Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March Scorecard

March had five weekends, and I ran five races.  Four were marathons and the other was a six hour race.  I started the month with disappointing results, but finished with two strong races.

On March 1, I ran the Little Rock Marathon.  Weather was cold and rainy.  For the first 19 miles, I was on pace to break 3:30.  Then I turned into a cold wind and got hypothermic, struggling through the late miles to finish in 3:36:17.

On March 7, I did the Stroll in Central Park in Cumming, GA.  This was a six hour race, and I went in with a goal of running something in the upper 30s.  It was another cold day, so I had to dress in layers.  After two hours, I was on pace for 40 miles. Then my pace slowed as I had to stop a few times to shed excess layers and take bathroom breaks.  Finally, a painful big toe slowed me down in the last two hours, and I ended the race with 35.02 miles.  It was good training, but for a six hour race, that was disappointing.

On March 14, I ran the Rock N Roll DC Marathon.  This was another cold wet race.  After an entire week of not sleeping well, I knew going in that just I wasn’t feeling it.  Struggling to stay warm didn’t help, and I finished in 3:45:40.

On March 22, I ran the Georgia Marathon in Atlanta.  It wasn’t cold, but it rained for the whole race.  This is a hilly course, and I had doubts about whether I could maintain my pace.  I kept it together in the second half and finished in 3:28:05.  It was my first Boston qualifier of the month.

On March 28, I ran the Wicked Marathon in Wamego, KS.  I finally broke the weather jinx.  I felt good and ran my fastest marathon so far this year, finishing in 3:23:30 and winning the Kansas Grand Master Championship.  It was also the first time this year that I qualified for Boston on consecutive weekends.

Halfway through the month, I was feeling pretty discouraged, but I ended the month on a good note.

It’s hard to get into a good training rhythm when you’re racing every weekend.  I haven’t had much speed work this year, but I’ve been running hills, and it seems to be paying off.  I’ve also continued to develop my mileage base.  I ran 278.8 miles in March.  That’s up from 254 miles in February.  It’s also the most miles I’ve ever run in March.

I don’t have a race this weekend, so I can put more emphasis on training.  My next two races are big ones, and I want to be ready for them.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Wicked Marathon

Today I ran the Wicked Marathon in Wamego, KS.  This is a small race that’s only in its second year.  I had never heard of until I saw it on a race calendar.  I wanted to do another marathon in Kansas, and I was intrigued when I read that the race finishes at a Wizard of Oz museum.

Wamego is a small town.  Most of the lodging for this race was in Manhattan, which is about 15 miles away.  I could have driven there, but it’s an eight hour drive, and I didn’t really feel like driving all day.  There’s a regional airport in Manhattan, but flights were expensive.  Then I discovered I could get a cheap flight to Kansas City.  From there, it was only a two hour drive.

I had an early flight, so I had all day to get to Manhattan.  I took a route that brought me through Wamego.  After a quick lunch stop, I toured the Oz Museum.  They have the largest private collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia in the world, with over 2,000 artifacts.

First edition of the book

Did you know the Munchkins have a star on the Walk of Fame?

One of 40 rubber flying monkey models used in filming

Did you know the "oil" was actually chocolate syrup


I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Manhattan.  After checking in, I went to Body First Wellness to pick up my race packet.  In addition to my race bib, T-shirt and a few product samples, my packet included this medal.

It’s unusual to get a medal before the race.  This is actually the design from last year’s finisher medal.  They’re going to have new designs each year and wanted to give runners who missed the inaugural race a chance to collect the entire series.

Later, I had dinner with a few friends at AJ’s New York Pizza.  We ate early, so I was able to get to bed early.  I slept great.  It’s the best I’ve slept before a race in a long time, and I woke up feeling refreshed.

I got up early enough to eat a light breakfast at the hotel and then drove to Wamego High School, where they had parking for the race.  They had shuttle buses to take us from the high school to the start.  We were also able to use the bathrooms at the high school.  There aren’t any bathrooms at the start.

At the start of the race, it was about 37 degrees with a light wind.  It was a sunny day, so it was going to warm into the upper 40s during the race.  I wore my cheetah tights and hat with a short sleeved shirt and gloves.  I also started the race wearing a disposable lightweight jacket.

