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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Race Report: The ORRRC Marathon

I wasn't originally trying to front load my race schedule, it just kind of happened that way. Some races I signed up for because they sounded fun, some because I have a score to settle, or in other cases I enjoyed it before and am now a repeat customer. I signed up for the ORRRC marathon for only two reasons. One, it was only $25, which is like 75% off of what most marathons cost. Two, I misread the title and I could have sworn I was signed up to run a Lord of the Rings themed marathon, where orcs would chase me down the course. Sadly when I showed up at the starting line, I looked a little out of place dressed like Aragorn.

I thought the two gingers were Rohirrim... you know... the horse people.

The website for this race made the claim that it was Ohio's oldest marathon, and that they proudly offered a no frills, bare bones race. Honestly this sounded kind of nice, because I don't need half the crap  they do at marathons... live bands every mile, fitness expos, overpriced pictures and souveniers, or even the pre race dinners and after parties. I run because I really love running, all the other add ons don't appeal to me, I don't run for novelties like putting a 26.2 sticker on my car or getting a custom plaque with my finishing time engraved on it.

Training in between Shamrock and the ORRRC went well, I did a couple longer runs around 12-15 miles and kept up with the low fast miles. I knew I was going to be faster at ORRRC, I just didn't know by how much. I felt pretty confident going into race weekend, despite it only being two weeks after the last one. On a side note... I really think my recent conversion to vegetarianism is paying off. My recovery time and endurance seems to be increasing in a significant way. 

I worked the night before, but still did really well with my race eve caloric intake, much more effecient than the beer I drank before Shamrock. I know what you're thinking and I know you're judging me right now... but come on! It's still carbs and the race was sponsored by Yuengling for cryin' out loud!

I got up at some ungodly hour the morning of the race after taking in about 5 hours of sleep. Even though the race started at 8AM, it was still at least an hours drive from my apartment, and I had no idea what the check-in process would be like or how long it would take.

Very happy to be up at 5AM.

I of course arrived to check in an hour early and was in yet another predicament concerning my attire. It was in the low 30's when I got out of my car, but it was a really dry cold, so very manageable. Then I overheard that the wind was supposed to pick up a bit, so I went from singlet to singlet with my jacket... which AGAIN ended up being tied around my waist. Check in was effortless, so I ended up just sitting in my car for a long while sipping on some Speedway coffee. 

The starting line was behind the local YMCA in Xenia, and with significantly less than 200 runners I was really glad I didn't get lost, because you definitely could have driven past without knowing anything was going on. I knew my friend Mikayla from the Bigfoot 50K was running too, but hadn't seen her yet. I did recognize her fiance among the spectators who inadvertently (just kidding, it was probably intentional) took a picture of my ass.

Downtown District in the Sprawling Metropolis of Xenia, OH

I started out very slowly, just trying to warm up my legs a bit, then not very far in I recognized Mikayla's "Mad to Live" tattoo, and pulled alongside to say hi, see what her goal was, etc. I didn't feel comfortable being seen running alongside a dwarf, or umm midget, whatever they like to be called... I can't remember, so I said my goodbyes and picked up my pace. 

The course turned a few times through town, with slight inclines here and there before hitting a long stretch of road that led to a bike path. I was within seconds of the same pace I had at the start of Shamrock and playing strategies off of some of the people around me. I eventually settled into a group of four guys that had a comfortable pace. Being the marathon runner I am, I didn't check the course map at all before the race, so I had no idea of where anything was. I soon lost my pace group as they were just running the half. After they, and pretty much everyone around me, split off to the left I was alone for a good portion of time, but could see two runners way ahead of me. The game I played for the next hour was to catch them. This actually became a really great idea, and kept me from slacking off in my pace.

