Sunday, December 12, 2010

Race review: Tucson Marathon

Mixed. My goal of 3:15:59 slipped away over the last three miles, but my time of 3:19:18 was a PR by 19:19. Granted, this was only my second full marathon, and 2nd-timers tend to lop off some pretty remarkable chunks of time, but that shows I learned something from last time.

Based on my single goal of qualifying for Boston, no. But in the official sense, I did win -- I was 1st out of 14 35-year-olds. Overall I was 82nd of 1075 finishers, 70th of 597 men and 13th of 78 in my age group.

I pretty much locked arms with the 3:15 pacer and off we went. My race plan was to conserve some energy over the first 5 miles, which included some rolling hills after the initial steep descent. Once we got to the main road, then I could open it up and start ticking off some fast downhill splits.

Well, pacer Matt had different ideas. (Just for the record, I say none of this with a harsh tone -- the guy hit 3:15 on the dot so not getting there is my fault, not his.) He wanted to bank some time over the first 10 miles, then give it back over the difficult section from 10 to 13.5, before staying more or less on goal until 23, then banking a little more time for the tough uphill finish.

That plan went as advertised. Matt encouraged us all up the few tough hills through mile 5. We started at 4800 feet and were still around 4400 through 5, but I didn't feel all that taxed. We did clock a few pretty quick miles before turning onto the out-and-back on Biosphere Road.

Navigating the halfpipe-shaped section made for a pretty tough intermission. We saw the leaders coming back in the other direction, but I didn't bother to count because I couldn't have cared less about what place I finished in. In fact, beyond my goal time, I was mostly concerned about some stomach pain I was developing. I wasn't sure if it was from the amount I was drinking or the actual drink (more on this later), but I tried just not to think about it until it eventually went away. We passed the line at 13.1 in 1:37:20, putting us 10 seconds ahead of 3:15 pace -- a cushion that evaporated by the time we got back to the highway.

By now the pace group was starting to dwindle. We dropped a few folks, while a few others took off in front of us. I chatted a little with Matt, feeling good that I was strong enough for conversation (at my debut at the Route 66, I already knew by the halfway mark that the end was nigh). We stayed on our goal pace, coming within a second or so of the 7:24 target for a few more miles.

Mile 18 was a big one for me, as that was where I had hit the wall before. There was really no danger of that happening today, and that mile passed easily, along with the next couple.

At about 19.5, the course veered from west to south and leveled off some. There was a little wind in our faces on occasion but nothing like the headwind from 2009. With just 4 or 5 folks left in the 3:15 group, Matt turned to me a little more frequently to encourage me along. I needed it because I could sense I'd have to start gutting it out to get to the finish. He shared the plan to speed up for mile 24, and I started thinking about that 59-second cushion that Boston allows.

It would end up not mattering, though. Things started getting away quickly on mile 24, and when I turned to head up the sizable two-tiered hill, getting one foot in front of the other was the most I could manage. My reward at the top was another powerful stomach pain. Just three-quarters of a mile from the finish, the urge to finish the whole thing running gave out and I walked for maybe half a minute, trying to work things out. A couple minutes later I briefly stopped again, but the thought of salvaging a time under 200 minutes was enough to push me to the finish.

It might come to be that 3:15 wouldn't be enough to get me to Boston anyway. Going under 3:20 would get me to Boston as a 40-year-old, but we'll have to see if that changes too. I thought this would be my last serious crack at Boston until 40 if I didn't make it, but I might re-evaluate that based on my schedule and whatever the new cutoff is, if there is one.

It was hot. Of course, I live in Texas so the upper 60s is not hot, but on this December morning in Tucson it was certainly well above average. There's no question this affected me by the end of the race and it's quite possible it's the reason I didn't make my goal time. It didn't help that my legs just didn't have the strength; I probably should have worked in more lifting because there's just no way to replicate the course experience at home -- you're lucky to find downslopes of half a mile, let alone several miles in a row.

