Monthly Archives: January 2015

I Run Half Marathons, but I Survive Full Marathons…

This is something I read on someone else’s blog. In one line he summarized what I was trying to express in my blog post last week. I run short races (5k to half marathon). But I crash and burn on the second half of the full marathon. After ten marathons, I have been unable to unlocks the secret of that event. My pace slows to a crawl, I end up walking bigger and bigger parts on the final third of the race (aids stations, uphills, etc) and my time tanks. My typical finish time is almost an hour slower then what is predicted based on my HM finish times. I have tried multiple different racing, training, and nutrition stategies and it always ends up with the same results. That is why I questioned my sanity in continuing to run marathons. My talents and endurence seems better suited to somewhat shorted events. If I can RUN the whole thing, I can get better at it and push myself harder. But, a PR means little if I am just trying to survive the event…and it is much less fun.

But, I am always lured back (the bling is always so much nicer!) I guess I keep hoping that I will someday be able to actually run a marathon from start to finish. If I can, it will be a breakthrough, and my current PR will be crushed (just like my 5k, 10k, HM and 70.3 finish times were destroyed once I was able to maintain a race pace from start to finish).

Do I keep trying for a breakthrough, or do I accept what my first ten marathons seem to have made quite clear? I can participate in a marathon, I can survive a marathon, I can finish a marathon, but I can’t run a marathon. If I want to run, I need to select shorter races.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Albert Einstein

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Race Report: Houston Marathon Weekend

January 16-18, 2015.

It was over four months out from Ironman Wisconsin, and I still had not reached my off-season. I was beat-up, sore, and tired. My goal was to force myself back into a regular running training routine post-IM. I wanted to avoid a prolonged off-season where I landed back on the couch and stayed there. For the most part, it worked. But, winter training is hard, and I entered this weekend undertrained for the task at hand.

Houston Marathon has a great reputation. It is a flat and fast course, and one of the biggest marathons in the country. There are 25,000 registrants the the full and half marathons, and it is a lottery to get in. A fellow runner bragged about how great it was, and then I qualified (10k time of 47:40). So, I had to register as it was the only time I have ever qualified for a race. I signed up for the 5k as well so was running the Houston Double (and would get more swag and a extra bonus medal). I subsequently qualified for coral “A” for the 5k by running a 5k in under 23:00 (22:49…good enough!) I was automatically in coral A for the marathon since I registered via time qualifying.

The weather was cooperating. The week before, the jet stream was blowing in from Siberia all the way down to the Gulf Coast. It was -20F back home two days before I left, and it was below freezing down in Houston. The weather corrected itself and would be well into the sixties by race weekend. It was the first thing I noticed getting off the plane…I didn’t need the jacket! The second thing I noticed was the terain…or lack thereof. I was driving on a pancake. The only hills were the overpasses. The ride in from the airport was nothing special, but that changed when I got downtown. There is some serious oil money here, and the downtown core reflects that wealth.

After checking into the hotel, I headed to the expo. It was a big expo…much bigger then Route 66. I love wandering these places. I got my bibs, chips, and participants shirts (I would get a separate finishers shirt at the finish line!) I wandered around a little. The sponsor for the 5k was handing out some throwaway gloves (it was the only thing I needed to get sine the mornings would be cool). Sports clips was doing free haircuts (bummer! I made a point of getting a haircut just before I left Minneapolis). Once I was done, I grabbed some food and headed back to the hotel. I needed to catch up on my sleep.

ABB 5K

I was up early on Saturday for the 5k. Weather was a little cooler then I expected and I could have used an extra layer for the walk down to the race site and the standing around before the race. I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and a garbage bag (only one I saw, but a lot of locals were dressed up like they were going skiing!) I was assigned coral “A” only to find that there was no coral “A”. It was just one big self seeding coral. No biggie. I had decided to just use this as a warm up. I wanted to be ready for tommorow and didn’t want to burn out my legs. An 8:30/mile pace should be about right. Once the sun came up, it warmed up a little and I shed my garbage bag. The course was a basic set up. Run out, shift over one city block, and run back. The course was fairly scenic and I pretty much held to the plan. By the end, I wasn’t tired but felt like I had worked out the butterflies and was ready for the main event.

