Sunday, May 28, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Coeur d'Alene Marathon

On May 28, I ran the Coeur d’Alene Marathon in northern Idaho.  It seems like I always do a race on Memorial Day weekend, but I tend to keep going back to the same races.  This year, I did one I’ve never done before.

I chose Coeur d’Alene this year, because it gave me my third marathon in Idaho.  This was my last race before the Bighorn Trail 100.  Ideally, I should have done a trail marathon or something hilly to help prepare myself.  Instead I chose a road race with only a few hills.

In contrast to other parts of Idaho, the elevation of Coeur d’Alene is only 2,200 feet above sea level.  That makes this a good place to go for a fast time.  I haven’t been doing speed work.  I’ve been building my mileage and emphasizing hills to prepare for Bighorn.  Still, it was hard to resist testing the waters to see how fast I could run it.  I have three weeks to rest up before Bighorn, so I didn’t see any need to take it easy.

The closest major airport is in Spokane, WA.  I flew to Spokane on Saturday and drove about 40 miles to get to Coeur d’Alene.   The host hotel for the race was the Coeur d’Alene Resort, but I stayed a few miles away at Hampton Inn.  After checking in at Hampton Inn, I drove to Coeur d’Alene Resort to pick up my race packet.

Coeur d’Alene Resort is right on the lake.  It was a warm afternoon, so there was a lot of activity near the lake.  The resort is also right next to the park where the race starts and finishes.  I kind of regretted that I wasn’t staying at the resort.

My race packet included this nice jacket.  I’m not sure if they always have jackets or if it was something special they did for their 40th anniversary.

After dinner, I got to bed early.  I slept well for about half the night.  Then I woke up and had trouble getting back to sleep.  At 4:00, I finally got up.  There’s a two hour time difference between Minneapolis and Coeur d’Alene, so it felt like 6:00 to me.

The temperature at the start was in the mid-50s.  Some people may disagree, but I consider that ideal for running a marathon.  It was a sunny day, so I knew it would warm up some during the race, but that’s OK.  I’d rather be a little warm in the late miles than cold at the start.  I also didn’t have to worry about rain.  It was a nice clear day.

The course was mostly an out-and-back along the north shore of Coeur d’Alene Lake.  Going through town, we took a different route going out than we did coming back.  For the marathon, we ran the same route twice.  There was one noticeable hill that we had to run twice in each direction.

This is a small race, but they have awards to the top three men and women in each five-year age group.  I’m not as fast as I was a few years ago, but I’m also in a new age group now.  I looked up the results in my age group last year.  The top three men in my age group finished in 3:19, 3:28 and 4:00, respectively.  Based on that, it seemed like placing in my age group was a reasonable goal.

I didn’t know how fast I would need to be to place in my age group, so I asked myself how fast I might be able to run.  I’ve felt pretty strong in recent training runs, so I wanted to see if I could break 3:40.  That’s the Boston qualifying time for my age group.  I’ve already qualified for next year, but that was on a downhill course.  I wanted to know if I’ve improved enough to qualify on a course that isn’t downhill.

There were pace groups, but not as many as you would expect to see in a larger race.  I saw a 3:30 group and a 4:00 group, but nothing in between.  I made a point of lining up in front of the 4:00 group, but behind the 3:30 group.

As we started running, I watched the 3:30 group and made sure I wasn’t quite keeping up with them.  As we left the park, the path we were running on was slightly uphill.  I felt slightly out of breath running uphill.  That was the first sign that I was going too fast.

As we turned onto a street that was slightly downhill, I felt more comfortable.  I never felt out of breath again.

The 3:30 pace group was gradually pulling ahead of me.  I tried to estimate how far behind them I would be after a mile.  I was shooting for a starting pace of about 8:20.

The first mile marker came quickly.  My time was 8:06.  I suspect the 3:30 group started too fast.  I know I did.

In the second mile, I was telling myself to ease up, but I actually went faster.  My two mile split was 15:57.  The 3:30 group was well ahead of me.  They definitely started too fast.  So did I.

