I signed up for the TARC Fells Trail Ultra Winter 32 soon after finishing the Summer Classic 50K back in August. In the months since then I’ve focused almost exclusively on road marathons, setting a PR in Chicago. What this means in practice is I’ve been running a 50/50 mix of road and treadmill miles all fall, a completely different thing than trail running. In the last month or so I kinda freaked out about this and tried to shift gears, trying to get to some TARC training events on the weekend to get myself ready for this guy.
I’ve also had a worried eye on the forecast all week. The best the weather guys could offer was a 30% chance of snow. But as I was trying to go to sleep early Friday for an even earlier wake up Saturday, the sleeping part was made much more difficult by the sound of rain & sleet hitting my window. Concerning. Fortunately when I woke (early, a full hour before my alarm) it looked like very little of it had actually stuck to the ground.
I made it over to the course by 6:20am, got my number and chatted with some other folks. Had a low key pre-race meeting at 6:45 (primary take-home, we could run the course in either direction), then at 7am, we were off.
Lap 1: Most people seemed to be going left at the first fork (so, committing to a clockwise-loop of the course). I did the same. The first half (or at least, first 3/8ths) of the course in this direction is the hardest part in my opinion, so great to go ahead and get this out of the way.
I run through the mid-point aid station on the first lap as I have enough calories with me and am feeling ok. Second half of the course was much faster than the first, 45 minutes to the hour for the first half. Best part here is I run into a giant St. Bernard who is out for a walk. Lot of dogs on the course in general today – I say hi to each and every of them.
First lap ended at 1:45, out again by 1:48 for a rough running split of 13:07.
Lap 2: I decided to run lap two in the same clockwise direction even though the pair of guys I was following split off to go counter-clockwise ahead of me. I figured my odds of getting lost would decrease if I kept going the same direction. That said I did get off course a couple times on this lap, but was able to use the map on the GPS app on my phone to correct myself. My biggest error of the race was at the very end of lap two – you can see it on the north-most bit of the map where I cut the last corner back to the start. I didn’t realize I was off course until I met back up with the real path, and didn’t see just how much got cut until after finishing. I’m hoping my other random off-course wanderings made up for this on aggregate. Overall the second lap felt pretty good again, if a bit slower.
Second lap ended at 3:45, out again by 3:48. The 1:58 run time for lap 2 was a 14:45 split.
Lap 3: Same direction yet again. Almost immediately up the first ascent I can tell I’m in some different kind of trouble, physically. Much more walking, but worse than that, I’m finding myself winded while climbing even when walking. This is bad. Around here, at ~4 hours in, I get lapped for the first time (wow – these guys rock). I’m nauseous but make a goal of making the aid station my primary focus. The last time I was there they said they had soup, all I can think for close to an hour is soup-soup-soup-soup-soup. When I finally get there I stop & have the soup (chicken noodle) and get some words of encouragement. I mention that I’m not sure I can do the final lap given how I’m feeling and the lady gives me an “it’s only mental” pep talk. Ok, I’m pretty sure it’s at least partially physical, but I actually do appreciate the sentiment.
Given the course, and given my eventual digestion of the soup & the peanut butter cups I picked up, I’m humming along near the end of lap three, nausea faded. Along here I’m singing the Superman theme song, then realize I’m doing Star Wars, then realize I’m not really able to differentiate between the two. Mental function failing. During an uphill walk here I pull out my phone to check status of my pacer for the final lap – word from Hondo is he’s at the start waiting for me even though I’m two miles out. It’s immensely helpful for me to focus on this fact.
Third lap ended at 5:55, out again by 6:00. The 2:07 run time for lap 3 was a 15:52 split. I’m still under a 2-hour per loop average.
Lap 4: Steven was ready and waiting when I rolled into the aid station. I had let myself think I might drop at this point but honestly, I felt fine here, and was happy to head back out. He & I alternate lead for a while, eventually settling into a pattern where I let him go first and just verbally tell him when I’m able to run or need to walk. Even though I don’t have a ton of breath to spare it’s very helpfully distracting to chat with him about what we’re doing, where we’re going, or other non-race stuff just to keep my mind off the present.
We’re going clockwise again and finally make it to the tower (somehow this last time through there are several additional climbs that I don’t remember before making it to this landmark). Lots of walking in this stretch. As we pick our way down to the aid station a Yeti (or, dude in a Yeti suit) comes running out of the woods at us – this is very amusing. He asks if we’re on Skyline Trail – I certainly hope so. Once we finally make it to the aid station I joke that I’m 20 minutes late (having last told them I’d see them in another two hours). But honestly, I’m feel much, much better than at the same point of the prior loop. Load up with a couple oreos and head on home.
We see fewer and fewer people coming the other direction, and I realize we’re after the 2:15pm cutoff so no one will be out on another lap. The last 1/3rd or so of course is really runnable, and we’re able to make some decent time. Decent maybe best in quotes – we’re moving slow, but technically running. I find myself singing Yellow Submarine for no good reason. Steven continues to humor me.
And like that, a bit anticlimatic, it’s all over. My final lap officially ended at 8:16:26, giving me a 4th lap time of 2:16:26, a ~17:00 split. I’m actually surprised by this, I thought the 4th lap was faster than the 3rd. It certainly felt better.
Overall, despite my very modest pace (particularly of the last two laps), I’m quite happy with this race. This is a distance PR for me, having not run more 50K before. Sure it’s only a mile more, but I’ll take it. I was also happy to not have to drop and take the DNF – time aside I think finishing things like this event expand the range of what I can subconsciously think of as personally possible. Before this weekend the 50K (and 7:20 race time) were my upper limit. Now I know I can run 8+ hours – honestly, I think I could have given a fifth lap a shot had we had some more sunlight to work with. And had the course been flatter, well who knows.
And lastly, speaking of, I’m aware I complain a lot about lack of sun in the winter. This relationship with the sun made today interesting. I was up and running well before the sun came up, watched it climb, fall, and threatening to set as I finished. I got my money’s worth of our weak winter sun this weekend. :)
Next up for me – in five weeks I’m taking another shot at a double marathon and hope to knock two of the deep south states (Mississippi & Alabama) off my list at the Jackson Blues and First Light Marathons. Nobody’s nervous.