The course then left the bike path, joined back up with the road and did a wide loop past several farms. This portion was really enjoyable and almost nostalgic for me because it reminded me of doing my 3 mile loops back home in rural Pennsylvania. Early into the loop I had caught the first of the two runners I had been chasing, paced with him for several miles until we came back around, and then I let him pass me, his pace was just a bit too fast to be comfortable and I couldn't find my breathing rhythm for some reason.

Not too much longer after I let him pass I hit the bike trail again and finally reached the half way point. From then on it really seemed like I was on a normal long run, and I wasn't really concerned with anything. This made for an enjoyable second half, where I joked with aid station volunteers, bullshitted with fellow runners who were either in more pain than I was or taking the race much more seriously than me because they weren't as happy go lucky. Up until the last few few miles I was very much in my running induced state of extreme happiness.

Towards the end as it approached 11:45 AM I knew that my super supportive and beautiful girlfriend Kayla and her son Braxton, were probably just getting into Xenia to see me cross the finish line. This brought me quite a bit of motivation to maintain my pace, but I could feel the cramps coming on, and there was nothing I could do about that.

Adding on to everything I was continually looking at my watch, trying to do the math of my projected finish. I knew I was really close to being on pace to breaking 3:40 for the first time. I shed my jacket for the final 6 miles, started aggressively using my remaining gels, and pounding water. The cramps kept coming and I kept being reduced to a walking pace during the home stretch. I was passed by 3 or 4 women in the last few miles (which after checking the results I saw that they were actually the front running females, so I didn't feel too bad.) and was largely by myself.

I came off the bike path, with under a mile to go, and ran with a gimpy stride towards the YMCA finish line. The cramping was so significant that my MOH run didn't look nearly as bad ass as it usually does, and I took an extra kick in the balls when I looked up at the clock to see that I was probably not going to get my PR.

My official time was 3:42:56 which is 1:58 slower than my current PR... BUT it was a solid 6 minutes faster than VA Beach just two weeks prior. Honestly, with my race schedule being so packed this year and having three more shots at running a marathon PR, I am quite pleased with where I'm at.


Official Time: 3:42:56 @ 8:31/mi

43rd of 168 Overall
36th of 123 Men
3rd of 6 Men 18-24

1st 6mi:  44:15 @ 7:23/mi in 19th place (This pisses me off, clearly I need to work on consistency)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Race Report: The Shamrock Yuengling Marathon and TowneBank 8K

At the end of 2010 I began to carefully outline my race schedule for the coming year. My plan was to fill in large gaps between my must-do races with others that seemed like they could be fun. My reasoning was simple... I'm lazy when it comes to training, so I figured the packed schedule would keep me motivated and reduce my mindset of procrastination.

My friend Meredith from work told me I should check out the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. Her sister is a fellow runner and had mentioned to her that she really had a lot of fun participating in it a few years back. I wasn't completely sold on the idea at first because of the driving distance from Ohio, but once I found out it was sponsored by Yuengling, my decision was all but made. When I went online to register, I saw like many marathons, that it was an entire weekend of events. A liberally promoted competition was the "Whale Challenge", which basically means you would run the 8K on Saturday and also compete in the full marathon on Sunday. I have never run any competitive distance shorter than a marathon since high school track, so an 8K didn't sound all that attractive... but the word challenge coupled with the fact I needed a nice short shake out run before the marathon was. So I signed up for both.

The last time I raced was at the Bigfoot 50K in early December where I essentially ran on a supposedly broken/sprained ankle. After that I took quite a bit of time off to heal up for this year and then started from scratch. Almost all my runs in January were 3-5 miles long and increasingly fast. I've ran marathons on pretty sporadic/nonexistent training before so I decided to see how well I could do if I only trained with short fast mileage. Someone asked me the other day if I think marathons are easy since I have done ultras... my confidence in not following any remotely orthodox marathon training for the Shamrock wasn't because I think marathons are easy, because I have repeatedly failed my goals in running them, but I do know that any time I toe the line in a marathon, I will finish it.

