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."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Old Dominion 100-Mile Endurance Run, and 2012 Bel Air Town Run 5K

At long last, time out from lugging heavy bags through many airports (one of which was Cleveland Hopkins - can't seem to get away from that place) to write about round 2 of my Old Dominion/Bel Air Town Run double.  For those who missed the first round, refer to this:

Why do it again?  Well, besides feeling as though I could better last year's performance, and the training benefits, this year was to be a "reunion" of sorts.  I ran my first Old Dominion 100 back in 2008, after Collin Anderson talked me into it, with Chris Avedissian crewing for us.  It was only my second 100-mile race, and the race where I met Dave Snipes.  To make a long story short, I endured brutal heat, got lost a few times, including in the last three miles, but managed to sneak in under 24 hours, totally spent.  (It was even more epic than that sentence suggested, but that's not the point here.)

Fast-forward four years, and Collin, who now lives in Utah, was coming out to run Old Dominion again, Chris was coming up from Georgia to crew, and of course, Snipes was going to be there.  Between that, and the tradition of the Bel Air Town Run (shooting for 17 consecutive finishes there), I was excited to continue a weekend of running tradition.

In the week leading up to this ridiculous double, though, my body was less excited.  I felt crummy just about every day, on every run, and I was glad that I was limiting myself to 5 or 6 miles a day, because my body wasn't having much more than that, anyway.  Wednesday midnight Collin pickup antics at BWI (with the cops aggressively forcing cars through that weren't actively picking people up), followed by an epically long last day at work on Thursday, with two late nights with my girlfriend thrown in there, and things leading up to the race weren't particularly restful.

Still, on Friday, Collin and I managed to leave Baltimore around noon, in plenty of time to stop by Whole Foods for his $7.00/gallon chocolate milk ($5.00 for the milk, plus a $2.00 bottle deposit), without any sort of scramble to get on the road, and the 2+ drive via Route 70 and Route 81 was mostly uneventful . . . except for the part where my "crew" sent me a text, around 3 pm, saying that he wasn't going to show up.  Considering that this race uses Succeed electrolyte drink, and my fueling strategy lately depends heavily on Gatorade, this was a potentially serious problem.  Fortunately, it was enough notice for me to stop at the Food Lion to pick up Gatorade and Zip-Lock bags to make drop bags, and to stop at Arby's for dinner.

With drop bags distributed, and the pre-race meeting underway, I was feeling a little better about things.  I calmly ate my Arby's roast beef and cheddar and curly fries with hummus that I had bought at Whole Foods while the race director went through the standard litany of cautions and informations (perhaps most amusing of which was NOT to call 911 at any point during the race, because three counties will show up and there will be a huge mess).  The meeting was over in less than an hour, which gave us plenty of time to organize our things for race day, set up sleeping space in the barn, and hang out with Meg and Charles, who were there to volunteer/crew.  The rain came, as predicted, but was over by 9 pm, leaving behind this rainbow:

Left to right, Collin (in the barn), Charles, Meg, and Lynne, demonstrating a 75% rate of marveling at the double-rainbow.

In other pre-race silliness, in a video that needs no further explanation, Collin was tending to other things:

It turned out that only four of us (Collin, Meg, Charles, and me) were sleeping in the barn - far less than usual, and since we were sort of our own quasi-cohesive group, we could make group decisions such as "turning all the lights off" and "not making lots of noise during the night" so that we could all get some sleep.  We all went to bed a little after 9 pm, and, besides a brief bathroom break at around 1 am, I slept soundly, arguably some of the best sleep that I had all week.

We didn't really need alarms, because shortly after 3 am, people started entering the barn and checking in.  Since everything had been piled neatly the night before, there was no "scramble to get my stuff together" fiasco, and I had plenty of time to put on clothes, A&D ointment (except on my nipples - oops), and eat potato chips before the start of the race.

