Thursday, September 25, 2008

The PR Tattoo

So a while ago I realized that I seem to be a marathoner. I enjoy the distance much more so than shorter 5 and 10K’s. The mistique of the marathon is what draws me to it I think. People respect the distance and I am good at it so…
Last year I decided to be creative in my personal quest and got a ‘PR’ (personal record) tattoo. Putting my ever diminishing marathon PR on my ankle. To add to it, the words ‘Rejoice! We Conquer! is placed below the numbers. This is in reference to the man whom the marathon is in honor of, Pheidippides, who said those words right before he died.

I set a new PR back in April at the Kentucky Derby Fesitival Marathon and thought about getting my new tattoo then, but I got cocky. I felt great that day and had not really trained specifically for that race. It was just good weather, nice pacers, and me feeling well that resulted in such a great race. I decided to wait a few months to see if I could beat that new PR before I got the tattoo to save me some time and $$ at the tattoo parlor. Well, I still have not broken it, and it was time to get it done.
See, for the first time in 1.5 years, I am actually focusing on a future race.

In December, I am running the Rocket City marathon in Alabama. I am actually training for it, following a training schedule and everything. Yes, I am running 4 other marathons between now and then, but those will be treated as long training runs only. December is the attempt. I figured I am not going to break my PR until I get the darn thing put on my ankle, so that is why I finally broke down and did it. As you can see the ‘Rejoice! We Conquer!’ portion looks new, but it is not. When I got the new time placed on, my tattoo guy went over it again as it was starting to fade. We decided to leave the old time to fade, because that was a cool effect. As my PR’s slowly grow up my ankle, the older times fade into the past. Cool symbolism there, eh?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

2008 Grand Island Trail Marathon Results

3:09:07 (7:13/mile)
5/247 Overall
1/29 Age
sunrise Well, I have now run more than a few races and have run some in some beautiful places, but never anything like this. The race is an almost complete circumnavigation of Grand Island, which lies in Lake Superior only a half mile from the upper peninsula of Michigan. For about 2/3 of the race I was within 50 feet of the edge of the cliff of the island. In some cases I was mere feet from the edge and I really did want to stop to take pictures. The race started up the east side of the island so the sun was shining brightly through the trees upon us as we ran. It was fun to look out across Lake Superior to the north, open and beautiful. The race started at 7, about an hour after sunset. The ferry got me across right around sunrise which just made my day.

It was a trail marathon which I have really only done once before, and it being 1 week after another marathon, I was planning on running this one easy and I set out to do just that. I had no plans for a fast finish, but went out at a fairly good clip since it was on hard packed dirt road. The main part of the island has a circumference of ~23 miles, so we had to spend a little time doing a simple out and back on the ‘thumb’ of the island. When we took that turn at about mile 4, it became a hiking trail hill that was fairly awful. At mile 5.5 we turned around and went back down the trail back to the main part of the island for the rest of the race. At two points in the race we actually had to run along the beach. On a beauty scale, it was an 11 out of 10, but on a running scale, it was a -1 because of the horrible footing. The night before at packet pick-up I heard one of the race officials talk to another couple about the beaches and said ‘people who run road marathons hate those beaches’. I smiled, because knew I would hate them as well and gosh Wally, I was correct.

It was a small race, yes, with a major ‘small town’ race feel, which I thrive on. After 5.5 miles I was in 6th place and remained there until mile 25 when I caught another racer. Had it not been for the ~25 people who started early who I passed slowly during the day I would have not seen a soul on the course (not including the wonderful volunteers at the 5 aid stations). In previous years, the trail has been in bad conditions due to weather, but this year the course was apparently as good as it has ever been. At race start the temperature was about 55 degrees and raised maybe 10 degrees during the next 3 hours. A nice breeze and partly cloudy skies and you have PERFECT race conditions. I think I might have slowed a little to just enjoy the day a little more.
finish I was able to meet and chat with the winner and my true inspiration, Chuck Engle. Chuck is a marathon junky. He is faster than I, running marathons in the 2:30-2:50 range, but he runs them all the time. Last year he ran 52 and this year has done a few ‘doubles’ (two marathons in consecutive DAYS) He just enjoys running marathons. That is him in my finish line picture. He is very humble and extremely nice. Chuck and I are alike in that we just really enjoy the distance and run them whenever we can. He is faster, but not THAT much faster. He has a few corporate sponsors (which I would LOVE to have) to pay for his travels all over the place. I really do want to try to be like him.

The age award was the coolest I have ever gotten in my life. A large handmade multi colored glass disk with the race symbol on it. Very very cool. The cherry juice (made with local cherries!) just made my day even more perfect.

You might be wondering why I did yet another Michigan marathon as I try to get all 50 states, but this one was all about the timing. My family has a ‘gathering’ (not a reunion because we congregate at different places) late each summer and this year we met at the Apostle Islands in Northern Wisconsin. We just happen to be congregating the day after this marathon which was conveniently in northern Michigan. It’s all about the timing baby!

After the marathon on our way to the gathering, we stopped at a small town locally owned coffee shop in Escanaba, Michigan. When I asked for a mocha, I was told that they were out of chocolate. When I expressed unhappiness, the counter worker (who had to have been the owner) told me to ‘hang on a minute, I’ll be right back’. He left the shop on his bike, trusting me and the two locals in the place not to rob the joint. He returned about 5 minutes later. It turns out he went to the local grocery store and bought a dove bar, melted it, and used it to make my mocha. It actually tasted pretty good. Got to love that small town ambiance…

Sunday, July 20, 2008

2008 Friendly Massey Marathon Results

3/70 Overall

So I guess this counts as my first ‘international’ race even though I was < 2 hours from the U.S. border. I am well traveled, yes, but only inside the United States. I always feel uncomfortable when I leave the country, even if it is to Canada, and I am not sure why. Unfamiliar laws and customs always makes me feel a little uneasy. Thank goodness everyone spoke English.