A friend of Hondo’s posted something about the Run to Remember today, apparently registration is open for the race on May 25th. But the fee is already up to $70, which is more in line with what I’d like to a pay for a full. I ran this race this past May and enjoyed it (despite the rain, it’s my current half marathon PR). But it got me thinking about next year, and the fact that I don’t have any halves scheduled. There’s a couple of different ones I think I’d like to try instead.
Rhode Island has a “Triple Crown” of halves – Providence on May 4th, Jamestown on July 12th and Newport on October 12th. Ideally it’d be cool to run all of the series, but as the Newport one is the first half of the Newport Marathon, so I’ve run that course before. It’s also tricky to assume an October weekend won’t be occupied by something longer.
There’s the Cape Code Trilogy – Hyannis Half on Feb 23rd, The Great Hyannis on May 25th and the Harwich Cranberry Harvest on October 5th. I’ll be in Japan for the first of those so wouldn’t be able to do all three. And the third, again with the October conflict.
The BAA of course has their three race distance medley, the 5K on Marathon weekend, the 10K in the summer and the BAA Half next fall. Dates aren’t quite set for that half yet but it’s typically in mid-October, I’m guessing it’ll be October 12th.
The Quincy Half – I had a good experience there in 2012, and have a deferred registration for next year’s race due to them up and canceling this year’s race (technically they time-shifted it into a conflict with the New Jersey Marathon) but unfortunately it’s be rescheduled for 3/16, a weekend I’m out of town (also the race has been booted from Quincy entirely – it’s now out in Ashland). So that one’s out, money wasted.
YJP mentioned a half she’d like to get scheduled for 2014 – the Bird-in-Hand Half in Pennsylvania on September 5th. She ran that guy this year and really enjoyed it (and they’ve got hot air balloons!!) so I’m leaning towards committing to that.
So yeah. Some possibilities to think about. I have like a bunch of full marathons confirmed for 2014 and a couple more in mind for the fall, but somewhere in there, I want to find a really good half effort too. Something fast, something flat, something beautiful, something I’ll be well rested for, not an afterthought but a priority race. Let’s make it happen.
The highlight of the week (running-wise) was the Gobble Gobble Gobble 4 miler turkey trot in Davis Square on Thanksgiving morning. This was my 6th GGG in a row, and I finished in 27:44, a 6:56 split. This was 25 seconds slower than last year (I’ll conveniently chalk that up to getting stuck in early race traffic & my lack of a GPS watch).
Other than that, a touch short this week. Despite running every day I still came up a few miles under my 40 mile goal. This was one of only a handful of weekends in the last few years I wasn’t able to get a half marathon distance in – I don’t like to slip on this goal, both for OCD and internal motivational purposes. That said, I did get a solid 2+ hour run of the Skyline Trail in the Fells in on Sunday to prep for next weekend’s ultra. It was supposed to be a confidence builder, but the fact that it was rainy/wet/icy wasn’t exactly reassuring. Steven is planning to help me finish it off, we’ll see if that’s enough to push me over the edge. I am very much hoping it will be dry come Saturday.
I heard this story on the radio on the way south from Ipswich, heading home from my oldest sister’s house, where she had just fed me dinner and homemade pie. I’m thankful for her, and for all my sisters, and for the many times they’ve fed me in times far less dire than this. They would totally save me if I were starving to death on the far side of the planet.
There’s been so little natural light in my life of late – my work weeks have been a cycle of dark to dark, and a considerable mental challenge has been to get off the bus for the gym & it’s neverending treadmill. This week the best of those runs was a fairly intense mile repeats workout Wednesday. This weekend was better – I managed to get outside twice, hitting the Reservoir trail at the Fells again with TARC folk Saturday early then running my long in Worcester this afternoon. Despite starting that “early” at 1:30 or so, the sun was still setting when I made it back into the warm. Unreal. Solstice is still a month away.
This coming week is short at work with Thanksgiving Thursday. I’ll have the Gobble Gobble Gobble to start that day. The big forthcoming event is the TARC Fells Trail Ultra Winter 32 miler, two weeks on.
Song of the week, Experience the Jewel by Wintersleep.
A good running week. My long run today was solid if sun-free (16 miles @ 8:29 split), my Wednesday intervals seem to be providing the desired disruptive influence on my legs. Three hundred miles southwest of here, today was also the Philadelphia Marathon. Seeing the updates on that race popping up in my Facebook feed reminded me of last year’s race (one of my most favorite marathon experiences). Also, that was the day I first met Turtle.
But if I can speak truthfully, my heart has been heavy all weekend. A close friend lost her mother unexpectedly this past Friday, a shock to all of us. I had just visited with her last month when I was in Columbus Ohio, a feisty, vivacious woman (who rightly chastised me, the last time we spoke, for leaving the OSU-Iowa game early). This loss has been weighing on my mind, accentuating the fragility of life. In my day job I work with health outcomes data and spend an inordinate amount of my day to day thinking about mathematical models of mortality and the other bad things that can happy to you after you get surgery. The only way to survive that mentally is to compartmentalize, depersonalize, to not let the 100 or 1000 or 10000 deaths I’m looking at on a given day represent actual people. I was in a talk last Thursday where the speaker said something to the effect of “and of course, death is protective of future complications”. Which is true – once you die, even more bad stuff can’t happen to you.
But this approach to death is counter to how it’s experienced when it’s someone known and loved. And sadly, all logic is cold comfort to the daughters & precious granddaughter left behind.
Song of the week, One Great City by The Weakerthans.
I brought my mileage back up this week after some downtime last. The most substantial run of the week was 8 miles with some TARC folks at the Fells Saturday morning as a way of starting to prepare for my next race. I started the run with aspirations of doing two laps of the Skyline Trail for something closer to 15/16 miles but two miles in I knocked the contact lens out of my left eye (how, I’m not sure exactly). It turns out it’s very difficult to run trails with one eye in focus and one eye very much out of focus. I tried closing the bad eye but that just made things worse, killing my depth perception. I was also glad to have stopped when I realized I had quickly developed three blisters on my left foot – perhaps new socks or badly tied shoes, I’m not sure. Fortunately with the shorter run I was able to deal with them before they got ugly.
