Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Timex One GPS+ Review

I review very few products that I don't particularly like. The reason for this is I tend to have a pretty good idea what I will like before I spend time reviewing it. I don't get paid for reviews and my workout time is precious. I prefer to actually spend time working out as to being a guinea pig for any product/supplement/what have you that comes down the pike. So, while Timex is indeed a sponsor of mine, the main reason they are a sponsor is because they make fantastic products. Sure, I go into reviews of products from companies I like or work with wanting the product to be good. But I don't let that color my review. This paragraph is my disclaimer of sorts in case some may think my review is biased. Of cours,e if you do, this whole paragraph was a waste of both of our times.

That all said, my review of the Timex One GPS+ is rather simple: I I like it. I don't love it. But I like it. That might not sound like a resounding approval but since there are very few products I actually do love, liking it means I approve. Let me break down my thinking process.

When a product comes out, I often will read other reviews to see what people do not find appealing about it. What they like is usually of little consequence. It is what is displeasing or what they don't particularly care for which provides me the most interest. As a little fun adventure, I enjoying trying guess how the reviewer feels about the product three sentences in, even if they are trying to hide their overall feeling. It usually isn't all hard. So I didn't bury my opinion anywhere but rather let you know up front

After reading many other reviews, the biggest downside I could find about the Timex One GPS+ was people did not know what category to put the watch into. Because of that uncertainty, if it didn't meet the X criteria of Y type of watches, then they didn't like it. I never saw a legitimate reason to pan something because it didn't fit you preconceived notions for what it should do (often flying in the face of what the product says it will do) but, hey, that's just me. Yet that didn't stop many from saying it was too expensive for watch in this category or not enough battery for a what in this category or anything else. Most of the complaints dealt with things the watch never claimed to be or do.

I first got the One GPS+ in late winter/early spring 2015. I absolutely adore Timex's Run Trainer 2.0 and have used it and its predecessor for the past four years. I am resistant to change and, for the most part, am not all that into gadgetry when it comes to my running.  It wasn't even until I started using the One GPS+ that I uploaded any workouts to Strava. I didn't get the site and didn't see the point.  While I now use it occasionally to check out some stats, it still isn't much of my cup of tea. I'm too busy worrying about my own running to care if Steve set a new PR on some random hill in the middle of Poughkeepsie. I mean, good for Steve but I am trying to PR in the marathon and am worrying about me.  I know, I know: I am a 80 year old trapped in a 3-*cough* something body. 

One of the ways in which I test out a new product is by reading virtually none of the instructions and just trying to use it on the fly. As a reasonably intelligent man who in spite of my general disdain for all the gadgetry that can get involved with running, still has a firm understanding of most of it, if I can't figure it out then most of the people out there cannot either. So the blind test is one I utilize greatly. The Timex One GPS+ did a admirable job for being intuitive. As there were so many functions I had never used in a watch before, obviously there was a little playing around. Otherwise, it was rather simple.

I used the watch on some training runs and in a race or two. I utilized it in an open swim race, a triathlon, a trail race, and a few road races. I wanted to give it the full gamut of experiences. But before I get to that, let me explain a bit more about what the watch is.  It is not a smartwatch.  It is a sport fitness device.  Here are some deets.

It has a rugged exterior capable of diving 50 meters (150 feet) under water, a 3G worldwide connection provided (free for one year, $40/year after) by AT&T, 4GB of internal storage (for music), and a 1.5-inch, Mirasol screen. It's starting price was $399 which made some people balk but as I have said before expensive is only what some people think if they don't want the product. Now, however, you can get this sweet baby for just $199. (You want it when it first comes out, I guess you have to pay more. Wait a few months and you get a steal!) Before I go too much further, I am going to send you over to DC Rainmaker's ever popular blog for a lot of the technical stuff. Heck if Runner's World is going to say he is one of the 50 most Influential people in running, who am I to argue?

My experience with the watch was solid.  As I do not have wireless headphones, and almost never run with music, the fact that the watch could hold all my MP3s meant little. I uploaded them and it went smoothly but I don't use them. I did, however, have an instance where it synced to a rental car and freaked me out as I could not figure out which radio station was playing Mill Vanilli's "Blame it on the Rain." (Yeah, it's in my collection. Wanna fight about it?)

My biggest problem with the watch was one easily solved: the touch screen.  I found out that the passing of water over the screen can cause it to be affected.  By that I mean that a button could be pressed or a screen swapped simply when you were swimming. I never would have thought water could do this but it ended up being a problem in that first open water swim. No problem. Once you start your workout, you only need to depress another button for about 2 seconds and it locks the touchscreen. Voila! It then worked perfectly in the triathlon I did. Furthermore, while I was reading that many watches will give you very wonky data unless they are swim specific watches, it worked just fine with me. There was a little bit of back and forth but heck I could have just been swimming around the flotsam which was all the slower swimmers in front of me.

Another complaint I read was the short battery life. At "only" around 8 hours, the complaint was that the watch could not possibly be used for an Ironman.  However, as DC Rainmaker points out in the comments of his review: "Except it’s not branded as a multi-sport device. It’s branded as a running/marketed device." Of course, someone then replied "I totally get it…. I just think they shouldn’t brand it as Ironman unless it’s going to be multisport."  (This makes me laugh so hard. It is like the Concrete vs. Asphalt debate I posted about where someone tried to argue by saying "Physics aside...") So, anyway, it has a "short" battery life. If your workouts last longer than 8 hours, maybe this isn't the watch for you in fully-loaded GPS and music playing mode.

One option I did to get to try out but in hindsight is a huge selling point is the live tracking the watch has without the use of a cellphone. As technology does its pendulum swing back from tiny tiny Will Ferrell phones to basically carrying a cookie sheet with wi-fi, phones are getting bigger and bigger. The ability to have someone live track you from just your watch is amazing to me. (Also, an unintended benefit of this is if your watch gets stolen, you can track those thieving bastards down.  My friend Shannon Coates had this exact thing happen to her in Portland and voila!)  In addition, you can do messaging without a phone, and as mentioned above, listen to your MP3s. Sure there is no full keyboard and swiping through all your music might be more tedious than one could like, but you are supposed to be working out not texting Tolstory-esque messages.

I didn't even list all of the things you can do with this watch (like send emergency messages) but I think you get the overall feel. It's a solid watch even for the person who may not necessarily want or understand all the bells and whistles. There is definitely room for improvement, especially as it feels Timex is the first to forge into this new are oaf watches. Moreover, as you get to understand all the parts about it you didn't think or know you wanted, you will be glad the watch has incorporated them into its innards.

Kudos, Timex. Well played!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Black Lives Matter. But So Does Intelligence.

When Black Lives Matter became a rallying slogan, I was at first a little confused. I thought that all lives mattered. Then I realized the point was that black lives are marginalized by many facets of the population. While this country is far better than it once was when it comes to race relations, even say 20 years ago, racism is not dead. That is obviously unfortunate. Who knows if there will ever be a time when race is not a divider. We can hope, that is for sure. Unfortunately, some of the Black Lives Matter people seem to be tone deaf, myopic or unaware of history.

Interrupting or planning to interrupt those whom are on your side is not the wisest thing in the world. When Bernie Sanders had his rallies besieged by protestors recently, I was stunned by the ignorance of those doing so. Bernie Sanders? Really? How about the politicians or people who are constantly against you? Wouldn’t protesting them make much more sense? Then the news came down the pike that a St. Paul offshoot of  Black Lives Matter of was planning on disrupting the Twin Cities Marathon next weekend. Well, this just goes to show you know very little indeed.