Massey, ON is a little stop on a ‘major’ east-west highway in Ontario. The town is small, with only one stop light, one gas station, and only one real restaurant.
When I arrived on Saturday afternoon I went to race check in at the local ‘arena’. The tables were set up on what was usually the ice rink. Since hockey is out of season, it was a big concrete slab, but it still felt weird. After that I decided to take in the local area and went over to the a local provincial (think ‘state’) park, known simply as ‘chutes’, as named because it is a river that was used for logging for many years and chutes had to be built around a few of the natural falls nearby. You could tell that this was the most famous attraction for kilometers (Hey, I was in Canada)

chutes I stopped for an early dinner at THE restaurant and then headed back to the hotel to relax. I played an online game of Settlers of Catan with Stef and then tried to get some sleep. Normally I sleep horrible the night before a marathon, just from nerves. Well, this being marathon #18, you would think I would have gotten over that. Instead of falling asleep watching some bad movie on television, I pulled up the BBC world service on my computer (Did I mention the hotel was really really dumpy, but they had high speed internet?) and listened to that to fall asleep. That is what I often fall asleep to at home, and I think that made a difference. I was asleep by 9pm, and woke up 5 minutes before my alarm at 3:00 am, feeling well rested.

Being so north, sunrise came at 5:50 so the 6 am race start was not too weird. The sky was overcast all day long and it sprinkled very lightly just few times during the morning. With temperatures in the high 50’s all day, I would have to rate the race conditions as nearly perfect, actually. There were three races going on simultaneously, a 10K, a half and my full. For the second time in a row, the full marathon course was just two trips around the half course. Those are always a little depressing because you actually run right by the finish line after about an hour and a half. As with previous times I serious considered (for only a few seconds) just stopping after the half and bailing on the whole thing. I took a few more strides and the feeling went away. I was feeling strong and in my ‘groove’. My first half split was 1:28:11, and my second half was 1:27:39. That is what I call even pace! My first goal was to run easy, not pushing myself, and hoping just to break 3 hours. For the record, I have run my last 5 marathons in less than 2:57. That will all change next week when I run a tough trail marathon on Grand Island.

I think everyone in town (almost) came out to help with the race. The numerous aid stations were all well staffed with very friendly people. The stations were so frequent I actually had to NOT drink at some of them as my stomach was getting a little upset. For regular readers of this blog, you know I have been having stomach issues after long races as of late. I thought it was to eating solid food soon after a race, but now I am thinking that might only be part of it. During this race after drinking quite a bit of Gatorade I was starting to get that familiar ‘gut-rot’ feeling. I think that it might be coming more from the excess of sugar at the end of my races (drinking lots of Gatorade which is what I tend to do). So to test this NEW theory, after the race this time I drank nothing but water, and then a nice cup of tea. Then, only one hour after I finished I had some very delicious pancakes (with syrup) and my stomach was perfectly fine. We will try this new system for a bit and see what it gets us. This, again, is one of those advantages to running lots of marathons, I don’t have to wait 6 months before I try a new tack.

4 weeks ago I ran the Charlevoix marathon and talked a few times during and after the race with the guy who was third (one place in front of me) at that race. A really nice guy, actually. Well, 6 minutes into this race he came up along side of me and we recognized each other and talked for about 2 miles of the race and then I let him go. He ended up finishing second, again one place ahead of me. That is him in my finish line picture. I asked him and he is NOT running Grand Island next week.

This being week 4 of my 5 week odyssey I was hoping to be in not too bad of shape afterwards, and I was happy when my legs were not that sore, even a day later. I am starting to like this marathon-a-month-not-really-training thing.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

2008 Run Charlevoix Marathon Results

2:56:20 (6:44/mile)
4/168 Overall
1/19 Age
finishI just love small town races, and this one was no different. Charlevoix is a small town on the northwestern edge of Michigan’s lower peninsula right next to lake Michigan. The town had some mandate a long time ago to plant multi colored marigolds along the main drag of the town, so there was just a long line of beautifully colored flowers all over town.

For this race I brought along my daughter, Salacia, and my girlfriend, Stephanie. We rolled into town in the afternoon the day before the race, checked into our motel (bottom of the barrel, actually. It seems Charlevoix is THE place to get married, so (surprise) there was not a whole lot of choices for the last weekend in June when I booked the room a month ago.) and then went downtown to check in for the race. We then drove a small amount of the out and back course before we had dinner at a nice local Italian restaurant. Veal Parmesan seems to be my favorite night-before-race food. Yummy!

After we got back to the motel, Salacia having just got her 8 year old birthday present from us of ‘dress up’ clothes did a fashion show for us. 11 different outfits later, we had a winner. Let me just say that it involved a purple hair extension, butterfly shaped sunglasses and the most gaudy purse you have ever seen. It was fun, I admit.

As usual, I did not sleep very well and got up at 4:10 am for the 7am start. Peanut butter sandwich, white tea, shower, blah blah blah, my pre-race ritual now set in stone went off without a hitch. It had rained all night long and was just petering out as I left the motel for the 0.8 mile walk to the start line at 6:15. Stef and Salacia slept in (sort of) promising to see me at the turn (halfway mark). They would see me 4 times, halfway, mile ~16, mile ~20 and then again at the finish. Salacia was in charge of taking pictures and got a lot of me from behind.

The race start was unexciting. There were 4 races going on this day, a full marathon, half marathon, 10K, and 5K. They all followed the exact same course, all out-and-backs, with the marathon being two trips along the half marathon out and back. The four races all started at different times, and honestly, after my first turn at mile 6.5 I had no idea what race the other runners around me were running. I was never ‘on an island’ but was passing people (both directions) all day long. The temperature was in the upper 60’s the whole race, but the humidity was about 120%. That ultimately slowed me down, mostly because my shoes just got heavy from water (puddles) and sweat not evaporating. I would say my shoes were about 3 pounds heavier than they were supposed to. Not a whole lot of weight until you realize how many times I had to pick them up (many thousands).

