Thursday, March 19, 2009

The February Race Report

Well, hello. Long time, no see. I did a single, consolidated post for January because I didn't have time during the month to write. This was mostly due to my little doggie. He's doing better, thankfully, but he has been a lot of work.

Time for the next thing! My father had to have surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm (usually referred to as an "AAA" or a "triple A"). This was originally scheduled for the first week of February and then got moved to February 13th so that he could get past a cold. Messing with a person's aorta is tricky business, especially when that person is 78 years old and has lived through the same life choices that many folks in the 1950s and 1960s made. Scary time. Now, I mean. Although the 60s were pretty damn scary too.

I knew that my races and Real Life plans would be iffy because I wanted to be in Dallas for the surgery, and I didn't know how long I'd stay. Looking back, the month went really well all things considered... though I have to say that running seems pretty unimportant sometimes, traveling to run has felt a bit extravagant (oh, and then there's the economy), and I just haven't felt creative enough to write about the runs I've managed to do. My training has really suffered too, and it hasn't helped that the weather in Seattle has been so snowy and cold this winter.

I wrote about the weather in my January report. My weekly mileage (mpw) had been down into the 40s during January, which is not good for someone training for a typical goal marathon and extra awful for someone who likes to run a bunch of them close together. That said, it was a big improvement over the single digit weekly miles I managed towards the end of December. I spent the month rebuilding... and although I ran no marathons, each weekend I ran a race that was a bit longer than the week before. Towards the end of January, I was back to a long run of 19.2 miles.

Which was good, because I was registered for the Surf City Marathon on February 1st. Well, "good" in that I knew I could make the distance. But certainly not "great" in that I did not have a good series of long runs to help ensure I was ready for a quality race. I had only that single run beyond 13.1 miles since the middle of December. Coupled with a low mpw, I had no great hopes for Surf City. It needed to be a very long training run. The first of many.

The Surf City Marathon is held in Huntington Beach, California, usually near or on Superbowl Sunday. I ran Surf City in 2007, back when it was called Pacific Shoreline. It was my 4th marathon (and my 3rd race ever in pink) during the year I ran 65. I had a reasonably fun race, but I was fairly slow. In warmish (but yummy to Island Boy) conditions, I huffed and puffed to a 4:04 finish. Then I drank beer.

The main thing to note about the 2009 edition is that the course is the reverse of the old course. Huge, huge improvement. The only hills in the course now come early instead of late. The bottleneck caused by thousands of slow half marathoners is alleviated by the timing of the merge when run in this direction. Anyway, this course is a 15 mile balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back that heads up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), shoots off onto hilly roads and through a couple of parks, and then returns on the PCH. Near the start/finish area, the course makes a turn out onto the bike path that winds along the beach. The final 11 miles are a flattish out-and-back along this beach with tons of regular bathrooms and, of course, great ocean scenery.

I showed up for this race with very low expectations. I had no idea what would happen. I knew I wanted to beat 4, but I also knew that I should be quite satisfied with 3:59:59. An improvement over 2007's 4:04. However, I also decided to run by feel... and if the first few miles felt more like I should try for 3:45-3:50, then I'd go with that and see how long it lasted. With my suboptimal training, I had no hopes of anything faster.

Waiting for the start of the race, I hooked up with one my friends from the area, Jon (or, according to his race number, Jon Boy). It sounded like Jon was in the same fuzzy area as me regarding a finish. When the race started, we ran together. Jon is the guy in the orange shirt.

I was very stiff during the first mile, but talking to Jon and other folks (hi, Barefoot Rick) took my mind off of that. So much so, in fact, that by the second mile, I got the first of several similar comments from Jon:
Hey, slow down, Speed Racer.

I had just run an 8:20 mile. I shifted down to 8:30-8:45/mile pace, but each time I got distracted, apparently I sped up again.
Slow down, Speed Racer.

Hmmm. The weather was perfect and I felt great. We made it through the parks and back out onto PCH. As we approached the halfway point, I could feel the slowdown setting in. I tried to pace off of Jon's pace. I have a feeling he was trying to do the same with me.

We hit the half at 1:50. Hmm. Did I think I had a 3:40 in me? NO WAY. I was sure I had gone out too fast. However, this was a training run and I really needed to gauge my fitness, so I decided to hold it for as long as I possibly could.

