Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September Scorecard

Fall has arrived, so I’m getting into the crazy part of my race schedule.  I ran six marathons in September, including at least one every weekend.  Here’s how I did.

On September 6, I ran the Elroy Apple Dumpling Day Marathon in 3:27:31.  I placed second overall and first in my age group.

The weekend of September 12-14, I ran the Tahoe Triple.  I finished the Emerald Bay Marathon in 3:55:18, the Cal-Neva Marathon in 3:56:41 and the Lake Tahoe Marathon in 4:06:36.  All of those were course PRs.

On September 20, I ran the Tamarindo Beach Marathon in Costa Rica, finishing in 4:14:37.  I struggled with the heat and humidity.

Finally, on September 28, I ran the Quad Cities Marathon in 3:39:18.  For 20 miles, I thought I could overcome a cold to break 3:30, but my pace proved to be unsustainable and I came unglued in the late miles.

By my 3:30 or Bust standard, it wasn’t a good month.  Out of six races, I only broke 3:30 once.  Of course, I knew going in that some of these were going to be slow.  The Tahoe Triple races would be tough even if they weren’t on consecutive days.  I also knew I would be hard-pressed to run fast in the tropical conditions in Costa Rica.

Looking at it more subjectively, there were four races where I was happy with my times for the course and conditions.

Obviously, I was pleased with my result in Elroy.  I met my time goal and won two awards.

This was my third Tahoe Triple, and I ran much better than I did in my previous two attempts.  I won the Masters Division in the Emerald Bay Marathon.  It was the first time I ran the steep downhill miles without beating up my legs, and it was also the first time I did the long climb to Spooner Lake without having to take walking breaks.  In the Cal-Neva Marathon, I beat my previous best by more than 28 minutes, breaking four hours for the first time.  In the Lake Tahoe Marathon, I had a course PR by seven minutes and placed in the top 25 men, even though many of the other runners weren’t doing the triple.  I’m happy with all three of those results.

I was disappointed with my result in Costa Rica.  It was obvious in the early miles that 3:30 would be an unrealistic goal, but I wasn’t even able to break four hours.  I walked all the hills in the last six miles.  That’s not a strong finish.

I was also disappointed with my time at the Quad Cities Marathon.  This race has a fast course, and I wanted to take advantage of that.  Yes, I had a cold.  That explains why I couldn’t run as fast, but having an excuse doesn’t make it a good result.  It was one of only two opportunities to break 3:30 this month, and it slipped away from me.

Despite being happy with my results in four of the six races, I’m still slightly disappointed overall.  If I had broken 3:30 in the Quad Cities in spite of the cold, I would look at it as a good month.  I had only two good shots at 3:30, and one got away.  Oh well.

While my race results were mixed, it was definitely a good month for training.  I ran 293 miles, with just over half of that total coming in races.  That’s the most miles I’ve ever run in one month!  I’ve never been a high mileage athlete, but I’m trying to gradually ramp up my mileage as I train for the Across the Years 48-Hour Race.

October will be another busy month.  I have seven marathons scheduled, and I’m considering adding an eighth.  I know at least five of those will be slower than 3:30, but I’m hoping to keep them all under four hours.  One of my goals for the year is to run at least 52 marathons or ultras.  I only have 33 so far, so I need to pack 19 into the next three months.  My manic fall racing schedule will force me to make some compromises on my times.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Some Goals Are Whimsical

Most of my goals are performance related.  I want to run faster, run farther, or race more frequently.  I also set geographical goals.  One such goal was running marathons in all 50 states, which I completed in 2010.  Occasionally, I set goals that are more whimsical.  The Quad Cities Marathon took me a step closer to one of my whimsical goals – running marathons or ultras for every letter of the alphabet.

The seed for this goal was planted when I first ran the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon in 2012.  This race is held on an indoor track at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.  The race director, Dick Daymont, had help organizing this race from a colleague at Carlton College who offered to do most of the work on the condition that the race had a name starting with Z.  At the time, he was running marathons for every letter of the alphabet, but was having trouble finding a “Z” race.

That made me wonder how many letters I had.  His rule was to omit sponsor’s names.  For example, The [Medtronic] Twin Cities Marathon would be T for Twin Cities, not M for Medtronic.  That made sense to me.  Sponsors come and go.  For example, the first time I ran the Georgia Marathon, it was called the [ING] Georgia Marathon.  A year later, it was the [Publix] Georgia Marathon.  A notable exception would be a race where the sponsor’s name was the entire name of the race.  Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth was originally named for Grandma’s Saloon and Grill, although the race later took on a life of its own.

