Monday, October 9, 2017

Race Recap: The Chicago Marathon

Wow, Chicago is big!

I mean, I knew Chicago was big; how could I not? I lived here for four years in college, and it was big then. I've visited it from time to time. Still big. But the Chicago Marathon yesterday still left me astonished with Chicago's bigness. It's really, really big.

What's so big about Chicago? Let's start with the buildings. We took a boat tour of Chicago architecture the day before the race, and not only are these buildings enormous, there are just so many of them! It was one epochal skyscraper after another, for miles in either direction.

That one in the middle is UGE!
Then it was off to McCormick Place to pick up race packets. This might have been the biggest race expo I've ever been to -- even bigger than Boston. This makes sense, since the race has almost 50% more competitors (44,000 compared to Boston's 30,000), but it's still an awesome thing to see in person.

This is just the entry hall!
Finally, after a big pasta dinner and fitful night's sleep, it was time to head to the race start. Most of my running buddies opted for tickets to the pre-race hospitality tent, a bit of a splurge, but worth it! We had tables to sit at, a full spread for breakfast (and lunch after the race), and most importantly, a huge array of porta-potties with NO LINES!

The crew is ready to go! Me, Brad, Derek, Amber, Dawn, Joey, and Morgan
My plan for the race was to stick with Amber for as long as I could. She had BQed just over a month ago but her time wasn't fast enough for her to make it into the race. Today, she wanted to try for a 3:35 marathon, enough to give her a 5-minute cushion and almost certainly gain entry to Boston in 2019. A 3:35 pace works out to 8:13 per mile. This is a bit slower than what I'd been training for, but it was also going to be a warm day, so I felt like even a 3:35 would be pushing it.

Soon it was time to head to the starting area. We felt a smug sense of satisfaction as we passed thousands of runners waiting in seemingly endless porta-potty lines! Amber, Joey, Morgan and I started in the "E" corral while the rest of our group headed to their corrals closer to the start line. There were three start waves, each with over 14,000 runners. Each wave was divided into five corrals. E is the last corral of Wave 1. It would take us more than 15 minutes after the starting gun to actually cross the start line. Did I mention Chicago is big?

Me and Amber in our corral. Don't I look thrilled to be there?
We chatted nervously with other runners in our corral before the start. I was officially entitled to start in Corral C based on a half-marathon I had run earlier this year, but Amber's BQ had come too late to used a Chicago qualifying time, so it was Corral E for both of us. No one in our corral was expected to run a 3:35 -- the fastest pace team in the corral was 3:45, so we knew we'd be passing a lot of runners for at least the first part of the race. We decided to take it easy for the first couple miles and start passing folks in Mile 3. The starting gun went off and we inched our way towards the start.

This image, which I believe is from 2016, gives you some idea of how big this race is. However what it doesn't capture is that not all the runners are lined up directly behind the start line. We were on a side street and only folded into the race after the starting gun.

That Chicago Marathon is pretty big!
The first couple miles were comfortable; the start is engineered as a bottleneck so that there is room to run once you cross the line. But nearly immediately you head underground into a tunnel beneath city streets, so your Garmin is useless to give you pace information. I believe at this point my watch was telling me I was running something like a 5:35 mile! But Amber and I knew this was going to happen, so we had planned on simply using the mile markers as a guide, and adjusting our pace at each marker according to our actual time through each marker. We were so focused on this problem that we didn't even notice when we ran by superfans Greta, Megan, Ashley, and Brian at Mile 2:

Lookin' good!
Mile 1: 8:23
Mile 2: 8:19
Mile 3: 8:00
Mile 4: 8:17
Mile 5: 8:06

This put us at an 8:13 pace for the first 5 miles -- exactly where we wanted to be!

At this point we were finally out of the downtown area with the largest skyscrapers, so our Garmins were a little better, but not perfect. Amber and I still had a 15-20 second per mile disparity on our watches, so we continued to use the mile markers for guidance. We were running through some cool neighborhoods, past botanical gardens, but always with hundreds of runners around us. To maintain our planned pace we had to pass dozens of runners every minute of the race. It was beginning to wear on us. At Mile 8 we saw Greta, Megan, Ashley, and Brian again -- they had taken a train this far north of town to get a glimpse of us and the other runners in our group. They had just arrived when we got there so they hadn't had a chance to get cameras out for photos. Now we were heading south, back towards the city center. At Mile 10, I decided that there was no way I could maintain this pace for another 16 miles and told Amber I was backing off. But hopefully I had put her in a position to hit her target time.

Mile 6: 8:13
Mile 7: 8:09
Mile 8: 8:15
Mile 9: 8:12
Mile 10: 8:19

Still an 8:13 average for the race. But now Amber was on her own and I slowed considerably. I found myself catching up to a pacer with 3:45 on his back. I asked him if he was still on pace and he said he was within a few seconds. He had started ahead of me, though, so if he could maintain his pace and I stuck with him, I should be on track for something like a 3:42 finish. We were now back in the city center among the skyscrapers, and once again my Garmin started showing paces that were wildly off from what I was really running. I passed the halfway point at 1:49. I could slow a bit and still get that 3:40-ish finish. But it was starting to warm up. I was taking two and three cups of water at each stop — drinking one and dumping the rest over my head to stay cool. I never felt "hot" per se, but it always felt better to dump that cold water over my head. Lots of runners were stopping to walk. It was around here that I passed my favorite spectator sign of the race: "Honest sign: You are 55% of the way there".

