Sunday, March 12, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Barcelona Marathon

This morning, I ran the Barcelona Marathon in Barcelona, Spain.  I’ve wanted to visit Barcelona for years.  I was interested in seeing some of the work of Antoni Gaudi.  In particular, I wanted to see La Sagrada Famila.

I’ve had this race on my bucket list, but it never quite seemed to fit into my plans.  I kept putting it off and saying, “Maybe next year.”  I thought 2017 would be the same story.

My passport was going to expire this year, so I mailed in my application for renewal in November.  I wasn’t going to book any international travel until I had my new passport.  I didn’t expect to get it until late December, and by then it might be too late to plan a trip to Barcelona.  The race might be full, the airfare might be too expensive, or the hotels might already be booked.

Just a day or two after mailing in my passport renewal, I learned about an airfare sale.  Delta and American were both offering deeply discounted fares to several cities in Europe.  One of them was Barcelona.  When I learned I could fly round trip from Minneapolis to Barcelona for $446, I couldn’t pass that up.

After entering the race and booking my flight, I started researching accommodations.  Marathon Tours & Travel had a block of rooms at the Crowne Plaza.  I might have found something less expensive if I booked myself, but the Crowne Plaza was ideally located for the race.  I also like being in a tour group with other runners.

Despite pessimistic estimates of how long passport renewals were taking, I had the new one in about two weeks.

Thursday, March 9

I arrived around noon, after an overnight flight to Paris and a morning flight to Barcelona.  After I got to my hotel, I took a few minutes to unpack and then had lunch at a nearby pizzeria.

My hotel was located near Montjuïc, a large hill that overlooks the city.  After lunch, I hiked to the top of Montjuïc.  From there, you can get some good views of the city.

The climb was more tiring than I expected.  It probably didn’t help that I was overdressed.  While I was there, I toured Castell de Montjuïc.  This 18th century castle was built on the ruins of an older fort that was built in 1640.

I spent a good part of the afternoon touring the castle.  Then I still had to find my way back to the hotel.  To hike up and down the hill, I took a combination of sidewalks, stairs, and streets that snaked back and forth.  I knew which direction it was to get back to the hotel, but the easiest route down the hill often took me in other directions.  I had to use my phone for directions.  By the time I got back to the hotel, my phone needed recharging.

For the rest of the day, I stuck to sights that were close to the hotel.  About two blocks away, there’s a fountain called Font màgica de Montjuïc (the magic fountain of Montjuïc).  Near the fountain, there’s a large art museum.

At 6:00, there was a cocktail reception at the hotel, where I had a chance to meet other members of my tour group.  It was just drinks and appetizers, but I was still so full from lunch that I didn’t really need another meal.  After talking to other runners for about an hour, I finally ran out of gas for the day.

I had no trouble getting to sleep that night, but staying asleep was another matter.  My sleep was spotty.

Friday, March 10

After breakfast, I met the rest of my tour group in the lobby to begin a half day city tour.  Our stops included La Sagrada Familia, Passeig de Gracia, Casa Milá, Parque Guell, Plaza Cataluña, Las Ramblas, Barrio Gótico, and Las Ramblas.

We had great weather for sightseeing every day.  Lows were in the lower 50s, and highs were in the lower 60s with mostly sunny skies.

La Sagrada Familia is the crown jewel of Barcelona.  Once Gaudi began work on it in 1873, he dedicated his life to it, not working on anything else.  Gaudi died in 1926, but other architects have continued his work.  The church is still unfinished and will probably take decades to complete.

Passeig de Gracia is Barcelona’s main shopping street.  It’s also home to this residence, which was designed by Gaudi.

Casa Milá, also known as La Pedrera (the quarry) is a modernist home, which was also designed by Gaudi.

Parque Guell is a large city park built on a hillside overlooking the city.  It includes statues and other features that were also designed by Gaudi.

Las Ramblas is a pedestrian boulevard that runs from Plaza Cataluña to the harbor.  It’s lined with shops, restaurants, bars and markets.  It’s also home to street vendors and street performers.  On one side of Las Ramblas is Barrio Gótico (the gothic quarter).  Here, we saw a gothic cathedral.