I was (at least initially) shooting for a PR, but my watch died literally 59 seconds into the race. With it being a out and back (twice) course there were no real markings after mile 6 so even my watch was working I would not have known what my pace was. So once again, I ran as my body felt. ¾ through the race (last turn at half marathon turn point) I was right next to the eventual 3rd place finisher. I asked him our time and estimated my pace up to that point. I was (I think) still on 2:50 pace, but was fading fast. I was positive I was not going to be able to hold that pace, so I slowed a bit, just running on feel, wanting to survive. Most people would kill for a 2:56 finish. Me, I seem to jog to those finish times. I have run 4 straight marathons now in less than 2:57. Not bad, I guess. I will set a new PR, I just don’t know when. The next three marathons I will be running will not be conducive to PR attempts, so maybe I should go get my PR tattoo from the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon now.

handstand I have learned from previous long races that I cannot eat solid food for a few hours after a race as I get painful ‘gut rot’ afterwards. At the end of this race they had Gatorade and water but also Pepsi. I thought the issue was solid food so I gouged myself on Gatorade and water and drank a can of Pepsi. Well, that gave gut-rot but of a different sort. Before, the pain was constant, feeling like someone had punched my stomach (hard) but this time it ebbed and flowed but with the same pain. This lasted for a full 8 hours after the race. So, the big lesson learned this time was no carbonated beverages and to not go overboard with sugar beverages after the race. Again, I had nothing but Gatorade on the course and seemed well hydrated during the run.

I used to think only 3 people read my blog. My girlfriend, my Aunt Nancy, and this nice woman I met after the 2008 Groundhog Gallop race. It turns out there are a few more, and they were all running the race this day. Four, count ‘em four people along the race course talked specifically TO ME with comments like ‘Way to go Doc!’ and “You can win this one too!”. In all cases I did not respond, because I was too dumbfounded by the comments. Before I internalized what happened, the other person was long gone for me to respond. If you are reading this and you are one of those kind people, I thank you now for your words of encouragement. It was a weird experience. At the finish line I was talking with the guy who got second place (by only a few seconds) and he had also read my blog. The readership of this blog seems to have doubled (from 3 to 6) in the last few months.

A pleasant run, for sure. A cannot believe I have run 17 of these things is just over 24 months. What kind of addict am I? Do they have therapy for these kinds of things?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Remembering Nancy Peabody

Nancy and SJ She had failing health for a few years now, and 4 hours ago, she passed away. All three of her kids were by her side, young grandchildren mere feet away. I always said that she was the person most prepared for death. Calm, not denying it, ready for the next journey. She truly lived her life the way she wanted too, enjoying it. She always knew it would end, and she was ready, darnit. When I visited her for the last time last Christmas, she had great fun telling my brother George and me about the difference between hospital staff and Hospice staff. She joked ‘The hospice people come in and say ‘Here’s your Morphine!’ Still in pain? Have some more!”‘.
I got very close to her when I was in graduate school (University of Minnesota) living in the same town I saw her at least once a week. We shared a common passion, Jiffy brand Corn Muffins. Whenever I visited, I made them for breakfast for us. She always said they were only good straight out of the oven, and boy was she right. When I first moved to Minneapolis she let me ’live’ on her front porch for a few weeks until I got my own apartment. When I had to come back for 5 weeks in the summer of 1999 to defend my thesis (I had already moved to Wyoming for my first job the fall previous) and teach a course at the UofM, she let me stay with her with open arms.

She lived in a huge house build at the turn of the 20th century. She prided herself in telling people she moved into the house the same day the JFK was shot. That house was a rock, always there, with her standing guard. I remember being a very small boy visiting her for Christmas and sleeping on the back porch with the windows open, even if it was freezing outside. It was just the ‘cool’ place to sleep.

I would have to say she is the closest family member to me outside my immediate family, hands down. Her stories and sense of humor were so enjoyable. I will miss her very much.

A sad day for me and my poor under-read blog. Her spirit will always live here, though. As long as I run and blog, I do it for her. Take care Nanc. I miss you already.
~Your ‘Marko’

Saturday, June 7, 2008

2008 Another Dam 50K Results

3:56:50 (7:37/mile)
3/79 Overall
Official Results
Why do I look so happy? This was only my second ultra marathon, but this one I finished the distance I planned to complete. Way back in November of 2006 I attempted a 50 mile run but (because of sickness) had to bail after 34 miles. The official rules for that race were if I bailed when I did, I got credit for (and a medal for) finishing the 50K that was held at the same time. This time I came in well trained and reasonable healthy. I did run a marathon 13 days before this one, which took me a few days to recover from.

The day started out hot (~80) and humid (~80%) and the bugs were pretty dense as the starting line was in the heavy woods. The course is a was a large figure 8 shape in which we ran around 4 times in total. There were two aid stations, one in the middle of the figure 8 and one at the start/finish (the end of one of the loops) so we were never more than ~2.5 miles from water. I still took a small 10 oz plastic bottle that I filled with Gatorade each time I hit a water stop. 65% or so of the course was on trail, either hard packed dirt or grass.

I took the lead about halfway around the first loop and just tried to get comfortable. The hills, grass, and dirt trail made the course slower than a road race (obviously). The weather also slowed me. I was still in the lead when I made the turn after loop 2. Very soon after, however, I lost it to the eventual second place finisher. What also started was much worse, rain. Yes, light, but constant rain. That turned the slick dirt course into a wet and muddy mess. When running through the woods, the tree cover tempered the worst of the rain, but it still slowed me down. The good thing was that the rain dropped the temperature down into the 70’s. The race turned into a long easy Saturday morning run for me, just getting through it. I never had any bodily issues. 24 hours afterward I feel just fine, my muscles only slightly sore, but no more than the day after a garden variety 14 mile run.
This was a very low key race, with mostly locals doing the run. Nothing flashy, including no awards (at all) but this was the cheapest (ultra)marathon I will probably ever enter at $25. The post race food included hot pizza, which was a first for me. Well supported, nice course, small race feel, all added up to a very enjoyable day. I wouldn’t mind running this one again actually, which is a very rare thing for me to say.