The course is basically out-and-back, with a loop in the middle and some extra stuff at the end.  We started about two miles east of town, which was basically in the middle of nowhere.

When the bus dropped us off, the wind was cold.  Some of us huddled inside the gear bag truck until a few minutes before the start.  Once the race started, I felt comfortable.  Aside from the fact that I was keeping warm by moving, I was also benefiting from a tailwind.

My goal was to break 3:30.  Last week, I was able to run 3:28 on a hilly course. That was encouraging, but I’m not as consistent as I used to be.  My plan was to run an 8:00 per mile pace in the early miles and see how I felt at the halfway mark.

In a small race, it’s harder for me to gauge my pace in the first mile.  A minute or two into the race, I felt like I was running too fast, so I eased up a little.  I wouldn’t know my pace until I saw the first mile marker.

I ran the first mile in 7:24.  That surprised me.  I felt like I might be going a little fast, but not THAT fast.  I eased up a little bit in the next mile, and a few runners passed me.

When I saw the sign for two miles, I checked my watch again.  It read 16:19.  For a moment, I thought I had done a good job of easing back to the right pace.  I thought I ran that mile in 7:55.  Then I realized I was off by a minute.  If that mile marker was correct, I slowed to 8:55.  I knew darn well I didn’t slow down that much.  I didn’t trust the placement of the mile marker, but I picked up my effort a little bit in the next mile.

The first two miles were flat.  As we ran through Wagemo, that changed.  This part of Kansas is called “The Flint Hills.”  As you might guess, it’s hilly.  I noticed while driving through the area on Friday that it was pretty much non-stop rolling hills.  The next 22 miles were going to be rolling.

Having done a hilly race last weekend, I learned to be patient.  Running uphill, I maintained a slow but steady effort.  Running downhill, I let myself speed up, so long as gravity was doing all the work.

My time at the three mile mark was 22:30. That’s an average of 7:30 per mile.  I found it hard to believe I was running that fast.  I missed the four mile sign, but my times at the next few mile markers were all consistent with an average pace of 7:30.  At times, I felt the wind at my back.  That was a reminder that these fast miles were all wind-aided.  It wasn’t a strong wind, but it was enough to make a difference.

There was also a half marathon that started 30 minutes before the marathon.  It was out-and-back, and for the past few miles, I was seeing runners coming back.  A few were dressed as Wizard of Oz characters.  I saw a Dorothy and a Scarecrow.  There were also a couple Dorothy’s in the marathon.  My friend Heather was a Cowardly Lioness.  I wasn’t a Wizard of Oz character, but with my cheetah print hat and tights, I was at least in the cat family.

By eight miles, I was feeling warm.  I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist.  After about a mile, I discarded it at an aid station.  It had warmed up enough that I was comfortable without it.  The wind was still at my back.  Eventually, we would reverse direction, and I would have a headwind.  I was counting on it getting a few degrees warmer by then.

We were running on a two-lane road in the valley of the Kansas River.  Eventually, we moved away from the river, and the hills got steeper.  I conserved my energy running uphill and picked up the pace running downhill.  Overall, I was still averaging 7:30 per mile.

Around 11 miles, we left that road and ran up a short hill to reach Highway 24.  Then we turned right and ran along the shoulder of the highway.  Having driven this highway, I knew it had a series of long hills.  We were on one of the long downhills.  It was downhill as far as I could see.  Since I still had the wind at my back, I could have run fast here.  I continued to run at the same pace.  I used this section as a rest break.  I knew we would eventually have to turn around.

At 13 miles, we made two quick turns, and we were back on the two-lane road, but we were now running in the opposite direction.  I immediately felt the headwind.  The easy part of the race was over.  I also saw a long gradual hill stretching before me.  The next mile would be all uphill and into the wind.

I reached the halfway mark in roughly 1:39.  I knew that was deceptive.  The first half had been wind-aided.  The second half would be into the wind.  To break 3:30, I needed to average roughly 8:30.  I wasn’t sure how much I would slow down in this next mile.

