Race Report: Lifetime Sprint Triathlon-Minneapolis

July 9th, 2016
Minneapolis, MN
Triathlon #16
Event #101

Triathlon season in the Upper Midwest is short. Very very short. It is mostly a July/August thing. I have competed in June and September, but lake temps can be very cold. So, we have about 10 months of nothing, then there are two months of triathlons being hosted in practically every lake in the state.

Even though I train every spring for it, it is always a shock when I turn the calendar to July and triathlon season is here. It is also a shock when it disappears just as suddenly on Labor Day.

When I was running the Red White & Boom HM this Monday, I knew that my first tri of the year was coming 5 days later and my mind kept returning to that race. I had to dig out my USAT card and my wetsuit and all of my other gear. So many more details for a triathlon then a run…

Fortunately, Lifetime Minneapolis is one of my favorite triathlons. It’s big, it’s urban, it’s scenic, and it’s well organized. It is also a highlight of my season. As a bonus, the weather looked to be perfect!

Race morning was breathtaking…

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The venue is stunning. The weather usually cooperates, but never quite like this. Sunrise was a moment to treasure. After I put my phone away, I saw some other athletes heading towards transition is a dense layer of fog just as first light was upon them.

I took it all in, and I could remember why I fell in love with this sport in the first place.

Despite to amazing urban park venue, the courses has a few challenges. The bike course is rough. The course has a few tight u-turns and steep (but short) downhills on uneven cobblestone with potholes in one section…on a road bike. Fortunately, the bike course is always closed to vehicular traffic making it much safer. It takes us for a stretch on the West Bank on the Mississippi River, over a bridge, and back down the East Bank of the Mississippi. The roads are narrow, but closed to traffic and wide enough for one way bike traffic. Overall, it works out great…

…but not this year.

This year, the needed bridge to cross the river was being repaired. So, they sent us up and back on the narrow east bank road…and we got some of the tightest sections of the course twice…with oncoming bike traffic…and a lot less room to maneuver.

It was nobody’s fault…just the way it had to play out this year…and the old course should return next year.

As you can tell, I got there early (again). Water temp 75F (wetsuit legal, but not really needed). I opted for the sleeveless. I got my transition station set up then had a couple hours to kill. I went to the practice swim area repeatedly to cool off (my first open water and first wetsuit swims of the year). All the international racers went first, and finally, it was my turn.

 

The Swim (750m or 0.47 miles):

Swim was a time trial start…two racers every 3 seconds. Simple course, green water, calm conditions, not much contact. I continued to do my single speed in the water that I always do at these events. 26/40 place in my AG. Not much more to say.

Swim Split – 18:05

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T1:

I really need to get a little bit faster at these. 37/40 place.

T1 Split – 5:33

The Bike (15 miles):

Pretty much said all I needed to say. Seemed slow at times due to the bottlenecks and added technical elements. I am not an aggressive cyclists if the roads are technical and crowded. Given those limitations, I am pleased with my average speed. AG 30/40.

Bike Split – 51:34 (17.45 mph)

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T2:

Same as T1. Still 37/40.

T2 Split: 3:05

The Run (5k or 3.1 miles):

This was one flat lap around the lake we swam in (plus an out and back on the bridge crossing the lake). Aid stations were at every mile. We needed them. The heat (about 80F and sunny) felt awesome on the bike, and not so great on the run. I had been running very slow all year and I was determined to go faster then my typical 11-12 minute/mile pace. I succeeded. Best run I have had in over a year. AG 16/40.

Run Split – 27:32 (8:53/mile)

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The Finish:

Nothing spectacular, but I was not really competing with anyone but myself, and I am pleased with those splits. Unfortunately, the transitions killed me. Because of those, my overall finish place was worse then any of my 3 disciplines.

Finish Time – 1:45:47 (336/642 overall, 224/359 males, 31/40 AG).

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Post Race:

This race is known for some good hot real food after the race. Since a chicken company was the principle sponsor, I expected some of that after the race. Nope. We got a snack box like they hand out at Disney after a race. Kindof a letdown. The medal was great! It was the events 15th anniversary and the medal reflected that (and…it was a bottle opener again!) The rest of the swag was good too. The shirt was well designed and we got a poster too…too bad there aren’t pros at this event anymore to autograph them.

Overall, great event. Loved returning to triathlon, and looking forward to two more triathlons next month before the season come to a sudden end…

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Race Report: Red, White & Boom Half Marathon

July 4th, 2016
Minneapolis, MN
Half-Marathon #27
Event #100(!)

My 100th event (well, 89th according to Athlinks since they don’t consider events without a finish time as official…so the fun runs and 100 mile cycling events don’t get counted). Fitting that it should be the Red, White & Boom Half Marathon…it has been a staple on my schedule since I started running 5 years ago. It is the only event that I have raced every year since I started to run. The half-marathon is also my most commonly raced distance.

So, I found it ironic that, in reaching this milestone, that it could be my last half.