My 3rd place finish is significant as I never had one before. In my 15 marathon races, I have two 1st place finishes, one 2nd, two 4ths and one 5th. I needed a 3rd place to round out my top 5 place finishes. Now I have (as one runner remarked yesterday) ‘hit the cycle’.

Lessoned learned:
~You can eat solid food within 3 hours, you just have to eat it slow. I took ~45 min to eat 1 piece of pizza and my stomach was fine.
~ Completely tape all toes but then also slather the taped toes with Vaseline. I did 31 miles with this preparation and had no blisters. Remember, my feet were wet pretty much from the beginning, so this is a significant trick.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

2008 Med City Marathon Results

2:54:34 (6:40/mi)
1/256 Overall
done! Yes, that is yet another 1st place victory. The two races could not be more different, both as races and as how I felt afterwards. Let us get the race description out of the way first.

I was in the ‘area’ (about 70 miles away) visiting my friends for an annual gathering know affectionately as ‘Geek Weekend’. It is a long standing event that 4-7 friends get together for a weekend of gaming (board and video) as well as movie watching and the eating of unhealthy food. With this marathon being so close and the timing right, it seemed a natural fit. When we got together on Friday I decided that I was going to just ‘survive’ this marathon. I had to make that decision since I knew that I would not be following my standard final days marathon preparation, staying up very late and eating unhealthy junk food.
I went to bed at about 11pm Saturday night and had to get up at 4am to make it to Rochester in time to pickup my race packet and stretch, etc. A little confusion as to exactly where the packet pickup made me a little nervous, but I ended up making it to the start line about 35 minutes before the race start.

The race began in the sleepy town of Byron, about 8 miles outside of Rochester. The race began with a long downhill with the 10 mph wind at our backs. Needless to say, we started out fast. The first 10 or so miles involved running around Byron (up, down, up…) and then long hills on the county road heading towards Rochester. It reminded me of several other small rural races I have done before including Okoboji, Johnstown, and Hatfield-McCoy. At mile 10 though, the race course changed significantly. We were in the thriving metropolis of Rochester and ran along city streets for a little while and then at mile 16 we got onto a nice bike path along a nice river that goes through town. At mile 20.5, you turn around and head back on the path for the finish. This part was flat, heavily wooded, and gorgeous. Two completely different courses, truly.
I felt ok at the beginning and did not even have a stop watch. With the ironclad rule regarding no headphones (they threatened disqualification) I had no technology with me at all. With a marathon relay and half marathon being run at the same time, I had little knowledge as to my place as the race began, but had a good ‘guess’. At about mile 5 I met up with a very nice runner named Chris who lives in Rochester. We ran together for about 8 miles, having a very pleasant conversation. He started to fade about mile 13 and I pulled away from him. At this point I was fairly confident that I was in 3rd place overall, which was cool. In my previous 14 marathons I had one 1st place finish, one 2nd, two 4ths and one 5th. I needed a 3rd to round out my top 5 placings. At a water stop at about mile 18, I caught the 2nd place dude and I heard the first place runner was about 1.5 minutes in front of me. I had no intentions of winning, and secretly hoped someone would pass me so I could get my 3rd place, but just kept slogging.

Being such a small race there was mile markers, but no race clocks. With no watch, I did not have any clue how fast I was running except for my ‘feel’. Without knowing my time, I was forced to run comfortable. At about mile 21 I got a very painful side stitch which I tried hard to stretch out while still running. For about a half of a mile I was in serious pain, but knew that stopping probably would not help, so I just had to plow through it. It finally subsided and I just tried to hold on from there. A painful blister burst on a toe at mile 24.8 (or so) was the only other inconvenience I had during the race. No signs of dehydration and again, I consumed only water and Gatorade during the race.

handstand With about 1.5 miles to go. a bicyclist who had been riding near the front told me that I was still about a minute behind the leader, so I was content to take my 2nd place. At the 25 mile mark though, I saw that he had faded quite a bit when I came out of the woods and saw him only 50 meters in front of me. I didn’t intentionally speed up (I don’t think) but just kept strong and consistent. When I passed him a little later, I took a hard look at him to see if this was going to be a fight for the win. His pained look indicated that the answer was no. All I could think of was the 2007 A1A marathon when the exact same thing happened to me. Leading up until mile 25 and then crashing and losing it. This time the shoe was on the other foot. It was me taking over the lead. I pulled away quickly and now had my own bicycle escort to the finish line. With about 600 meters left to go I asked them if they could see the 2nd place runner behind me and they said ‘no’. I said ‘good, I am going to slow down a little then because I am tired’. There was no chance for a PR, so I decided to relax. Another handstand over the finish line and marathon #15 was complete with my second fastest marathon time. I read later that this race was the second slowest winning time in the 13 year race history, but the humidity was kindof of crappy, even though the temperature was in the mid 60’s. I would attribute my win partially to it just being a slow field.
After my win in the Ocean Drive marathon, I was moved, feeling euphoric, floating around for days, looking at the world through a different lens. I was a new person, now with a marathon win. After this win, though, I felt much different. Not nearly as happy, or exited. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the interview with the local newspaper dude, but my mental status was just not as ‘Wow! I won!’. It could have been that I was not trying for a win, just trying to survive since I was trying to enjoy Geek Weekend, I am not sure. I just felt different.

I decided to stay for the awards ceremony before I left, but was ultimately disappointed by the incredibly lame award. As with every marathon, I got a finishers medal, this one being about 1.5” square and so-so in design and quality. That was fine. However, my award for winning the entire marathon was (no joke) another finishers medal (exactly the same) but this one had a clear plastic sticker on the back that said ‘overall 1st place male’. That was it. The organizers didn’t seem to have the $3 to buy a cheap plastic trophy for the winners, but could afford the plastic sticker and a spare finishers medal. Oh well.

On the whole, it was a fun little race. I still got gut rot after the race that was painful for several hours even though the only solid I ate in the first 1.5 hours after the race was a banana. New rule: After a marathon absolutely no solid food for the first 3 hours. Just water/juice/Gatorade.