I probably offset some of these issues by going with the CEP compression socks I bought last week. I ran once in them to break them in, which I know is still close enough to count as doing something new on race day, but I figured my Feetures socks are basically the same thing in ankle variety. I have no proof they helped my time as they claim to do, but I did not have the kind of post-race soreness I would have expected. My left hip flexor was in pretty bad shape, but that eased pretty quickly and I was back to walking normally by the evening. (We'll see how I do tomorrow.)

I must comment on the aid station situation. First and foremost, the volunteers were great -- very enthusiastic, and all called out what they were holding. The problem was that there seemed to be no pattern to the positioning of water and energy drink. At some stations one was first, at some the other, and at a couple, folks seemed to be standing in completely random order. As I said, yes, they called out what they held. But I don't slow down at aid stations -- in fact I speed up -- so I am going to grab whatever because I don't want to miss out.

Normally even this is no big deal, because I can handle most any flavor of Gatorade. But the stuff being distributed was XOOD, and for lack of a better description, the stuff tasted like shit. I don't even know what flavor it was supposed to be other than some kind of pink melony something. Taking shots of that stuff to wash down my lemon-lime Gu was just gross. I understand it's some kind of locally-made or -owned product, and that's great, but I would really rather have something familiar.

8:40 pace last .31

The medal is a good one, with a full-color ribbon and heavy bronze medal depicting cacti under a partly cloudy sky:

The post-race food included bananas, oranges, cookies, pretzels and maybe some other things I didn't see, but a strong point was the selection of at least a dozen different varieties of flavored waters and Muscle Milks, more than I'd seen anywhere else. Drop bag pickup and hotel shuttles -- OK, school buses back to the hotels -- were close to the finish.

The goody bag had a trial box of Wheaties Fuel -- far better tasting than regular Wheaties -- but other than that, not much. The event shirt is a boring white cotton T, but I also bought a gray tech T at the expo, where a good variety of event merch was available for reasonable prices. I sorta just skimmed through the rest of the expo but it seemed to offer a small but thorough selection.

Why stop now? First Light Marathon, Mobile, AL, Jan. 9.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Race preview: Tucson Marathon

Oracle, AZ

Sunday, Dec. 12

Holualoa Tucson Marathon

To qualify for Boston. No other reason. I would not run this race otherwise (no offense, Tucson, but you must admit, that's your top selling point).

Somewhere around 1300 folks for the full marathon. The race grew 20 percent from 2008 to '09, but last year's course change was so thoroughly panned that I'm sure it turned some folks off, even though this year's course is largely back to the old one.

Low 40s start/upper 60s finish, no chance of rain. The double whammy of the drop in elevation and the rise of the sun will make this uncomfortable by the finish. The big X factor, though, is the wind. Last year's race featured a brutal headwind, but right now Accuweather is indicating winds from the north, which would be just perfect.

We won't know until the Boston Athletic Association sets the qualifying standards for 2012. That's what will make this race so agonizing. I'm going to stick with the 3:15 pace group because in today's world, that's the time I need. If I don't finish with them, so be it. If I do, that'll be great, but the celebration will be delayed until I hear that the BAA is only going to stick it to women or the under-30s. (Oh, and then I still have to get online and register successfully on the day registration opens, but we'll get to that then.) Age-groupwise, I'd need at least a 3:08 to make the top 3, so forget it. I may well be capable of something faster than 3:15, but I'm sticking with the pace group to be sure I get it.

Not sure about Monday, maybe an easy bike ride at the gym, then 3 miles easy Tuesday, 4 Wednesday (I'll mix in some last few hills), rest Thursday, hit the road Friday, and 2 easy Saturday.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The magic word

Perhaps the best way to motivate an athlete is to push him to go beyond his limitations, with maybe a slight implication that you don't think he can do it. It's summed up in one word: challenge. Throw "challenge" at me, and you've got my attention.

