Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Race Recap: The Rocket City Marathon

This was supposed to be the post where I described my latest marathon PR. It was supposed to be the time I got to write about finally getting to run a marathon all-out, when I wasn't trying to qualify for anything, just go as fast as I could on a very fast course. Rocket City is a well-run marathon with a fantastic history. Typically the weather is very cold for this race; it's been in the teens more than once. I wasn't worried about that -- I run well in cold weather.

Then the weather forecasts started coming out. I tracked them almost religiously. 8 days out from the race the forecast looked fairly good: A low of 43 and a high of 55, with a chance of showers. 7 days out the forecast was the same. Then things changed. 6 days out, the forecast high was 70 degrees.

That's good weather for a 400-meter dash, but not for a marathon. I made a graph to show how the forecast changed day after day:

As you can see, the forecast wasn't improving. The only major change was that the forecast low was getting higher -- which meant I'd hardly even have good weather at the start of the race, let alone the finish.

At the pre-race pasta dinner, Bobby Aswell and I got to hear Bill Rodgers talk about his experience running marathons. "The thing about the marathon distance," he said, "is that there is a lot of luck involved. I was really, really lucky."

The Rodgers luck was about to run out.

My plan for the race, under ideal conditions, was to run a 7:15 per mile pace, steady, for all 26.2 miles. If I could hang on, I'd set a new PR, 3:10, which would beat my previous record by more than 12 minutes.

On race morning the temperature was 62 degrees, with 93 percent humidity. The temperature would rise to about 68 by the finish of the race.

It still felt cool, and I'd be running into the wind, so I decided to give the race a go at my planned pace.

For the first few miles, this pace didn't seem too bad. The few hills on the course were easily handled, and the breeze was keeping me relatively cool. Here are my splits for Miles 1-6:

1. 7:27
2. 7:15
3. 7:15
4. 7:15
5. 7:18
6. 7:21

Then during Mile 7 we passed through a parking lot and under a tunnel. It was a little confusing and I missed the mile marker; I finally pressed the "lap" button at 1.09 miles and recorded 7:52 for the split -- still a 7:14 pace for the mile. I was flustered. And I was starting to feel worn out, just 7 miles in. Could I keep this up for another 19 miles? I doubted it. Then I realized I hadn't had a gel yet: I was supposed to be eating them every 4 miles. I quickly opened and consumed one, but that slowed me even more. I kept running.

8. 7:22
9. 7:30
10. 7:34
11. 7:25

We were now on a seemingly endless four-lane road, heading straight into the wind. It was much more of a struggle to maintain pace, and I was gradually slowing down. I had planned to drop my pace to 7:30 a mile if 7:15 seemed too difficult, but now even a 7:30 pace felt like a struggle.

12. 7:50
13. 7:48
14. 8:10

My backup-backup plan was to hit an 8-minute pace for the last half of the race. If I could do that, I'd still have a shot at a PR: My 7:22:55 was an average 7:42 pace, and I already had a lot of faster miles in the bank. Then we turned and started heading back north into town. What had been a headwind was now a tailwind, which meant that we could feel no wind at all. It was like running in a sauna. I started taking walk breaks. Then I started taking longer breaks.

15. 7:55
16. 9:29
17. 8:12
18. 8:34

Now, there was no backup plan. The plan was simply to finish. Another runner pulled up beside me and told me his day was ruined and he was just hoping to finish under 3:30. Not long after that, the 3:30 pace team passed us.

19. 9:04
20. 10:13
21. 11:15

Could it get any worse? Soon I was passed by the 3:35 pace team. I tried to stay with them for a while, then let them go.

22. 9:34
23. 9:15
24. 11:39

Finally the 3:40 pace team pulled up behind me. Surely I could stay with them, right? There was only one runner still in the group, a woman running her planned 3:40 pace, about 8:23 per mile. I resolved to stay with the pace team all the way to the finish, and somehow I did. The woman was running her first marathon, and it was amazing to see her pull it off as she had planned. I ran across the line just behind her, with an official chip time of 3:39:09, or not much better than I had done at Thunder Road for my "easy training run."

Here's the picture Bobby snapped of me just after I crossed the line:

I'd say this photo just about sums up the day.

And here's a photo of the two of us with our medals:

Don't we look lovely?

Bobby fared a little better than I did, finishing in 3:19 and just out of the age-group awards.

At the airport a woman saw the two of us waiting for our flight and correctly guessed that we had run the marathon. "Did you think the heat slowed you down?" She asked.

We assented, then learned that though she was the second overall woman, with a time of 2:52, she was still quite disappointed because she was shooting for a 2:46. No matter your pace, the marathon is still a very tough race. Not tough enough? Just try to run it a little bit faster, and it'll get plenty tough.

My race didn't go as planned, but if they always did, there wouldn't be much reason to run them, would there? Next marathon: Boston. Maybe I'll be able to do a little better there.

Details of Saturday's marathon are below.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Carbo loading, again

Another race, another carbo-loading regime. The goal is to consume 4.5 grams of carbs for every pound of body weight. I had been hoping to get down to 175 for this race, but as of now I weigh 185, so that's 832 grams of carbs, or 3,330 calories in carbs per 24 hours.

I'm going to follow last year's plan of carbo loading for only 48 hours.

Here's the plan:


First breakfast: Bagel/Cream Cheese (60 g)

Second breakfast: Cereal (80 g), milk (24 g), V8 (10 g)

Lunch: Bagel sandwich w/pb/j (2) (140 g)

Snacks: Apple (29), banana (27), raisins (66), granola bar (17).

Dinner: Spaghetti (1/2-pound uncooked = 160 g carbs), sauce (26), salad (1), bread (40)

That is still only 720 grams!

Extra carbs come from regular coke -- 117 grams in 3 cans.

Total: 837 g


First breakfast: Cereal (80 g), milk (24 g), V8 (10 g)

Second breakfast: Scone (59 g), coffee.

Lunch: Bagel w /pb/j (70)

Dinner: Pre-race pasta dinner (180).

Snacks: 2 apples (58), raisins (66), granola bars (48), banana (27).

Drinks: 3 cans of Coke (117 g)

That wasn't so bad -- 817 grams. The Coke really helps.

Finally, on Saturday morning I will have a light snack when I wake up at 6.


Breakfast: Granola bar (24). Honey Stinger Waffle (21). Possibly a half-banana (28).

Pre-race: 1 vanilla GU at 15 minutes prior to start (25)

During race: 5 to 6 GUs (one every 4 miles, with mile 24 optional) (125-150)

A similar regimen was effective at Richmond last year, so I'm not changing much this time around.

As usual this week, here's the weather update:

Remember, this graph charts the predicted weather for December 8, not the actual conditions on that day. I'd really prefer for these numbers to go down, but I ran in similar weather this morning and it's not too bad.

Just three more days to the race!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Geeking out on the Rocket City Marathon

In four days, with any luck, I will have just finished the Rocket City Marathon. It's pretty clear to me that the folks putting this race on are serious running geeks. Case in point: The official course map. Here it is:

As you can see, there's tons of information here. Not only is there a detailed elevation profile, but the key high- and low-points are marked with exact figures. It's pretty clear from the map that Mile 8 and Mile 17 are the toughest, but overall these hills are pretty small compared to what I'm used to running. As a point of comparison, the biggest hill in the race stretches from Mile 16-17, with a total climb of 88 feet. You'd be hard pressed to find any two-mile stretch in the Thunder Road Marathon with less than 88 feet of climbing. My standard 6-mile run with DART has only one two-mile section with less climbing.

20 of the 26 miles at Rocket City have 25 feet or less of climbing, which is less than any of the miles on the DART loop.

None of this is to say that Rocket City will be easy — you can always make a race harder just by running faster. But it is to say that when I do a training run at marathon pace here in Davidson, it's a harder run than what I'll be facing at Rocket City.

Further geekiness: A mile-by-mile charting of the climbs in the race:

The big climbs are in Mile 1, 8, 17, 21, and 23. I think Mile 21 might be the toughest in the race — it's after Mile 20 and it can be demoralizing to have a significant hill at that point. But again, all these hills are small enough that they won't last long. If I can just maintain an equal effort — maybe run these miles at a 7:30 pace instead of the planned 7:15 for the race, they shouldn't pose too much of a problem. For me, the temperature is a bigger concern.

Which reminds me: Here's my updated temperature graph:

As a reminder, this graph charts the forecast for December 8 on a given day, not the actual weather on that day. Today's forecast is similar to the past two days, so the weather pattern may be stabilizing. Looks like I need to be preparing for a race that will mostly be in the high 50s and low 60s.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Weather Update, 5 days out

We're now just five days away from Rocket City, and the weather forecast has taken a fairly dramatic change. The forecast high has gone from 53 to 68, and the predicted low is now just 1 degree less than the predicted high two days ago!

The chance of rain has also gone down significantly, from 60 percent to 30 percent.

Presumably as we get closer to race day the forecast is getting more accurate, so I need to start thinking about racing in temperatures that are 10+ degrees warmer than what I'd prefer.