I only get to enjoy this one for a little while as my next race (which will be much different) is only 13 days away.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

2008 Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon Results

2:49:58 (6:29/mi)
14/1182 Overall
3/119 Age

finishA new marathon PR! Time for a new tattoo!
Ok, so I now run about a marathon a month with the potential of running 15 total this calendar year. In the last 4 weeks kind of a lot has happened. I won a marathon, I get a feature article written about me in my local paper, and a set a new PR by a full 5:32. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The day did not start out very nice. When I first went out to my car at 5 am, there was a light rain coming down. When I checked the forecast a few days earlier, the chance of rain was supposed to drop off to 30% by race start. I crossed my fingers, but stopped at the local grocery store anyways to pick up a box of large garbage bags. On marathon mornings, they make great disposable ponchos. Lots of people had those, but I was the only person I saw who also had small plastic grocery bags over my shoes. I have learned from previous marathons that wet shoes are a horrible thing when racing. I wanted to prevent them from getting wet as long as possible. A quick bus ride to the start from the finish had me waiting a little over an hour for the race to begin. I sat there, in light rain, just trying to keep warm with the temperature being right around 50. The rain ceased only 5 minutes before the start.

The race was large enough and brought in enough ‘big guns’ that there were seeded runners. I ‘qualified’ for spot 51 (my bib number) which made me feel kind of special, I have to say. 60 seconds before the race started, I tried to turn on my MP3 player. I thought it was charged but I must have accidently turned it on sometime during my road trip because I got a ‘dead battery’ symbol. Thanx, great. No music. Wet, cold, and now no music. Blah.

With the gun going off I had plenty of people in front of me, most of who, I found out later, were running the half marathon. In the first few miles I was asking runners around me what pace they were shooting for. 2:45, 2:50 were the kinds of numbers I was hearing. I tried to go slow, really, but my 1st mile split of 6:07 confirmed I was going way too fast. I slowed down and tried to get into some rhythm. I wanted to run strong, and I would have been happy just to break 3 hours (my standard ‘goal’ of any marathon nowadays) so I tried to slow down. I hummed along for a while and at about mile 8, I looked ahead and saw a big sign for the entrance to Churchill Downs, you know, where the Kentucky Derby is run the first Saturday of May. In we went, under the tunnel and onto the infield. That was pretty darn cool. Audio from previous horse races was piped in to motivate us (I guess) and we ran around for about a mile and then back under the track and out back onto the road.

As I emerged from the tunnel, there about 20 m in front of me was one woman who told me in mile 1 that she was gunning for a 2:45. She had met up with a training partner of hers (almost exactly the same outfit, both Russian woman by birth guessing from their accents and names) and they were clipping along in good stride. I am not an elite runner, so I cannot necessarily (on my own) keep a good steady pace when going this fast. But THESE ladies were elites. Professionals. People who know how to keep a steady pace. I caught up with them and parked myself a half step behind them. I got comfortable, stopped paying real close attention to my watch and just tried to hold on with them as long as I could. Around corners, in and out of parks, up and down hills, the miles we pounded away. Mile after mile and I just felt great. I was wondering how long I was going to be able to hang with them. At mile 19, one of them dropped the hammer and decided she wanted to leave us behind. She surged ahead and her partner picked it up as well, and I decided I was still on pace to get a PR, so I let them go. I was still feeling good and solid, and just hoped I could do it on my own from here. I wanted to thank them at the end for pacing me for the middle 10 miles of the race, but I never saw them again.

As I reached mile 20, I started my mantra, ‘keep this pace and you’ll get a PR, keep this pace and you’ll get a PR’. With each mile I thought I would slow, but I didn’t seem to that much. Every time I saw a mile marker clock I did a quick mental calculation of how slow I could run the rest of the race and still get a PR. First it was 7 flat, then 7:30. When it got over 8 minutes per mile (as slow as I can go without feeling like walking) I knew I could do it. 2:50 seemed just out of my reach, so I just tried to finish strong, just putting one foot in front of the other. When I made the last turn, meandering through thousands (it seemed) of half marathoners just finishing I saw the race clock. I had a chance. I pumped my arms and sprinted (as best I could) getting in just under 2:50. The landing of my handstand was less than graceful, but hey, I got a PR.

Since it was such a huge race (>1200 marathoners, >9375 half marathoners) the post race operation ran like a well oiled machine. Food, lots of food, cool finishers medal, space blanket, and a free beer. The unexciting expo (I was in and out in <30 min, not stopping at ANY of the booths there) was made up for by the finish line festivities.

So in addition to my new original training schedule, I now have a pre-race ‘ritual’ that seems to work rather well, if you believe the results of my last two marathons. In brief:
1.The night before go out for a big dinner. Eat until full, then eat some more. Your stomach should ‘hurt’ from being too full.
2.Wake up 2.5-3 hours before race start, have two cups of caffeinated tea (no coffee) and a peanut butter sandwich, heavy on the peanut butter.
3. Take 4 ibuprofen tablets 30 minutes before the race chasing it with 16 oz of Gatorade 15 minutes before race start.
4. Immediately upon finish, walk for a while (20 min?) to get all that crap out of your muscles. Your legs will not be nearly as sore as they would if you just sit down right afterwards. Do NOT simply sit down and rest. You will be hurting.
5. Do not eat too fast afterward and avoid bagels like the plague, as they give awful gut-rot that CAN hurt pretty bad.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

2008 Ocean Drive Marathon Results (Or: Mark for the Win!

2:56:16 (6:44/mi)
1/384 overall
Official Results
Local newpaper article
Yes, yes, that is a 1st place win. My first overall win ever in my entire life. Any distance, any age, any anything. I have run more than a few races, garnering two 2nd places, a few 4ths, a 5th, etc. but never a number 1.

Let’s get through the normal stuff first. A little long of a road trip that took me part of two days. Because I spaced it out, I had the opportunity to stop by Atlantic City to do the ‘AC’ thing, which felt a lot like my trip to Vegas. I wandered through 2 casinos, Trump and Caesar’s. I even spent some time wandering along the boardwalk. Afterward I headed down to the ‘expo’ to pick up my number and shirt (A very nice one, by the way). It was not much of an expo considering there was really only one business there. Afterwards, I still had time to catch two movies, get a nice veal Parmesan dinner with a couple of Yuengling’s and head back to my hotel for a pretty good night sleep.