And so, I perked up when the e-mail came today from Mellew Productions announcing the Four Seasons Half Marathon Challenge. Starting in 2011, if you run their half marathons in four consecutive seasons, you'll earn an additional medal and tech shirt recognizing the feat (that would be the Texas Half in winter, the Big D in spring, the Hottest Half in summer and the Tyler Rose in fall).

I'm already signed up for the first two (including the Big D full marathon, which counts for this challenge) so it's a no-brainer for me to swap in the last two -- including the full at Tyler -- for a couple other races I had penciled in. There have been criticisms of Mellew in the past -- some justified, some not -- for skimping on the perks, so maybe this is a sign they're stepping up their game.

Since I hadn't yet posted my full 2011 race schedule on here -- though you've probably seen it on dailymile, no? -- here you have it, updated (* = registered):

1/9/11 First Light Marathon, Mobile AL
*1/23/11 Too Cold to Hold 15K, Dallas
*1/29/11 Texas Half, Dallas
2/20/11 Run the Line HM, Texarkana TX/AR
*2/26/11 Cowtown 5K, Ft. Worth
*2/27/11 Cowtown Ultra (50K), Ft. Worth
3/12/11 Dash Down Greenville (5K), Dallas
*3/27/11 Rock 'n' Roll Dallas HM
*4/10/11 Big D Texas Marathon
4/30/11 Wimberley 4
5/7/11 White Rock & Roll HM, Dallas (or whatever they name it)
6/11/11 Dublin Dr. Pepper 10K
*6/18/11 Grandma's Marathon, Duluth MN
7/10/11 Too Hot to Handle 15K, Dallas
7/24/11 (ish) El Scorcho 50K, Ft. Worth
8/14/11 The Hottest Half, Dallas
9/17/11 (ish) Katy Trail 50, Boonville MO
10/9/11 Mother Road Marathon, Miami OK to Joplin MO
10/9/11 Tyler Rose Marathon
*10/23/11 13.1 Dallas
11/13/11 Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Marathon
12/4/11 White Rock Marathon, Dallas

Monday, November 29, 2010

Taper gladness

I'm a week into my three-week taper for the Tucson Marathon. With the way my race schedule is constructed, it'll be my last real taper until my 50-mile debut next September. So I'll be savoring it.

A lot of folks slip into "taper madness" in the last couple weeks before a big race. As they step down their mileage, they start to panic about whether they've done enough to prepare. They worry that a 24-mile week of training can't possibly keep them ready for a 26-mile race.

Not this guy. I've been training for Tucson for 28 weeks. I've had IT band pain, hip pain, knee pain, a stomach virus... probably some other ailments along the way that I've already forgotten. Two weeks before race day, I'm not freaking out about preparation or whining that I only have 4 miles to run tomorrow. I'm happy to have a little respite from the pounding and the time-suck. Yes, this marathon is a big deal and I'm sure there will be anxious moments later next week, but for now I'm more than willing to put in a quick jog and spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Call it taper gladness.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How to spend a month in Duluth one night

When I announced my plans to run Grandma's Marathon next June, a college friend who happened to hail from Duluth cautioned me about the lodging situation up there. Grandma's draws a high percentage of out-of-town runners, with 10,000 folks descending on a town of just 84,000. As such, accommodations can be sparse -- which means gougingly expensive.

My friend (and others) told me to make arrangements immediately, but I had special needs that required a little extra time to research. Driving around anywhere near the finish line is not happening, and my wife can't be trudging all over the city lugging a toddler around. So, we needed something very close to Canal Park.

But when it came time to look up rates, nothing was available except the downtown Best Western at $190 a night. I made the reservation in a panic, but the less-than-stellar reviews of the place had me convinced I'd need to check back with the other hotels periodically to see if anything opened up.

Then last week, the Mrs. had an epiphany I thought I should share with you because I probably wouldn't have thought of it and there's a reasonable chance you wouldn't, either. Long story short, we're renting someone's condo. We're meeting some friends who are coming into town for the weekend, so splitting the cost makes the condo cheaper than two hotel rooms -- not even taking into account the step up in accommodations.