Unlike full marathons, I am not actively avoiding the distance, but I am cutting back dramatically on all race events. I will likely limit my racing to a spring and fall running event and a summer triathlon. The fall race will be the big event of the year and will be the Twin Cities 10-Mile (no half marathon option available at that event). The summer event will be a sprint triathlon (Lifetime Triathlon Minneapolis most likely), leaving a spring race that will likely be shorter after the off-season (Hot Chocolate 15k scheduled for 2017). A half marathon will almost certainly show up on my schedule at some point…but nothing is on the radar in the foreseeable future.

I have finally settled back into a predictable training routine. Each week I do a 1 mile pool swim, a 32 mile bike/5k run brick, two 10k runs and one “long” run (10k or longer depending on my schedule). This averages out to over 1 hour/day of fitness. It feels like a good balence.

Being on the 4th of July, this is historically a hot race, and it starts early. I received an e-mail that the race would start under a yellow flag due to heat. That seemed a little excessive (mid to high 60’s with dew points in the low 60’s). I assumed it would finish under a yellow flag, but those temps don’t seem too unpleasant.

Packets could be picked up on race morning which makes my life easier. Unfortunately, they have added a 5k run to this event and have opted for two completely separate courses (same finish line) so my race is on the west side of the Mississippi River (about a 1 mile walk from packet pick up) instead of being on both sides and crossing the river a couple of times. I think that I will miss the old course…

The morning was beautiful. Parking was worse then prior years (always a nightmare for this event) even though I got there before they even started handing out packets (5:15 am). I got my stuff, hiked back to the car (to drop off the shirt and pint glass) then headed back to the start. So, I had logged over two miles on my feet before I even made it to the starting line.

The weather was ideal. 64F, slight humidity, nice breeze…and a yellow flag (seriously?) Small dose of reality hit when the cop went by with the bomb sniffing K-9. They wandered through the crowd and opened the garbage bins for a quick sniff before moving on.

The race was fine, but I did miss the old course. This one just wasn’t as scenic. It did get into the low 70’s by the end of the race and I was pouring water over my head during the second half. My speed did not return for this event (I didn’t expect it to) and I am still left to wonder why I am so much slower then before. This race was a full 21 minutes slower then my first half marathon…about 8 weeks after I bought my first running shoes. I am not that much older. Sigh…

As is the norm for this race, they offer grilled hotdogs at the finish. I have never liked these mystery meet products, but I do “indulge” in my only hot dog of the year right after the finish line.

Finish Time – 2:30:02 (grrrr…)

This brings my “spring” running season to a (late) close. In five days, my short summer triathlon season begins (training is already in full swing). Three sprints, the final two being in late August. It should be a nice change of pace…

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The Journey Towards “Life Fitness”

“I always try to explain to people that peak performance and life fitness are really different worlds. When you are trying to maximize everything you can out of your body, you’re also getting that much closer to getting an injury, getting burnt out, or paying a price that you may never get back. Life fitness is about figuring out: ‘What can I do every day so I feel better today and tomorrow and I can still go and do something and do it next year and the year after that until I’m 98?’ That’s kind of what my athletic quest is now.”

Mark Allen – Six Time Ironman World Champion

 

I found the above quote in the 2016 Fargo Marathon Results Magazine. Mark was the keynote speaker at the Fargo Marathon Expo and did a throwaway Q+A article for the magazine.

It nicely summarizes my journey for the past two years.

When I started running, it was new and exciting. I was in awe of what I could do and kept setting bigger and bigger goals for myself until I crossed the finish line in Madison. For the next two years, I struggled with motivation and burnout. I felt that the new goals (Ultramarathon, 50 marathon states, back to back marathons, etc) should be motivating but it was burning me out. I realized that my path was not sustainable. I have been radically cutting back on training and events trying to find something that I could enjoy, maintain, and that would be worth maintaining. So, this quote resonated with me.

Interestingly, in the past few weeks, I think that I may have found that balence. I have been on a regular and consistent training schedule…and I have been enjoying it. It is a far cry from my Ironman days, but more then most middle aged adults do routinely, and it should help me maintain some degree of “Life Fitness”.

Here’s the current schedule:

Monday + Tuesday: rest (work schedule does not allow for a regular workout)
Wednesday: 1 mile swim
Thursday: 32 mile bike/5k run
Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 10k run

The whole thing averages about 1 hour/day. I am not trying to break any speed records, nor do I have any complex drills. It is just “me” time. With the exception of Thursday, the whole workout is done before anyone else is out of bed. It does not take away from family time.

This feels right. It feels sustainable. It is also something I can use as a springboard for future training if the desire ever returns…

 

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Triathlon Training Season Begins…

…of course, I am starting a little late this year. First triathlon is in 1 month.

Whoops…

Fortunately, I am just participating for fun this year…and to give me a reason to get to the pool and bike trail.

Once the Fargo Marathon was behind me, I got to work setting up a regular running schedule and building up good habits again. But, with a Half Marathon and 3 sprint triathlons coming up soon, I need to ramp up running mileage AND get the cross training going. Two days ago, I hit the pool for the first time since January. Swam a mile and it felt good. Yesterday, I hit the bike trail and completed 32 miles followed by a 5k run. Today, a 15k run completed at the crack of dawn before it got too hot and muggy outside.

