Saturday, October 29, 2011

2011 Bad Apple Ultra Results (or How to Run for 6 Hours without dying)

11 laps of 4 mile loop in 6:13
1/15 overall
Post 50<4, I am trying to redefine my running career. I am not sure yet if I want to go all the way back to doing 100’s, so I decided to try a race in the middle distance range, well MY definition of middle distance, a 6 hour timed ultra.

Inaugural races are generally to be avoided as the RD’s usually have a good idea of what to do, but forget critical things. Well, lucky for us, these folks knew how to run a good ultra. They dreamed this race up because there were no timed races in the state of Michigan so was born the Bad Apple 3-6-12 Ultra. For those who don’t know, timed ultras are a little different from any normal race. Instead of seeing who can run a pre-defined distance (26.2 miles for example) fastest, you run a specific distance loop (here it was 4 miles, sometimes they are 1 miles, other times its a 400m track. ick.) as many times as possible in a set time. This day I decided to run the 6 hour race though I had thought about the 12, but with all the other racing I had done this fall (7 marathons(+) in 9 weeks) I didn’t want to blow up.

Klackle Orchards in Greenville, MI was the site of the race which is a working apple orchard complete with hayrides, pony rides and other family friendly activities. This is one of those orchards that you bring the family too for a few hours. We actually ran through the orchard which was very beautiful. Good solid footing, enjoyable views, and perfect weather, ~45 degrees at race start, ~60 at end. It was awesome and only one time did me and another runner make a wrong turn on the first loop. No real problem as it added maybe 300m to our run which is nothing when you are running for 6 hours. Halfway through the 4 mile loop was a smaller aid station, with 2-3 people handing out a good selection of ultra food (chips, candy, soda, etc) Marathons hand out water, Gatorade and sometimes gels. When you are running for 6, 12, or more hours you need more calories. I also brought my own ‘new’ ultra food, pickle juice. I collected some from various empty pickle containers in my fridge and the electrolytes are super high and the pickle juice doesn’t taste too bad. After each of the first 6 loops, I took a healthy swig of my pickle juice and I think it helped. As with other ultras, my appetite waned later in the race and nothing tasted good. I have to figure that one out.
Another awesome part about timed ultras is you get to see people often as you pass them (12 hr racers going a little slower) and when you are passed (3 hr racers and relay racers) as well as the nice folks at the aid station and start/finish line. When I would come by the start line, I was getting all sorts of encouragement, even from people who knew me by name (I didn’t know them) which was a little weird, but cool.

My first 3 laps were all consistent, right around 7:35/mile pace. At the very beginning, there were 4 guys in front of me that went out much faster. I just wanted to have a good solid day, so I was content with my conservative pace. I wanted to try to make it all day without ever talking a walk break (a goal which I achieved) but to do that you have to start out slow. Maybe those 100 milers have helped. :) I felt great halfway through, just pounding out the miles, listening to movie audio while running through the woods, enjoying my day. About 3.5 hours in, I asked the official lap counter how many people were ahead of me and by how far because I was curious. She told me I was in the lead. This was a very small race (most ultras are) but I didn’t think all those guys in front of me had been relay members. I had passed one halfway through the first loop, but either those other three guys were relay runners or they took long breaks at the start/finish. Either way, I was in the lead and wanted to stay there. My favorite mantra came into my head, ‘Don’t blow up and you will win’. I love that mantra, and it kept me moving at mile 30, mile 35, mile 40…
As it is a timed race and the loop is large (4 miles is considered a long loop for a timed ultra) there have to be tie breakers and this one is a little confusing those not familiar with such races. Say I arrive the start/finish line at 5:50 after finishing 10 laps. The next guy gets there after HIS 10th lap in 5:55. I was there first, but it is a 6 hour ultra. So, what they do is allow you to finish any lap you start before the 6 hr clock expires. This is called a ‘bonus lap’. So, If I start my bonus lap at 5:50, and #2 starts his bonus lap in 5:55, that’s fine, whoever gets around the horn first wins the overall. So, as I came in for lap 9 (about 4:58 in) I kindly asked the lap counter to pay attention to the #2 guy and where he was because I wanted to know the next time I came around how much of a lead I had on him, because that would make a difference in my decision to do a bonus lap or not. So at 5:35 I rolled by after my 10th lap (40 miles) and she told me I only had about a 15 minute lead. So, if I stopped, which I kind of wanted to do, he could have hit the line under 6, do one more loop and beat me. So I pushed off and started my bonus lap, but backed off a little in my speed (no walking, but running at 8:20+/mil pace) because I knew that as long as I didn’t blow up, I would beat him.