Remember, this graph represents the predictions for December 8 put out on a given date, not the weather on that date.

On the plus side, we've now reached the point where the National Weather Service has predicted hourly temperatures, so we can make some guesses as to how this prediction will pan out in terms of actual temperatures during the race:

The red line represents the temperature and the green line is the dew point. At the 8 am start, the NWS is predicting a temperature of around 53, rising to 61 around the time I'll be finishing -- with any luck that will be about 11:10 a.m.

61 is a lot better than 68. It's still a little warmer than my ideal temperature, which is probably around 45-50 degrees, but there's no point in drastically altering my race strategy yet. I'll keep my obsessive runner's eye focused on the race day weather all week.

In other news, yesterday's long run revealed yet another thing to worry about as the race approaches. As I got ready for the run, I noticed that the battery on my GPS was dead, despite the fact that I had placed it in the charging cradle the night before. Garmin claims that the cradle for the 910XT is secure, but I've experienced this problem several times. If the unit is not seated properly in the cradle not only will the watch not charge, it will drain the battery. Argh!

My plan for the race is to simply not charge the unit the night before. It's got a 20-hour battery life, so if I have it charged before I leave for Huntsville and leave it turned off until race morning, I should have plenty of juice for the race.

Otherwise, tapering has been going well. I'm decreasing the mileage on my daily runs, but trying to include at least a couple miles each day at race pace of 7:15 per mile. This is helping me dial in to the pace I'll be running on race day. Details of this morning's workout are below.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Weather update, 8 days out!

We're now just 8 days away from the Rocket City Marathon, and interestingly, the forecast has changed. Yesterday the forecast overnight low on Friday, December 7 was 38, and now it's up to 43. Fortunately, the high temperature for the 8th has only gone up by 1 degree, to 54. Still a 60% chance of showers on race day. Here's your forecast in graphical format. 

Remember, this graph represents the predictions for December 8 put out on a given date, not the weather on that date.

I'm going to try to keep this up all the way to race day, so we can get a sense of how accurate the forecast was at each different amount of time before race day.

I'm in full taper mode for my workouts now. Yesterday due to a misreading of my workout plan I ran 4 X 9-minute tempos instead of the planned workout of 3 X 9-minute tempos. It seemed a little tough for a taper workout, which makes sense since, you know, that wasn't what I'd actually planned.

For most days leading up to the race from here on out I'm just going to put in some easy miles, with 1 or 2 of them at the planned marathon pace, to get used to running at that pace. I haven't done a lot of MP workouts over the past few months, so I still feel like I don't really have a running "groove" at that pace. But during today's 6-mile run I felt like I was starting to get it. Hopefully by race day, I'll be a fine-tuned machine, effortlessly cranking out runs at my desired 7:15 per mile pace.

Details of the last two workouts are below:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tracking the weather in Huntsville

You know a race really matters when you start checking the weather as soon as it comes into the 10-day window on the weather websites. In 9 days I'll be running the Rocket City Marathon, and I've finally got a forecast for race day. Here it is:

The low temperature is deceiving because on Weather.com the low is forecast for the following night. The overnight low from the night before is currently forecast at 38 degrees, which should be close to the actual temperature when the race starts at 8 am. If everything goes as planned, I should be finishing a little after 11 am, and we shouldn't yet have reached the high for the day. I'd guess the temperature at the end of the race, assuming the forecast holds, would be in the high 40s.

Other than the rain and a light wind, the weather can't get much better than this. Assuming it's not a constant downpour, I'd take this weather for the race. But of course, we'll get a better sense of the weather for the race as race day gets closer.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Race Recap: Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon

Marathon #6 is in the books, but this one is bittersweet.

On the one hand, there's nothing like running a big race in your home town, especially if you're active in the local running community.

On the other hand, this year, my running buddy Dustin wanted to run his first marathon, and was considering giving it a shot at Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon. I told him if he'd commit to the race, I'd commit to pacing him, and he decided to go for it.

On the one hand, soon we learned that a half-dozen friends would also be running the race, and that many more friends would be watching from the streets of Charlotte. It would be a fun day!

On the other hand, for this race, I signed up to be a research participant in a study, so I had to take an unknown supplement for a few weeks before the race, then do a couple physiological tests before and after the race.

On the one hand, participating in the race meant my race entry was covered. The supplement (I wasn't sure I was in the placebo group or the test group taking Rhodiola) didn't seem to have any effects, but I duly took my two capsules every day.

On the other hand, the physiological tests weren't a breeze. First, the researchers took blood. Then I was weighed, and finally I had to perform two strength tests: a deadlift pulling against a chain (with a dynamometer to measure force), and a vertical leap test. I've always been rather vertically challenged, so I think I was able to "leap" about 16 inches. Michael Jordan I ain't. On the other other hand, I don't think Jordan has ever run a marathon!

On the one hand, on the morning of the race, I carpooled in to Charlotte with running buddies Robert, Mike, and Dustin, and we parked about a block from the finish line. I was wearing a singlet, cheap gloves, an old long-sleeved cotton T-shirt, shorts, and calf sleeves. The temperature at the start was predicted to be about 38, but it would be warming up to 52 by the finish, so I figured I'd be ditching the gloves and long-sleeved shirt somewhere along the way. No problem!

On the other hand, as soon as we walked outside, we were hit by a bitter wind. 38 degrees feels a lot colder with a stiff wind blowing in your face. Dustin hadn't brought a throw-away shirt, so he was feeling even chillier than I was.

On the one hand, we found a building where we could wait inside before the race, with short bathroom lines, and even encountered fellow DARTer Wayne Eckert. Here's a photo of me, Dustin, and Wayne getting ready for the race:

On the other hand, we soon had to head back out into the cold and get ready to run.

On the one hand, before we knew it the starting gun had sounded and we were off. Once we were running with 4,000 of our best buddies, all thoughts of a chilly morning were banished. I even saw DARTer Marc Hirschfield running the full marathon. I didn't even know he was running this race! The plan was to stick as close as possible to an 8:30 pace for the first 6 miles, then gradually build up pace if Dustin was up for it. The hard part during these early miles is always to keep from overextending yourself, and today was no exception, but it was still a nice problem to have.

On the other hand, by about Mile 4 I was getting warm, and decided to remove and toss out both my shirt and gloves. This is a decision that would come back to bite me later in the race.

On the one hand, soon after this, Robert, who had run ahead, turned around to take a photo of the crowd of runners heading down Providence Road, and managed to catch me in the background (I'd seen his bright yellow DART shirt and was trying to catch his attention):

Who's that wild and crazy runner in a white singlet?

On the other hand, Dustin's knee was beginning to bother him. He had noticed a problem a week ago during his last taper run, and had actually taken the whole week prior to the race off. He had hoped that just resting it would be enough to get him through today's race, but the pain was beginning to get significant. The pain he described sounded like it could be IT band, which also bothers me from time to time, so I told him he could wear my IT strap, since my knee was feeling pretty good. He put it on, but it wasn't helping much. Every mile or so he needed to stop and massage his knee or adjust the strap, but nothing seemed to offer any relief.

On the one hand, we were starting to spot some of our friends along the course. Ron and his brother-in-law Dave were running at nearly the same pace as us (Ron was pacing Dave on his first marathon), and Lori and Ashley popped up as spectators every few miles. Here's a photo Lori took of me and Dustin on the course:

Notice that pretty much everyone is wearing more clothing than me

On the other hand, by now Dustin had decided that he was going to drop out at the halfway point. He turned off at the half-marathon split and limped his way to the finish while I plodded on (not only did I need to complete this run as my final long run in my training for Rocket City, I also had to finish the marathon as a part of the research study I had signed up for).

On the one hand, there was certainly no pressure for me to maintain any sort of pace, but...

On the other hand, the wind was picking up, and I was starting to get cold. The slower I ran, the colder I got. This was exacerbated by the fact that one of my GU packets had sprung a leak, and I got it all over my hands while consuming it. The wind whistling over my GU-ey fingers caused them to cool even more. I finally decided to use the water at an aid station to wash off my fingers instead of to drink. This had the temporary effect of making them even colder, but...

On the one hand, once the water had evaporated, my hands did start to warm up a bit.

On the other hand, we were heading back through downtown Charlotte, and the wind funneled through the city skyscrapers at an obscene velocity, making for tough, cold running.

On the one hand, more friends were beginning to pop up along the course. Lori and Ashley must have been there at four or five different points on the course, and I also saw Stacy, Tara, Phyllis, Allen, and Peter out there.

On the other hand, at around Mile 20, we began a long, 2-mile climb, straight into the wind. It was finally starting to warm a bit, but I struggled during these miles despite running them at an "easy" pace. Even when you're taking it easy, a marathon is still a tough beast to conquer.

On the one hand, at Mile 25, I spotted Lori at a long-enough distance to mug for the camera. A couple weeks ago, my friend Chas had assumed the Mo Farah victory pose at Richmond, so I decided to try my hand at an imitation of Chas / Mo. Who did it best? You decide:

Having fun? Or just delirious?

