Thursday, April 30, 2015

April Scorecard

Spring has sprung, the grass has ris, I wonder where the flowers is?

That was my Dad’s variation on a rhyme known as “Spring in the Bronx.”  April in Minnesota usually brings rain and strong winds.  This year, we’ve had the wind, but very little rain.  I’m OK with that.  Our grass hasn’t ris, but it’s starting to turn green.  We’ve been in that sweet spot, where I no longer have to shovel snow off the driveway, but I also haven’t needed to mow the lawn yet.

Below average snowfall meant an early thaw, so I’ve had good road conditions for running.  Below average rainfall has meant more days that I can get out and enjoy running.  There have been weeks that I didn’t do any speed work or long hills on the treadmill, because I didn’t want to miss out on the beautiful weather.

Besides the change of seasons, April has also marked a change in my race schedule.  For the first three months of 2015, I was consistently doing one race each weekend.  Now I’m entering a new phase in my race schedule.  In the coming months, I’ll have some longer races, some rugged trails, and weeks with races on three or more consecutive days.  Accordingly, I’ll also need more time for recovery, so I’ll have some weekends without races.

April began with a weekend off.  I didn’t travel on Easter weekend.  That not only gave my body a much needed break from racing, but also gave me a chance to get into a more consistent training schedule.

My first race of the month was the Vienna City Marathon on April 12.  My goal was to break 3:30 -- something I’ve done every time I’ve run a marathon in Europe.  I didn’t sleep well, totaling just 15 hours sleep in the last four nights before the race.  Fortunately, Vienna has a fast course.  After starting fast and fading late, I finished in 3:29:33.

Eight days later, I ran my fifth Boston Marathon.  I had serious doubts about breaking 3:30 when I learned we would have strong headwinds the whole way.  We also had a cold rain.  I used the early downhill miles to get off to a fast start and then held on to finish in 3:27:39.

The following weekend was Deb’s birthday, and I stayed home again.  My only restaurant meal that weekend was lunch at Cossetta’s, an Italian restaurant in St. Paul that’s always been one of our favorites.

My last two races of the month were the first two races of the Independence Series, a series of five marathons in five different states on five consecutive days that started on April 29.  My goal for the series is to keep all my times under four hours.  Day one was supposed to easy, since I had fresh legs.  I got carried away when I saw the chance to win, and I ran it in 3:48:30.  Day two, I had only minimal soreness and finished in 3:52:28, despite falling twice.  So far, so good.  Only time will tell how the next three races will go, but they won't get easier.

It was definitely a good month from a standpoint of race performance.  I hit my time goals in all four races, and I also won one of them.  It was also a good month for training.  The two weekends off gave me more quality training days.  The nice weather gave me opportunities to train on real hills instead of on the treadmill.  My only treadmill workouts were tempo runs.  I’ve been neglecting speed work for too long, but that’s starting to change.

Despite having fewer races, I increased my total mileage.  I ran 287.5 miles in April, compared to 278.8 miles in March.  That’s the most miles I’ve ever run in April, and it gives me a streak of 12 consecutive months with at least 200 miles.

One of my goals for 2015 is to run 3,000 total miles.  After four months, I’ve run 1,025 miles, putting me right on schedule.

May will get off to a quick start.  There are still three more races in the Independence Series, so I’ll start the month with marathons on the first three days.

2015 Independence Series: Delaware

This morning, I ran the second marathon of the Independence Series.  This race was held in Lums Pond State Park in Delaware.  The course was an out-and-back that we ran 20 times.

I got to bed early, since my alarm was set for 4:00 AM.  I slept better than Tuesday night, but that’s not saying much.  I managed to get about five hours of sleep.  That’s enough to get by, but it was feeling a bit tired.

I woke up feeling stiff.  My Achilles tendons were tight, and my quads were sore.  I did some stretching while I made a cup of tea.  After a bath and more stretching, I started to feel normal again.  After getting dressed, I started the 20 minute drive to the park.  (That’s why I get up at 4:00.)

The weather was a bit warmer than yesterday, but it felt comfortable.  When I woke up, it was 53 degrees.  It would still be in the low 50s when we started running, but it wouldn’t take as long to climb into the 60s.  A shady course and a steady breeze compensated for the warmer temperatures.

My primary goal was to keep my time under four hours.  I was also curious to know if I could win again.  My plan was to start near the other leaders, see what pace they ran, evaluate how it felt, and take it from there.

Doing 20 laps meant the math was easy.  To run a four hour marathon, I needed to average 12 minutes per lap.  I didn’t bother with GPS.  I wore a regular watch and checked it after each lap.

When you race on multiple days, the first mile is always the toughest.  Even if you feel like you’re ready to go, there’s another layer of soreness that you don’t notice until you start running.  You feel like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.  You need to force yourself to run to shake off the “rust.”  After about a mile, it gets easier.

We started by running across this field.  The grass was wet from morning dew, so I ran slowly and tried to pick my feet up.

Even though I ran slowly across the grass, I found myself leading the pack.  Everyone had sore legs, and nobody wanted to start too fast.