Sure, this pales by comparison to previous seasons, but great to know that I can still do this much….

…and I was having fun again! How cool is that?

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A Degree of “Extreme”…

A common conversation among Ironman Finishers is which Ironman race is the hardest.

This happens A LOT.

It generally starts with a newbie asking which races are easier or beginner friendly. Then the standard disclaimers start up. “There is no such thing as an easy Ironman”, “They are all 140.6 miles”. Everyone agrees that there is no “easier” Ironman. Then people start expressing that some races are “more hard”. Of course, the “more hard” races are always the events that the speaker has participated in. Funny how that works out….

Level of difficulty will always be subjective in these conversations. Much of it has to do with the participants own strengths and weaknesses. Are they technically strong cyclists? Can you run in the heat or cold? Wetsuit legal vs warm swim? I would, of course, play up IM Wisconsin’s very technical bike course with the big elevation gain and the mass swim start whenever I would wade into these pissing matches…assuming that there would never be a true winner in these debates…until now.

LAVA Magazine (official publication of Ironman) has endorsed IronIndex.com as the official ranking of all Ironman races (this ranking also includes all Challenge/Rev3 races worldwide). A total of 50 of the biggest and most well known Iron Distance races are ranked in terms of their overall level of difficulty. They are then branded as “Standard”, “Difficult”, “Intense”, and “Extreme”. To put it in perspective, the Ironman World Championship is 9th on the list and ranked as “Intense” (only eight races worldwide are listed as “Extreme”).

Imagine my surprise to find that the race I completed (Ironman Wisconsin) listed as the 6th toughest race…in the world (and considered an “Extreme” event)!

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Mind Blown.

It is listed as a tougher race then Malasia. Malasia! That race has a “monkey zone” on the bike course. Participants are warned not to eat or drink anything in the monkey zone since the monkeys are aggressive, not afraid of humans, and will attack you on your bike. The course guide advises that participants should carry a big stick when riding and a tutorial on how to use that stick if attacked. Somehow, that race is considered easier then Wisconsin.

Of course, there are a lot of disclaimers for such a list. It only considers current Ironman and Challenge events. Discontinued events (Ironman Tahoe and Ironman Muskoka are both off the list), other series (HITS), non-Iron Distance (X-Terra), and independent events (Alaska-Man, Norse-Man) are conveniently excluded. The list also assumes “average” weather conditions. Ironman has been cursed with some bad weather of late (108F at Coeur D’Alene, hypothermia conditions in Florida, forest fires in Tahoe, modified swim due to poor water quality/shortened bike due to flooding and construction/suspended run due to lightning in IM Texas this year. Variables like these would dramatically affect the course’s level of difficulty on any given day (I was fortunate to have ideal weather for my race day).

So, does the “extreme” ranking matter? It shouldn’t, but to me, it does (at least a little bit).

Had I seen this rating before registering, I may have reconsidered my decision to participate…so I am glad that I never saw this beforehand. But it reaffirms to me that my training was no joke. It reaffirms that crossing the finish line wasn’t beginners luck. That victory was earned, and I did something remarkable that day. I may not be able to repeat the achievement, but it emphasizes that I am capable of completing something that is (almost) impossible.

But I still think that mutant monkeys would be harder…

 

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A Return To Running “Naked”…

February 2012

I had just purchased my first pair of running shoes and had laced up for my very first run…ever. The course was pretty basic (same loop I run today). A residential road branches off the county highway. It comes to an intersection leading to three cul-de-sacs. There are no outlets (except for the highway which has no shoulders for pedestrians). If I run in my neighborhood, I run to the highway (hitting all of the cul-de-sacs) before returning home. Walking out my door, I knew that it was the only running option I had. I had no idea how long this loop was…or if I could travel the whole distance.

At the last minute, I put on a digital watch. I knew I had one with a stopwatch, but the battery had died. This one was as primitive as they got…hours and minute…that’s it.

I wrote down the start time when I left home. I wrote down the finish time when I got home. I then got in the car and drove around the neighborhood with my trip odometer set to zero. When I got home, it read 2.9 miles. I calculated my minutes/mile…and had no idea what it meant. Was I fast, or slow, or average? I had no idea.

A new love, a new obsession was born.

Shortly thereafter, the existence of GPS watches became known to me…something call a “Garmin”. It was my next purchase.

Between that moment and the end of 2014, the fixation was on speed and distance. How far and how fast became the driving concerns. It was all about the numbers..the experience was secondary. Anyone who followed this blog during my 2014 will nod in agreement if they remember my weekly workout summaries…how many minutes spent swimming, how many miles on the bike, the % increase in running distance from the previous week, and the % increase in overall workout time from the prior week. It was a whole damn spreadsheet of data that I would mine for insight and revelation. I still have it all (hell, I published it all as an appendix to a shutterfly photo book with all of my Ironman race photos). I still flip through those pages to remember the journey. In looking back, I recall just how insane it all was…

After that season, the big dream was gone. I don’t know if that was the reason, but I started getting slower…a lot slower. I maintained some decent mileage (nothing like 2014) but that was slowly dwindling as well.