On the other hand, there was still over a mile to go. Even worse, my GPS was recording the course as slightly long, so it would register 26.62 miles before I was done.

On the one hand, finally, I crossed the finish line. Robert, having finished about 8 minutes before,  managed to get a photo of this as well:

I'm looking a little less than enthusiastic here.

On the other hand, now we had to go to the Appalachian State research tent, get more blood drawn, and do the same physiological tests we had done the day before. As you might guess, doing a deadlift and a vertical-leap test was considerably more difficult right after running a marathon. I'd love to know what the exact difference was!

On the one hand, we were finished! Here's a photo of Robert and me outside the App State tent just after we completed the tests:

Ready for another 26.6?

On the other hand, I had learned some tough lessons: A marathon is a tough distance, no matter how "easy" you're running it. Don't throw away your throwaway clothes too early. And don't take anything for granted; you're only an injury away from not finishing at all. I'm thankful that I've been able to complete six marathons, and I'm looking forward to finishing many more!

My GPS plot of Thunder Road is below.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Updating my header

For nearly two years, the header image of this blog has been the same -- a photo of my running gear, in the shape of a runner, on my living room floor.

But over the course of those years, I've noticed that the picture was less and less accurate. So today I decided to update the photo.

Here's the old picture:

As you can see, it's not terribly different from the new one, but there are a few key differences.

Shoes: I've traded in my New Balance shoes for Saucony Ride 5s. I'm not 100 percent pleased with these but they definitely offer more room in the toebox and are better for my midfoot to forefoot stride.

Socks: I loved my Injinji toe socks back in the day but I now find that Drymax socks offer better protection from blisters. The bigger toebox in my current shoes also probably helps in that regard.

Legs: I don't wear running tights nearly as often as I used to now that I have calf sleeves. I find the compression sleeves not only keep me warm but also do a better job preventing muscle soreness. This means I'm wearing shorts up top, and for long runs I like these Race Ready shorts with pockets sufficient to hold 7+ gels. I do still wear tights on occasion, for when it gets really cold.

Hydration: I no longer wear a hydration belt because I've found it aggravates my IT band issues. Instead I carry a handheld, or for very long runs, I wear a hydration pack.

Jacket: I loved my old Saucony jacket but I lost some weight and the jacket was swimming on me, so I bought this similar model by Brooks, just in a different color.

Base layer: On cold days, I still wear the same base layer I did two years ago, a Zensah compression shirt. I actually have one of these shirts that is over 5 years old! One problem with Zensah products: Only two sizes. I wish there was a size between S/M and L/XL -- the L/XLs that I'm currently wearing are a little big, and I fear S/M will be too small.

Eyewear: I've added specialized running glasses since I took the original photo. They are pretty nice, staying on through all ranges of conditions but displaying a nagging propensity to fog up or get drenched in sweat, rendering them pretty much useless. If I replaced these I might consider bifocals -- I'm getting old and it's getting harder to read my GPS in the dark.

Hat: The REI hat in the original photo was great but I lost it. The new one is a Brooks Nightlife, which has a nice flashing LED on the back for dark runs.

Headlamp: The same Princeton Tec headlamp I had two years ago is still running strong, but I'd like to have a headlamp I could wear without a hat -- this one bounces around too much.

iPod: I decided not to put an iPod in the photo because I rarely run with them any more. Most days I'm running with a group, and on the few days I'm not, it's nice to just listen to the birds singing. I have upgraded from the nano in the picture to a Shuffle, on the rare occasions I use it. It can be a little annoying to navigate through podcasts with no screen, but it's not worth the $150 investment it'd take to get a screen, given how little I use it.

GPS: I've upgraded from the Garmin 305 to a 910XT, which is a model with way more features than a runner typically needs. However, it's the only Garmin for running that has a barometric altimeter, which gives much more accurate elevations than the GPS models, and provides you with real-time elevation feedback, which is great in the mountains. Probably not worth the $399 I spent on it if you're not a triathlete, but I justified the splurge because I had just completed a study for which I was paid $400!

There you have it -- the full rundown of my new set of running gear, and a new header image. Hope you like it!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Race Recap: The Spencer Mountain 10-Miler

Two years ago I ran the Spencer Mountain 10-Miler, my first-ever ten-mile race, and the second longest race I'd ever competed in (I did a couple of half-marathons about 5 years ago).

My goal back then was to complete the race averaging less than 8 minutes per mile, and I did it -- just barely. I finished in 1:17:17, for a 7:57 average. (If you do the math, that doesn't quite work out. The course was a quarter-mile short, so my "official" result works out to a 7:44 pace).

I know I've gotten a lot faster since then, but I haven't run a race like this one in the interim. It's not an insanely hilly course like the Kendall Mountain Run or the Blue Ridge Marathon, but it's not so flat that you can just stick to a steady pace the entire race. The final climb, in Miles 8 and 9, is no joke, climbing about 250 feet in a mile, with a very steep section in the middle. Here's the elevation profile for the course:

I decided I would try to stick to a 6:30 pace until I got to the bottom of the big climb, about 7.4 miles in, then see how well I could hang on.

At the starting line, I chatted with Richard Hefner, who told me "I remember when I used to be able to beat you." He still remembers the first time I passed him, at the Run for Green half marathon. It was good to be complimented by such an excellent and experienced runner. Before we knew it, we were off, and I could see that there were only 10 or so of us that were interested in a 6:30 or better pace.

It was a perfect morning for me, about 39 degrees, with no wind and a blue sky. I was wearing just a singlet and cheap gloves that I planned on throwing away as the temperature warmed.

Mile 1: 6:30, Mile 2: 6:31.

The first two miles were flat, with perhaps a touch of downhill. I decided to take water at every aid station, so I tried to grab a cup as I flew by the first one. It slipped right out of my cheap knit glove. Oh well, I wasn't really thirsty anyways.

Mile 3: 6:31, Mile 4: 6:33.

Mile 4 had the first real hills of the race, along with some downhills where you could really fly. By the end of the mile I had shed my gloves, just in time to get some water at an aid station (for real this time)! The cups were a little small, but it felt good to have a couple ounces of water.

Mile 5: 6:38, Mile 6: 6:47

Now we were starting to hit some serious hills. Mile 5 had 92 feet of climbing and Mile 6 had 121. I threw out all thoughts of maintaining a 6:30 pace on the uphills, and only barely managed to crack 6:30 on the downhills. I was carrying one GU, and consumed it slowly, between gasps for breath, as I climbed the massive hill in Mile 6. I figured there would probably be an aid station at the top, and I could wash it down with some water. Then when I reached the station, they were only handing out Gatorade. While you might think Gatorade and GU are fairly compatible, to me it was reminiscent of washing down cough drops with cough syrup. I ran with a Gatorade-GU aftertaste for the next two miles.

Mile 7: 7:06, Mile 8: 7:33

Mile 7 features yet another climb, and I slowed even more. Then at the start of Mile 8 there was one last downhill before we started the Big One, the climb up Spencer mountain. I tried to cruise down the hill and get one last boost of speed before heading up that last hill. There was one runner in sight ahead of me, but he looked to be pulling away. We reached the bottom of the hill. I had remembered from two years ago that it flattened out before we began the big climb. Actually, it was a gradual upslope. As I reached the end of this section I saw another runner, who had actually slowed to a walk, even before the big hill. He started running again before I could catch him, then we both turned the corner and started the serious climb.

I knew at this point that I had very little left in the tank. All thoughts of a 6:30 pace were out the window. I just wanted to hang on. Amazingly, taking it easy only slowed me to a 7:30 pace — two years ago I had had to take a walk-break on this section. I passed the other runner and built up a large gap. As Mile 8 ended, I had climbed 171 feet, and the hill began to level off.

Mile 9: 6:51

Somehow, I was able to pick up the pace as the hill leveled off. There was an aid station serving actual water, and I slurped it down. Now I was running downhill. Could I go faster? I still had a mile and a half to go, but I cautiously turned on the gas.

Mile 10: 6:25

The last mile was agonizingly long. It was a gradual downhill, but that just meant more pressure to run fast. Finally the finish line was in sight and I sprinted through. I stopped my watch, and an official wanted to know what time I had recorded for the race. I couldn't tell because my watch still had an annoying lap display up. Finally the display cleared up and I told him 1:07:37. I didn't notice that the watch was still moving until 1:09. Dammit, this was the second race in a row where I'd hit the "lap" button instead of the "stop" button at the finish. Argh!

Fortunately since I did hit "lap", I could go back and reconstruct my actual finishing time, 1:07:15. That was an average pace of 6:44 per mile—not bad for such a hilly course. It's still a little short of where I need to be if I want to qualify for guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon, where I'd have to run a half at a 6:29 pace, but I think if this course had been completely flat, I would have been very close to that pace. The 1:07:15 was good enough for first in age group, so I'm pleased with that.

Also running this race were fellow DARTers Chad and Gabrielle; here's a picture of the three of us at the finish:

Feelin' good!

A nice confidence-boosting race as I get things ramped up for my big race at Rocket City in less than a month.

