Saturday, April 23, 2011

Time to kick it up a notch

Well kids, I've gone and done it this time.

I am the first registrant for the third running of the Katy 50, a --surprise! -- 50-mile jog from Boonville to McBaine, Mo., and back on Sept. 10. It's a little bitty race, with just 19 solo finishers last year (after 8 in the inaugural event). But, it should be a pretty ideal spot to debut at that distance.

The course is on a rail-trail so there are no hills, and it should be warm but not hot, maybe going from 60 to 80 degrees during the course of the day. Yes, I'd hope for cooler, but I'll be training for this in Texas in July and August -- 70s should feel almost chilly.

I'll probably toss this out again sometime between now and then, but where I normally take suggestions under advisement, I'll actually be listening this time if any folks with experience running 50s or 100s have tips regarding such minutiae as drop bags, race nutrition, and things of that sort. Much like a full marathon is a totally different animal than a half, so is a 50 to a marathon. I'll consider it a success if I get this thing done in under 9 hours.

With four marathons and a 50K behind me, I am past the point where an onlooker shouting "you can do it" has any effect on me. I know I can finish a marathon. I'll be very excited to take the next big leap forward.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Race review: Big D Texas Marathon

Coming off of a couple weeks of almost no running as I tried to fend off a foot injury, a tough course on a hot, windy day produced the expected result: suckage. Sure, I'll get very little sympathy for calling a 4:09:19 suckage, but that's damn near an hour slower than I ran 26.2 twice within the last few months. I'm calling that suckage.

Oh good grief no. But it tells you what kind of day everyone had when I threw that effort out there and came in 84th of 714 finishers, 11th of 80 in my age group.

Well, like I said, I hardly ran at all in the two weeks since the Rock 'n' Roll race. The first run after that, I felt a sharp pain in my right foot that felt just like the stress fracture I had a couple years ago. But this time, I didn't have the telltale swelling, so I was hopeful I'd stopped in time. After a bunch of days off, I went out for a couple short jogs and came to the conclusion I could probably shuffle my way through the marathon.

I had little if any plan for how to run this race. My previous long runs had been in much better weather -- even Cowtown -- so it was tough to know what I should expect on a day that started out in the upper 70s and was pushing 90 by the time I was done. I knew I would run-walk; I had decided this long ago. I just needed to come up with the appropriate intervals.

At First Light, the only other marathon I had run-walked (on purpose), I went for a 5:00/:30 rotation. On this day, I aimed for 4:30/:30. I was thinking that might yield about a 7:45 pace... which would have been true, if I had kept it up. It took most of, oh, about one run interval for doubt to set in, as I wrapped up the first run segment already drenched.

Other than checking my watch for intervals, I really wasn't paying any attention to how I was doing. I felt fine -- sweaty but fine -- so I figured I was keeping things respectable. I was playing leapfrog with some girl who had Bible quotes written on the backs of her legs. I couldn't tell you what they said, since I was more focused on the scant, thin piece of material just above them. (Don't kid yourself, people.)

Eventually I quit catching up to that girl on my run intervals, somewhere on Peavy about 9.5 miles in -- the bridge over Buckner had hit me pretty hard. I stuck with the intervals a couple more miles before deciding I needed a longer walk break, maybe 2 minutes or so. That was the beginning of the end. After a brief rally, I quit looking at my watch and decided that anything that even smelled like a hill would slow me to a walk.

I crossed the 13.1 mat in 1:44:02, which was 48th best at that point. If it had only been a half marathon, I really wouldn't have been too upset with that time. But I had a rough 13.1 miles to go.

I walked the long hill up Country Club and remarked to another girl who'd picked this day of all days to run her first marathon that the worst hill was yet to come. We got back to the lake and traded the hills for a ridiculous 30 mph headwind that did just as good a job of stopping me dead in my tracks. I traded places with a few guys who were having just as rough a day as I was, while every so often a couple of more conditioned folks zoomed past.

After walking all the way up that other hellacious hill, on Lakewood, I went back to doing some mental math. Usually I keep myself busy with this for the better part of my races (since I don't carry music), but I didn't have much to think about until I tried to encourage myself that an 11-minute pace for the remaining miles would get me home under 4 hours. Thing was, I was a little generous with the math, and I wasn't keeping that pace... and on top of that, I was thirsty.

I can't remember ever being downright parched in a race. I take fluids at every stop, and while I have felt like I could have more to drink at other times, this was different. I would take a cup of both water and Gatorade, drink them both and feel thirsty again just a couple minutes later. I should have just stopped and drank until I was satisfied, but I was still of the mind that another mile and a half to the next station wasn't that far. On a normal day, that would be true, but in this case that meant almost another 20 minutes.

The turn onto Haskell meant the end was mercifully near. I still had to pass the delicious glue fumes from a cabinet shop at mile 24, and deal with the tease of hearing the finish line announcer's voice echoing through Fair Park with more than a mile and a half to go. I saw my third Marathon Maniacs photographer of the day and switched to running just long enough for him to get the shot and for me to tell him, "Make it look good." I'm sure I was never as happy to be done with something as when I finished.

I ran this race to complete the trifecta after running the half and 5K in previous years, and to knock out another race in the Four Seasons Half Marathon Challenge. Other than that, there's no reason to run this.

