Monday, February 02, 2009

The January Race Report

So... where have I been? What's been going on? Why haven't I been writing? I've been working on something else, and I learned a long time ago that my brain/fingers have a finite amount of words that they can produce each week. After working on other stuff, I've been out of words. So, let's play a little catch up. This report will cover the races I managed to attend in January. Then I'll write one for February. Hopefully, by mid-March I can get back to writing more stuff about races and training. Assuming I can make it interesting, that is. For example, I don't know how many times you need me to describe the course for the Seattle Marathon. It doesn't change :-). Anyway. Let's turn back the clock to the first month of 2009.

January was a funny month. I wish I could say it was ha-ha funny, but that's certainly not true. Then again, it wasn't the worst month of my life... no, not by any stretch. But it surely was weird.

The last two weeks of December brought two feet of snow to my house. When I stepped off the plane from the Honolulu Marathon on 12/14, there was a light dusting of snow. My little truck barely made it over all the hills and home from the airport. It did, though, and I suppose the timing couldn't have been better. I barely left my house until 12/27. The snow came and then more snow came. Then more came. It did not thaw in between.

Meanwhile, the city of Seattle decided to plow all the main roads and declare the city "clear". Except they didn't clear out any of the neighborhoods. My total running over a two week period? 8 miles. Two trips to the post office and back. Ice running was quite an adventure.

I experienced my first white Christmas in 42 years. That was interesting. Then, the next day, it started melting. The day after that, I noticed my little dachshund Tobias (he's the cute little guy you see in my profile picture and on my race schedule) was acting weird. I took him to the vet that Saturday morning and learned what it means to have an inflamed disk between two vertebrae. I was told what to do and what to look out for, including a specific set of "if you see this, take him to the emergency room RIGHT AWAY" instructions.

This shows how my luck has been working lately. Weird/bad things happen, but they flow into good things that make the bad things not so bad, which then flow into the next thing. I can't imagine what I would have done if the snow had not melted when it did.

Sunday night, it happened. I saw the magic "this", and so I took him to the emergency room. RIGHT AWAY. The inflamed disk had ruptured, and it was pressing against his spinal cord. It started as a weird stagger, proceeded to drunken walking, and then his whole back/bottom half just kind of ceased functioning.

The next day, they sliced him open from his shoulders down to his tail (10 inches or so) and removed the disk material. He had to stay at the hospital for a few days. While he was there, I half-heartedly ran a slow half marathon as part of the Last Chance Marathon in Bellingham on 12/31. The trail was icy, and lots of people fell down. I didn't fall... which is curious because I ALWAYS start falling when I'm concerned about the health of a family member. But I did run slowly.

Tobias came home on New Year's Day. He could barely move... but he was getting feeling and motion back. I was supposed to keep him confined and under 'restricted movement' (doggy bedrest) for four weeks. Four weeks! Tobias has two speeds: sprint and sleep. I was supposed to keep him out of sprint mode for a month. Oh boy.

Meanwhile, I started running again. A little. When I could. I had been running 60-70 mpw in 2008. That went to 4 mpw (!!!) during the big snow. While taking care of the little boy, I was able to get it back up to the 40-50 range. Not great, but better than nothing. Luckily, when the snow went away, the weather got reasonably nice by Seattle winter standards.

I managed to run in three races during the month. I intentionally staged each race to help me build my long run mileage back up to marathon levels. Man that was hard. Psychologically, I had to hold myself back at first. Skipping potential marathons meant lost opportunity. I had to reprogram my brain not to worry so much about running mega amounts of long races in a year. This took a couple weeks. Physically, I wanted the opportunity to rebuild cautiously.

Here's what I did:

  • The weekend of 1/3, I ran 6 miles on Saturday and 6 miles on Sunday (12 miles total).

  • The weekend of 1/10, I ran a 10 mile trail race on Saturday, and 12 miles on Sunday (22 miles).

  • The weekend of 1/17, I ran a half marathon on Saturday, and 9 miles on Sunday (22 miles).

  • The weekend of 1/24, I ran a 19.2 trail race on Saturday, and 9 miles on Sunday (28 miles).

  • The weekend of 1/31, I ran/walked 10 miles on Saturday, and ran a full marathon on Sunday (36 miles)

This did not include weekday mileage. Including that, my miles held steady in the 40-50 range. I was pleased with the longer weekend runs, but not so happy with the others during the week. But it was all I could manage.

I'll hit each race briefly.

Squishing Through Poop in the Dark
The 10 mile trail run on 1/10 was part of the Bridle Trails Running Festival. Bridle Trails is a state park in Kirkland WA. It is a very hilly place in the woods. Based on the name, you can probably guess (correctly) that it is used mostly by horses. Horses and riders, that is. Not horses just roaming. There are lots of trails through this park, and once a year, the Seattle Running Company sets up a hilly, 5 mile loop on very technical trails. Runners have the option of completing a 5 mile race, a 10 miler, or holding on for a full 50k. One small detail... the race starts at 3p. This means that by the end of the first loop, it is starting to get dark. The rest of the race is at night on those very technical trails. Early January is historically a crappy weather time too... so it is generally 30-40 degrees and raining. The course offers tons of mud and shin deep puddles. Lots of horse poop too. If it is very cold, the poop freezes and can turn an ankle. If it isn't so cold, the poop is simply squishy.