Early in the third mile, I reached an aid station.  They seemed disorganized.  They couldn’t fill cups as fast as runners were approaching.  I stopped and waited for 10-15 seconds before getting a drink.  As I resumed running, it was slightly downhill, so I got back into a fast pace without really trying.  Earlier, I was surrounded by other runners.  Now I was in a long gap between groups of runners.  I had to find my own pace.

At three miles, I checked my watch again.  I was slower in that mile, but only because of the time I spent at the aid station.

By now, we were alongside Coeur d’Alene Lake.  To our right, we had nice views across the lake.  On our left, a hill was providing shade.  In the shade it felt chilly, but I knew that wouldn’t last.  I enjoyed it while I could.

In the fourth mile, I sped up to 7:59.  I knew I was going too fast, but I couldn’t bring myself to consciously slow down.  That was the last relatively flat mile.  Then we reached the first big hill.

At first, the grade was gradual.  Then it got steeper.  I told myself not to fight it.  I wanted to maintain the same effort, rather than trying to maintain my pace.  I slowed noticeably, but it still felt tiring.

I crested the hill and began running down the other side.  Then I reached the next mile marker.  That mile was 8:37.  On the ensuing downhill, I was only trying to rest and recover from the hill.  The grade on this side wasn’t as steep, but we were running downhill for a long time.  That was my fastest mile so far.

As I neared the turnaround, I noticed there was an earlier turnaround point for the half marathon.  The reason for that would become apparent later.

Coming back, it was initially flat, but I knew we were about to begin running the big hill from the other side.  I think I slowed down in anticipation of the hill.

From this side, the hill was longer but not as steep.  It didn’t take as much out of me.  I also didn’t slow down as much.  I knew I was reaching the crest when I saw a road sign warning trucks that they were approaching a 6% downgrade.

Running down the hill, I couldn’t help but pick up speed.  When I finished the hill and reached the mile marker I saw that I gained more time going downhill than I lost going uphill.  My average pace after nine miles was 8:03.  I knew that was too fast.

By now, I was seeing a lot more runners going the other way.  The half marathon started 30 minutes after the marathon.  Those runners were catching up to the marathon field.  At first, I saw the leaders moving through the field.  Before long, the road was thick with runners.

My pace was beginning to wear on me.  I knew I couldn’t sustain it.  I was tempted to retreat into my comfort zone and run the rest of the race like a training run. I needed to find a happy medium where my pace was sustainable, but not lazy.

Ahead, I could see a large building next to the lake.  At first, I thought it was Coeur d’Alene Resort, but it was too close.  It was a different resort.  Beyond the resort, I could see mountains in the distance.  One of them had snow on it.  We were being treated to some beautiful views.  I wished I had my camera, but I left it in the car.

Before the race, I made a decision.  This wasn’t going to be a “go slow and take pictures” race.  I left the camera behind so I could race.  Having made that decision, I couldn’t just run easy the rest of the way.  I renewed my commitment to run fast, even though it was getting difficult.

The last four miles of this lap would be relatively flat.  The first four miles of the second lap would also be relatively flat.  I had eight miles to get into a good rhythm before I reached the big hill again.

I ran the next mile in 8:37.  That matched my slowest previous mile, which had been mostly uphill.  Mile 11 was even slower.  I ran that one in 9:06.  That almost derailed me mentally.  Then I reminded myself that it could have been a misplaced mile marker.  I shouldn’t let one split affect my approach to the rest of the race.

As it turns out, it was a misplaced mile marker.  My next mile was faster, although I was never going to get back to mile times under 8:30.

In the last mile of the loop, there were an unusual number of turns.  We were on residential streets now.  This is also how we would finish the race.  It made me wonder if there’s some unwritten rule race directors all follow.  Thou shalt make it impossible for the runners to see how far it is to the finish line.

I felt like I was struggling to finish this mile.  I felt like I would expect to feel in the last mile of a race.  This was only the last mile of the first loop.  I still had to run everything again.

At this point, I knew I would slow down substantially in the second half.  My hope was that I could keep my pace under nine minutes in the second half, but I wasn’t optimistic.

As we reached the park, I could see where the half marathon runners would turn left to run to the finish.  We kept going straight.  That’s why the half marathon had a different turnaround point.  We weren’t running two identical loops.

There wasn’t a half marathon marker, but from my 13 mile split, I estimate I got there just under 1:48.  I was on pace for 3:36, which is a Boston qualifying time, but I knew the second half would be much slower.