After a brief prayer, as is custom at the race, we were off for our lap around the fairgrounds, with little fanfare.  Although I had weighed in sort of heavy (138 lbs), I was feeling relatively light and springy, considering that it was 4 am, and compared to how I had been feeling all last week.  I led the charge, with another two runners nearby, and this neck-and-neck race continued through town and up most of the climb on Woodstock Tower Road.  It might be sort of silly to run up this, but it is a "road-grade" climb, and I ran up it last year, so, whatever, I ran up it, and dropped one runner, but the other runner, Oliver Leblond, continued to chase me, and, from the sound of it, he was chasing hard.  We crested the climb and I started bombing down the other side, and he continued the chase.  I wasn't sure how long he could keep this up (I had never run with him before), but it was going to be an interesting race . . .

Especially since at this point, disaster almost struck.  At the bottom of the hill, we reached Boyer, where we were directed to "go up the road, make a left onto the trail, run the trail loop, and come back to the aid station."  My memories of the early parts of the race are fuzzy, so as we ran down the road, and it got to be a few more minutes without a marker than were comfortable, the thought occurred to us that we might have been going the wrong way.  But I spotted an orange flag, so we continued up the road, and eventually, we found a double-orange flag that signaled the trail turn-off.  We climbed the winding, technical trail, only to discover, in horror, three runners coming TOWARDS us . . . they had thought they were the leaders, because they were breaking cobwebs.  Oliver was confused, but I immediately realized that, since there were no arrows on the ground, we had mistakenly entered the loop where we were supposed to exit, and were now running the loop backwards.  Panic set in - would we have to re-run the loop?

In any case, it made sense to finish out the loop, since if we had to re-run it, we would have to go back to where we got off course (which was the entrance to the loop).  After lots of reassuring oncoming runners that they were going the right way, we made it back to Boyer, where Ray, the race director, was sitting on his truck, directing us left.  Oliver talked to him, and he let us continue, since we had run the same distance, and correctly followed the ambiguous directions (we were technically not wrong, since there were no arrows indicating the direction of the loop; there were, however, arrows throughout the rest of the course, painted on the ground).  I imagine that they will paint arrows on the ground on this part of the course next year.

At any rate, with that minor catastrophe resolved, we ran together to the first crew stop, where Chris was waiting for me.  My bottles were empty, and somehow, my drop bag hadn't made it there - minor catastrophe #2.  Fortunately, Chris Wilde, a runner from Baltimore who was crewing another runner, had a jug of blue Gatorade that he was willing to share, so I was able to leave the aid station with one bottle of Gatorade, and one bottle of gross Succeed drink (which I eventually dumped).  Half a banana and some Coke later, I was heading down the road.

For the next 13 or so miles of road, Oliver and I ran closely together.  Sometimes he would get ahead, and then I would catch up (at one point, he ran off the road, distracted by extraneous orange flags on somebody's property, which led him partway up a grassy hill), but he was starting to put distance on my by pretty much blowing through the aid stations, while I was taking a minute or so to drink a Coke and/or eat a few banana chunks.  I was feeling good on this fueling strategy, and reasoned that he couldn't possibly keep skipping the aid without crashing.  Plus, this was apparently his first 100-mile race (or so he said, in some sort of accent), and he was running with me because he was "crazy."

As I neared Four Points, at around 33 miles, Oliver had pulled out of sight, and now, entering one of the more difficult sections of the race, I had to decide how hard to push.  Ultimately, I decided that with about 2/3rds of the race left to run, it would probably be better to run a little conservatively, in the hopes that Oliver would blow up.  I ran so conservatively here, in fact, that the third-place runner, Mike Mason, briefly caught and passed me at around mile 44, on the gravel road back to Four Points.  Fortunately, I gambled that he was running too hard too early, and that the tougher stuff ahead (particularly the ATV trail) would get the best of him, and I won that round . . . eventually, coming downhill on the ATV trail, I passed him.  But on the return to Four Points, Carter (who had taped my bleeding nipples on the way out) commented that I had slowed down, and seemed concerned (although I wasn't too concerned), and nobody was talking about where the leader was, so I got the feeling that people were thinking that he was totally out of reach.