Mile 11: 8:36
Mile 12: 8:37
Mile 13: 8:44
Mile 14: 8:40
Mile 15: 8:37

My previous 8:13 average for the race had slowed considerably -- now I was averaging 8:39 per mile, and it didn't look like it was going to get better any time soon. We were passing through some really neat neighborhoods, though: Greek Town, Little Italy, Korea Town, and some fantastic Latino neighborhoods, each with its own character. We'd have a mile of Greek music, followed by a mile of Latin pop, followed by a mile of Asian drums. The crowds seemed to get rowdier as we went. The country with the largest contingent of runners outside the US was Mexico, and the crowds cheered whenever a Mexican runner passed by. But no doubt I was slowing down. I allowed myself to walk through the aid stations. I gave myself permission to stop at a porta-potty after Mile 20 (though for only 30 seconds!).

Mile 16: 8:46
Mile 17: 9:10
Mile 18: 9:19
Mile 19: 9:20
Mile 20: 9:55
Mile 21: 11:40 (including potty stop)

Cmon, Munger! Now there were only 5.2 miles to go. We passed by a high school, with its marching band outside cheering us on. We passed by gospel singing groups. We passed DJs playing every type of music, from the Rocky theme to rap to "Despacito." Finally the route headed north, back towards the city center. I could see the Hancock tower in the distance. I was glad I wasn't going to have to run that far.

Mile 22: 10:12
Mile 23: 10:12
Mile 24: 10:14
Mile 25: 10:50

Only 1.2 miles to go! At the last aid station, I didn't let myself stop to drink. I grabbed a quick cup of water to dump over my head and kept going. Now there were signs urging us on. 1 mile to go. 1 kilometer. 800 meters. Now a quick turn to the right. 400 meters. 300 meters. Turn left and 200 meters to go. There were bleachers. There was Greta, waving at me! I smiled and waved back! I was nearly done! Megan got a great photo of me as I headed toward the finish line.

Legitimately happy to see the finish!
Mile 26: 10:08. I swear it felt faster than that. The last .2 weren't any faster. But I was done. I hadn't gotten my 3:35 or even a 3:45. My official time was 3:57:35. That was okay by me. Chicago was definitely a crazy, wonderful experience. And big. Very, very big.

Among our group, only Derek and Amy managed to meet their goals -- Derek finished in an amazing 2:59:51, good enough to Boston-qualify by more than 10 minutes! Wes was running with Derek and had a similar goal, but could only manage a 3:10 -- disappointing for him. Dawn ran an impressive 3:33 and Brad struggled a bit with his 3:50. I was surprised to learn that Amber was behind me at the finish. She was cramping up and had to stop and stretch several times on her way to a 4:04. She had been looking for me each time she stopped but somehow missed me passing her. She and Greta commiserated that there were a lot of tall male runners with orange hats in the race, which made it difficult to spot me. "Faux Daves" greatly outnumbered real Daves! Morgan really struggled in the race with stiffening muscles and finished in 4:39. But Amy, starting back in the third wave, pulled through with an impressive 4:24 PR!

The consensus among the spectators was that it was a really hot day. It didn't seem that hot to me as I was running, but obviously the heat did slow me down, like it did everyone else. I clearly had started out too fast for the conditions, but what time would have been realistic if I had run a perfect race? 3:45? I'm not sure even that would have been possible. The fact that it gradually got hotter throughout the day made it unclear whether going for even splits would be ideal. An equal effort in 57-degree weather at the start is different from the 77-degree weather at the finish. But maybe if I had started out at an 8:30 pace for the first half, I might have only slowed to, say, a 9:00 pace by the end. That would work out to around a 3:49 -- actually not that far from where I ended up. Could I have run that elusive 3:35 if the conditions had been perfect -- say, 45 degrees throughout? I'm not sure. I would have been close, but given the difficulty navigating through the crowds, I think even in perfect conditions it might have been a stretch. Chicago is really, really big.

My Garmin record of the race is below.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Race Recap: The Carolina Beach Double Sprint Tri...er...duathlon...with two bonus beach runs!

The Carolina Beach Double Sprint Triathlon is supposed to be a unique event, with a 375-meter swim, followed by a 1.5-mile run and 12-mile ride. Then you run back 1.5 miles to the beach and do the same swim one more time! But when we arrived at the beach last night, the winds were howling and the surf was up. This morning the winds were blowing even harder. The waves weren't any bigger but there was a strong cross current, and everyone figured the swim would be cancelled.

Sure enough, it was.

But in the "unique" spirit of the event, the organizers added a twist. Instead of just running the regular course as a duathlon, they added a half-mile beach run to the start of the first run and the finish of the second run, replacing each swim with a challenging beach run. My buddies Joey, Nicole, and Randy all decided that they weren't going to attempt the race without the swim, mostly for injury-related reasons, so I was the sole representative of the tri division of Davidson Area Running Team (Tri-DART) in the race.

