Sunday, July 31, 2016

Race Report: 2016 Frank Maier Marathon

On July 30, I ran the Frank Maier Marathon in Juneau, AK.  This was the first time I’ve done this race.  I didn’t originally have any races scheduled between the University of Okoboji Marathon in mid-July and the Super Tunnel Marathon in mid-August.  I waited to see how my legs were doing before deciding if I wanted to add another race to fill that five week gap.

I eventually decided to add a race on the last weekend of July, but there weren’t any local races that weekend.  As I expanded my search, I mostly found rugged trail ultras that are beyond my current abilities.  There were only two marathons that appealed to me.  The first was the Frank Maier Marathon.  The other was the Idaho Falls Marathon.  I would either be doing my third Alaska marathon or my third Idaho marathon.

I was expecting the airfare for summer travel to Juneau to be too expensive, so I priced Idaho Falls first.  Excluding flight times that didn’t really work for me, it was actually more expensive to fly to Idaho Falls.

The airfare to Juneau was reasonable, but I had to adjust my travel days to get the best airfare.  Instead of flying home the day after the race, as I usually do, I stayed an extra day.  I had to pay for an extra day for my hotel and rental car, but that was offset by the savings in airfare.  I basically got a free sightseeing day in Alaska.

Hotels in downtown Juneau are expensive.  To save money, I stayed at the Super 8 near the airport.  It cost only half as much as the downtown hotels, but you get what you pay for.  There wasn’t any AC, so I needed to open the window to cool the room down.  With the window open, the highway noise was horrible.

Going into this race, my legs were well-rested.  I usually rest the day before a race.  That was Friday.  On Thursday, I did some strength training in the morning, and then I spent the rest of the day traveling.  That’s not unusual.  It’s how I often taper for a race.  What was unusual was that I also rested on Wednesday.  I was originally planning to run anywhere from six to ten miles, depending on how I felt.  After not sleeping well, having a stiff neck, and having dental work done in the morning, I wasn’t exciting about running.  Because of thunderstorms, I would’ve had to run on the treadmill for a second straight day.  When the Novocain wore off, and my tooth felt inflamed, I finally decided to skip my run that day, knowing it would mean three straight days off from running.

My legs were well-rested, but the rest of me wasn’t.  My flight didn’t arrive until 9:30 PM, so I didn’t get to bed until 11:00.  With the three hour time difference, it felt like 2 AM.  I slept for a few hours and then couldn’t get back to sleep.  I felt tired all day Friday, which isn’t a good sign.  I never sleep well the night before a race, and this one was no exception.

After breakfast on Friday, I drove to Douglas Island, which is where the race took place.   As I drove the course, it seemed fairly flat.  In fact, it’s pretty much non-stop rolling hills, they none of them are steep.  You don’t really notice this type of hill when you’re driving.  Next, I familiarized myself with downtown Juneau, which is just across Gastineau Channel.

After lunch, I drove to Mendenhall Glacier.  This is the most visited glacier in southeastern Alaska.  It’s also the most accessible.  You can park near the visitor center and get good views after just a view minutes of walking.

I wanted to hike to Nugget Falls, but the trail was closed because of high water.  I had to settle for this distant view.

Packet pickup was at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.  It’s a small race, so packet pickup was only available from 5:00 to 6:00.  I got there when it started, so I could eat an early dinner in hopes of getting to bed early.

Going to bed early didn’t work out as I hoped.  With the window open, there was too much traffic noise.  I had to shut the window, but then the room got too warm.  I only managed to sleep for two hours.

The race started at 7:00, but there was an early start at 6:00 for people needing extra time.  There was also an unadvertised early early start at 5:00.  There were several runners doing another race in Wrangell, AK the next day.  They needed to finish in time to get to the airport to fly to their next race.  I felt like a slacker, only doing one race this weekend.  I’m not ready for doubles yet.

I was already awake, so I decided to get to the race early so I could visit with people who were doing the early start.  I knew quite a few of them.  This is a popular race among long-standing members of the 50 States Marathon Club.

The course was out-and-back.  We started at Savikko Park, which is next to Gastineau Channel.  Before the race, we saw a cruise ship navigating the channel.  We also had views of these waterfalls on the other side

From there, we ran alongside the channel to the north end of the island before turning around and coming back to Savikko Park.

You couldn’t ask for better weather.  It was 53 degrees at the start and got up to about 58 by the time I finished.  It’s easier to dress properly when there’s so little variation in temperature.  We had light winds and cloudy skies, so direct sunlight also wasn’t a factor.  There was a slight chance of a passing shower, but that never materialized.