My number crunching became more and more depressing…and my hobby became less and less enjoyable. I wonder if that is because my hobby was the numbers, not the running experience.

Running became a chore without a payoff and my training for Fargo was a joke. I planned to step away from racing after that event and to reconnect with running.

This weekend was the first step in that journey. Over the three day weekend, I went for three runs…the first time I have strung together that many consecutive runs since last October. I also did something unheard of…I left the Garmin behind. I would be running “naked”…free of the pace, heart rate, and split times. I ran two laps each time…likely a little over an hour and likely a little under six miles. I’ll never know for sure. I also left the iPod behind. We had lovely weather all three days. For once, my focus was the experience…and nothing else. Yes, my knees and ankles were sore, and this was hard work, but I was trying to set up good habits…once that can become a routine with long term health benefits and something I can sustain and enjoy.

I am also, I realize, connecting with the activity of running, and not the statistics of the sport. It was a different experience.

These were also three of the most enjoyable runs I have had in a long time…

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Confessions From a Running Hoarder…

I tend to collect stuff.

Baseball cards, autographs, Star Wars action figures, and even Beanie Babies.

So, as I ventured into my new hobby of running, I fell in love with the bling. It represented an accomplishment that I felt were beyond my limits. They also look darn cool. Many of my race selections (including my final marathon last week) were made almost entirely on the basis of bling quality. All of these are on display in my home gym. The racks are quite full.

I also saved all the running bibs. I am not alone in this…an online company makes a bib folio with vinyl pouches to store these. Next to each bib, I have a printout of my race results. If finishers certificates were printable, then they are here as well. Race stickers are placed on the covers. Race guides are slid into the pouches as well.

Remember…I will be running race #100 next month. That’s a lot of bibs.

Then there is all of the other stuff.

Race photos. I almost always buy them (you see them here in this blog). I have them all on my phone and iPad. I have made a couple of Shutterfly books (with a third that I will finish off at the end of the season). Most are pics of me looking like I am about to die. But, since I was never athletic, these photos have a weird fascination for me.

And, at every event, I get at least one shirt. Usually, these are short sleeved running shirts. Occasionally, we get the long sleeved variety. Other “freebies” include cotton t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, hats, hoodies, and even socks. In my early days of running, I would look at the clearance rack at the expo. Often the previous year’s shirts were far cheaper then plain running shirts available at the store (often $5 or less), so I would stock up on these for my training run. At bigger events (marathons, Ironman 70.3’s, Disney races), I would buy extra souvenirs (hats, posters, backpacks, coffee mugs, collectible pins-a Disney thing). I think I filled the trunk of my car for Ironman Wisconsin. Several months after Ironman, their online store had an end of season clearance event…and a lot of items were mispriced…hello $3 cycling jerseys…I’ll take 6 please…

Then, there is all the gear you need that isn’t “free”. Shorts, thermal tops, tights, shoes, gloves, race belts. I bought one set of “cold weather gear” when I started (it wasn’t enough at first as these were always in the wash during winter months…and layering was important). So, again, I would stock up when a sale would pop up.

Of course, there is all of the freebies at the expos…water bottles, shoulder bags, frisbees, lip balm, band aids, ice packs, towels. Most of the stuff was junk, but I stashed it away “just in case”.

I also have a medicine cabinet of Glide, vasolene, band-AIDS, salt tablets, etc.

Lets not forget cycling gear, helmets, cycling shoes, swimsuits, trisuits, wetsuits, goggles, iPods, earbuds, Garmins…

Its a lot of stuff.

So, with my final marathon behind me, and a move towards shorter distances/more regularity in running/no outdoor winter running/fewer events, I decided to wade through this mess and thin it out. Mostly, I was looking at the wardrobe excesses.

I took over the laundry room with stacks of running gear years ago. I tried to keep it seasonal and limited in scope (enough clothing to last 1-2 weeks). Despite these good intentions, it was a mess. It was also a very small amount of my running gear. A few shirts found their way into my regular rotation. These items just don’t wear out…so I never had to replace them…and the new gear just stacked up elsewhere. I found mountains of them.

After going through them, I decided that I would keep some shirts as souvenirs. The official event shirt from my first half marathon, every full marathon and every Disney race was set aside. I was more generous with Ironman swag (finishers shirts, cycling jersey, cotton and long sleeve polyester “name” shirts, and hats from each event).

I set aside a small pile of short and long sleeve shirts, shorts, socks and hats for regular summer use. I also set aside a larger stack of layers for cool weather (but NOT mid-winter running). Some non-running swag (t-shirts, hoodies, truckers hats) that I would actually wear in the real world were also set aside. This still left bags finishers shirts (most still have tags on them) that I don’t know what to do with. Someone suggested making a quilt…but most of these events were meaningless to me…so I can’t see spending money on this type of project. I suppose I could use the marathon shirts, and duplicate Ironman shirts since these “special” shirts will likely just gather dust in the closet and I could actually see them this way. Alternatively, I could donate them all to goodwill, but I don’t know if they would even want them. So, they are bagged in the basement for now.

