Sunday, August 31, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Marquette Marathon

On August 30, 2014, I ran the Marquette Marathon.  It was the fifth time in seven weeks that I did a race that was close enough to home that I could drive.  I had never done this race before, so I also got another chance to experience something new.

According to Google Maps, the drive time to Marquette was six and a half hours.  Adding half an hour for stop, it took about seven hours to get there.  That’s about as far as I’m willing to drive for a race.

I had to set an alarm on Friday so I could get on the road early enough.  There’s a one hour time difference between Minnesota and Michigan, so I had to think of the drive time as eight hours.  For most of the drive, it was foggy.  When I reached Michigan, it started to drizzle.  Thankfully, the sun came out just as I reached Marquette.

I stayed at Hampton Inn on the waterfront, where I was able to get two free nights using HHonors points.  My room faced Lake Superior, so I had views like this just outside my window.

After checking in, I drove along the waterfront.  I stopped at a beach to take a few pictures.

Iron mining is one of the big industries in this region.  Marquette is one of the ports where iron pellets are shipped by train to be loaded onto ore ships like this one.

I eventually made my way to Presque Isle Park.  This is a large park with good views of the lake.  There are hiking trails and a scenic loop that you could drive.

Although it’s still August, there were a few places where the leaves were starting to turn.

The expo was downtown at Marquette Commons.  I got there a little bit early to find a parking spot.  It was close enough that I could have walked, but I didn’t know when it would start raining again.  The forecast called for an overnight thunderstorm, and it was already getting windy.

I’m glad I got there early, because it wasn’t easy to find parking.  There was already a line for packet pickup, so I got in line.  Once packet pickup started, the line moved quickly.  While I was there, I had dinner at Aubree’s Pizzeria & Grille.

After dinner, I got a message from Deb.  Her mom, who had been in a nursing home for the last few years, took a turn for the worse.  Later, Deb called to tell me her mom had passed away.  We knew her health was fragile, but nobody expected anything this sudden.  Deb was mad at me because I was out of town.

It was late, and I was getting sleepy.  Even if I skipped the race, I couldn’t begin the drive home until Saturday.  I asked Deb what she wanted me to do.  She told me to to run for her mom.

I was able to get to sleep, but I only slept for about two hours.  A thunderstorm woke me up, and I never got back to sleep.  At 4:15, I got up, ate a light breakfast, and started getting ready for the race.  I needed to catch a bus to the start, because it’s a point-to-point course.  The buses started loading at 5:30.

When I left the hotel, it was 60 degrees with light rain.  The temperature wasn’t supposed to change much, and there was a 50% chance of rain throughout the morning.  It was still raining when I boarded the bus.

The buses dropped us off at 6:30.  The race didn’t start until 7:30, but thankfully the rain had stopped.  The start area was well-organized.  There were enough port-o-potties, and they even had a large tent for race morning packet pickup.  I made my final bathroom stop and picked up a tag for my gear bag.  They had some chairs set up, so people could sit down.  I put my warm-up pants in my gear bag, but kept my jacket on until closer to the start.

About 30 minutes before the start, it started raining again.  It was just a light rain, but I didn’t know if it would get worse.  One of the volunteers in the gear check area had weather radar on his phone.  We were at the edge of the rain, and it was moving toward us.  It looked like it would rain for the next few hours.

I had brought a plastic rain poncho, just in case.  I didn’t want to run in a rain poncho, but I was worried the light rain could turn into a downpour.  The forecast included the possibility of another thunderstorm.  I took off my jacket, put on the rain poncho, and checked my gear bag.

I was really feeling the lack of sleep.  I hadn’t slept well the previous few days, so it wasn’t easy to shake off my nearly sleepless night.  With the rain, I would have been tempted to adjust my goals and just run at an easy pace.  Then I remembered what Deb said.  I was running this race for her mom, so I had to give it my best effort.

This was the fifth Marquette Marathon, but it was the debut of a new course.  The marathon started in the old mining town of Ishpeming.  There was also a half marathon that started in Negaunee.  Both races followed the Iron Ore Heritage Trail.  The final miles of both races were mostly along the waterfront in Marquette.