Put aside the weather; no one can control that (some folks would've voted for a 7 a.m. start, but the year they switch to 7 is the year we get a late ice storm; I had no problem with the start time). It's a difficult course and you've got next to no one out there cheering you on. Some folks may go for the scenery but there are tons of races at White Rock; you can see it any time you want.

9:55 pace last .37

Entrants got a cotton T-shirt in a rather interesting shade of green, and that's it. Marathon finishers got a white tech shirt and a decent medal:
Trouble is, neither the medal nor the ribbon makes clear what race was run. A co-worker who ran the half told me his medal was half as big, but it's a mere coincidence that anyone would know that.

Post-race food thoughtfully included baked potatoes and pizza, which was apparently restricted to full marathoners only. Membership has its privileges.

White Rock Lake Centennial Half Marathon, May 7.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Race preview: Big D Texas Marathon

Dallas, TX 

Sunday, Apr. 10 

Big D Texas Marathon 

This is the second race in the Four Seasons Half Marathon Challenge, and yours truly is leading the thing, so I have plenty of motivation to do my best. I have no idea how they're going to normalize the standings for folks who are running the full, but I assume they'll take the time from the mat at the 13.1 mark, which is kinda bogus.

The red-headed stepchild of the Dallas marathon scene is expecting 900 runners, which seems optimistic given that the last several years have consistently drawn between 400 and 600. In fact, I would guess there will be no additional registrations at this point because...

Awful: Upper 60s to upper 70s and breezy with a reasonable chance of a thunderstorm. Keep in mind, the average low for this time of year is still only 54. Just riffing, let's say we do get storms and the thing is called off. Do the Four Seasons folks have to start over? Or can we just run this one next year without having to run the Texas Half again? Just something to ponder.

By finishing. I have either broken my foot again or am on the cusp of it, so my mileage has been down for the last week and will be down for this week, too (in fact, I will probably take several more days off). The tendinitis I aggravated at Cowtown forced me to back off for a couple weeks, then my mileage spiked back to where it was and I ran a 10K and half marathon on back-to-back days in my lightest shoes. That's a recipe for a stress fracture right there. I planned to run-walk this race anyway, so that should help.

Race review: Rock 'n' Roll Dallas Half Marathon

I'm not sure how it worked out this way but of the 70 or so races I've run in the last 3 years, this was the most fun. It wasn't a PR, I didn't run with friends or get lots of goodies, but for some reason this was just a really enjoyable day. I liked the crowds, I didn't feel wrecked at all and my time coming off a 10K PR the day before was not too shabby.

Oh, right, you said enough small talk. I ran a 1:31:42, only about 10 seconds per mile slower than my fastest. I was totally fine with this. 

No, I didn't. I was 166th of 10,969 overall, 142nd of 4,159 men -- check out how much we were outnumbered! -- and 21st of 810 in my age group. 

While everyone else griped about the traffic, I rode in easily on the train. I stowed my gear, warmed up and took my place in the first corral. I felt strong, buoyed by the temperature that was almost 30 degrees cooler than 24 hours earlier.

Even starting in the first wave, I still encountered traffic through the first mile, which kept my pace down -- a good thing. By mile 3 it was obvious that a 6:50 average pace wasn't going to happen, so I just forgot about it and ran my race.

Crossing 75 and climbing the hill past Mockingbird Station was made more bearable by knowing that there were no more inclines the rest of the way -- a good 5-plus miles of slightly downhill running awaited. I played leapfrog with a couple guys coming down Skillman, and after turning onto Haskell I passed a guy at mile 11.4 who commented on how strong I was running. That gave me a good push into Fair Park and across the finish line. 

After volunteering at this race last year, it was fun to be involved as a participant. There are plenty of Rock 'n' Roll haters out there -- including some folks who go ahead and sign up anyway, for reasons escaping my comprehension -- but I am not one of them.

Yes, the races are expensive (although if you are paying sticker price for an RnR race you're really just not a very good shopper). In exchange for that cost, you're getting a formula that has pretty well had the kinks worked out (unless you're in San Antonio and an unscheduled train rolls through). The volunteer operation is staggering and incredibly well run.

You won't find a dry water station or show up at the finish with nothing to eat. You won't have a long wait for a port-a-potty or a long walk to get your drop bag. There's a certain degree of you-get-what-you-pay-for in at all, although there's a notable exception to that I'll get to in a moment.

The course is pretty easy as far as these things go; as I alluded to earlier, all the uphills come in the first 8 miles and none of them will really take your breath away. The segment that passes through Highland Park may be aesthetically pleasing but is not aurally so, as bands are not allowed to play along that portion of the route. Hopefully the course can be reworked to stay entirely in Dallas -- this is supposed to be about rock & roll, after all. 

6:07 pace last .12 

The tech shirt is average, and the goody bag was surprisingly sparse. I would've figured that the size of this race would draw more interest from folks wanting to toss in some free samples or whatnot, but that wasn't the case (of course, there could be more to this behind the scenes). And the medal.... I have to tell you, the more I look at this medal, the less I think of it. The ribbon is thin and plain red, distinguishing itself in no way at all. I get the medal concept of the Texas Star, but the execution is poor:

Last year's, by comparison, was much better:

Big D Texas Marathon, Apr. 10.