The hardest decision for yesterday's race? Picking out clothes.
The forecast had been mentioning rain all week. The morning dawned bright but I wasn't taking any chances. I put on one set of running clothes, checked the weather one last time, packed up several alternate layers, and headed out for Pasadena. I figured an hour would be plenty of time to get my registration packet, gear up for the race, adjust clothing to the conditions, and make one last potty stop before the start.
I was right - barely. After waiting in a long line for a stall I made it to the start line with about a minute to spare. Somehow I picked Mister P out of the crowd and forced my way over to wish him luck. The gun went off and we crossed the line together before he dashed off into the crowd.
The first few miles were downhill and so I went out a little faster than I did in Santa Clarita last month. I tried to keep The Sandbagger in view as we made our way through the neighborhoods of Pasadena.
At around mile 3 we hit our first of many big hills. It was time to back off the pace a bit - I tried to settle into a good tempo. I slowly caught up with The Sandbagger somewhere in the third mile. We had this brief exchange:
Me: Clip clop clip clop
TS: Have we hit Mile 1 yet? I haven't seen any signs!
Me: Umm. Yeah. We just passed "3"
TS: (looks at his watch) Oh! Meep Meep zip Bang! (a la The Roadrunner)
Off he went like a shot.
We ran past scaffolding erected for the Rose Parade and the Gamble House before coming across the timing pad at the 10k point - 54 minutes, wow, I've got a shot at a PR here!
Not too far past the timing pad I slurped down a delicious gel pack and headed down onto the dirt trails that made up the middle section of the run. I was a little concerned about dust in this section but the week's rain made that a non-issue. I walked up a brutal uphill stretch of single-track trail - some poor dad out for a weekend stroll with his two little kids got caught on this section while I was climbing it. I encouraged the little girls, separated from their father, to wait on the uphill side of the trail so they didn't get hurt or fall down the side of the hill. (I didn't hear any screaming so I'm guessing that worked out okay.)
Once off this slope I tried to find The Sandbagger. He had opened up another 50 yards or so on me and so I went back to trying to reel him in without blowing myself out. At around mile 8 we got to the turnaround point and went onto another single-track trail. I really didn't like this stretch - it was very narrow and I was in a pack of runners that was moving along at a pretty good clip, enjoying the slight downhill slope. I had the feeling that if I slipped I would end up at the bottom of an eight-runner pileup.
As I came up to the Mile 10 marker I realized that I could still run a PR - if I ran the fastest 5k I'd ever run ever in my life ever. (My watch said 1:30, my half PR is around 1:53:30, and my 5k PR is 24ish.) I knew it was a longshot but I also knew the course was mostly downhill for the last three miles, so I poured it on, passing several people on the last big uphill section of the course.
Once again I could see The Sandbagger, 100 yards in front of me. I tried to keep him in sight while holding a sub-8 pace. Coming into mile 12 I had closed the gap down to about 50 yards but that was as close as I could get. Just like Stroller Lady at Santa Clarita last year, he might as well have been on a different planet.
In the end I just couldn't do it. My times for the last three miles were 8:03, 7:31, and 7:45 - fading to an 8:17 pace for the last tenth of a mile. I was just blown out. I had gone as hard as I could for as long as I could, but still managed a respectable (for me) time of 1:54:45.
Q&A With JaR:
Q: What's with "The Sandbagger?"
A: Look. Mister P has been telling me for the last two months "oh, I haven't run a sub two hour half in forever. oh, I haven't been running enough. oh, I had a bad long run this weekend oh, I have to wear these clown shoes to work because I have a pizza-sized blister on my foot" Then he peels out like Evel Kneivel from the start line, and when he gets a whiff of me behind him takes off like he'd been stung. Yeah. Right.
Q: How do you feel about your time?