The most exciting running news of the week wasn’t my own but rather YJP’s latest marathon down in Savannah. I know she’d rather I not mention her time but regardless, it was a strong PR and I’m very proud of her. Plus she now has a state I don’t! Until March 23rd, anyway. :)
An off week to recover from my October races. This is the lowest weekly mileage since I hurt myself last September. I needed a bit of a break though, trying to heal some nagging injuries I’ve been running through. I’ve run some 1750+ miles this year, and am still well on pace to hit 2000 miles for the year in the 8 1/2 weeks we have left.
Coming up – I have two races left this year to round things out. On Thanksgiving I’ll be running the Gobble Gobble Gobble in Somerville (one of my favorites) and then on December 7th I’ve got the TARC Fells Trail Ultra Winter 32 miler. Not sure how that will go exactly but I plan to spend the five weeks between now and then trying to figure that out.
Oh and also – maybe one final race at the end of December, if that snowflake in the photo to the right is to be believed.
As 2013 winds to a close (for me anyway, marathon-wise), here’s an update on my somewhat quixotic fifty state goal. Seventeen down, thirty-three to go – that’s more than 1/3rd done! After I finished Marine Corps last weekend I said to YJP “I don’t think I need to do this again next year” (meaning, 4 marathons in 4 weeks). Yet one short week later, my attention is already drifting west for next fall. Look at all that pretty green…
I asked my middle sister if she saw a Longhorn in Texas (as I have some lingering interest in the topic and was bummed to not see any when I was down in Austin last February). She sent me this photo. Oh man, my baby nephew is cooler than I am.
A few things about this though. I don’t think people are intended to ride cows. It violates some law of nature. But clearly there’s a saddle that someone has put on this critter. The story, were I to construct one of whole cloth, would be much better if she and Andrew swung up on the might beast despite his efforts to buck them, and rode it for the full 8 seconds. Let’s go with that.
Some notes on today’s Marine Corps Marathon. I’ve been excited about this race for a long time, months, since I decided to run it. But honestly at the tail end of this month, it’s been a little bit in the shadows of my mind. Time to quickly rectify that!
I arrived at yesterday’s expo at the DC Armory at 1pm. There was a holy moley massive line winding every which way, looping around a block in multiple directions. I was trying to think of something similar I’ve ever been in and failed – maybe a queue at Austin City Limits? But you can always say screw it I don’t need a beer, you can’t say forget this I don’t need my number. YJP and I wait in line for 90 minutes to get my number, then a second line another half hour to get into the expo itself to get the shirt. I should have eaten beforehand. YJP keeps saying “this can’t be what they intended” – by the apologies they posted later on FB & twitter, I think they agree. Anyway.
When I booked my hotel for Marine Corps I got the one I did specifically because it was closest to the race start. What I didn’t realize was the big block of green that I thought was a park between the hotel & the start was actually Ft. Myers, a fairly well locked down military base, which meant come 6am, I had to walk around it. This involved crossing a couple highway sized roads and skirting a good long sidewalk-less section through a construction site. This part of Arlington is not friendly towards pedestrians, but some 40 minutes later I finally made it.
Fortunately I was in time at the St Jude tent for the team photo & to check my bag with them. After the lines at the expo I was thrilled to not have to deal with the public gear check.
To the start! The actual start of the MCM is marked by a shot from a giant howitzer, fired off twice, once for the wheelchairs and once for the main field. This is a big & impressive sounding piece of artillery.
Before the howitzer fired though a series of parachutists jumped, most landing right next to the loosely defined “corral” I was in. This was super cool – several of them had giant American flags in tow. I think the announcer mentioned one of them was the largest flag jump that had been attempted – it’s hard to get a scale of these things from the photos but one star here is 5 1/2 feet across.
To the race!
Start: Big gun & rolling downhill. The start is on a highway that’s been shut down, in both directions. This is a big, big race. My watch, which had busted in Columbus, pretended to lock a satellite but once I started running it revealed itself to be broken completely. No pace, no distance, nothing. This was incredibly frustrating to me for the duration of the race.
Mile 2: The biggest hill of the race is right up front. I see YJP here on the left, but some dude right in front of me steals my high five. WTF GUY. Running up this hill it dawns on me that I’ve overdressed, warmer than I want to be, but there’s nothing to be done now as my long compression layer is below everything else.
Mile 3-5: This is a downhill winding section through a particularly scenic area. I don’t know why I thought the course would be flat, but these high arching bridges overhead strike fear into the heart. There are cliff faces, steep ones, along the course here, which is cool.
Mile 6-9: Out and back along the Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway. Scenic here, but not many fans, as all access is blocked on this road. I see three people wipe out here within a minute – the part of the field I’m in isn’t too dense, but since it’s an out & back I can tell the field behind me is crazy dense, spreading past the large construction cones that split the road. The people I see fall seem to be tripping into these things, stepping on the edges. I drift toward the far side of the course. This race probably could do with a stricter corral system and a more dispersed wave start to avoid this congestion. But what do I know.
Mile 10: I see YJP here again and toss her my gloves. Here, enjoy toting around my soggy cotton detritus, friend! Lots of spectators here, back along the river. We’re actually running right behind the Lincoln Memorial here but I don’t realize it til later (having not particularly studied the course map, bad).
Mile 11-14.5: this is the dullest bit of the course, a long loop around the East Potomac Park peninsula. Round about here is where I realized I wasn’t going to have the best day of my life – I’ve run enough of these to know when I should be getting tired, and mile 12 is not that mile. One interesting part here is a long row of american flags for the Wear Blue to Remember the Fallen folks. There’s one person standing exactly on the 13.1 timing mat, cheering us on actively & individually. I like this guy, am grateful he biked all the way down.