The best of intentions pre-race with Nicole and Randy

After a mile warm-up, I went to the starting area to ask how the start was going to be done. It was a time-trial-style start, with runners starting every few seconds. I tried to line up fairly close to the front, and ended up starting about 40th. The first part of the run was on soft sand, but most of us quickly made our way to the packed sand near the surf. The beach run was an out-and-back to a truck parked a quarter-mile up the beach. I passed 7 or 8 runners on the way to the truck, then stumbled through the deep sand to make my way around it and head back towards town. If the run had been solely on the roads, my plan had been about a 6:30 pace. But now the run was longer, and the sand slowed us a bit, so I tried to hit about a 6:45 effort. Coming off of the beach I glanced at my watch and saw I had run about a 7:50 pace for the first half-mile. Joey snapped this picture as I ran by:

Me, hating the deep sand coming off the beach

Now, on the roads, I struggled to pick up the pace. I had forgotten my "magic" inflatable recovery pants, which I had planned to use last night to loosen up my calves and hamstrings. Despite my warm-up run and the warm, 80-degree morning, they were still tight. Slowly the pace on my watch picked up, and by Mile 1 I had managed to bump the pace up to 7:20. One mile to go! Mile 2, on the roads, was more my style, and I completed it in 6:47.

Soon I was in the transition area headed for my bike. The plan on the bike had been to change my clip-in pedals out for flat ones and just ride with my running shoes. But I had put off changing out the pedals until last night, and when I tried to remove the flat pedals from my commuter bike, they wouldn't budge! Oh well, I figured, I could just ride in my bike shoes like everyone else. Until I realized that I hadn't brought my bike shoes! Oops.

Plan B was to just use the clip-ins with my running shoes, and actually it worked pretty well. The pedals bit into the shoes and offered me a responsive platform to ride on. My shoes flexed a bit but not so much that I felt like it was slowing me down. I passed several riders as we rode out of the starting area and then tried to get up to racing speed. Soon I was on the main part of the course, a nice, smooth highway, completely closed to traffic and about 3 miles long. We would double back on it twice for a total of 12 miles on the ride. Each time I arrived at a turnaround there was a bit of congestion, but nothing that slowed me terribly. On the second lap I was passing riders who were still on their first lap, so I felt like I was moving quite well.

The wind was from the southwest, so the first part of each lap, headed south, was the worst. I managed around 21 mph on this road, and my speed declined to as low as 18 in gusts or when there was a slight incline on the basically-flat course. After the turnaround, this became a tailwind, and my average crept up to around 25 mph, even hitting 30 on some sections where the tailwind was especially strong.

Before I knew it, I was headed into the finish, where I slowed a bit behind a couple of riders who were taking their feet out of their shoes in preparation for transition. I didn't have to do this since I already had my running flats on, but I didn't take advantage of the moment to pass these guys. As it turned out, I'd end up regretting this decision.

I rolled into the transition area with an easy pace and dismounted and headed out to the run. Total time for the bike leg: 33:05, fastest in my age group. Average speed: 21.7 mph, definitely slower than I had been hoping for. I guess the wind took its toll on all of us.

I heard a couple people yelling "Dave" but I didn't expect to see anyone I knew. It wasn't until Greta yelled "Munger" that I saw my wife cheering me on. I did my best to smile and wave as I raced out of the transition area, but I was hurting. My legs were still tight and I didn't feel like I could run my best. I looked down at my watch and saw I was running an 8:30 pace. Really? That's all you got, Munger? I tried to increase the pace, and managed to improve to 7:28 by the end of Mile 1. I grabbed water at every aid station and dumped it over my head. The 80-degree heat with 73-degree dew point was also starting to get to me. Joey caught this photo of me as I headed into an aid station:

Drenched with sweat? No problem, just add more water!

With a half-mile left on the roads, I really began to regret the fact that we wouldn't get to swim today. I would have given anything to jump in the water instead of run up and down that beach again! But beach running was what was in store for me, and my 7:28 pace soon declined to 7:58. I wasn't gaining any ground on the runner ahead of me, but no one was catching me either. I ran through the soft sand at the turnaround and noticed that one runner had just turned around on the hardpack near the surf. Not cool; now he was ahead of me. I passed him back in short order but still couldn't catch the guy ahead of me. With only 100 yards to go, a runner did pass me, but I saw that he had a "27" on his calf -- safely out of my age group, so I let him go. This was also a mistake.

I crossed the finish line in exhaustion with an official time of 16:09 for run 2, an 8:05 pace. Joey snapped a photo of me as I crossed:

Celebrating too soon?

I put my arms up because I was simply relieved to be finished; since we had done a time trial start I had no idea how my time compared to anyone in my age group. I hadn't seen anyone in my group during the race. Joey, Morgan, and Greta greeted me at the finish, and I finally got my chance to take a dip in the ocean. I quickly saw why the swim had been cancelled -- I was swept 30 yards down the beach in the time it took me to dunk my head underwater to cool off.

Greta and I grabbed an iced coffee and headed back to the bike transition area for the awards -- only to find that the awards were being held at the beach! Oh well, we decided, we'll just check the results online later. A few hours later, over a beer at lunch, the results were finally posted. Here's what I saw:

Second in age group -- not bad!