After running Zoom! Yah! Yah!, I was still missing J, K, Q, X and Y.  I’ve since run the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Jackson Hole Marathon.  Finally, I added the Quad Cities Marathon yesterday.  At this point, the only letter I’m missing is X.

Here’s what I’ve got so far.  In most cases, I’ve run multiple races that start with the same letter, but I only listed one.

Athens Classic Marathon
Boston Marathon
Comrades Marathon
Darkside 8 Hour Race
Emerald Bay Marathon
FANS 24 Hour Race
Grandma’s Marathon
Honolulu Marathon
Illinois Marathon
Jackson Hole Marathon
Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon
Lean Horse 100
Midnight Sun Marathon
New York City Marathon
Olander Park 24 Hour Race
Pike’s Peak Marathon
Quad Cities Marathon
Reggae Marathon
San Francisco Marathon
Twin Cities Marathon
Umstead 50 Mile Endurance Run
Venice Marathon
Walker/North Country Marathon
Yakima River Canyon Marathon
Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon

I haven’t scheduled any X races, but my leading candidate is the Xiamen International Marathon, which is the largest marathon in China.  It doesn’t fit into my schedule for 2015, so it may take me a while to complete this goal.

Does anyone know of another marathon or ultra that begins with X (excluding the sponsor’s name)?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Quad Cities Marathon

Today I ran the Quad Cities Marathon.  The Quad Cities are Davenport, IA, Bettendorf, IA, Rock Island, IL and Moline, IL.  The course goes through all four cities, starting and finishing in Moline.  I’ve always liked races that go through more than one state.  This one goes back and forth between Illinois and Iowa, crossing the Mississippi River each time.

The Quad Cities are about 350 miles from where I live.  The drive time, including a lunch stop, is about six hours.  I drove to Moline on Saturday and stayed at a hotel near the airport.  The start, finish and expo were all by the river, but there was plenty of parking, so I didn’t see any need to stay at a downtown hotel.  I was about 10 minutes away by car.

After doing a triple and a tropical marathon the previous two weekends, I was looking forward to doing a race where I could run fast.  Unfortunately, I starting coming down with a cold a few days before the race.  At first, it was just a sore throat, but by Friday, I was starting to get congested.  That’s when I knew the cold wasn’t going to go away before the race.  I didn’t get much sleep Friday night, and by Saturday, I was completely stuffed up and starting to develop a cough.

I slept better Saturday night, but still woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I finally got up at 5:15.  On race mornings, I’m usually pretty focused once I get up.  I doesn’t matter how tired I am. I just spring into action like I’m on a mission.  Today was different.  I could barely drag myself out of bed.

I’ve run marathons with colds before.  It usually adds about 15 minutes to my time.  I would run as fast as I could under the circumstances, but I knew 3:30 was unlikely.  I considered just running easy, but realized that even a four hour effort might be difficult.  I didn’t want to be slower than four hours in three consecutive marathons, regardless of the circumstances.

The race didn’t start until 7:30, so I didn’t have to rush.  The hotel started serving breakfast at 6:00, so I was able to grab a bite to eat before driving downtown.  On my way, I missed my exit from I-74 and found myself driving across the bridge to Bettendorf.  The race crosses this same bridge, so I got a preview.  I still had plenty of time to get to the start, and finding parking wasn’t an issue.

When I called Deb, I told her how I was feeling.  Before a race, Deb usually says “Don’t get hurt.”  Sometimes she adds, “Go easy.”  This time she surprised me.  She was encouraging me to go for 3:30 and told me I shouldn’t have any negative thoughts.  She was right.

When I got to the start, it was 55 degrees with clear skies.  I expected the temperature to reach the low 70s before I finished.  That’s warmer than ideal, but I was OK with that.  When I have a cold, cold air seems to cut through me like a knife.  I’d rather have 70s at the finish than 30s at the start.  After Costa Rica, low 70s wouldn’t seem that bad.

I bumped into a few people I knew.  Each time someone asked me how fast I was going to run, I told them I didn’t know.  I was going to start at an 8:00 per mile pace if I could, but I didn’t know if I could sustain it.  My goal was 3:30.  I didn’t really believe I could do that, but I had to try.

The shallow cough I had on Saturday was finally developing into a deep cough.  A few minutes before the start, I coughed up a blob of phlegm that was so thick it was almost brown.  That didn’t inspire confidence.

The marathon didn’t have a 3:30 pace group, but the half marathon had a 1:45 pace group, which is the same pace.  I lined up next to them.  The first few miles have some hills.  The 1:45 pace leader said he was going to take the first few miles a little slow and then run 7:55 per mile the rest of the way.  For him, “the rest of the way” meant nine or ten miles.  I decided to find my own pace in the early miles, but notice where the group was.