Details of yesterday's race are below.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Made it...almost

Training for a marathon PR isn't supposed to be easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

So I knew today's workout would be hard. It's topping off an extremely tough week, a 70-miler, the last of just three such weeks on my workout schedule. But in addition to being a high-mileage week, it's also got two of my toughest workouts. On Thursday I did a challenging tempo workout, and today I had an even tougher workout planned.

Today's run was partially what is known as a "marathon simulation," meaning that you run the last part of a long run at marathon pace. I'd be doing that. But it also had a tempo workout thrown in, just to make the simulation a little bit tougher. The idea behind a simulation is that running an entire long run workout at marathon pace is too difficult. There's a reason most people do marathons after a two- to three-week taper where they decrease their mileage, and why they typically take two to four weeks to recover from a marathon.

A simulation allows you to experience some of the pain and exhaustion of a real marathon without putting you out of commission for multiple weeks. Ideally you'd run a simulation on similar terrain to the actual target race. That's a problem here in Davidson, which, while not mountainous, is hilly enough to make it tougher than most marathons. Rocket City Marathon has about 300 feet of climbing in the entire race. That's less than one of my regular routes for a six-mile training run.

So today I planned out a 20-mile route on some of the flattest terrain we have in the area. The first 8 miles would be at an easy pace for me: about 8:30 per mile. Then I'd speed up to my planned marathon pace: 7:15 per mile, for 40 minutes. Then I'd speed up even more, to my tempo pace of 6:30-6:45 per mile, for 5 minutes. Then another 20 minutes at marathon pace, 5 minutes at tempo pace, and 5 minutes at marathon pace, before finally slowing down for a 2-mile cooldown.

For a run this though, I wanted to have company, but unfortunately, since many of my running buddies have already run their marathons this season, there weren't a lot of takers. I ended up dividing my time, running the first 3 miles alone, then 2 with Chad and Cliff, then 1.7 alone before meeting up with Ben and Kevin.

I told them we'd have 2 miles to warm up, and then we'd start the faster part of the workout. Unfortunately the only stopping point in the run would be about halfway through the first marathon-pace segment. Kevin suggested that we run a shorter MP segment first, followed by a T segment, and then take our first break. It sounded good at the time, and we completed this first section of the run with few problems.

What we didn't take into account is that our route was all downhill up till now, and we'd have to do an even longer, 40-minute MP run on a steady uphill. Our pace gradually slowed: 7:11, 7:26, 7:18, 7:23. We weren't quite making the planned splits, and I was running on fumes. Finally at about Mile 4.5 of what should have been a 5.5-mile segment, I told the guys I would need to shut it down at Mile 5, when we'd be approaching the bottom of yet another hill. I completed this mile in 7:25, then stopped, sucking wind. I wanted to get in a full 20 miles, so I limped along at a 10+ minute pace for another 2.5 miles, finishing at 19.79 miles for the day and just over 70 miles for the week.

In some senses, the run was a dud, but given the fact that we actually climbed over 800 feet in just 20 miles, compared to around 300 in my target race, I'd say I'm probably fairly close to being on track.

My longest training week from here on out is just 56 miles, so I should be feeling a lot fresher when I run the target race in December. Let's hope so, because that's the only way I'm going to be able to manage the pace I'm planning!

Details of today's workout are below.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hitting my training peak

This week is one of the toughest on my training schedule. In addition to a planned 70 total miles, I've got two of my hardest workouts on the calendar as well. For Thursday, the plan was to run the infamous gradually declining tempo runs, the full workout, at a 6:45 pace. Here's how I described this workout last year:

A set of tempo runs that gradually declined in length. I would start with a 22.5 minute tempo run, take a break, then do 18, 13.5, 9, and 4.5-minute runs. The breaks would also gradually decrease in length: 5, 4, 3, and 2 minutes. 
Tempo runs are done at a fast enough pace to get you to VO2 max fairly quickly -- 7-minute miles in my case. By taking breaks between each tempo, you can increase the amount of time you spend at VO2 max and therefore increase your fitness.
The difference this year: I've upped the pace to 6:45, and instead of the flat greenways of Fairfax, VA, I'd be running it in hilly Davidson. I've tried a shorter version of this workout a couple times this year and never quite made my goals. How did I do this time?

Here are the numbers:

Leg 1: 21:45 total time, 6:47 pace, 145 feet of climbing
Leg 2: 18:41, 6:45, 39
Leg 3: 13:44, 7:03, 174
Leg 4: 8:59, 6:31, 23
Leg 5: 4:32, 6:40, 16

Overall my pace for the intervals was 6:47, with 397 feet of climbing. That's more than the total climb for the Rocket City Marathon, but in a space of 10 miles. Suffice it to say that this course is much tougher than Rocket City will be. My slow leg, Leg 3, involved almost 200 feet of climbing in 2 miles.

Note that I still didn't get my timing perfect -- Leg 1 was a little short and Leg 2 was long. It's tough to figure out exactly how long to run using the Garmin because the timer resets after every mile. But overall I consider the workout to be a big success.

The next test will be on Sunday when I have to do a Marathon Pace workout: 8 miles warm-up, 40 minutes at Marathon Pace (M -- 7:15 miles), then 5 at Tempo Pace (T), then 20M, 5T, 5M, and a 2-mile cool down. That's a total of nearly 20 miles, with 10 of them at marathon pace or better. If I can pull that off, then I think I'm close to being ready for my big PR effort at Rocket City, which is now just over 5 weeks away.

In two weeks I'll be doing my last "long run" -- an easy effort at Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon, where I'll be pacing my friend Dustin in his first marathon.

So Sunday will be a huge test -- I'll try to make time to check in after that run, too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Race Recap: The Big South 5K

I've spent the summer training in the Colorado Rockies and lost 10 pounds since my last 5K. It's a nice, cool autumn in the South. So I decided to see what I could do on a fast course with a competitive field. A couple weeks ago, I signed up for the Big South 5K, and yesterday, I ran it.

There's no doubt the field was competitive. Davidson's running rock star, Anthony "Fam" Famiglietti was there, as were some faces I had seen before and knew would be running hard, like Paul Mainwaring and Bill Shires. Fam saw me before the race and asked if I'd like to run the first mile of the course with him. Why not?

We started off in the wrong direction but were set straight soon enough. Fam didn't like what he saw on the first mile -- too hilly for a serious PR effort. It didn't look bad to me though. I don't like races with downhill starts; getting the hills over with early felt like an advantage compared to running them tired at the end of the race.

I was planning on running the whole route as a preview, but Fam turned around at the mile marker, as planned. I saw that the uphill continued for another third of a mile and made a mental note to tell Fam before we started. After that, there was a nice, long downhill before the race flattened out for the finish. For me, the course laid out perfectly, a total of only 80 feet or so of climbing.

Back at the start, I decided to take a GU about 15 minutes before the race started. I wasn't sure it would help but I was pretty sure it wouldn't hurt. I've run races before where I felt a little hungry, and I didn't want to be bothered by that in this one.

About 10 minutes before the race, I made my way to the starting line, which was an absolute zoo. The race directors were doing a pretty good job of letting runners know that the fast people should be in front. The DJ instructed the 5- and 6-minute milers to go to the front of the pack, and that slower runners should fill in behind them. Were they aware that they had a 4-minute miler in the field in Fam?

I settle in about where I wanted, a couple rows back. I knew that no matter what, there would be a bunch of kids that wanted to start first, and the easiest thing was just to stay out of their way. Fam showed up about 3 minutes before the start, and I didn't have a chance to let him know that the uphill continued past the first mile marker. Oh well, I thought -- I'm sure he can handle it!

Dennis from Queen City Timing was making a real effort to get the starting line set. He pointed to a group of boys on the line and told them they should move back, pointing to Fam, and Paul, and Bill, and -- to my surprise -- me, and said that we'd beat them all. That might be true, but I bet most of these kids could keep up with most of us for the first half mile or so.

Soon, we were off, and I spent the first quarter-mile just trying to stay out of trouble. I think a runner went down about 10 feet in front of me, but he was off to the right and so didn't pose a problem for me. Then it was a matter of trying to settle into a comfortable stride as we began the gradual ascent. I was shooting for a sub-6-minute pace for the race, which would have me finishing just under 18:40.

I felt pretty confident about the pace plan, since I had run 4 X 800 on Thursday, and each interval had felt pretty good at a 5:50-5:45 pace. I followed that up with some 400s at a sub-5:30 pace, and also felt good for those.

Mile 1 arrived and I hit my "lap" button to see that I'd finished the mile in 5:59. Perfect! I only had to hang on for a short uphill stretch before I could start to cruise downhill. I passed several younger runners on the uphill stretch. Looking at my watch as I started downhill, I was still on pace! Now, take it easy, Munger, and you'll have this one in the bag. I tried to focus on good form while still taking advantage of the downhill. At Mile 2 I was still on target, even a little faster than my goal at 5:53.

I turned onto the main drag and tried to increase my effort as the course flattened out. I could do it, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to hang on until the finish. Then I looked at my watch, which said "6:03." I'd have to go faster. I picked it up. Just hang on, Dave!