Running has been, and continues to be, one of the most inclusive events in the world. Long before it was acceptable to be slow or overweight or far from a world record holder and toe the line of a race, racing led the way in including outsiders. Running was born from outsiders so anyone who wished to join was welcomed. Sure, there is family infighting in the sport itself (trailrunning vs road running; color runs vs ultramarathons) but that is of the kind of arguing akin to “I can call my brother an ass but if you say boo, we are throwin’ down.”

Ted Corbitt, the grandson of slaves, was the founder and first president of the Road Runners Club of America and the founding president of the New York Road Runners Club. When Janet Furman Bowman (formerly Jim) changed genders, the most people were truly worried about was the unfair advantage the gender change might make in the results. There wasn’t any real cry to exclude her from the sport. Time and time again, as social change in places lags behind where it should be, the world only needs to look to the sport of running to see how progress can be made.

So when Black Lives Matters decides to interrupt a running event to protest an arrest and shooting which they deem unlawful, they are beyond missing the point. This isn’t just an opportunity to hit a large event with many of people around. This is interrupting a place where refuge has been provided to people of all colors and genders. This is interfering with a haven for those who raise money for others in attempts to make their lives better. This is causing a potential interference with the very people who are more than likely to agree with your social stances.  Or to put it another way:

This is freaking stupid.

(As an FYI: Twin Cities in Motion, who runs the race, has this official statement:  

We are aware of the situation and are working closely with city officials to ensure the safety of all participants, volunteers, and spectators. Our primary concern is for the safety of all. City officials are currently advising on logistics; we will share more information as it becomes available.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

BioSkin Compression Review

I have been wearing compression clothing in one form or another for almost a decade now. I believe that the products work not only with helping to recover and rejuvenate sore and tired muscles in between workouts, but also can help an athlete in a workout. But different companies have different goals.

BioSkin contacted me to review their product and I was a tad hesitant. I have one body, limited training time and often don’t like to be a Guinea pig.  But I thought I would give them a try for reason I can’t really explain. (Well, they are based in Oregon and I love this state so that is one main reason!)

I wished to try out their calf sleeves and compression shorts.  The other products didn’t personally appeal to me as I had not pain or soreness in my joints. Out of the box the calf sleeves simply felt different than other compression I had tried.  They are made of a blend of Lycra and a proprietary SmartsSkin membrane that keeps the pants from slipping, and all in a 1.05mm thin package.  In fact, they sleeves were so think I was surprised at their tensile strength.  Make no mistake, these compression sleeves are tight. I wanted to make sure I had the correct fit so I tried both the large and the extra large. I can see how both would fit and provide what you may wish to have depending on how tight you like them.

On top of wearing the product when I was relaxing I wished to also see how they performed when I was exercising.  As even regular compression clothing can slip and fall when in motion, seeing how it performed when matched against the sweat which is the Rauschenberg-3000, was a good test. On three separate runs, over varying terrain and intensity, the sleeves performed admirably. In fact, there was zero slip whatsoever. These sleeves stayed put.

As for around the home and not during workouts, I am doing as many things as I can to recover as quickly as possible. I have been drinking ASEA for 6 years. I have a stand-up VeriDesk. I use the FluidStance to strengthen my legs and keep blood flowing. I am about 6 months away from 40 and I want to keep setting new personal bests. My point is I am doing everything I can to combat what I bought my body through.  These sleeves felt like a weapon in my arsenal I could sue to do so. They were snug yet comfy.  Thin enough not to create too much excess heat but strong enough to provide support.   The sleeves perform very well.

Next up were the compression shorts. I had read reviews that they might be a bit too tight to do workouts in.  I have found that at least for running virtually all compression shorts are perhaps too tight for racing. Maybe not for workouts or running but racing leaves a little to be desired. While I did not try the BioSkin in a race I did take them out on a runs. For me, at least, they were not made for running. They were a tad too restricting for a guy who prefers to wear shorts shorts. But for sitting around after a run, that is another story. They felt comfortable and cozy, something I would not have thought given how seemingly tight they were during my runs.

I have found myself post-run, slipping into these for a few hours or so and my quads feel better leaving them than after I started.  That's about the best you can hope for from compression, right?

Their price point is a little on the high side but people used to pay $20 for one of those bands with a hologram on it for "balance" so who am I to say what you think is expensive?  All in all not a bad product. Check it out yourself to see if you like it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Portland Triathlon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 18th Edition 
249.7 miles run; 16 miles biked; 800 meters swam in 2015 races
Race: Portland Tri
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 11
Weather: 50s; Dry; Cloudy

Coming home from two marathons in one week in two different countries and then a quick turn around to another half marathon, I was feeling understandably tired and store. With the weekend that followed those races being an "off" week where I simply traveled to Vegas to speak at an ASEA convention, I was feeling slightly rested. Part of that rest came form a decrease in running miles and more than a few pool workouts. I should be n the pool more often as I do enjoy swimming.  However, the man reason I am even a runner is the drawbacks of the pool; namely, driving to one, changing into a suit, hoping the pool is open and swimming around others in the way.

When a few workouts in the pool went far better than expected, I thought about looking around to see if there were any triathlons in the area I might bee able to jump into. It being the middle of September I knew they would be decreasing in frequency rapidly here in the greater Pacific NW. When I saw one race, the Portland Triathlon, was just a few miles from my home I was intrigued. They had an sprint distance which was all I wanted and what seemed like it might be a forgiving course.

I noticed one of the prize givers of the race was a company in which a internet friend who I had known for a decade but hadn't actually met worked for. I reached out to him about learning more about the race. We spoke about an amazing program he is involved with called "Open School" (formerly "Open Meadow") where in in-danger youth are taken from locales where they are highly likely to drop out of school and put into schools which do their best to make sure that does not happen, with incredible success rates (Read more here.) I figured a race which helps promote this program was as good as any other to jump into untrained. So I signed up and then began to wonder if that was a wise idea at all.

We often hear the lament of the athlete talking about how they are out of shape or not ready for a race.  It lowers expectations and let's them look amazing when they crush the race. However, I can honestly say that I learned about this race merely 5 days before I raced in it.  More importantly, I have no even sat my butt on a bike in 855 days (I counted.) The last time I pedaled a bike at all was the Stayton Triathon over two years ago.  So to say I was not in cycling shape is not me trying to make excuses. I plain and simply was not used to cycling. While I had a handful of swim workouts under my belt recently, I was hardly in swimming shape as well. That didn't keep me from figuring I would do well in the race because,well, hubris.

Race Morning:

With the race just 11 miles from my doorstep, it was beyond wonderful to sleep in my own bed before a
race. The last time I did this was the 4th of July weekend and just the 4th time this year I have done so. There is something to be said about seeing the word by racing.  There is more to be said for waking in your own bed with your own food.

Not knowing much about all the transition area stuff for this race, I decided to arrived earlier than desirable for me in order to check it all out. I and my best friend Shannon got a phenomenal parking spot. I loaded up my bike into transition, got bodymarked and had everything set almost before the sun even came up.

I know from triathlons in the past that sometimes finding water to drink prior to a race is a bit of a pain even though almost every race starts and ends at the same point. Finding some water shouldn't be a problem. As I needed to fill my water bottle for my bike, I asked around. No one was of much help in finding anywhere to get water and a few chastised me for not having already filled my bottles. Luckily, I found what appeared to be a series of faucets already put in place by the parks. I filled my bottle and then informed those who had been unable to help me previously where they were. You know, in case anyone else was so unbelievably unprepared like me.

The weather was looking absolutely fantastic. I can't recall the last time I had race weather so cooperative. Even the sun which was supposed to come out for a bit, only did so briefly and in spots. Otherwise it was a cool, cloudy, relatively-low-humidity day. No excuses in the weather department, that is for sure.