Next, we ran on this trail.  It was a nice runnable surface.  It was also flat.  I picked up my pace a little bit.

The trail wasn’t technical, but there were a few spots with roots or rocks.  I had an easy time avoid them … at first.

Then we turned onto this road.  By now, I had run far enough to work the stiffness out of my legs, so I opened up my stride.

I reached the turnaround in 5:41.  That was a bit fast, but it was comparable to the pace I started yesterday.  I was still in the lead, but I could see Vincent and Craig right behind me.

I finished that lap in about 11 minutes.  That seemed fast, so I eased up a bit.  My next few laps were between 11 and 12 minutes.  Every time I made a turn, I saw Vincent and Craig behind me.  They seemed content to let me set the pace.  I was happy with my pace, and it felt good.  If they were content to let me lead the way, I had a good chance of winning this race.

After seven laps, Vincent moved ahead of me.  At first, I thought I would follow him.  Then I realized he was accelerating.  It quickly became apparent that his new pace would be too fast for me.  I still sped up a little.  My next few laps were 11 minutes each, which was probably too fast.  Vincent, however, was quickly pulling away from me, and he looked comfortable.

I reached the halfway mark in 1:52:02.  That’s more than a minute faster than yesterday.  Realizing that I wasn’t going to win the race, I eased up on my pace.  All I wanted to do was break four hours.  I didn’t care if I ran positive splits.

During my 14th lap, I tripped on this root.  It was just a few feet from where the trail meets the road.

As my body lurched forward, I was sure I was going to belly flop onto the road.  Somehow, I kept my feet moving until I regained my balance.  I didn’t fall, but I was out of control for several strides.  That didn’t feel good.  After that, I slowed down.  I finished that lap in 12:08.  It was my first lap to be slower than 12 minutes, but that’s OK.  I could afford to slow down.

In my next lap, I had a different kind of mishap.  Along the sides of the road, there were a few branches that extended over the road.  One brushed against my ankle and snagged on my shoelaces.  I kept running and barely managed to pull free.  I felt like I was in an enchanted forest, and the trees were grabbing me.  After one very long stride, I pulled free.  I was off balance again.  That also didn’t feel good.  That lap was 12:22.  With five laps to go, I only needed to average 14 minutes, so 12:22 was OK.

In my 16th lap, I tripped on another root.  This time I fell.  I was on the trail and didn’t hit anything hard.  I was glad I was wearing gloves.  They saved me from scraping my hands.  I slowed down a lot that lap.  It was the first one to be slower than 13 minutes.

By the time I started my 19th lap, it was apparent that Vincent was going to lap me.  I got through that lap without incident.  I sped up a little, so he wouldn’t pass me until I reached the aid station.  I wanted to see him finish.

In my last lap, I tripped on this root.  Does it look familiar?  It should.  It’s the same one I tripped on in my 14th lap.

This time I wasn’t going as fast.  The bad news: with less forward momentum, I wasn’t able to keep from hitting the pavement.  The good news: with less forward momentum, I didn’t hit the pavement too hard.  Again, my gloves saved me from some bad scrapes on my hands.  I was accumulating dirt on my legs, but nothing was bleeding.  I got up and kept running.

At this point, I could have cruised in at a nice slow pace.  Instead, I sped up.  I was still in second place, but Craig was closing the gap.  I wanted to finish ahead of him, so I could be there when he finished.

I finished in 3:52:28.  Craig finished right behind me.  He’s a member of the 50sub4 club, and Delaware was his 48th sub-4 state.  He got his 47th sub-4 state yesterday in Maryland.

After refueling with post-race food and taking pictures of the course, I went back to the hotel.  I had a late checkout, so I had time for an ice bath and stretching.  It helped, but not enough.  I was pretty sore after this race.

As I was packing, I realized I never got my Delaware medal.  The race was still going on, so I went back to the park to get it.

From the park, I had a 90 minute drive to get to the next hotel for my race in Pennsylvania.  Tonight, I need to get to sleep early.  I have to get up early again, and there’s a limit to how long I can get by on five (or fewer) hours of sleep.

I thought I got through this race uninjured, but now I’m not so sure.  The last time I fell, I took most of the impact with my hands, and I jammed one of the fingers on my right hand.  Now it hurts, and one of the knuckles won’t bend as far as the others.  There’s no swelling or discoloration, but I think it maybe dislocated.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2015 Independence Series: Maryland

This morning, I ran the first marathon of the Independence Series.  Today’s race was in Fair Hills Natural Resource Management Area in northeastern Maryland.  The course was an out-and-back that we ran 14 times.

The race started at 6:00 AM.  I’m glad these races have early start times, but it meant getting up early.  I set my alarm for 4:00, giving me enough time to get ready, but also ensuring I wouldn’t get a full night’s sleep.

I got to sleep early enough, but woke up and had trouble getting back to sleep.  After tossing and turning for most of the night, I got about three hours of sleep.  I slept well Monday night, so I was able to get by OK today.  If I don’t sleep better tonight, it’ll catch up to me.  That was my experience the first time I did a series like this.  Day three was the toughest.