I finish my bonus lap at what my watch said was 6:13 to secure the official win. Turns out, the second place guy didn’t even do a bonus lap, so in the official results, I am the only one with 11 laps completed. Career W #6 in my home state in my first ever 6-hr ultra. That was a way cool feeling. My prize for winning was free entry into next years race (a ~$90 value) which is AWESOME. Way better than any trophy. One more awesome thing about timed races is everyone finishes at the same time, so the post-race party is more ‘full’ as all the finishers are right there, fresh from the event, eating good food and chatting about the race, other ultras, swapping war stories, etc. Hanging with my fellow ultra freaks is always a fun time. I fit into this beyond-marathon culture, even though sometimes I still think I don’t deserve to call myself an ultramarathoner. I know that it sounds weird, but I just don’t think I am worthy sometimes. Oh well. Great race, fun memories.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

2011 Hartford Marathon Results (Or: It’s Finally Over!!)

70/2024 overall

1 word: Wow. 50 states, under 4 hours, before age 40. It was a dream I came up with oh so many years ago, after I ran 3 marathons that happened to all be in different states. As soon as I hit 10 states in Nevada (12/2007) I got into the 50 states club (obviously not a finisher) and then proceeded to start the long and expensive slog towards my goal. Doing all 50 states before I turned 40 years old (8.18.2012) gave me motivation to train hard and race often. My job and schedule allowed me to do it without going into too much debt. The logistics were almost fun to do, sometime knowing the next 9 marathons I was running. Doing 5 doubles (marathons in consecutive days) saved me some money I knew October 15, 2011 was going to be the end since sometime during the summer of 2010 when I mapped out the final 15 marathons needed. For a last-marathon-for-this-life-goal marathon, it was a nice microcosm of the whole journey.
I got to make this long road trip with my lovely wife, Misty. When I met her two and half years ago, I was halfway done with my states, and she knew that A) this was an important goal for me and B) running was what made me happy, kept me sane and even keeled. She knew I was not wealthy and that it was costing me quite a bit to do this, but she ever said anything to discourage me. She supported me completely through until the very end, taking time off to drive 12+ hours to Connecticut.

We left soon after Misty got out of work Thursday afternoon and got about 4 hours down the road and stayed in a cheap hotel in eastern Ohio. I am used to staying at crappy hotels for these trips( saves money) but with Misty there, it made it all ok. We woke up early Friday morning and drove the last 8 hours through PA and NY, making it to CT in the late afternoon. The fall colors in central PA are very beautiful. Rolling hills, a zillion different colors on the leaves, it was awesome. I dropped Misty off at the hotel so she could do a workout quick while I went to the race expo. Predictable expo for a race this size, with maybe 50-60 vendors hawking their wares to the marathoners. As usual, I bought nothing as there was nothing there I needed or much wanted. Some of the official race gear was cool, but I don’t need any more shirts/hats/jackets than I already have. The official race shirt was totally awesome, so that was cool.
SchwagI went back and picked up Misty and we headed 10 miles away to (you guessed it) Applebee’s. I have to go back into the record and count how many times I have eaten at an Applebees the night before a race and also notice how well I do the next day. I think there is a very strong correlation between the two. The night before career marathon 71 I slept surprisingly well, waking up for the first time at 4 am, which is a little later than usual.

After waking up refreshed, Misty and I arrived at finish for a Marathon Maniacs group picture about 45 min prior to race start. I had made a custom shirt just for today which read ’50 state finisher TODAY 10-15-11’ and I got lots of comments from people before and during the race. This being a large race (14,000+ full and half marathoners) they had the elite section way up front, then a second corral for qualified people who proved they can run under a certain time (3:20? I don’t quite remember) then there was the rest of the pack. I submitted my paperwork to be in the second corral, even though I didn’t think I might run up there. I don’t mind people having to weave around me, I hate having to weave around other people. Literally up until about 5 minutes before the race I had no idea how fast I was going to run. I had thought about just enjoying myself and coasting to a 3:30-3:40, or trying to bust out a sub 3, since this might be my last fast marathon for a while (more on that later) so I decided to go out sortof fast and just see how my body felt.