With a 9am start, I could get up at my normal time of 6am for a race, which was nice. Peanut butter sandwich and a few cups of tea and I parked at the finish line at about 7am to catch a bus to the start line. I had a wonderful conversation with a nice New Yorker who has done >40 marathons in his life. We arrived at the start 1 hour and 20 min before the start. With the temperature hovering in the low 40’s and a stiff wind, my choice of shorts and long sleeve shirt was a little cool. I found an entryway to a local restaurant to keep warm. It was about 15 min before the start of the race that I decided what pace I was going to run this one at. I decided to shoot for a 3 hour race, but would be satisfied with something slightly slower, owing to the headwind.

Oh, a what a headwind it was. 12-15 mph steady with gusts up to 20 mph. As with Boston 2007, the wind was in my face the whole darn way. Well, there were a few blocks in residential areas that I got a break from the wind, but >80% of the time I had the wind in my face.

As with the 2007 A1A marathon, I did not know I was in the lead until well into the race. In this case, there was a 10 mile race that had the same start and course as the marathon. After ~5 miles I was firmly in 3rd place, and I swore that one of the guys in front of me was a marathoner (instead of a 10-miler) so I thought I was in 2nd, maybe 3rd place. At about mile 9.2, I got passed by another guy, but he was another 10 miler, so I let him go. I came up to the 10 mile finish and saw the timer truck (A pickup with the gate down holding a big race clock) waiting for me. Oh no, I am the first marathoner. A quick question to a race official confirmed my unhappy suspicion. Yes, I was the first marathoner. I threw up my hands, swore, and said out loud “I am not supposed to be here”. A similar expounding I made back at the A1A marathon. I don’t like being in the lead because I don’t like pressure. I don’t handle it well. Don’t put me in the lead, I will fail for sure. The first thing I did was look behind me and see where the next runner was. Great! There were 2 guys about 1/4 mile behind me. Wonderful. They will team up, bear down and catch and pass me. Then I can relax and get into my grove and run my race, NOT in the lead.

I held my pace and just tried to be comfortable. At about mile 15.5 there was a short ‘turn-around section’ where I could see exactly what kind of lead I had on the next runners. One guy was about 1/4 mile, another 200m behind him, then a few more a little farther back. Great. I will be overtaken, and then I will be comfortable. Again, NOT in the lead. I tried hard to learn from the failed experience of A1A. #1 lesson, keeping a solid even pace and #2 lesson, keeping hydrated. I kept checking my ‘head’ and body parts for signs of dehydration and was fine until about mile 24.5, which by that time it was too late to be damaging. In terms of pace, I ran the first 9 miles at exactly 6:40 pace. At mile 18, I was doing an average of 6:41. A final pace of 6:44 means I did not slow down significantly.

At about mile 20, I started to finally believe I had a shot at winning it. I still had the healthy lead and this time I still had my brain and body intact from plenty of fluid. This is about where I started the mantra ‘If I hold this pace, I can win’. I believed that the next runner was not about to pick up the pace enough to pass me if I stayed steady.

At about mile 24.5, I started to feel that crappy loss of feeling in my hands, a sign of dehydration. For the first time, I ran a marathon with only 12 in-race aid stations, each about 2-2.5 miles apart, with the first Gatorade supplied one not being until mile 11. For this I was not too thrilled. Not starting to feel funny until I was min away from the finish though gave me confidence that I could make it. By mile 25, the ‘keep this pace and you win’ mantra was pretty much constant. With a little more than 0.75 mile to go, I turned on to the final boardwalk and saw the finish line sign up ahead. A guess at the distance, a quick check of the race clock and I realized there was a snowballs chance for a PR to go woth my win. I put my head down and gritted my teeth and picked up the pace. After a ‘sprint’ of 1/3 of a mile and I realized I was not going to make it. (I eventually missed a PR by 46 seconds) A quick look back and yes I still had my hefty lead, so I slowed back down to comfort speed and wandered on up to the finish. In my 3rd marathon in a row, I passed over the finish line on my hands. This time I actually managed to ‘walk’ a few steps across, and I got to smack my butt on a finish ‘tape’. I talked with the race director and kindly asked for the tape and he promised me I would get it in the mail soon. If you have not seen the scene yet, you need to watch the video.
After the initial ‘congratulations’ from everyone around I found the massage tent and got my massage. I had to enjoy this rare moment of no line at the massage tables. While in there I did one newspaper interview and one TV interview. After that I changed my clothes into something dry and warm and then did another newspaper interview.

With a long ride back, I had originally planned on heading west very soon after the race. The awards ceremony started a full 2 hours after I finished. I had to stay to enjoy this very rare moment. Whilst waiting for the official results I sat and had a couple of beers with the second place finisher who lives in Beijing but is Irish by birth. A very nice guy and fun to swap marathon stories with.

The feeling of the win was surreal and completely unexpected. It messed with my head a lot. Now that I have a marathon win under my belt, I have an invaluable experience that I just might be able to us again in the future (I hope!)

No taper, no specific training with this race being a ‘goal’ race, nothing special for this race. My training since I have gone 1 marathon per month is pretty boring, doing ~55 miles per week with no real speed work, just doing long runs, some hard, some easy. Again, this makes me think I could do great things if tried hard. Another ‘life goal’ just got checked off when I didn’t think it would happen this day. It came as a surprise so I was a little taken aback when it happened. A day that I will never, ever, ever forget.

Major lessons:
- walk after the run, no matter what. Get the lactic acid out of your legs and you can NOT have sore legs 24 hours after a 2:56 marathon.
- Veal parmesan the night before a race, YUM! Eat until you are full, then eat some more.
- A peanut butter sandwich 3 hours before race start is perfect race morning food.
- Tape (only) all toes, completely before the race. No need for moleskin. I did this for this race I had NO lost toenails, just one blister on one big toe.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

2008 Catch a Leprechaun 30K Results

4/56 Overall
1/8 Age

An new PR! Ok, I’ll be honest, I have never raced a 30K before. A different distance being just shy of ¾ the length of a marathon. If I had my choice, I would prefer the official marathon distance be 30K.