There were enough different races starting together that the start was somewhat congested.  We mostly walked until we reached the starting line.  After that, we ran, but the pace was still slow.  Usually, I’m pretty gung ho about moving around slower runners and getting into my pace quickly.  Feeling somewhat lethargic, I wasn’t in as big of a rush to pass people.  Then I noticed that I was already falling behind the 1:45 group.  Since they were starting easy, I was starting too easy.  I moved around a few people, and picked up my effort.  Before I knew it, I was in front of the pace group.

After a few blocks through downtown Moline, we turned onto a ramp up to the I-74 bridge into Iowa.  I assumed I was running fast enough, since I was in front of the 1:45 group.  Most of the course is flat, but there were some long hills in the first few miles.  The bridge was one of them.  On the uphill side of the bridge, I stayed in the pack.  On the downhill side, I shortened my stride and let myself go fast.

I never saw the first mile marker, but I reached two miles in 15:25.  I was surprised to be going that fast.  The next few miles were a big loop through Bettendorf.  There was another long hill as we climbed away from the river.  I maintained a slow but steady effort.   Since I was ahead of my intended pace I didn’t mind if I gave a little back.  I just didn’t want to wear myself out on the hill.

At three miles, I saw that I was still going the same pace up the hill.  The next mile had some smaller hills, but eventually we descended toward the river.  I was again passing people on the downhill.  Before I knew it, I was right behind the half marathon 1:40 group.  That’s equivalent to 3:20 for the marathon.  I knew that was too fast, so I eased up and made a point of staying behind them.

After about five miles, we turned onto a paved bike path alongside the river, which we would follow into Davenport.  This was my favorite part of the course.  It was flat, we weren’t near any traffic, and we had great views of the Mississippi.  The water was tranquil.

Most of the hills were in the first four miles, and those were behind me now.  The biggest hill remaining was another bridge over the Mississippi, which we would reach after 10 miles.  I was in a good rhythm now.  I was going a little bit faster than eight minutes per mile, but I felt OK.  I was surprised how good the pace felt, given how sluggish I was earlier in the morning.

When you run with a cold, most of the symptoms diminish after you run enough miles.  Endorphins are natural decongestants.  I could breathe OK, and I wasn’t coughing.  Before the race, I felt weak.  I was surprised that my pace didn’t feel more difficult.

I did have one symptom that I didn’t notice before the race.  Whenever I went around a bend or through some shadows, I was extra cautious about my footing.  This was subconscious at first.  Then I realized what was really happening.  When I turned, I got slightly dizzy.  Apparently, there was still enough congestion in my ears to affect my sense of balance.  It was a bit disconcerting, but I was able to manage.

After eight miles, the half marathon separated from the marathon.  They crossed a bridge onto Arsenal Island, while we continued west for two more miles.  We eventually crossed a different bridge which brought us into Rock Island, IL.  This bridge was the last hill of any size.  I was careful to go easy on the uphill side.  I apparently made up the time on the downhill side.  I ran that mile in 8:01.  Overall, I was two minutes ahead of my goal pace, and the largest hills were behind me.

The next few miles were through downtown Rock Island.  There was good crowd support there.  Just before the halfway mark, we crossed a small bridge onto Arsenal Island, where we eventually merged with the half marathon.  Because we had run several extra miles, the crowd we merged with was on a slower pace.  They outnumbered us, making it hard to see the other marathon runners.

I had been running with the pack.  Now I had to avoid doing that, since most of the runners around me were on pace for a 2:20 half marathon.  I spotted one runner about a block ahead of me who seemed from his pace to be doing the marathon.  He was wearing black shorts.  I worked hard to keep him in sight.  We were only with the half marathon for about a mile before we diverged again.  That mile was tiring.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t any faster than my previous miles.  I actually slowed a little.

We were on Arsenal Island for about six miles, eventually merging with the half marathon again.  By then, I was started to run miles that were slower than eight minutes.  My slowest was 8:10.  The good news was that I had enough of a cushion that I could now afford to average 8:14 the rest of the way.

After merging with the half marathon, I again tried to follow the runner with the black shorts.  Suddenly I was gaining on him.  Then I passed him.  I didn’t speed up, but he evidently slowed down.  I had one more mile surrounded by slower runners before they would finish.  I was glad when I saw the bridge that took us back into Moline.  We ran down a steep ramp.  The half marathoners turned right and ran to the finish line.  We turned right to begin a six mile out-and-back.