After our tour, we walked over to the expo.  Then I had a late lunch with two of the other runners in my tour group.  I say late lunch, because it was already after 2:00, but that’s a normal lunch time for Catalonians.  Restaurants are typically only open for lunch from 1:30 to 4:00.  Then they reopen for dinner at 8:00.

After lunch, I returned to Plaza Cataluña on my own and walked the full length of Las Ramblas.  I also explored a few of the narrow streets of Barrio Gótico.

On my way back, I walked by the magic fountain.  On Friday and Saturday evenings, they have light and music shows.  I got there just as they were starting.

Finally, when it was late enough for restaurants to re-open, I went back out for dinner.

Saturday, March 11

The day before the marathon, they had a 4.2 kilometer race called the Breakfast Run.  Several large international races have fun runs like these.  Sometimes they’re called friendship runs.  The race was free, but I usually skip races like this so I can have fresh legs for the marathon.  Unlike some runners, I don’t run every day.  I usually rest the day before a race.

What made this run difficult to pass up was the course.  To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Olympics, the route followed the last 4.2 kilometers of the route used for the 1992 Olympic Marathon.  I remember watching TV coverage of the 1992 Olympics.  They frequently showed aerial views of Montjuïc, since the Olympic Stadium was there.  The Olympic Marathon route finished by climbing this hill to reach the stadium.  This was my opportunity to experience that same climb and finish inside the stadium.  The marathon route we were running on Sunday didn’t include Montjuïc, so this was my only chance to run it.

The Breakfast Run didn’t start until 9:30, so I had time to eat breakfast at the hotel first.  I ate light, knowing I would have more food after the run.

The race started in a plaza next to the magic fountain, which was only two blocks from the hotel.  Before the start, I saw a few runners in costumes.  This one was the best.

At first the road was downhill, but it quickly turned up.  We had to make several switchbacks to get to the top.  After we ran one kilometer, I saw this sign.  For the Olympic athletes, this was 39K.  I tried to imagine how hard this climb must have been for them.  We had cool weather, but they were running it on a hot evening in August.

This was a fun run, so nobody was trying to run fast.  As we entered the stadium and started running around the track, about half of the runners were taking pictures.

As we left the stadium, there were volunteers to lead us on the most direct route down to the plaza where we started.  Volunteers there were serving pastries and fruit with coffee, tea or water.

In the afternoon, I went on a guided tour of La Sagrada Familia.  I could have done a self-guided tour, but by going with a tour group I was able to skip the ticket lines.  You can easily spend two hours waiting in line.  I saw the outside of the church during our city tour in Friday, but you have to see the inside.  Our guide explained some of the architectural details and the symbolism of the artwork.  There’s a lot of light from outside, and the stained glass windows fill the nave with different colors.

Outside, there’s a bronze scale model that shows what the church will look like when it’s complete.  They still haven’t started the main façade or the central towers.

Our tour package included a pre-race dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant.  Most of the runners had pasta, but the menu also included pizza.  Naturally, I had the pizza.

Sunday, March 12

Sunday was race day.  The race didn’t start until 8:30, so I had time to grab a light breakfast at the hotel before the race.  The start area was close enough to the hotel that we could walk.

The weather on Sunday was just like the previous few days.  It was low 50s at the start of the race, but warmed into the low 60s.  It was mostly sunny.

Ted, another runner in my tour group, was assigned to the same start corral, so we walked to the start together.  Because our hotel was so close, we didn’t need to use the gear check or the port-o-potties.  Ted’s goal was to break 3:50.  I wasn’t sure if I could run that fast, so we each started at our own pace.  Before long, I noticed we were both running at the same pace.  Before long, we were running together.

In the early kilometers, we were on pace for roughly 3:45.  I had doubts about sustaining that pace, but I felt OK, so I decided to stay with Ted for as long as I could.

I never took the time to study the course map, so there were times when I didn’t know where we were.  Other times, I saw familiar landmarks.  The course was one big loop, with a two out-and-back segments.  I like courses that start and finish in the same place.  It makes the logistics easy.

Some European races only have aid stations every five kilometers.  We had to wait 5K for the first one, but after that they were every 2.5K. That was about right.  It warmed up quickly, so I needed to drink at every aid station to stay hydrated.