Yay! I was in second place! But then I scrolled to the right and saw my finishing time. I completed the race in 1:05:29, and Tim Hahn finished in 1:05:28. ONE. SECOND. FASTER. One second. If only I had passed those guys at the end of the ride. If only I had not let that 27-year-old pass me on the beach. If only I had managed to slide my helmet on a touch faster in T1. If only I had done one of a million things one second faster, I could have captured first in my age group. Argh!

I was curious about one thing: If we had done the swim, could Hahn have still beaten me? So I looked up the results from last year, and Hahn finished fourth in his age group. His swims looked to be middle-of-the-pack, just like mine typically are. It probably would have been a similar battle even with the swim. One other thing I noticed is that Hahn finished the ride in 30:41 last year, compared to 34:24 this year. This year's ride was nearly 4 minutes slower, which suggests I might have been able to really crush that ride if there hadn't been a wind. Oh well, we can only race in the conditions we're given, and I gave it everything I had given the conditions. If I'd done one of a million things differently, I might have won. On the other hand, Hahn might have done two things differently and still beaten me! All I can do is try to be faster next time. And maybe, just maybe, change out my pedals more than 12 hours before the race starts!

Official results

Details of my race are below:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Race Recap: The Lake Norman State Park Sprinter Triathlon

A couple months back, on a bit of a whim, I bought a used triathlon bike from my friend John. I had been getting frustrated with my old bike -- especially the fact that it wasn't compatible with modern wheels (only 9-speed) and that the front derailleur was non-indexed and prone to throwing the chain if you didn't shift it just right. John had bought a top-of-the line bike a year ago but had since been caught by the fat bike craze and needed to raise some cash to fuel his new passion. One trial ride later, I HAD to have his bike -- and readily forked over his asking price. I can't begin to explain what a massive improvement this bike is over my old ride. Not only is it beautiful, it's FAST! Here I am riding it at last month's Charlotte Motor Speedway Time Trial:

Yep, I got the fancy aero helmet too!

In that time trial I obliterated my 10-mile PR, clocking 25.73 miles per hour!

Naturally, I needed to try this thing out in a triathlon, so I set my sights on the Lake Norman State Park Sprinter Triathlon, a hilly race in a beautiful park and the surrounding country roads.

Yesterday was my chance to race it!

At the start, most of the athletes were concerned about the cold. My car thermometer had registered 39 degrees on the ride up, and while it was supposed to warm over the course of the morning, it would still be quite chilly getting out of the lake riding a bike at 20-plus MPH! I decided to wear socks and arm sleeves for the ride, and laid them out at the transition area next to my bike. Then I headed out for a quick warm-up, and before I knew it it was 5 minutes before the start time. I wasn't too worried about the start because they were just taking swimmers as they lined up and sending them off a few seconds apart. As it turned out, I probably should have been a bit more concerned. I got my wetsuit on and headed towards the start, only to realize I hadn't gotten my body marked yet. So I had to take my suit nearly completely off for that, then hustled down to the beach, where the first swimmers were entering the water. I got to the back of the line, and in a few minutes, I was off.

I'm not a great swimmer, but I'm better than average, so that meant I was faster than everyone starting around me. I'm also quite a polite swimmer, so I spent a lot of time swimming around, rather than over, the weaker swimmers in my path. The water was also very choppy, and all of this made it tough for me to focus on smooth strokes and good swimming lines.

We had to do two loops, getting out of the water and crossing a timing mat after each loop. In the end my watch registered over 1,300 yards for a swim advertised as 1,000 meters (1093 yards), but I suspect most of that difference was just the poor accuracy of a Garmin in the water. I finished the swim in 22:13, or 2:02 per 100 yards. That's slow for me, perhaps because of the choppy water and all the weaving to get around the slower swimmers.

I ran up the hill to the transition area, about 200 yards, yanked off my wetsuit, then wrestled on my sleeves, socks, and helmet. The sleeves in particular took a long time to pull on, but I didn't want to be cold on my ride. That was probably my second mistake. Time in transition: 3:41, over a minute slower than folks posting similar times to me overall.

The bike ride starts with a massive climb, and I had my bike in a good gear for it. I was able to stand and power my way up the hill right out of the gate, passing perhaps a dozen riders on the way up. After about a mile, things finally started to flatten out a bit, but I knew the first five miles would be mostly uphill. I pushed as hard as I could without totally maxing out, and ended up finishing this uphill section with an average speed of 20 mph. On my old bike, 20 mph would have been a decent overall pace, and I had just done that on a section with twice as much climbing as descending, over 280 feet in all. The next five miles were much flatter, and I was able to average 23.9 on that section. Smoking!