Most of the shoulder bags, water bottles, frisbees, etc. have been tossed. The laundry room is a laundry room again. In the process of doing so, I had visions of being featured on one of the cable network hoarding shows. Even after the purge, I suspect that I still still could. I still have the medals and bibs…and action figures, autographs, trading cards…and the Beanie Babies are still hiding somewhere…

 

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Looking To The Future – It’s Time To Hang Up The Running Shoes…

In a few short weeks, I will be running my 100th event…the Red, White & Boom Half Marathon. It has been a constant event on my schedule since I started running in 2012. It seems like a fitting 100th event.

The 100th event milestone is also a good opportunity to look back on my journey and reflect on my future goals.

Over the last several month, I have had a chance to do just that. I have realized that the time has come to make some decisions about my hobbies of racing, running, and triathlon. I have come to one unavoidable conclusion.

It is time to quit.

…and I am very much at peace with that decision.

This does not mean “never again”, but racing has become a part time job that interferes with all other aspects of my life. Fitness and wellbeing need to stay. A full calendar of events, lost weekends of traveling to forgettable races for another non-PR and a shirt I will never wear…that all needs to go.

As many of you already know, my training and motivation have been…uhhh…nonexistent this season. Those who follow my blog will not be surprised by this. I tend to be all or nothing in my passions, and running has dwindled down to nothing.

Of course, I had a few reality checks lately. We lost both of our dogs to illness, we got a new puppy, I had a couple health scares (false alarms), an aging mother who is developing more health concerns, and life in general is just making its presence known. This has resulted in my workouts dropping to a couple of 45-60 minute sessions per week. I was not running outside due to cold weather, icy roads, a couple of irresponsible dog owners in the neighborhood, chronic ankle injuries, a prolonged bronchitis, and a general lack of interest in the whole thing.

Since Ironman (easily the highlight of my running career) I have struggled with dwindling interest. I have tried going back to running only. Hated it. I tried shorter events (and fewer of them). Those just seemed like chores when they came around.

I am tired of the expense, the stress and the time lost in traveling to events. Even local events are a 1 hour drive each way, plus extra time for parking and a lot of sitting around waiting for the event to start. A 5k takes up the better part of a weekend day. Don’t even get me started on the “no race day packet pickup” with the 2-3 hours of driving the day before the race.

Yep, the passion is gone.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy running and triathlon. I appreciate the health benefits. But this schedule of 2-3 weekends a month being filled with one thing or another has worn out its welcome.

I am also tired of having my hobby define who I am. Running is a small part of me, not the sum total of what I have become.

As a result, I will be making some serious changes.

For starters, no more traveling. It is too expensive, takes to much time, and involves too much stress.

Next, far fewer events (i.e.: practically none).

The only event that I will certainly continue until I stop running completely is the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend. It is one of the biggest and best running events in the nation, and is the highlight on the calendar every year. There is a phenomenal expo, a marathon, a 10 mile, a 10k and a 5k…as well as multi-event challenges. I can do as much or as little as want to. Also, if any event will rekindle my passion, this would be the one.

Aside from that, I will likely have a sprint triathlon on the calendar somewhere. I have the gear, and one event on the calendar will keep my bike from rotting in the garage. A bike ride in Elm Creek Park is a wonderful summertime experience, and I just need an excuse to get out there. The premier sprint Triathlon in the Twin Cities is Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon and will likely remain my triathlon of choice.

This gives me a summer triathlon and a fall race. I may do something in the spring as well, but there is no obvious must do local event. Likely, I will just sign up for something at the last minute depending on schedule, weather, and motivation. Next year, it will be the Hot Chocolate 15k in April since I deferred the event this year (due to a conflict with Star Wars).

I may run an event or two at the last minute. If the weather will be beautiful, and I have a quiet weekend on tap, then I may sign up for a race just for the fun of it. But the days of developing massive training plans, and of planning my life around races, are behind me.

I had actually made this decision before WDW Star Wars. The stress of getting flights, shuttles, hotels, park tickets, and fast passes was getting to me. When I made that decision, I felt a heavy burden drop. Knowing that Disney was my final race-cation allowed me to enjoy it a lot more (and I felt less guilty spending the time and the money knowing that I would never do this again). Fargo was likely my final out of town trip for a race. Red White & Boom may be my final half-marathon (time will tell). This made for a bittersweet weekend in Fargo, but I was at peace during that final long run.

For the rest of this year, I have a fairly light schedule (by my previous racing standards), and I do intend to see it through. I have three sprint triathlons over the summer, and the Loony Challenge (5k, 10k, 10 mile) at the TC Marathon Weekend in October. It will be a final tour of some well loved events that I will likely enjoy even more without the headache of planning for 10 additional events down the road.

I am not absolutely ruling out a return to marathon and big events at some point down the road, but this return is unlikely and would be far off on the horizon. I currently have nothing on the radar. The only thing that I feel that I am missing from my running resume is a world marathon major (Chicago or New York). The thought of training, dealing with the lottery, and hassle/expense of travel is more then I want to deal with right now, but maybe someday. Alternatively, I may just sign up for one final Twin Cities Marathon if I feel compelled to run one more big race.