I scoped out the transition areas and tried to get the lay of the land.  As I was going third from last in the wave swimming I had plenty of time to watch events unfold prior to swimming myself. As I have said before and will say again, one of the many reasons triathlon will never be my favorite sport is how often you have no idea who you are actually racing against. Some can beat you with you ever having seen them race. I never have and never will like this. But you have to deal with what exists.

Before too long it was time for me to get into the group of huddled flesh to slowly walk into the water and get ready to see how these swim workouts had prepared me.

Swim: 12:33 (10:46 swim time)

I have lamented in the swims I have done in triathlons how I most often go last. I think I understand the rationale: usually my age group is the fittest and best swimmers (outside of the elites).  In order to have as many people finishing as close as possible the slower people start first. But what it means that even in a 800 meter swim with at least a 4 minute head start on the next group (here at least) I will easily be churning into body after body in front of me before even a few hundred meters have gone by. I am not sure what the solution is to fix this and make everyone happy but the current model is not to my liking.

I had heard not so great things about the Willamette River we would be swimming in. I had purchased a new set of goggles the day before the race (because that's not stupid) in an attempt to have the cleanest anti-fog lenses ready in case the water was dirty or unsavory.  However, from the get go I found the water to be perfectly pleasant. Also, opting to not wear a wetsuit did not seem to hinder me at all.  The water was brisk to start but within seconds I was concentrating on sighting and getting away from my fellow competitors. I can't say I was chill for a second.  Plus I did not have to worry about peeling the suit off. In addition, I have never enjoyed having a wetsuit on. I always felt like it was too constricting.

The course was a long rectangle where we swam upstream, turned and then swam back downstream. After the nice start and just a few people to swim around, as we headed back to the finish, I ran into more than a few of the swimmers in front of me. In spite of a few whacks to the head and kicks to the face, I was able to navigate through without as much trouble as I had feared. The water felt good, I felt good and I was wondering if everyone else was enjoying their day.

As I got closer to the dock where we would exit, I couldn't see any of the other blue caps from my age group. I felt strong but not so strong that I passed everyone. However, when I hit the ramp to run out of the water I saw no one around me. If they were faster than me they were WAY faster than me. (It ends up that from looking at the times, I handily won my age group in the swim. The portion which included part of the transition? Not so much.)

It is worth noting that the transition time only started once you entered the area where the bikes were stored. The entire run up the ramp and over the path was tacked onto the swim time.

T1:  1:37

I had seen the transition from the swim to the bike was a long one indeed and had us running along a path with a far from smooth pavement. Shannon suggested I leave my OOFOS sandals out at the top of the ramp and it could not have been a more ingenious idea. Even taking a few seconds to slip them on and running slightly awkwardly with them on my feet was far better than trying to traverse the pavement and tearing up my girlie little feet.

One swimmer came up from behind me as I ran to the transition and took me a little by surprise. Hadn't expected to be caught from behind in this little run area.  But I still held my ground, ran into the bike area and had a relatively fast transition. I ran out and mounted my bike only to be told I could not mount it for another 20 feet. So, straddling my bike, I hippity hopped my way to the area that was deemed OK for me to do so. So many damn rules.

Bike: 47:59 (20 mph)

We had been warned about the ridiculous climb out of Cathedral Park and up to the bike course. I put my bike into baby gear and clipped in for the first time in over two years. Let the adventure begin!

The climb was tough (my Timex One GPS+ has it at a 15% grade at one point) but mercifully short. We then began a slight downhill, which I did not really notice until we were coming back the same way on the way home. Here on the down I pulled past a few cyclists with relative ease. Actually, more than a few. A great many, to be exact. I felt surprisingly good. One cyclist I had climbed the hill with stayed in front of me and I was trying to use him to gauge my effort. I needed this gauge because I still have no idea how hard an effort should feel on a bike. Most of the time I feel I am maxed out just to have someone pass me who I easily can match. So I often need to find someone who reminds me to pedal harder. In this race, I was more than pleased with how I was doing just that. Perhaps I would surprise myself with my amazing innate athleticism.  Then we hit a hill.

It wasn't a big hill. Just an overpass. But I felt like I came to a dead stop. A few cyclists I passed caught up to me. A few in front of me pulled away. When we hit the other side of the overpass and I let loose with my pedaling I remembered the fun part of being a 185 lb cyclist: downhills! In no time I hit 35 mph and cruised along the highway. Until we hit another overpass. Darn it.

At one point I could see we seemed to have other cyclists joining us from the side. I surmised correctly it was the Olympic distance triathletes doing their partial second loop. The only problem was they had to make a u-turn, slowing down, right at the point where we went from two lanes to one. Doing so created a bit of a bottle neck.  For a person who has had two bad crashes on the bike, this was not my cup of tea. In fact, whenever anyone came close to me, I definitely slowed off the pedaling a little bit and grabbed the handlebars a bit more. Hard to be aggressive when you are overcautious.

When the course opened up and flattened again, I too was able to let loose. I began passing cyclists again, including some who had passed me. It seemed as long as there were few turns and flat terrain, I could power by people no problem. I wondered if the muscles that allow you to cycle strongly on flats are the same ones you the most use in running. This potential corollary was the only thing I could find as to why I was able to so easily cruise by people with far better bikes, far niftier gear, and far better calf muscles than me.

Heading back, I finally felt like I could relax up a bit as I knew what was in store. A tight joiner with Olympic distance cyclists, a few overpasses and a small rise toward the finish was all that was left. Unfortunately, near the end, we could not take advantage of the screaming downhill as it was far too steep and we also had to come to a quick stop. In fact, if I had been a little quicker my stop would have been more abrupt.

A train had cut off some of the cyclists for differing amounts of time as it passed through right before the transition area. I actually remember hearing the train but wasn't too concerned. I had been overly concerned with the downhill and the jackwagon who threaded the needle between me and another cyclist on this screaming downhill. What in the hell those extra seconds meant here was beyond me. Total jerk move.  I knew nothing about the train until later. And then it would bother me as much as others.

T2: 55 seconds

Nothing much to say about this transition. It went rather smoothly and I was soon out of the area and ready to take on some runners. 

Run: 21:09

I knew the 5k course went over the St. John's Bridge. It is a towering and gorgeous bridge that is also in need of some serious repair. In repose waiting for the awards after the race, I looked up at the crumbling concrete pillars of the base and thought "Oof. America needs to fix its infrastructure quickly."  But right here I just knew we had to get up to the bridge to cross it. That meant we had to climb that big damn hill again.

As we left the transition area and ran over a twisty and turny bike path (Grr. Hate these) one could hardly turn any speed on. It was not a path designed for speed and the crowds nestled in deep or randomly walking across your path didn't help. (Neither did the little girl sitting on the wall who just all of a sudden decided to kick her feet and damn near kicked me right in the face.)  But I knew my day was roughly 20 minutes of effort from being done. So as I turned the corner and saw the monster hill in front of me, I simply focused on the top and went.

I passed scores of people as one runner came screaming back down the hill at me. He asked a volunteer where to go and it appears from talking to people later in the day, this was the guy who was directed the wrong way.  Poor fella.

Cresting Mt Portland, I headed toward the bridge. I had thought we only ran half way across the bridge before turning back which means we would only had to deal with one hill.  Unfortunately, I was wrong. Getting to the hump in the middle I saw we went all the way to the other side. This meant climbing back up the bridge again. Le sigh.

Just about then a runner passed me. I was a bit surprised by this but fortunately was not at top gear yet. I fell in behind him and stayed so close as to read all his pertinent information inked on his leg. I could see he was not in my age group but he was in my race. So as we turned around on the other side of the bridge, I used a race tactic of running wide on the turn to hopefully stay out of his field of vision.