Finish Time: 25:50
Age Group-48/224 (21.4%)
Gender-458/2018 (22.7%)
Overall-605/4694 (12.9%)

5K Medal

The post race party wasn’t much of one. The medal was boring, and we got a bottle of water, a banana, and two mini muffins. I went back to the hotel and showered. I wanted to get back to the expo since Meb Kefmezgee (Boston Marathon winner and US Olympian) was having an autograph signing. I got in line early and was practically at the front. The line ended up being quite long but he sure took his time with everyone (at least at the start…he would have had to pick up the speed or barely anyone would have met him). I got the marathon program signed (unfortunately, it was very glossy paper and the autograph bubbled).

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He he had copies of his book for sale for charity, and I picked one up as well. He autographed and personalized that too. Finally, he posed for a few pics:

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Really, really nice guy, and a great ambassador for the sport. After this, I killed a little more time at the expo before calling it a day.

Chevron Houston Marathon:

I was up again at 3:00 am. The convention center was open at 5:00 am and it was recommended that everybody get there early. Temps would start in the mid 40’s but climb into the mid 60’s during the run. I elected to forgo a bag drop and simply wear shorts, t-shirt, trash bag and throwaway gloves. There was little wind on the walk to the convention center, and it felt warmer then the day before. Upon arrival, I was able to ditch the trash bag for awhile. We had the entire convention center and it was pretty bare. The place was huge… Like a massive airplane hanger. It took me over 5 minutes just to walk end to end. Despite the size, this place filled up fast. I found a nice place to wait until it was time to leave for the corals. At 6:25am, the overhead page was heard. It was time to go.

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As I noted in a previous post, I got assigned coral “A” based on a 10k time. My marathon time placed me squarely in coral “C”. I elected to go where I belonged…coral “C”. My PR for a full is 4:26. I usually end up around 4:30-4:35. I hoped for a PR, and there were a few things in my favor. The weather was perfect and the course was pancake flat. But, I was undertrained and had not run more then 10k in about a month. No, I did not expect a PR here, but I could hope. I optimistically lined up with the 4:15 pace group…

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The participants for the full and the half would start together and stay together for 8.5 miles. It was a big race with 25000 registrants. Despite this, the start went smoothly. I was on my way within 15 minutes of the starting gun.
The first part of the course was downtown before heading into some nicer neighborhoods. I easily kept pace with my group (I knew that I would have little trouble keeping up until after the halfway point). Crowds were plentiful. There were a lot more people then at Route 66. They estimate the spectators to be about 250,000 for this race bit it didn’t seem that big to me. Twin Cities Marathon seemed to have more plentiful spectators, but only they only estimate 200,000.

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The course was as flat as promised. I know nothing of Houston, but we got a nice mix of concrete jungle, tree lined neighborhoods and hip shopping areas. The split at 8.5 was a relief. It was nice to have a little breathing room on the course as we lost over half of the running field. I was already struggling by the halfway point. The sun was up and I was not acclimated to warmer temperatures (or properly trained for that matter). I had been struggling with some foot/ankle problems (I am starting to suspect plantar fasciitis) and my knees kept threatening to buckle. By mile 15, a waved goodbye to my pace group as they disappeared into the horizon. I knew I would have needed too hang with them a little longer then this if I were to have any chance at a PR…

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At this point, we were running thru one of the nicest shopping districts in town, and crowd support here was great. We then went into McMansion alley with homes the size of small shopping centers. This Was followed by some beautiful parkland for the next few miles.

The aids stations we’re spaced every 1.5 miles or so. They had the basics (Gatorade and water) but would go on forever. Some of the early combined stations went on for 2-3 city blocks. Fortunately, the gatorade was always first. The pavement was soaked with spilt beverages and my shoes would get all sticky. But then we would get to the water station and the soles of my shoes would get cleaned off. These are the wierd little thing you notice during a 4 1/2 hour run.