A: I feel great! I wanted to improve on last month's Santa Clarita time (1:57:49) - check. It was a tough course and I'm quite pleased that in spite of all the hills I sliced a little more than three minutes off that time. I know that I was sniffing a PR for some of the race but I was not expecting one at all. I had nothing left for a finishing kick so I know I left it all out there. I did good.
Q: How about the Masters Clydesdale bit?
A: This was good too. It gave me something else to think about as I passed people, or people passed me. Just how fat is that guy? Does he look like he weighs over 200 pounds? I ended up finishing sixth in the class (out of 45, I was surprised how big the class was - no pun intended), which is fantastic! I had the 9th-fastest 10k split, so I picked a few guys off in the last six miles in spite of my so-so last mile. I'm hooked - I'd much rather finish 6th of 45 than 37th of 79, which is where I would have landed if I had run in my age group.
Q: How was the race otherwise?
A: Not bad, on balance. Good things: "Day-of" packet pickup. Two free beers after the race. Nice medal. Friendly volunteers on the course. Challenging course. Bad things: $10 to park. Two stalls in the men's room. Hard-to-find post-race snacks. Lame goody bag - homeopathic toothpaste?
Q: Free beers?
A: I know, crazy, huh? The beer sponsor was Michelob Ultra - which I discovered later is a low-cal, low-carb beer. This information almost led to another weblog entry titled "Does This Half Marathon Make Me Look Fat?" or "I Burned 2000 Calories and All You've Got Is Light Beer?" I know that 10 AM may seem early for a beer but the one I shared with Mister P was pretty tasty.
Hellooooooooooo! Anybody still reading?
(Let's just assume the answer to that question is yes.)
Tomorrow morning Mister P and I are running in the inaugural Rose Bowl Half Marathon. I'm doing something a little different this time. Let me explain.
I like to eat. I'd say that my main motivation for running is that burning calories allows me to have french fries with lunch and graze from the plentiful free candy available around the office and not really worry too much about it. In practical terms, this means that I haven't lost any weight since last year's marathon training got me down to around 205. I tend to hang around the 210 mark most of the time. Nobody believes me when I tell them my weight - height has it's advantages - but the fact is I haven't seen the sunny side of 200 in a long, long time.
I've always thought the Clydesdale class is a little silly. For those of you who don't know, some races have weight classes for well, "larger" athletes - for men it's "Clydesdale," the women's equivalent is generally called "Athena." (Aside - why do the women get a Greek goddess for their class name and the men get a draft animal?) For most races the Clydesdale class is open to men over 200 pounds, although there are different variants. Anyway, I can't really say why but it just seemed like a strange distinction to make.
This year I turned 40. When I was signing up for this race I realized that I was now eligible to enter as a Masters Clydesdale. I started giggling. Masters. Clydesdale. Images of pulling a Budweiser wagon danced through my head.
I don't know why this is funny but it is. I'm entered as a Masters Clydesdale for tomorrow. Wish me luck out there with all the other middle-aged fatties!
Last weekend I ran the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. Here's how the weekend went:
Saturday morning I got up and packed my marathon gear and a change of clothes and headed for Irvine. My college friend Greg is a running fanatic and he offered to run along with me in San Diego - we were meeting for lunch and heading down to the palatial Motel 6 room Greg had reserved for us. The drive down was uneventful and we got checked in to the hotel.
Ah, the hotel. Greg booked it, and he had two criteria - (a) reasonably priced and (b) not too far from the start line. The room was $90 a night and it was 3/4 of a mile from the start line, so he nailed the requirements. However, we also got a little more than we bargained for. The San Diego airport runways were about a block away, and the Amtrak tracks were about 20 feet from our room. I could only laugh as we watched planes on final approach fly over our hotel moments before landing and listened to trains whistle and rumble by.
After we checked in we headed over to the convention center to pick up our race packages. Race check-in was extremely well organized. With short stops to pick up our race bibs, timing chips, event t-shirts, and goodie bags, we were in and out of registration in less than ten minutes. After a quick stop in the expo area to buy some Body Glide we were on our way.