The new course race was a fast one.  I looked at the elevation profile a few days before the race and noticed that there was a net descent of about 700 feet.  Most of that came on a long gradual downhill stretch between 11 and 16 miles.  Before the race, I heard quite a few people talking about qualifying for Boston in this race.  Registration for Boston opens on September 8, so there isn’t much time left to qualify.  This race was a good choice.

My goal was 3:30, which is the qualifying time for my age group.  It’s also my go-to goal.  I was going to pace for 3:30 in the early miles.  I expected to pick up speed on the downhill section.  Then I would do whatever I could in the last 10 miles.

I lined up about 10 feet from the starting line.  I wanted to run eight minute miles, but it was hard to judge my pace.  After the first turn, we started up a small hill. I felt slightly out of breath, telling me I started too fast.  I eased up, but then we started a downhill.

As we turned from city streets onto a paved bike path, my right shoe came untied.  I stopped to tie it.  When I started running again, I was surrounded by people who started farther back.  Since the bike path wasn’t as wide as the streets, it was tough to pass.  I tried to pass people where I could, so I wouldn’t feel bottled up.  When we reached the one mile sign, my time was 7:35.  How did I run 7:35 with a stop to tie my shoe?

Leaving Ishpeming, we got onto the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, which we would follow all the way to Marquette.  Parts of it were paved, but most of it was crushed limestone.  The first 11 miles were rolling hills, but slightly more downhill than uphill.  My second mile was also 7:35.  Then I started to settle down, but I kept running miles that were faster than eight minutes.

Early in the third mile we passed a sign that said, “Marathon Summit 1482 feet.”  It was nice to know that from here on out, it would be more down than up.  By the end of that mile, I was starting to feel warm.  The poncho doesn’t breath, and it was 60 degrees.  I considered discarding it, but decided to keep it as long as I could.  In a light rain, I would be OK without it, but I was still worried that the rain might turn into a downpour.

After four or five miles, the trail changed from pavement to crushed limestone.  It drained better than the pavement, so there weren’t as many puddles.  Where there were puddles, they had a rust red color.  It was obvious that this is an iron mining region.

My pace was a little faster than I planned, but I felt OK.  I didn’t worry too much, because I knew miles 11-16 would be easy.  At 10 miles, I was feeling hot.  I needed to lose the rain poncho.  It seemed like the rain was lessening, so I took the poncho off.  I bunched it up and carried it in my right hand.  I knew that was the right decision when I realized that I wasn’t cold without it.  At the next aid station, I handed it to a spectator.  That was easier than throwing it in a trash can.  I also gave me hope that someone else might be able to use it.  I hated to waste it.

When I passed the 11 mile sign, I realized I was starting the fast part of the course.  The next five miles would gradually descend about 500 feet.  I was already two minutes ahead of my goal pace, and I couldn’t help but gain more time on the downhill.

During this stretch, I started talking to several of the runners around me.  We kept pulling each other along at a pace that was probably a little too fast.  By the time we reached downtown Marquette, I was more than four minutes ahead of my goal pace.  As we turned onto Lakeshore Boulevard, I knew the downhill section was over.  I had driven along this road, and I knew it was mostly flat.  Suddenly, I had to work hard to run eight minute miles.  With 10 miles to go, I increased my effort.

We started with a short out-and-back on the south side of the city.  This route took us right past Hampton Inn (twice).  It made me wonder how many times I’ve run marathons that went right past my hotel.  So far, I didn’t have any temptation to stop.

With eight miles to go, I realized I could back off to 8:30 per mile and still break 3:30.  Instead, I felt obligated to fight for every second.  With each mile, it took more effort to keep my times under eight minutes.  So far, I was able to do it.  It helped that I had driven this road, so it was all familiar.  We were now headed north toward Presque Isle Park.

