Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Des Moines Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 15th Edition 
243.7 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Des Moines Half Marathon
Place: Des Moines, IA
Miles from home: 1786 miles
Weather: 40s; Bright sun

I returned to the Des Moines Marathon as a speaker and a runner for the fourth time since 2008 for a multitude of reasons. Having one the marathon once, the half marathon three times and paced runners as part of their pacing team three times as well, I have yet to experience a race which didn't live up to its ever-burgeoning standards.

On all four occasions the weather, which can rarely be counted upon in the Midwest at any point of the year, has been stellar. The race organization is top-notch. The overall experience has always been enjoyable. This year was no different.

I stayed on the east side of town knowing that it would allow easy access in and out to the starting line on race morning. Doing so put me in an area that might not have been the nicest section of Des Moines but also allowed me to see something new.  For the three days I was in town, I would begin my day with a run in a local cemetery named Laurel Hill.  Oddly, Des Moines has two cemeteries with that name separated by
roughly 9 miles.  I don't know why, they just do.

Having written previously about running in cemeteries and wondering if it is kosher, I was again reaffirmed by my decision to do so by three very pleasant runs around a rather hilly loop. I was also treated to a little humor when I saw a headstone with the name of "Worms".  Now, that is just rubbing it in, I thought.

My participation as a speaker at the expo also included me pacing the 1:40 half marathon group.  running this time actually presented a challenge.  I have run 78 half marathons and only four have been slower than 1:40.  Two were pacing efforts, one was a fun run I did and the last was an extra 3/4 of a mile long run I did in my fastest 70.3 triathlon ever. running that speed (note, I did not say "that slow") would be something I would find a little out of my normal running. As such, it would keep me on my toes.

I agreed to run this time mostly because of this challenge and for the chance to bring in more than usual the number of people I do when I pace. More often or not, regardless of how big the group starts off with, when I get toward the end, I may only have one or two people with me. Sure, many more will be not far behind but just as many take off near the end and even many more set PRs nonetheless.

Chill temperatures (hovering around 40 degrees) with just a touch of wind and bright sunshine greeted us runners as we milled around near the start.  I was actually co-pacing this run with a chap named Brian who has done multiple pacing efforts himself.  A tall fella of around 6'4'' Brian joked our pacees were lucky to have such large windblocks to be leading them.

As the race started,  it was exceedingly difficult to not run way faster than the planned 7:38 pace but the thick crowds in the beginning kept me in check.  Brian was a bit of a cheerleader, rousing both spectators and runners.  I chose to play the quieter foil, mainly there as his guest and the pied piper of others.  More than a few runners were taking part of the I-35 challenge.  this feat had runners competing in either the marathon or half in Kansas City down the road the day before and then duplicating that feat here in Des Moines. M y goal for the day was to help as many of these tired legs to get through the course as possible.

The Des Moines Marathon has a few hills in it that I recall from running it in 2006 as part of my 52 Marathon journey.  The half marathon, however, is about as flat as one can get running a city marathon that branches ut into a couple of different park areas. When we split from the marathoners right before the third mile, I told the runners to not smile too broadly as we watched them climb a big hill we did not have to mount.

After winding along an underpass we headed into Waterworks Park. This section had a 1.5 mile loop that split runners before allowing each other to pass within inches of one another on the way in/out.  It is the only "tight" portion of the course and at this pace definitely had more than a few people coming and going.  On our way out we marveled at the speed of the leaders (who would take it home in 1:08) and then were happy to see so many people behind us as we followed suit.

Not necessarily an easy place to get to for spectators, many were out here to cheer runners on, something which is always appreciated.  It was also a section where I could feel our large group of 30 or more might be beginning t fall off the pace.  With about half the race to go I was hoping we would keep as many as possible just a few miles longer.

Our exit from Waterworks Park spit us out across Fleur Drive and then around a loop of Grays Lake Park. One of my favorite part of any race is the walking bridge you cross here.  With colors glass reflecting the sunlight (or if it is at night, using the lights of the bridge) a rainbow effect is thrown at your feet. I like to use this portion to remind me that I have just about three miles left in the race. I told the runners the same thing and then told them a slightly off-color joke.  The laugh told me they forgot about their run if only for a few seconds.

The rest of the race is quite simple with a shot down a city street with a view of the capitol building's dome you saw at mile two in the background in front of you.  This also contains a short out and back that I have always disliked as it comes right before the 12th mile.  It is not horrible but it seems like it could easily be removed by adding distance elsewhere. 

When we hit that 12th mile we saw we were just a few seconds ahead of the pace for the group.  However, the pack of about ten runners we still had right on our heels was itching to be done.  We told them that we were going to let them take off so we could maintain our projected pace. Having paced on numerous occasions. I know this happens often. Runners will get so excited t be done that they wish to d so as quickly as possible. There is no longer any pacing or holding back. The barn can be smelled and they want to eat its hay.

Brian and I kept the course, hoping to both pick up some last minute runners who might be flagging a bit and also to stay just ahead of those who were using us as a homing beacon.  They might not get under 1:40 but we knew they would be getting times they were shooting for nonetheless.

When I crossed the line in 1:39:43, I was a few seconds ahead of where I would be ideally but was happy to have helped so many get their finish time. More than a few came up to Brian and I and thanked us. I turned to them and thanked them for allowing us to share this moment with them. I handed my 1:40 pacing sign to Justin, one of the I-35 challenge runners. I do hope he puts it in special place to signify his effort well-earned.

I packed up my bags and headed to the airport. Time to get home and watch The Walking Dead and get ready for a very interesting race in Oregon just a few days later.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review of Camelbak Cloud Walker 18 and Fourteener 24

When I partially tore my Achilles tendon in August it put more than a few things on hold. One was my review of two separate Camelbak products. I had used them both on a couple of occasions but hadn't fully had a chance to test them further.  Fortunately, I have healed up, taken both packs out on some runs/hikes and am happy to share my thoughts on both.