As we headed back over the bridge it felt like I was stronger than him. The only question was when to kick. With 1.1 miles to go, I passed him on the downhill. I figured I would make him work to beat me if he could.

Now on the same downhill I saw the runner incorrectly directed off of earlier, I saw no one to direct anyone in any direction.  I guess the previous volunteer had been relieved of his post. I assumed looking ahead at runners in front of me that we continued down the way we came and simply headed back to the finish. With no other information to go on, I went with that gut and kicked it in. When the race flattened out, there were, again, some odd twists and turns that I thought were right but couldn't be sure. In addition, I could hear a runner behind me and assumed it was the one I had passed. When we made a sharp turn, I caught him out of the corner of my eye. Bollocks. I was not expecting him to catch up to me again. If the race ended where the run leg had started, I had him.  Unfortunately, it did not.

In fact, the course passed that point, made a long winding loop where we ran to the bike transition earlier, curved around again before making a final series of turns.While there were volunteers at every turn, not knowing exactly where we were turning until we got to them was a little disconcerting. The runner behind me wisely sat in my shadow and waited for me to make a decision. When I did, and it was right, he followed. Good race tactic. Finally, with .1 of a mile to go a a clear path ahead, he made his move. I could not respond.

He was worried enough to look over is shoulder a couple of times but I did not have the gear to catch him. I threw in a hard kick at the finish to feel respectable and crossed the finish line in a time of 1:24:12. Initially this put me 13th overall male and 14th overall in the race. Later, however, I got moved to 19th overall.

It seems that enough stink had been made about the train that adjustments were made to people's times. While I think that is fair to an extent, I also know people greatly overestimate how long they wait for such problems. I heard that a blanket 2 minutes was given to every one who said the train stopped them when from eye witnesses there, no one, not even the first person made to wait for the train (the overall female winner who showed less that professionalism by slamming her bike shoe on her bike seat and chastising a volunteer) waited a full two minutes.

Now nothing happened to me other than moving down five spots but if I had lost some money in the whole venture, I would have been a bit upset. But we move on.

All told, I was more than pleased with my performance. I am reminded in every triathlon I do how weak I am in the bike. This time, however, I had an actual excuse: complete and utter lack of time on the bike. But I didn't crash so that is a win for me.

The biggest shock of the day was how the top two overall winners were not only separated by just a handful of seconds (1:11:08 vs 1:11:16) but beat the 3rd place finisher by 5 minutes. Even more, they were both 15 or 16 years old. Dang. It is one thing to get beaten handily by a competitor but it is another when they might not have even hit puberty yet. Kudos to these young gentleman.

Will this mean a re-commitment to triathlons for me? No. But I have decided to spend more time in the pool and maybe I will thrown the bike on the trainer in my loft as well. While I actually fare better as a triathlete than I do a runner, and maybe perhaps could win a few bucks here and there, my love for cycling, or lack thereof, keeps me from wanting to pursue that sort of sport. Maybe if I win the lottery and can more comfortably afford the right gear and make more time to train all three sports I will think about it. As for now it is a pleasant distraction.

In spite of the less than desirable 5k course, I felt the event was run fairly well. It has a good attitude to it and a family feel. In fact, the last finisher of the triathlon, who finished long after most did,, actually had an escort of volunteers leading her in.  As she ran down the final chute, a large contingency of the athletes in attendance formed a cheering line for her.  This is the type of example I like to use for people who fear finishing last.  I have a feeling she received more cheers than the rest of us combined. We understand the struggle and realize that even if you are last you are beating everyone on the couch that day. Kudos to her.

I was happy to be able to take part in this race and make have to look into more events like this here in the near future.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mt. Nebo Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 17th Edition 
246.6 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Mt. Nebo Half Marathon
Place: Orem, UT
Miles from home: 824
Weather: 50s; Dry; Sunny

Just 5.5 days after the debacle in my name (the meltdown in the heat at the Burgwald Marathon in Rauschenberg, Germany) I was set to run the Mt. Nebo Half. Well, "set" is not really the right verb. "Scheduled" is more like it. When I left my home about 36 hours after getting back to it from Europe, I was still quite wiped out from two marathons in a week. The ensuing head cold I was gifted on my way to Utah told me the race would be interesting to say the least.

I spent the day before the race at the expo signing books and telling people about my use of ASEA. Met more than a few new friends and made many more new ones. Helped ease some nerves of newbies and talk about race woes with more than a few from Boise who had their race canceled 48 hours previously and had to find a new one to run. I told them they picked a good one.  Even though this course was slightly different than the one I ran two years ago, I knew it was one that offered the chance to really tackle some downhill and end up with a fast time.

Having a good time under my belt was something to which I was definitely looking forward. I haven't raced a good half marathon in two years. In fact, it was this race in 2013 which marks the last race with which I was happy. I did run a solid effort at the tough Heart Breaker Half in Oregon in February but I was looking for more. Even with all of the things stacked against me listed above, I was hoping for a nice 1:25 or so.

Race Morning:

I got to the start of the race with just enough time to jump in the bathroom line and run out to the start. Unfortunately, there was a snafu with getting the timing company to the start somehow so we were delayed 15 minutes or so. This delay was of no great shakes given the weather was consistent and did not necessarily forecast any hot weather to come.  However when you are ready to go, you are ready to go. There were some grumblings from runners but mostly a general understanding that no race company actually wishes to inconvenience their runners. Finally, with a quiet and subdued countdown from the timing company, we were underway.

First 3 miles:

My friend Jonathan came up to me before the start and told me to be wary of a certain runner who could easily dip under 1:10. I laughed. Even if I happened to be fit and ready to race, anyone who can run a 70 minute half marathon is not anyone who I need to even be thinking about. This runner, David, and another, Curtis (both whom I had met before) shot out of the gate like rockets. They would battle for first place and be out of my sight within minutes. Maybe even less time than that. The separation a very fast runner can put on others is astounding when you are witnessing it from the tail end.

I fell in next to another runner I knew named Bill who would go on to set a new PR this day. Running a 1:19:19 at age 44 ain't too shabby. He said he was glad I was not in his age group and I reiterated I was not being humble about my chances today. There would be no PR attempt. I forget that so many runners downplay their fitness outloud that it is all gamesmanship.  If I say I am thinking X is the best I can do, I really and truly mean it.

Then I ran a 6:08 and 5:58 first two miles for a 1:19:18 overall pace.

I knew this pace would not last. The last three miles of this course, while they look flat or downhill compared to the fall off the cliff of the first seven miles, offer some equalizing rolling hills. I fully expected to slow in the third mile. I then ran a 5:55. How about that? Obviously the downhill running gives runners the chance to run faster. But if they do not take it, that chance is wasted. Runners do not have wheels to coast.

To Halfway:

I knew the downhill wonderfulness would end soon enough but I was going to keep taking advantage of the skills I have as a downhill runner until it did.  I knew I was in the top 15 of runners but could not have cared less what place I took. This race was about time and time alone. That said, passing runners when you have the chance is always advised.  It is like Super Mario Energy Stars that boost your speed for the next quarter mile. So when I passed one runner around the 4th mile, I rode the wave. Continuing down the steep downhill, I netted a 5:55 mile to get my third straight under six minutes. I then started  thinking about what times and speeds which I may have been able to run had I been healthy.  Fortunately, I put those out of my mind.  It makes no difference what you could run; only what you can run on this day at this time matters.