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We were heading back into town, and I was taking more walk breaks. My feet and legs were killing me. Even though the course was flat, there were an awful lot of overpasses and underpasses dotting the final part of the route (or maybe I was just starting to notice them). We rejoined the half marathon route for the final few miles back to the convention center and the finish line. By this point, the Mercury was in the high sixties. I was definitely feeling it. It was still ideal weather and we had the green flag for the whole race.

Finish: 4:31:57

Age Group-381/610 (62%)
Gender-2506/4348 (58%)
Overall-3719/7133 (52%)

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Once we finished, be received some water and our medals as we were swarmed by photographers. We were herded back into the convention center for bananas, more photos, our finishers shirt and beer glass. The medal was very nice, and an improvement from prior years. I also got a “Houston Double” challenge medal for finishing the marathon and the 5k the day before. That medal is awful (it’s huge, but just has the logos for the marathon, half marathon and 5k on it). The finishers shirt was much nicer then the participants shirt. It was a technical running shirt and had no advertisements on the back (all of the ads were on the back of the cotton participants shirt).

Marathon Medal

Challenge Medal

 

I then moved to the food court. We received scrambled egg and salsa, sausages, biscuits and gravy, chocolate milk, ice cream, more bananas, yogurt, and a few other food options. Overall, it was one of the best post-race buffets that I had ever seen.

My 2014 race season had finally ended, four months after Ironman Wisconsin. This was my 10th marathon and the first of 6 for 2015. My next race (half marathon) is not until March, and then Pittsburgh Marathon in May. But, for the next few weeks, I can rest my aching body and enjoy the offseason…

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Flashback-Ironman Wisconsin Bike Course

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A Facebook friend linked a page that sells “Fine Art Cycling Prints”. All the posters were of Tour de France or other European similar venues or events. All except for this one in North America. It immediately brought me back to Witte Road at Ironman Wisconsin’s bike course. That narrow sliver of pavement passing multiple dairy farms was the closest thing to a cycling roller coaster that I have ever experienced. Downhills scare me, and Witte Road was the only point in the race that I hit 40 mph that day (clutching the handlebars in a death grip as other cyclists flew past me) and grinding my way up the next hill in granny gear, struggling to maintain 6 mph a mere 20 seconds later…

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Why am I still running marathons?

A little over three years ago, I decided to try and run a 5k. I discovered a love for the sport and quickly pushed myself to new challenges. Eighteen weeks later, I crossed the finish line at my first full marathon.

Last weekend, I did it again, for the tenth time. I was a great race. Houston is well known and well respected. The weather was perfect. The course was beautiful. The organization, the expo, the crowd support, the energy were all great. There were 25000 registered runners between the half and the full (both events are run simultaneously) and an estimated 250000 spectators.

So, why did I feel like I was just going thru the motions?

The event seemed like a chore. The expo was great, but I mostly wandered around with little interest. I met Meb, and got a photo and a couple of autographs. But, otherwise, I had seen it all before. I went thru my race morning routine out of habit. I showed up early, surrounded by a lot of other excited runners. I was mostly just waiting until it was time to start. I allowed myself to be herded towards the starting line. I had no butterflies in my stomach waiting for the gun to fire. I just stood there until it was time to go. When that time arrived, I started to move with the rest.

Although the course was beautiful, it barely registered on my radar. I paid more attention to the mile markers and the aid stations. I diligently guzzled gatorade at each station and moved on to the next. My iPod randomly ran thru my playlist. I chated with a few runners, posed for a few photos, but mostly just kept track of how many miles I had left. At around mile 15 or 16, I started to struggle (as I always do). Running became more painful, and my pace slowed. As I typically do, I just sort of stumbled the last 10 miles or so. The finish line came and went. I got the water, banana, medal, shirt, photo, food, and made my way back to the hotel.

It had all become dreadfully predictable and routine.