Aside from finishing, I had one other goal.  I wanted to break four hours if I could.  Alaska was one of three states where I’ve only broken four hours once.  The other two are Utah and Hawaii.  More than a year ago, I set my sights on completing my second 50sub4 circuit.  Because of injuries, I haven’t made any progress.

I wasn’t sure how lack of sleep would affect me.  It’s easy to shake off a poor night’s sleep, but I was already feeling tired on Friday.  I was worried I might feel sluggish.  You never really know until the race is underway.

My fitness level has been a moving target, so I don’t have a good sense of pace.  I wanted to start at a 9:00 pace, but I have trouble judging what that feels like.  Shortly after we started running, I felt like my breathing was labored.  It didn’t help that the first mile was mostly uphill.  I backed off a little, but I suspected I might still be running too fast.  I reached the first mile marker in 8:45, confirming my suspicion.  That’s too fast for an uphill mile.

Mile markers were painted in the street.  The first one was a “1” and a “25,” separated by a mile.  Presumably that meant we were at the one mile mark, and runners coming back would be at 25 miles.  That didn’t make sense to me.  Since we started and finished in the same place, the one mile mark should correspond to 25.2 (i.e. one mile to go).  Subsequent mile markers were 2/24, 3/23, 4/22, etc..

It wasn’t until after the race, while talking to other runners, that I learned why the mile markers seemed to be off.  The first one was actually 1.1 going out and 25.1 coming back.  Likewise, all of the mile markers were off by one tenth of a mile.  Bearing that in mind, my first mile was much too fast, but I didn’t know that yet.

By the time we finished the first mile, we were going downhill.  The next mile was all downhill.  I eased up a little, so I would pick up speed.  I was already going too fast.  Despite my intention to throttle back my effort, I ran the second mile in 8:16.

In the early miles, we were running through West Juneau.  Now and then we caught glimpses of downtown Juneau from across the channel.

Although we were always near the channel, there were times when we couldn’t see it.  Instead, tall pine trees towered over us on both sides.  Except for the start and finish, it felt like a wilderness race.

The next few miles had frequent undulations, making it hard to judge my pace.  I gradually settled down, running a little bit slower in each mile.  By my sixth mile, I was finally running the right pace.  Then I clicked off several miles that were all between 8:51 and 9:01.  After a fast start, my pace was now remarkably consistent, despite the hills.

Because I was going slower now, I was occasionally passed by a faster runner.  I had to be careful to let them go by.  I had to resist the temptation to stay with them.

As we reached the north end of the island, we got getter views of the channel and Fritz Cove.

There was an aid station at the 11/15 marker with a Ghostbusters theme.  They were playing the Ghostbusters theme, and three volunteers were dressed as Ghostbusters.  When one asked me if I wanted water or Gatorade, I said, “What, no slime?”

When I drove the course on Friday, I saw a large pullout on the right with a couple of port-o-potties.  The distance seemed about right, so I assumed it was the turnaround point.  As I got within sight of this same spot during the race, it was obvious that it was short of halfway.  The pullout was at the base of a hill that was steeper than anything we had run so far.  As I got closer, I saw runners continuing up the hill.  A runner coming back down told me the turnaround was at the top of the hill.

As I started up the hill, I couldn’t see the top.  This was the first hill that forced me to slow down noticeably.  It was also the first one that seemed to be wearing me down.

The “13” marker on the road was right at the turnaround.  I now know this was actually 13.1 miles.  My time for the first half was 1:54:40, but my time for the most recent mile was 9:22.  Up to this point, my slowest mile had been 9:01.

Coming back down the hill gave me a chance to recover.  I wasn’t trying to speed up, but my downhill mile was 8:40.  The next mile was one of the few flat miles of the race.  I was picking up my effort here.  I was worried my effort might not be sustainable, so I was disappointed to see my time.  I ran that mile in 9:20.

With 11.1 miles to go, I had a cushion of about six minutes.  Even if I couldn’t sustain nine minute miles, I might be able to break four hours.  At this point 9:30 was good enough.  I worried, however, that the previous mile might be the beginning of a trend.

The next two miles each had tough hills.  I challenged myself to run strong on the hills, so I wouldn’t slow down too much overall.  That was risky.  I haven’t been strong on hills in recent races, and I kept wondering if one of these hills might break me.  I was encouraged to run a 9:12 mile, followed by a 9:05 mile.  Now I had only 9.1 miles to go, and I still had a six minute cushion.