If it were just us, renting an 8-person condo wouldn't make sense, and perhaps it wouldn't work for you. But if the circumstances are right, whether at Grandma's or some other faraway race, this angle might be a good one. Just something to think about.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Race review: Bud E. Bee Boo!Run Half Marathon

Quite simply, this was my best run ever. My time of 1:30:42 was a PR by 2:32 and equates to a faster time than I have run at any other distance.

Actually, yes, for the 2nd time (I won a 10K last September). First place out of 57 overall, 7:35 ahead (more than a mile!).

The start was a little confusing, as we crowded together a good 50 feet or more behind the starting line. The horn went off, I kinda just shrugged and moved on ahead, the third person through the blow-up arch. After an immediate left turn I made a quick pass of one runner, then reminded myself to settle down as I chased the leader. In my head I had planned to take the first mile slow, but then again I plan that every time and it never happens.

But today, it did. I kept my breathing slow and my feet followed, resulting in a pace that felt rather effortless in the cool air. No further than half a mile in, I passed the other guy and let the officer on the motorcycle lead the way. At the next turn, just past 2 miles, I looked back. I saw no one. I made the turnaround near 4 miles and ran .19 miles before crossing paths with the next runner, a .38-mile (or 2:40) lead. I guessed based on last year's results that there wouldn't be a lot of speed demons, but this was stunning.

I finished the first loop and headed back out for the second, this time without the escort. Most of the course was extremely well-marked and coned, but I was still a little nervous as the streets weren't exactly deserted. Fortunately there weren't any incidents, and I focused on holding my 7:00 pace (or banking time against the 7:05 pace I was aiming for, including any late meltdown).

Past the 10-mile mark we hit that turnaround again, and this time I was .72 miles ahead. I smelled victory, and quickened my breathing and my pace for the homestretch. Hearing my name announced (and pronounced correctly) was a great feeling as I zoomed over the finish line.

The weather definitely helped, as we started out in the low 40s with no wind. A little bit of a breeze kicked up now and then but nothing like what we had around here a few days ago. The course was exceptionally easy: just a handful of minor hills. Water stops were plentiful -- if I remember correctly there were 5, so that's 10 stations for 13.1 miles.

There were some anomalies I might credit if I were superstitious. I kinda needed to get some thinking done before the race, but I got to town a little later than I wanted and by the time I got to the evacuation area I couldn't risk getting bogged down. Fortunately I never thought about it once we got going. I also ran this without a couple of things -- my left middle toenail, which came off last night as the 5th to be damaged or destroyed (hang in there, little piggies!), and my wedding ring, which is now way too loose for my skinny finger (a condition exacerbated by the cold). My wife will not credit that one for me running faster.

5:47 pace for the last 340 feet (the course was a little short)

The perks for winning were mediocre -- an event running cap and a bouquet of dyed daisies -- but the standard swag was well above expectations for a small race. The black tech tee is decent, but the multi-color medal is quite nice. The goodie bag came with a copy of Inside Texas Running and a 6-ounce bag of kinda-old-but-still-tasty honey roasted peanuts, along with an array of local business-labeled trinkets.

EDIT: A couple weeks later, they mailed me a Winner's Certificate in a folder, a nice touch.

The big one: Tucson Marathon, Dec. 12.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Half the distance, double the rant

I registered this morning for the inaugural 13.1 Marathon Dallas, to be held Oct. 23, 2011 as a replacement for the purchased Uptown Run. I think the actual name is 13.1 Dallas, part of the 13.1 Marathon Series. Either way, "13.1" and "marathon" are next to each other somewhere, and that just drives me nuts. Here I am with a blog named to mock certain clueless non-runners, and I'm up against a national race organization furthering the ignorance. It's hopeless.

