Monday, May 28, 2012

Race preview: Old Dominion 100

Woodstock, VA

Saturday, June 2

Old Dominion 100

I thought this would be a race I ran while taking advantage of one last chance to get my daughter back to see her grandpa without having to buy her own seat on the plane. After my injury and DNF at Rouge-Orleans, things got a lot more serious. This one's for redemption.

This race has undergone a strong recovery to its prior glory over the past decade since the 2002 race was canceled. Last year 68 runners started and 49 finished, with 37 going under 24 hours. With this year's race projected to be 12 degrees cooler than last year I expect all of these numbers to go up.

There might be a lingering shower or thunderstorm on Saturday but for now it looks like much of the rain will come Friday. We should start in the mid-50s and only reach the low 70s before cooling back to the low 50s Saturday night. By comparison it was 92 today. We may get very lucky.


I paraphrased Yoda in summing up my mission for this race: Do or do not, there is no "try". There is also no "do not". In the lead-up to Rouge-Orleans I cared more about starting. For Old Dominion I care more about finishing. I do not plan to fly home next week wondering what went wrong.

Rock me

I have yet to run my "hometown" marathon, White Rock, and now it seems I never will, because that name is history.

Last week, the powers that be made the highly questionable decision to drop the name of the city's leading recreational landmark from its premier amateur sports competition. Henceforth, the Dallas White Rock Marathon will officially be known as just the Dallas Marathon, tossing 40 years of brand awareness and growth out the window for... what, exactly?

The spin is that by shedding the perceived provinciality from the name, the Dallas Marathon will be viewed as more of a "world-class" marathon, in line with other races that only use the city's name, such as the world majors in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York. And with the opening of the downtown Omni and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and the impending completion of the Woodall Rodgers deck park, a simple route change isn't enough to open a new chapter of the event.

To paraphrase something Margaret Thatcher once said, if you have to tell people you're a world-class event, you're not. You can't just toss out a press release and think you're the Boston Marathon all of a sudden. You build your reputation and the running community will respond. Isn't that what White Rock was doing? Is a 20,000-person sellout unconvincing?

In much the same way, much as Dallas has tried for years to tell the rest of the world how awesome it is, things just don't work that way. It's said that a Texan's favorite word is Texas, and likewise Dallas has a mighty high impression of itself -- and it's completely undeserved. Dallas is the can't-do city.

Look at how Dallas was silent when it came to the Cowboys moving from Irving to Arlington. Look at how Deep Ellum was kneecapped. The Trinity -- who the hell knows. Dallas has all these great ideas about how it will make itself this international cosmopolitan leader and then does everything it can to nip all that in the bud. Even the showcase bridge the new marathon will feature is a reminder that there were supposed to be two more just like it; one will be scaled way back and the other may not be built at all.

Now, if folks on the city council were more interested in Dallas and less interested in fighting race wars with each other, they might get somewhere. But that aside, this idea that going with the name Dallas Marathon will suddenly conjure up romantic visions from out-of-town runners is just silly.

The Dallas Marathon may never live up to the glossy expectations that the folks who present it seem to think will just happen automatically, but there are a few things that can be done to push it in the right direction:
  • Lose the half.
One thing the majors have in common, as well as many of the other biggest marathons both domestically and internationally, is that they are one-race events. There are half marathons run by the same organizations that put on the marathons in Boston and New York and Chicago and other cities, sure, but nearly all of the biggest ones hold their halfs on some other day, usually on the opposite end of the calendar.

If you're wanting to bring folks from out of town, a marathon-only marathon is a good way to show that you're serious. This will hurt in the short term, as only a quarter of the 20,000 slots have typically been taken by full marathoners, but will pay off in time.
  • Lose the lake.
If you're going to take away the association with White Rock Lake in the name of the event, why not sever the tie completely? I agree with the organizers that the race must start and finish downtown. To include the lake in the route, you have to send runners a few miles out of the way through not terribly scenic areas, simply to run several more miles with no spectators. I enjoy running at the lake but if we're talking about making this a big-time event, you need crowds.

I realize that there are certain constrictions Dallas faces in terms of a favorable marathon course. You can't go too far east, west or south of downtown, and heading north you have to deal with potential pushback from the Park Cities. But give me some time to work with and I could come up with a decent route that makes extensive use of downtown and uptown and lassoes in the parts of Dallas worth seeing. (The excellent Rock 'n' Roll Dallas and 13.1 Dallas courses give one plenty to work with.)
  • Lose the (current) sponsor.
Does MetroPCS do anything for anyone? I realize we should be happy to accept cash from any respectable corporate sponsor, but if you want to go big, the fifth-largest wireless carrier with an antiquated name for its line of business is not a good fit. Do AT&T or TI or Southwest Airlines not have a few extra bucks laying around? (Note also that those three companies are actually based in Dallas, unlike Richardson's Metro.)