We met some of Greg's running club friends for the traditional pre-race pasta dinner, stopped by the grocery store for breakfast and last-minute snack supplies, and headed back to the hotel to try to get some rest. After enjoying the second half of a network-edited version of Office Space we turned off the lights and went to sleep.
Our wake-up call came at 5:20 and we started getting ourselves geared up for the day's activities. It was a great morning for a run - I was expecting it to be a little colder and a little damper but it was very pleasant. We ate a little something, got ready, packed up, checked out, and started walking toward the start area.
We got to the race start with about five minutes to spare. The national anthem was being performed as we found our start corral and got ready to go. At this moment I took off the long-sleeved tee I was wearing for warmth and revealed the "I BLAME GREG" sign I had pinned to the back of my shirt (props to Neoprene Wedgie for both the idea and the sign). Greg took one look and moaned a quiet "oh, no..." as he saw it. See, I would be happily running on my treadmill without a care in the world if it hadn't been for Greg calling me up one day a few years back and saying "Hey Spud, Devo is playing at the finish line of a race called the Run Hit Wonder - can you run three miles?" It was my first race and I have been doing them ever since. It really is all his fault.
The start gun went off - or so I was told, we didn't hear a thing what with 10,000 people in front of us - and we were underway. About 4 minutes later we came across the starting pads and were officially On Course. Woot!
My goal for the Rock and Roll Marathon was 4:20. Personally, I recommend this as a goal because the math is extremely easy - 10 minute miles. For some reason, when I get an hour or so into a run I lose the ability to do simple math problems. It can take me a mile or so to figure out what my per-mile times have been and what my overall pace /predicted finish times are - and then I have another mile to contend with. It's painful.
Anyway, with that in mind we set a pace at around 10 minute miles and tried to settle in.
Now seems like a good time to mention my general health on Sunday morning. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had some kind of stomach bug all week. I won't get into the specifics but I was not eating much all week and had actually dropped 3 or 4 pounds. Saturday's lunch was the first big meal I'd eaten since the previous weekend. Sunday morning I felt great but I wasn't sure how long one lunch and one pasta dinner were really going to last me. (You can only carry so many gel-packs...) Greg and I talked a little about it and I decided that we might as well give it a shot and see how long I could go.
The first ten miles went quickly. We picked up a little time here, gave back a little time there, and basically ran our pace. The route was packed with people - I just couldn't believe how many runners were out on the course. We got through Balboa Park and the Gaslamp District before heading out onto the freeway for a few miles.
It is very bizarre to run on the freeway. We walked a little here as we headed up some of the only decent sized hills of the course but got all that time back and more on the downhill side. Before I knew it we were passing the 13.1 mile timing standard, right on pace for a 4:20 marathon.
This was, however, the beginning of the end for my 4:20 dreams. With no reserves to speak of I started to flatten out, and by the time we got to mile 18 we were walking as much as we were running. At mile 20 or so Greg - who had said he would "run with me the whole way" told me he was going to go and that he'd find me around mile 25. I told him to get going and that I wasn't running anyway. (In hindsight I should have offered him a quick rendition of my oft-rehearsed monologue of Gloria Gaynor's biggest hit.)
I made a couple more half-hearted attempts to get into a running rhythm that I could sustain but it never lasted more than a few minutes. I was able to maintain a brisk walk - 13-14 minute miles - and so I purposefully strode towards the finish. I won't lie to you - I was bummed that I wasn't going to reach my goal - but the mind is amazingly flexible on some things. In this case, it was a very smooth transition from 4:20 to 4:45 to 5:00.
At the Mile 23 marker I did some quick calculations (the extended walk had restored math function to my brain) and figured I was on pace for 5 hours if I didn't lag about. "It's just a 5k" I told myself as I tried once again to run - my body said "screw you" and I returned to my aggressive walk.