The next four miles were mostly flat.  The runners ahead of me were beginning to slow down.  To keep my pace, I had to work on passing a few of them.  After entering the park, we began running the same loop that I had driven on Friday.  Mile 22 was mostly uphill.  It wasn’t steep, but I slowed noticeably.  That was my slowest mile of the race.  It took me 8:47.  The next mile was downhill.  I was able to get back to my earlier pace, but I couldn’t make up the time I lost.

As we left the park, I was passing more runners.  I kept my next two miles under eight minutes.  Then we got into the last mile.  I noticed from the elevation profile that the race finished uphill, but I didn’t know how long or steep it would be.  We made a right turn from Pine Street onto Fair Avenue.  It was slightly uphill for four blocks.  Then we turned left onto Third.  A volunteer at the corner said we could see the finish when we turned the corner.  He said to run to the white tent.

As I made that last turn, I could barely make out a white tent in the distance.  It was all uphill to the tent.  I made my way uphill at the best pace I could manage, but it wasn’t easy.  When I crossed the line, I could see from the digital clock that my time was 3:26 and change.  I tried to stop my watch, but I hit the wrong button.  I’ve got to stop doing that.  I wouldn’t know my time until I got my official result.

After receiving my finisher medal and drinking small cups of water and Gatorade, I entered the food tent.  They had a wide assortment of food – much more than I needed.  I only took my favorites.  Those included fresh apricots, cinnamon doughnut holes, chocolate milk, sandwiches and burritos.  They had three kinds of sandwiches, including a vegetarian sandwich.  Unfortunately, it had mayonnaise, which ruined it for me.  They also had three kinds of burritos, including one with beans, rice and cheese.  It felt good to eat something warm.

After the food tent, I made my way to a tent with tables and chairs.  There was a volunteer there who was printing out individual results.  I finished in 3:26:16.  My results slip also indicated that I placed third in my age group.

Next I went to the gear check tent.  They retrieved my bag quickly.  Everything about this race was efficient, well-marked, well-stocked and friendly.  I told one of the volunteers that it was one of the best organized races I had seen.

After putting on my warm-ups, I went back to the results table to ask when and where they would be doing the awards.  The awards ceremony was going to be right there at 1:00.  It was now 11:30.  Since I still had to walk to my car, I didn’t think I would have time to go back to Hampton Inn and shower.  I started walking back to my car.

I had to walk almost a mile to get to my car.  It didn’t help that I parked on the far side of the parking lot.  As I started walking, the wind picked up, and it started to rain again.  By the time I got to the car, I was freezing.  I turned on the engine and waited for the car to warm up enough that I could turn the heat on.  Then it took several minutes to warm up my hands.

It took me a while to figure out how to get out of the parking lot.  It was adjacent to the course, so the entrance I used in the morning was blocked off.  I took a convoluted route to drive back to the finish area.  I had to be careful not to cross the course.  I had to drive around a bit more to find a place to park.  I was able to find street parking a block and a half from the finish line.

By the time I got back, it was already 12:30, so I only had to wait another 30 minutes for the awards ceremony.  There was more food than they needed for the remaining runners, so volunteers started bringing surplus fruit cookies and chips to the tent where the awards would be presented.  While I waited, I was able to have a few more snacks.

One of the sponsors makes pottery.  The top finishers each received a large vase (among other things).  Age group awards included trivets with the race logo.  Another sponsor makes candy, so we also got a small box of chocolate covered caramels.

It wasn’t a good time to be away from home, but I chose a good race, and I ran my heart out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Day Without Dairy

As a follow-up to my "Eat & Run" post, I decided to see if I could go one day without any dairy products.  That may sound pretty easy, but dairy is a huge component of my diet.  I found it pretty easy to eliminate meat and still get enough protein, but I was getting about half of my protein from dairy products.

For this experiment to be meaningful, I had to eating a diet that was sustainable.  That meant I still needed to get all required nutrients, and I had to convince myself that the foods I was eating were satisfying enough that I wouldn’t miss dairy products if I continued to omit them.  OK, who are we kidding here?  You know I would eventually miss pizza.  That’s why I only committed to a one day experiment.