Mile 15: back to civilization here! People cheering, and bands. and I’m trying to perk myself up, but the reality is it’s early, and I’m already struggling. Two things happen in quick succession. First, I find myself surrounded by a mass if people much denser than the race has been, which turns out to be the 3:35 pace group rolling through me. Right as this happens, I hear YJP screaming from the right side of the course. I had been looking for her on the left, and given the pack of people I’m in there’s no way to get over. As I’m swept by I hear her say she’ll see me at 19. Later I saw that she said I was “leading the 3:35 group”, which is one way to look at it. Another way is to say within the next two minutes they had all left me in their dust.
Between this point and 19 is the most interesting part of the course, running along the north side of the mall toward congress, looping around the capitol reflecting pool then back west. At this point I start to feel really sick. Eventually I have to stop for the one bank of portapotties I’ve seen in miles, which is very helpful. I find YJP again somewhere around 19 & turn down the sports beans she’s brought for me as I still feel so nauseous I don’t want to eat anything. In retrospect leaving the calories behind was a mistake. She walks with me 100ft or so, listens to me complain, lies to me that I’m looking ok. “Regardless of how you feel, you’re doing ok”. Ok. She is lifting me up, I try to let her, try to borrow her conviction as my own is lost.
Mile 20: Beat the bridge. This is a cutoff for runners behind me but I’m just trying to finish at this point and am not running strong. I have no pace from my watch which has at this point shut off completely, and it feels like I’ve been averaging 10 minute miles. Later I find out that I was at 8:14 splits through 30K so was doing reasonably well on my race goal (sub 8:20), but I don’t know this, and the weak part of my mind is giving up. I see a guy, skinny, fit, fast looking, lying on the side of the bridge with an oxygen mask on his face and surrounded by EMTs. If that guy can’t make it… I am weak.
Mile 23: I’m looking for YJP again but don’t see her (she goes into her own escapades trying to get to this mile marker if you’re interested). There’s a lot of energy here in Crystal City though, DJs and crowds that are more enthusiastic than I feel. If I were to get over the wall I’ve been sludging through for the last four miles, it’d be here. But it doesn’t happen, not really.
Mile 25: The Pentagon is here on the right, behind acres of parking lots and a large police contingent, watching us. The marines along the course have been helpful, cheerful, enthusiastic. I get the feeling these cops are protecting the Pentagon from us, not there for our benefit. I’m too tired for the implication and trudge on. We loop back up an onramp onto the same highway we started on, then finally come through the start area. I feel like walking again before I see a sign that says “You can run slow tomorrow when no one’s watching”. This makes me kick it up as I take a last left up towards the Iwo Jima Memorial. It’s steep, but like all hills has an end. I cross the line at 3:48:28, six minutes off last weekend in Columbus and 18 minutes slower than Chicago. This is good for 3288th overall (of 23,732), top 14%.
I don’t go into the main running village, and instead work my way back to the St. Jude tent where I’ve checked my bag. Normally it takes me 30 minutes or so to recovery to a point where I don’t want to die. Today that’s closer to 90. Fortunately (or not) YJP is lost and trapped with no phone and can’t find me for that amount of time anyway. I am not good company, can’t regulate my thermal systems, can’t really function. I’m frigging tired, weak and feel beaten.
But all that said, if I can draw back to the bigger picture. With the completion of this race I finished what I started to do. One week at a time, I ran four wildly different marathons in one month. I went into Chicago and set a new marathon PR, got to see Mike & Kristie & Alexandra in Columbus, some of my very most favorite people in the world. My parents & Team HB were able to come see me run & cheer for me in New Hampshire. And regardless of what she thinks, YJP really did save me this week. It’s been a tremendously long & difficult month, but now that it’s over, it’s very, very satisfying.
My splits, for posterity. :)
Finish Net 3:48:28 Finish Gun 3:50:06
Time of Day
Song of the week, Museum of Flight by Damien Jurado.
This weekend found me in deepest, darkest Columbus Ohio for my 3rd marathon of the month. I took the week between this race and Chicago off from work, and managed to fill my time visiting Sean & Aunt Sue in Urbana and helping some new-to-Columbus friends move into their new house. I went to the race expo on Friday instead of Saturday, a luxury of scheduling which turned out to be judicious as Saturday was mostly cold and rainy.
Race morning – I woke up 10 minutes before my (3:30am) alarm. I don’t know how this happens, but it’s not the first time. Coffee & bagel. I try to be quiet in the kitchen since Mikey’s crashed out on the couch.
At 5:15 I head downtown. I was a little stressed by the fact that I hadn’t pre-planned parking, but this worked out for the best. There was a massive line of cars trying to get into one garage, but I found a surface lot across the street for $5. It took a while to find someone to make change for me (I only had $10) but finally did. Back in the car to warm up briefly before the mile walk to the start line.
This race was much colder than last week’s, sub-40 at the start. I didn’t have a disposable sweatshirt which would have made things better, but I did bring a pair of socks to use as temporary gloves.
The start was actually quite remarkable. During the national anthem fireworks were shot off during “rockets red glare”, and during the start itself there were these giant flares type things on the top of the starting line structure.
My only frustration here was that I couldn’t get a GPS signal. I started trying five minutes before the start, and never got close. Typically this is too early to start, as my watch will drop it again after a few minutes of waiting. I need a better solution than Nike+. Anyway, no signal, the footpod was screwed and I never got an accurate pace for the rest of the race. Problematic.
The first half of the race goes pretty quick to me – I’m mostly reminding myself to put the brakes on over and over. I should have started closer to the back of my corral, as I know I’m not pushing as hard today. We head east, lap a park then loop back against the flow of traffic. At mile 6 I see signs for the first patient champion I notice – Addie – who wants to be a palentologist, which makes me smile. I’m at mile 7 and people coming towards me are only at mile 2, the field must have been bigger than I realized.
I’ve had a steady growing dissatisfaction with my body and finally convince myself to stop and pee at mile 9. I think I could have pressed on without stopping but I was concerned it would have inhibited me from drinking at the fluid stations which would have been bad. So I chose to lose 30 seconds for this.