With six miles to go, I could afford to average 8:19 the rest of the way.  By now, it was about 70 degrees, and I was noticing the sun.  Heat was going to be a factor, but I only had to endure it for six miles.  I eased up a little.  My intent was to make sure my effort was sustainable.  I was content to run 8:19 for the next three miles.  If need be, I could pick up my effort after the turnaround.

I ran the next mile in 8:26.  I tried to pick up the pace, but I couldn’t. The next one was 8:29.  I was fading fast.  My hope was to hang on until the turnaround and then fight hard to pick up the pace coming back.  I now needed to average 8:15.

I could tell I was slowing down in that mile, but I didn’t have any energy.  My pace had broken me.  We ran a big loop before turning around.  At 23 miles, I was shocked to see that I had run that mile slower than nine minutes.  I needed to average 7:55 for the last three miles to break 3:30.  That wasn’t going to happen.  Suddenly I was slow as molasses.

As I rounded the next corner, I saw something that looked like a brick wall with an opening through it.  I had seen something labeled “the wall” on the course map.  This was it.  I’ve seen this sort of thing at other races.  Usually, they’re made of cardboard.  This one was inflatable, but from far enough away, it actually looked like bricks.

As I finished the loop, I saw the 3:35 pace group starting the loop.  Realizing I would be lucky to run 10 minute miles, I knew they would pass me before the finish.  At this point, I was doing a “survivor shuffle.”  I couldn’t move very fast, but I was progressing toward the finish.  The bright side was that I was no longer moving fast enough to overheat.

I saw a large bridge over the river and hoped we didn’t have to run all the way to that bridge.  Then I realized it was the I-74 bridge we had crossed earlier.  We had to go past it.  It was awfully far away, but I could see it was getting closer.

I never saw the 24 mile sign.  When I reached 25 miles, I saw that I ran those two miles in 21:05.  The 3:35 group passed me, and I still had over a mile to go.  I eventually reached the I-74 bridge.  After running underneath it, I saw another bridge a few blocks further.  That was the bridge onto Arsenal Island.  We would have to pass under that bridge too, before reaching the finish.  When I saw the finish line, I could see that my time was going to be close to 3:40.  I picked up my pace as much as I could and finished in 3:39:18.

After getting my finisher medal, I tried to keep moving slowly through the finish area.  I had to stand in place briefly while a volunteer removed the timing chip from my shoe.  I was only standing still for 10-15 seconds, but I got light-headed.  When I was able to start moving again, I started to regain my balance.

They had a wide variety of food and beverages in the finish area.  I was very selective, but still got plenty to eat.  I found a place to sit down while I ate.  Then I located the results tent.  I didn’t think I placed in my age group, but I wanted to make sure before leaving the finish area.

The results slips showed your place within your age group at the various checkpoints with timing mats.  I finished 5th in my age group.  Surprisingly, I was also 5th at the 20 mile mark.  As much as I slowed down, nobody in my age group passed me.  I think everybody slowed down at least a little.  In my case it was probably because my pace just wasn’t sustainable with a cold.  I think other people slowed down because of the heat.

It’s a shame that I wasn’t 100 percent for this race.  With the hills mostly in the early miles, it seems like a fast course.  I don’t regret trying for 3:30, even though the pace wore me down.  You never know what you can do unless you try.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sometimes I Run to Lose Weight, Sometimes I Lose Weight to Run

Some people take up running so they can lose weight.  I’ve met runners who have lost 50 or even 100 pounds.  In some cases, I saw the transformation.  In other cases, I met them after they lost weight, and I was blown away when I saw their “before” pictures.

I started running while I was in college.  I was as lean then as I’ve ever been.  After I graduated, I started a full-time office job.  I also briefly stopped running.  I was eating a typical American diet.  My lunch was usually a bacon cheeseburger, a plate of fries, and a large glass of Dr. Pepper.  I still had the metabolism of a 23-year old, but it was only a matter of time before I started putting on the pounds.

Eventually, one of my coworkers diplomatically mentioned that I wasn’t as “svelte” as I used to be.  I wasn’t in the habit of weighing myself, so I started.  I weighed in at 136 pounds.  That might not sound heavy, but I’m only 5’4”.  My nice lean college weight was 118.  I was only 18 pounds over my ideal weight, but I didn’t like the trajectory I was on.

I started weighing myself regularly, a habit I’ve continued ever since.  I don’t weigh myself every day, but I weigh in at least once a week.  My weight fluctuates most around weekends, so I chose Wednesdays as my “weigh days.”  I started a spreadsheet so I could track my progress.