As I started the second half, I noticed some discomfort on the left side of my chest.  I didn’t think it was heart-related, but the location was disconcerting.  I asked myself if I had any other symptoms that were consistent with heart problems.  I didn’t have any pain, weakness or numbness in my left arm.  That was good.  I didn’t have any shortness of breath either.  I was slowing down, but that was because I ran the first half too fast and I was getting tired.  My breathing felt easy.  I kept running, but I didn’t want to push too hard.

In my second loop, I segmented the race according to the grade.  I started with a four mile segment what was relatively flat.  Then I would have the hill – up then down from each direction.  Finally, I would finish with four more relatively flat miles.

My 14th mile was slower than nine minutes.  Then I ran one in the 8:30s.  That’s how it went.  I didn’t know if my pace was erratic or if some of the mile markers were off.  Whenever I reached a mile marker, I asked myself what my time was for the last two miles combined.  As long as my two mile splits were under 18 minutes, I was doing fine.  They always were.

In this lap, there was more direct sunlight.  The sun was at a higher angle now.  There were still shady spots, but in the sun it was getting warm.

When I eventually reached the hill, I took it slowly.  I slowed down substantially.  Have you ever watched a mountain stage of the Tour de France?  You know how a rider looks when they crack and fall off the back of the peloton?  That’s how slow I was going.  The important thing, however, was that I wasn’t wearing myself out.  I was maintaining the same effort as before.

I used the downhill to recover.  I didn’t worry about regaining my pace.  That would happen by itself.  My time doing up was slower than in the first lap, but only by about 45 seconds.  That was a pleasant surprise.  My time going downhill was also slower, but it’s worth noting that I was comparing it to a 7:47 for the comparable mile of the first lap.  I weathered the hill OK.  Now I had to turn around and do it again.

As I made the turn, I had another pleasant surprise.  Suddenly, I felt a nice cool breeze off the lake.  That made a huge difference.  It kept me from overheating in the late miles of the race.

As I started up the hill for the last time, I checked my time for mile 20.  Either that mile marker was badly misplaced or I sped up to 7:40.  I knew I would be slow going up the hill, but I braced myself for an unusually slow time.  If the previous mile was short, this one was long.

The hill isn’t that steep in this direction, but it seems to go on and on.  When I finally saw the 6% downgrade sign, I was relieved to know I had made it to the top.  Running down the other side was just icing on the cake.

My time for that mile was unusually slow, but my two mile split was under 18 minutes.  After picking up speed going down the other side, I had just over four miles to go.  If I could average nine minutes per mile, I’d finish with a time in the low 3:40s.  Even if I slowed to ten minutes per mile, I’d still easily beat the 3:49:33 I ran at the Cowtown Marathon.  That’s my fastest recent time on a course that wasn’t downhill.

In the last four miles, I regained my confidence.  I gradually picked up my pace as the remaining distance became more manageable.

Throughout the second half, I sometimes asked myself about the discomfort in my chest.  I still noticed it occasionally, but it was no longer constant.  If I didn’t think about it, I didn’t even notice it.

The last mile still had lots of turns, but this time I was psychologically prepared for it.  I kept pressing on and finished in 3:41:04.  I was pleased to hold it together so well in the second half, but I was disappointed to learn that I was 4th in my age group.

After getting some post-race food, I started talking to another runner I had seen on the course.  He always got to the turnarounds a few minutes ahead of me, and he always looked strong.  As we talked, I learned that he was in my age group.  He finished four minutes ahead of me.  Even in the first half, when I was running too fast, he was always ahead of me.  Even with optimal pacing, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with him.  He was just stronger.  Knowing that, I was no longer disappointed about finishing 4th.

I was also no longer disappointed about not qualifying for Boston.  It’s possible with better pacing that I could have done it, but I still have a lot to be happy about.  First, I only slowed down by five minutes in the second half.  I was expecting to slow down by at least 13 minutes.  I kept it together much better than I thought I would.  Overall, I ran more than eight minutes faster than Cowtown, despite my poor pacing.  That’s a good sign that my fitness is improving. 