The weather was excellent.  It was about 45 degrees at the start, but warmed into the low 60s.  It was a clear day with light winds.  It looks like we’ll have similar conditions all week.  After so many cold wet races, I really needed to have good weather for this series.

My goal was to run a time just under four hours.  I'd like to do that in all five races.  I wore a Garmin watch, so I could know my mile splits, but I never bothered to look.  Instead, I paid attention to my lap times.  I needed to average roughly 17 minutes per lap.

When the race started, I found myself in the lead for the first lap.  There was a volunteer on a bicycle to lead the way.  He stopped at the turnaround point for one of the shorter races, but told me there was a cone next to the big pine tree up ahead.  I saw the tree and continued running until I reached the cone.  I got there in 7:55, which was 35 seconds ahead of schedule.

On my way back, I could see all the other runners.  That’s one of the features of multi-loop courses.  You see everybody, whether they’re faster or slower.  Since I was leading the race, I also got to see who was right behind me.  The next two runners were Seth and Vincent.

I finished that lap in roughly 16 minutes, which was one minute faster than I planned.  Since I was ahead of my pace, it seemed like a good time to take out my camera.  In the next lap, I stopped a few times to take pictures.

The course started on pavement, but quickly transitioned to a dirt road,

The next part of the course is used for horses, and we passed some stables.

The rest of the course was double-track.  The surface was a combination of grass and packed dirt.  It was fairly flat.  There also weren’t any roots or large rocks to trip on, so it was pretty runnable.

You did have to watch out for horse droppings, however.

As I was taking pictures, Seth took the lead.  After putting away my camera, I eventually caught up again.  After a few more laps, I was once again leading the race.  I was still averaging 16 minutes per lap, which was faster than I planned.

Eventually, I slowed down to 17 minute laps.  Even though I slowed down, I could see that my lead over Vincent and Seth was still growing.  I reached the halfway mark in 1:53:48.  That was a little fast, but I was content to run positive splits.  My plan, at that point, was to run 17 minute laps for the rest of the race.

Midway through my ninth lap, I could hear someone approaching from behind.  I knew Vincent and Seth were several minutes back.  Who else would be running faster than me?  As I reached the turnaround, I saw who it was.  It was Craig.  He was matching my pace, so I had to assume we were on the same lap.  Why didn’t I ever see him behind me before?

I picked up my pace in the second half of that lap.  At the end of the lap, Craig was right with me.  In the next lap, I picked it up more.  I ran my 10th lap in 16 minutes.  I opened a small gap, but it wasn’t a comfortable lead.

During that lap, I caught my foot on a small rut and stumbled forward.  I didn’t fall, but it jarred my legs.  I wondered if they would start getting sore by the end of the race.

I felt like I was running too fast for the first day of a five day series, but I saw the chance to win the race, and I had to take it.  I hammered out the same pace for the rest of the race.  Eventually, the pace wore Craig down, and my lead grew.  In the last two laps, it started to seem like I had a safe lead, but I didn’t let up.  I finished in 3:48:30.

After finishing, I waited for Craig.  Talking to him after the race, I learned that he started late.  He missed the start, because he was still in the bathroom.  That’s why I didn’t see him in the early laps.  He caught and passed Seth and Vincent, but I didn’t know that.  I didn’t notice him until he caught up to me.  Had he started with the rest of us, it might have been a different race.

During the race, I was drinking Gatorade after each lap, but I didn’t eat any solid food.  I made up for that after finishing.  I started with a few glasses of chocolate milk.  Then I had a PBJ, grilled cheese, pickle slices and coke.  When I got back to the room, I continued refueling with some snacks that I had in my room.  Refueling quickly is important when you only have 20 hours to be ready for the next race.

By the time I left, my legs were already getting sore.  My right quad felt particularly sore.  It might be because of my stumble during the 10th lap.

I’m staying in Elkton, MD, which is close to Delaware.  Tomorrow’s race in Delaware is less than 10 miles from my hotel, so I’m staying in Elkton for another night.  That means I don’t have to travel today.

Without needing to get on the road, I could take my time rehabilitating my legs.  I started with a 20 minute ice bath to prevent inflammation.  After a hot bath to loosen my muscles, I did some stretching.  Then I worked on my calves and hamstrings with a massage stick.  Finally, I worked on my quads with a foam roller.  (I didn’t pack light.)

This is the sixth time I’ve won a race.  Three of them were ultras, and three of them were marathons with relatively small fields.  By chance, they’ve all been in different states.  Am I too old to try to win races in every state like Chuck Engle?

I’m curious to know how tomorrow’s race will unfold.  I’ll have sore legs, but so will Craig.  He’s a 50sub4 member, and I think he said that Delaware is one of the states he still needs.  If so, I should assume he’ll break four hours.  Of course, there could always be someone fast who didn't run today.  With three more races after tomorrow, it might not be smart to go for another win.  If I see a realistic chance, though, I may have to go for it.  At this rate, I’m going to be really sore by Sunday.

Maryland is done.  One down, four to go.