The course was actually very nice. Hartford is a nice, clean city but they did have a lot of little hills around. We ran along and over the Connecticut River a few times and that was quite beautiful with a cool breeze rolling down. As with most of my races, I brought awesome weather. Rainy and cold the day before and the day after, but race day was perfect.

I passed 13.1 mile mark at 1:29:16, and I felt really good. I kept that pace for maybe another 5 miles, then started to get a little tired. Since I knew sub 3 was out of the question (it never really was IN the question) I slowed to a comfortable pace, staying strong until the end. As was pre-planned, about 40 meters before the finish I did something that I had only done once before. I stopped stone cold before the huge finish line crowd and stretched out my arms, then pointing to my shirt, getting the crowd up and excited, then did my handstand. The End. All that was left was the celebration.
Mom Shirts!
My #1 fan has been my Mom. Once my Aunt Nancy died a few years back, My mom became the only person on the planet (besides me) to read this blog. She keeps track of my race schedule and always calls me after every race to ask me how it went, how I did, how I feel. To commemorate this historic finish, she made 3 embroidered t-shirts, one each for Misty, Salacia and myself. Mine says “I ran 50 under 40 under 4” and the other two were appropriately labeled. My Mommy is so good to me….

For any people out there close to finishing their 50 state quest, I urge you to finish here at Hartford. This is a huge race, but the race committee are awesome people. The Race Director had VERY nice custom plaques made for the 8 of us who were finishing our 50th state this day. There was even a short ‘awards ceremony’ for all of us at the finish line a little after the 5 hour mark.
50!More hardware will come, as I will soon receive a 50 states marathon club ‘finisher’ certificate, becoming one of <700 people to achieve that goal. I have also now become only the 20th finisher of the 50sub4 group. For that I will receive a plaque and yet another awesome shirt. I now stand amongst some very elite company including my good friend, Gary Krugger, who finished 50 states last year, and just last week became the 4th person to join the more coveted 50sub3 class. I have over 10 sub 3 finishes, but I gave up on speed a long time ago. I will not be joining him there.

Now what I hear you say. I have other dreams, other goals (100 lifetime marathons, 100 marathons in 1 state, more 100 milers, etc.) But I know that this one will always be the biggest. It is the one that other people will understand and appreciate most. It is significant. To run a marathon requires time and dedication to training. To run one in all 50 states requires logistics and physical resilience (read: not getting injured). To run every one of them in less than 4 hours requires everything to work, every time, day in and day out.

I am certainly not retiring, but I am very much looking forward to the next chapter of my running career. This has been an awesome journey, and I thank all of you who have helped me get through it. I am surrounded by friends and family that have supported me completely through this ordeal and I thank you all so much for being a part of it. I hope I made you proud.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

2011 Wildlife Marathon Results

11/89 overall
This was my warmup race to my 50th state tun next weekend in Hartford, CT. It was really fun for a few reasons, including being (essentially) in my backyard, almost perfect race conditions, and getting my long time running partner Joel through his first marathon.

My friend Rob and his running buddy Scott needed a cheap MI race, and they just happen to chose this one. When I found out he was running it, I immediately offered to let him and his friend crash at my house as I live ~15 minutes from the race start. The two of them arrived Saturday afternoon and we picked up our packets and drove a chunk of the course, that which was NOT on the Falling Waters Trail. They really liked the scenery, and the course was going to be nice with gentle rolling hills among color-changing trees. When I ran this race back in 2009, it was completely along the trail, a double out and back. I didn’t mind it, because the trail is so darn pretty this time of year, but the course change made only ~10 miles of the course along the trail.
With guests in town, I decided to host a pre-race dinner (Thank you Misty!!) for Rob, Scott, Joel, and my other running partner/fellow JCC prof John Y. I thought the years of experience and fun stories of races past would help Joel get over his jitters. He said it helped. Wonderful conversation with good friends.
The Usual Suspects
Race morning and everything was grand. Temperature, weather, scenery, just perfect. Joel and I took off, getting into a 6:46 pace quickly. At about mile 8, we started picking it up, and by mile 12 Joel was ready to go, and off he went. I told him I would run with him for a little while until he got through the first portion, as I wanted to hold him back so he would have enough to make it. He left me behind, and I slowed down a little running 7:10ish pace miles 12-21. I had nothing to prove, and didn’t feel like busting my butt.