About 10 miles in to the ride, I felt a strange sensation around my belly. I looked down and saw that my new aero tri top had come completely unzipped and was now flapping in the breeze. The whole point of this top was supposed to be that it hugs and conforms to the body, making it more aerodynamically efficient. Now that benefit was lost and I might as well be wearing a baggy cotton T-shirt. But with only 8 miles to go, it wasn't clear that it would be worth it to stop and try to fix the problem, so I decided to continue on with my bare white belly exposed and my top flapping in the breeze. I didn't slow down much, hitting 22.6 mph on a section that included the biggest climb of the ride. The last 3 miles were very hilly and back in the park. I knew I should be able to stay in an aero position down all the hills, and I did for all except one, where I cheated and put one hand on the extension to have quicker access to the brakes. Before long I was coasting into the transition area, with an average speed of 22 mph for the ride -- my fastest tri bike segment ever, on one of the hilliest bike segments I've ridden.

My second transition went seamlessly, and I was starting on the run just one minute after I finished the ride. I still hadn't fixed my shirt; I figured I could do that as I started running, but the bouncing of the run and the tiny, ultralight zipper made this impossible, so I spent a few seconds stopped until I could get my top zipped up for the run.

Despite taking the time to put socks on in T1, my feet were cold enough to be a little numb, and this made running rather challenging. I had been hoping to average about 7 minutes per mile for the run, but looking down at my watch, I was barely below 8:00/mile. It didn't help that I was climbing an 85-foot hill within the first half-mile of the run. I figured when I finally crested the hill I'd be able to pick up the pace, but somehow my legs weren't responding. Slowly, steadily, I worked my pace down to 7:23 for Mile 1. Good, but not great. Mile 2 wasn't any better, with more climbing and my feet still numb: 7:37. Finally on Mile 3 my legs seemed to thaw out, and I was able to pull off a 7:13. Just one big climb left, and then it would be downhill all the way to the finish. I gave it all I had on the hill, but now I was starting to feel the effects of a hard day's racing. "Cmon, Munger, get up this hill," I pleaded with myself, but my body didn't want to listen. Finally I got to the top and was able to run down the other side. There was some tricky footing as we ran over some grass and then onto a narrow, paved path down to the beach. I could see the finish line at the bottom of the hill! But then I stumbled -- over what? It was a paved concrete path, with no obvious obstructions. I was able to catch myself without falling, but I soon realized that this sloping path had level sections every 30 feet or so, that were just enough change in slope to throw a runner off if he wasn't being careful. Then at the bottom of the hill we had a tight hairpin turn as the path turned onto the sand. Finally I ran into the chute and through the finish. I was never able to really take advantage of the downhill finish and averaged 7:30 for the final mile. My average pace for the run was 7:26 by my watch, 7:22 officially. Not bad, but not as good as I had hoped.

In the end, my time ranked second in my age group and 21st out of 109 men. Not bad for the first tri of the season! My friends Randy and Hope also earned podium spots -- a first-ever podium for Hope!

I was happy to collect my award, and even happier to have a giant burger and beer to celebrate afterwards. A fun day of racing!

Happiness is a spot on the podium!

I do think the decision to put the sleeves on may have cost me a minute or so in transition and probably wasn't necessary -- the uphill start warmed me up quickly anyways. I might have been able to cut a minute or two off my swim if I had started closer to the front and had fewer people to pass. My second-place finish was by just over three minutes, though, so while I definitely want to learn from those mistakes, I also don't want to be too hard on myself -- I had a great race, and my bike leg was (other than the incident with the tri top) nearly flawless. For next time, I clearly need to do some more work on bike-to-run. I know I can run faster than I did yesterday; I probably just need to practice that "brick" transition more in order to accomplish it.

Details on yesterday's race are below.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Brief recap: The Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon

Last weekend I ran the race that was supposed to get me in to the New York Marathon. I've been trying to qualify for New York for years, not so much because I am obsessed with that particular race but because the NYQ time has consistently sat tantalizingly at the edge of my ability level for more than five years now. They have adjusted the qualifying times twice during that period, with the half-marathon qualifying time for my age group starting at 1:30 (when I managed a 1:31), tightening to 1:25 (when I PRed with a 1:26), then loosening again as I moved into a new age group to 1:32.

To hit a 1:32 I'd need to average exactly 7:00 per mile over 13.1 miles. I decided to try to start off at a 6:55 pace, to give myself a bit of a cushion in case my Garmin read the course wrong. On Saturday morning as I awaited the start with Joey and Dustin, the conditions seemed pretty good but not quite ideal. The temperature was about 54 and the dew point wasn't much cooler, which meant it was very humid. I wished Dustin and Joey well and then lined up at the start between the 1:30 half-marathon pace group and the 3:05 marathon pace group, about 6 rows back. At 6:40, in the still darkness, we started off. I was able to get up to pace quickly and checked my watch: 6:50/mile, just about perfect.

I passed the Mile 1 marker as my watch clicked 7:00, so I picked up my pace a bit, only to run Mile 2 in 6:40. Whoah boy, slow down! The next mile was 7:07, then 6:57. It seemed like each mile marker was just a bit off, as the pace on my watch didn't vary nearly as much. By Mile 5, however, I could tell that this probably wasn't going to be my day, regardless of how accurate the mile markers were. I completed the mile in 7:16 and didn't feel like I could possibly pick things up. Now it was a matter of hanging on. With 8 miles to go.

Each successive mile was just a touch slower. It didn't help that there was a 2.7-mile stretch with no aid stations from mile 4.1 to 6.8. I was definitely beginning to heat up, and when I finally reached the aid station at Mile 6.8, I dumped the first cup of water over my head before grabbing for another one to drink.