And so it went for the rest of the race.  I stuck with my Gatorade/Coke/bananas fueling strategy, and kept plugging along - the temperatures never got much about 75 degrees, and with the shade and the breeze, the conditions were very forgiving (which may have inadvertently made Oliver's race strategy a good one - going out too hard in the typical Old Dominion heat tends to be a recipe for disaster).  I felt pretty good the whole way, but I never had any indication of how far ahead Oliver was, and, in retrospect, maybe I should have asked.  Because by the time curiosity got the better of me (just past mile 90), it turned out that he was about 15 minutes ahead - apparently I had been shrinking his half-hour gap for a while.  I charged as hard as I could in the last 9 miles, but it was too little, too late - in town, with about a mile and a half to go, I saw the lead Jeep coming at me, and I knew that he had finished.  So I slowed down and pretty much walked the rest of the race, costing me about 15 minutes on my finishing time, but since I was solidly in second place, I wasn't terribly concerned (room for improvement next year, right?)

Chris and Henry were the only people waiting for me at the still-darkening finish line.  Chris took pictures of me (I'm sure my nipple-bleed looked great), and Henry recorded my time:

Old-school Old Dominion Results Sheet

17 hours, 46 minutes, 58 seconds later, I was finished, and shortly afterwards, I was on the road back to Baltimore.  The intermission between races at my girlfriend's apartment is worth mentioning:  I drove back in the clothes that I wore during the race, nipple-bleed on my shirt, number still pinned to my shorts.  She lives just up the street from a club in downtown Baltimore, so on a Saturday night, parking is scarce, and I was forced to park about three blocks away from her apartment. Just as I was parking, the police arrived and began clearing the club, due to some sort of physical altercation on the premises, so I was walking towards a parade of evacuated clubgoers in my gross running clothes.  You would think that the first thing somebody would have commented on was my nipple bleed, but it was actually the second - the first comment was from a guy who said "dang, you been running?"  I smiled and said, "yeah, a little bit."  But the height of this experience was when two police officers stopped me a block away from my destination and said "are your nipples bleeding, sir?"  I explained that I had been running and that it was no big deal, and once they were satisfied that I was not injured in the club brawl, they let me go.  (And things like this are why I do things like that.)

And . . . on to Act 2, the Bel Air Town Run.  Last year, I was pretty much crippled, and it took me over 25 minutes to finish the run, but the important thing was the finish.  This year, I finished Old Dominion nearly 2 hours faster, and felt better after the race, so I figured I could at least go slightly faster than last year.  I had a nice little "reunion" prior to the race with my family (all of whom came out to watch), and some friends from high school (Pete DeCapite and Patrick Early), which helped me feel a little less terrible about three more miles under these conditions.

The weather remained cooperative, though, and I optimistically lined up near the front of the pack, to discover that once the race started, my legs loosened up, and I was running reasonably fast (albeit not entirely comfortably).  I went through the first (downhill? short?) mile in 6:58, according to the clock on the course, and was not feeling as though I had totally spent myself, so I just went with it, kept passing the people in front of me, and, in what seemed like a comically short amount of time after 17+ hours of rugged trail running, I was at the finish line, 21 minutes and 47 seconds later:

Snuck through the crowd and snapped a picture of the results.

The "after-party" at the Town Run was better still - it seemed like everywhere I turned, somebody I knew was there hanging out, wanting to talk about running (including Brien Christesen, another friend from high school, with his wife and children). It was sort of surreal, since so many years have passed since high school, but being back there, where the Town Run has been every year, made things feel, in an odd way, like they hadn't changed at all.

And speaking of "not changing," we all waited patiently through the traditional long age-group awards, and then the more-to-the-point overall awards for the bike raffle, and, for the 17th consecutive year, I did not win the bike.  Oh well, better luck next year.  Then it was back to my parents' house for shower, food, and a ride to the airport, so I can spend two weeks at Fort Leavenworth learning about . . . um, something, I forget.  I hope there are good places to run here!

All in all, a satisfying weekend of upholding running traditions, making new memories, and, in some cases, squeezing Hi-C boxes into empty gallon jugs of water.  And I don't feel cripplingly bad . . . maybe I'll continue a tradition, and go running again today. :)