So by the time it came to the weekend of Shamrock I had only ran two "long" runs of 14 miles apiece. However my training log was filled with runs that were some of my fastest since I started keeping track of them. I really began to wonder if I could see a strong marathon finish as a result of my experiment but it also made me much more interested in the 8K than I would have otherwise been.

This whole adventure was going to be done without a posse of supporters, which is a rare situation, because typically I have other runners traveling with me as well as friends to support us. I hate going to races alone, because I'm not outgoing enough to make weekend long friendships, and there is nothing to distract me from the pre-race anxiety. I found out not long in advance that a couple of the Marines I served with in Iraq would be running as well, both of whom I have spent some memorable miles with in the past. Chongo was leading a group of runners in memory of the Marines from 1/8 lost in Fallujah and Sgt. Huffman was running in memory of LCpl. Jourdan Grez. Also quite a number of acquaintances from Team X-T.R.E.M.E and Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness were going to be in the area for the races. So I ended up not being nearly as much of a lone wolf as I had anticipated, which was quite a blessing.

I worked a double going into Friday morning of race weekend, partly to make up hours I would be missing for the trip and partly to get my insomnia in check for a few days so I would be able to sleep before the race. This made the 13 hour drive to Virginia Beach almost intolerable to do solo. By the time I got to my hotel I had been up close to 40 hours and still had to get to the expo for packet pickup. I must say this about the expo... I have never participated in a race that had such a well organized packet pickup process. The logistics guy running this thing has something figured out that he needs to pass along to other RD's.

After getting my bib numbers, t-shirts, goodie bags, and some gel packs I headed back to the hotel to finally sleep.

TowneBank 8K

This is what I call "Combat Readiness"
I woke up Saturday morning 10 minutes before my alarm, feeling like a million bucks, and ready to run the 8K. I put on my gear and headed out the door at a quarter till 7, not sure how long it would take me to walk to the start line of the 8K. I ended up being nearly an hour early, but with the race starting in plain view of the Atlantic Ocean, I wasn't too upset. I'm not much of a water guy, but there is something really enchanting about looking out onto the water and not being able to fathom where it ends.

Watching the sun rise over the ocean is a hell of a way to start your morning.
Introverted as ever, I didn't utter a word at the race start. I was content to do so, I was just happy to be racing again. I didn't realize how much I missed the atmosphere surrounding a race, the slight apprehension welling up in my stomach, the fun of sizing up the people around you and wondering which of them will be be ahead of you and which will be behind once the race starts.

The 8K Starting Line

The start was staggered by corral, which was really nice. When you have thousands of people running down the street, it typically takes some time to really get into a fluid and comfortable pace, the staggered start really reduced the crowding. I quickly found some runners that seemed to be running a similar pace as myself, probably just around 7:00/mile and stayed close by them for the duration of the 8K. Going South on the long thin loop course wasn't the most scenic, but it felt like we were running on a slightly downward slope, and definitely had the wind pushing us. At the turn we headed a block to the East, putting us on the boardwalk as we ran North. I have never drafted in a race before, for two simple reasons, one is that it had never even occurred to me and two is I have never been in a race where I would have needed to. Apparently it's really windy near the ocean, which I wasn't aware of since this was at most only the 3rd or 4th time I had been to the beach. Heading North between the beach and all the oceanfront hotels was like running into a tropical storm. I quickly realized it was much more efficient to run behind and slightly to the left of someone until I could pass them and pick up another runner to draft off of. One of the reasons I prefer ultras is that I love the strategy that you have to implement to make it through. This wasn't exactly on that level, but it did provide an exciting element that I had no anticipation of. Just before Neptune Park where we would later cross the finish line heading South, we took two quick turns to head back onto Atlantic Avenue, this time heading North. This was where I started to lose my legs a bit and I had to intentionally make sure I kept my form from going to hell. I had probably under a mile to go, so I just needed to maintain a brisk pace until the finish line was in view where I would burn up the speed I knew I could still get out of my legs. I looked around me and saw that a few of the guys I was pacing off of in the beginning were still with me, so I knew I had been fairly consistent with my speed. Making the final turn to head South back down the boardwalk, this time with the wind in my favor and the finish line in sight, I let it all out.