Mile 6-7: 7:19
Mile 8: 7:36
Mile 9: 7:55

During Mile 10 I saw my pace dip to slower than 8:00 and told myself enough was enough. I pushed harder. "Cmon Munger, there's less than 4 miles now. You are not running this mile slower than 8 minutes!" I managed a 7:34.

The next mile, I slowed even more, and registered a 7:53. Finally during Mile 12 I felt like I could pick up the pace, and saw my watch's pace indicator grind down to the 7:40s. I passed a friend from Wilmington, Drew Coombes, a very solid ultrarunner, and gave him a high-5. This buoyed me for a while, until I was passed by a little boy who hardly looked to be exerting an effort at all. He was running with a man, possibly his father, and a couple of other guys who probably just didn't want to get beaten by a 9-year-old. I was happy to be beaten by this kid, who clearly was headed for star status on whatever middle-school cross-country team landed him! I checked the results later and saw that Caden Livingston ended up running a 1:34, good enough for third place in the 18-and-under age group!

When I clicked my watch at the end of Mile 12, I had run an 8:06 for a mile my watch measured as 1.05 miles long. I had actually picked up the pace here according to my watch, and I felt good enough to pick it up even faster for the final mile. We were on the campus of UNC-Wilmington now and folks were telling us "you're almost there!" Somehow a half-mile still didn't feel like "almost," but I didn't slow down. I passed an official photographer and managed to look pretty good for the photo:

If only I was feeling as good as I look....


I chugged my way to the finish, logging a 7:22 pace for the final 1.1 miles. My official time was 1:37:15 on a course my watch measured at 13.3 miles long. This worked out to an average official pace of 7:27, good for 8th in my age group. My watch calculated an average pace of 7:18, which I felt very good about. I hadn't made my primary goal of qualifying for New York, but I was in the ballpark.

Soon Joey came across the finish line, followed by another DARTer who I didn't even know was at the race, Tracey DeForest. Here we are at the finish:

Tracey was disappointed in her time but actually snagged 3rd in age group!

Joey and I hung around until the marathoners finished; we were waiting for Dustin to complete his first marathon. In the end he cramped up, stopping for 30 minutes at Mile 22 to try and stretch out. But he willed himself to the finish in a time that was disappointing for him — but he still completed the race, which is more than 99 percent of Americans can say they did.

My 1:37:15 is actually my fastest half-marathon since I PRed with that 1:26 in 2013, more than four years ago. I feel like I've got the speed to do a 1:32, and just need to work on building the endurance to stretch that speed out for a full 13.1 miles. For now I'm going to take my time to recover from the race, then start to build up again and give it another shot. I'll get it one of these days!

Details of my race are below.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Race recap: The Ellerbe Half Marathon

When my running buddy Chad asked if anyone would like to try the Ellerbe Marathon or Half Marathon this year, I wasn't so sure. My main goal over the last several years in half marathons has been to try to qualify for the New York Marathon. I've failed every time, twice by just a minute. The Ellerbe Marathon is notoriously hilly, and the half option — new for this year — is just as hilly: the full marathon just repeats the half course twice. But when I learned my wife was going to be busy that morning anyways, I figured it was a nice opportunity for a road trip and a race with no pressure. I figured I could treat it like a training run for the flat-and-fast Wrightsville Beach Half four weeks later. I'd just pick a relatively flat section of the course and pick up to goal half-marathon pace for 5 miles or so.

Fast forward to Saturday morning. During the two-hour drive to the start, Chad asked if I've had a look at the elevation profile. I hadn't so I pulled it up on my phone:

Ruh-roh!

As you can see, there's not a lot of flat in the race. The closest approximation to a flat section is the first three miles, which are followed by a long, gradual downhill. If I was going to test my legs at race pace, it was going to have to be at the beginning of the event. Before long, Chad, Dave, and I arrived in Ellerbe, got our packets, and got ready to race:


The race was a small, casual affair, with fewer than 100 runners in each event (there would be just 61 half-marathon finishers). With little fanfare, the race director said "ready, set, go!" and we were off. My half-marathon pace for Wrightsville is 7:00 / mile, so I picked up the pace quickly as we set off. Soon I found myself next to one runner who looked to be a bit older than me, with just one other runner ahead of us. I could see from the older guy's bib that he was running the half. "Do you think he's running the half or the full?" I asked, gesturing towards the runner ahead of us.

"I don't know," the older man said, "I think probably the half."

To me he looked too relaxed to be running a half. My bet was that he was doing the full and that Old Guy and I were leading the half. After a couple miles running side by side, Old Guy took off to catch up with the leader. I could hear him shout "are you running the half" to the runner up ahead, but I didn't hear his response. No big deal, I figured, I wasn't running this race all-out anyways.

I was able to maintain a 7-ish pace through the first five miles and actually felt pretty good at that point. Then I got to the first big hill. I decided that I'd try to keep my pace under 8:00 / mile on the uphills, hoping to finish with an average pace of around 7:30 / mile. Old Guy and Possible Marathoner were still visible ahead of me, but they were now perhaps 200 yards away.