After the race, I wasn’t noticing any discomfort in my chest.  After getting back to the hotel, I felt some discomfort as I was getting cleaned up.  I notice it from time to time.  It seems to correlate with certain movements of my left side.  Hopefully it’s just a sore muscle in my back or chest, but I’m going to pay attention to it.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:41:04
Average Pace:  8:26 
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  336

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Granite State Marathon

Today, I ran the Granite State Marathon in Nashua, NH.  That’s the New Hampshire race of the New England Challenge.  That’s different from the New England Series, which I was doing for the past two days.

A few years ago, I did all five races of the New England Challenge.  (For some reason, they didn’t have a Vermont race that year.)  The Nutmeg State Marathon was my favorite race of the series.  The course goes through a beautiful park next to the Nashua River, and we didn’t have to do so many laps.

Because I was staying in Nashua, I didn’t have to drive far to get to the race.  I did, however, need to arrive early to pick up my race packet.  The race started at 6:00, but packet pickup started at 5:00.  That meant I still had to get up early.

I slept well at first.  Then I woke up at 2 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep.  When it was time to get up, I had a hard time dragging myself out of bed.

Today’s weather was much nicer than the last two days.  It was 50 degrees at the start, and the temperature rose into the upper 60s.  Instead of rain, we had sunny skies.  That’s fantastic weather for running, but after the last two days, I actually had a hard time convincing myself I’d be OK in shorts and short sleeves.

When I picked up my race packet, I noticed the timing chip on my race bib.  Chip timing is one of the improvements they made since I did these races in 2014.  They also certified all the courses.

The race began with an out-and-back segment on city streets that was a little over a mile.  Some people started out running, but others started out walking.  I started at a pace that was slower than most of the runners, but faster than the walkers.

Even though I started slowly, I still got out of breath.  That was a reminder that I still have a cold.  By the end of the out-and-back, I was more comfortable.  Maybe I got my second wind.

When I got back to the start/finish area, they were still setting up the aid station.  For the moment, all they had was water.  I was hoping for some type of sports drink.  All I had for breakfast was tea, so I needed some food.

After the out-and-back, we did five laps of a trail loop that was roughly five miles.  It was actually two trails that are parallel to each other.  They came together briefly in the middle, making it sort of like a figure eight.

It was a fairly runnable trail.  There were only a few rocks and roots, and only one noticeable hill.

On the way out, we were running alongside the Nashua River.

By now, we were getting spread out, so I was running by myself.  Other than the aid station volunteers, there was only one spectator.

In the middle of the loop, we got onto city streets for a few blocks.  Here we ran up the only other hill to get to the secondary aid station.  This aid station only had water and bananas.  I had a banana slice to get some calories.

The trail coming back was alongside the Nashua Canal, giving us different views.

Most of the course was well marked, but on the way back there was a fork that wasn’t marked at first.  Having run this course before, I knew we were supposed to keep left.  A few runners went the wrong way, which put them back on the same trail we took on the way out.  It wasn’t a big deal.  They were about the same distance.

During my first lap, I was stopping frequently to take pictures.  I’m not sure what my pace was.  I wasn’t using GPS, and I didn’t know the exact distance of either the loop or the out-and-back.  I wasn’t too worried about it.

When I got back to the main aid station, they had all the food out.  After every lap, I had a PBJ and a glass of Gatorade.

On my second lap, I finished taking pictures and settled into a more consistent pace.  Then I slowed down, so I could talk to one of the older runners.  When I finished that lap, I checked the clock.  It seemed like I was on pace to break five hours, but I wasn’t sure by how much.

By now, the half marathon runners were finishing, but they were replaced by local runners, who quickly outnumbered us.  This appears to be a popular trail.

In my third lap, I was talking to two friends.  At times, the pace seemed too fast for me.  At other times, we slowed to a walk.  I checked the clock again after three laps.  It seemed like I should easily break five hours.

In the first half of my fourth lap, I was running by myself again.  Then I bumped into another runner from Minnesota.  I slowed down so we could talk.  For the next two miles, we did a mixture of walking and slow running.

That lap was slower than the first three, but I was confident I would break five hours if I ran the last lap.  I didn’t need to run particularly fast.  I just needed to stop taking walking breaks.