The course was wonderfully shaded even with the late start. I wouldn't say it was cool but it felt not hot at all.
And it being Utah, the lack of humidity was just an absolute treat for me. In spite of the massive amounts of downhill, it was difficult to really let go in this section as for about three miles, we were presented with a series of switchback and curving roads. I felt so good here that I allowed myself a moment to really enjoy the scenery, something I rarely do when I am racing.  There are far too many other things to think about when you are running hard to enjoy the trees on the hills or a meadow in the distance. I don't think this says those running at a more leisurely pace enjoy the race more as racing in and of itself is an enjoyable feat. I can enjoy the scenery when I am out for a training run.  Here I had a purpose.

With one more mile under 6 minutes in 5:59, the purpose was to run faster than I had any reason to do so on this day.

To mile 10:

My left quad had been feeling some tightness since about the third mile. Yet, when my right calf issued a complaint to the Department of Dane's Muscles, I paid much more heed. In addition, I was feeling a little bit of a hotspot on my right heel which told me the old socks I was wearing were ready for the dustbin.  All of this made me pull off the throttle a bit even as I wanted to continue running sub-6s as long as I could.  Fortunately, I surprised myself with another 5:57 at mile six before hitting a 6:17 for the 7th mile. After that, though, in spite of efforts to fun as efficiently and use all the tricks of the downhill running handbook, I only got a 6:24 for the 8th mile and a nearly identical 6:25 for the 9th. Passing a competitor during this stretch and bringing two others into view made me feel like I had been speeding up but my watch told me otherwise.

I knew the "free ride", as I would call it, of downhill would end at the 9th mile and I wanted to squeeze out one more fast mile before that happened. Fortunately, the protesting in my calf had subsided enough that I felt I could push hard again. Even as I sped up, however, a blonde pony-tailed runner passed me.  One woman had already gone out with the first pack and was long gone from sight.  But the way in which this runner passed me made me think that perhaps she might catch her. (She didn't. Running a 1:20:56 to first place's 1:20:04. Given I congratulated the 2nd place runner when we were in the finishing chute and she just glared at me, I am glad the other woman won. Yeah, take that, complete stranger!)

When I hit the 10th mile I was surprised to see a 6:47. This was a bit of a bummer even though I knew the course had mostly flattened, we were exposed to the sun and on an occasion or two we had a small hill to climb. Nevertheless, I was hoping for another sub 6:30 and didn't get it. With the hardest mile of the course coming up, I was curious how much further I would slow. 

Onto the Finish:

I vividly recall this section from two years prior and how much the mile from 10-11 had taken out of me. With just 3 miles to go I had far exceeded my expectations for this race so I decided to be conservative for the remainder of the day. I recalled there were essentially three small rises in this mile and I would simply tackle them the best I could. I could see just one fella way far in front of me and heard no one from behind. No spectators to speak of (save one family whose house I passed and their cute little daughter said "Congratulations on your achievement!") gave this my usual feeling of training running in a race. When I mercifully saw the 11th mile marker I braced myself for what the carnage would be. When 7:05 appeared as my split, I was ecstatic. I was thinking 7:30 would be more like it.

In fact, this quite possibly put a pep in my step as even with the smaller but still present hills in the next mile I managed a 6:59. One mile to go, a small dip and then rise before a jaunt through the neighborhoods and onto the track for the finish was all I had left.

A bouncy and friendly young woman bounded by me and insisted I run with her.  I insisted that this was the top speed I had right here and she should revel in kicking my butt the remainder of the way. By looking at my watch, I could see that I was going to run a time in 1:23 no matter how hard I pushed this last mile. As such, running hard to finish one spot higher in the standings meant nothing to me. Remember, this race was all about time today.  I had already far exceeded what I was hoping to run and the rest was just gravy.

I passed a few people with signs they thought were witty "This is my Marathon sign" who implored me to run hard to the finish.  "This is hard," I replied and hit the last 200 meters.  My buddy Chris (aka Vanilla Bear) had just finished a bike ride and clippity-clopped in his bike shoes from his car over to me to cheer me on. VB had given me a ride to the start and would be taking my sore, tired, and sick butt home to his place to crash for the day.  He's the bestest boyfriend ever.

Crossing under the banner (and being handed a medal by Runtastic Events' Shaylee Hurst who greeted virtually all runners with high fives and jumping enthusiasm) in a time of 1:23:40 for my 6th fastest half marathon ever was a nice treat. I love my spreadsheets containing numbers and I noticed I technically do not have a 5th fastest half-marathon ever. Two separate races, run 4 years apart, share 4th place overall.  I guess if I am a little bummed about anything it is that I didn't run 13 seconds faster to knock those two into 5th place.  But if that is your biggest complaint, than you have no complaints.

Overall, the race was fairly well-run. The road was not closed to traffic on the way down the canyon but there was very little traffic to worry about.  The volunteers at the aid stations were very friendly and the finish line spread was quite nice. I had worked with ASEA to give all competitors their own personal 8 ounce bottle at the finish. I was happy to see so many runners undoubtedly trying it for the first time and being exposed to a product which has helped me run 55 marathons, 60 half marathons, numerous triathlons and adventures races all in the past 6 years.

More importantly, even though I knew the last marathon was an aberration, it was good to have a fast race as my last race run. Knowing what you can do, and having done it, are two different sides of the story. Now I must simply build on that for the remainder of the fall season and see what can happen as the weather finally, or hopefully, starts to cool down a touch.

I'm ready for it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Burgwald Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 16th Edition 
233.5 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Burgwald Marathon
Miles from home: 5300
Weather: 70s-80s; Humid

I don't recall exactly which of my random late night search binges had me seeing if the town of Rauschenberg in Germany happened to have a race. But I do know that once I found out they had a marathon (which I was bummed was named the Burgwald Marathon and not the Rauschenberg Marathon), I knew I would be running it one way or the other.

I just wish it had been run 48 hours later than it was.

Germany is going through a rather warm and late summer (like so many other places.)  Unfortunately, this meant that on race day the high was predicted to be 90 degrees. And humid. Forty-eighty hours later the high was supposed to be colder than the low on Sunday. Ugh. The good thing for me was that I was planing ahead. Even though I had run the Reykjavik Marathon the week before and was traveling and sight-seeing, I was putting more effort into preparing for the weather for this race than I had for any race in quite some time.

One of the main preparations I was doing involved a major shift for me. I intended to utilize a Camelbak backpack for the marathon when I rarely even think about what a race is going to offer at the aid stations for a race of this distance.  This meant I would fill the 1.5 liter bladder of the Camelbak Circuit to the brim and then freeze it overnight. I had no doubt with the heat of the day and the heat of my body, that I would melt it in no time. Plus I would have that many more ounces of cold water to rely on when I normally just get by on what is offered.

Another preparation I was making was to put virtually no pressure on myself time-wise. I always have goals of sub-3 hours in a marathon when I run but sometimes that is more realistic than others.  That was not going to be the case at this race. Where ever I finished overall in the race and what my time ended up being were secondary to healthfully completing the event. I wish I could say that all this foresight and advance prep turned out to be fruitful. It wasn't. Well, it did keep me out of the hospital - barely.

I have no real complaints about the race itself or the way it was run. If I had my druthers, I would never start a marathon at 8:30 in the morning, even though I hate mornings. Three or four hours (or five or six) allows way too much to happen to start a race late in the morning.  I also would do my best to have an aid station every other mile with very cold drinks. However, the race made it abundantly clear neither of those would be happening. So there were no surprises and nothing I can say was not made known to all. In fact, one thing I have learned about myself and Americans during the past 12 days abroad is that we apparently put a far higher priority on cold drinks then the rest of the world. Why that is I am not exactly sure. But the fact that asking for ice routinely nets you two cubes in your glass that they handle with such care that you feel they have named them individually shows the difference in cultures.