Most of my Maniac friends were in for the full 50k of course. That's the idea, at least. This race can have a high DNF rate - up to 80% some years. I had absolutely no desire to run 50k. Even if I felt I was in long race shape, I wouldn't have done it. I figured I had two loops in me, though, so I signed up for the 10 miler. I thought I might do a third loop for fun. Yeah. Didn't happen. Knowing that I am perhaps the world's worst trail runner, my two loops actually went a little better than expected. I made it through the first one in exactly 45 minutes. 9:00/mile on technical trail? Smoking! The second loop was the dark loop. I never fell, but as I started down the last hill to the finish, I turned my ankle hard enough that I had to stop completely and scream for a second. Fooey. Anyway, my second loop was 48 minutes... so 1:33 total. That was that, though; I had no desire for a third loop. Not even sort of.

As I was driving home, I learned that baby Tobias had eaten part of his floppy cone while hanging out in his crate. Boredom and dogs don't mix. So I made a detour to get a new cone. In case this doesn't make sense: after surgeries, dogs sometimes get a cone placed on their necks to prevent them from biting their stitches. Because Tobias only has two speeds (remember? Sprint and sleep) and was recovering from spinal surgery, he couldn't have a rigid plastic cone. He might whack his cone against something and wrench his back. Sooo... they had given him a floppy thing that made him look like a first grader playing "the flower" in the spring pageant.

Check out the first and second cones:

Alas, a couple days later, he ate the second one too. Bleh. That's-a my boy.

Running for Some Nooky
The next weekend, I ran the Nookachamps Half Marathon. This is an old-school race; I think this was the race's 30th year or so. I've not run it before. I knew it was a loop that started and finished at a community college north of Seattle, and I knew that it was geographically near the Skagit Flats Marathon held in September. Skagit Flats is indeed flat, and so I figured Nookachamps would be too.

Wrong! Wrong, sir, wrong!

For the most part, Nookachamps is a roly poly course, but there is a daunting one mile long uphill at M10. Alas, race morning was very foggy and so I didn't know how long the hill was until I hit the top. That was a long 8 minutes! Aside from that, it was simply a nice run on a chilly morning. Quite a few of my friends PRed. Outstanding. Not me, alas, but then I wasn't trying to PR. I started out slowly and managed speed up all the way to the big hill. I pulled in with a leisurely (for me) 1:42. I was quite ok with this and happy for my friends.

Besides, I got to experience something that doesn't happen often. About M11, the course made a left turn from one road onto a much bigger road. A couple volunteers stood at this intersection to direct runners. Pretty normal. And they were accompanied by a reasonably large group of wild turkeys. Huh. Well, they were marginally wild, I guess. They certainly weren't the brainless white feathered creatures you see at a turkey farm (ranch??). They were BIG gray feathered things, just like wild turkeys I've seen elsewhere. And, uh, on the bottle :-). But they weren't running around, they weren't trying to maul the volunteers, and they didn't chase me. They just stood behind one of the volunteers clucking and gobbling. That was as close to spectators as we'd get at this race! Well, that and my friend Bee in a car encouraging several of us. Thanks, Bee.

Meanwhile, during the week, much of my time was concerned with keeping Tobias still but not bored. I didn't want him eating blankets. Fun times.

Even If It Was Light, You Couldn't See the Lake
My third race for January was held at Lake Youngs in Renton. I've written about Lake Youngs before because I've done quite a few races there. Briefly, there's a 9.6 mile gravel/dirt loop trail...not at all technical... around a little lake. Except for a peekaboo view that lasts for a few seconds, though, you'd never know there was a lake. It is hidden by trees and brush. It's a very peaceful place to run, and for some reason, incredibly hard for me. I don't really know why. It is roly poly, but the hills don't seem to be any worse than other places in the Seattle area. The trail does not present challenging footing. Nevertheless, I've never run it fast. Other people do. But I never have, and I would not be fast on this day.

A few times during the year, various Maniacs will host races here. All the races work the same: runners can choose between running 1 loop (9.6 miles), 2 loops (19.2 miles), or 3 loops (28.8 miles). Sometimes, as was the case on this day, the organizer will also set up a little out-and-back segment to bump up the distance to 50k. I usually do three loops so that it counts as a baby ultra, but for this January version, I only planned to do two. Slowly. I knew I wasn't ready to go long, and I didn't have that much time anyway. I was scared I'd get home to find that Tobias had eaten my couch. So, two loops. I wanted to start early, which meant that my first loop would be in the dark. Holy cow - I've run three races in the dark in my entire life, and two of them were within a couple weeks of each other.

I did indeed run my two loops, and I have nothing creative to report about them. My first loop took me 1:35, and my second loop was about 1:40. The previous weekend I had run 13.1 in 1:42, and that was actually slow for me. At Lake Youngs, it took me almost the same amount of time to cover 9.6 miles. 3.5 miles less. Yikes. I finished with two other guys who had done two loops. Big difference, though. I had started an hour before they did. See? There's just something about Lake Youngs that turns my legs into molasses. I don't get it.

On the very last day of the month, I headed to Southern California to run the Surf City Marathon. Alas, that race was held on 2/1, so it'll have to wait for my next report. I was very, very nervous heading into Surf City with only one run beyond 14 miles in the previous six weeks.

How would I do? Check back Real Soon Now.

No, I promise. It really will be Real Soon Now.