The next thing I noticed was a teenager loping past me on the left. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and hardly seemed to even be trying to run fast. I've seen more enthusiasm in a kid who's just been told he has to clean up his room. That said, there was no way I could hang with this kid, so I just let him go. Looking down at my watch, I was still running a solid 5:58. I thought of my high school cross-country coach, Mr. Beckwith, bellowing "STRIDE, MUNGER, STRIDE" across the track at me. I picked up the pace.

A half-mile to go. Mopey Teen was still ahead of me as we turned into the Blakeney Mall parking lot. We had to run all the way around the Target, which was no easy task. I kept up the pace. Maybe Mopey Teen's mom had bribed him with a trip to the movies after he finished, because there was no way I was going to catch him. We passed Mile 3, and I remembered to hit the "lap" button. 5:43! I was going to crush my goal for the race. As I turned the last corner, I could see the finish line clock ticking 17:55, 17:56. Could I break 18 minutes? No, the last I saw, it read 18:02. I stopped my watch, grabbed a bottle of water from the race official, and looked to see what other goodies were available in the finish area. Another runner, close to my age, shook my hand and congratulated me on a great race. I hadn't seen him during the race, so I guess he was behind me. I was his mopey teen!

As I was strolling past the Smoothie King booth (no thanks, it's 40 degrees out!), I noticed that my watch was still running. I didn't manage to stop it until it read 19:40. Oops. I had hit "lap" instead of "stop" as I crossed the line.

At least I'd get an official time for the race: 18:03. That was a huge PR for me, beating my previous record by 57 seconds! I'll take it. That ended up being good enough for first in age group (thanks to a Master's division that took two runners out of my age group). Fam won the race in 13:40 -- a North Carolina 5K record. I was 17th overall out of 1,012 finishers. Not bad! My Blue Ridge Relay teammate Stan Austin finished in 18:56 -- very impressive considering he had run a 50K the week before!

My award packet included a very nice plaque, plus $45 in gift certificates to sporting goods stores -- so in the end I actually made money on the race. I'll take it!

Here's the obligatory finish line photo:


Here's a link to the results, and below is the GPS record of the race.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This is getting tough

It's been a crazy summer. It started off with melanoma surgery, then there was that trip to Colorado, then we moved to a new house. It's been nuts.

In the meantime, I registered for two more marathons. For the first one, Thunder Road, I'll be pacing my friend Dustin at an 8:30 pace. It's just three weeks out from my target marathon, Rocket City, where I'll be trying for a PR, so it will serve as my final long run to prepare for that.

Oh, I also registered for a little race in Hopkinton, MA.

I've settled in on a goal pace for Rocket City. It's aggressive, but not insane: 7:15 per mile for a 3:10 marathon.

This past week, I've tried to raise my training game from the relatively easy work I've been doing all summer. The goal was to run 70 miles while doing two of the toughest long workouts yet in this training cycle.

On Wednesday it would be the declining tempo workout, and on Sunday, a long run with a lot of marathon- and tempo-paced miles. These would be my longest runs yet at the new marathon pace of 7:15 and my (hoped) tempo pace of 6:30.

Wednesday went okay: Bryan joined me for the workout, and we started out fairly strong. I managed a 6:42 pace for the first, 18-minute segment. The next two segments went all right as well: 6:46 and 6:41 for the 13.5- and 9-minute segments. This wasn't quite 6:30, but these were also quite hilly segments. All we had left was a 4.5-minute run -- that wouldn't be too hard, would it? It would. I slowed dramatically, all the way to a 7:12 pace for the leg. Oh well, at least I finished.

During my recovery runs on Thursday and Friday I didn't feel great, and decided to bag my easy run on Saturday as well, to save up my energy for the tough Sunday long run.

The plan was to run 8 miles easy, then 30 minutes at marathon pace, 5 minutes at tempo pace, and another 30 minutes at MP and 5 minutes at T before slowing down for a 2-mile cooldown. Sam would be joining me for the whole run, and Ben and Kevin showed up for the warmup and the first MP/T section. I didn't feel great, and I was even struggling to maintain an 8:30 pace as we warmed up. But when we took off at pace, I felt all right. My plan was to time my finish so I could take a little break at the cars when we finished the first T, but I had dropped a bit behind the guys and they turned around early. Kevin and Ben were ahead of me and Sam and Sam suggested we just try to catch them by the time we reached the cars. We sped up, but so did they. I ended up running just 1 minute at T pace -- but that pace was 6:20.

We stopped for a break and then headed out again. Sam suggested we start off slowly and work our way up to M pace. Sounded good to me, but when it was time to speed up I could tell it just wasn't happening. I managed two miles at 7:20 and 7:30 pace and then told Sam to pull the plug. It was all I could do to shuffle home from there at a 9:30 pace for the last three miles. Instead of 19 miles I had 17.8, but that was plenty. I was cooked. And I had only run 60 miles for the week, not 70.

Lesson learned: Don't bump up the total miles for the week, the length of your long run, and the intensity of your workouts, all in one week. I'm also starting a new strength regimen that is also taking a lot out of me. This week, I'm backing off a planned interval workout and just running the bleachers, which has always been a fairly friendly workout for me.

Finally, a weight update. After this morning's workout, I stepped on the scale and was surprised to see it reading 178.8. That's the first time I've been under 180 since college. Granted, I had just run hard, so some of that was probably perspiration loss, but still...

The craziness of the surgery and our busy summer had derailed my plan to get below 175 by July 30, but now it seems almost plausible that I could hit that weight by the end of this month. Massive roadblock to achieving that goal: I'm visiting my hometown next week, and I always seem to gain weight when exposed to the comfort food I grew up with.

Details of last week's hard workouts are below.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fantasy Race Recap: Near-World-Record run at Paul Ryan Almost Half Marathon!

When I awoke this morning, I hardly imagined that today would be the day that I would come within seconds of a world record in the half marathon! My previous best half-marathon was a mere 1:31 at the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon last January, and today I wasn't expecting to do much better. After all, just yesterday I had run a hard 10 miles on the trails. I simply wasn't ready for an all-out effort.

Yet when I toed the line at today's Paul Ryan Almost Half Marathon, it was as if I was possessed by Mercury, the god of speed, abundance, travel, and 1950s Ford Hot Rods.

The world record at the half-marathon distance was set in Lisbon in 2010 by Zersenay Tadese: 58 minutes and 23 seconds, for an average pace of 4:27 per mile. Given the fact that the fastest I had previously run even a single mile was 5:30, it seemed unlikely that Tadese's record was in danger today.

But after timer Peter Asciutto of Vac-and-Dash said those fateful words: "Ready, Set, Go!" I knew that Tadese better start worrying. For the first mile, I dispensed with all thoughts of moderation, and just started running all-out. Despite the fact that the fastest mile I'd ever run in a half-marathon was about 6:40, I headed out of the gates at a blazing 5:11 pace!

The following miles were even faster: 4:54, 5:00, 5:00. I was running faster than I had ever gone for any distance! Could I maintain this pace for an entire half-marathon? I didn't know, but I was about to find out.

As I tore along the McMullen Creek Parkway in Pineville, North Carolina, the Sunday-morning recreational runners along the path simply could not believe what they were seeing. I could hardly believe it myself. I was running so fast, my singlet was nearly torn away, revealing my taut, six-pack abs. A 5:00 pace is roughly 12 miles per hour, so I found myself passing not only recreational runners, but even cyclists, whose jaws dropped as they watched this ripped 45-year-old stride by them as if they were riding stationary bikes at the gym!

I continued along at nearly the same pace until I reached the turnaround. Oddly, my GPS read only 5.75 miles at this point. If I was truly halfway through a half-marathon, I should have been 6.55 miles into the race. Could it be that my GPS was not accurate? A quick mental calculation revealed that I was near world-record pace! I had completed half the race in just 29:26. If I could maintain pace on the return to the finish line, I would finish in under 59 minutes, within seconds of the 58:23 record!

The Paul Ryan Almost Half Marathon was an unofficial event, hastily organized by a few like-minded runners in the greater Charlotte area. How ironic would it be if this slapdash event was won in world-record time by a middling age-grouper from tiny Davidson, NC?

The turnaround was the only aid station on the course, and I was aching for water. I grabbed two cups and headed back towards the finish line. Rejuvenated by the icy drink, my pace improved. I ran the next "mile" in just 5:00 flat. But since my GPS was running slow, I did a mental calculation and determined that my actual pace was more like 4:23 -- well below record pace! If only I could hold out for 5.5 more miles, the record could be mine!

While my speed for the final miles of the race continued to astonish the now-swelling crowds along the greenway, I was slowing. If I was to break the record, I would need more fuel...and more importantly, more water. Alas, it was not to be. As I cruised across the finish line, I saw that my time was 59:28, 1:05 slower than the world record.

It would still be an American record, besting Ryan Hall's 59:43 at the 2007 Houston Half, but I couldn't beat the best in the world.