I’ve always been motivated by measurable progress.  That’s why I enjoyed running.  I could see my progress by timing myself on the same route.  Armed with a spreadsheet, I was going to lose weight the same way.

I started running again.  This time, it was more difficult.  I was starting from scratch, and I was carrying an extra 18 pounds.  That’s enough weight that you can feel the difference.  I’m really impressed with people who start running when they’re carrying an extra 100 pounds.  I can’t imagine how difficult that must be.

I was only running 10-15 miles per week.  Mostly, I relied on dieting.  I still had the metabolism of a 24-year old, so by limiting my calories and exercising a moderate amount, I could lose a pound a week.  As I started losing weight, I was sufficiently motivated by my progress that I stuck with my diet until the pounds came off.

It was too easy.  After losing the weight, I got complacent.  Eating what seemed like a normal amount of food, I eventually gained all the weight back.  I could also gain a pound a week.  Losing it a second time wasn’t as easy.  Expecting it to be easy was a curse.  It took more exercise and more resolve, but I lost the weight a second time.  Then I was more determined to keep it off.

This is a graph of my weight over the past 29 years.  To smooth out the “noise,” I use a five week moving average.  I had big ups and downs in my mid 20s.  By my late 20s, I was keeping my weight in the low 120s, occasionally getting it down to 118.  When I was 31, a few months after my fastest marathon, I let myself go again.  For the next 12 years, my weight was up and down like a yo-yo, sometimes getting into the 140s.

I kept lamenting that I wanted to lose weight, but my metabolism was slowing down.  The same diet and exercise program that worked in my 20s wasn’t enough.  Finally, a friend said, “David, you’re so disciplined at everything else.  Why can’t you apply that same discipline to losing weight?”  Not wanted to make excuses, I accepted the challenge.

I started running or cycling seven days a week.  I recorded everything I ate and counted every calorie.  In the first week, I lost a pound.  I needed to see that to maintain my motivation.  Over the next 14 weeks, I lost 14 more pounds.  That was the summer of 2005.  I’ve circled that part of the graph in red.

A difference of 15 pounds can have a big impact on your marathon times.  Before that summer, I had run 45 marathons (excluding ultras), but I only qualified for Boston in five of them.  After that summer, I qualified in almost every race.  That was the motivation I needed to keep the weight off.  I wasn’t going to get complacent any more.

Since then, I’ve kept my weight in a much tighter range, but it’s still crept up slowly.  The green line on the graph underscores that trend.  I currently weight 123.  I still consider 118 to be my optimal weight for running.  That’s consistently been the weight at which I’ve felt best and run fastest.  123 is still a healthy weight, but those five extra pounds aren’t making it any easier to run fast.

For me, five pounds represents a four percent increase in weight.  All other things being equal, I need to expend four percent more energy to run at the same pace.  To put it another way, with the same effort, I’m going to be four percent slower.  For me, that’s about eight minutes.  Every time I labor to finish a marathon in 3:28, I could be running it in 3:20.  All I need to do is lose those five pounds.  Unfortunately, it’s getting more difficult.

The problem is, I run too many marathons.  You might be saying, “How does running more marathons make it harder to lose weight?”  It’s simple.  When I’m not racing, I train seven days a week.   I don’t run every day, but on the days I’m not running, I do cross-training.  I also diet year-round.  I keep track of everything I eat, and I count calories.  The only exceptions are special occasions and the days I’m traveling.  Then I go “off the books.”

When I run a marathon, I usually travel to get there.  Sometimes, I do local races, but if you’re going to do a race every weekend, you’re going to travel to most of them.  When I travel, I’m not only going “off the books,” but all of my meals are in restaurants.  I usually eat much more than I would at home.  I also don’t get as much exercise.  Sure, I’m running 26.2 miles, but I rest for a day or two before the race, and I rest (or do light cross-training) for a day or two afterwards.  On average, I get less exercise per day that I would if I was training every day.

When I do a race, I usually gain about a pound.  When I had several weeks between races, I had plenty of time to lose that weight.  When I’m only home for three or four days before the next trip, there isn’t always enough time to lose that pound.  Despite my best efforts, my weight has slowly crept up.

The reason for this post is to make myself accountable.  I’m going on record saying, “I’m going to lose that weight.”  I’m tired of sacrificing eight minutes.  I’m training way too hard to handicap myself like that.

I just got back from a five day international trip.  This weekend, I’m doing a race that’s closer to home.  The following weekend, I’m doing a home town race.  I have a good opportunity to start making progress on my weight before my next long trip.  I need to turn the corner before winter and the holidays.

In my 20s, I resumed running to help me lose weight.  Now I need to lose weight to help me run.