Sunday, June 26, 2011

Race review: Grandma's Marathon

I came up short of my goal but technically qualified for Boston nonetheless. My time of 3:12:55 was a PR by more than 3 1/2 minutes.

We'll find out when I try to register for Boston in September. Otherwise I was 451st of 6337 overall, 372nd of 3658 men and 65th of 485 in my age group.

My day started ominously. I jogged the couple blocks from the condo to the DECC, the departure point for the buses, amidst a cool drizzle. I was plenty early but nevertheless concerned that the only folks I saw lined up were half marathoners. I walked around for a while, looking for perhaps another line for the full, but found nothing and returned to where I started, now about 200 feet further back in the line.

Just as I approached the front, the volunteers directed full marathoners to board the train instead. This was not so much a train as a rolling railroad museum, dedicated to rail travel of long ago. Not sure if you've noticed but folks are a lot taller and wider now than they used to be. Four dudes cramped into two facing benches wasn't comfortable for anyone.

As you might also imagine, this wasn't exactly high-speed rail: The trip took every bit of an hour and dumped us near the starting line with just 40 minutes until the race. That was just enough time for me to unintentionally cut into the port-a-potty line (sorry, folks), take a leak and... well, nothing. I had no time to warm up, though even if I did, there really wasn't any room to do anything. A fellow Marathon Maniac stopped me and mentioned I'd missed the group photo, too. What's one more thing to throw me off, I figured.

Hovering near the 3:10 pacer, I heard someone say they didn't like the first 4 miles of the race because there was no room to maneuver. I didn't mind this for the opening mile, but after a while I tried seeking out some open space. I moved over to the shoulder a time or two, but each time I'd get wedged back into the pack, either by spectators or an aid station or some other obstacle.

Finally around the 4-mile mark, I found an opening and got a couple steps ahead of the 3:10 group. At times I felt myself pulling away, so I eased up and let myself fall back to the pacer. This worked for a few miles until I couldn't slow down enough to let those folks catch up anymore. I was feeling strong and untaxed, with the wind at my back, beautiful views of Lake Superior to my left and highly supportive throngs of people on both sides. I didn't need to look to see where I was in relation to the pace group: I'd get a little cheer, and then 20 seconds later I'd hear a big cheer behind me.

I hit the mat at 13.1 in 1:34:45, right on schedule. At each mile marker I compared my watch to the pace band I'd wrapped around my wrist next to it. One after another, they ticked off with me keeping the same cushion against 3:10 pace, though around mile 16 or 17 I could hear the pacer calling out instructions to the group. At mile 18, the group caught me -- but I wasn't slowing down, they were speeding up. By my math I still had a 20-second cushion or so.

As they passed me and pulled slowly away, the stink of a couple dozen stacks of B.O. filled and then left my nostrils. I wasn't having doubts just yet, but when I got to the mile 21 marker and saw that I'd given back 16 of those 20 seconds in that mile, that's when I knew a PR would have to be good enough. I got up the hill at mile 22, shuffled my way through downtown Duluth, then turned back into the wind for the first time and battled through the last mile to the finish, scurrying to get in under 3:13.

I don't know if it was my attitude, my running form, the feeling of the tailwind, or reality -- OK, I know it wasn't reality -- but the vast majority of the course felt like running downhill. Certainly of my six marathons and ultras, this was the easiest course (yes, Tucson is almost all downhill but you have to be prepared for that, plus there's a vicious uphill at mile 25). The one notable late uphill, Lemon Drop Hill at mile 22, only cost me about 10 seconds. Otherwise the rest of the race felt like an easy descent.

Of anything, attitude was probably the biggest factor. Simply put, I had a great time running this race. This is the only thing that goes on in Duluth all year, and folks all along the North Shore come out in support -- and they are very enthusiastic. You wonder how this small city can host one of the biggest marathons in the country, but then you see what they do with it and you understand.