I managed to keep my pace under 8:00 until we hit the turnaround just past Mile 7, where I could see that the runner ahead of me and Old Guy was indeed doing the full marathon. I was in second place! From my recollection of the elevation profile, the course leveled off for a bit here. In reality the course was a series of fairly steep descents and climbs for the next two miles, when we'd begin our last big climb. I held around a 7:30 pace here. Meanwhile, a few runners passed me, including one half-marathoner. So much for second place — but maybe I could hang on for third.

As I plodded up the big final hill in Miles 10 and 11, I could see the younger half-marathoner pass the Old Guy, and occasionally it looked like Old Guy was taking walk-breaks. Maybe I could catch him!

The final two miles of the course backtracked on the road we had started out on. On the way out they had seemed basically flat, but now they felt like they were mostly climbs. Looking back at my Garmin record after the race, Mile 12 was mostly flat, but there was a touch more uphill than downhill in Mile 13. Old Guy took a couple more walk breaks, but then pulled away as the finish approached. I tried to pick up the pace for the last mile, but my legs wouldn't cooperate and I rolled in for a relatively comfortable third place. A race volunteer got a photo of me approaching the finish:

Looking strong-ish!

In the end I did get that sub-7:30 pace, at least according to my Garmin, which showed a 7:28 pace. My official finishing time was 1:39:35, a 7:35 pace. Either way, I was the third finisher in the half marathon, which meant I won an awesome piece of pottery:

I thought this was a beer mug but my wife declared it to be a vase

Not bad for a last-minute decision! I had successfully run a quick 5 miles at half-marathon pace, then finished strong and got some nice hardware. After that the weather heated up considerably, so Chad and Dave had tough work to finish their full marathon. But Dave won his age group and Chad came in second in his group, so we had a great day all around. Fun way to spend a Saturday morning on a challenging course!

The Garmin record of my race is below.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Geeking out on mileage data

This morning I was taking a look at my total mileage for the month and noticed that Garmin Connect allows you to subtotal its reports by month or year and export the file to a spreadsheet-compatible format. A new opportunity for running geekery! So naturally I decided to look at all my running data from 2012 to the present. I even made a graph:


As you can see, the most dramatic event on the graph is my injury in February of 2015. My mileage has only recently begun to approach what I routinely ran before that date, as I finally seem to be genuinely recovering.

All my big PRs occurred as I was peaking in mileage (my marathon PR was set in 2011 and isn't on the graph). You might be tempted to conclude that that high-mileage, intense training also led to injury, but I'd say that was only the case for the second injury (the first one was just a bruise from a fall and I recovered quickly). The other things that seem to correspond to reduced running mileage are travel and triathlon training. It's hard to squeeze running in in both of those cases!

This year my plan is to steadily increase my mileage to get close to what I was doing in 2012/13, while decreasing the frequency of my most intense workouts to hopefully reduce the risk of injury. I've started to follow a training plan inspired by the book Fast After Fifty, which recommends adopting a 9-day training "week" instead of a typical 7-day week (not-so-coincidentally, I turned 50 yesterday). The big race I'm training for is the Chicago Marathon on October 8. Because my training program for Chicago uses a long training week, it will take much longer than a typical 18-week cycle. In fact, it will start on March 27, 195 days before the race, and two days after my next big race, the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon. For Wrightsville, I don't have the time to do a full training cycle, so I will see what I can do on a reduced cycle.

If all goes well, by October I should be in good enough shape to once again qualify for the Boston Marathon, my monthly mileage will once again look like what it did in 2013 and 2014, and I might even be able to take a shot at one of those long-standing PRs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Race Recap: Houston Half Marathon

A few weeks before the Houston Half Marathon, a friend posted a long-term weather forecast that looked dire: Temperatures in the mid-70s with near-100% humidity. This is very nearly the worst weather to race in, but my previous experiences with weather-stalking convinced me that this was WAY too early to be concerned. Sure enough, as race day approached, the forecast changed more than once. For a while it looked as if conditions would be nearly perfect, low fifties and lower humidity. Unfortunately this forecast was still too early, and by a few days before the race it was clear that temperatures would be in the high 60s with nearly 100% humidity. I've raced in these conditions before, and never with a good result.

I had chosen to race Houston partly because it's a flat and fast course (Ryan Hall set the US record here), but mostly because I wanted to meet up with online friends I had known for years. We had formed a close-knit group while losing weight on the MyFitnessPal website and now we get together in person whenever we get the chance. This group was where I got the idea for Brolympus, my running alter-ego who populates social media with terrible running advice. We have all seen so much bad decision-making, both by ourselves, and by other runners, that there is a never-ending supply of fodder for Brolympus's memes.

I arrived on Friday for Sunday's race, and shenanigans began almost from the get-go. After a beer-soaked reunion Friday night, we reconvened Saturday for a shake-out run in the form of the Brolympus 5K Marathon:

Are we having fun yet?

Conditions during the shake-out, where the weather was about what had been predicted for the marathon, actually didn't seem too bad. I got a little sweaty but felt like I might be able to go ahead and give my Plan A a shot: Run the whole race at a 7:00 pace and qualify for the New York Marathon with a 1:32.