A couple miles later, we turned onto the beach's bike path for the long out-and-back. I did not feel great, but I didn't feel that much worse either. My pace settled in around 8:30 for a few miles. Jon had dropped back a little. At M18, I had the sudden urge to go to the bathroom. The good news was that I had made it 18 miles during a race without any potty related issues. This is rare. The better news was that this path has tons of bathrooms and no lines. In I went, out I came, and I was back on the course without losing too much time. And I felt better.

The turn around was just before M20. Usually the last 10k of a marathon are the hardest miles, and generally the slowest ones. Every now and then, though, my brain and body sync up in a positive place and I can unleash some weird energy reserve that I usually do not possess. This rare experience, kind of like "flow" I suppose, is one of the key reasons I race. I don't know why it happens and I can't predict when it will happen UNTIL IT IS HAPPENING, but it surely is fun when it does.

And here it was. Surf City has pace groups and as I was approaching the turnaround, I spied the 3:40 pace leader on his way back. I decided that my mission was to catch him. Didn't know if I could do it, but I felt really good. Besides, I was running next to the ocean and women were wearing skimpy clothes. Even if I failed, it would still be a good day.

But I didn't fail.

I caught my man right at the M26 marker. Then I finished the race at 3:39.


Who knew? I have no idea what happened. My training didn't seem to support a 3:39, and certainly not a 3:39 with a one minute negative split (1:50/1:49). I have Jon to thank for holding me back with the Speed Racer comments... that helped in the literal long run. And speaking of, he finished just behind me. A good day for both of us.

Also, here's a special shout-out to an old friend, FBI Special Agent Tim. He completed his very first marathon ever at Surf City. Go Tim!

Did this 3:39 mean I was in great shape? Did I proceed to BQ and win some awards in follow-up races? No. I did have a nice time sitting at the Long Beach airport drinking diet coke and watching the Super Bowl. But that was about the last "nice time" I had for awhile.

The following weekend was the local (to Seattle) Valentine Marathon. This was the most recent edition of various recurring holiday marathons that I do quite frequently. I don't have a good story to tell about this race. I knew that my father was going to need surgery five days after the race, and I was still struggling with my dog... so I just wasn't that into the run. It did not help that the race was held on a boring, lonely course with lots of car traffic. I had 13 good miles in me, but after clocking a 1:52 first half, my brain just gave up. Every step of the second half hurt and I was super duper grumpy. I ran some and I walked some. I didn't talk to anybody, not that there were lots of folks around. I finished at 4:08 (the official clock was off by about 11 minutes... huh??). The 1:52/2:16 split tells you everything you need to know. The holiday marathons are usually low-key affairs but I generally hang out to talk to friends. Not this time. I finished, got in my truck, and left. I also promised myself never to do another holiday marathon. Yuck.

What happened? A combination of things. Thinking about Real Life. Grumpiness like that usually has something to do with my nutrition. Not training very well because of Real Life played the biggest role, of course. I think what happened here is that my lower mileage got me out of the kind of shape I need to be in to run a marathon each weekend. So I was fine for the first one. But I was in no way recovered for this weekend.

The next week was tough to get any running in. I did a little. On Thursday, I traveled to Dallas for my dad's Friday surgery. We got there at 5:15am (!) for check-in. The surgery (euphemistically "procedure") was supposed to take a couple hours, but it took four. And they had to give him a lot of blood. SCARY! Yet, by the afternoon, he was in ICU semi-coherent and talking to us. I was amazed; I figured he'd be out for the count.

He had a good night, and the next day, Saturday, I had a choice to make. The Breast Cancer Marathon... theoretically, my signature event... was scheduled for the following day in Jacksonville, Florida. I wanted to be in two places at the same time. Three brothers, two sisters, one uncle, and several friends were cycling in/out of ICU to be with my dad and to help my mom.

I decided on the race. Now, while I was at the race, nothing at all unfortunate happened with my dad. He did great. All the same, if I had a time machine, I would make this choice differently. Sigh.

I don't have one of those devices, though, and I did indeed go to JAX.