A few days ago I was looking to find a race that was a little farther away than I would normally drive. The front end of spring break seemed like a fun time for a short road trip. Well, this whole trip was a list of firsts, including a Red Wings hockey game on Friday night, visiting of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon, a wonderful lasagna dinner at an Italian restaurant, a 30K race, and even a visit to the Cleveland Auto Show on Sunday and a quick stop at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. A great little trip all around.

Early March in Cleveland is not the nicest race conditions. A race time temp of ~35 degrees with a nice (not!) 5-10 mph breeze. The race meandered around a nice neighborhoods and a nice 2 mile stretch along Lake Erie. There were actually three races, a 5K (simple out and back) a 15K and a 30K that was just two runnings of the 15K course. During the first trip around I managed to see a few people as I was running, but once I rounded the start finish line for my second trip, I found myself on an island, not seeing another runner until the finish. It turns out the #3 finisher was 3 min ahead of me and the next person was 5.5 minutes behind me.

I really cannot believe how strong I felt and how well I ran. I only decided to run this race a few days before hand and was going to run it as a training run. After my first mile at 6:25 I thought what the heck, I will try to hold this pace for a while. With each passing mile I felt strong and solid. At mile 17 I started to get tired, but hey, I only had a little ways to go.

Taper schmaper. I ran hard all week, doing solid runs and only taking one day off before the race. Explain to me how I pull out a 6:31 pace for 18.6 miles which is a ~2:50 marathon pace. No taper. No resting the week before. No diminishing of mileage before the race. Could I have held that clip for another 7.4 miles? Just maybe.

Icing of feet and a solid cool down walk on a treadmill back at my hotel and I feel great. No worse than any long distance run I do on almost any weekend. A 3 hour drive home from Cleveland and I was home safe from my flurry of 

Sunday, February 17, 2008

2008 A1A Marathon Results

17/504 Overall
6/59 Age
dead toenail count: 1.5
08.a1a.finish.jpgOk, yes I know I was supposed to be closer to a 2:55 for this one, and I was on that pace for the first 16 miles, I promise. Then the proverbial wheels fell off.

For the third time in (sort of) three times, a legitimate taper killed me. I was shooting for a PR at this race because of the flat course and expected nice weather (which I sort of got). That means I reduced my mileage quite a bit the last 3 weeks. I ran the Miami marathon three weeks ago as a jog and it was my last long run before this race. My weekly mileage, which is normally ~55 miles a week dropped to less than 30, with me only running 18 miles the week of the marathon. On Monday, 6 days before the race I went home and proceeded to violently vomit up my chili lunch. After a few very painful trips to the bathroom (dry heaves, yuck) I went to bed feeling awful. I took the next day off from work, went to the doctor and got some anti-nausea meds and tried desperately to rest and recover the rest of the week.
2008 a1a Marathon
 Come race day I thought I felt ok, and my legs felt great. I was just tired. My whole body was dragging, not anything specific. By mile 16 I knew I was slowing and by mile 20 all I wanted to do was stop, lie down and take a nap. That and I was really hungry too. Like Big Mac hungry. It was a feeling I have never experienced during a marathon before.

It was last years A1A marathon I had my famous dehydration hallucination bouts, so this year I made sure to drink plenty during the race, and I did taking water AND Gatorade at almost every water station. Stephanie was there as my cheering squad and each of the 4 or so times I saw her I had her offer me a water bottle with Gatorade just in case I was not getting enough at the aid stations. It turned out I did not need it, but she was such a good support crew. At about mile 21 there was an ‘alternative’ aid station. A big sign just before said ‘next stop, water or beer, your choice!’. As I came upon them I yelled ‘I need a beer!’ they cheered me on and gave me a nice cup of what tasted like Michelob. I think it was the best tasting beer I had ever had. :)

2008 a1a Marathon The race course, being the same as last year was still beautiful. The temperature at race start was about 69 degrees and warmed to about 76 by the end. There was a stiff steady wind (maybe 8 mph) off the ocean that at times kind of annoyed me, but kept the effective temperature down which was nice.

Last year I did not get to enjoy the post race food as I spend an hour in the medical tent due to my dehydration. This year being a smarter runner allowed me to partake of the most excellent post race goodies. Pasta from California Pizza Kitchen, muffins and cookies from Publix (Yum!) and free Michelob Ultra from the local Budweiser folk made my starving tummy very happy afterwards. I managed to save enough energy at the very end to do another handstand at the finish line which seems to be a new tradition that I have. As tired as I was I manged to hold it longer than at the Miami marathon.

In the end, I finished a respectable 17th (top 3.3%) even though I had to take walking breaks starting at mile 20. This is partly why I run a marathon every month. When I have ‘down’ races, I do not have to look far into the future for my redemption. My next marathon, only 5 weeks away is one the ocean front once again, only this time in sunny New Jersey!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

What am I? I'm a Marathoner

26.2 Marathon Euro Oval Sticker 4x6
Yeah yeah, so is everyone else who runs marathons, what’s the big deal. Well, my running has taken over my life, or at least a good chunk of it. Let’s look at some facts:

- I have run 11 marathons between June of 2006 and January of 2008, a time of roughly 18 months.

- I run 5K races as often as I can, just for the speed training. Of all the work I need to do to become a better marathoner, I detest the ’speed’ work the most. So to properly motivate myself, I run 5K’s because my competitiveness will get me through it as a hard ‘fast’ workout. A t-shirt for my speed training? Cool!

- Here in early February I have registered from my February marathon, my March one, and one in April. I know which marathon I am running in May as well and have a good idea what marathons I am running in June, July and August. If you pressed me, I could tell you what I am running in September, October, November, and December. Remember, this is early February when I write this.