Here's a photo that official race timer Peter Asciutto snapped of me as I approached the finish line. It might appear that I was plodding along at a respectable-for-recreational-runners pace of 7:09 per mile, but I can assure you, according to the standard set by the Republican nominee for U.S. Vice President, I was running at an average pace of 4:32 per mile!

Seriously haulin' booty!

As judged by the standards of respected politician Paul Ryan, I had the race of a lifetime today. I set an American record, and nearly beat everyone in the world. This is not a day I will soon forget!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Race Recap: Pacing Val Wrenholt at the Leadville Trail 100

Val Wrenholt is a relatively recent addition to our running group. At first glance, she doesn't look especially fast. But on the first day I ran with her, this past spring, me and a couple friends were planning a long run at a relatively fast pace for us. Val had shown up and since I'd never run with her before, I wasn't sure she'd be able to keep up. We told her our plans -- I think it was a hilly 17-miler -- and asked if that would work for her. Seemingly unconcerned, she said "yeah, whatever."

We took off at around a 7:45 pace and started chatting about our upcoming races. I asked Val what she had planned and, just as nonchalantly, she said "I'm doing the Leadville 100." I stifled a gasp, because I knew Leadville was one of the toughest ultramarathons in the country, and one of the most famous. The Leadville Trail 100 starts in the town of Leadville, Colorado, at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, and climbs four passes over its 100-mile route. The cumulative elevation gain for the race is over 14,000 feet — meaning that there is more climbing every 25 miles than I experienced in the entire super-hilly Crater Lake Marathon!

As you might guess, Val had no trouble keeping up with us that day -- in fact, it was the rest of us who struggled to keep up with her. I later learned that Val had already been the women's winner of the 2011 Table Rock 50 Miler and finished second among women in the Umstead Trail Marathon this year, so if I'd been keeping up on the big trail races in the area I would have known who she was.

Over the next couple months I ran with Val several times, and when she heard I would be in Colorado over the summer, she asked if I'd be interested in pacing her at Leadville. I had been planning on a quick return to North Carolina after finishing at Crater Lake, but given that Leadville was just a week after Crater Lake, and that I'd have to drive back through that area anyways, I decided to give it a shot. (It also helped that all my ultrarunner friends were drooling with envy that I might have the chance to run a part of the legendary Leadville 100!)

Val wanted me to pace her for Miles 60.5-72.5, with an option to tack on an extra four miles at the end. I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle 16 miles one week after running a marathon, so I only promised I'd be able to do 12. The next problem was finding lodging in the area. With 800 runners and their crews descending on a town of just 2,600, all the motels within 50 miles were booked up months in advance. Fortunately Val had grown up in Leadville, and her parents still lived there. They'd let me sleep on an air mattress in their basement.

I arrived in Leadville with my 19-year-old daughter Nora on the Friday before the race. Val had written out her race goals and projected splits on a couple sheets of notebook paper. Plan A was to shoot for a 22-hour finish. Plan B was 25 hours, and Plan C was 30 hours, just beating the cutoff time for all runners in the race.

Leadville is known for having very difficult cutoff times: Fewer than half of those registered in a given year actually finish in the allotted time. If Val finished in 22 hours, she could very well be in the top 5 women: In 2011, only 5 women finished in under 22 hours. Indeed, only 9 women finished in under 25 hours! But Val had never run any 100-miler, let alone such a difficult one, so all this was really idle speculation. We'd have to wait for the race to see how she would perform.

The race starts at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning. Runners are allowed to have pacers to carry gear and offer support starting at the halfway point of the race. If Val was going to finish in 22 hours, she would be reaching Mile 60.5, where I was meeting her, at about 4:30 in the afternoon. Val also needed me to drive her to the start of the race so that her husband Ross, who'd be the primary crew person, could get a couple extra hours' sleep. I was happy to do it.

I set my alarm for 3:15 a.m., enough time to get up, throw some clothes on, and head out the door. But I slept fitfully and woke up at 3:05, so I decided to take a quick shower before heading upstairs to meet Val. She was already up too, and hadn't slept much either. We hopped in the car for the 5-minute drive to the start. I got a quick photo of her before the race:

As ready as she'll ever be!

I'd been in Leadville a couple times before, but now, at 3:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, was the most crowded and active I'd ever seen it. All the coffee shops were open, and there were probably close to 2,000 people wandering the streets. 700-plus were there to run, and the rest were there to watch and help.

About 10 minutes before the start I wished her good luck, then headed just past the start line to watch the herd of runners stream by in the dark. Here's the video I made of the start; it was an awesome sight:

I couldn't see Val in the video, but if you look closely you should be able to see two-time Leadville winner Anton Krupicka running by shirtless around 18 seconds in.

I went back to the house and tried to sleep a bit, but ended up getting up for good at about 6. I spent the day waiting around the house, playing with Val's two adorable daughters, and trying to stay off my feet as much as possible. The race website gave split times at each aid station, and we could see that Val had had an excellent start. She arrived at the Half Pipe aid station, 29 miles in, in just 5 hours. When she arrived at Twin Lakes, 39.5 miles in, at 10:47 a.m., she was still pretty much on her target pace. But then Ross called and let us know that while she was looking very good, she was concerned because she hadn't been able to eat much. Ahead of her was the toughest part of the course, the ascent of Hope Pass and the descent to Winfield where all the runners turned around and climbed Hope pass again. Here's what it looks on the course elevation profile:

Hope Pass is the tall pointy thing on the right

As you can see, it's a dramatic 3,200-foot climb, followed by a descent almost as long, all in a space of only six miles. Then she turns around and does it all again.

I would be meeting her at Twin Lakes at the end of that descent, and running with her 12 to 16 miles. By this point I had decided that I could definitely handle all 16 miles, so I prepared myself mentally for a long run.

If all went well and Val stayed on pace, she anticipated coming through Twin Lakes again at 4:30 p.m. giving her just under 10 hours to do the final 39.5 miles. But we had also learned that the reporting system was breaking down ahead of her. The aid stations at Hope Pass and Winfield weren't getting good cell / satellite reception, so there were few reports of runners' times at those critical stations. Val's other pacers were Kelli and Nathalie, both natives of the town of Leadville. We had heard that Twin Lakes was a tough place to park, and Winfield was a difficult drive, so the plan was for Ross to stake out a spot at Twin Lakes, and just wait there for Val to go all the way to Winfield and back. Meanwhile Kelli would drive Nathalie out to Winfield to get Val her supplies, and for Nathalie to run the first pacing leg, the tough 10.5 miles from Winfield back to Twin Lakes.

I decided to arrive with Nora at Twin Lakes two hours early at 2:30, just in case Val was really cranking. Fortunately Ross was able to find a parking spot for us and we had nice comfortable chairs to sit on. All we could do was wait. 4:30 came and went, with still no sign of Val. Runners were coming through the aid station, and we amused ourselves by trying to figure out when they had passed through going the other direction, and how that compared to Val's time. Finally Kelli showed up and said she had seen Val at Winfield, but that she hadn't looked good. She still hadn't eaten anything and the lack of energy was beginning to take its toll. Then Kelli went home to get a little rest before her turn pacing Val.

After she left, we realized we had forgotten to ask what time Val had arrived at Winfield, so we were left to figure, plot, and speculate some more. Finally around 5:30 we heard from Kelli, who had received a text from Nathalie saying that Val was at Hope Pass, sitting and eating a cup of ramen, and wasn't in a hurry to leave. At least she was finally eating something! So how long would it take for her to make her way back down to Twin Lakes? It was anyone's guess. It was also possible that she had actually arrived at Hope Pass much earlier, and that Nathalie's text hadn't been sent until later when they returned to cell phone range. It seemed like Val should be arriving at any time.

We waited and waited, but Val didn't show up.

Finally Ross decided to hike up the trail a ways to see if he could see Val. He'd text me and Nora when he saw her and we could be ready to meet her. Nora and I waited another 30 minutes or so, but still heard nothing from Ross. Finally around 7:00 Ross showed up in person. "Did you get my texts," he asked? We hadn't. "We'll she's here! She'll be coming up the road any second!"

I quickly loaded up my gear, and soon we saw Val and Nathalie, both looking quite chipper. The ramen had stayed down, and Val had picked up the pace. "You better be ready," Nathalie said, "It was all I could do to keep up with her!"

Val headed to the aid station, and Ross and I triple-checked to make sure I had everything we needed. I would be carrying a hydration pack, a jacket for myself, and a long-sleeved shirt and pants for Val. I'd also have two handheld bottles for Val: One filled with water and the other with Gatorade. After Val ate another cup of Ramen and some oranges, we headed quickly up the trail, which was a steep, rocky climb for the first 200 meters or so. Here's the photo Ross snapped of us on our way out of the aid station:

I swear I look more like the person who's already run 60.5 miles

I was a little concerned about hand-carrying the water bottles because I hadn't run with handhelds since I had surgery on my left arm about two months before. I was also out of breath within a quarter-mile. Although we were just walking, it was a steady climb, and Val can walk very fast. She later told me that she often trains walking uphill on the treadmill at 4 miles per hour. My maximum walking pace is probably closer to 3.4 mph. I think the main reason I was out of breath is that I wasn't expecting to start, and I hadn't mentally prepared for it. After a mile or so I settled back into a regular stride and felt fine.