Cloud Walker 18

The Cloudwalker has served me very well for its intended use: to be a no-frills backpack without the extra bulk. I used it as pack when I recently took part in Hood to Coast with some buddies. I found myself during and after the race being a bit of a sherpa for a few of them and it worked very well.  Spacious yet slender,, what I really liked about the Cloudwalker was the Air Channel in the back.  Along with the comfy shoulder straps, this air channel added an extra layer of breathe-ability helping to kept moisture and heat off of your back.

There are not extrenal zippered bpokctes which might be a little bit of a drawback bu there is a mesh sidepocket on either side of the pack for a bottle or camera or things which need to be more accessible. But since the pack is not necesarily made to be one where you are grabbing and replacing while moving at a high-speed, this is not much of a problem.

It comes with a 2 liter Antidote® Reservoir which is ample for any type of adventure you might with to take it on.  It is sturdy and hardy without feeling too heavy or starchy.  There is no waist belt on this pack which I found to be actually better for hiking. I plan on doing a little more vertical climbing when I am hiking versus running and as such would be bent over more.  Not having a waist belt freed up my big gut.  This is one solid product, especially for just $80.

Fourteener 24

This is a big boy and I loved it. Coming standard with 3 liter Antidote®  Reservoir The Fourteener is ready to do more than I have put it through. With multiple lash points for ice axes, trekking poles or other gear this is a pack meant to go hard.

Even better than the Air Channel back of the Cloud Walker above is NV™ Back Panel which actually separates the entire back from your pack with elevated or raised panels. There is a waist belt on this pack as it is obvious it is meant to carry more than just a few items.  The belt helps distribute the weight of the entire pack evenly.  I used it when doing some light hiking at a recent race where I went to spectate up around Mount St. Helens where I deftly was able to scamper along some trail and rocks wit ha litany of items in my pack.  I didn't have any poles so I am not sure how they work with this pack but I have no doubt to believe they would work well too.

Because it comes with a separate zippered opening, the reservoir can be easily refilled without removing it from the pack. Again, like with the Cloud Walker this is not necessairly a pack you will be using for speed running through the Grand Canyon but not having to shuffle everything around to get to your bladder is a ncie touch.

The side compression straps helped keep the entire load stabilized which was extremely appreciated even though I wasn't ever packing it to full capacity. Also there are a coupe of external zippered pockets to allow you to throw items in which you might need to take in and out more often.

As it comes wit ha few more bells and whistles than the Cloud Walker it has a higher price tag at $145 but I think anyone who uses the pack would say that is well within its worth.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Running Streaks (Or When It Is OK to Take a Break)

I have written before about my feelings of going on running streaks. (Was it really 7 years ago?  Ugh. I don't even want to link to this as I am sure it is horribly written but oh well.)  I am not going to repeat my feelings as they pretty much remain the same, but I will sum them up. Streaking, for the sake of streaking alone, is rarely good.

Just ask Will Ferrell.

Joking aside, rather than explain why it is not good for you, let me list some times when it is imperative that you take some time off. But what do I know? I just ran 52 marathons in a row without injury setting a PR in the 42nd week.

1. You are sick. This one is a no-brainer.  If you are ill, your body is weakened and trying to fix itself. Don't make its task more difficult by putting it through the wringer. Granted there are degrees of illness ad a simple headcold might not be enough of a reason to stay home but be judicious with your miles on days like this.

2. You are beat up. Let's say you hit the gym too hard or perhaps a race left your quads trashed. It is perfectly OK to take time off after that to recover.  My medicine for a hard race is to almost always go for a short, slow run the day after. THEN, I take a day off. 

3. You are coming back from injury/pregnancy/time off.  I was sick for about a month earlier this year. I took an entire week off. I was well enough to try and run after that week.  But when I did, it felt like I hadn't run for a year.  Now imagine if you haven't run in a year, or more.  Reward the choice you have made to get back into shape by not sabotaging your efforts with too quick a comeback. Same with rebounding from injury or after a pregnancy.

4. Pain. You are not in a life or death situation.  You do not need to push through a broken fibula in order to keep the wolves that ate Liam Meson (spoiler alert) from coming after you next. Pain is not weakness leaving the body. Pain is an indicator that something is not going well in your body. It is far harder to stop when you want to go on then it is to simply HTFU and injure yourself. I DNF my first 100 mile race at mile 87 even though I was in 2nd place. Did it suck? Sure. Am I glad I had the brains to do it? Yep!

5. Life intervenes. The crazy thing about existence is that sometimes you simply aren't going to be able to make the time to get your workout in.  Don't make it a habit but don't force the issue either. No race plan has ever been laid to waste because of one missed workout.  But many races have been sabotaged by trying to shoehorn a workout that didn't need to be done.

These are just a few ways to make sure you get not only to the finish of your next race but the starting line as well. You are welcome.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Evansville Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 14th Edition 
230.6 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Evansville Half Marathon
Place: Evansville, IN
Miles from home: 2206 miles
Weather: 40-50s; Bright sun

Running and traveling as much as I have for the past decade it is not uncommon to have a few friends in one location.  If the location has a high population, that coincidence is even less surprising.  But to have so many friends, met in so many different ways, in a place which has approximately 120,000 people in it like Evansville, IN, is definitely interesting.

I met my host for this weekend, Michelle Walker, nearly four years ago when I was speaking at the Kiawah Island Marathon. Learning of her frequent marathoning history we became fast friends. When Michelle asked me to be the first ever featured speaker for the Evansville Half Marathon as a guest of The Women's Hospital, I was more than pleased to do so. It was also good to catch up with her as she is one of the subjects for the new book I am working on with Lacie Whyte highlighting inspiring female runners.

