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.

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