Sunday, June 10, 2012

Week in Review: 3-9 June 2012, and Maryville Marathon/KU Field Trip Report

Numbers, numbers:

3 June: 3.1 miles (5 kilometers), 21 minutes, 47 seconds - the Bel Air Town Run - followed by an uncomfortable amount of walking around airports with heavy bags

4 June: 1 mile (10 minutes) easy - shaking off the jet lag

5 June: 6 miles (45 minutes), around the KCI Airport, strangely enough, on Tel Aviv Road

6 June: 2 miles (20 minutes) easy - feeling tired

7 June: 7 miles (50 minutes) at lunch at Fort Leavenworth, then another 5 miles (35 minutes) around the KCI Airport in the evening

8 June: 2 miles (20 minutes) - staying "loose" for the marathon, whatever that means

9 June: 28-ish miles (230-ish minutes) - Maryville Marathon, plus warm-up/warm-down - ouchies.

Total Time: 422(ish) minutes
Total Distance: 54(ish) miles

A "recovery" week from the Old Dominion 100, with signs of life towards the end (even though the marathon felt like death - more about that later).  Hopefully the upward mileage trend will continue this week - lots of miles, and a little bit of speedwork, is the plan from now until Badwater.

Now, the report, because when you take a field trip, you don't get away without a report to the class:

Before my forcible two weeks at Leavenworth (fortunately, not the actual prison - just the figurative prison of work-related training), I poked around online to figure out what there was to do there.  Naturally, running-related activities topped the list.  The Maryville Marathon was scheduled for my "weekend off," and maybe afforded me an outside chance to post a Boston Qualifying time for 2013.  (Emphasis on "outside," as it would be a week after the Old Dominion 100.)  But whatever, either way, it was a training run and an adventure, and an affordable one (only $40) at that.  Sold.

It was distinctly uncomfortable to wake up at 4:10 a.m. on Saturday morning, even though somehow I woke up before my alarm went off.  Chalk that up to falling asleep immediately after a prolonged Skype session with the girl I miss probably too much, in spite of the fact that I didn't eat dinner.  I really wasn't hungry then, and I wasn't hungry when I woke up.  Mostly, I was wondering why on earth I signed up for this.

At least the drive was easy, since there's pretty much only one road between Kansas City and Maryville.  And at my gas stop, when I walked into the convenience store to buy gas-station-style breakfast, a woman remarked "I have a man, but, damn, you have some sexy-ass legs."  Compliments are always nice, right?  (That was her strategy, anyway.)  Mostly, I was hoping that my vaguely tired legs wouldn't make the marathon too much of an ordeal.

When I arrived at the parking lot near the start, things were pretty much as I expected - probably about 150 people at most, across the 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon.  The sparse crowd made it easy to take a leisurely jog over to the packet pickup, pin my bib to my shirt, jog back to the car to drop off the rest of my packet, then jog to the starting line, with about five minutes to spare.  At the starting line, the previous winners of the race were sizing people up, and deciding that they would probably win again, and there was no need to fight.  Knowing that the winner was a 2:30-ish marathon guy (at least based on prior years' results), there was a vague race for second or third (and money) that I might have a shot at.

Within two miles of the haphazard start, it became apparent that I did not have a shot at all.  Although I went through the first two miles in 13:40, and didn't feel particularly bad, the course was very hilly, and lingering fatigue from last weekend had me feeling as though I had worked a little too hard for that split.  As I watched the distance between myself and the third-place runner grow, I knew this would be a war of attrition.  Sure enough, at five miles, I was barely holding on, at 35:30, a bit above 7-minute-mile pace now.

Pause for a second, to consider the following:

The Maryville Marathon Elevation Chart
I'll do the math for you: about 825 feet of gain/loss per loop.  That's about 1650 feet of gain/loss for the marathon.  Or, to put it in 100-mile run perspective (where these numbers tend to mean something), a little over 6000 feet of gain/loss for 100 miles on this course.  That puts it on the "low" end of the 100-mile run hierarchy in terms of gain/loss, but this is a 'low" end on a spectrum consisting primarily of mountain races.  So this course is mildly mountainous as an ultramarathon, but highly mountainous as a marathon.  (For a little perspective on that, here are some gain/loss numbers from some well-known marathons: . . . pretty much anything that doesn't have "mountain" in the title, or takes place near a mountain, comes in at about half that total gain/loss, and there are quite a few significantly "net downhill" marathons in the list.)