Most impressively, Val was passing runners (mostly walkers at this point) quite regularly. We passed a half-dozen on the steady 1000-vertical-foot hike out of Twin Lakes, and then we settled into a comfortable run on every flat or downhill segment thereafter, passing even more people.

Val did some quick calculations and determined that if she averaged a 15-minute pace for the remainder of the race, she would still finish in under 25 hours. All sub-25-hour finishers get a special gold buckle; it's an honor to receive one, and something most runners in the event — male or female — have no hope of achieving. Of the 795 runners who started the event, just 78 would earn a gold buckle. Only 10 women would.

I had planned to carry my GPS along my segment of the race but somehow I had left it at the house, so at one point when Val asked me what pace I thought we were running, I really had no idea. I guessed 11-minute-miles. In fact, over the 10.5 miles from Twin Lakes to the Half Pipe aid station, we averaged a 12:18 pace, including the walk all the way up the 1,000-foot climb, so I'm pretty sure that when we were running, we were doing better than an 11-minute pace.

My strategy pacing Val was to offer her water and fuel at regular intervals but not be pushy about it. I figured if she didn't feel like eating or drinking then forcing it on her wasn't going to do any good. Similarly, every once in a while if I felt like we'd been walking a long time, I asked if she wanted to try running for a bit. Sometimes she'd say yes, and sometimes no, and I didn't protest no matter how she responded, especially since we really were making very good time.

Val was actually quite lively and happy to talk for most of the time I paced her, despite being in some pain. She had twisted her ankle on the way down from Hope Pass with Nathalie, and was concerned that it might be serious. It wasn't stopping her from going on, but on some occasions it did stop her from running. It got dark, and we put on our headlamps. While we were stopped, I got a text from Kelli. I told Val to go on while I responded. Kelli wanted to know if we needed her or Ross between Half Pipe at Mile 71 and Fish Hatchery at Mile 76.5 (there was an opportunity for crews to stop at about Mile 72.5). I told her I didn't think so. By this time, Val was a quarter-mile ahead of me and I ran as fast as I could to catch up. It took a half-mile or so to do it, and I was sucking wind hard by the time I caught up. I decided I wouldn't respond to texts in the future unless both of us were stopped.

As it got darker we could see the headlamps of runners on the trail ahead of us. It was a beautiful, cool night, but not terribly cold. I began to wonder whether there was any point to me carrying pants and a shirt for Val. We could see stars above, and the bobbing headlamps in the quiet wilderness looked almost like ships drifting through a peaceful harbor.

But Val's ankle was bothering her progressively more, and she reminded me to give her some Tylenol when we reached the aid station at Half Pipe, Mile 71. At the aid station, she ate more ramen, more oranges, and drank some flat Coke. She was sitting next to a woman who looked pretty bad. "I think I know who you are," Val said, "weren't you one of the pre-race favorites?"

The woman laughed and said that she had never run more than 30 miles. She said she was ready to drop out. Later on the trail Val told me it was Kerri Bruxvoort, who had been the first-place woman at the Leadville Trail Marathon earlier that summer and had been given complimentary entry into the 100-miler.  Bruxvoort did indeed drop out of the race at Half Pipe.

As we headed back to the trail, Val asked for her sweat pants, and I was glad I had brought them. On the other hand, she would not take even a sip from the bottle of Gatorade I carried for 16 miles! I guess that's the point of having a pacer, so you don't have to worry about carrying more gear than you need.

One of the things we joked about as we ran along was how over-marked the trail was. There were ribbons, glow-sticks, arrows, rocks blocking off side-trails, and many sections of the trail were actually wide enough to run side by side, either because they were old roads or actually on existing roads. Val started playing a game in which she'd run to the next glow stick, which added a Vegas-like gambling element to the event because we often couldn't see the next stick. It might be a hundred yards off, or it might be a half-mile -- who knows? It was amusing in a masochistic sort of way.

Soon after we passed the crew station at a place called Timberline, Mile 73, the trail became even wider, and we were running in an open field with no trees (which—duh—is why they call it Timberline). We were continuing to pass team after team, and though the ankle was bothering her more, Val didn't seem to want to slow down. She was doing great.

Then, I heard her foot hit a rock and watched her fall flat on her face.

It happened so quickly there wasn't anything I could do to help. Almost as quickly, she bounced back up. I asked if she was hurt, and she thought that she was okay, but she might have a scrape on her chin. There was nothing to do but brush as much of the dust off as possible and keep going. A couple of teams had passed us when she was down, but we passed them back and continued on our way.

I decided that we needed more light, and so I pulled out a handheld flashlight and started running with that in addition to our two headlamps. It was a bit of a balancing act, especially since I was already carrying a water bottle in each hand, but I decided that if Val could keep running after that faceplant, I could suffer through a few miles carrying an extra couple ounces in my hand.

Soon after, we reached pavement. Cars were driving along the road, but thankfully, they were pretty much all crews, so they knew to look out for runners and drive slowly. We passed team after team, continuing our glow-stick game but using lampposts or reflective road markers as our targets. Finally we reached a junction and Val said this was a mile away from the Fish Hatchery, so I called Nora to let her know we were coming. We ran and ran for what seemed much longer than a mile -- and as it turned out it was more like a mile and a half. But soon we saw Kelli and Ross. We were there, at Mile 76.5. I had done all I could to help, and now it was up to Kelli -- and mostly Val! It was 10:48 when Val arrived. She had just over 6 hours to run 23.5 miles and claim her gold buckle. A 15-minute pace would do it.

I told Kelli Val wasn't eating anything but the ramen and oranges at the aid stations, and wasn't drinking the Gatorade. I told her to give Val more Tylenol for her ankle. In what seemed like an instant but was actually probably 7 or 8 minutes, Val was out of the aid station and heading back on the course with Kelli. Ross asked me whether I thought Val had a chance at 25 hours and I said I was sure she was going go make it. We were on pace, and she wasn't showing any signs of slowing down. Then he asked me when he should get to the finish line. I said I didn't think she'd be more than 30 minutes earlier than the 25-hour prize.

I headed to Val's parents' house with Ross and Nora, updated her folks on her progress, had a slice of pizza, showered, and went to bed at about 12:30. I set my alarm for 4 a.m., an hour before the 25-hour target. I drove to the finish line, where Ross was already waiting. He was getting progressively more anxious as a few teams triumphantly crossed the line. They were crossing every 3 or 4 minutes, but there wasn't any sign of Val and Kelli in the distance. I reminded him that at the pace Val was moving, it was very unlikely she'd show up before 4:30. I was putting my bet at about 4:55. She knew what she was doing. Finally at 4:45 Ross decided to get in his car and drive down 6th Street opposite the runners to see if he could spot Val and spur her on. I watched from the finish line as his lights moved away from me, one block, two blocks. Then he quickly turned around, drove about a block into town, and parked. I could see the headlamps of four runners approaching. Two of those runners had to be Val and Kelli! A huge smile came across my face as I looked up at the race clock and saw that they had over 10 minutes to go two blocks. She was going to make it!

I tried to snap a photo as Val crossed the line, but all you can see is a blur. I assure you, this is Val, and the clock reads 24:49:53. She was the 78th runner to cross the line, the 10th woman, and the last runner to finish before the 25-hour mark. She had done it!


What an accomplishment for a person who had never run over 55 miles, and who had never run an ultra of any sort at elevation. Val headed straight for the hot trailer to warm up, and then to the medical tent to have her ankle looked at. The doctors at the time thought she had a stress fracture. Imagine running 45 miles on a stress fracture! As it turns out, it's likely that it is joint or tendon damage, but it still sounds incredibly painful. I'm amazed that she persevered for so long with such an injury.

One thing she was certain of — at least in the immediate post-race ordeal in the medical tent — was that she was not only never running Leadville again, she was never running a 100-miler again. We'll see about that. Either way, it was a race to be proud of, and I was proud to be just a small part of it. Congratulations, Val!

Ross, Val, Kelli, and me at the finish. Apparently Val was
the only one of us cognizant of the location of the camera.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Race Recap: The Crater Lake Marathon

Before this week, I had two memories of Crater Lake National Park. The first was a drive-through visit with my Dad when I was probably 8 or 9 years old. The next was a somewhat more extended visit with Greta about 20 years later when we had a week-long trip without the kids. Each time I've been very impressed. On my first visit, the park was covered in about 10 feet of snow, and I only remember driving up through a snow-lined trench, and my dad's disappointment that the Rim Drive wasn't open. To me it was simply awesome that any place could have so much snow, in June!

On the next visit, Greta and I had the chance to hike down to the lake and take the boat ride to Wizard Island in the middle, seeing the lake from an entirely different perspective.

Now, nearly 20 years later, I've had a chance to visit again, and what I've been struck with is how big the place is. That may or may not have something to do with the fact that this time, I was getting ready to run around the lake, but to me it was just amazing to see mountains towering over the vast blue lake sparkling in the sun, to walk up to precipices that dropped hundreds of feet to the water below.