The course being A) in my town, B) on back roads, and C) small meant that Misty and Salacia could actually drive next to me while running. They found me along the course at several points to chit-chat and such. They even spent some time helping at one of the aid stations before heading to the finish line to see us. They are such sweet ladies…

At about mile 21, I see a familiar figure ahead of me. There is Joel, walking. Turns out, he was on pace to run a 2:55 and was in 3rd place until mile 20, then a cramp got him. I was not here for a good time, I was here for Joel, so I started walking with him, and we walked/jogged from there until the end. He was happy to finish, and enjoyed the experience, and he was quick to say he wanted to do it again. I was so happy for him to finish in such good spirits. It was so awesome to watch a first timer survive with a good attitude.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 Lakefront Marathon Results

3:39:51 (spot on!!)
My second official pacer experience was like any other race experience, a learning one, but fun and exciting too.
Every once in a while, my lovel wife Misty can make the road trip with me to race, and this was just such a race. We left Michigan on Friday after she was out of work, and passed off the three kids to the respective ‘other’ parent. We then pushed on to my parents house in Cross Plains, WI, arriving at about midnight. Misty went straight to bed and I stayed up and talked with my Mom for a while. It had been a long time since I had seen here, so it was very nice to spend some quality time with her.

Saturday morning my sister and her family showed up for breakfast and more lively and enjoyable conversation ensued. Because I had to work the expo, we took off mid morning arriving in downtown just in time for my shift. The expo was pretty small, but had a good time chit-chatting with two other pacers. Standard banter, favorite races, fun racing stories, long term goals, etc. After my expo shift, Mist and I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which was totally awesome. A wonderful and diverse art collection inside a beautiful building along Lake Michigan. We stayed until close, and then headed to a downtown Irish pub for a great dinner. It was like we had been on a 24 hour date, it was so awesome.

I finally went to bed after watching my mighty Wisconsin Badgers beat up Nebraska and slept quite well. 4:45 wakeup, apple, banana, and 2 cups of coffee for breakfast and I was on the bus riding from host hotel to start line, ~26.2 miles away in Grafton, WI. The start line was within 10 miles of the house my father grew up in, which was kindof cool. The other 14 pacers and I hung out in the High School for a while waiting for race start since it was about 45 degrees outside.

Pacer MarkI had checked the forecast just a day before and it was supposed to be high 30s at race start and not get much about 50 by the end so I wore running pants and a long sleeve running shirt under my official singlet. It felt fine before I started running…

About 25 minutes before the start me and my fellow pacers were up at the start holding our signs and people started congregating around their desired pacers. 5 minutes before the gun, I gave them my standard instructions. My background (give them confidence I will hit 3:40), that I will run through aid stations, that i will maintain dead even pace all day long. I also promised them a funny joke if they made it to mile 18 with me.

In the very beginning, I probably had about 70 people with me, with about 50 of those still there at mile 8. It took me a little longer to get settled in my pace. I was never more than 30 seconds off of where I should be at any specific mile marker, but I spend many miles in the front half 15-20 seconds behind schedule. I had to SLOWLY get those seconds back and managed to by the half marathon marker. My scheduled arrival time at that mat was 1:50 flat, and my chip time was 1:50:02. Boo-Ya.

The course was actually quite beautiful, with gentle rolling hills along back country roads, occasionally going by gorgeous Lake Michigan vistas. I was so focused on keeping my pace even, I had to try to enjoy the run every once in a while. The temperature started rising and I realized that I might have a problem. I was over-dressed, but more importantly, there wasn’t much I could so about it. It would have taken me several minutes to stop and do a costume change, but I was supposed to be running 8:24 mile-in mile-out, so I had to tough out the suns increasing heat in my running pants and long sleeve shirt. It made the last part of the race a little tougher than it should have been, but I learned that I have to spend a little more time planning racing attire when I am pacer.
At mile 18, I told my one funny joke (“A guy walks into Baskin Robbins…”) to about 20 people who managed to survive with me that long. They laughed. The group then began to break up. Some were feeling good and took off in front of me, some started to fade behind. By mile 23 I was pretty much alone, just being the solid even pacer dude. As I crossed the finish line in 3:39:51, there were a couple of my starters within 20 m of me who all thanked me after they crossed the line. Their thanks meant a lot to me. I really enjoy pacing, helping other achieve their marathon goals.

Since it is Milwaukee, the was of course free (delicious) beer at the end as well as a good spread of post race food. non-crappy finishers medal and yet again, a great marathon memory, especially because I got to spend it with my lovely wife. She really is fun to travel with.