My first few marathons, I had butterflies. I didn’t know if I could finish. It was the challenge of a lifetime. Then, I felt the same way about a half-Ironman triathlon. Then, a full Ironman took that place for about 2 years. Half IM’s became routine, and they started to blend together. I have deliberately made the choice to never do another full since I want that experience to remain unique and special.

I no longer feel that way about marathons.

I also don’t enjoy the training anymore. I still enjoy running. But multiple 20+ mile training runs are things that I dread instead of enjoying now. I question why I do them. It isn’t for fitness. I will gain the same health benefits from shorter runs (like a two hour long run instead of 3-4 hour runs). Maybe if I were seeing improvement, it would be different. Maybe the lack of improvement is what is turning me off the sport. My first ever marathon is still my second fastest finish time (even though I had gotten off the couch a mere 18 weeks earlier). My best finish time was only 52 seconds faster…running a pancake flat course with cool tempuratures and a 15 mph tailwind the whole race.

On paper, I should be improving. My half marathon time is 1:44. My 10k time is 47:40. My 5k time is 22:49. All of these place me in the top 10% of runners, and point to a marathon finish time of about 3:40-3:50. This would put me in shooting range of Boston Qualifying. Instead, I am languishing at about 4:30-4:35. This is squarely in the middle of the pack. There is nothing wrong with this, but I am hitting this finish time race after race. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the weather is on race day, it doesn’t matter if the course is hilly or flat. It doesn’t matter if I feel “well trained” or not. There is little fluctuation. I hit the wall at mile 15 and its a sufferfest the rest of the way.

My shorter distance races have all improved dramatically in the past year. I improved my 5k by fourty seconds. My 10 k improved by 4:30. My half-marathon improved by over 10 minutes. I have placed between the top 5%-10% of finishers at all of those distances. At the Houston 5k (which was run the day before the Houston Marathon), I easily finished in the to 20% when I deliberately ran slowly so that I would not be too tired the next day. I wonder what I could accomplish is I focused on these shorter races instead of viewing them as “train-thru” events? Training would be more enjoyable. My weekly “long run” would be more manageable. I could better balence my fitness and home life. There are a lot of shorter distance races in town. It would eliminate a lot of expense and time traveling to other cities. I would get most of the health benefits and could better incorporate running into a long term lifestyle. Currently, I am dealing with posterior tibial tendinosis and plantar fasciitis. There would be less joint stress with shorter distance running.

These are thoughts that are crossing my mind post-marathon. Sure, I have had a long season. Maybe it’s just the physical and emotional fatigue talking. But maybe I am just better suited at the shorter to middle distances. Hard to know for sure right now. But, it is something to consider.

Part of me still likes the marathon. It is a bigger event. The swag, the bling, the bragging rights. It’s just something you don’t see at the shorter and smaller races. For now, my 2015 running season is locked in. I am doing my first ultra-marathon (and my last…allowing to retain its “special” status) along with four other marathons. Maybe I will see a breakthrough during these races. Maybe it will just cement my current impressions. I am already avoiding full-Ironman and half-Ironman events. I may do a 70.3 in 2016 if the interest bubbles up and a good event presents itself (rumors of a St. Louis 70.3 continues). Doing one every few years might be the right frequency to allow the anticipation to build. The same might be true of full marathons. I think that having an occasional travel destination main event on the schedule may help keep the interest alive as I focus more on shorter local races. The question becomes how often I put them on the schedule. I had already considered running only two marathons in 2016. Maybe I should consider even fewer. Perhaps one a year, or one every other year would be sufficient. Maybe, that would allow these events to remain special and be worth the time, expense (and physical suffering)…

 

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Cross Country Skiing-101

Recently, I started thinking about adding cross-country skiing to my list of activities. Swimming, biking and running are all difficult in seb-zero tempuratures, especially on icy roads. Living in a northern tier state, I needed something to do as cross training during the winter months. Living in a xc-skiing meca, it seemed like an obvious choice. Unfortunately, I have no experience with skiing.

None.