I was glad I did so much walking and talking in the previous three laps.  Aside from having some good conversations, I found my comfort zone.  I did this race, in part, so I could get comfortable running on tired legs.  At that, I succeeded.  I was more comfortable now than I was at the start of the race.

The brief section on streets was the most sun-exposed part of the course.  Here, I started to get hot.  As I got back onto the trails for the second half of my last lap, I made a point of running at a nice relaxed pace.

I finished in 4:55:19. By now, it was warm enough that I could stay in the finish area and talk to friends without getting cold.

I came here hoping to do a New England triple.  Instead, I did a New Hampshire double and a Maine half.  Over the past three days, I did my third and fourth marathons in New Hampshire, but failed to add another marathon in Maine.  Here’s what my 50 states map looks like now.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:55:19
Average Pace:  11:16
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  335

Monday, May 15, 2017

2017 New England Series, Day 2

Today was day two of the Mainly Marathons New England Series.  Today’s race was in Greenfield, NH.  Tomorrow, I’ll be doing a marathon in Nashua.  That race is part of a different series called the New England Challenge.  It’s a bit confusing that there are two series of marathon in the New England states at the same time.

After not sleeping at all Saturday night and then getting so cold during yesterday’s race, I was worried about getting sick.  After dinner, I felt like I could go to sleep right away, so I did.

I’m a light sleeper, so I usually wake up about once an hour. That’s not a problem as long as I get back to sleep.  Last night, I slept for four hours before waking up.  When I woke up, I had a sore throat.  I think my throat got dry because I was sleeping with my mouth open and went so long without waking up.  I had a small drink of water and went back to bed.  After that, I woke up every two hours or so.  Each time, I had another small drink of water.

I slept for nine and a half hours.  By morning, the sore throat was gone, and I felt no worse than I did before the weekend.  My only new complaint was a tight Achilles tendon in my left ankle.  I did some extra stretching, and it wasn’t a problem.

I didn’t have anything to eat for breakfast.  When I’m doing races on consecutive days, I’ll usually stop at a grocery store to pick up food for my pre-race breakfasts.  I went to Whole Foods yesterday, but left without buying anything.  I was overwhelmed by the number of things that looked tempting, so I couldn’t make up my mind.  I saw a blueberry pie that looked good, but I thought that was too much food for two breakfasts.  I forgot that I would also need post-race snacks.

I’m staying in Nashua, so I had to drive about 30 miles to get to Greenfield.  I had to get up early to allow time for the drive, but I already had my race packet.  When you do one of these series, you wear the same race bib every day.

The drive to Greenfield took about 45 minutes.  It was a nice scenic drive through the hills of southern New Hampshire.  The race venue was a campground in Greenfield State Park.  The campground is closed at this time of year, so there wasn’t any traffic where we were running.

The weather at the start of today’s race was similar to yesterday.  It was in the 40s with light rain.  There was also some wind.  I was optimistic that conditions would get better during the race.  Unlike yesterday, when it rained all day, today we were just supposed to have intermittent showers.  I was also expecting the temperature to rise by a few degrees during the race.

My running clothes were similar to yesterday, but I made two changes.  First, I wore a pair of Gore-Tex mittens over my gloves.  I was skeptical that they were waterproof, but it gave me an extra layer on my hands.  I replaced the jacket I wore yesterday with a plastic rain poncho.  The jacket wasn’t waterproof.  The poncho was.  It also covered more of my body.  It didn’t cover my forearms, but it covered my legs from the knees up.  That meant my tights wouldn’t get as wet.  The disadvantage of the poncho is that it’s somewhat loose-fitting.  I gave up on trying to keep the hood in place.  Instead, I wore a waterproof hat with a brim.

Our course was an out-and-back along a paved road through the campground.  We made a large counterclockwise arc, with a few small bends.  Then we turned around and came back the way we came.  It was about 1.1 miles each way.  To complete a marathon, we needed to do 12 laps.

We were running through a heavily wooded park, so it was a fairly scenic course.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good day for taking pictures.

Most of the course was either flat or slightly rolling.  There was one big hill near the beginning of each lap.  I didn’t really notice it during the first lap, but I found it do be somewhat tiring in subsequent laps.