- I run 50-60 miles a week, every week. At ~8 miles an hour, my running is a 6-8 hour/week part time job. I plan my days around my running. I will run at crazy hours, getting it whenever I can. I have never missed a run because I didn’t have time. I find the time, every day.

- As I pen this blog entry, I have 6 pairs of running shoes, each with some amount of effective ‘life’ left on them.

- Halfway through writing this blog entry I went and got my bucket of ice water to soak my feet, a ritual I do to cut down on inflammation. I decided to look at my toenails, and in that evaluation, I decided to remove the toenail on the big toe of my right foot. It did not hurt as it had ‘died’ a little while ago. I have lost the toe nail of every one of my ten toes at least twice, each. This fact does not bother me at all. People talk about marathon runners having blackened toenails. I remove the toenails long before they ever get black. I am a trained professional.

- I will talk about running with anyone who wants to talk about it. It fact, when I tell people that I am a marathoner, they are more impressed with me as a person than when I tell them I am have a Ph.D. in chemistry (I say ‘molecular spectroscopy’ when I want to sound high and mighty) and am currently a college professor. This used to bother me as I busted my arse getting that Ph.D. I left society for the entire 1990’s (graduated High School in 1990, awarded Ph.D. in 1999) to get that title. Anyone can be a marathoner, it just takes some time and dedication, and every marathon has someone who used to be a couch potato and decided to change their life and finish a marathon. Getting a Ph.D. is very hard work, and not everyone could do it, I know that. Yet, people are more ‘wowed’ by my running than by my education. I believe it is an evolutionary construct. For millennia, the human race has praised the physically fit and strong because those individuals are beneficial for perpetuating the species. (You are attracted to the strong and fast because then your kids will be strong and fast, and your kids will be able to go kill the mastodon, etc.)

Am I obsessed? Addicted? Cracked? I am not sure. My running is not coming between me and my loved ones, they always take precedence. It is one of the healthiest addictions a person could have. I have seen how much I have improved as a runner over the last 2+ years and so my competitive streak feeds on my running. I do well at races, I want to do better, I train harder and run more races. It is a good thing that my ankles can only handle ~60 miles a week (although I am trying to fix that, thank you very much) otherwise I would be running more.

It is such a good thing that I am a college professor, as it is a flexible enough job that I can plan marathons long in advance because I know my ‘work schedule’ from essentially now until the day I retire.
You see, I think from now on when someone asks me what I ‘do’, my first response will not be ‘college professor’, it will be ‘marathoner’. After some light conversation I might add that I am not good enough to get endorsements, so I am Ph.D. college Professor so I can pay the bills. But that’s just my day job.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

2008 ING Miami Marathon Results (Or: The Birth of a Tradition)

3:14:42 (7:26/mile)
116/2701 Overall
13/325 Age
Dead toenail count: 1.5

I love south Florida, especially in late January when it is mid 60’s with low humidity. It’s way better than Michigan with its mid 20’s with high winds. Ugh.
finish So I came down a few days early to visit my girlfriend, Stef, and we headed down to Miami the afternoon before the race. With race start being in downtown at 6:15 am, we thought it better to stay in a hotel on the beach the night before. A nice walk down the beach to the expo yielded my bib number and the standard race expo fare. My clothing collection being what it is and me running a marathon once a month, and hence lots of expos, I didn’t buy much more than some Clif Shot bloks, my running food of choice.

Race morning started early, getting up at 3:30. A quick shower, 2 cups of green tea, a banana and a peanut butter sandwich and off I went headed for the start line at about 4:30. A short drive, into the parking ramp at 5:05, and a short walk to the start line, arriving there at 5:20. I learned from my Vegas race that when running ‘large’ races, you get to the start line earlier than is comfortable.
This race was my last long run ‘workout’ before my PR attempt at the A1A marathon in 3 weeks. I have been training the last month or so, getting speed work in, tempo runs, all feeling solid. With my good finish last year at A1A, I wanted to shoot for another PR on the same course. Because this was a training run, I decided to run a 3:15, which is not real fast, but not so slow it would harm me. Just a good solid easy long run, really. With the battery on my GPS watch flatlined (argh) I had to rely on the mile marker clocks and a 3:15 pace band on my arm. I never ventured more than ~15 seconds away from the 3:15 marathon pace after mile 3. That is what is called consistency, baby.

ocean A beautiful course, with sunrise coming up as we ran along Ocean Boulevard. With the sky being cloudy and ~200 m of trees and green space between us and the ocean, the view wasn’t all that great. I had my camera with me and tried to take cool ‘scenic’ pictures, but unfortunately during the race there wasn’t that much scenic.

Because I wasn’t racing, I could stop and take pics including three people from my home state of Wisconsin (complete with cheddar heads) cheering on people. One nice old lady was trying to give people flowers (nice daisies) at about mile 6 and I decided to grab one and put it in my hat. One nice thing about big races is you get lots of people on the streets cheering you on. It was fun.

At the end of the race, I decided I wanted to enjoy the moment. Stephanie was in a set of bleachers at the finish line. Because I had my phone we had been talking and texting during the race (I also talked with my daughter and parents while running) I knew exactly where she was as I approached the finish line. She had handstandher phone and was trying to get my picture so I stopped and stretched my arms out wide. I just stopped right there about 50 m from the finish and was waiting for her. I then realized that there were hundreds of other people there cheering me on. I used the opportunity to play to the crowd waving my arms like a defensive football player on 3rd down at a home game. I then ran to the finish and attempted to go across the finish line walking on my hands. It was very much a last minute idea and it didn’t work to well. It did get me a talk with a reporter from a major Miami newspaper but alas, he did not publish my story.

Afterward I felt exactly the way I wanted to, just a little sore and ready for my next big race. This is the official start of my three week taper. Something I have never done legit. I have tried various tapers, but they always involve too much running, by my own mistake. I have to accept that nothing I do in the next 3 weeks can help me, but there is a lot in the next 3 weeks I can do that will hurt me.
A1A. 3 weeks. PR attempt. Fingers crossed.