Back in April, I did a course preview of the race when I was in town for the wedding of my good friend Allison (another strange coincidence).  However, the course changed drastically since that time. Some felt I might be annoyed by the changes but for me it just meant I got to see even more of a city I was staying in.  Taking in more of a town you are in is rarely a bad thing.  Doing so on foot with people cheering for you as you do it is hard to top.

I gave a speech at Ivy Community College earlier in the week in the greater Evansville area and it was enjoyable to give a speech to a mixed running/non-running crowd.  One can easily fall into sloppy speech habits if they only speak to people who "speak your language".  I was pleased to receive some good feedback there which tells me I am at least not regressing as a speaker.  However, I was even more pleased be speaking to runners at The Women's Hospital the night before the race. As usual I end up being as inspired by hearing the stories of those in attendance as they do by hearing what I have done. I was revved up for the race in the morning even if I knew it was simply going to be a hard effort training run.

The casino hotel was my resting place for the night before the race. Just a few hundred yards or so from the start of the race it was an ideal place to stay.  It was extremely pleasant and relaxing to be able to wake up just an hour before race time, prep, go outside, realize you still need to go to the bathroom, run back up stairs, come back down, give a quick "Go Get 'Em!" to the crowd over the mic and still have 5 minutes to get ready for the race.

After the weather being in the 90s as recent as a day and half before the race started, the low 40s temperature was absolutely amazing. I only wished I was in shape to actually race. Instead, I planned on running hard, checking out the new course and cheering on a litany of friends who were shooting for new PRs.

My race would not be a personal best. There is a certain calm that can take over a runner when they show up to the starting line knowing that they will give their best that day but today’s best will be nothing close to their all-time best. For me, I wanted to simply run right around 7 minutes per mile, check out the course and hopefully make some new friends. At my speech the previous night, the pace group coordinator for the race asked if I wanted to help by running a 1:30 pace. I told him I planned on running right around there and anyone who wished to join me could gladly do so.  But I was simply going to enjoy myself.

There had been massively strong winds in the days before the race.  As a few miles would be run right on the banks of the Ohio River, we were all but assured to have it in our faces one if not both directions.  But as we gathered for a beautifully sung National Anthem there was barely a rustling in the leaves which were just starting to show their fall colors.  The Mayor of Evansville was on hand to start us off and away we went.
My first two miles were run at a pace I knew I was comfortable running but maybe a bit faster than my still healing Achilles would allow. Nevertheless, I enjoyed running down by the river and up and around a fountain in front of the Alhambra Theatre. The streets were flat and well paved.  A good way to start off a race.

 A couple of quick turns through the neighborhoods here had us running due east and right into the rising sun. I was happy to be wearing my Julbos as always.

We passed right by the Bayard Park which I fondly recalled there being some ice cold drinks back on our run in April. The crowds were not plentiful but the volunteers and traffic controllers were. We wound our way through some newly paved brick streets that originally we would have run the opposite direction on the old course. The Rocky Theme pierced the morning quiet as it emanated from an accordion and an amplifier. Out early in this brisk weather was a sprightly woman who was eighty if she was a day. I wanted to high five her but I feared I would have knocked her tiny body over.

A long straight section has us finishing our tour of the downtown area of Evansville by skirting Bosse Field.  As I mentioned in my preview, this field is known for being used for game scenes in the movie A League of Their Own, it is the 3rd oldest stadium in regular use in America, after Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Once we passed that it was time to take on the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage.

I heard a few people weren’t particularly fond of this section. I would count myself in that group but not because of anything particular with this course. I have never really liked bicycle course in the middle of the races. They are always sneakily difficult with twists and turns and sudden rises and falls.  These changes in elevation or direction are often imperceptible to a map maker but to a runner they can really sap some energy.  Of course, these small changes can also help the legs by breaking up what is essentially a completely flat course.  So you take the good, you tale the bad. (And a course that I have PRd on twice has a three mile [path as such, so there you go.)

For four miles you stay on this course where small smatterings of fans are out cheering you on.  There were also no less than two different groups of high school cheerleaders screaming your name. As the race puts your actual name on the bib you feel like a bit of a celebrity. Even more so, for well over a mile, every single name of every single city of one of the participants was listed in alphabetical order on the bicycle path.  I have no idea how long it took people to write these all out in chalk but I was very impressed.  I can’t recall any race I have ever run doing the exact same thing.  When I saw Portland, OR (the only city representing Oregon and obviously because of my presence) I let out a little whoop.

There were tons of other touches done on this race which people who haven’t run many won’t realize.  At certain sections there are poles placed in the bike path to keep motor vehicles from entering the path.  It is very easy when one is running, especially in a pack, to not see these poles. I have been on the business end of one of these and/or had to close of a call than I would like to remember.  The organizers, however, took orange marking ribbon and created a triangle of awareness from the top of the pole down to the ground. That was a small touch which took just a few seconds but really was a big deal.  I felt it deserved a special mention.

On Thursday night before the race I had helped lead the final 3 mile training run for a group of runners called Team 13. One and half miles of that run had been along this very same path. When we hit a certain section, familiarity crept in and after a few miles slower than I would have liked, I began to pick up the pace.

Even this small change of 5-10 seconds per mile was one I felt in my Achilles. I wanted to go faster and even being out of shape I knew I could but the legs were advising against it. The body is not a dictatorship but rather a committee ruled by its weakest partner. As such, the Turks and Caicos of my United Nations was the deciding vote.