I certainly want the Dallas Marathon to succeed, but it will take a while to warm up to the new name. It's hard to argue that an event that sells out every year needs a massive overhaul and rebranding, but if that's what the folks in charge want, they need to do it right.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Race review: 4 Pines 4 Ways 50K

Thanks to suffocating humidity and a pretty big mistake on my part, the race turned out to be much tougher than I expected. I was well over half an hour short of my quite soft PR, finishing in 5:15:31.

I expected a small turnout, but not as small as 4 starters and 3 finishers. I came in 2nd, almost 90 minutes back of 1st and more than 2 hours ahead of last.


I got to the 4 Pines Ranch about an hour before the race, picked up my bib and shirt and got myself ready for the race. I had a little time to kill so I set out along the course to get a preview. I wasn't going to run the whole 5K loop; I knew of a spot where I could make a shortcut back to the start.

The problems here were twofold: I didn't snip as much of the course as I thought with my shortcut, and I didn't have nearly as much time as I thought. This colossal and inexcusable screw-up led to me running virtually an all-out mile back to the starting line so as not to miss the start.

Fortunately the race started closer to 7:06 than 7, but I was whipped. I was huffing and puffing and sweating buckets walking down to the starting line. I couldn't believe I had put myself in this position. I started the race at a reasonable pace, hanging with the 2nd-tier group of 25K runners, but they would soon lose me, leaving me to spend the next 4-plus hours running pretty much alone.

By the halfway point, my 4:40 PR was quite safe, as was my second-place finish (this was actually safe before the gun went off). Conditions swayed back and forth between sunny and ominous, but it was warm and humid the whole way. All of these things sapped my motivation and I just pushed for a finish.

The only real questions over the last few laps of the race would be whether the leader would lap me a second time (he did, near the end of his 9th lap) and whether I would finish before the last 25K walker (I did, passing her with 2 miles left on our respective final laps). I hung out in the timing tent for a few minutes, chatting with the RD and timer and a couple runners who'd stuck around, before heading home.

The grass course was in very good shape, given that just a few days earlier it had rained so much the property owners nearly forced the event to get pushed back a week. I ran in the same shoes as Boston and Big Sur and had no problems.

In post-race follow-up with the race director, I learned he's thinking about another event in late October in the same location. I immediately suggested a night race -- just before Halloween, full moon... just stack up some strategically-placed hay bales and get a couple of schoolkids to jump out and scare the crap out of you. That could be an event to get on your radar.

(by 5K)


The low-dough nature of this event means you just get a T-shirt for running. My 2nd-place award was this nice wood plaque (I wonder if it came from one of the 4 Pines):


Old Dominion 100, June 2.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Schedule changes

For my own edification as much as anything, I think this is how things are going to round out for this year. October is still very much in pencil (as you see by my lack of actual registrations), but I think this is my best plan to get the triple-double I need for my fifth and sixth Maniacs stars:

*6/2/12 Old Dominion 100, Woodstock VA
*7/15/12 Too Hot to Handle 15K, Dallas
9/3/12 Labor Day 15K, Dallas
9/15/12 Tour des Fleurs 20K, Dallas
*10/11/12 Santa Fe 5K, Dallas
10/13/12 ING Hartford Marathon, Hartford CT
10/14/12 Amica Marathon, Newport RI
10/20/12 Waddell & Reed Kansas City Marathon
10/21/12 Solutia Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Marathon
10/27/12 Spinx Run Fest Marathon, Greenville SC
10/28/12 Atlanta Marathon
11/18/12 Big D 30K
12/1/12 Cajun Coyote 100, Ville Platte LA

Next year still has many, many holes, but Houston is locked in as I take what could be my only real shot at qualifying for Boston 2014:

*1/13/13 Chevron Houston Marathon
2/2/13 Rocky Raccoon 100, Huntsville TX
3/?/13 Dash Down Greenville (5K), Dallas
4/6/13 Hell's Hills (50M), Smithville TX
7/?/13 Missoula Marathon, Missoula MT
9/?/13 8-Hour Run from the Ducks, Weatherford TX
10/?/13 Marine Corps Marathon, Washington DC
11/?/13 DRC Half, Dallas
12/?/13 White Rock Marathon, Dallas
2/21/14 Rouge-Orleans, Baton Rouge to New Orleans

Monday, May 14, 2012

Race review: Katy Trail 5K

I crushed my goal of 21:00 with a 19:50, a mere 27 seconds slower than my PR and 13 seconds faster than Dash Down Greenville, the last time I ran fast, about 2 months earlier. I might have been aiming a little low, but I definitely didn't expect my 2nd fastest 5K ever.