I realized how hard it was going to be as soon as I thought about how I start my day.  I always start my day with a cup or two of tea, and I take my tea with a splash of milk.

Let me back up.  When I was in college, I started eating a typical American diet.  That means, among other things, I drank Coke with every meal.  Eventually, I switched to Dr. Pepper, but you get the idea.  I got addicted to sweetened caffeinated beverages.

By my mid-20s, I was gaining weight.  As I started the first of several diets, the first thing to go was soft drinks with sugar.  I replaced my Dr. Pepper with Diet Dr. Pepper.  I couldn’t start the work day without a can.  I drank about three cans a day.

Two years ago, after 25 years of drinking Diet Coke or Diet Dr. Pepper, I gave up artificial sweeteners.  That wasn’t easy.  I needed to find something satisfying to replace it.  I find water refreshing when I’m running, but it doesn’t cut it the rest of the time.  I need something with flavor.  I tried to develop a taste for unsweetened tea, but it wasn’t very satisfying.  I tried Earl Grey and teas with various other flavors, but I still couldn’t get excited about it.  Then I tried adding about an ounce of skim milk.  Boom!  Somehow about that small amount of milk transformed the flavor and texture into something I could get excited about.  As soon as I wake up, I look forward to that first cup of tea.  I could switch back to plain black tea, but I knew I wouldn’t be excited about it.

Deb and I went grocery shopping yesterday.  Among other things, we picked up ingredients for two recipes in “Eat & Run” that I wanted to try.  While we were at the store, I also picked up some almond milk.  I wasn’t sure if it would transform my tea like regular milk does, but it was worth a try.

I didn’t sleep well last night.  When I woke up this morning, I really needed my morning cup of tea.  I had a cup of tea with an ounce of almond milk.  I expected the difference to be subtle, so I held off on eating breakfast.  My first impression was that tea with almond milk was just like tea with regular milk.  I figured it would take several days to know if I would get excited about it, but it was a promising start.

For breakfast, I normally have a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter.  Instead, I had a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter.  Bagels are fairly high in protein, and I wanted to get off to a good start.  I also had another cup of tea with almond milk.

After a morning workout, I wanted another cup of tea.  Without thinking, I put regular milk in my tea.  Oops.  I guess my experiment wasn’t going to be perfect.  FWIW, that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have milk in the refrigerator.

For lunch, I had a salad and a glass of grape juice.  The salad was a combination of spinach and arugula with raspberry vinaigrette dressing and walnuts.  I usually top this salad with mandarin oranges and parmesan cheese.  I substituted the raspberry vinaigrette and walnuts, since I needed to omit the cheese.  The walnuts replaced the protein that I used to get from the cheese.  They’re also filling, and they’re a source of omega 3 fatty acids.  The juice was 100% Concord grape juice – no other juices or added sugar.

For an afternoon snack, I ate a fresh peach.

Dinner was a lentil-mushroom burger on a whole wheat bun, a cup of Minnesota winter chili, and a glass of V8 V-Fusion peach mango juice.  The lentil-mushroom burger and the chili were both recipes from “Eat & Run.”  It was the first time I tried either recipe.

We both liked the chili, although Deb would have preferred fewer large chunks of tomatoes.  It’s definitely a recipe I’ll make again, but instead of diced tomatoes, we should buy the petite diced tomatoes.

The “burger” didn’t do it for either of us.  I wasn’t excited about the flavor, and the texture was too soft.  Deb didn’t mind the texture, but hated the flavor.  In retrospect, it probably would have been better with lettuce, tomato and onions on top, but I wanted to try it plain first.  The recipe made a dozen patties, so I can try different toppings.

Two of the ingredients, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard, were probably included just to add flavor.  Unfortunately, those are flavors I don’t like.  It was probably the vinegar that ruined it for me.  I could probably tinker with the recipe to add flavors I like better, but I really don’t need a burger substitute.  I’m more apt to search for entrées that are new and different.