I spotted a runner ahead of me who had passed me in the first half of the race.  I was starting to gain ground on him.  That gave me a new incentive to pick up my effort.  I wasn’t trying to compete with anyone, but it was one of those mental games you play to coax yourself into running harder.

I caught up to him going up a hill.  Then we started a long gradual downgrade, and I continued to run hard.  I ran that mile in 8:40.  With 7.1 miles to go, I still had a cushion of six minutes.  Now I was confident I would break four hours.  I might slow down, but I probably wouldn’t slow down that much.  I was almost to the point where a 10:00 pace would be fast enough.

There was also a half marathon.  During the next mile, I reached the half marathon turnaround.  Those runners started at 9:00, so many of them were just getting to the turnaround.  Suddenly I was surrounded by runners who were going just a bit faster than me.  I couldn’t keep up with them, but they still influenced my pace.  Trying to chase them was another mental game that kept me pushing as hard as I could.

With 6.1 miles to go, I just needed to average 10 minutes per mile.  I continued running nine minute miles, effectively adding to my cushion.  I knew it would get harder in the last three miles.  I remembered the long gradual hill that would top out just after 25.  I didn’t remember that there was a shorter but steeper hill first.

The first hill took something out of me, but I was able to recover.  I didn’t lose too much time.  Then I started the last hill.  Normally, I look forward to seeing mile markers.  The 24 marker was somewhat disheartening.  Although my pace for that mile was good, this last hill was already wearing me down, and I knew it was still more than a mile to the top.

Most of the hill was gradual, and I kept grinding out a good pace.  Sometimes it would kick up briefly, and I would have to fight harder.  When I reached 25 (actually 25.1), I was delighted to see I broke nine minutes on a mile that was entirely uphill.  Overall, my time was now 3:43 and change.  I had it, and it wouldn’t be close.

I still wasn’t to the top of the hill, but I could see the crest.  I knew from there it would be downhill all the way to the finish.  I worked the downhill as much as I could, and finished in 3:53:22.  I broke four hours by a wide margin.  I even took third in my age group.

In the first half of the race, I assumed I was running too fast.  I was, but not by that much.  In the second half of the race, I assumed I would blow up.  I didn’t.  I ran the second half four minutes slower than the first half, but it’s worth noting that I still broke two hours in the second half.  I was still running fast enough to break four hours, even on that last hill.

After the race, there was a picnic under the park pavilion.  They were grilling salmon, cheeseburgers and hot dogs.  How many races offer grilled salmon as a post-race snack?

Later in the day, there was a pizza social at Bullwinkle’s Pizza Parlor in Juneau.  Of course I had to do that.  I saw some familiar faces, and also got to know a few of the local runners.

After the race, I could barely walk.  After finally getting a good night’s sleep, I felt better.  By Sunday morning, I was walking normally again.  After doing some strength training exercises in the morning, I was ready to do some hiking.

Mount Roberts is a 3,918 foot peak that overlooks Juneau and Douglas Island.  There’s a hiking trail that goes to the top.  There’s also a tram that goes about halfway up the mountain.  I hiked about halfway up the trail, to reach the top of the tram.  It’s a strenuous hike, which took me about an hour and a half.  It was too cloudy to get good views of the surrounding peaks, but I saw a few waterfalls during my hike.

Here’s the view of the harbor from halfway up the mountain.

At the top of the tram, there’s a restaurant, gift shop, and nature center.  I had lunch at the restaurant.  The trail continues all the way to the top, but that section of the trail was temporarily closed.  That’s just as well.  The round trip hike would have taken at least three hours, and it’s unlikely I would have been able to see much through the clouds.

After lunch, I took the tram back down.  A one way tram ride costs $10, but I was able to ride for free by showing my receipt from the restaurant.

The tram station is right next to the cruise terminal.  Not surprisingly, that’s also near the touristy part of town.  While I was there, I spent a good part of the afternoon window shopping.

Tomorrow morning, I fly home.  Then I need to get back to training.  I’m encouraged by my strong run in this race, but I still need to shave off about 15 minutes to qualify for Boston.  My next two races will both be on downhill courses.  It’s time to really work on running downhill.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Race report: 2016 University of Okoboji Marathon

This morning, I ran the University of Okoboji Marathon in Iowa.  I’ve done this race three times before, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect.  In particular, I knew the weather could range anywhere from “warm, but reasonable” to “stinking hot.”

When I entered this race, I was reluctant to make too many long-term commitments.  I could drive to this race, so my only non-refundable expense was my entry fee.

The Okoboji lakes area is in northern Iowa.  It’s a lake resort area.  They hold lots of athletic events there, and somewhere along the way a few people got the idea of selling branded sportswear.  They created a logo based on a fictitious university called the University of Okoboji.