With two miles to go I passed my buddy Ken who would end up running a solid time for the day. This poor guy is one heck of a runner but just happens to have one of the fastest fellas in his age group living right in his city. He looked strong and we exchanged some pleasantries. I passed a few other runners as we hopped onto the river walk. I didn't really have much if a desire to pass these people but I also did not wish to slow down. We could see the finish a half of a mile away and I really liked that. It is nice to be able to see where you are heading and really lock into a pace. The water looked gorgeous, the sun was at our backs and the wind from the day before was non-existent.  I had one runner pass me in the last quarter of a mile but the last thing I needed to do was sprint to the finish to get a time that was nearly a minute slower per mile than my PR. I was happy to let him take me and add the feather to his cap. I merely trotted home, waved to the crowd and was pleased with  my time of 1:31:25.  I took 64th place overall and got my butt handed to me in my age group finishing 8th.

More importantly, no less than five people I had met here in the past two visits set personal best. Jason and David ran 1:17 and 1:19 with both taking down their PRs by two minutes each.  A young fella named Reece who I had met at the past dinner the night before took 36 minutes off his time to break two hours. There were many I heard talking about their new fastes times ever who I never had met.

I got to see and experience these finishes with many of the runners as I stood at the finish handing out medals for about an hour or so after I was done. This is one of the best feelings in the world and one every runner should experience. Finally, however, the cold and tiredness got to me and I had to skedaddle back to my hotel to grab a shower.

Plus, I wanted to hit the casino.

I would highly recommend running this race to set a new PR.  If the weather is like this every year, there is no reason to not run your fastest time ever.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Huntsville Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 13th Edition 
217.5 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Huntsville Marathon
Place: Huntsville, UT
Miles from home: 741 miles
Weather: 40-60s; light to heavy rain

“A runner experiences no greater pain than the soreness following a race which goes poorly.”

I am not sure what greater thinker said that, but it is brilliant.  Actually, I just said it as I sit here feeling my quads twitch and nothing could feel more true.

My desire to run fast and well at the Huntsville Marathon was greater than most.  I felt the course suited my strengths (downhill running), I had a good race two weeks prior at the Tunnel Lite Marathon and for the first time in ages was running with virtually no pain anywhere. Unfortunately, I forgot that while I was pain free I wasn’t exactly in good running shape.

In August I had partially torn my Achilles and while it healed quickly, I obviously had limited training. Furthermore, while the Huntsville Marathon does had an almost embarrassment of riches of downhill to its course, even a good downhill runner will get beat up on too much of the slope. Finally, any race which starts at 9,000 feet above sea level is going to take its toll on a runner, especially if said runner lives just a hundred or so feet above sea level.

All of this I knew but was ignoring. While the forecast called for scattered thunderstorms, the temperature for the race was predicted to be favorable. I have had just a small handful of “favorable” weather races in the past two years.  Couple that with my own running struggles and it can wear on one’s psyche a touch. Even a deluge of rain would mean a cloudy sky and I will take that over the evil life-sucking orb any day of the week.

A later than most starting time meant that even though I had to drive to the finish and then be bussed to the start, I would not have to get up at 3:30 A.M. to do so.  I was pleased with that. When light rain sprinkled a bit harder here and there, I was fine with that as well. I shared a seat with a rather newish runner named Tyler who was hoping to run sub 3:30.  He asked for a some pointers and I provided them.  Happy to report that post-race I found out Tyler had gone and done exactly as he hoped by hitting a 3:28.  At least one of us got our goal.

My goal was to hit any time starting with a “2”. Depending on the day, how far under three hours I went would just be icing on the cake.  As we lined up at the starting line, no one seem particularly interested in getting on the front of the line.  Given the winning time here last year was a 2:19, this was surprising to me.  I think the weather scared some people away.  So I lined up and when the gun was fired, I took the lead.

For a hundred yards or so, no one joined me.  I knew there was no way I was winning this race so I kept looking for other runners.  After a small barely there uphill to start (which even fully refreshed at the start still took my breath away) we began the long downhill to start the race.  My first two miles were far faster than I expected them to be even with the downhill portion.  I hit the 2nd mile and immediately pulled back on the throttle.  There was absolutely no way I was going to run a 2:45 today and that was what this pace would be.

Immediately a large group of runners (I counted 14) swooped by me. I laughed inwardly and perhaps, in hindsight, a bit derisively. I did not know for sure that this group would not be able to continue this pace. But I had a feeling there was no way they would.  With four women in the group, maybe I was wrong and all four of them would qualify for the Olympic Trials and then next year this race would have 5,000 women all vying for their best time ever.

The next few miles had times more in line with what I felt was prudent and I played a game of catch, pass, get caught and passed with a handful of runners. It amazed me that people running this speed did not know how to properly grab a cup of water from a volunteer in stride.  Even more surprising was this one guy who was employing a run/walk method.  He would pass me at a sprint speed and then a quarter of a mile down the road would come to a walk.  His watch would beep and away he went again.  As he continued to stay in front of me for more than a few miles, I wondered if he was onto some new and efficient way of training. (He wasn’t. After a while I would never see him again and not because he disappeared in front of me.)

At 10 miles, I was still on pace for a 2:53ish marathon. I knew this would drop over time, especially when the race flattened out around mile 15.  Finally, at mile 12, the rain abated.  It had been far from horrendous but to run in a cooler climate without also being completely wet was a plus.  I hoped it would stay this way throughout the rest of the day. I hit the half marathon point at 1:27:30. I knew I could slow down my average for the first half by 25 seconds per mile and still go under three hours.

The 14th mile of any marathon is always important to me.  Having just hit the halfway milestone, it can often be a letdown. I use this mile as a barometer for the rest of the race. Here, the course was flattening but we were still around 6000 above sea level. I could definitely feel my lungs working a bit harder but I knew every second under a 7:05 mile put me that much closer to sub-3. This mile and the next were both right under 7 minutes. I only had eleven miles to go.