At first, I was running with the same casual effort that I used in the miles that were all downhill.  I reminded myself that this was the hardest mile of the race, so it should feel like I’m working.  I picked up my effort.

I was pleasantly surprised to run that mile in 8:08.  After that, the course went back to rolling.  At first we had short steep hills.  Then we had longer, but more gradual hills.  One only constant was the wind.  We were always running into it.  I felt a bit colder than I did in the first half, but not too cold.

For the rest of the race, my mile times were always close to eight minutes.  Some were a few seconds slower; some were a few seconds faster.  If I didn’t run out of gas, I would break 3:25 – maybe 3:24.

The marathon runners were getting spread out.  For most of the second half, I couldn’t see the runner in front of me.  Once we passed the half marathon turnaround, I could see other runners, but they were the back-of-the-pack runners in the half marathon.

I started to notice a disparity between the marathon mile markers and the half marathon mile markers. When we had five miles to go, they had about two miles to go. I concluded that they would take a direct route to the finish, while we would take a circuitous route.  A mile later, the marathon route turned left.  For the next two miles, we made several turns.  It was nice to have relief from the wind, but I lost track of which direction I was running.

With three miles to go, a runner passed me.  I was tempted to try to stay with him, but then we started up a small hill.  Not wanting to wear myself out on a hill, I let him go.  I felt like I was running out of gas, but I was keeping my mile times under 8:00.  I knew I had 3:30 in the bag.  I still wasn’t sure about 3:24.

With two miles to go, we turned left onto a busy street. It was only as we ran past the high school that I recognized where we were.  We were only a few blocks from the finish line, but we were running away from it.  We still had to do a big loop through the east side of Wamego before returning to the finish.  I was running out of gas, but I had two things going for me.  The last two miles were flat, and very little of it was into the wind.

When I saw my time at 25 miles, I knew I would break 3:24.  I lost sight of the runner who passed me two miles earlier, but I could now see a different runner.  He had been in front of me for the first half of the race.  I lost sight of him around 13 miles.  Suddenly, he was only a quarter mile ahead of me.

I did my best to follow him in.  Finally, I made the last turn onto state highway 99, and I saw the finish line.  I crossed the line in 3:23:30.  That was my fastest marathon since November.

After crossing the line, I received two medals and an Oz Marathon poster.  The medal on the left is this year’s finisher medal.  The medal on the right is an award.  I won the Grand Master division.  This race was designated by the RRCA as the state marathon championship for Kansas.  You don’t have to be a Kansas resident to win a championship.  I’m the 2015 Male Grand Master Marathon Champion for Kansas.

When you cross the finish line, you’re also greeted by Wizard of Oz characters.

The finish line was only a few blocks from the high school, where my car was parked.   I walked to my car to get my camera and some warm clothes.  Then I returned to the finish line to watch other runners finish.  Here’s my friend Heather.

This race was a breakthrough for me.  Lately I’ve been struggling to break 3:30.  Aside from being my fastest marathon this year, this was also the first time this year that I broke 3:30 on consecutive weekends.   Hopefully I can keep that going.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Georgia Marathon

On March 22, I ran the Georgia Marathon.  It was the third time I did this race.  I also ran it in 2012 and 2013.  This was another late addition to my race schedule.  I was originally keeping this weekend open in hopes that Deb and I could travel to Europe for the Barcelona and Rome Marathons.

When I’m looking at races, one of the things I look for is easy logistics.  How easy is it to get to the start?  How easy is it to get back after finishing the race?  Are there hotels near the start or finish?  The best case is a race that starts and finishes in the same place and is within a few blocks of a hotel.  It’s even better if the expo is also within a few blocks.  What could be better than that?  How about if there’s transportation from the airport to my hotel, so I don’t need to rent a car?

The Georgia Marathon has all of that convenience.  The race starts and finishes at Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta.  There are a number of downtown hotels that are close to the park.  The expo is also nearby.  Finally, you can catch a MARTA train at the airport and be downtown in about 15 minutes.  I even had a MARTA Breeze Card leftover from a previous trip.