The patient champion for mile 11 was Madeline. I notice her in particular because there’s an explosion of pink, pink shirts, balloons, signs. Lots of positive energy here. The internet tells me she’s in remission, which I’m glad for. I read some article when I was up in Chicago about smiling during a race so I make a conscious decision to try to smile from here on out whether I’m feeling it or not. It actually does lifts you up.
There have been lots of bands along the course, and the occasional DJ. I started with my headphones in but around here I decide to take them both out. From here until the end of the race I’ll run with either one or none in.
At the halfway mark we lose the majority of the field. I’m at 1:46:43 here, about four minutes behind last week. The full marathoners continue to head up north on a straight shot up North High Street to mile 15. I’m looking for Mike & Kristie here as this is one of the places I told them might be good to watch, but no luck. The neighborhood is called Short North, and has a series of arches over the road. Interesting looking place, but sporadic support.
At mile 17 we’re winding around the area of the OSU campus where I was yesterday for the football game. I see this dude running in a gas mask and rucksack – I’ve read specifically that this won’t be allowed at MCM next week, but it’s impressive. We cross over the fakey Zakim then head towards the stadium. The course actually enters what used to be the open end of the horseshoe crosses the end zone. There’s actually a sign here that says “steep hill” for the few percent incline down into and out of the stadium, which is amusing. Still super cool to run through the stadium – we were supposed to do this in Green Bay but it didn’t happen.
I look for AZ &/or Martin at mile 18 as I’m going by their house but don’t see them. Still, something to occupy my mind to look for them (I still occasionally look for Steven near mile 17 of random races even when I know he’s not there, after the one time he jumped in to help me finish). We’re shunted off the road here onto a path through the “corny field” which is filled with jokey signs and bad TV jokes. It takes me entirely too long to get the pun on “corny” (I’m literally looking for corn stalks – prefrontal brain function is suffering).
At mile 19 the race really changes in feel from a big city marathon to a more suburban one. For the first time here (and several times between 19 and the finish) people call out to me by name, on my bib. I don’t know why, but this is immensely helpful. I can remember specific instances of this boost from this race and others in the past (New Jersey, and New Orleans). Maybe I look like I’m sick and struggling or that I need a boost, but these strangers are trying to pick me up, and somehow it works. Sometimes when I myself am watching a race I get into the habit of just scanning through the field trying to find the face of whoever I’m waiting for, but this experience is a helpful reminder. Look for and connect with people near you now, they may be strangers but they need your help too.
I was losing it around mile 21, physically, emotionally. The patient champion for this mile was Bryer, and immediately I noticed his first sign was written in past tense. Later I learned that he passed away just over a month ago. I’m already feeling weak and slow and now I’m trying not all that successfully to not cry, it’s an emotionally vulnerable place. What each of these kids has had to go through is so much worse than my temporary situational weakness.
A half mile later I get a really big boost, the best of the race when I see Mike, Kristie & Eliose on the right side of the course. For some reason I veer off the course behind them, failing completely at the normal task of high-fiving. K asks me how I’m doing and all I can remember saying is “this is not my finest hour”. She runs with me for a half block. I am so, so happy they are here.
Between 23 and 25 is a bit blurry. I took two half bananas from someone along the way here, and they don’t sit well in my stomach. Green bananas = bad. Somewhere past mile 25 I see a sign that I think says 26, but as I get closer I can see it says 1/2 mile to go, so 25.7. Somehow this 0.3 mile miscalculation feels like the most unjust betrayal of linear measurement, particularly on a day when my GPS has spectacularly failed me, but moments later I see Mike & Kristie again. I didn’t know they were going to come down to the finish so this is very exciting. From there it’s only a matter of moments before I’m in a heavily fenced area downtown with screaming fans several layers deep. This is a fantastic finish, no matter how I feel. I’m happy crossing the line.
My final time for the Columbus Marathon was 3:42:20, an 8:29 split. This is almost exactly halfway between my PR last weekend in Chicago and the slow race the week prior to that in New Hampshire. I’m completely satisfied with this time. I’m getting to the point where I can be satisfied with a solid run without beating myself up over a PR.
This race marks the second time I’ve pulled off the three marathon in three weekends trick – back in October 2011 I ran Baltimore, St. Louis & Cape Cod in consecutive weeks. Next week I’ll try to break that record by finishing up my October with the Marine Corps Marathon. If you were inclined to wish me luck I wouldn’t try to dissuade you.
Song of the week, the entirely NSFW Remember the Name by Fort Minor which for some reason is on my long run mix and always feels appropriate whenever it comes up.
Last spring I got into the Chicago Marathon by sheer luck, just before their servers crashed, before they stopped registration, before they instituted the stop-gap lottery. I got through five minutes before registration even started. Very lucky, very grateful.
I flew in to O’Hare & managed to make my way from there to Lincoln Park to my hotel. Via bus! After talking to another runner in the airport I flirted with the idea of going straight to the expo, but in the end was happy I was able to get an early check in and drop my bags.
The expo was quite large, and not terribly simple to get to. From Lincoln Park I took a bus down to Michigan Avenue (~40 min), then waited in line for a shuttle. A longish ride, time-wise, to the expo, which was cavernous. Highlight of the expo was a lady saying “here’s another B!” when I picked up my bib. Kicked around for a while until I found out that men’s hats were already sold out, then left to find food. Unfortunately the food court at the convention center was closed. The shuttle line back to downtown was even more massive, and having not eaten all day with the time getting late I was starting to freak. I jumped on the wrong shuttle with a shorter line that was more or less headed the same direction and finally found my way to a sub shop around 3:30pm. Poor planning on my part. After that another slow bus back to the hotel (& Jamba Juice). K-State was on TV, losing.
Morning of the race, I made my way down to the start at Millennium Park as early as I could. Another couple I ran into in my hotel offered to split a cab, but they were leaving at 4:45am which was too early even by my ridiculous standards. Given there were 45,000 runners I wanted to get through the bottlenecks as fast as possible. The security wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – like other big races they now only accept clear bags through and at the bag check. All I had in mine was my water belt – I swapped in my jacket and ran to the bathrooms one last time. The timing turned out tighter than I thought it would be – corrals were ostensibly “locked” at 7:20 and I finally cleared the restroom line at 7:15, so found myself running with a mass of other people over to the start. We weren’t actually able to work our way into the corral before 7:20 but there was no way the mass of us could or would be stopped once past the bib checkers. I was finally in place with about three minutes to spare. No time left to fret.