I ran this race last year. It was kind of a flame out. The well-organized race started late in the morning for such a hot-n-humid day. I had initially targeted this as my "go fast" for early 2008... a great way to cap off my 65 in 2007. I wanted to beat 3:30. But with the weather, no way. I was happy to finish at 3:46 and could tell at the end that if I'd tried to go faster, it would have been very, very bad.

This year was somewhat different. The race started earlier AND it wasn't nearly as hot. In fact, I was wearing a long sleeve shirt and gloves at the start! I've learned that this race is my chance to fade into the crowd. Wearing pink does not stand out. Even so, I was standing in the right place at the right time, and got interviewed just before the start. And then there was the start and we were off.

So, two weeks prior, I had managed a 3:39 on one of those days when everything went right. I figured the 4:08 follow-up was simply a bad day. What to do here? Hmm. At first, I randomly decided that since I had recently run 3:40ish on the Pacific Ocean, I should try to run 3:40ish on the Atlantic Ocean. But very quickly, I knew that my body had different ideas. I remembered my Valentine experience. I was still tired from the previous week. Ok, no 3:40, but I wanted to run evenly.

This decision came around M2, which coincidentally was where I caught up to a very famous runner: Bill Rodgers. I asked him whether he was running the half or the full. He told me he was going to run 50. Okey doke! (It was a joke; he ran the full). I settled in with him for a bit.

My pace with Bill seemed to be fair. At least by what my breathing told me. My muscles were going to complain regardless of pace. I'd like to say that I had a fun chat that perhaps he'd remember for years, but after asking him about his race, I shut up. In any case, this was just his warm up, and he left me in the dust around M5. Bye, Bill.

This course is essentially an out-and-back, with a bypass that takes runners onto the beach between M5.5 and M7.5. It was a lot windier this year than last year - but still very pleasant. My legs remained stiff.

I hit the halfway point at 1:55... so 3:40ish surely wouldn't happen. It was very humid, so I didn't know if I could even hold an even split. That point became academic and quite moot almost immediately.

Potty Attack!

The first of several. Uh oh. I have absolutely NO idea what I messed up. I had eaten the right stuff. I had not been drinking anything too sweet nor too salty. It was just one of those days. Boo.

And so I ran as best as I could while I thought about my dad and also about The Mighty J-Lo. It was getting hot. My long-sleeves-and-gloves look morphed into a simple singlet. Quite a change. One of the reasons why I like this race is that the community really gets out to support it. All the people on their lawns and balconies hooting for me really helped get me through it. Too bad they couldn't prevent the next Potty Attack!


I remember the final miles of last year's race being quite the struggle. This year, I felt better and, in between portapotty stops, I managed to talk to a ton of runners and walkers. That was nice.

I sped up a bit for the last mile. I had passed some dude in a yellow shirt during that mile, and at M26, he suddenly decided he wanted to race me. Usually I don't play that game, but I decided to have some fun with him and I sped up to see what he'd do. He didn't seem to like it. You can see how well he kept up in that picture.

3:53. Ugh. 7 minutes slower than last year. However, I felt waaay better at the end than last year. My split was 1:55/1:58, which once I subtracted out my time in various little green buildings, was pretty good. Adjusted, I really ran a 3:47, which means my split was 1:55/1:52. Nice. And basically identical to last year's time.

Of course, we're not allowed to do that. Maybe I sped up while running the second half because of... uh... my rest breaks in the little green buildings. I dunno. But as a training run, I was very satisfied.

And that was the last race I ran in February. 3 marathons in 3 weeks. Not bad.

I headed back to Seattle to deal with my own Real Life. My sisters would be taking care of my dad full-time for the next few weeks. Long before I knew about the surgery, I had scheduled a nine day trip to Dallas for mid-March. I decided to stay with that schedule. He'd still need help by then (incidentally, I am writing this during that exact Dallas trip; yes, he still needs help).

A week after the surgery, he had to go back into the hospital because of several pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in his lungs) and other blood clots in his legs. Not good. A couple days later, he was back home. Since then, and perhaps for the next year, he's been on coumadin - super duper strength blood thinner. This helps with the clots but can have some major side effects.

It's always something.

As for me, the Breast Cancer Marathon was #198... which meant, knock on wood, that I'd hit #200 sometime during March. Did I? I'll let you know.

Real Soon Now.


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