Then suddenly, it was over.  A 7:21 minute mile was followed by me needing to actually stop and walk for ten seconds. Seven people flew past me when I did. My 17th mile ended in a time of 7:55. Four miles earlier I was wondering how far below three hours I would get.  Here I was wondering how bad the rest of the race was going to go.

Two more miles over 8 minutes per mile had me stopping at mile 19. I grabbed a drink and felt something behind me. An official looking van pulled into the aid station. I walked over and said to the guy “Does this van go to the finish?”  He nodded and said “Sure does.”  I told him I was going to get on it and call it a day.  He said that was what he was here for and would get rolling in about five minutes. I sat down on the side of the road and contemplated how I would finally be DNFing my first marathon ever.

Minutes passed by and the van driver did not reappear. A few more minutes and I began re-evaluating my decision to quit. I wasn’t injured. I wasn’t putting myself in harm’s way. I was just going to run slowly and miserably for seven more miles. I have done that before and will assuredly do it again. I got up after what had to be close to seven minutes of sitting and started running again.

I thought perhaps if I could just run an 8 minute mile average I could hit a 3:07ish time and be pleased with getting back on the road again.  But that was simply not in the cards for me. More accurately, I would run at an 8 mile pace but only for about half a mile or so. Then I was reduced to standing, bent over, pulling on the ends of my shorts in an attempt to stay upright. It was baffling to me how when I could run I would pass dozens of others who were flattering but I could only keep it up for 800 meters or so. Then it was like I couldn’t move at all.

Part of the reason I had started moving at all back at mile 19 was the rain had again started and was raining harder. I knew sitting around and longer would just make life miserable. As the miles slowly crept by and I had just 3 more to go, the deluge came.  The last 5k was done just one step at a time. Hardy volunteers gleefully handed out aid and I stopped twice to apply Vaseline into my nether regions. The two plus hours of rain had washed all my Body Glide off and I could tell there was going to be some chafing.

When the finish was finally in sight it was nothing more than a mercy killing. I gathered myself up enough to keep my time under 3:20 but my 3:18:25 was good enough for just my 103rd fastest marathon ever. I was shocked to learn I was 26th overall.  I felt like I was third from last. Later, looking at the results, I saw that only 5 people made it under three hours. That group of 14 who had gone out at a ridiculous pace only had two people who maintained close to it for the whole race. I took some consolation in the fact that every one of them were Utah residents who at least had the benefit of living at higher altitude. But I was nonetheless rather disappointed.

As a litany of friends told me, my 3:18 was something they would kill for. I obviously greatly appreciate them saying such nice things but it is no salve to my wounds. There had been a moment in the first three miles when I thought perhaps I would surprise myself with a new PR in this race. When I abandoned that for a slightly slower time of 2:52 I was already writing this recap in my head.  It was one of redemption and overcoming the past few years of bike crashes, staph infections, the flu and long, long, long running events. As it stands, that specific recap will have to wait.

The good news is that the Achilles in both legs held up. There were a few miles were it slightly protested in the manner it had before I had tore it previously.  At mile 11 I verbalized a plea out loud to my Achilles that “Today is not the day for you to tear.”  I should be (and am) pleased I could even return to racing just a few short weeks after tearing it. That is a blessing and not something I take for granted. But long are the days gone where just finishing a marathon itself will bring me joy. I don’t crave to have completions. I crave to run as fast as I can. Obviously this was as fast I could on this day. However, I know I have much more in me.

So, now with this marathon behind me (it had been on my mine and radar all year, regardless of what pace I planned on running it or even running it at all continued to change) I can work on rehabbing my Achilles fully. I can go back to the drawing board, analyze this race and see what I can do to take shots at getting faster again. The number of good races will always be not only outnumbered but overshadowed by the number of races which don’t live up to our expectations. I have come to grips with reality.

It’s just that the soreness in my legs keep reminding me that this last race was one of the group of many. Fortunately, it helps to keep me wanting more. Not for anyone else. Not to prove anyone wrong. But plain and simply because running as fast as I can makes me happy.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

How a Sub-2 Hour Marathon Will Happen

In case you missed it, the men’s world record in the marathon fell (again) at the Berlin Marathon. The time for Kenyan runner Dennis Kimetto?  2:02:57. For the math-declined, that’s a 4:41 minute mile average.

As runners, we sometimes throw around numbers and times of elite runners without the proper weight attached to them.  The most wonderful thing about running is that everyone can do it. Unfortunately, because everyone can, sometimes the otherworldlieness of the elites can be lost. Therefore, I am going to state that pace again just to reiterate how amazing it is. Four minutes and forty-one seconds per mile. On average. For twenty-six point two miles in a friggin’ row.

Non-runners cannot fathom how fast that is. For non-runners, a marathon itself is unbelievable. For slower runners, a 3:10 marathon is just as unbelievable as a 2:10 marathon.  For faster runners, sometimes we get caught up in the accolades of winning an age group or even a race here and there and think our talents are just slightly below the elites. But one thing I learned as my own personal marathon time went under three hours and eventually hit 2:49 was that the faster I run, the slower I realize I am. My PR is now 46 minutes slower than the world record. In my fastest marathon ever, I would have been about three feet in front of mile 19 when Kimetto crossed the finish. Egads.

I used to love the fact that my personal best started with a “2” because I could joke that I was still in the same hour as the world record. However, I don’t think I will be able to say that for very much longer.

In spite of what many (including those who have forgotten more than I know about running) have said leading into this race, I have zero doubt that a sub-2 hour marathon will happen.  I also think it will happen in the next decade to fifteen years. Let me give you a few reasons why.

1.    Records fall when psychological barriers are eliminated.  If you have never beaten your brother playing basketball, that fact gets in your head. Trying to best him will get progressively harder the more often you lose, even if everything else (e.g., skill levels) stay constant. With running, if you have never beaten a runner who also happens to hold a world record, chances are you will convince yourself you can never run that fast. However, there are so many new faces and younger runners taking on the marathon, most do not have that years-long defeat streak to say, Haile Gebrselassie.  As such, the mind-game defeating them before they get to the starting line is not there.