They refer to the week of the marathon as homecoming week.  Besides the marathon, they hold a 10K race, a half marathon, and a triathlon.  My only major criticism of these events is that it seems like there’s too much going on at the same time.

I drove to Okoboji on Friday.  It’s normally a three hour drive, but road construction added an extra 45 minutes.  After checking in at my hotel, I drove a few miles further to Milford to pick up my race packet at The Three Sons.  The Three Sons is the athletics store that sponsors the race.

I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out by the lake.

I wasn’t sure where to have dinner until I drove by a restaurant called, “The Ritz.”  Their sign said they had the best pizza on the lake.  I had to find out for myself.  I ended up having a taco pizza.  Their smallest size was 12 inches, and the toppings were thick.  I realize after one slice I wouldn’t be able to finish.  I ate half.  Enough toppings fell off that side of the pizza that I also had a “taco salad” on the side.  Fortunately, my hotel room had a fridge and microwave, so I could save the other half for after the race.

After dinner, I started to feel sleepy.  Big meals sometimes have that effect.  Since my alarm was set for 4:00, I decided to go to bed early.  I got some good sleep at first, but I woke up at 12:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep.  At 3:30, I got up and started getting ready for the race.

I was ready early, so I drove to the start.  The race starts and finishes by the Arnold Park amusement park, where there’s a large parking lot.  I couldn’t remember if the parking lot fills before the race, so I wanted to make sure I could find a parking spot.  For future reference, parking before the race is not an issue.  The marathon is fairly small, and the other races have different start locations.  By late morning, the lot gets full, but it’s easy to find parking at 6:00.

It was 59 degrees, but the humidity was apparently high.  There was a thick coating of dew on my windshield.  I had to run my wipers as I drove, because it kept reforming a few seconds after it was wiped away.

A few minutes after I arrived, I bumped into a friend who told me the bathrooms were unlocked.  That’s good, because my breakfast consisted of a 20 oz. bottle of Coke.  I already needed to make a trip to the bathroom.

My fastest previous marathon time this year was 4:19.  Based on recent training runs, I thought I was ready to break four hours.  I didn’t know, however, how much heat and/or humidity would slow me down.

This year’s weather was in the “warm, but reasonable” category.  The forecast high was 78.  It was comfortable at the start, and I only expected it to get into the low 70s by the time I finished.  That’s warmer than ideal, but not bad for July.  Accordingly, I set a goal of breaking four hours, even though I knew it was optimistic.

The course begins with a short out-and-back along the eastern shore of West Lake Okoboji.  After about a mile, we crossed a bridge over the channel that connects West Lake Okoboji to East Lake Okoboji.

After crossing the bridge, we ran about a mile and a half along Lake Shore Drive before turning around.  The turnaround was right in front of The Inn at Okoboji.  In these early miles, I was averaging about nine minutes per mile.  That put me on pace for 3:56.

This part of the course had a number of small hills.  In the fifth mile, I felt like the pace was already getting tiring.  Then I discovered I sped up to 8:38 in that mile.  I probably sped up running down a hill and didn’t slow down again later.

After completing our out-and-back, we began a big loop, taking us all the way around West Lake Okoboji.  For the next 15 miles, there weren’t as many hills.  I got back onto the right pace, but I gradually realized it wasn’t going to be sustainable.  It’s not a good sign when you feel like you’re working, and you haven’t run 10 miles yet.

As we ran around the north end of the lake, we spread out.  I could usually see only one or two runners ahead of me.  At 11 miles, I passed another runner at a water stop.  After that, I didn’t see another runner for the next two miles.  I had to watch closely for the course markings.  There are a few places where you can make a wrong turn if you’re not paying attention.

When I reached the 13 mile mark, I checked my watch.  I was almost to the halfway mark, and I would get there in about two hours.  As I got closer, I could see lots of people milling about at the next intersection.  I would turn there, and I thought I remembered there being a water stop there.  It seemed like there were a lot of people for a water stop, but I wondered if this was one that serviced both runners and bikers.  There’s a section of the course where runners are on a paved path, and bikers are next to them on the road.

The large crowd wasn’t because of bikers.  There were hundreds of runners lined up in the street.  I heard a countdown. “7 … 6 … 5 …”

The half marathon was starting.  My timing couldn’t have been worse.  It was a much larger race than the marathon, and they started just before I got there.  I had difficulty pushing through the spectators, so I could make the turn.  Then I was behind a wall of runners.  They were going too slow for me, and there was no room to get through.  I had been slowing down in the past few miles, but it didn’t want to go this slow.