Yes, I am Canadian.

Yes, I live in Minnesota.

No, I don’t ski.

I have strapped on skis exactly one time in my 40+ years of existence. I was eight years old. I wiped out…on the tow-line…for the bunny hill. I then retreated to the chalet for some hot cocoa. I was not the most athletically gifted child…

Althoug I took up running, cycling, and swimming in the last few years, I had some experience with all of those activities growing up. I rode a bike as a kid and took swimming lessons for years growing up. Skiing is completely foreign to me.

I started researching this online. I looked at clothing and had some of the basics in my cold weather running gear. The park where I cycle is converted to cross country skiing in the winter. Lessons and rentals are offered. So far, so good.

From what I could tell, there are two types of XC-skiing: Classic and Skate.

Classic is all in a straight line. Skies are straight and parallel most of the time. The poles are pushed straight back. In skate skiing, you slide your skis side to side (like skating). The techniques, courses, and gear are all different. From what I could tell, classic should be easier and skate should be for skiers with a little more experience. Lessons for both were offered at Elm Creek so I decided to try both (classic first) so I could get a feel for both. I was scheduled for my classic lesson on Thursday, but a winter storm made it impossible to get to the park in time. They were willing to let me transfer to another class. The skate class was this morning with the possibility of doing the classic lesion immediately afterwards.

I arrived at the park in plenty of time and got my gear. I met the instructor shortly thereafter. He noted that I should have at least a year of skiing experience before I tried skating. Too late. He suggested that I try to not get discouraged and to embrace the challenge. Sigh.

We skied a short distance to the practice field. Well, everyone else with skiing experience skied. I slogged over and got there eventually. The first thing they did was teach us how to get up after a fall. Afterwards, we did a bunch of drills. During those drills, I got a lot more practice at the getting up thing. Skate skiing needs a lot of coordination, which I don’t have. Having slippery boards attached to my feet throws off my center of gravity and all of my movements feel awkward. It reminds me of when I started to use clipless pedals on the bike. Having a bike attached to your feet takes some getting used to. Skies are the same…but with next to no traction.

Overall, it was clear that skating wasn’t for the novice skier.

An hour later, there was a classic ski lesson and I figured I might as well attemp that right away. It is supposed to be easier, the park was a long way from home, and I was discouraged enough to know that I may not come back if I left now. It was the same instructor and he thought it would be a good idea.

Many in this class had no skiing experience, or very limited. I swapped out my gear and lined up for the class. Parts were the same (I learned to get up again). Some of the drills were the same (but a little easier this time). Other drills were much easier. It was easier to maintain balence and a center of gravity with this technique. Of course, none of this is “easy”. I still felt very much like a fish out of water, but I think that I could work at this and get more comfortable at it. Maybe.

So, I will probably continue with classic and see if it gets any easier. Looking at the rest of the season, I doubt I will be doing much beyond getting my feet wet. The next three weeks are full and I will have no opportunity to ski. I may be able to get out weekly in February, but that is the tail end of the season. If I am getting better at it and can see a future, then I will look to getting my own gear at the end of season clearance sales. My 2015 running season will wrap up at the end of October (instead of mid-January like this season). A few more lessons early next season and maybe I can aim for an event next season (there is a local race at the end of January with a 10k, 20k, and 42k option…hello 10k). I am goal motivated and I would need something like this to keep me trying. But, realistically, a ski marathon (such as the Berkie) is a few years down the road (at best). But I can wrap my head aroud doing a shorter event next winter.

Is this the start of something new? I dunno. Maybe it is. It should be an interesting journey…

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Polar Dash Race Report

January 1st, 2015.

The Polar Dash.

Out of all the races on my calendar, none brings up a sense of dread like this event.

It involves running…outdoors…in January…in Minnesota.

During the past two years, the wind chill during each race hovered around -30F. The roads were as clear as they could get them, but they were never ideal. Black ice was everywhere. The warming tents were nice but rarely even get close to the freezing point. They cut the wind, but they did little more then that.