Early in the race, we passed two different drum groups.  I’ve seen those in a few other races, but usually only once.  Every so often, we would pass another.  There must have been at least 10 along the course.  The sound of multiple drums carries much better than a rock band.

We must have been at least 10K into the race when we passed the runner who wore an Eiffel Tower costume in the breakfast run.  He was also wearing it in the marathon.  It looked heavy.

The first time I knew where we were was when I turned onto Passeig de Gracia.  This street has a noticeable grade to it.  This race didn’t have any steep hills, but there were several long gradual hills.

In races that are marked in kilometers, I divide the race into three 14K segments.  We reached 14K in roughly 1:15.  So far, the pace was fast, but felt manageable.  In the middle third of the race, the same pace started to feel tiring.

The highlight of the course comes between 16 and 17K, when we ran directly in front of La Sagrada Familia.

From 18 to 22K, we were on the first out-and-back segment.  Going out, it was mostly uphill.  By now, the sun was high enough in the sky that building no longer provided shade.  I started to feel hot and tired.

Just before the halfway mark, we turned around.  It was a relief to run downhill.  We reached the halfway mark in 1:54:11, but I had serious doubts about holding that pace in the second half.
About this time, I felt a nice cool breeze from my left.  I also noticed that the sun had gone behind some clouds.  The clouds and wind were the only things that kept me from overheating in the second half.

Increasingly, we started seeing spectators crossing the street.  Some ran, some walked, but none of them seemed to do a good job of watching for runners.  They seemed to expect the runners to avoid them, which wasn’t always easy.  I saw a few people crossing the street while looking away from the runners.  This was a common problem throughout the race.  I’ve never seen this at any other race.

From 26 to 31K, we ran another out-and-back segment.  On the way out, we were running toward Torre Agbar, which is one of the most recognizable buildings in the city.  We turned around just as we reached it.

We reached the 28K mark in 2:31 and change.  We slowed a little in the middle third of the race, but not as much as I thought.  Now I was just hanging on.  I decided to stick with Ted as long as I could, but I was worried that I would fade.  If I couldn’t keep up, I would focus on breaking four hours.  At this point, I was pretty sure I could do that even if I struggled in the late kilometers.

Around 32K, we turned and ran along the waterfront.  Now I started recognizing lots of landmarks ahead of us.  Ted was also struggling to hold the pace.  I realized we were slowing down when I found it easier to keep up.

We made a detour through the old town that took us right under the Arc de Triumf.  I hadn’t seen it before, so I regretted not having a camera with me.

Between 39 and 40K, we turned onto Avinguda del Paral.lel.  From there on, I knew where we were.  We were on the most direct route to the finish.

After struggling through the last few kilometers, we both finished in 3:50:43.  It took a few minutes to work our way through the finish area and get our medals.  After that, it was barely more than a block to get back to the hotel.  They were also handing out plastic ponchos.  I didn’t need anything to keep warm, but I’ll save it to use as a warm-up layer for a future race.

Race Statistics
Distance:  42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles)
Time:  3:50:43
Average Pace:  8:48 per mile
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  330
Countries:  24

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I'm Building a Better Base

I ran 269.3 miles last month.  That’s the most miles I’ve ever run in February.  The 247.65 miles I ran in January was also a personal best.  I’m off to my best start ever with 516.95 miles in just two months.  By contrast, last year I ran only 12 miles in the first two months.

I’ve never been a high mileage runner.  Over the last 10 years, I’ve averaged 42 miles per week.  Even when I’ve trained for ultramarathons, my mileage has generally topped out at about 65 miles per week.

I’ve had good marathon results on moderate mileage, but I’ve always wondered if I could take my training to another level with more mileage.  I’ve also always felt like I was doing just enough to get by when I trained for longer ultramarathons.

Two years ago, I decided to try building up to 100 miles per week.  At the time, I was running about 50 miles per week.  My plan was to build gradually, adding one extra mile each week.  I’ve learned from experience that most “overuse” injuries stem from ramping up too quickly.  Your body can adapt to almost any training load, but you have to give it enough time to adapt.  A friend once advised me to ramp up at two percent per week.  That worked well for me the year I trained for my best 24-hour run.