2.    Records fall in bunches. Part of the reason for records falling constantly is a herd mentality of training. The African dominance in running as of the past twenty years is due in part to the fact that the cogs of the machine are interchangeable. Whoever wins, wins. There are no great hopes pinned to the chest of a few runners like Ryan Hall or Dathan Ritzenhein in the United States. Going back to my first point, if someone you know you can run and train with on a daily basis is breaking records, then you think you can do the

3.    Science and technology continue to allow humans to get the absolute best out of their performance.  Included in this is the undeniable fact that some athletes may be illegally enhancing their performance.  Although what is or should be legal is a gray area. For example, why LASIK is legal in baseball but not steroids when both are artificial means of enhancing performance is something that sticks in my craw. With running, you can sleep in an oxygen tent to increase the oxygen- carrying capacity of your blood (very akin to blood doping differing mainly only in that the latter increases the amount of red blood cells in your blood) with no repercussions. But that is another article. My point is that we continue to learn more about how to train, rest, recover and train harder as each passing day goes by. There is no reason to believe this won’t continue.

I will readily admit that 173 more seconds is a lot of time to drop.  However, Kimetto’s record was 26 seconds faster than the previous world record. Yes, it would take six more efforts of someone bettering the world record by the same mark in order for the marathon to be under two hours. But it is not out of a reasonable realm of possibility to think this speed will continue. The world record has fallen by 62 seconds in the last 6 years. It has gone down by 41 seconds in just the past three years. Granted, it is entirely possible the record will go through a drought like it did most recently from 1988 to 1998 when no one broke lowered the mark at all.  But when Ronaldo da Costa finally did take down Belayneh Dinsamo world record he did so by a full 45 seconds.

Someone running a marathon under two hours would have to do so no slower than 4:34.57 per mile. That’s nearly 7 seconds per mile faster than the world record set in Berlin today. When you go into the tenths and hundredth of a second one is usually talking about a 100-yard dash. We have to do that for the sprints because the human body reaches a maximum speed and it soon becomes obvious that times will need to be measured in smaller and smaller increments. Until we don’t.

When Usain Bolt broke the 100 meter world record (way back in 2009) he did so by beating the current
world record by a full tenth of a second.  When your race is only 9+ seconds long, one tenth of a second is a lot of time (It has taken 31 years for the record to go down just two tenths of a second prior to Bolt.) Until Bolt came along many thought we might have to go into thousandths of a second to differentiate between new world records.  Bolt has shown that every time humans think that we have gone as high, fast or hard as possible, someone will show you that you haven’t seen anything yet. Apropos of nothing, Bolt's record was also set in Berlin. Hmmm.

As the world becomes more globally connected, massive amounts of the population have potential access to the rest of what we take for granted. Who knows how many potential Einsteins or Michael Jordans have been lost to war or famine in places where the basics of life are not so basic. There are undoubtedly untapped riches in the field of athletics as well. One of those kids, or one of the people they help push, will someday take down the two hour barrier.

And I am guessing they will do so at the Berlin Marathon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Third Portland Summer in the Books

Since it is officially fall I can say, with all due apologies to Green Day, summer has come and passed. My third full summer in Portland is now over. 

When I first thought about moving to PDX back in 2010, I had misgivings. You always hear about how rainy and dreary it is. Months and months of gloom are only punctuated by perhaps a few weeks of sunny weather hear and there.  As someone who hates to race in the sun, I still love to run and live in it. So I decided to scout the area out by planning a few gigs in the area to both run and check out the scenery (re: weather.)

Every trip here produced fantastic weather. But my local friends always said "Yeah, don't get used to this." or "This is a fluke. It will rain tomorrow." Fortunately, after nearly four decades on Earth I have learned that most people have their head firmly up their ass. So when the time came to finally make the jump, I ignored their warnings. I was Portland bound.

I am not exactly sure if I am breaking some Portland code by telling you this but the weather here is absolutely fantastic. Sure, it rains but to speak like a 14 year old girl, it doesn't rain rain. But you don't need to believe me. Check out this nifty website that allows you to check different cities annual rainfall against each other.  Time and time again, Portland has fewer inches of rain than its supposed other cities.  Yeah, it has more gray days than some might like and the rain lingers during the winter, but having grown up in NW Pennsylvania, I will take some cold rainy weather over frosty, icy, horrific snow any day of the week.  In fact, Erie, PA was the snowiest city in America last winter and that is just some 40 miles away from where I grew up. I'll take the rain.

Today, in Portland, it rained a little bit and then has been grey most of the day (N.B. Because I can't decide if I want to go with "gray" or "grey" I am deciding to use the both.) Then I heard on the news that it was the rainiest day in Portland since June. June! But if you ask my friends, Portland is a mucky land of dreariness and wet. OK, fine. All I know is that for running, I have picked one awesome city.

Then again, most cities are awesome for running. When runners learn I live in Portland, they say, almost without fail "Well, that's a great city for running." It is. But so was Salt Lake City, my last home. Before that, I lived right outside of Washington D.C., in Arlington, VA.  That area is so wonderful for running that I credit it with kindling my interest in the sport.

The more I travel the more I realize how much virtually every place is wonderful for running. This realization has finally brought me to the point that I want other runners to know how much awesome is out there as well. Within the next few weeks, I am going to be unveiling a partnership with an awesome company which will help me further every runner's knowledge of the great places to run in America (and hopefully the world.) 