Let me say one more thing about the number of runners. No matter what your pace was there were people everywhere. People, people, people! I was walking faster than most of the walkers and slower than all of the runners - although some of the runners seemed to be expending a lot more energy than I was, only to be moving 30 seconds per mile faster. The funny thing was that most people seemed to be traveling with friends, which made conversation much more limited. Why talk to strangers when you can chat with your friends? I got a few comments about Blaming Greg - some from guys named Greg - but it was not the big conversation starter I was anticipating. In the end, the crowds of runners and volunteers were there but they didn't seem to play too much part in my race. I've heard people say that the loneliest they have ever felt was walking down a crowded sidewalk in New York City and I think there's something of that in running a mega-event like this one. (I will say that the volunteers for this race were plentiful and extremely appreciated.)
My new revised revised plan for the race was to walk to the Mile 25 marker and then burn whatever was left running the last 1.2 miles. It certainly wasn't "before I knew it" but eventually the Mile 25 marker and water station appeared around a corner and it was Go Time.
Walking in to the water station I gave myself one of the world's greatest pep talks. It was definitely up there with my favorite example from literature, the St. Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V. Unfortunately for you the reader, in addition to being deeply motivational it was also deeply personal and I will not share it here. Suffice it to say that I was physically stirred (goosebumps) and filled with the last rushings of adrenaline my body had to offer.
The Mile 25 water station water was Ice Cold. This was not so good for sipping (can you say stomach cramps?) but the cupful I dumped on my head felt Wonderful.
Cooled and motivated, I scared several runners around me with a loud "Let's GO!" before bolting off through traffic.
As I turned into the Marine base for the last 3/4 mile Greg came back onto the course to finish with me. In spite of the time he lost strolling with me he still managed to turn in a 4:30 marathon, most impressive - and still come out and run some more. The last stretch involved a lot of blind turns so it was nice to have Greg along. Here's how the conversation went:
Brad: Is that
(Repeated about five times.)
Finally the finish line was in sight, and I checked my watch. We had a couple hundred yards to go and I realized that I had 60 seconds remaining if I was going to finish in less that five hours. So I did what all foolish runners who are motivated by arbitrary time intervals do - I picked up the pace as much as I dared. From an academic perspective it was an interesting exercise - how hard can I run without throwing up? If I were to throw up, what would vanilla gel packs taste like the second time around? Luckily these questions both remained unanswered as I stayed below the Vomit Threshold and came across the line in 4:59:39. Woot!
Once you finish a marathon, it really doesn't matter any more how you got there. Done! DONE! Yeah!
Here are some pictures of my exciting day at the races:
After receiving my medal and turning in my timing chip we gathered up our free food and drink before wandering off. The shuttle lines for the buses looked to be about an hour long so we ended up walking back to the hotel - 2 more miles thank-you-very-much. Once back at the hotel we jumped into the pool to cool off, got dressed, and headed out. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt!
I am still a little disappointed that I so completely blew through my original time goal but I think that my illness made it extremely unlikely. However, by the middle of the week I was feeling much better about the whole thing - I was not sore at all. To run a five-hour marathon and have a three day recovery is not so bad, really. In the words of Neoprene Wedgie I have "no unfinished business" with the marathon - and now I am on to shorter and more varied adventures. I will keep running but I plan to focus on 10k's and half-marathons for a while. Frankly I'm looking forward to a little less distance in the training plan.
Ah, tapering. The best part of the training program.
I was enjoying my taper - short weekend runs and weekday runs that barely warranted lacing up my shoes - when my worst nightmare struck. Six days before the race I got the stomach flu. Oh geez.
By Friday I was feeling better but I really wasn't sure how it was going to go on Sunday. I decided that as long as I wasn't spending all my time on the toilet (one way or the other) I was going to run the race. I've often taken ibuprofen before a long run, but never Immodium. Hmm.