As I previewed the course on Thursday, I wondered whether I would be able to take the time to enjoy the vistas around the lake as I ran past during the Crater Lake Marathon, two days later. But I also took note of the dramatic hills I'd be ascending, and, more importantly, descending during the race. While the race starts at an elevation of 7,600 feet, it ends around 6,000. 1,600 feet of descending would be tough on your quads in any marathon, but this race also included about 2,500 feet of climbing, which meant the total descent was over 4,000 feet!

My goal was to try to complete the race in under 4 hours, which previous-years' results suggested would put me in the top 20 of around 100 competitors. To do this I had constructed an elaborate spreadsheet plotting out my splits for every mile. For the most part this meant running uphill at a 10:30 pace and downhill at an 8:00 pace, but there were a few exceptions for steeper or flatter sections. I had memorized the whole spreadsheet, which after talking with some of the runners on the bus to the starting line, put me in a distinct minority of competitors. While I had spent hours poring over the elevation profile of the race, the more common approach appeared to be to ignore the elevation chart entirely and just run by feel.

When our buses arrived at the start line about 45 minutes before the race, I expected to feel very chilly. I had prepared by buying some "disposable" sweats at Goodwill, but it turned out they were probably unnecessary: The warm morning sun had already crested the rim of the lake, and I was quite comfortable in my shorts, compression shirt, and calf sleeves. I began to worry that it would be uncomfortably warm by 11:30 when I hoped to be crossing the finish line.

With little ceremony, we lined up on the road, and after a ranger explained that only the outside lane of the Rim Road would be closed to traffic, the race was started. I had lined up about 100 runners back from the start line because this race also included a 6.7-miler and a half-marathon, and I figured they would start off much quicker than me. I was surprised to find everyone running quite slowly, so I ended up weaving through traffic for about the first 90 seconds of the race. Fortunately, with the three events capped at a total of 500 participants, there wasn't much traffic to weave through, and I found myself in the clear quickly.

The first six miles of the race were primarily downhill, and I felt pretty good, so I took them comfortably fast. As I ran along I tried to keep track of how much time I had banked, because I was definitely running faster than the plan. Here's the chart for the first six miles:

I was feeling pretty good and was able to chat with a couple of the other runners. One guy sounded like he was in my age group -- he also looked like he was planning on running a lot faster than me, so I let him go. I consoled myself with the fact that I got to see spectacular vistas as I ran along. I was carrying a camera, but I didn't manage to take any photos during the race, so I'm including a few I took during the preview two days before:

Crater lake 1
Imagine it like this, but with bluer skies and calmer water

The next stretch was a few miles of rolling hills. A woman ahead of me was doing the Galloway plan, and I seemed to be gradually gaining ground. Meanwhile behind me I could hear a man telling someone "happy birthday." A minute or two later, he was passing me: he was a portly man, running shirtless, and was full of advice about how to run the race. "Watch out for that hill after Mile 22," he said. I was amazed that someone his size was maintaining a pretty decent pace. But soon after he was headed to the side of the road to take a leak, and I passed him back. A few minutes later I passed Galloway Woman too.

Meanwhile the birthday girl had caught up to me, and we chatted briefly about our plans. I told her that I was hoping to run sub-4-hours, and she said she was too, but that she, like apparently everyone here, hadn't looked at the elevation profile and was just running by feel. Then she promptly left me in the dust!

Here are my splits for Miles 7-9:

I was still adding to my banked time, but I was also noticing that my Garmin seemed to be measuring the course short. Each mile marker seemed to come a minute or so after the Garmin had beeped signaling the end of a mile (I hadn't used my usual system of manually tracking miles because I wasn't sure the course would have actual mile markers!). So in reality I had only banked about 6 minutes at this point, but that didn't seem too bad.

Finally I began the first major climb of the race: Miles 10-14 would involve over 1,100 feet of climbing! Mile 15 also had some climbing, so I counted that in with 10-14. As I headed uphill I reminded myself that I could probably take one or two walk-breaks per mile and still hit my 10:30 projections. Since I had been training at a higher altitude and on steeper hills, I was finding the climb relatively easy, but after a while the miles began to take their toll. I took full advantage of walk-breaks. I was pretty much on my own on this section, passing no one but not getting passed, either. Finally I arrived at the top, a turn-around at a viewpoint about halfway through Mile 15. Here a runner caught up to me, and I figured he would be passing me soon. He was a young guy, and I figured his legs would be more resilient than mine on the upcoming downhill. I asked him if he was ready for it, and he said "in my head I am." Amazingly, I pulled ahead of him at the next aid station and never saw him again.

Here's another photo of the lake, once again not actually taken during the race:

Crater lake 2
Wizard Island and Crater Lake, again with slightly more clouds than on race day

And here are my splits for the climb:

I was still banking time, but not quite as much as I had been on the previous sections of the race. But amazingly, by mile marker 15, my Garmin had caught back up to the the markers, so I was legitimately over 10 minutes ahead of pace.

However, my legs were quite tired, and I was now facing seven miles of solid downhill. After just one mile it was pretty clear to me that I wouldn't be able to maintain my planned 8-minute pace on this section. Each step seemed to shake my bones, and although my highly-padded Hoka One Ones were helping, they couldn't fully compensate for the pounding I was taking. I did the best I could, but I was losing time with almost every mile. At Mile 19 we turned away from the lake, at a spot called the "Phantom Ship Viewpoint." We didn't get to see the phantom ship, but fortunately I had taken a photo of it two days before:

Crater lake 3
The phantom ship is the small island in the middle. It's ship-ish, but not terribly convincing

The road continued down, not quite as steeply, and I began catching up to a man who had slowed to take a drink. I was still losing time, but managed to hold relatively steady. It seemed like a 4-hour marathon was within reach. When I caught up to the man told me he had had a 4-minute bout with diarrhea at Mile 13. So things could definitely be worse for me.

Then Galloway Woman caught up to us both, and passed both of us, and Diarrhea Guy took off behind her. I felt like I had been passed twice, even though technically I'd just pulled even with Diarrhea Guy. I focused on solid form and tried to ignore the pain in my legs. For some reason I was able to comfort myself with the idea that I'd be hitting an uphill stretch just after Mile 22. Here are my splits for Miles 16-22:

I'd lost 4 minutes over the 7 downhill miles -- but at this point I had pretty much lost track and was just trying to hang on.

Just past Mile 22, we passed by the finish area for the race. Everyone seems to agree that this is the cruelest segment of the race: You pass right by the finish line, and then have to run two miles up a dirt road, turn around and return to the finish. I would imagine this would be especially dispiriting to someone who hadn't checked the elevation profile before the race, but I was expecting it. I took a sponge from an enthusiastic child volunteer, and was quite relieved by the cool water drenching my head and shoulders. I hadn't noticed until now, but the day had gotten very warm. Now I could run uphill, and since I was planning on running miles 23 and 24 in 11:00 and 13:00 respectively, I could take walk-breaks.

I told myself I could run 3 minutes and then take a 1-minute walk break, and that worked well on Mile 23. Mile 24 gained almost 400 feet, however, and I slowed even more, taking 1-minute walks and 1-minute runs. I knew there was just a touch more uphill after the Mile 24 marker, but I wasn't prepared for how long this would take. It turned out that there was over 100 feet of climbing in my "downhill" Mile 25 and I became concerned that finishing under 4 hours was going to be out of reach. Finally I reached the turnaround and started heading down again. While this was tough on my legs, I was consoled by the fact that there were only 2 miles of downhill. It was also motivating to see all the other runners still on their way up. At about Mile 24.4 it occurred to me that even though I'd lost track of how much time I had banked, I could check my total time. I switched my GPS to total time mode, and saw a total time of around 3:41. I had 19 minutes to run less than two miles, all downhill. This just might be doable!

I just kept running, occasionally checking my pace to make sure it was faster than 10:00 per mile, and it seemed like it was going to happen. I passed mile marker 26, and knew it was going to happen. There were a surprising number of people cheering at the finish for such a small race. I crossed the line, and stopped my watch. The time read 3:58:07. I had done it! Here are the splits for those last four miles:

As it turned out, I was 17th overall, third in my age group. I was very pleased with my result, and also very sore. I sat on a log and chatted with some of the other finishers, while refilling my water cup frequently. On the bus back to the rim, I ended up sitting next to Birthday Girl, a geologist who had finished first among all women. She said she had been surprised by that final hill, but it hadn't stopped her from winning! We both agreed that this was one of our favorite races, a challenging course in a beautiful setting. It was simply amazing to be able to run a marathon in such an awesome setting. Running it well was just a bonus.

Speaking of bonuses, here's a bonus bit of geekiness to add to the recap. I created a graph of the time I banked over the course, and compared it to the elevation profile of the race. As you can see, I banked time over the first 15 miles, then had to use up most of that time over the second half, as I couldn't maintain my projected pace over the major downhills near the end.

For even more geekiness, check out the Garmin plot of the race below.