Stay tuned for more information!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Karhu Fast5 Fulcrum Review

Full Disclosure: I am a Karhu-sponsored athlete so you can take this review (as you should with anything) with a gain of salt. Then again, if you have read anything I have written you would know I pull no punches in any of my reviews. In addition, I am working with the companies I work with because their products are phenomenal. So naturally those products will almost always be great. Finally, I think I once said something mean about a girl in 5th grade that wasn't true. (I said "full disclosure".)

I excitedly received my Karhu Fast5 Fulcrum the other day. I say excitedly because while receiving new shoes in the mail is akin to Chrismahanukwanzakah for runners, lately my inability to not run without pain has dampened my spirits. However, after my 150th marathon last week, wherein on little training I eked out a decent, I am once again excited to lace up my shoes.

Sliding into the Fast5 was like sliding into every other Karhu shoe. It just felt nice. It didn't feel overly-techy or too frilly. What I have loved about Karhu shoes from the get-go of working with them is the shoes have this je ne sais quoi. You lace them up and you think "Now, that's a shoe."

My first run in the Fast5 was my Bridge Run in Portland which, while on all road, features more than a few ups and downs. As this run is mostly on city streets with some right-angle turns here and there, you get plenty of feel for the shoe and how it will respond. Taking a shoe out on a soft buttery trail or something where you won't get the real-feel for it doesn't make much sense. You have to test a shoe where you plan on using it.

The Fast5 did not disappoint in that or any subsequent runs (admittingly there have only been three total.)  I did push them through some quick intervals around the Mt. Tabor Reservoir and also through some half trail/half sidewalk loops of Laurelhurst Park. In other words, I took these shoes through everything that you would normally run them through. The open air messh upper breathed as well as other Karhu shoes and the padded heel protected me (a heel striker) from some of the roots, stones or debris on the streets.

I would not necessarily race in them even though they are far from heavy (coming in at 10.4 ounces) but if I did I am sure there would be no problem. That said, the Fast5 are more of a neutral training shoe, providing good cushioning and a stable platform. But I can see me putting many good training miles in with them and being extremely happy.

Checkout more info about the shoe itself and get yourself a pair from Krhu's website here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Tunnel Lite Marathon Recap (and a quick look back at 149 others)

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 12th Edition 
191.3 miles run in 2014 races
Race: The Tunnel Lite Marathon
Place: North Bend, WA
Miles from home: 186 miles
Weather: 40-60s; bright sunshine

3933 miles of marathons. That's the number of miles in 150 separate 26.22 milers (amazing how much those .22 add up when you multiply them by 150.) That is also the number of miles of marathons I have run.  More or less.

I learned long ago that milestones like this are rather arbitrary. It all depends on how you decide to count things. First of all, I ran the Green Bay Marathon in 2012 when they black flagged it in heat. I finished it, walking the last 5k as we were told it was canceled. I still got a finishing time at first sent to my text message. After some thought, I realized it shouldn't count as a marathon.  In January, I ran the fastest marathon distance around a cruise ship ever recorded.  But that didn't really count either. Yet both of those count or don't count because of a set of rules I decided upon.  Then again, everything only counts based on a set of rules we decide upon, if you think about it.

The Tunnel Lite Marathon was, however, not even going to be what I considered my 150th marathon.  That was going to be in two weeks in Huntsville, Utah.  Then I partially tore my Achilles tendon about five weeks ago.  The reason I chose the Huntsville Marathon was because I knew it would suit my strengths (downhill running) and was run partially on the same course I have set a personal best on twice previously.  Go with what you are best at, right? But as I was planning on using Huntsville to set a new, which the torn Achilles threw out the window, I decided I needed at least a warm up race.  The Tunnel Lite Marathon popped into my head.

First and foremost, I love how the name of the race is "The" Tunnel Lite Marathon. Like how the band called "Eagles" does not have "The" in front of it but "The Edge" of the band U2 does. I can honestly tell you that kept my mind preoccupied for at least a mile yesterday as I ran this race.

Honestly, this won't be much of a recap of the event itself.  If you want to know more about this race, you can look at my Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon recap here (notice there is no "The" at the start of its name.)  It is the exact same course just run at a different time of year.  The main difference between the two is that, historically, this race is cooler. It wasn't that much cooler for us this year but I am sure I will touch on that.

My goals for this race were to simply run as hard as I can and make sure the Achilles didn't injure more. Note well, if I had thought I would injure myself running this race, I never would have started. I can guarantee that virtually every one reading this does not have any race so important that they must injure themselves to start and/or finish it. I have zero problem not running or finishing a race if it will be detrimental to my health.  But I had a feeling I was good to go in this race.

I hoped to get a Boston qualifier as my minimum time goal with an outside chance of going sub-3. Given I toed the line at the heaviest I have ever run a marathon (I don't know the exact weight but for it was much higher than ideal for a fast marathon attempt), I knew that might be tough. The cool 45 degree starting temperature before the tunnel was helpful. I had recently looked back at my race history and realized it had been about two straight years of racing for me where the temperature for the race was either at or higher than expected for that day of the year. I hate racing in the heat.

In addition, I have had a tough time with running in general lately.  I finished my 350 mile run up the Oregon Coast about two years ago.  My running after that was fine but slowish, as expected while I recovered. Then I crashed my bike in a training ride for the Boise 70.3.  Since then, my running has taken a nosedive. A litany of injuries, all seemingly stemming from that bike crash stymied progress. Only a new personal best in the Mt. Nebo half marathon (on a day when I could have easily chopped 3 more minutes if I was in actual good running shape) has been a shining moment in my running.  Since that crash I have only run 11 marathons and only 3 of those were Boston Qualifying times. Two of them were on this course. (Spoiler alert.)

When I crossed the line in 7th place overall in a time of 3:06:58, I was quite happy. I achieved a Boston Qualifying time for the tenth straight year. The time was 17 minutes slower than my personal best but I had no major complaints. I hadn't run anything close to a long training run in three months. The weather, while cool at the start, came from a cloudless sky.  The course was mostly shaded but when it wasn't the sun beat down. In the last 6 or 7 miles, it was baking. I was covered in salt by the time I finished (thanks for the picture, sign and support, Shannon!)