This was my "Medal of Honor" run.

To my great surprise, one of the original guys I had started with joined me, so it was a mad dash to an epic end. I crossed the finish line at 34:41 with my late opponent just a second behind, both finishing the 8K with a sub-7:00/mile pace. Once we caught I breath from the sprint, we congratulated one another and wished each other luck in the next days race, as we were both competing in the "Whale Challenge".

Yuengling Marathon

Prepping for marathon morning started out well, I felt rested, had plenty of time, and was fairly calm about what the next few hours would bring. Then I walked outside. It was freezing and the wind was nothing short of ridiculous. I hate dressing for a race when you know the weather is probably going to change a half dozen times during the run. You wear too much and then you end up carrying clothes or dropping them somewhere, never to be seen again... you wear too little and you feel like you are going to lose body parts to frostbite or die of hypothermia a couple hours into the race. I shook my fist at the sky, cursed, then headed back up to my room to put something else on. I went with the longs sleeve Brooks uniform and my jacket, then headed to the starting line with a cup of thickest coffee I've ever drank.

My Original Choice, Thwarted By Wind

The marathon starting line was several blocks further up than the 8K was, but I still made it up there a full hour before I needed to. This time I didn't have the ocean to look at, but I did get to watch the half marathon kick off at 7AM. I honestly thought both races started together, so I had an hour to kill. I honestly have never been so close to deciding not to race, the wind was unbearably cold. Runners were piling into random stores, hotel lobbies, and even parking garages to escape the elements. I found refuge inside a 7-Eleven where I spent a good 30 minutes waiting to buy a pop tart and a small coffee. Nearing the 8AM start we were told there would be a 15 minute delay to avoid course conflicts with the half marathoners, but thankfully by that time the sun had started to rise enough to dissipate some of the chilly air.

I hung out at the start line near the 3:40 pacers, figuring I would hang out there to start and then work my way up as we went on. They staggered the start, just as they did with the 8K, so the first mile was really smooth. We headed South on Atlantic Ave with a tailwind, and then made a sharp West turn away from the ocean, and towards more neighborhood-like areas. Except for a slight incline on a bridge, the course was consistently flat, having no perceivable elevation changes. Somewhere between mile 4 and 5, we started to see the front runners coming the other way from the turnaround. I love courses where this happens, I love seeing the rock stars of the event flying past, it's kind of an amazing thing to witness. It was about this time that I began to catch up with the 3:30 pacers and decided I needed to remove my jacket, which then became an annoying mass tied around my waist. By the race end, just as I predicted, I was wishing I had just manned up and worn just a singlet, because it had gotten warm enough that the long sleeve uniform was even too much. Just as I began to wonder how Huffman and Chongo were doing, I passed them coming the other way, Huffman about 10 minutes and Chongo about 25 minutes behind me. We exchanged some spirited war cries and oorahs, and went on with business. I had fought the urge to stop to piss up until this point, but decided it was better to get it over with and I stopped for about 15 seconds just after mile 7.

I don't know why all those dudes are looking at my butt.

I was feeling really great at this point, I usually break down races in my mind to smaller distances, 7 is usually my first mental checkpoint in a marathon because it means I have less than 20 to go. The timing station at mile 7 clocked me at 53:25 which is a 7:38 pace, which I was more than happy with. The next stretch took us through Camp Pendleton, which I believe is some sort of multi purpose Naval base. There was a good amount of crowd support from the squids, which helped me maintain the pace I was on before we headed back over to Atlantic Ave. Going against the wind at this point wasn't as bad as it would have been a few hours earlier, but I definitely had to give a little more thought to my form with the added resistance. A few miles up I saw Elijah and Jeremy, two fellow Marines of like mind in the crowd. They typically race with gas masks on to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project and are heavily involved with military charities and other pretty bad ass stuff, so it was a good morale boost as I neared the half way mark.