Another option would be going to Boston as a charity runner. The cost of this would be huge (I doubt I would be a successful fundraiser, so I would write a check to a charity I believe in). This would be an amazing way to finish the journey, but such an endeavor would be far in the future, and only if the passion was there to warrant the time, stress and expense.

For now, the running “career” is over. It was a fun streak which included the following accomplishments (by the end of the year):

-16 marathons in 11 states
-over 25 half-marathons
-over 100 events
-10 century rides
-18 triathlons
-5 Half-Ironmans
-one 50k ultra
-2 marathons in 2 states in 2 days
-membership in Marathon Maniacs, Half Fanatics, Dual Agents, and 50 Marathon States Clubs
-Ironman Wisconsin
-good health, improved self confidence, and a bucket full of memories.

Looking forward, I will continue with wellness and fitness, and I will show up to a couple of events a year for the simple joy of participating. I will blog race reports for the rest of the season, but I doubt that I will have much to say beyond that. I am following many athletes here and will continue to chear for all of you from the sidelines.

To everyone who has followed my journey and who has offered support, I thank you all. You have lifted me up when I was down, shared in my successes, and have given me more then you know…

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Race Report: Fargo Marathon Weekend

May 20-21, 2016
Fargo, ND
Marathon #16 (State #11)
Events #98-99

I had no business running a marathon last weekend.

None.

The reasons I did so are listed in my previous post, but I was massively under-trained.

After my back-to-back full marathons in October, I took a prolonged off-season (where I did next to nothing), followed by a bronchitis that took over 7 weeks to clear up (where I did absolutely nothing), followed by looking for excuses to do even more “not much of anything”. Occasionally, I would hop on the bike trainer for 30-45 minutes, but I almost never touched the treadmill.

In the 7 months since the Des Moines Marathon, I ran both Disney/Star Wars half-marathons (which are more “events” than races as I jog from photo stop to photo stop), along with the 10k and 5k run/walks that were part of those two weekends. Aside from that, I did a winter 10 miler and a winter 5k (both part of the TC In Motion Summit Challenge running series. Both were painful). Aside from that, I might have done a 5k training run every couple of weeks or so. Basically, I wasn’t trained for the half marathons or the 10 miler…and it showed.

I “upgraded” my Fargo Half Marathon to the Full Marathon mostly out of nostalgia (“Stupid is what Stupid does”). When I did Des Moines, I was considering that it could be my final marathon. Over the winter, I came to the conclusion that my marathon days were behind me. That said, I felt a little sad about that. A sentimental part of me wanted to do it one last time, knowing that this would be the final time. I upgraded with less than a month to go. I immediately regretted it as I was in no shape to run a marathon. I started “training” with about three weeks to marathon day. It wasn’t pretty. I basically tried a few times to do a “long run”. The best I did was 9 miles with a handful of 10k and 5k thrown in. Finally, with 2 weeks before race day, I completed a very slow 18 miler. It would have to do. I did a few more 5k and a 10k slow runs leading to race weekend.

I live about 3 hours away from Fargo, and this race had always been on my bucket list of races to run. The course is very flat, and Fargo has a cute little college town charm. The course winds through neighborhoods, downtown streets, 3 college campuses, some bike paths along the Red River and crosses the river into Moorhead Minnesota. The expo was held on the floor of the FargoDome which would also be the start and finish lines for almost all of the races (indoor start and finish for the marathon, half marathon, and 10k).

I drove up on Friday morning and headed to the expo. It was your typical mid-sized expo. It had the normal array of vendors, groups promoting their own events, samples, and the official event merchandise store. I only picked up a cotton Fargo Marathon T-shirt for $10 (I have a ton of technical fabric finishers gear, but it’s nice to have a few basic Cotton shirts for day-to-day wear) and an event poster for $10 (I usually don’t get these, but I had plans for it).

I checked in for the marathon (bib, timing chip, 1/4 zip long sleeve tech shirt, Under Armour Event Bag). The 5k registration desk was nowhere to be found. When I asked about it, the vague response I received was “somewhere upstairs”. I go upstairs and wander around (there are no signs giving directions) and eventually found it on one of the concourses in front of one of the arenas entrance. Got my bib, chip and shirt, but no bag (one per registration…and since I was doing the challenge, I only registered once). I asked a volunteer where the starting line for the 5k was being staged…and I got a blank stare. She asked the others, and nobody at packet pick up knew where the race was starting (answer: just outside the doors they were standing in front of all day…in the arena parking lot).

These are examples of my biggest complaint about this event…multiple organizational blunders. This race is 12 years old, and has 15,000 participants, but volunteers have no idea where packet pick up is held, or where races start, and there was no signage to help. There was also no course map ever printed for the 5k (Edit: there was one buried on the website, but not in the guide or printed up like all the other races were). The whole thing seemed amateurish and disorganized. This was a recurring theme all weekend.