Furthermore, it is hard to feel anything but happiness about a marathon that takes place in the town where you family comes from. I was even given my own personal walking tour of the town by the race organizer's daughter the day before the race. We didn't walk forever but even the 2-3 mile jaunt might not have been the best idea the day before the race. However, there was no way I was passing it up and missing the opportunity to learn about the history of this town. It also allowed me to put to use my extremely rusty German which I had not used in (*gulp*) twenty years. I also learned that, ironically to me at least, I was the only person in the whole town with the surname of Rauschenberg. Which I think means I get to own the old castle that still remains there.

Another thing that was wonderful about being in Germany was blowing away misconceptions. Germans are not exactly known for their senses of humor. My time in Germany didn't exactly disabuse me of that feeling. However, on the whole, Germans were some of the nicest, if not outwardly friendly, people I have met in quite some time. There is a curtness to them and a stoic bluntness. However, mistaking that for unfriendliness would be folly. This was not just in the town of Rauschenberg, where my experience might be colored by my desire to love the place, but rather all over the country.

It surely doesn't hurt to have a personalized watercolor of your town presented to you minutes before the start of the race. To say I was touched by the kindness and generosity of the people and this race would be an understatement.  In fact, it is basically the only reason I finished this race.

My personal experience with this race is completely tainted with how poorly I performed and how bad the weather affected me. So for me to tell you it was still a very well-run race should tell you something about its organization. I am going to try and not only tell you about my own personal race but also fill you in on the race itself so you can join next year for the 750th anniversary of Rauschenberg. (To read another review by a great German guy named Joe Kelbel and see oodles of pictures he took, click here.)

My biggest complaint has to do with a somewhat misleading elevation profile. Granted, even knowing in advance how tough this course was going to be wouldn't help much but it seems some of the edges were smoothed a little bit on the race profile. I mentioned this sort of softening in my Steamtown Marathon recap back in 2007 and have had more than a few people mention how my more straightforward telling of the course helped them greatly.

In addition, if you don't do sufficient research, you wouldn't know that 16 of the 26 miles are trail.  Not technical, Hardrock 100 trail, but trail nonetheless. And what is not trail is undulating, rolling, and twisty-turny hills. There are a few blessed stretches of straight running but they come at inopportune times.  At least when it comes to the weather we had and no shade from the hot sun means nothing feels good..

Therein lies the rub. Everything about this race is different than what one could normally expect because of the ridiculously hot weather. Fortunately, this is rare weather and also fortunately, you do not have to live in my body, aka the Sweatatron 3000.  Even if you prepare properly, nothing can change basic body chemistry. It goes a great deal to how I work to say that last week's marathon in Iceland in 50 degree weather was a tad too warm for my liking.

The Race:

I started out near the front but not at the front, as per my usual routine.  Even if I think I am going to finish in the top five I just assume other people might be a bit faster.  Also it is common courtesy, like not dry humping the luggage carousel at the airport so everyone can see and then get their own luggage.  But I digress.

Normally I have to pick my way through hordes of people who do not belong where they are but with only 74 finishers in this race (and I am unsure of how many who started but didn't finish) this was not too much of a problem. Almost immediately I was in 6th place behind  four men and a woman as we looped around the startling line and the open to the public pool I assumed I would be diving into after the race.

I knew the course immediately began climbing up what was an extremely steep hill and would continue to climb with a few rises and dips for the first three miles. After that it would slalom downward for a mile or so until flattening out for a jaunt through the neighboring village of Albshausen.

During this first few miles, I felt fairly good. I watched the runners in front of me jostle for places a bit while I kept forcing myself to run as relaxed and easy as possible. I could tell which runners I was better at on uphills or downhills and thought perhaps I might just surprise myself later in the race. I also made particular note of how far into the race I was when the first sweat droplet came off my forehead and onto my sunglasses. How far?, you ask.  One freaking kilometer.

After the initial up and down, the run under the "highway" and the trek through Albshausen, we skirted a camp ground before running along some shade and trees on a thin running path. I actually felt the slightest bit of chilliness here and was so happy. The first few miles, whenever they had been exposed to the sun without the wonderfulness of a branch to break its glare, absolutely baked runners. The shade here was blissful and the breeze made me feel like I might just not die. There had been no spectators to speak of but we did have a small herd of cattle purposefully run from a far distance away to join us and then run along side us. It is so funny how such a large animal seems so harmless and a herd of them coming at us was seen as nothing but funny.  I imagined if a herd of bears had done the same way if I would have been as smiley.  I yelled "Kommen Sie!" at the cows to follow us, pretty sure I missed used the tense of the verb but pretty sure they didn't care.

At 5.5 miles the race turned off this path and entered the namesake of the race: the Burgwald.  It was also here that I joined the runner in front of me and we would run for more than few miles together. We turned shortly after entering the forest for what I would call the lasso portion of the race. Not even a mile later I did something I haven't done since my 2nd marathon: I took off my shirt.

I had already wrung out the bottom portion of my shirt a mile or so back and was thoroughly drenched again. I knew I was taking a big risk exposing my skin to the Camelbak without having never used it without a shirt.  However, the risk seemed to outweigh carrying a 5lb shirt of water. (And in the end, miraculously, I only had two small spots of chafing near the shoulders.  This was absolutely astounding and should make you buy this product immediately.)  After a thorough wringing of the shirt, I jammed it into one of the front pockets of the pack and never thought about it for the rest of the race.  Since I hadn't lost much ground on the runners in front of us, had caught up to this runner here (Antie) and didn't feel horrible, I assumed my pace was solid. When I hit the 15k mark and saw I was on pace for a 3:28 marathon I was shocked. I was hoping my math was wrong.

I told myself that I was taking it easy and that on paper the first half of this course is far more difficult than the second half, at least when it comes to elevation change. I knew that once I got to the 15th mile, there were 3 small hills to contend with the rest of the way but other than that it was a mostly gently sloping downhill. Just get to there, I thought. You can make it there.

At one point in the race, I had seen the top 6 of us had splintered into 3 groups of two.  Here, closing in on the halfway point it appeared the leader runner was coming back at me.  But there was no reason for the lead runner to be heading back here. I was on the loop of the lasso not its stem. But as I was already deep into my strategy-planning phase and trying to block out heat and exhaustion, perhaps I got this runner confused with another out here on the course. There were more than a few pedestrians and recreational runners out in the forest this day.  However, not too long after this, the man who had been in second place came running back as well.  He had started the race with Antie before separating. Here, where I had stopped to use the bathroom, Antie had pulled ahead a bit. When the runner got to Antie he turned around and began running with him in the same direction.  Now I was thoroughly baffled. At the end I wanted to ask what happened but as you will see, I was in no shape to do so.

Hitting the halfway mark around 1:47 didn't help at all. Was I really on pace for a 3:45 marathon and still in 6th place?

Second Half:

I knew miles 15-17 were slightly downhill and I just wanted to get to them. Right before that, however, I heard footsteps. Crap. People were catching me. It softened the blow, however, when I saw it was my German buddy Bjorn who had traveled all the way from Berlin to run this race and say hello. I was flattered he made the 453 km drive to a small race simply because of my recommendation. (That's what they call "drawing power", race directors world-wide!) With him was another runner and we chatted for a bit commiserating on the heat.  I told him to not wait for me and before long he passed me and disappeared.  This being left behind so easily is what would hurt the most later on.  Not people passing me but then simply leaving me in their wake. I was beginning to run so slowly that I wondered if walking might be a better idea. 