Revelry was more restrained on Saturday night, and we all headed to bed early enough to get a reasonable amount of sleep before our 4 a.m. wake-up call for the race. I had a bagel and tried some of a friend's beet concentrate as a pre-race supplement. Then we walked to the start in the early-morning darkness:

Beautiful Houston morning...but how will the race go?

Once again, the conditions didn't seem bad. It almost felt a bit chilly, and a light breeze cooled us even more. But race-morning temperatures were in the mid 60s, the humidity was high, and neither figure was expected to decline before the 7 a.m. race start.

At the race start, our whole group got together for a photo before heading out to the race corrals. 

Air-conditioned optimism

Team Brolympus!

The "A" corral, where I'd be lining up, closes at 6:40 a.m., so it was important to get out there early. I was assured there would be porta-potties in the corrals, and this proved true. The lines weren't long either, and I had plenty of time to take care of pre-race business. All signs were pointing to a good race. I made my way to the position marked "7:00/mile" pace, along with several hundred other optimists. Here I am lined up and ready to go:



After 20 minutes or so of nervous waiting, the race got under way right on time. For the first mile I struggled to get up to race pace, my watch stubbornly indicating I was below target. Meanwhile I had to be conscious of the runners around me. Some folks clearly hadn't gotten to the position they wanted at the start, and so were zipping past as they tried to make up time. Others were moving very slowly, at what must have been an 8- or 9- minute pace. Didn't they see the signs in the corral telling them where to line up? By the end of Mile 1 my pace was 7:17, almost where I wanted it.

I tried to pick things up a bit more for Mile 2, and willed myself to a 7:05 pace. Still too slow, but every step was a struggle. The humid air seemed to close in on me, and the pack of sweaty runners around me didn't help keep things cooler. I grabbed two cups of water at the aid station, drank one and dumped the other over my head. This cooled me momentarily, but I was still feeling overheated. My A goal of 7:00 miles was beginning to seem nearly impossible.

For Mile 3 I decided to back off the pace a bit. Maybe all I needed to do was run a couple miles at a 7:20-ish pace, then pick it up again as I got used to the conditions. For a mile or so, it almost seemed like it would be possible. Mile 3: 7:22.

But by Mile 4 I knew this simply wasn't going to be my day. Every step was harder than the last, and more and more runners were passing as my pace slowed. 7:53 was all I could manage.

In Mile 5 I started doing some mental math: Only 8 miles to go! Actually 8 miles seemed like a really long distance. But maybe I could keep my pace below 8:00 for the rest of the race and salvage a shred of decency. I ran a 7:58 for this mile.

Surely Mile 6 would be where I was finally able to pick up the pace again, right? Wrong. 8:15.

But now I was through 10K! Almost halfway done. I figured out that Mile 6.55 was the actual halfway point and tried to focus on that. After the halfway point, 6-plus miles still seemed like an awful long way to run. I had one gel left, and began negotiations with myself as to when I'd get to eat it. Mile 7, 8:22.

Somehow I did managed to go slightly faster for Mile 8, 8:07. But I made up for this in mile 9 with a lethargic 8:46. Ugh.

With 4 miles to go I allowed myself to eat the my second gel. I sped up slightly to 8:27. At this point I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to manage a 1:45 half, an average of 8:00 miles for the race. But at least I was in double-digit mileage, with only 5k to go.

Mile 11 may have been the worst. My feet were aching from my lightweight racing shoes on the concrete pavement. I had no more gels, and I couldn't even run a lousy 8-minute mile. 8:39.

Finally, somewhere in Mile 12, my body seemed to spark a bit with the knowledge that there were only around 2 miles left. My pace improved to 8:17. Only 1.1 miles left!

The race clock at Mile 12 read 1:37 and change when I passed it. If I could run the last 1.1 in less than 8 minutes I might be able to finish under 1:45. How much time did I have, exactly? I tried to remember how long it had taken me to cross the start line after the gun. Was it 20 seconds? 30? I focused on my stride and picking up the pace. My watch was reading 7:20, 7:15, 7:10 pace for the current lap. If I could run under a 7-minute pace for this last 1.1 miles, I just might make it. We were now running on the same course as the marathoners, and I passed the 26 mile marker. Only 0.2 to go!

But then, somehow, the 13 mile marker didn't appear. It should only be 1/10 of a mile past the Mile 26 marker, but it was taking ages to reach it, even as my watch showed me running a 6:58 pace. At that rate, it should only take 42 seconds to get there. This was taking much longer. Finally, after an excruciating 7:57, I finished Mile 13. There was no way I was breaking 1:45 for the race.

I cruised through the finish line at about the same pace, finishing in 1:45:28. Ugh. More than 13 minutes slower than my goal.

As I wandered through the finish area I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. I really couldn't figure it out, other than my body simply not being acclimatized to the heat. The past two weeks have been cold and snowy, so I guess that's all it was. It's little consolation when you run a flat half-marathon and finish slower than you have in five years.

I still believe I have a 1:32 half in me. In the meantime, I was still able to enjoy a great weekend with some awesome friends, many of whom I met in person for the first time on this trip.

Details of my race are below.