Of course, I didn't hold this against anyone when I went ahead and signed up for a race 363 days ahead of time. It was already on my calendar, and since they're selling the first 100 entries for $30 -- thirty bucks for a half marathon! -- there was no point in waiting (I never consider "what if I get hurt" or "what if I have something else going on" because I won't and don't). But at what point did become Ticketmaster? I might not have been paying really close attention but it seems like Active generally took about 10 percent in fees in the past, maybe a little more. Today: $30 entry, $8 convenience fee. Eight bucks! They do it because they can, but damn that's annoying.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Race preview: Bud E. Bee Boo!Run

Cleburne, TX

Saturday, Oct. 30

Bud. E Bee Boo!Run Half Marathon

My marathon training plan gives me the option, six weeks out, for one last send-off, and since I like racing way more than training, that's a no-brainer.

Hardly anyone. The inaugural event last year was probably the smallest half in the Metroplex, with only 24 finishers (EIGHT men). The organizers have announced that registrations are running well ahead of last year, but that may well be for the 5K/10K. The debut apparently had numerous issues, chief among them being that the course was long and not all finishers got medals. Those have both been remedied, I'm told.

Low 50s start/~60 finish, no chance of rain

The McMillan calculator equates a 3:15:59 marathon to a 1:32:56 half. My PR is 1:33:14. I really need to be within shouting distance of that number to boost my confidence. The weather will cooperate and I believe the course will also. This is not my target event so I need to remember not to kill myself trying to run fast -- but I do want to run fast. Winning in the literal sense is not far-fetched, either. Last year's winner ran a 1:36:00 -- again, on a long course, though I don't know how long. Because the race is so small, awards only go to top 3 by gender, but the 3rd-place male went 1:48:08 last year, which is 7 minutes slower than my slowest half, run at the '09 3M on a broken foot. I expect bling.

Core work Monday, 5 easy Tuesday, 5 tempo Wednesday, 5 easy Thursday, rest Friday. Stepping back the weekly mileage from 44 to 28 should feel lovely.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

First things second

OK, now the introductory post that normally comes first in a new blog.

"Why the hell are you starting a running blog? Don't you already post on dailymile and Twitter everything you have to say?"

Yeah, but come on, a lot of that is minutiae. When I post tonight on dailymile that I ran 5 miles in 42 minutes for my weekly Tuesday easy run, no one is going to give a crap, not even my running friends (hardly even myself). What is there to discuss? And my Twitter page is 99.9 percent not about running.

This blog is intended for items with a little more substance that have wider appeal. That seems to be what the cool kids are doing with these things: posting race reports, asking friends for input on gear, or stuff like what I posted earlier about the Boston Marathon. You know, stuff worth reading.

"Wait a minute, I don't even know you, dude!"

Oh, a real introduction, huh? OK, well, I'm Brian, I'm 35 and I live in a suburb of Dallas. I was not much of an athlete growing up -- not beyond mediocre youth-league soccer and swimming, anyway -- and certainly not a runner. I somewhat accidentally got into running in the fall of 2007 because I thought it might relieve the symptoms of my Restless Legs Syndrome (yes, it is legit).

Long story short, I ran my first 5K in March 2008 and moved on to progressively longer distances until finishing my first marathon in November 2009. I'm currently training to run the Tucson Marathon in December with the goal of qualifying for Boston -- well, maybe, as you might have read -- and am eagerly awaiting 2011 and beyond, when I'll be running a wide variety of races. I'll run pretty much anything I think will be a good experience, from the Dash Down Greenville (my first race; I'll run this every year) to the Rouge-Orleans (penciled in for 2012, after I get my qualifying 50-miler done in 2011, most likely the Katy Trail 50).

I'm fast enough to be reasonably competitive but I'm certainly not going to be winning any major awards. My approach is very DIY; I've never even been professionally fitted for shoes. Even my training plans are amalgams of several different experts. I have tried and erred and am quite happy in taking ownership of the results, good or bad.

"Well, that's all good to know and I look forward to reading and contributing to this thing. But what's up with the name?"

If you have run a marathon, some idiot co-worker of yours has asked, "Hey, how long is your marathon?" or something like that. It's kind of my knowing nod to my fellow runners. Plus, on some screens on this site, the last word gets cut off, so that's kinda funny too.