I handled the downhill portion fairly decently however but was noticing some weird heaviness in my chest. That was when I noticed that I was sweating so much that the shirt in my pocket of my Camelbak was soaked. Over the next few miles I would have to pull this out and wring it out numerous times. I told myself, however, at least you are still sweating. But by now, the block of hard ice in my pack had long since melted and was completely drank.  I stopped briefly at the aid station around mile 18 to fill it with some water from the aid stations and asked the question I already knew the answer to: they had no ice. I did,however, laugh at the German sense of humor where someone had written "Forest Autobahn" on the path.  Oh, Germans.

It is amazing what just a few miles can do to you in a marathon. It is less amazing when you realize the cause. While we were still in the forest, the shade was more or less gone.We were running in a clearing where the sun was baking us.  It really is no surprise that even though I did what I could to minimize the shutdown of my body that over the next 5km, that shutdown was imminent.

What was surprising me however, was how few runners were passing me. I was walking virtually every uphill bump and barely running the pace I wanted to for everything else yet only a runner every mile or so would amble by. However, they all looked in far better than me. In fact, most stopped to ask if I was OK or if they could help. Again, German friendliness.

As we approached the 19th mile I had a brief spurt. Undoubtedly helped by both shade and downhill, I ran my first sub-5 km since earlier in the race. Then the course went uphill and I walked virtually the whole next kilometer. Bollocks. I hit a nice gradual downhill right around the 21st mile and two ambling gentleman passed me as if I had forgotten how to run. This should have told me how dire my straits were but I was oblivious. All shade gone, the afternoon sun turning my blood into a 100 degree soup of plasma and red blood cells, my race was done. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to go.

I often bristle when I read about runners (or other athletes) pushing through broken bones or potentially life-changing injuries just to finish a race. Perhaps I am not made of the same stuff as others but I see virtually no reason for this.  I touch on this on an article I wrote about Ryan Hall DNFing his marathon in London Olympics.  It seems to me that those who are the first to decry how tough they are and how they would NEVER stop are the ones who absolutely need you to know how sinewy and indestructible they are.  Well, I am not. I destruct. When I destruct I destruct fast and hard. Perhaps because of having Gilbert's Syndrome.  Perhaps because I often redline my adventures and slight miscalculation not in my favor send me crashing and burning.  Regardless, there is no race that I know of where its outcome is more important than my physical and long-term well-being.

This does not mean I won't push my limits or strive for more.  However, when the chips are down and it looks like the house is going to take me out into the alley and whoop me hard, I fold.  There are other hands to play and other races to run.  Unfortunately, on this day, I had no idea how, if I stopped, I would get back to the finish.  I could also tell that stopping out in the sun, with no ice to cool my core, probably would be just as bad as slowly moving forward.

So move forward I did. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn. Yeah, it was that kind of day, sports fans.  As near as I can tell, I added another half of a mile to my run as I ran, I think, parallel to the course but slightly in the wrong direction.  OK, I lied. I did not run. I barely jogged. In fact, I mostly walked. Then I shuffled. Then I stopped.  With about half of a mile left I simply laid down on the ground.  That is when I learned it was a mistake to stop.  My body cramped in places I didn't know I had. In fact, my yelps and cries would have been embarrassing if there had been anyone around to hear them.  I have never had such seizures of muscles in my calves and quads before. It was a miracle I even got going again.  But once moving things felt mildly better.  I pushed on up the last cruel hill and saw the finish line in sight. I was moving so slowly and with such a lack of purpose that hardly anyone realized I was actually in the race.  I crossed in 4:46:09 for my third slowest marathon ever.  Only the first time I ran Leadville and Pikes Peak have been slower. Moreover, my body shut down.

I made it to about ten feet past the finish line and grabbed my medal. I then staggered to my left and went down. I am not going to go into much detail here about my woes but suffice it to say it was the scariest moment I have ever had in any athletic endeavor ( and I have been concussed in a boxing match and had my elbow bent the wrong way in a rugby scrum.)  My breathing was severely hampered, my cramps were so bad I was openly crying and apparently, I took in nearly two liters of IV fluid when the Red Cross arrived to take care of me. To call this embarrassing would be an understatement. I had thoughts of running well and possibly winning the marathon and here I was needing medical attention.

Before long I wasn't feeling too bad and my buddy Bjorn came to check on me.  I had also met a really nice French fella named Arnaud who had volunteered to hold my IV bag as it surged into my body.  When I couldn't get up to say hi to Bjorn he laid down next to me for a picture. Arnaud took it and I thought of no better metaphor for runners. When you can't get up to take a picture with your friends, they come down to you.  While another one who held your IV bag volunteers to take the picture.  Hardly what I had in mind for this milestone marathon.

But life, and running, are full of disappointments. They are then often followed by excitement. I couldn't have been happier when, just an hour later, my bestie Shannon came through the finish. She looked as fresh as one could possibly look in this heat and had run completely within herself as to not do any damage. Given she was as sick as a dog and had dealt with a serious setback when she broke her nose a week before (this was seriously the trip of all trips) finishing at all upright was an accomplishment.  In fact, it was seeing her all happy and healthy that finally got me off the ground.  The Germans got a great kick out of my shuffled happy steps over to greet her at the finish.

Throwing back some ASEA, I was able to get to the airport that night and head back to Iceland. We spent the whole next day, our last on this journey, exploring the Golden Circle route near Reykjavik. As if the trip had not been exciting enough, we added "making sure some elderly people didn't die on a remote volcanic road" to the list.  But that's a story for another day.

155 marathons down. I earned this one for sure. Thanks for being so darn pretty, Rauschenberg. And thanks to the people who put on the Burgwald Marathon.  You may have to put up with me again next year!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reykjavik Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 15th Edition 
207.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Reykjavik Marathon
Place: Peducah, KY  (Just kidding: Reykjavik, IS)
Miles from home: 3720
Weather: 50s; Cloudy; humid

It's been 8 years since I did an off-continent marathon. That is just enough time to know that you shouldn't book a flight to get you there the day before. Leave leeway. Suffice it to say that what seemed like a good idea (and saved me a ton of cash) left me exhausted, worn-out and a plethora of other ungood things as I got to Reykjavik with about half of a day of rest before the race started.

Fortunately, one of the things which did go right was me getting a place to stay less than three blocks away from the start/finish of the marathon. With all else going less than wonderful, this was a welcome relief. I woke up with just enough time to saunter on down to start. I then realized I had enough time to run back home and use the bathroom one last time. Do not pass up this opportunity ever.

Back in the starting corral, Kathrine Switzer was the honorary starter. Her husband, Roger Robinson has spoken at the expo. Unfortunately, given my travel woes I did not have the energy to stay around.  So I missed Roger, one of the nicest and most talented masters runners around.  In fact, when speaking with Kathrine, I found out that he had just run his first half-marathon in 20 years, at the age of 73, on a replaced knee in a time of 1:48! What is amazing about Roger is his writing is even better than his running.  Read my review of his collaborative effort with Kathrine called 26.2 Marathon Stories here. I am fortunate to be able to call them both friends.

I gave Kathrine's shoe a tug from down below the stand she was on and she waved and smiled. Jumping back into the corral I readied myself.  I had goals in mind and most of them were relatively unrealistic.  Why the heck not, right?

First 10k:

With the gun shot we headed down the street right next to Tjörnin, the prominent small lake in central Reykjavík right in front of Reykjavik City Hall. An idyllic setting if there ever was one for a marathon start I found myself craning my head sideways to check it out. The weather was darn near perfect with cloudy
skies, a temperature right around 50 degrees, even if it was a bit humid.  Two quick turns took us down a small slope towards the water and through some small streets where residents were enthusiastically out banging pots and pans. The more organized areas for spectators were called "pep stations" and were marked on the map with a smiley face.  I smiled every time we went through them.