The first time Deb and I traveled to Georgia, we did some sightseeing in Atlanta.  One of the places we visited was Centennial Olympic Park.  I like starting and finishing races there.  It’s the Atlanta landmark that’s most familiar to me.

There are lots of direct flights between Minneapolis and Atlanta.  I originally booked a flight that was scheduled to arrive at 2:49 on Saturday afternoon.  The expo went until 6:00, so that gave me enough time.  A day or two before my trip, I visited the MARTA website and found out that they doing track maintenance, so there wouldn’t be as many trains between the airport and the downtown area.  Not wanting to risk being pressed for time, I checked to see if I could get onto an earlier flight.  The earlier flights still had seats, but to switch for free, I had to wait until Saturday morning.

Deb usually wakes up before me, and Saturday was no exception.  When I woke up, I found out that she had already called Delta to get me onto an earlier flight.  I left Minneapolis at 9:00 and arrived in Atlanta around 12:30.

I stayed at the downtown Doubletree.  When I got there, it was before the advertised check-in time, but I was able to get into a room right away.  After checking in, I started walking to the expo … or so I thought.  Without checking, I assumed the expo was at the Georgia World Congress Center, where it’s been held in past years.  It was actually at AmericasMart.  I got as far as Centennial Olympic Park before bumping into my friend Angie, who sent me in the right direction.  As long as I was there, I stopped at the park.  They were already starting to set up for the race.

There were several other Marathon Maniacs at this race.  The club has a pace team, and they were helping out with the pace groups at this race.  I stopped by their booth at the expo to say hello and pose with a few of them.

The pace team was just heading out for a late lunch, so I tagged along and had an appetizer.  Later, I had dinner at Nona’s with more Marathons Maniacs, including several members of the pace team.

The forecast was for temperatures in the mid-50s throughout the morning.  Normally, that would be ideal running weather.  Unfortunately, there was also a 75% chance of rain.  That’s not ideal.  Mid-50s with rain can feel cold.  Not knowing for sure how much it would rain made it tricky deciding what to wear.  If I dressed for rain and then the rain stopped, I could overheat.

I’m sure some of my friends wonder why I fret so much about what to wear.  I’ve run over 200 marathons.  You’d think I’d have this figured out by now.  The problem is that I don’t have much margin for error.

I get cold easily.  If I don’t dress warm enough, I can easily get hypothermic.  I also usually gun for a fast time.  Being overdressed, even slightly, can cost you several minutes if you start to overheat.  The obvious answer is to dress in layers.  Adding or removing layers during a race, however, takes time.  For me, one minute can mean the difference between a good race and a disappointing race.  I wanted to break 3:30, but I knew I wasn’t likely to do so by a wide margin.

When I woke up, it wasn’t raining yet.  I initially opted to dress as I normally would for mid-50s, but also wear polypro gloves and a waterproof hat.  I planned to bring a keep a plastic rain poncho in a fanny pack, just in case.

I was about to leave for a group photo in the park when I saw Angie post that it was raining.  I looked outside.  It seemed pretty wet.  This looked like more than drizzle.  Realizing that the rain, if anything, would increase, I changed clothes.  I put on a long-sleeve polypro shirt underneath my T-shirt.  I left the rain poncho behind, but got a trash bag to help keep me dry while I was walking to the start.

Changing clothes took too much time, so I missed the group photo.  On my way to my start corral, I bumped into a few Marathon Maniacs, including the 3:30 pacers.  I lined up with them and discarded my trash bag a few minutes before the start.

Although it was raining, it wasn’t raining very hard.  About a mile into the race, I realized I was going to be way too hot wearing that polypro shirt.  I took off my gloves and tried to live with the shirt.  The pace felt pretty easy, so I wasn’t in any immediate danger of overheating, but it only got worse.

Our first mile was on the easy side, but we gradually worked into the right pace for 3:30.  The early miles includes lots of short hills.  I tend to run downhill faster than most people, so I got ahead of the group on the downhills and let them catch up on the uphills.  Easing up on the uphills not only helped me conserve my energy, but also kept me from overheating.

