone got a bonus minute. I actually finished at 3:44. By the time that results were posted on, this got re-adjusted properly.

Bee pulled in right behind me at 3:47. These were our exact times at Bellingham. But we were both happier people at Bellingham. Ugh.

Some days are better than others. It turned out to be a great day for Van and Arthur. Aside from falling down, it was an ok day for me. Blue skies always help.

Bee, the B-Dogs, and I came back over the mountains. I ate Mexican food. Real Life resolved itself in the best way possible the next day. Some scary cancer tests had taken place during the previous two weeks. J-Lo and I had been awaiting the results. The results were encouraging.

Interestingly, when the cancer stuff is in a scary phase, I tend to fall down a lot. My mind isn't focused enough; I trip on curbs and even simple uneven surfaces. And now, suspension bridges. I'd prefer not to do that.

Maybe I should run with a helmet. Sigh.

Next up: the following weekend, I headed back to New England to run New Hampshire's Manchester City Marathon. My 49th state. I did ok, but not great.

More on that Real Soon Now.