I made it to the first page of the results, coming in 59th place out of 4039 overall, including 56th of 1830 men and 8th of 278 in my age group.


Coming off of Boston and Big Sur, the peroneal tendonitis in my right leg that had laid dormant for a year started to make a return. With a 50K looming just 36 hours after this race, I probably should have just laid way back and enjoyed a friendly jog with my co-workers, 5 of whom showed up as well.

But as with many, when I line up, it's hard to lay off (and sure, maybe I wanted to show off a little). I headed out of Reverchon Park at a controlled but quick pace, got up the Blackburn hill with no trouble and headed toward the trail entrance.

Somewhere in here I had a feeling I'd never before experienced. I was coming up on the halfway point thinking, this is it? I've run dozens and dozens of races but this was really the first time where, during the event, I felt as though it was going to be over before I even really got going.

Coming down the trail past the 2-mile mark, it was obvious I would be safely under 21:00. I passed folks here and there, but one of them stuck to my left shoulder as I went by. I could sense him there; that feeling just drives me crazy. I was made more insane by the constant jingling of his keys or some other item he was carrying that sounded like a little bell of some sort. I tried running faster to lose him, but he stayed right there in my shadow. Just before the finish, he zipped past me, but by then I had turned in a 3rd mile faster than the first 2 and a 2nd consecutive negative split event (I negative-split Big Sur by 11 seconds, though the course had a lot to do with that).

I can't think of anything to add other than I think I put my quite expensive sunglasses down somewhere and forgot about them, so that kinda canceled out the joy of the thing.

5:56 pace last .1


I would issue my standard "it's a 5K; you get a shirt" line, but the real reason to plunk down the 40 bucks and run this is the after-party. Some 30 or 35 restaurants show up and feed you and ply you with alcohol until you can take no more. This ain't bagels and bananas; I was chowing down on fresh cookies and pasta and some kind of fancy shrimp cocktail thing. There's a reason they can sell out 5000 spots at 40 bucks a pop for a midweek race. (There's also a reason to run as fast as you can: to hit all the food and beverage tables before the crush of folks come through.)


Next was the 4 Pines 4 Ways 50K, which I ran Saturday. Race report is forthcoming.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Race preview: 4 Pines 4 Ways 50K

Eustace, TX

Saturday, May 12

4 Pines 4 Ways 50K

This will sort of be a training run for Old Dominion, in the sense that it's a supported long run. Beyond that, I dunno, just felt like it.

Very, very few people. It's an inaugural, bare-bones race in May more or less in the middle of nowhere (there are also 25K, 10K and 5K distances; each race is a multiple of 5K loops). I've seen a little bit of promotion come along in the last week but I expect to find a good parking spot nonetheless.

We should catch a nice break with the temperature, starting at 63 and only getting up to about 70 by the time I'm done. The issue is going to be thunderstorms; they'll be around, it's just a matter of when.


A win for me would be a PR. My one 50K to date was last year's Cowtown, at which I hobbled through 23 miles of tendonitis to finish in a disappointing 4:40. Oddly enough, I've had minor bouts of the same issue flare up in the last few weeks, so how well I keep that at bay will determine whether I get it done.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Race preview: Katy Trail 5K


Thursday, May 10

Katy Trail 5K

A couple months ago, a couple co-workers pitched the idea of running this as a group. I would have next to no interest otherwise, but I figured hey, what the heck, I'll be social.

The handful of us from the office are among a sold-out field of 5000.

Partly cloudy and 79 degrees. Normally I would call that hot but it's not at all outrageous for a May evening and besides, it's only a 5K; I've done worse.


A while back I told my boss I would go under 21:00. That's still my goal, but it's probably a stretch given that I only went 20:03 two months ago when it was 15 degrees cooler or so. And I've had a little bit of tendonitis in my right shin that's led me to take a couple extra days off this week. I'll beat all my co-workers; that should be good enough.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Race review: Big Sur International Marathon

I thought I'd beat my Boston time, but I surprised myself with an 18-minute drop to 3:22:31, less than 10 minutes off my PR on a difficult course made even tougher by occasional quite strong headwinds.

On a percentile basis I had one of my more impressive placements to date, finishing 127th overall out of 3364, 117th of 1786 men and 25th of 270 in my age group.


The downside of saving a few bucks by staying in Salinas was a 2:15 a.m. wake-up to drive the half hour or so to Carmel to catch the 3:30 bus to the start. Like most people, I never sleep well the night before a race, but this took it to a new level.