Like I mentioned, I was assigned to the B Corral. Given then number of people running this race means the corrals were pretty granular, meaning I was surrounded by a big group of people who were more or less on my wavelength, speed-wise. As in the past, I found this to be pretty helpful. Unlike races like the BAA half where there’s a similar mass of people but no corrals, with a system like this the thousands of runners behind me wouldn’t factor into the race strategy – there was no weaving or dodging at the start. Which was good, as it was dense enough as it was, even at the same speed. Incidental contact everywhere. As I crossed the start I heard the announcer say that Rahm Emanuel was there, but I couldn’t see him, then we were off.
Right away the course drops underground. This was trippy, already dark-ish out, it was really dark under here. And since we were underground my watch was confused about what speed we were really going – it was probably two miles in before it settled and showed that I was running under 8:00/mile splits. My best prior marathon was Nashville, where I ran an 8:09/split throughout. I decided around mile 3 to just try to hang on to the sub-8:00 mile average as long as I could. For a marathon this corresponds roughly to a 3:30 pace, and as luck would have it I fell in with a large pace group at that speed. For most of the race I would run with them, ignoring my watch.
I didn’t have a real great idea of the course but knew the first half basically was a north/south out & back. Just past the first mile we passed the iconic Chicago Theater. A few miles of zig zagging from there. At mile 4.5 we crossed over into Lincoln Park and things got green for a while. At mile 7 we reached the north apex and turned south. At mile 9 we ran through the intersection right by my hotel. Miles here at the beginning were clicking off pretty quickly.
One cool thing about this race – we crossed the Chicago River a number of times, and the course organizers had taped these large carpets down to cover the metal latticework that made up the bridge surface. The first one was red, then later various purples and teals. Kind of random but it helped as the grating was rough with large gaps. First marathon I’ve ever run with a red carpet.
At mile 13 we were right back near the start of the race. From here we turned west and ran out to mile 15. Lots of people cheering on this section of the course. Generally speaking this course had tremendous support throughout. I was wearing my One Run Boston shirt and had a large number people throughout the city call out for me specifically. I got a feeling it was a mix of Boston expats and people trying to support me specifically, for whatever reason.
Mile 16 or so is usually where I start to question things, but today was ok. I did notice the first walkers here – these were fast people who were (obviously) ahead of my own pace before dropping out to walk for whatever reason. There were lots of these in the last 10 miles of the course. Maybe that comes with the flat course and sheer field size, people were pushing for PRs and some overextended.
At mile 20 we passed through Chicago’s Chinatown – I didn’t know this part of the course was coming. An interesting place, would like to come back here sometime. Miles 21-23 were (predictably) a low point that I could do without revisiting. Course volunteers somewhere in were handing out bananas and I grabbed two halves which helped. Direct sun and running south parallel to the Dan Ryan Expressway. This wasn’t fun and my splits and spirit suffered. Less said the better.
After 23 I started to turn things around, to feel a little better. I caught back up with the 3:30 pace group (who I had left around mile 11 & who had recently caught & passed me). It’s totally arbitrary, but I was mentally trying to run this race in 5K chunks instead of my normal mile approach (16 + two final 5s). This helped me to ignore the mile markers and keep looking out for the 5K markers and timing mats instead.
Also (and I know this is somewhat pitiful, but) I had set the race to report my split times directly to Facebook. So every mat I hit would, in theory, report in real time how I was doing. It’s a silly mental game, but winning or losing the mental game late in the race when your brain is trying to negotiate with your body to slow down can have a big impact on race outcomes. The autoposting feature made me feel accountable, and I pushed it for each 5K, trying to keep the mean split under my PR pace. As dumb as it sounds now, I was literally thinking that my post-race narrative would be like: “well, I didn’t PR, but I did hold a PR pace through 20K, 30K, 35K, 40K…” And once that was true at 40K there was really no valid excuse left for not taking it home.
At 23 we finally had some shade, and made the turn north. At this point I knew it was just a matter of running a straight shot back towards the big buildings, through the big crowds along the course. We ran past the convention center where the expo had been the day before, which I knew was a mile from the finish. Last few hundred yards were tough, a (small) uphill slope before turning into Grant Park just north of the Field Museum.
My final time was 3:30:25, 3-some minutes faster than my previous best. I finished in 4290th place (of 38,871 finishers), so not quite in the top 10%. I was the 3591st man, 680th in my age/sex group. I literally could not be happier with how this race worked out. My 15th true marathon was just about perfect.
For posterity, here are my splits. Since I had my watch set to average split rather than instantenous I didn’t actually know any of these as the race went on. Pretty consistent until the end there! No negative split, but I’ll work on that.
Post-race, I got a free beer & some chocolate milk and crashed on a curb for 10 minutes before a volunteer shooed us along. I managed to get out of the interminable chute and stumbled over to Buckingham Fountain to get my bag and phone. An hour later I wandered up to the post-race party, then eventually north through Millennium Park, past the Bean over the river and on down the road.
Song of the week, Happy Man by Sparklehorse. RIP Mark Linkous.
My parents & I decided to drive up early to Bristol, NH for the New Hampshire Marathon as it had a relatively late start (9am) and there aren’t a lot of cheap hotel options near the host city. It’s less than two hours from Boston, a smooth ride on 93, no traffic. My dad drove which was fantastic. I’m pretty sure this is the first race of mine he’s ever been too, considering most of them are scheduled on Sundays. The morning-of number pickup was super easy – this is a small race and with the half marathoners starting at the midpoint, there wasn’t crowding at the start, for restrooms or otherwise. The only bad thing here was we lost all cell signal at the start, fine in & of itself but frustrating to not be able to tell Christine where we were or what was happening. She figured it out, of course. Still. Build some friggin towers.