At this point the marathon is done but there are still many stories to tell. I'll tell them in order, yes indeed.
So, let's begin. When last I typed, I was stressing out about my pending 20 mile run. Well hey, guess what - it went great.
I took it easy for the first few hours, running easy 12 to 12.5 minute miles. I felt great as I turned for home at the 15 mile mark so I picked up the pace to 9 - 9.5 minute miles. I finished strong and walked home feeling very good.
Bring on the marathon!
So, here's where I was on Sunday - my Achilles seemed to be stretching out nicely. I was cautiously optimistic that a change in running surface and shoes would help my knee feel okay. I was looking forward to a good, strong 12 mile run to build my confidence.
Not so fast there, Just A Runner...
I was camping with my son's Cub Scout pack over the weekend and didn't get a chance to head out until mid afternoon Sunday. It was hot. It was windy. It was not the sort of pre-sunrise weather I'm used to running in.
The run was horrible. I got my 12 miles in - barely - mile 12 was at a scorching 95% max heart rate/13-minute pace. Oof. I thought I was going to pass out. Even my iPod was mocking me - shuffling up "Nice Guys Finish Last" and "Walking on the Sun" as I lamely tried to finish. The only good thing was a complete lack of pain in my knee and my Achilles. (Which is something, I suppose.)
The pressure's on for next weekend. I need to NAIL that 20-miler.
So. Picture this: marathon in four weeks. No running to speak of for the previous two weeks.
I needed to get in an 18 mile run. It needed to go well. Neither of these things came to pass.
I ran 15 miles. I stopped early because my left knee was throbbing with pain at each footfall. The next morning my right Achilles tendon was very tight and sore.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
So now I have four weekends until the marathon. I haven't had a good long run in a month. My left knee hurts. My right Achilles tendon hurts. This is not looking good.
Both of my knees hurt when I walked in the door from my run this morning. It was only a short outing - four miles - but they were sore.
Am I worried? Not really.
They hurt because I spent five minutes crawling around on the concrete looking for my house key, which I dropped walking up to my front door. I was looking at the paper so I didn't see where it bounced/landed, and since the kids didn't have school today I didn't want to risk waking anybody up banging on the door.
What could I do? Even if the family had been awake, I can hardly leave a key to the front door laying around in the flower beds, now can I? So I nosed around until I found it. Bronzish door keys blend in surprisingly well with last summer's creeping fig leaves.
Two interesting things I've seen while out running lately:
1. Half a cat. Really - I was out a couple weeks back and saw a lump of something furry on the trail. As I got closer I saw that it was the front half of a cat. Head, front legs, chest cavity - you could see the cat's ribs (from the inside). Nice. Looked like a fresh kill too - no bugs and no stink. Damn dirty coyotes, can't even finish up a cat.
2. Maniacal bicyclist. I was running down one side of the road and a cyclist went by on the other side of the street, going the same direction as me. Nothing unusual there.
About 30 seconds later, from the darkness ahead, I heard a strange crunch/crashing sound. Since I was already running toward the noise I just kept going. As I came over a slight rise I saw said cyclist - lying in the road, underneath his bike. !!!
I couldn't figure this one out as he had been riding on the sidewalk, which is separated from the road by a six-foot wide strip of grass.
I yelled out "ARE YOU OKAY?" as I approached, but when I got close enough to check on him he stood up, picked up his bike, and started cackling maniacally. He hopped back on his bike and headed on his way, still cackling. I yelled "I'LL TAKE THAT FOR A YES!" and resumed my boring seven-mile cackle-free run. I still don't know how he ended up in the road like that.
Well, after a longish winter break I am back in the saddle.
A couple weeks ago I started training for the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in early June.
This time around I'm trying Hal Higdon's Novice II plan. He doesn't mess around with this one. The week 4 long run was 12 miles. Whoo!
Further boring stories as events warrant.