Unfortunately, I never got past the 60s two years ago.  That’s when I had the groin strain that started my downward spiral.  I don’t think that had anything to do with my training load.  I hurt myself while moving some furniture.

Last year, I stopped running completely for seven weeks.  After that, I had no base.  I had to start training from scratch, and that meant I had to be careful not to ramp up too quickly.  Here’s a graph of my monthly mileage since last March.

At times, my mileage actually dipped.  That’s because I was starting to feel like I was overtraining.  When in doubt, I held back.  I wanted to have a firm foundation, even if it took all year to get there.

I expected to have a big breakthrough in December, getting a boost from all the race miles I was doing.  Breaking a rib on the first day of the Four Corners Quad, was a setback, but I got back into training as quickly as I could.  Instead of surging above 200 miles, I dipped to 179.6 for the month.

While I was recovering from that injury, I could only run on the treadmill, and I had to go at a slow pace.  Still, I had a breakthrough.  I finished the year with two consecutive 50 mile weeks.

I began this year with another 50 mile week.  Since then, I’ve extended that streak to 10 consecutive weeks with at least 50 miles.  I also started setting the bar higher.  Each week, I had one mile to my minimum goal.

Here’s another graph.  This one is my weekly mileage since the start of the year.  There are two weeks that I exceeded my goal.  Both times, it was the result of race mileage.  In January, I had a week that included three marathons.  In February, I had a week that included the first 70 miles of the Rocky Raccoon 100.  (I use a Sunday through Saturday week, so my mileage for that race got split between two different weeks.)

In both of those weeks, I ran only 10 miles the rest of the week.  I wanted to be careful not to overdo it.

Right now, I’m emphasizing endurance over speed.  Eventually I’ll add some speed work, but I want to make sure I’m ready for it.  That might make it harder to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon, but I’m more concerned with being able to finish the Bighorn Mountain 100 in June.

Despite my lack of speed work, I had a surprisingly good result last weekend at the Cowtown Marathon.  My average pace of 8:45 was faster than the pace of most of my recent training runs, and I still felt strong in the late miles.  Mileage counts for something.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep building my mileage.  I’ll taper for a few weeks before the Bighorn Mountain 100.  After that, I’ll probably pick up where I left off, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to 100 mile weeks.  By then I’ll be in uncharted territory, and I’ll have to see how my body reacts.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Cowtown Marathon

It’s been three weeks since the Rocky Raccoon 100.  That’s as long as I’m willing to go between marathons, because I used them as my long training runs.  I considered doing the Post Oak Challenge in Tulsa, but that seemed like too much, too soon.  As I looked at easier races, the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, TX quickly became the leading candidate.  I’ve never done this race before, but some of my friends have done it, and they all seem to like it.  (OK, they did have to cancel the race two years ago because of an ice storm, but that was an unusually bad storm.)

It seems like my race schedule for this year is being dictated by airfares.  I’ve had to pass on a few races I really wanted to do, because the airfares were too expensive.  I’ve also booked some unexpected international trips, because I discovered outrageously cheap airfares.  When I priced flights to Dallas/Fort Worth for this weekend, I was pleased to see a nice affordable airfare.  That made the decision easy.

In addition to the marathon, they have a 50K, a half marathon, a 10K, two 5Ks (one for adults, one for children), a half marathon, and a 50K.  Altogether, these races have about 30,000 participants.  I had no idea this was such a large event.

I stayed at a hotel near the medical center, just south of I-30.  I considered staying downtown, but the hotels were more expensive, and I would have to pay for parking.  Where I stayed, there weren’t as many nearby restaurants, but I was only a few miles from where the race started and finished.

The expo was held at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, which was also the start/finish location.  After checking into my hotel, I drove to the expo to pick up my race packet.  There were several parking ramps and lots we could use for free.  I drove to the Western Heritage Garage and found a long line of cars waiting to get in.  Apparently there was another event going on besides the expo, and people were also parking for that.  Once I parked, it was easy to get to the expo, and packet pickup was quick and efficient.  This race gives you two T-shirts.  I got this short sleeved shirt with my race packet.  There was also a long-sleeved shirt that we would get later for finishing.