After four or five miles, it became apparent that I couldn’t run the whole race the way I was dressed.  I felt like it was 80 degrees.  I asked one of the other runners to hold onto my gloves, hat and sunglasses, so I could change clothes on the run.  First I took off my T-shirt, which had my race bib.  Then I took off the polypro shirt.  I slipped on my T-shirt to free one hand, and then I was able to tie the polypro shirt around my waist.  Finally I put on my sunglasses and hat, and I tucked my gloves back under my waistband.  I managed to do all that while keeping up with the group, but it wasn’t easy.

For the next few miles, I was more comfortable.  Then my hands got cold, so I put my gloves back on.  Putting on wet, tight-fitting gloves while running threw off my stride a little.  We were just beginning a long gradual hill, and I started to fall behind the pace group.

Even when I was done putting on my gloves, I couldn’t catch up.  I told myself I would catch up the next time we ran downhill.  I had to wait.  The middle miles have several long gradual hills.  This was probably the longest one.

When the course leveled off, I still couldn’t catch up.  I started to wonder if I was just having a bad day and wouldn’t be able to maintain this pace.  When I reached the next mile marker, I saw that I actually ran a fast mile.  The group was just running faster.  That continued for the next few miles.  I was actually running too fast, but I was falling farther behind.  Knowing I was on pace made me feel better.

Although the race starts and finishes in Atlanta, it also goes through Decatur for a few miles.  All through Decatur, they put up sequences of signs with silly rhymes, reminiscent of Burma Shave signs.  Normally, Decatur is also the area where we get the best crowd support.  I saw a few small groups of spectators with umbrellas, but the cold rain kept most people indoors.

I reached the halfway mark in 1:43:23.  I was well ahead of my target pace, but the group was barely within sight.  Over the next few miles, I got to be almost three minutes ahead of schedule.  Finally, I saw that I was gaining on the pace group.

The rain was picking up, and I was also noticing some wind.  Earlier I was hot.  Now I was freezing.  I only had about 10 miles to go, so I had to tough it out.

I gradually got closer to the pace group.  At times, I thought I would catch them.  Then we’d start up a hill, and I’d have to slow down so I wouldn’t wear myself out.  I finally caught them around 18 miles.  They had a few fast miles in the middle of the race, but had since slowed down.

We were now in the Druid Hills neighborhood.  Every part of this course has hills.  Here, they were shorter, but steeper.  Running downhill, I could speed away from everyone.  Running uphill, I would conserve energy and fall back.  On average, I was keeping up with the pacers, but I had to find my own rhythm on the hills.

At 21 miles, we went by an aid station staffed by students from Emory University.  They cheered loudly.  Actually, they screamed.  I was reminded of the Wellesley College scream tunnel on the Boston Marathon course.

With the worst of the hills behind us, I was planning to stay with the pacers for the rest of the race.  Then Tony reminded me that I could place in my age group.  Realizing that a time under 3:30 was probably what it took to place in the top three, I picked up my effort.

The last four miles are mostly uphill, but it’s fairly gradual.  I had a cushion of almost three minutes.  Breaking 3:30 was no longer in doubt, but I wanted to finish strong in case an age group prize was on the line.  Running uphill, I gave up a little time, but I was able to limit the damage.

As I got closer to downtown, I started to recognize the buildings.  At the 25 mile mark, I could see I was starting the last long gradual hill. I knew from experience that it goes all the way until the last turn, where you can see the finish line.  My legs were sore, but I fought all the way.  I finished in 3:28:05.  After getting my finisher medal and a much-needed heat shield, I waited for both 3:30 pacers to finish.

I was cold and wet, so I stayed in the finish area just long enough to get a bottle of chocolate milk and my snack bag.  The main sponsor of the race is Publix, and they hand each runner one of these mini grocery bags with post-race food.

After getting cleaned up, I checked the race results and saw that I placed third in my age group.  My closest competition was Tony, who I had forgotten was in the same age group.  Tony finished fourth, even though he wasn’t trying to run fast.  Later, I joined some of the pacers for lunch.

This race was harder than I remembered.  I knew it was a hilly course, but there were more tough hills than I realized.  I’m relieved to have been able to break 3:30, after struggling in my last few races.  I’m also relieved to have endured another cold wet race.  Hopefully my weather jinx will end soon.