My "A" goal for this race was to get another sub-3 in a new continent..  I have one in North America and one inn Asia and this would be a nice feather in the cap.  In order to do so I would have to run 4:15 per km.  While I was trying to be conservative in the beginning, after the first 3-4km, I knew this probably wasn't going to happen. Rather than beat myself up over it I settled into the pace I was running and tried to be smart.

As we skirted the tip of the peninsula that juts out westward into the ocean, we passed a plethora of art museums, and buildings that look brand new. They very well might be given the constant volcanic activity on this island or maybe they just like things tidy here. Somehow putting the goals out of my mind for a bit had made them more feasible. Unfortunately, I knew the hills of the race were yet to come.

To the Half:

Shortly before the 9th mile, a long steady climb appears in front of the runners. It's beginning was signified by the iconic Sun Voyager sculpture on our left. I later met and talked to a guy from Houston, TX, who mentioned that while hardly the biggest hill in the world, this climb here trashed his legs. I didn't get trashed legs but it definitely slowed me down a bit even as I began passing runner after runner.

Bib numbers were different colors so you could tell who was running what race.  In spite of the fact that I was keeping a even pace, I was slipping by many runners. Unfortunately, next to none of them were marathoners. Instead, they were half-marathoners who had gone out too fast.  While I had figured out my pace per kilometer to some extent, small deviations were hard to compute in my head to tell me how far off I was from my desired goal. Instead, knowing my biggest goals of the race were probably out of reach, I focused on competing with the runners around me.

Cresting the hill, I saw the leaders coming back at us. I knew we would go back down a small hill before turning around and climbing again.  A less than beautiful part of Reykjavik, as it was simply a highway closed down, the visages just a few miles away of cliffs and water and clouds hugging both made up for any shortcomings.

I made the turn and began climbing, having counted about 60 some odd men and 6 women in front of me. I again felt better than expected and tried to turn up the juice a little. When we got to the top, after seeing the hordes of people behind us, I turned it up even more. I like running downhill. I had some of my best miles of the day here as we flew down the backside and began to separate from the half- marathoners. Here we were faced with two whammies.  First, the biggest climb of the day. Second, what felt like total isolation as the crowds disappeared for a few miles and we began running on bicycle paths next to highways. 

Here's the thing: I hate bicycle paths. They are always more twisty and turny than you think. The small rises come out of nowhere and look like nothing on a elevation map but always kill me. It is almost impossible to run the shortest distance using tangents without cutting someone off. Mentally I just get worn down by them.. (Although, as with all things, I know many love them. I talked to an English chap named Jonathan at the Sun Voyager statue the next day and he mentioned how he enjoyed them. Different strokes!)  Instead of worrying too much about these paths, I tried to concentrate on the runners around me instead. A group of about five of us played cat and mouse, switching who took the lead and led the charge. Clustered in here was one woman who was wisely (or unfairly, depending on your perspective) only so happy to fall directly behind whatever man took the lead.

We made the loop around what appeared to be a petting zoo and whose name didn't help make that any clearer (Húsdýragarðurinn). Sneaking in under 1:34 for the 21.1 km mark meant that I still had a chance to go sub 3:10. I readied myself for the second half and hoped for the best.

To Mile 20:

I knew the rolling and undulating hills would continue from the halfway point to around mile 18. After that there were just a couple of bumps to worry about. Perhaps I could throw down a negative split and surprise myself with my overall time. More likely, perhaps not.

On occasion, I had missed a kilometer marker as they go by so fast. Your internal clock is not set to alarm you to look for them and next thing you know they have gone by. Conversely, there are so many kilometers in marathon that when you are tired and still have 20 more of them to see, it can be a bit wearisome.

This portion of the race is a bit of a blur to me. As I mentioned, it was run mostly on a bike path and I really zoned out. Eyes closed, or partially closed and simply looking at right in front of me.  As much as trail runners talk about how much they love their races, that is something you can't do there lest you end up in a ravine.  Moreover, it was here I began getting thirsty beyond quenchableness. Here I would like to take a few moments to point out how perfect the aid stations were with their liquids. They were so wonderfully cold. Even on a relatively cool day, it was absolutely refreshing to be able to douse my throat with cool drink. However, even stopping as I did twice to drink at least three cups of water, I would barely be a kilometer away and be thirsting ferociously for the next aid station. Fortunately, these breaks only put me a few meters behind my competitors and I usually made up the time very quickly.
We finally finished those hills and began running next to the bay. The cool breezes helped wick away some of the sweat but in spite of the moderate temperatures I was still covered in it. Time to hunker down.

To the Finish:

Earlier in the last segment I had been able to throw down some quick kilometers but it seemed at the expense of interminable thirst. Knowing I just had six miles left was a big help but it did not stop my need to drink. Two more times in this last 10k I would come to a full stop to drink the liquids presented. The time lost was inconsequential and even if I was racing hard, a few seconds of slowing down means nothing to get liquids in your body.

When most of your goals are gone for the day and you are not in such bad shape that just thinking about surviving is all that takes up your mind, you have time to think. I thought about why I continue to try and race during the summer when I know I am just physiologically not built for it. I don't try racing sprints because I have no speed.  So why do I take on these races? Or more accurately, why do I take them on and then be surprised when they do not go as well as planned?  I think it is a delicate dance we as runners do walking the fine line between what we know is possible give our skill set and trying to ignore it and push past it anyway. We strive for more because otherwise we might as well stop doing the sport right now. Those who say they don't want to get faster are fooling no one. We run because we enjoy it.  But we race because there is a clock.

How long did that take to think all of that? Crap. Just one kilometer. Nine more to go. 

And that is how the last 10k went for me.  As the teeth of a biting wind bit into us a bit around a golf course/nature preserve, I put my head down and acquiesced to the fact that virtually all of my A,B and C goals were gone. Now, "Run well enough to be ready to run again in one week" was all I wanted to do.

The last few miles mirrored an earlier portion of the course and I could picture the end. I knew we had one final small but cruel hill with about half of a mile to go to contend with before the finish. I was battling it out with a few runners and wanted to hold them off the best I could. Fortunately, I did just that and came in with a time of 3:14:30. While good enough for 75th place overall it was only my 86th fastest marathon.

Because of the proximity of my lodging, I was able to shower, change, throw together a sandwich and head back onto the course to cheer for my best friend Shannon. She had to deal with a bit more of the wind and rain than myself as it picked up a tad after my finish. Like me, she was exhausted from travel (and from being a surgeon, which I have no idea how she trains after a day of taking care of people in the worst of shapes) and was just happy to be finishing upright.

Without a doubt, I do not take for granted that I can run a time many would be happy with having as their finish and be disappointed with that. I do not need a dose of perspective to understand where what I do lies in the eyes of others (both faster and slower.) However, I think, as we all should, our worth comes not necessarily from comparisons against others but against yourself yesterday. Without a doubt the day will come when I will slow and have no recourse but to deal with it. They say you have 7 years of running marathons before you start to decline. I ran my fastest marathon 8 years after my first. Perhaps my decline has happened. I don't think so, however. Just this past February, on a day that did not go as I had hoped, I ran my 17th fastest marathon ever at the Phoenix Marathon. But the fact remains that I won't run "fast" forever. I am just not ready to believe that ending is here.

Next up, what can only be considered a fantastic personal scenario, running a marathon in a town in Germany which I share a surname with: the Burgwald Marathon in Rauschenberg, Germany!  It is forecasted to be very warm and the course is not forgiving at all. Fortunately, I am already in Germany so no flight delays should mess up my travel!