After the expo, I visited the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District.  Located about three miles north of downtown, this used to the regional marketplace for cattle, sheep and hogs.  Now it’s a shopping and entertainment district that preserves the image of Fort Worth as “Cowtown.”  In addition to shops, bars and restaurants, it’s home to rodeos and the Texas Cowboy Fall of Fame.  Twice a day, they hold reenactments of cattle drives.  I was there to see them move this small herd of longhorn cattle down Exchange Avenue.

I had dinner at Chimera Brewing Company.  Before a trip, I often use Google maps to scout for pizza places near my hotel.  I knew I found the right one when I read this description on their website:

“We make beer.  That is what we are passionate about.  We are also passionate about our traditional Italian pizza using dough and sauce made in house.  And unicorns.  We love unicorns.”

For my pre-race dinner, I opted for this brie and speck pizza.  I also sampled a few of their beers.  I wore a Boston Marathon shirt, because unicorns.

I was able to get to sleep early, but I only slept for a few hours.  After that, I couldn’t get back to sleep.  At 4:00, I finally gave up on sleeping and started getting ready for the race.  I wanted to park in the Western Heritage Garage again, because it’s right next to the starting line, and I knew I could get in and out without crossing any streets that are blocked off for the race.  After seeing the line of cars to get into this ramp on Saturday, I didn’t want to take any chances.

The race didn’t start until 7:00, but I left the hotel around 5:15. When I got to the parking ramp, there were multiple volunteers directing cars to the closest parking spots.  By 5:30, I was parked.

They had a gear check, but it was more convenient to just leave my warm-up clothes in my car.  First, I needed to make a bathroom stop.  I expected to have to walk over to the start corrals to find port-o-potties.  Instead, there were six of them right outside the exit from the parking ramp.  That could not have been more convenient.

It was 40 degrees at the start, but there was enough wind to make it feel much colder.  I wore tights, gloves, arm warmers, and a warm hat.  Even with all that, I still felt cold when I went outside.  I waited as long as possible before leaving my car to line up for the start.

I was in the second corral.  I could see the 3:45 pace group, but I didn’t want to start that fast.  I wasn’t sure yet if I was going to set a time goal for this race.  If I did, it would be four hours at the fastest.  I saw the 4:00 pace group lined up in corral three.  I couldn’t start with them either.

After the first corral started, my corral started moving into position.  The announcer said he hoped we could have a “clean start” like the first corral did.  I quickly found out what he meant by that.  The spacing between corrals was intended to give us every opportunity to run at our own pace without being slowed down by congestion.  By the time I crossed the starting line, we were already running.  By the end of the first block, everyone could run at their own pace.  That’s a clean start.

I didn’t have a goal pace in mind.  My tentative plan was to keep the pace comfortable for the first half of the race.  I could always set goals later, after seeing how I felt.  I could see the 3:45 group gradually pulling away.  That’s good.  I knew I shouldn’t try to keep up with them.

I mostly ran at the same pace as the people around me.  I was running with the herd.  Every so often, I would ask myself if the pace felt comfortable and sustainable.  For the most part, it did, but I could feel some tightness in my left hamstring. I also noticed that on Saturday, just walking around.  It wasn’t a big deal, but it was something to watch.

The mile markers were low to the ground, and I missed the first five.  When I got to the six mile sign, I checked my watch.  My pace was just under nine minutes per mile.  That put me on pace to break four hours.  For the time being, I felt comfortable with that pace, but I had two long-term concerns.  First, my left hamstring still felt tight.  I had hoped it would feel better as I got warmed up.  I had to be careful not to run too fast.

My other concern was the weather.  It was going to warm up about 10 degrees by the time I finished.  For now, I couldn’t imagine wearing anything less, but I might feel overdressed later in the race.

In the next mile, we ran through the stockyards.  We ran right down Exchange Avenue, which is where I watched the cattle drive on Saturday.  There were quite a few spectators there.  We were a much larger “herd.”  I wonder if we were as interesting to watch.

A section of Exchange Avenue is paved with bricks, but over the years they’ve worn unevenly.  They felt like cobblestones.  Nevertheless, this was my favorite part of the course.

After leaving the stockyards, we ran toward downtown.  I missed two more mile markers, but saw the one for nine miles.  I checked my watch again.  I sped up over the last three miles.  The pace still felt comfortable, but I was still in “wait and see” mode.