With constant shouts of, “excuse me – marathon runner coming through,” I managed to work my way through the crowd.  I slowed down a little, but at least I was able to run.

I started to notice sweat dripping into my eyes.  I was really perspiring heavily.  We were on the west side of the lake, running past cornfields.  All that vegetation was causing sky-high humidity.  The temperature had climbed several degrees, and I was starting to notice the sun.

There was no aid station at the half marathon mark.  Maybe there would have been, if I didn’t get there at the wrong time.  I was getting thirsty.  Thankfully, there was an aid station at 14 miles.  I decided to drink both water and Powerade.

By now, I had abandoned my “A” goal of four hours.  I reach the halfway mark on pace, but I was already slowing down, and I expected to suffer in the second half.  My “B” goal was to break 4:19.  That was my fastest time so far this year.

I eventually moved through the crowd of runners until I was surrounded by runners who were going an acceptable pace.  For the next few miles, I averaged 10 minutes per mile.  By the time I reached 16 miles, I only needed to average 11 minutes per mile for the rest of the race to beat my “B” goal.  I knew I’d slow down some, but I was reasonably confident I would average better than 11 minutes.

Between 16 and 17 miles, I reached another aid station.  I again drank both water and Powerade.  After leaving the aid station, I regretted not pouring a cup of water on my head.  I was starting to feel hot.

Shortly after that aid station, we ran through a tunnel under the highway.  For the next two or three miles, we would be on a path on the opposite side.  This section of the course isn’t as accessible, so there aren’t any aid stations on that side of the highway.  It’s also the most sun-exposed section.  It’s also right next to all that corn.

I felt relieved when I finally saw the tunnel that would take us back under the highway.  After a change in direction, I also started to feel a breeze.  I had to run another half mile before reaching an aid station.

At19 miles, we turned onto the road that would take us around the south end of the lake.  From here, I knew the layout of the course well enough to segment it in my mind.

The 19th mile was a slow one.  Not only was I no longer able to sustain 10 minute miles, but that one was slower than 11.  There were some small hills in that mile, and they wore me down.  To break 4:19, I still needed to average pretty close to 11 minute miles. I was no longer confident I could do it.

The next segment of the course was the road that took us around the south end of the lake.  It was a little over a mile.  Fortunately, it was reasonably flat.  I worked hard to pick up my pace.  When I could, I reeled in slower runners.  I was able to get back on pace, but I had to fight for it.

With about six miles to go, we turned onto Lakeshore Drive.  This would take us alongside the eastern shore of the lake.  Eventually, we would be on the same route as our earlier out-and-back, but that was still a few miles away.  In the meantime, I had to get through the hilliest section of the course.

I missed the 21 mile mark.  When I got to 22, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I averaged 10 minutes per mile for those two miles.  I was once again confident I could break 4:19.  I would have to fight for it, but I was going to do it.

Mile 23 was the toughest of the race.  It seemed like it was almost all uphill.  I worked hard to keep up my pace, and ran it in roughly 11 minutes.  That was another pleasant surprise.  Now I had 38 minutes to run the remaining 3.2 miles.

After a few more minutes, I reach The Inn at Okoboji.  That was the turnaround point earlier in the race.  From here on, everything would look familiar.  I knew there were more hills, but I also knew they wouldn’t be as bad as the previous mile.

Near the end of mile 25, I recognized the last significant hill.  It was followed by a short, but steep downhill.  Then we turned to cross the bridge for the last time.  Just before crossing the bridge, I saw the 25 mile marker.  My watch read 4:00 and some odd seconds.  I had plenty of time.

The last mile was all about finishing.  I was hot, I was tired, and I didn’t like how my legs felt.  I also knew I didn’t need to fight for time.  I just needed to keep running.

I eventually finished in 4:12:56.  While I wasn’t able to break four hours, it’s still my fastest time this year.  I’m making progress.

I didn’t have to wait long to get my official time.  Each race bib had a QR code we could scan to get our individual result.  When they first added QR codes, they just took you to the web page for results.  Going straight to your own result is much faster.

This race has a 40 year history.  I first ran it six years ago.  At the time, I had a few criticisms. Since then, I’ve noticed improvements each year.  Some are large; some are small.  The biggest improvement was when they changed the marathon course so it starts and finishes in the same place.

Before leaving the finish area I ate a banana and drank a bottle of Powerade.  When I got back to the hotel, I was starving.  It’s a good thing I had four slices of leftover pizza.

It’s been another successful homecoming week at the University of Okoboji.