I then went in search of the charity I was running for. A post popped up on the Fargo Marathon FB page indicating that runners running for a charity would get a bonus medal. I looked at the charities and I signed up to run for a local animal rescue (and I made a donation). I received an email prior to the race stating that I could pick up a running bib before the race to help promote the charity during the race. I inquired about it at the race information booth…and I got the Fargo Blank Stare (I was getting used to this look). The volunteers at the event information booth directed me to ask about it at the volunteer check in booth (seriously?). I eventually just stumbled onto a small booth next to the “bib number lookup” table with a sign that stated “charity runners”. The booth was unmanned and empty. More disorganization…

Mark Allen (6 time Ironman World Champion) was a keynote speaker at 4pm. I asked where it was located at the “info booth”. Fargo Blank Stare. They didn’t even know there was a talk. They pulled out the race booklet and found out that it was on the second floor. I head up there and find…nothing. There were four conference rooms with no signs indicating where, when or who would be speaking (more disorganization). Eventually, others wandered upstairs and we just started entering random rooms until we found one that looked like it was setup for the talk.

At 4pm, Mark showed up and gave a great 1 hour presentation. Many in attendance were Ironman finishers who were eager to hear someone who had such success in these events. After the talk, I had the chance to meet him, get a photo and got an autograph on the event poster. Great souvenir for me from this event!

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By that time, the 5k was starting to line up. I did a quick change into running gear and headed to the starting line. The organizers made an attempt to keep the runners and walkers separate…they even had separate staging areas and a separate starting line for walkers, and volunteers were clearly holding up signs for the different paces. It helped a little…but I still ended up with a lot of walkers around me.

I lined up towards the back of the 25-30 minute coral. As soon as we passed the starting line, we had 2 sharp turns which was a huge bottleneck and it slowed everyone down. We then turned onto a side street. Unfortunately, that side street was very narrow, and had parked cars on both side of the road. The remaining path was about wide enough for a car to drive through…and way too narrow for 6500 runners…and there were small area areas of construction as well. For the first mile, I walked a lot (and even stood still from time to time). By mile two, things started to loosen up and I was able to run the rest of the way.

Fargo 5k Finish Time – 30:06.

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After the race, I got my water and medal (very nice medal for a 5k!) I went back to the expo and there was still nobody at the volunteer runner booth. There was a box with the “charity runner” medals in it. It looked like somebody had broken into the box and there were multiple medal 50 count packs in the box…one of which was torn open. I ended up just taking a medal and leaving. I figured that they would be on the arena floor at the start of the race or at the finish line. They weren’t. If I did not help myself to the medal, I never would have received it. Another sign of the disorganization that permeated this event…

I then left the FargoDome and headed to Noodles & Company for some carbs (huge lineup at the restaurant). After I headed to the hotel and realized that there was construction (bulldozers and jackhammers) right outside my room window. Despite my complaints to the hotel (Fargo Inn and Suites), the construction continued well past 10:30 pm. I got about 3 hours sleep.

I was up early on marathon morning. Coffee, small breakfast and headed to the FargoDome. As always, I was about the first one there. I got a prime parking spot just in front of the arena’s front door. Once the doors opened, I headed inside and watched as the runners filtered in and the anticipation start to build. There was an indoor bag drop, indoor bathrooms, and real seats, so the indoor venue was a massive perk.

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In time, marathon runners were permitted onto the floor to line up for the start the of the race. Once we had lined up, the half marathoners and the 10k runners filtered down. I decided to join one of the slowest pace groups…5:30 finish time. I met a fellow Marathon Maniac (65 years old, and finishing off his 50 marathon/50 states quest). He also planned to run slowly (and doing intervals…run 2 minutes, walk 30 seconds). We started running together and it was a nice distraction as I was hoping to be able to talk with someone to help the time pass. The race started and we headed out (a little faster than a 5:30 pace). The weather at the start was ideal (high 50’s, sunny, light breeze), but I knew it would heat up.

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The first few miles let the runners thin out. The starting leg was through residential neighborhoods, and was a different route than the half marathoners and 10k runners, lightening the course congestion for everyone. After awhile, we ended up on a bike path along the Red River then crossed a bridge into Minnesota. The course then headed towards University of Minnesota-Moorhead campus. We did a loop through campus followed by more bike trails. By this point, I was getting hot, tired and I was fading fast. I had started fading by mile 10 and hit the wall by mile 15. I had expected this, but it was discouraging to feel this bad this soon. Also, by this point, the sun was climbing in the sky and the mercury was climbing fast. It was well into the low seventies by this point.

A few comments about the course. The organizers did a pretty good job of showing off their community and there was a nice variety of scenery. Course support was average (aid stations every 2 miles until mile 20, then every mile), with two GU stations. Crowd support was pretty good with lots of candy, water, signs, and beer. Photographers were sparse, but the entertainment wasn’t…58 bands on the marathon course.

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Miles 15-20 was a painful slog. My new best friend kept me moving forward (I told him to run his own race, but he indicated that he didn’t care about his finish time and kept me going). At mile 18, we changed the intervals to 2 minute run, one minute walk. At mile 20, I waved him off as I was really slowing him down, and I really was starting to feel that I couldn’t continue with the structured intervals.

It was very hot my then (80F) and my lack of sleep was hitting me hard. I started breaking up the remaining distances into the smallest possible sections…the next block, the next tree, the end of the current song, etc. I glanced a few times at my watch and thought that I might be able to avoid a personal worst. I was guzzling the power aid and pouring water over my head at every aid station. I had stopped sweating…which is an ominous sign. The miles ticked down more and more slowly.