There was a long gradual hill just before we got into the downtown area.  After the hill, I felt my hamstring tighten.  It eventually loosened up again, but I noticed the same thing after each hill.

In general, the course wasn’t flat, but it also didn’t strike me as hilly.  There were hills from time to time, but they were all either short or gradual.  There aren’t any “heartbreak” hills on this course.

Downtown, I started to see people walking.  Since the start of the race, the marathon and half marathon had been together.  For runners doing the half marathon, there were only four miles to go.  They were getting into the “tough” miles.

Just before leaving downtown, the two courses split.  At some races, half marathoners vastly outnumber marathoners.  That didn’t seem to be the case here.  After the split, there were still enough runners around me that I could continue to run with the herd.

For a mile or two, I didn’t know where we were.  Then I saw a building I recognized.  It was Chimera Brewing Company, where I had dinner on Saturday.  We were running down Magnolia Avenue.  I started to smell barbecue, and I knew immediately where the smell was coming from.  It was a popular barbecue restaurant I had walked past on my way to and from dinner.  They weren’t open yet, but the meat was already cooking.  You could smell it from a block away.  That got me thinking.  Would my post-race dinner be pizza, or would I have to have barbecue instead?

After two more turns, I noticed the name of the street was Park Place.  Three weeks ago, I did another race in Texas that had boardwalks.  Was I doing the Texas version of Monopoly?

Just before the 13 mile mark, I saw a beer stop.  I’ll typically stop for beer if I don’t care about my time, but I won’t if I’m pressing for a fast time.  I still wasn’t sure if I would try to break four hours.  The cups were small.  They only held about two ounces of beer.  I figured two ounces wouldn’t hurt my race, so I stopped for one.

I reached the halfway mark in 1:56:19.  I was on pace to break four hours by a wide margin.  I reluctantly set a goal of breaking four, but I wouldn’t necessarily run as fast in the second half as I had in the first half.

With each mile marker, my confidence grew.  The remaining distance seemed more and more manageable, but the pace still felt OK.  Subconsciously, I sped up.  I noticed I was starting to pass some of the other runners.  I could also see from my splits that I was getting faster.

With about nine miles to go, I saw another beer stop.  This time, I skipped it.  Now I was in race mode.

The volunteers at this race were excellent.  They were helpful and enthusiastic, and they all seemed to know what they were doing.  The spectators were also good.  The crowds weren’t huge, but they had a lot of enthusiasm.  Our names were on our race bibs, and several people encouraged me by name.

It’s getting more and more common for spectators to hold up amusing signs.  I saw two signs saying “Don’t poop.”  One had a drawing that looked like a poop emoji.  The woman holding that sign saw the name on my bib and yelled, “Go, David.”  I felt like I was getting mixed messages.  She was telling me to go, but her sign was telling me not to “go.”

Every mile, I figured out what pace I needed to break four hours.  With 7.2, miles to go, 10 minutes per mile would be fast enough.  As I got more confident, I picked up my effort.  I was no longer running with the herd.  Now I was gradually passing everyone around me.

I was still noticing my hamstring.  It didn’t hurt, but it was tight from my butt to my knee.  I had to be a little bit careful.

With about five miles to go, I caught up to a runner wearing a green shirt.  He was focused on finishing strong.  I got close to him, but I never passed him.  Then he started to pull away.  I tried to keep him in sight.

At 22 miles, I realized I could break four hours just by running 11 minutes per mile.  If I could run 10 minutes per mile for rest of the way, I would average nine minute miles for the whole race.  Then it occurred to me that I could run negative splits if I sustained my current pace.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to press that hard.  I was worried about the hamstring.

I passed another beer stop.  This one was the Fort Worth Hash House Harriers.  Their cups were larger and full of beer.  I couldn’t risk it.

At one of the aid stations, a volunteer said “Only 5K to go.”  Could that be right?  Did I miss the 23 sign.  It was a long time before I saw another mile marker.  When I did, it was 24 miles.

During that mile, a spectator yelled. “Don’t back down now.”  I’ve often remarked that spectators don’t know the right things to say to encourage the runners. This one did.  That’s exactly the right thing to say with two or three miles to go.  Unfortunately, my hamstring was giving me a different message.  It was saying, “Maybe it would be smart to back down now.”