In case anyone’s interested, I calculated nutritional information for the both burger patties and the chili.  Each lentil-mushroom patty has 197 calories, 1 gram of saturated fat, 10 grams of total fat, and 9 grams of protein.  That’s assuming you use half a loaf of Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain bread for the breadcrumbs.  One cup of Minnesota winter chili contains 167 calories, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 4 grams total fat, and 7 grams of protein.

If you’re wondering how I came up with those numbers, let’s just say I’m addicted to spreadsheets and leave it at that.

I usually eat a small snack in the evening, and today was no exception.  I ended the day with a serving of squash soufflé and a glass of almond milk.  It’s worth noting that the soufflé contained egg whites, but I’m not worried about eggs right now.

I keep track of certain nutritional info when I’m not traveling.  My totals for the day were 1,784 calories, 5.5 grams of saturated fat, no trans-fat, 64 grams of total fat, 59 grams of protein, 5 servings of vegetables and 3 servings of fruit.

The protein total was a little lower than my target, but I only had a salad for lunch.  I take multivitamins and flaxseed oil pills, so I’m pretty sure I was OK on other important nutrients.  In particular, the walnuts on my salad and the flaxseed meal and walnuts in the “burger” were good sources of omega 3 fatty acids.

While it was only one day, it seems like giving up dairy will take some effort.  If I do it, it will have to be a gradual change.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I Refuse to Slow Down with Age

I’m old.  OK, I’m not really old, but I am past my prime as a runner.  I set most of my PRs when I was 30 or 31.  I probably could have improved upon them for a few more years, but I let myself get out of shape during those years.  I’ve still set PRs at ultra distances, but only because I had never run these distances when I was younger.

This happens to all runners at some point in their lives.  We realize that the effects of aging have caught up with us and we aren’t going to set PRs anymore.  Most people accept this willingly.  I’m not giving up without a fight.

I’ve read that we reach our physical peaks at about 30.  After that, it’s possible to keep improving for about five more years with increased training.  Then the downward slide begins.

There’s a reason why the Boston Marathon has different qualifying standards for different age groups.  It’s the same reason that races have age group awards.  People who are past their prime can’t be expected to run as fast as their younger counterparts.

There are three basic reasons why people slow down with age.  The first one is physiological.  It’s been known for decades that aerobic capacity begins to decline by the time you’re in your 40s.  More recently, I read an article in Marathon & Beyond that identified 10 different ways that our bodies change as we get older.  Each one contributes to gradual decreases in athletic performance.  We don’t all slow down at the same rate, but we all slow down.

Of course, there are ways to resist the pull of Father Time.  You can compensate, at least partially, by training harder.  If you already train like an elite athlete, there might not be anything else you can do.  Most of us, however, still have room for improvement in our training methods.

I’ve worked hard to keep from slowing down.  I train harder, and in some ways I train smarter.  I’m more experienced than I was in my 20s and 30s.  It’s like swimming upstream, though.  I have to work harder and harder just to run the same times.

Most people don’t do that.  Once they realize they can no longer equal their past PRs, much less improve upon them, they lose the incentive to train as hard as they use to.  That’s the second reason people slow down with age.  They’re not only past their physical peak; they’re also not training as hard.

The third reason follows directly from the second one.  If you’re not training as hard, do you really have any incentive to race as hard as you used to?  Few people are going to dig deep and push through pain and fatigue to shave off a few seconds, when they know they aren’t in peak shape.  What’s the point?  Why push until it hurts to save a few seconds when you’ve already conceded 30 minutes by not training as hard?
I’ve slowed down a little, but I’m not throwing in the towel.  I still train hard.  If anything, I train harder now.  I’m sure there’s still room for improvement.  I’ve never done the 100 mile training weeks that many elite athletes run.  I also still race hard.  I might not fight for every second in every race, but when I’m able to run a fast time, I go for it.

I will slow down with age, but I won’t go softly into the night.  I’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming.  I’m old, but I’m also stubborn.  I refuse to slow down any more than I have to.  When I was younger, I rarely qualified for Boston.  Now I do it more often than not.  Persistence pays off.