What else... well, the aid stations were outstanding in both concept and execution. They were pretty much all on both sides of the road, with plenty of signage and a familiar table order, with water first and last, bookending Powerade, sponges, ice and whatever else. No mishaps here.

We stayed at the Suites at Canal Park, where my wife had found some guy renting out his condo online. I would highly recommend this if you want to split a place with someone or need to house your whole family. It was an easy walk to the expo and from the finish line. Speaking of which, the expo was not a bright spot -- way, way too crowded. And the finish-line activities? Well, I'm sure they were great, but I just wanted to waddle back to the room since the temperature had dropped from 54 at the start to 48 at the finish and the wind had seemingly picked up.

7:30 pace last .31

This being the 35th running of the event, everything is plastered with a huge 35: the finisher's shirt, the sling bag and aluminum water bottle we all got, and of course the medal:

You can buy a ticket to the big pasta dinner, but pretty much all the restaurants in Canal Park have all-you-can-eat pasta dinners that night so it's just a matter of preference.

Too Hot to Handle 15K, Dallas, July 10.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Race preview: Grandma's Marathon

Duluth, MN

Saturday, June 18

Grandma's Marathon

My wife and I decided last summer we'd make this part of a trip to visit family and friends.

Not sure if this thing sold out but there will be more than 5,000 finishers (plus an equal number in the half).

Partly sunny, maybe a shower, mid 50s at the start and just a couple degrees warmer by the end. I was hoping for a little cooler than that but I'll take the alternative: a healthy 15 mph tailwind expected from the east.

I don't know if the "BQ -5" rule for early Boston registration means that I need 3:10:00 or 3:10:59 -- it should be the latter -- but that alone is what decides whether this is a win. It's not a difficult course, my training has been lackluster but done in far worse conditions, and I'll be in the 3:10 pace group. It may be one in a million, but I'm telling you there's a chance.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Schedule changes

It's been quite a while since I posted my race plans, and since I'm too rested from my long afternoon nap to sleep, it's time to revisit them.

You can see I've done a lot of shuffling over the last few months -- I'm a planner, yes, but given enough lead time, I'm flexible. The race distances I'm aiming for have changed substantially, but my approach will be changing as well.

Things are going to be different after next weekend. I'll be running on trails when I can. There won't be many 30-minute dashes through the neighborhood for a while. I'll be going much longer more often, with less concern about sticking to certain paces. To reach the kind of goals I'm aiming for, it's gonna take work.

Here's what I'm thinking (* means I'm registered, the bold ones are new since I last put the list up in January):

*6/18/11 Grandma's Marathon, Duluth MN
*7/10/11 Too Hot to Handle 15K, Dallas
*8/14/11 The Hottest Half, Dallas
*9/10/11 Katy Trail 50, Boonville MO
*10/9/11 Tyler Rose Marathon
*10/23/11 13.1 Dallas
*11/13/11 Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Marathon
12/3/11 Run Like The Wind 24-Hour, Austin TX
12/4/11 White Rock Marathon, Dallas
12/31/11 Recover from the Holidays 50K, Huntsville AL 
1/7/12 Bandera 100K
1/29/12 Miracle Match Marathon, Waco TX
2/10/12 Rouge-Orleans (126.2 miles), Baton Rouge to New Orleans
2/25/12 Mount Cheaha 50K, Oxford AL
3/17/12 Dash Down Greenville, Dallas
3/24/12 Tyler Azalea 10K
4/16/12 Boston Marathon (or 4/14/12, Oz Marathon, Olathe KS)
5/13/12 North Trail HM, Dallas
5/28/12 Memorial Day 20K, Dallas 
6/2/12 Old Dominion 100, Woodstock VA
6/17/12 Dadfest (5K), Dallas
7/4/12 Liberty 10K, The Colony TX
7/14/12 Lady of the Lake Relays (18M solo), Dallas 
7/15/12 El Scorcho 50K, Fort Worth TX
8/4/12 Headlands Hundred, Sausalito CA
9/3/12 Labor Day 15K, Dallas
9/15/12 Tour des Fleurs 20K, Dallas
9/23/12 Heels & Hills & Him HM, Irving TX
10/6/12 Heartland 100, Cassoday KS
10/21/12 Waterworks 25K, Dallas
11/4/12 DRC Half, Dallas
11/18/12 Big D 30K
12/2/12 Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon
12/15/12 Jog'r Egg Nog'r 15K, Dallas

I will also add a short race (10K max) before the end of 2011 to keep a nice round 20-race total for the year.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Where in the Great White North am I?