Start to mile 8.5
I had read that the opening segment was the most difficult part of the course, but I didn’t find it to be particularly bad, at least until the very end. Rolling hills along 3A North, traffic for the most part light enough to make you forget you’re running on a highway with minimal shoulder.
I see Team HB & my parents several times along this leg, every two miles or so. They’re awesome, the most enthusiastic cheerers here by far, and their energy spreads to other runners around me. Over the course of the race I hear them call out other runners around me by name, which is so cool. Nothing like is possible that in a bigger race.
This part of the course has good views of the lake here – we’re mostly above it on the eastern coast. The last mile or so of this first section was a steady climb to one of the highest points on the course, leaving me winded.
8.5 to 11
A sharp left here into a steep downhill clearly demarks this part of the course. Later in the afternoon when going back to drive the course I’ll realize exactly how steep some if these ups and downs are – it’s a little disconcerting to drive them at any speed. There are some good southward views of the lake here, including this little house you can see to the right that I immediately love.
I felt pretty fast in the segment but in retrospect think this part is what took my legs out from under me. I saw several people (who all ended up finishing well ahead of me) walking the hills here to conserve themselves. If I do this race again I’ll do the same.
I think my general race strategy with regards to hills may be flawed. I often pass people on the uphill & am immediately passed again on the next downhill. In this race it must have happened with one particular woman ~10 times (she went on to beat me soundly, dropping me around mile 13). I don’t mean to run downhills slow but maybe there’s some change I can make to help cut loose and pick up some time when there’s a chance.
11 to 16.8
I see my cheer squad here again at the Hebron common. They had recruited or somehow subconsciously engaged with some other cheerers stationed here – this was the most enthusiastic part of the course by far. After that there’s a few miles out and back here, still rolling hills but not as bad. Two things of note: I saw a flock of loose turkeys in some dude’s yard here around mile 12 – some where partially white making me think they were geese at first. I briefly contemplate a life of turkey farming hipsterdom. A bit further down the road I see a deer standing to the left of the road. After I passed I was like 80% convinced it was stuffed or somehow taxidermi-fied. I meant to look for it on the way back but forgot – the deer who cheers, he’ll have remain an unexplained mystery.
16.8 to 20
Again past the Hebron common before starting the southward trip along the west side of newfound lake. I saw my parents this time, and Steven gave me some more beans for which I was very grateful. At this point I’m still feeling optimistic, a bit more than was warranted in retrospect. Even though I’m taking both water & Gatorade at each fluid station I’m running low on fluids- at some point around 18.5 I pass off an empty bottle to Steve through his car window, Ebs refills for me at 20. Around this point I’m starting to have doubts about maintaining my pace. For some reason I have my watch set to average pace, which has been steadily creeping up from 8:30 towards 9:00. For me to be losing so much time on average pace at this late stage of the race means I must be well over 9:00 splits. I don’t switch over and check, at some level I just don’t want to know.
20 to finish
This is typically the hard part of any marathon, and this guy was no different. In retrospect I realize my cheering squad knew I was getting grouchy (I think they realize it was not at them, just at life, the universe, whoever put all these dang hills here). But in reality, I was a grump, irritable and not pleasant. Not try to excuse, just being aware.
In my mind, the last six miles were all supposed to be a gentle downslope. This was not the case. At one point around 21 Christine was next to me and I was complaining about the slight rise ahead – “it’s just a bridge” she says, and of course she is right. It was a small bridge, even. Small in reality, but it seemed huge in the mixed up logic of the moment. I’m not death marching, but it’s close. Checking my splits after the race miles 23 through 25 are all around 10:30 minutes per mile, ugly.
At mile 24 there’s a more considerable rise & I decide to walk it. At the top were directed right back onto the highway, and the last two miles are mercifully the gentle downhills I’ve been looking for. Even with that, I’m getting passed steadily, by people I know I was a solid mile ahead of a the out & back. I see Team HB one last time at mile 26 and with their help muster a small burst to pass back one of the girls who passed me in the last four miles.
My parents are waiting at the finish, the first time either have seen me finish a race. It’s very exciting but I kind of want to die instead if celebrating. I try sitting, lying in the grass and no part of my body is working. I need to vomit but can’t. Finally I worked my way to the medical tent and crash on a cot for while trying to get it together, let the body chemistry normalize.
At some point in here the announcer is doing shout outs and calls my name, mentioning it’s my 14th state – that’s a lot! I think to myself, until I see a guy with a sign on his back saying this is his 193rd marathon. Steven talks to the timing guy for me and fixes a misspelling of my name. Eben is in a great mood, cheering for those after me. Someone asks him if he’ll run a marathon someday and he says “I think so.” Tate sits quietly & munches grapes – this being his third time at one of my marathons, he’s harder to impress.
My final official time was 3:55:53, good for 47th place (of 239 finishers). That’s a 9:00 split exactly, 22 minutes off my PR but 9 or so minutes faster than the two most topographically similar races I’ve run (Mad Marathon & Newport). Next up, just next week actually – the Chicago Marathon! That’s all good and exciting, but will be different in almost every way. I’m glad to have started my October with this race, glad my family could come up and spend some time with me. I hope they’ll be able to come to another some day even though I’m running out of New England states for the fifty state project. Next time I’ll carry Eben across the finish on my shoulders.
Song of the week, After the Storm by Mumford & Sons.
I decided to cut the last run of the week out of my schedule today. This leaves my total mileage at 34, six short of my weekly goal. I have a few nagging injuries (left achilles, right ankle & another slight muscle strain) and the next few weeks are going to be (very) difficult. At this point I’ll have better results from healing & resting over the next few days, so that’s what I’m doing.
Next Saturday I’ll be running the hills of the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol. The course laps Newfound Lake, runs north through a little town called Hebron to something called Sculptured Rocks, then south to the start. I was fairly confident about this race until I read this race strategy guide where the author talks up some of the hills in the early part of the race. Actually as I’m re-reading that guide right now he pretty much says there are tough hills throughout, except the last 2.2 miles. Well that’s something, anyway.