Enough detail, the point is, if you're trying to run a "fast" marathon, this is probably not the place to do it, especially on tired legs.  The long climb from a little past the 5-mile mark to a little past the 8-mile mark is particularly onerous, since you're running on the shoulder of a highway, which admittedly allows you pleasant scenery, but not when 18-wheelers are careening past you at breakneck speeds, as most vehicles tend to do on poorly-patrolled roads.  It was a minor miracle when I came through the half marathon in around 1:39 - having any sort of shot at sub-3:20 at the rate I was going seemed like insanity.

And of course, it was, because the second half of the marathon, being another loop of the same thing, except somehow both hotter and windier than the first time around, was significantly more painful than the first.  I got passed a bunch of times here, including by a pack of three runners who all looked disturbingly comfortable.  To my credit, I did put my head down and soldier along briskly enough to pass one person back in the last three miles, and hold my lead on him, but it wasn't quite good enough - 3:32 and some seconds, 10th overall, 4th in my age group - many places out of the money, and one painful place (and about 5 minutes) out of a relatively meaningless age group award.  At least there were chairs and all the cold chocolate milk you could drink just past the finish line.

I realize that a lot of this might sound overly negative.  But I'm not as negative about this experience as all of the above might suggest.  Even though the race was sparsely populated and generously challenging, and I didn't quite handle all of that as well as I would have ideally, it was nonetheless a good training run on a beautiful day, and eventually, I was finished and could claim sweet repose in the grass (well, sweet repose slightly agitated by weird sticky seed pods that dug into my back and pinched, but sweeter than struggling up another hill, right?)

My unintentionally color-coordinated post-marathon crash in the grass.

So with that behind me, it was time to wander my way back to town, where Thai food was waiting for me, and eventually to the River District in Kansas City, where the multi-ethnic open-air market will go down in my mind as the best-smelling place ever - every sort of exotic spice, mixed together, over the background smell of America.

The next day, since I had nothing in particular to do, I wandered my way down to the University of Kansas cross-country course, which is sort of legendary, since it was prime training ground for American champion runners Billy Mills and Jim Ryun.  It's just north of Lawrence, Kansas, and apparently in the middle of nowhere, unless you know where to look for it.

At this point, pictures are better than words:

The approach, on a gravel road - the tiny black sillhoutte gives it away.

Billy Mills in the foreground, Jim Ryun in the background.

More beautiful than difficult here (but it has its challenges)

After a 7.5-mile loop on the gravel roads surrounding the course, and a running tour of the 8K cross-country course, I was delighted to feel as though I had discovered the pinnacle of "pleasantly exhausted," the Lydiardian goal of all "easy" running.  Amidst the rolling terrain, in the 95-degree heat, on a partly-cloudy day, I felt appropriately challenged at all points during the run.  It brought back memories of training for cross-country in the heat, on rural roads and grassy fields, the feel of plush training shoes crunching on gravel, of spikes digging into grass and dirt, the pain and pleasure of exerting against conditions that are just enough more difficult than roads to challenge you to attack them at a full-on run, in contrast to mountain running, where often "give up and walk fast" is the order of the day.  It's easy to see how countless "easy" loops on a course like this bred some of the best American runners.

Which brings me to the point of all of this, if there is one.  Results this weekend?  Not so exciting, other than perhaps to note that the last time I attempted a marathon so soon after a 100-mile run, I ran Baltimore, a week after the Grindstone 100, in 3:40, so this was nearly 10 minutes faster on a significantly harder course. But that's mostly academic, compared to the struggle and the effort.  It was at times uncomfortable, at times downright painful, and all-around a constant challenge.  But looking at the sillhouttes on the KU course, I felt comfort in the struggle, because the feeling that I got on the course was that constantly rising to a constant challenge is what breeds champions.  And with about four solid weeks of training before Badwater, that's the mantra . . . because you can't say "pleasantly exhausted" without the word "pleasantly."

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