Grandma's Marathon is a week from tomorrow. Not to beat a dead horse, but thanks to the tougher standards, this is probably my last crack at Boston until I hit Masters territory.

You can share in my joy or anguish by signing up for tracking here. I'm not sure if I need 3:10:00 or 3:10:59 and I really don't have tremendous faith in getting to either, but I'll put one foot in front of the other and see where it gets me.

By the way, I haven't even run the thing and I think this is my favorite marathon so far. We already know we're getting some good swag this year with the 35th anniversary sling bag and aluminum water bottle. Today they emailed me to tell me to get to Duluth early because of construction on 35, which I thought was mighty courteous. And after signing up with the Clif pace team a while back, yesterday they sent me a good-luck note, presumably signed by the 3:10 pacer, with a pair of lucky red shoelaces. Now that's pretty damn thoughtful.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Get up and go

This is the first weekend of meteorological summer, but you don't need a calendar to tell you the sun's coming up earlier and it's getting warmer. It's the time of year that running becomes more challenging... and dangerous.

A runner died this morning at the 13.1 Marathon -- I hate that name, by the way -- in Chicago. The race was called off somewhere around an hour or 90 minutes after it began, as the temperature was screaming toward the 90s.

I've been in at least one race where someone was overcome by heat and needed an ambulance. And I've been in many races where the heat made things plenty uncomfortable for me, most recently at the Big D Marathon.

Here's the problem: Most races start way too late. This morning I was up to run at 6:30 and it was already bright out, certainly bright enough to have a race. But I'd challenge you to find any events going off that early. Even a 7:30 start is unusual around here.

It's not just locally. Races everywhere start too late. If the sun is up and you can see where you're going, you should be running.

Below is a sample of races around the country this morning. The race that started last also had the highest likelihood of being too cold at the start, so I'll give them a pass. In most cases though, folks are more likely to run into problems with heat from starting late than cold from starting early:

SunriseRace StartNormal HiNormal Lo
Green River Marathon (Kent, WA)5:138:306850
13.1 Chicago5:167:137857
Timberline Marathon (Government Camp, OR)5:218:307048
3 Sisters Marathon (Redmond, OR)5:227:007340
Pilot Hill 25K (Laramie, WY)5:318:006939
Newport Marathon (Newport, OR)5:327:006247
Taste of Louisville HM (Louisville, CO)5:338:007948
Athletic Republic HM (Fergus Falls, MN)5:348:307452
God's Country Marathon (Galeton, PA)5:387:007550
Dam to Dam 20K (Des Moines)5:417:007958
Virginia Wine Country HM (Purcellville, VA)5:467:008157
Forest of Nisene Marks Marathon (Aptos, CA)5:498:307050
Hospital Hill Run (HM, Kansas City)5:537:008160
Sun Valley HM (Sun Valley, ID)5:579:006933
Fight for Air Run (HM, Salt Lake City)5:587:007852
The Spirit of Magic Valley HM (Twin Falls, ID)6:027:307346
Charity Chase HM (Hickory, NC)6:106:308261
Sunburst Marathon (South Bend, IN)6:127:157755

I'm not saying we all need to be lined up at 5:30, but if you're waiting more than an hour after the sun comes up, what exactly are you waiting for?

Of course, there's also the issue of performance. You run faster when it's cooler. Sure, there are races that use heat as a selling point -- there are a couple big ones in Dallas -- and you know going into those that you're pretty much just trying to finish upright. But I think the races above probably want you to enjoy your experience. Dropping dead will surely put a damper on that.