The bus-loading process was pretty painless, and on the way down to Big Sur I tried at first to take note of the hills. Eventually I quit paying attention because it wasn't like I could just wish the hills away. My race plan, whatever it may have been, wasn't going to change now.

After two full hours of standing around, we filled in the starting chute. I turned on my Garmin only to find the battery was dead. (This has happened twice in the last few weeks. The maid needs to quit messing with my stuff.) I went ahead and started with the 3:35 pace group, figuring that would probably take care of my need to worry about my pace.

The start felt like a repeat of Boston as we dropped down a steep downhill right off the bat -- only this hill kept going further and further down. I knew going in that the course had a net downhill of 275 feet and it felt like we were using it all up in the first couple of miles. I left the 3:35 group behind as that pace was just way too easy. Maybe I'd see them later, but without having my watch to rely on, I'd just have to run at whatever speed felt right.

After we passed mile 5, we left the protection of the redwoods behind and got our first taste of the wind. It wasn't bad at first, but gradually it picked up. Past the 6-mile mark I was within range of the 3:25 pace group, so I sped up to fill in behind them and let them block the wind, which was now blowing from the northwest at a steady 15-20 mph, right in our faces. I stayed with the pack for the next 3 miles or so, saving energy until an eastward turn put the wind at my back and my fresher legs zipped ahead.

That energy would be drained soon enough while making the big climb to Hurricane Point. The 3:25 pacer and a much smaller group of followers made their way past me as I huffed my way up. When I got to the top and turned to look back, as everyone said I should do, there was nothing to see but fog. In front of me, runners even 20 feet away were fuzzy and misty. And the wind was still blowing.

Coming down the other side, my legs were not in the mood. I thought I'd be able to glide down a drop that was just as steep as the climb, but I just couldn't get my cadence up. Crossing the Bixby Bridge at the halfway point was a wonderful distraction (more on this shortly) but I was mentally preparing myself for a slog to the finish.

Fortunately, the course was thick with walkers and joggers in the 21-mile event. Continually passing people kept me going, and after a while I was feeling better. The hills rolled up and down, the fog rolled in and out, and I kept chugging along, eventually catching back up to the 3:25 group around mile 18. He and I would leapfrog each other a couple of times over the next several miles, and I finally went ahead of him for good at the top of the last hill with less than a mile to go.

I ran this race as the back half of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. In many ways Big Sur is the anti-Boston. It's on the opposite coast, of course, and the physical setting is vastly different. There are no spectators whatsoever until very close to the finish. And with a number of other distances offered, with at least a couple of them untimed, the target audience is not the elite crowd you'll find in Boston. Nevertheless, it's a race I highly recommend to anyone, as the scenic beauty is just unparalleled.

A lot of folks, myself included, were bummed about the fog. Here we are at the most scenic marathon in North America and we can hardly see a thing. There were a few breaks where we got clear views of the coastline, and one of those happened to be while crossing the iconic Bixby Bridge. The runners around me were silent, and all we could hear was the pounding of pavement and the music from the piano on the other side of the bridge. It was, bar none, the most beautiful moment of my running career. That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

One area for improvement is the setup at the start. The state park facility is just too small to handle thousands of runners. I stood in one spot for 2 hours simply because there was just nowhere to move around. I felt this once the race was underway, as it took a few miles to really get loosened up. Unfortunately I don't know that there's any solution other than putting a lower cap on the field. A wave start wouldn't work and a course change is not possible.

And one more note... I am big on running tangents. That seems like a no-brainer but you'd be shocked at how many folks leave more work for themselves by taking the long way. Even in Boston there were masses of folks not taking the inside curve on flat road. But at Big Sur, taking the shortest path usually means dealing with a severely tilted (cambered) road. I did it anyway but you could surely make an argument that repeatedly maneuvering across sharp slants is more trouble than it's worth. I'd be curious to know from Big Sur veterans what they think of running the shortest course vs. staying on the flatter edges of the road.

5 mi: 37:46 (7:34 pace)
13.1 mi: 1:41:21 (7:44 pace)
15.6 mi: 1:59:19 (7:39 pace)
22 mi: 2:48:24 (7:40 pace)
26.2 mi: 3:22:31 (7:44 pace)


My participation in Boston 2 Big Sur got me a few extra perks, like a nice finisher's jacket, VIP tent access with plenty of available seats, and a complimentary entry to the post-race party. Of course, I paid a much higher registration fee, but I'd say it was worth it. The "goodie bag" was all online in the form of coupons you could print at your leisure, but none appealed to me. As my wife said, the medals are about as California as you can get:


Katy Trail 5K, May 10.