Shotgun start

Hello and welcome to my running blog. OK, enough with the small talk.

Registration for the Boston Marathon opened and closed today. Twenty-some-odd thousand folks got in the door before it slammed shut after just 8 hours and 3 minutes. Last year registration closed after 2 months, spurring much conversation in the running world about changes the Boston organizers would have to make to ensure that qualified runners had a fair shot to get in. Cut that open registration time down about 99 percent and you can be pretty sure there will be more than just talk this time around.

The BAA could do any number of things:
  • Tighten the qualifying standards for everyone, or women, or 18- to 29-year-olds.
  • Expand the field.
  • Keep the field the same size but reduce the allocation of charity runners.
  • Institute a lottery.
  • Sharply increase the entry fee.
  • Do away with reusable qualifiers. In other words, end the current practice of allowing a runner to use a qualifying time from, for example, Chicago '10 to run Boston '11 and '12.
  • Nothing.
Let's take these in reverse order. Doing nothing is out of the question. If nothing is done, next year (and every year after) it'll be like trying to buy tickets for the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden.

One-time qualifying makes the most sense. One qualifying time should not earn you a place in two Boston Marathons. Making a change, though, could be very confusing. If you just say "the qualifying time must be achieved within 12 months of the Boston Marathon" but leave the registration date the same, all you've done is make races between November and April irrelevant. The rule would have been to be "within 12 months of the opening of registration." I think the nuances of something like this make it unlikely to happen.

A lottery, on the other hand, seems plausible. New York does it, Houston does it, and I'm sure there are others. Y'all can have that because I am not interested. When I sign up for a race I assume I am running it and plan accordingly. New York and Houston (and others) are different in the sense that you don't need a qualifying time, you just need luck. A Boston lottery would probably keep the qualifying component, and thus most of its prestige. Still, it's not for me.

Increasing the entry fee might discourage about 10 people from entering. It's Boston, the most prestigious marathon in the world. They could get $500 a head, easily. Expanding the field also sounds like a non-starter from what I've read, unless they're planning to drastically widen the streets up there.

That leaves us with tightening the qualifying standards, which brings me the long way around to where I'm going. I am certain this will happen. There are more runners and they have been better trained, so it stands to reason there are a whole lot more folks at the faster end of the spectrum.

If it were up to me, the cuts would start and stop by splitting the 18-34 age group and forcing the 18- to 29-year-olds to go faster, especially on the men's side. Look at the top male finishers from Chicago this year, for instance: all 20-somethings. Make the young'uns go 3:00 or under. They can handle that.

I'd also like to see the women get a 20-minute cushion instead of 30. One of my thoughts after staggering through the final third of the Route 66 Marathon last year was that as disappointed as I was at limping the last 8 1/2 miles home, had I been female I still would have qualified for Boston. A woman of average ability might need that much of a head start compared to a comparable man, but when you're talking about BQ times you're talking about the fastest of the fast, and the women in that conversation don't need that much help.

Unfortunately, I've convinced myself that those cuts are far too controversial, and the BAA will simply opt to make everyone run 10 or 15 minutes faster. And if that's the case, I can forget about going to Boston. It's going to take all I've got to run a 3:15:59 in Tucson, so much so that I need to include the extra 59 seconds in my goal to convince myself I have a shot. Face it, I might have a couple 1:33 half marathons under my belt and the McMillan calculator might say I should make it, but the 3:38 in Tulsa shows you really can't project these things.

The stories that interest me are the ones like mine, of the folks who are right there, just good enough to be in the conversation but needing all they've got to get over the hump. Some people are much faster, and many are much slower, but I find their stories much less intriguing. The drama is not there, nor is the same sense of accomplishment. So today's events (and the imagined fallout I'm already taking to the bank) are frustrating. Maybe we'll talk again in 5 years, Boston.

(Oh yeah, this blog is totally under construction. I'm not a design expert, but I'm certainly not going to leave things looking like this -- I just wanted to get things going while the mood struck.)