My goal for this race is very modest. If the hills are honestly bad (my personal metric for this is what I saw in Vermont at the Mad Marathon where I started laughing out loud at the hill at mile 23) then I won’t be upset with a slow time, even something over 4 hours. I’m not trying to prove anything in New Hampshire next weekend. My goal for this coming month is about consistency, and getting my legs shredded the first weekend doesn’t help that goal. Something will have to be held in reserve for Chicago, Columbus & DC. If I can roll up to NH, have fun with my family, have a nice run enjoying the hills & the foliage at the same time, that’ll be perfect, regardless of my time.
Song of the week, Song for Zula by Phosphorescent.
I got the email from Tokyo I’ve been waiting for at 4:27 this morning. The news was good – I was selected in the lottery for the 2014 Tokyo Marathon. My karma’s tight, my will is right. I’m registering & will have my flight within the week.
Look, I know, I gotta live life in the proper sequence. I want to be present in the now. There’s much on the schedule before I should be thinking about before next February. The biggest of which is the Chicago Marathon* in just (holy frick) 17 days. And Marine Corps in 31. These races are where my focus needs to be. I don’t want to be out there sleepwalking.
But dammit. Tokyo! February 2014. I can’t get into NYC or Boston to save my life but I sure as heck am going to knock this marathon major off my list. I am so friggin excited to be going back to Japan.
Schedule through next spring.
Two races reports for the price of one! A long race-tastic weekend.
Saturday: I rolled up to the North Shore for the Big Bad Wolf 5 Mile Trail Run, something I signed up a few months ago when I was feeling a little less broken. I was pretty excited about this until my friend who signed up with me dropped out, leaving me with some ambivalence about the whole thing. The race started and ended at Wolf Hollow, a very cool wolf conservation organization near my big sister’s place in Ipswich. The race itself was ostensibly a ‘trail’ event but most of the course was running on crushed gravel or around the edge of a couple big fields (dodging the occasional horse dropping). The upside of the relative non-technical nature of the trails (compared to something like the Beverly Commons race) was I could hit a faster pace throughout, finishing in 37:55 (a 7:35 split). Afterward there was free beer (Clownshoes!), pizza, music and I got to see a bunch of actual wolves. The sun was out and I found myself enjoying the whole thing despite my inherent tendencies towards dissatisfaction.
Sunday: The next morning I woke to a heavy rain, moderating my enthusiasm for the second race of the weekend, the Wilmington Half Marathon, a municipal race put on by the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been talking & thinking about this race for some time but didn’t actually commit to running it until just last Thursday (only $25!!), before I found out on Friday that rain was projected all throughout raceday. Fortunately by 9am most of the rain had stopped, leaving a nice chill & heavy cloud cover, perfect running conditions.
This was a fairly small event, 168 runners in the half. I got off to a slow start (7:54 for the first mile) but dropped my splits from there. The course started with a five mile loop, crossed over I-93 to run a few zig-zaggy miles through a neighborhood (this part was poorly marked, with a sparse enough crowd that I felt lucky to have not gotten lost), then back over the interstate at mile 8. From there it dropped a couple miles south then back north to the start. I was able to pick people off pretty consistently in the last eight miles or so, my pace for most of those being in the 7:23-7:36 range. My modest goal for this race was to a) not injure myself more before the October marathon season and b) be faster than my last half down in Easton. So while my final time (1:39:37, a 7:36 split) was not all that close to a PR (4 minutes off my pace at Run to Remember), I’m pretty happy with how things turned out. My time was good for 21st place, 5th in my age/sex group. If I can find a slightly less popular race yet I might actually place in the top three… :)
Two weeks on, Rocktober commences with the New Hampshire Marathon! My parents & Team HB are driving up for the race, for which I’m very thankful.
Thematically appropriate song of the week, Wolf from First Aid Kit.
This week was my birthday. It was pretty good, as far as upper 30′s birthdays go. I got up early on the actual day of, ran nine miles over to the North End in the lightening sky, met up with Steven for a harbor run, saw CNHB & the Byler boys then did a final six back to Allston. Went to work for a while (but didn’t stress too hard), met Suzanne & the Pender boys for lunch. Post-work hopped back to the North End for cannoli (BTW the image to the right is I believe the 10,000th photo I’ve uploaded to flickr), then met up with DHS & Katy for Indian food & drinks. Saturday was my real party, kayaking, cake, good friends & no rain. A good weekend. Better than good.
The 20 I did on Friday will be my last run of length prior to October’s marathons. I’m not tapering yet but am fairly well tuned in to several nicks & dings in my lower half that I need to address moreso than busting more hard miles. I haven’t been so careful with ‘rest & recovery’ this summer, something else I plan to address this winter. Somewhere between my December ultra & my January double marathon, I guess. (If you’re fuzzy on the ever changing race master schedule, my plan is to spend the 2nd weekend of 2014 running the Mississippi Blues Marathon in Jackson, MS followed by First Light Marathon in Mobile, AL as part of their Back2Back Challenge. Yup.
Two bits of World Marathon Majors news. Two weeks from today is the lottery drawing for the 2014 Tokyo Marathon. There were 302,442 entrants into the lottery for 30,000 spots (the odds are not ever in my favor). But for whatever reason, I remain optimistic. Unfortunately the price of flights has bumped up 20% in the last week but it’s still early, they may come back down.
The Chicago Marathon is five short weeks from this Sunday. I found out last night that my time from Nashville was fast enough to bump me from the C to the B corral. Not super important in the grand scheme of things but I’m pleased about nonetheless. It’s weird to be planning this trip to Chicago now that MV & KKV don’t live there. I’ve visited them so many times in the past but it feels different, lonely to be flying solo this time around.
A good week. Tough long run on Sunday but it’s water under the bridge & gone. No race again this week. I’ll try again with a 20 next weekend before tapering down for New Hampshire, which is four weeks away.
The most inspiring thing that happened this week was I stumbled across this documentary on youtube about a guy trying to turn himself into a 2:20 marathoner. Very interesting, if you have some time.
My song of the week is not really a great running song but it was the best thing I heard this week. Teitur, covering Great Balls of Fire.