I do this race since I need an occasional winter event on the schedule to keep me motivated. Also, this race is part of the Team Ortho race series. I do the series every year for the bling, the swag, and the train wrecks. Yes, Team Ortho is good at train wrecks. They never fail to entertain. There was the year that the timing mats didn’t work, so we were asked to simply e-mail them what we thought what our “official” results should be to them. There was the year that we were instructed on an out and back HM to “turn around whenever you feel like it…we won’t be checking…”. Let’s not forget about the canceled marathon because of the CHANCE of sprinkles. Yes, the train wrecks just keep on coming. But, they tend to send me double (or even triple) swag so I can’t really complain.

This year was shaping up to be a train wreck for the ages. They called it “The Yeti Challenge”. There would be 4 races on the same day, and they would be on the same course. There would be a 15 mile race starting at 9 am,  a 10 k starting at 9:30 am (after the 15 miler started and hopefully ending before the 15 miler would end). Then they would have a 5k at noon. In between, there would be multiple heats of the new 1500m. Then they would have two challenge events. The Yeti Challenge (10k, 5k, 1500m) and the Super Yeti Challenge (15 mile, 5k, 1500m). All of this with the same bib and the same chip on the same course with multiple races running simultaneously. This coming from the folks that can’t time a single race correctly.

I planned to be there early to watch the carnage. I was hoping that they would supply snacks…

I got there in plenty of time. The parking lot was a distance from the event venue and they had a free “yellow limo” service. This went smoothly. The weather cooperated for once. The mercury was at 22F for the drive in and got up to 35F. We had sub-zero a couple of days ago, and the deep freeze was returning within 48 hours, but we lucked out on race day this year. I would be participating in the Yeti Challenge. 3 races, about 10 miles, four medals, one patch, and one fleece jacket. Despite the Team Ortho screw ups, they got the swag to keep me coming back!

Arriving at the venue, everything was well laid out. The warming area worked (mainly since it wasn’t that cold to begin with) and the roads were mostly clear and dry. The course is the same as every year. It is a scenic out and back along the Mississippi River.The 15 milers went off without a hitch and my 10k started about 30 minutes later…also without a hitch. My feet were cold for the first mile and then warmed up nicely. I never go fast on these races (I just run slowly in the cold when I am all bundled up). These were fun runs and I was not overly concerned about time.

10k-58:51 (501/1191)

After the race, I got some snacks and hot chocolate before heading to the warming area. They had packet pick up for their next event so I claimed my bib/chip/hoodie for the Get Lucky HM in March. I then went to bag drop and checked that gear and my first medal with the rest of my gear.

I did get cold waiting around for the 1500m. My cloths were drenched and I got cold and stiff very quickly. Starting the 1500m was slow. My legs had really stiffened up on me and I was barely shuffling for the first half of the event. So far, I was disappointed by the lack of disasters. Team Ortho had their act together today! Well, those hopes were soon dashed. The 1500m was long (real long…like 1/3 mile too long…) but they made up for it by making the 15 miler about a mile short. The 15 mile race was certified, so why bother putting the turnaround at the right spot?

1500m: 12:55 (288/632) => not 1500m!!!

There wasn’t much time after the 1500 finished until the start of the 5k and I just stuffed my 1500m medal into a zippered pocket and lined up At the starting line. I didn’t have time to get cold or stiff, but I was getting tired of running the same stretch of road. Bottom line, I didn’t break any records.

5k: 31:10 (573/2079)

Yeti Chaallenge: 1:42:56 (133/337)

Afterwards, I avoided the snacks, went to the warming tent, got my Yeti Challenge medal and patch along with my reclaimed bag drop. Overall, a fairly successful event. That said, I doubt I will run it again. I signed up this year for the Team Ortho series for the fourth (and likely final) time. They are the same race with similar swag every year. They are expensive and I think I will check out other races series in 2016. It will be a little odd not partaking in this New Years Day tradition in the future, but I think I will get over it quickly if the race day tempuratures plummet to -30F again next year…

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