This recap also won't be too much of a look back at the 150 marathons I have run, either. I did that for my first 100 in my second book and I am not quite ready for another retrospective. I also see this as the springboard to getting healthy, strong and fast (for me) again anyway. So I am looking forward, not back.  But I will look at some stats, as I do love them so.

First, 150 marathons is fine.  There are a fir number of  people have "completed" more marathons than that.  However, what I am most proud of is few people have run faster for 150 marathons or give as much effort into each and every one of them, especially at my size (6'1'' 180ish pounds.)
* For the 150 marathons I have run, I have averaged a 3:17:52.  That number includes two Leadville Marathons (5:17:41 and 4:45:30) as well as one Pikes Peak Marathon (6:41:53).  Those three marathons alone sway the entire average by two minutes and 48 seconds!
* Seventy-one of the 150 marathons have been Boston Qualifiers and that includes the first 38 in 2006 when I ran 52 in one year, which were not BQs.
* 132 of the 150 marathons have been under 3:30.  Most of the ones which have not were caused by ridiculous courses, illness or something completely out of my control.
* From 2007 to 2009, 31 of the 33 Marathons I ran were Boston Qualifiers. (Ended, not surprisingly, by another bike crash.)

 * I have run every time from 2:58 to 3:31, at least once.  That means I have a 2:58, 2:59, 3:00, 3:01...etc.  Many times I Go out for a specific time and I can't tell you how hard that can be to hit a random 3:17 or whatever. If I get a 2:50, 2:52, 2:54 and 2:57 I will have every time from 2:49 to 3:31. I am missing some below 3:30 but I hope to never run that slow again.

All in all, the times are just fine to look at and I would happily bore you with details of every single race. But no one really cares in the grand scheme of things. I barely care. I like looking at numbers and playing with them. I like pushing my body and seeing what is possible. It has not been fun to run marathons the past few years because I haven't been close to the shape I know I can run them in. I totally understand why elite runners basically give up racing once they lose their top end speed.  If you could run a 2:10 marathon, running a 2:55 must feel simply awful. That is why I have so much respect for those pouring their heart into their 4, 5 and 6 hour marathon finishes. It is also why I absolutely don't get those who don't pour their heart into their finishes and jog along snapping pictures during a race. They are abusing or neglecting the gift they have which many wish they could.

As I sit on the cusp of my next marathon, I have no idea if I will run 200 total let alone another 150 Ten years ago I was one month away from my third, and what I thought would be my last, marathon. Who knows what the future holds. All I know is that it will hold me giving all I have every day to be a better runner, person, and juggler.

I know I can do 6 balls if I put my mind to it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jared Lorenzen: Please Don't Pass on the Steak

I don't know exactly how long this blog is going to be.  It could almost be a tweet the point is so simple.  But I have to go further with it.

I am reading an article in ESPN The Magazine about Jared Lorenzen.  If you don't know who that is, he is the amazingly talented former QB for the Kentucky Wildcats.  He also played most of his career in the neighborhood of 300 lbs. That is not a typo.

The most recently made headlines again earlier this year when the day after the SuperBowl he appeared in some Arena Football League game for the Northern Kentucky River Monsters. Wearing a "jersey" and "shoulder pads" that looked like second skin and his son's pee wee football pads, Lorenzen danced deftly around defenders, bowled others over and zipped the ball with the same record breaking skills he showed in the SEC.

The article, which I literally put down mid-paragraph to write this blog, is about his struggles with weight loss. In particular, one group of sentence made me lose my gourd.

"He is trying to get past the chomp-chomp-chomp phase. He orders a lot of salads. He's cut back on the steaks in favor of grilled chicken and sushi...And Sometimes, on the way home, that $5 Little Caesars pizza calls his name."

I am not even going to go into how a Little Ceasars pizza is far from bad, unless you consume the whole damn thing yourself. What made me blow my top was the "cutting back on steaks in favor of chicken" line. (My knowledge on sushi is limited but I do know it contains a lot more calories than people think it does. Check this out.)  When I read that line about chicken, however, I feel I understand what scientists trying to talk to religious people who believe the world is 6,000 years old feel.  How is red meat still getting the bad rep? There are 29 cuts of beef that are leaner than skinless chicken thigh. LEANER. SKINLESS.  

Why is it that facts and science and truth still cannot seem to beat out myths, rumors and misinformation? I spoke in another blog recently about how Eating Meat is the New (and Old) Eating Healthful about many of these problems with untruths. It seems the battle to educate people is never ever going to be won. But I will continue to fight it.

As I said in a blog about proteins over carbs, all people, especially runners, need a healthful does of all things. But without a doubt, the more carbs I eat and the less protein, the heavier I get and the more bloated I am. The body turns carbs into sugars, and when that is not burned off by the body, it is converted into fat. However, even after you realize this and go for the proteins, there is absolutely zero reason to choose any sort of chicken over steak, at least when it comes down to a nutritional argument.  You can have a taste preference, sure, bu in the case of someone, like Jared, who is struggling with weight gain, don't think that chicken is a healthier way to lose weight.

So, Jared, I can't possibly know your struggle or what other problems you are going through and I do not pretend to.  I do, however, know that eating less steak and more chicken is not the answer.

I will be in your neck of the woods at the end of this month to run the Evansville Half Marathon. This is my open invitation to take you, my treat, to the steakhouse of your choosing. Heck, I played  a little wide receiver in high school.  Maybe after we eat, if you toned down that cannon of an arm, you could throw me a few passes.

 In either case, keep eating beef and good luck in your weight loss quest.