The half way point was just a few blocks North of where we started at, so I began to envision the course outline as a figure-8, knowing the first half had been pretty good to me I was still confident. I knew I had about 7 miles before heading South again to the finish line. I hit the half at 1:40:16, running at about a 7:40 pace... just a hair from what I had maintained in the first 7... this was a good sign.

We again passed the front runners coming the other way a few more miles up, on their way to marathon times I will never aspire to. (The winner finished with a time of 2:18:24, that's a 5:17/mi pace.) We left Atlantic Ave. around mile 16 and headed down a road that was nice and shady with trees lining both sides. I loved this section, because by this time the runners were distributed pretty nicely along the course and it just felt like I was on a nice long run by myself. I knew I was still doing pretty well on time, because I had long ago passed the 3:30 pace group and hadn't seen them for quite some time. Nearing mile 18 I began to get nervous, because my wall in marathons is ALWAYS at mile 18. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me when I hit it, because I have run much further in ultras before hitting it, and have gone on longer training runs without issue. I debated in my head why this could be, and I decided that it was more my mind playing tricks than it was an actual physical breakdown. There was no way I was going to let it hit me this time.

As I passed mile 18 I was clocked at 2:21:05, still on pace for a good finish with 8.2 miles to go, but I was definitely slowing down and my average pace dropped 10 seconds/mile slower. I ran with intent, trying to reach the point when everyone cheering you on yells out "Just a 10K left, just a 10K!" That's the mental checkpoint where I think about the last 6.2 miles like it's my river trail loop of a similar distance that I do for my junk miles at home.

At mile 21 the I saw the 3:30 pace group for the first time since probably mile 5 as they passed by me. I couldn't keep up with them for long, but my legs were still moving. I figured I had to just keep running as well as I felt comfortable with, then use anything I had left on the last two or three miles. Just past mile  22 my right calf locked up, which I tried to run through, but then came the left, and then my quads. I had been popping gels regularly, but I've raced enough to know that I should have been doing it with far more frequency, and in hindsight I probably hadn't hydrated well enough either. All good things to think about, but it was a little late for that now. I came to a very painful walking pace, trying to unknot my muscles on the move.

This is what I call "Epic Walking"

I walked for about 5 minutes, being passed up by familiar faces that were returning the favor from earlier. I wondered then if I should just keep walking until Huffman caught up to me so we could finish together, but then as the the 3:40 group passed without him among the runners I thought he might be having a similar calamity as I. Seeing the 3:40 group made me suck it up and start running again, I have only had one marathon outside of the 3:40's and it was because of a pulled groin, so there was no way I wanted to let this one go, when there wasn't a really good reason for a poor finish.

I couldn't catch the 3:40 group as hard as I tried. Any good stretch of running ended with me cramping up and being forced to walk. As soon as the cramps unknotted even a little bit I would start running again. This continued until the very last mile where I looked back, not seeing the 3:50 group I stopped, stretched my calves on the curb, drank the last of my water, and then ran through the cramping for the last mile, with my burst of speed at the end. I've never finished a marathon in any other fashion than balls to the wall, and this was no exception.

I was murmuring curse words in between breaths at this point.

I finished with a time of 3:48:52 which I wasn't exactly thrilled about, particularly with how well I ran the first 18 miles. It was however my 4th marathon finish, a solid start to a promising year of racing, and if nothing else... a very good training run for what's to come. The depressing part is when I figured out my pace from mile 18 to the finish... 8.2 miles at a "I want to slit my wrists" rate of 10:43/mile.

You wouldn't think someone would trust any of us with weapons.
Clearly the short fast training runs helped make me a bad ass in the first 18 but I, like the Steelers in every game last year, I just couldn't finish. Here's to room for improvement and many chances for redemption!