I checked my watch again.  My pace over the previous two miles was slower than nine minutes.  At first I was discouraged.  Then I realized I would run negative splits if I finished the last 2.2 miles in 22 minutes.  I might be slowing down, but I knew I could do that.  For the first time, negative splits became a firm goal.

I was still falling behind “green shirt guy,” but as he moved up through the field, I was also passing all the same runners.  If I could keep passing people, I’d be fast enough.

I was starting to get really hot now.  I had already taken off my gloves.  In theory, I could take off my arm warmers, but it’s hard to do that on the run.  I felt sweat under my hat.  I felt sweat under my arm warmers.  I felt sweat under my T-shirt, and it was causing some chaffing on my left side.  I decided to tough it out.

We were running on a bike path that follows a stream.  Then we made a U-turn onto the adjacent street.  Suddenly, I felt the cold wind.  Before, it was at my back.  Now, it was a headwind.  I wasn’t hot any more.

At 25 miles, I knew negative splits was in the bank.  Then I realized I might be able to beat another goal.  My fastest time last year was 3:36:39, but that was on a point-to-point course that was all downhill.  My fastest recent time on a loop course was 3:51:00.  With 1.2 miles to go, breaking 3:51 was definitely doable.

With about one mile to go, I passed the last aid station.  Now that I was no longer hot, I was confident I could skip this one.  In the distance, I could hear someone talking over a loudspeaker.  Could I be close enough to hear the finish area?

I eventually saw a race official in the middle of the street, using the loudspeaker to shout out encouragement.  He said we had about a half mile to go.  After two quick turns, someone else said we had about half a mile to go.  At least one of them was wrong.

I started to pass lots of walkers.  I was moving through the back of the pack of the half marathon. I never noticed where the two courses came together again.

I saw a turn in the distance.  I assumed it was the last turn before the finish line.  I was wrong.  After turning, I saw the 26 mile sign, but I still didn’t see the finish line.  There was one more turn.  I checked my watch.  I was going to break 3:50.

Just before the last turn, I saw the 13 mile sign for the half marathon.  I checked my watch again.  I was definitely going to break 3:50.

I crossed the line in 3:49:33.  It was my fastest time on an honest course in almost two years.  I also ran negative splits by about three minutes.  Maybe waiting until halfway before setting goals is something I should do more often.

As soon as I finished, I looked for a volunteer with a heat shield, so I could wrap myself in it.  Without it, I’d get cold awfully fast.  It was still windy.  Next, I got my finisher medal.  It’s part of a multi-year series.  If you collect medals from enough consecutive years, they can be joined to form a larger design.

I probably won’t come back for enough years to collect the set, but there were a lot of things I liked about this race.  Some of them were right in the finish area.

They had a tent in the finish area where you could get your result.  I knew what time my watch read, but it’s always nice to know what your timing chip said.

In addition to the heat shields, they were handing out light blue jackets made of non-woven polypropylene.  They had long sleeves and hoods, and they zipped in the front.  I’ve seen these types of jackets in Atlanta and Indianapolis.  They’re great for keeping you warm in the finish area.  They’re also good for rain.  They’re intended as throwaway jackets, but if you save them, they make great warm-up jackets for other races.   I think this one will be coming with me to Boston in April.

The post-race food line was indoors.  At the beginning of the line, they handed you a bag.  Then you could collect whatever food you wanted without running out of hands.  It’s a small thing, but it’s one more thing that they did right.

Next, I got my finisher shirt.  I almost forgot I was getting another shirt.  This one had long sleeves, so I could wear it to dinner.

After finishing, my hamstring immediately felt fine.  When I got back to the hotel, I took a hot bath and worked on my hamstrings with a massage stick.  I don’t think anything is torn.  Tight hamstrings have been a chronic problem for me.  I’ll have to be careful about speed work, but otherwise, I should be OK.

This race was a pleasant surprise.  By the end of April, I’d like to qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon.  I’m not ready yet, but I may be closer than I thought.

Now I have to decide what to have for dinner.  Will it be pizza or barbecue?  Maybe I can find a barbecue pizza.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:49:33
Average Pace:  8:45
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  329