I started the race at a somewhat relaxed pace.  Because I stopped after a half marathon yesterday, I didn’t have any sore or stiff muscles today.  I didn’t need to rush back to the hotel today, so there was no reason to worry about my time.

Conditions during the early laps were cold and wet, but I was better dressed than yesterday, so I didn’t get as cold.  I was expecting the rain to stop, but it was still raining after an hour.  It was also still raining after two hours.  It didn’t seem like it was ever going to stop.  I’m not sure if the temperature was rising, but the wind gradually picked up.  That made it seem like it was getting colder.

I realized after a few laps that my mittens weren’t waterproof.  They gradually got soaked, as did the gloves I was wearing underneath.  I kept my hands clenched to retain as much heat as I could.  My forearms also got cold.

By my sixth lap, I was getting cold, but it wasn’t as bad as yesterday.  I knew I would finish today, but I also realized I would have to tough it out in the second half of the race.

After my sixth lap, I checked my watch.  My time for the first half was about a minute faster than yesterday. That surprised me, because my pace felt so relaxed.  It’s possible I was subconsciously picking up the pace because I was cold.

In the seventh lap, it finally seemed like the rain might be stopping.  It was hard to tell at first, because the wind was making drops fall from the trees.  It wasn’t until I reached the start/finish area that I could tell for sure.  That was a parking lot with no tree cover.  I didn’t see any drops hitting the puddles in the parking lot, so I knew the rain had really stopped.

It took another lap or two, but I started to feel more comfortable.  For the first time, I wasn’t cold.  My gloves and mittens were still damp, but they were no longer sopping wet.

After my eighth lap, I walked briefly, so I could eat a PBJ.  It was the only solid food I had eaten since waking up.  I wondered if I would regret that.  After the next lap, I ate another PBJ.

At some point, I heard a sound in the distance that might have been a crack of thunder.  Before long, it started raining again.  By my tenth lap, it was raining harder.  It also seemed like the wind was picking up.  I wasn’t comfortable any more.  Fortunately, it was getting late in the race.  I wouldn’t have to endure being cold for too long.

After that lap, I wanted to eat another PBJ, but I was too cold to take a walking break.  I had to keep running now.

In the second half of the race, I had two voices in my head.  One was telling me to hurry up, so I could get the race over with.  The other was telling me to take it easy and save my energy for tomorrow.  Which one I listened to depended on my mood at any given moment.  Because of that, my pace was somewhat erratic.  I couldn’t make up my mind.

During my last lap, the rain tapered off again.  I still had two voices in my headed.  “Pick up the pace and finish quickly.”  “No, just relax now that the rain has stopped.”  As I started to run down the hill near the end of the lap, I felt more temptation to go fast.  Then I heard a third voice say, “Why?  To save 30 seconds?  It’s doesn’t matter.  You’ll be done soon enough anyway.”

I finished in 4:27:16.  I didn’t realize I slowed down that much in the second half.  I guess I was mostly listening to voice that said, “slow down.”

As with most Mainly Marathon series, the finisher medals form a chain.  Today’s new piece was in the shape of New Hampshire.

After the race, I still had to drive back to Nashua, but I didn’t need to be in any rush.  Today, I didn’t need to check out.  Tomorrow’s race is in Nashua.

As I drove through Greenfield, I saw a sign that read, “Welcome Runners.”  This is a small race, and we weren’t running through town, so I didn’t realize anyone in town knew we were here.  I didn’t think about all the runners who spent the night at inns in Greenfield.  Even a small race can have a large footprint when it’s held in a small town.

If I’m racing again the next day, I usually try to refuel right away with a high-carb snack.  I didn’t have any snacks at the hotel.  Why didn’t I buy that blueberry pie at Whole Foods?  I wanted to take a whirlpool bath or try out the hotel’s saltwater pool, but first I needed to go to a restaurant to have some lunch.  After eating a late lunch, I’m not sure if I’ll have room for dinner.  I don’t want to be out too late, because I have to get up early again.  Maybe I’ll just go somewhere for dessert.

This was my third marathon in New Hampshire.  To finish my third circuit of 50 states, I just need to run marathons in Idaho, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.  I’ve scheduled races in two of those states.  The other two will have to wait until next year.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:27:16
Average Pace:  10:12
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  334