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I had wondered what I would be feeling at this point of the race. I signed up for it out of nostalgia. I wondered it I would be questioning my decision to sign up for this race, or my questioning my decision to stop running marathons after this event. Would it be sad or bittersweet?

Nope. It wasn’t. I couldn’t wait for this to be over.

It reaffirmed my decision that this was my last full marathon. It was with overwhelming relief that I saw the FargoDome coming up. There was a short run through the parking lot, down the ramp into the dome and the finish line.

Marathon Finish Time – 5:29:27 (personal worst).

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I got my medals (these things are huge and beautiful), water, and finishers photos. Post race food was pretty basic (pizza, banana, chocolate milk). I used the free access to shower facilities at the stadium (free for all runners…thank you Fargo Marathon for this perk!) and headed out.

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Post race, there was a pub crawl in downtown Fargo. No purchase was needed….just get a passport, go to every bar, get it stamped, and get a bonus medal (just like the finishers medal, but a bottle opener). As expected, nobody seemed to know anything about this. The event guide listed a website for details but the website didn’t exist. I went downtown, found a participating bar, talked to the bartender and figured it out. I had to walk around downtown for about an hour (after running a marathon), but I wasn’t going to leave any bling behind! Once finished, I started to head back home.

Overall, Fargo is a mixed bag. The things they focus on (nice route, amazing medals, race entertainment, indoor staging area), they had surpassed expectations. But, they kept overlooking basic things that any event should be doing. Lack of signage and not giving volunteers some basic information about the race and packet pick up led to a lot of needless pre-race stress. Their ability to reply to e-mails or FB questions was inconsistent (over half went unanswered). The course support and post race food was barely average. With these multiple gaffs, I would have to rank Fargo as delivering an average to slightly below average running experience, with the caveat that there are some exceptional features for an event of this size.

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The Reasons Why Nobody Should Ever Register For Another Team Ortho Event…

Spring 2012.

I had just lost 55 lbs and had reached my ideal body weight. I was looking for a way to help maintain this accomplishment. I had found running.

I then did something that I never would have imagined. I signed up for a race.

It was St Patrick’s Day, and it was a beautiful spring day. Sunny. High 70’s. A little warm, but I didn’t mind. I was going to try running my first ever 5k (well, 7k actually).

…and I was terrified. I thought I would be laughed at. I thought that I wouldn’t belong.

I was wrong.

I did better then I could have imagined. I got a cool stained glass (errr…plastic) finishers medal, and a finishers hoodie. I hung up the medal on a medal display in my exercise room and it looked so lonely. I had to get a few others.

I was hooked.

The event was the Team Ortho – Get Lucky. My first race.

A few months later, I ran my first marathon with Team Ortho, then my first Duathlon. I think I have completed about 20 events with Team Ortho…

…and every year, I became more disgusted with their organization and their way of doing business. I finally gave up on them after waiting for close to an hour in a cold rain to get my Monster Series medal after the final race of the season (previously, we just got it at the finish line with our race medal). It didn’t surprise me.

Over the years, I have had a duathlon cancelled at the last minute due to construction that had been taking place on the course all summer, I have had a marathon canceled at the starting line due to severe weather (it barely sprinkled), I have had to e-mail them what I believed to be my race finish time to them since the timing mats didn’t work (they used that as the official time…lots of PR’s recorded that day), I had heard pre-race instructions to runners on the starting line (for an out-and-back race on a cold winter day) to “turn around anytime…we won’t check…and there is no timing mat at the turn-around”.

I have received 3 bibs for the same race with three chips…and no idea if any of them worked. I have stood around 100 yards from the finish line since they had oversold the event and nobody could move.

They stopped supplying Powerade on the longer courses since they would have had to pay for it (despite the $100+ registration fees). They suspended a duathlon at T2 because of the heat, and awarded everyone a DNF and a finishers medal.

Charities have reported not getting a dime from Team Ortho despite it being a non-profit (but executives routinely fly oversees at Team Ortho’s expense). Three senior executives resigned simultaneously last year in protest. Team Ortho has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Last year, Team Ortho waited too long to get permits for Women Rocks in Chicago, and could not get the roads closed as long as needed…so they advised runners that they would enforce much more vigorous cutoff times.

The latest controversy. Team Ortho applied to run the Minneapolis Marathon last year. In August 2015, they were told that one of the roads they proposed to use had been under construction for the last two years, and they bridge they wanted to use would be demolished before race day. They were asked to submit a revised course. They didn’t. They made inquiries about changes a couple of weeks before the event. It was far too late and the request was declined. They are now scrambling to find another venue, and the race will likely be canceled, but they are still accepting registrations. They claim on their website that this was “a situation beyond their control”…

Please do not confuse this group with Twin Cities In Motion, which is an absolutely exceptional organization which hosts the Twin Cities Marathon (easily one of the 10 best marathons in the nation).

Team Ortho, on the other hand, is a parasite on the running community and preys on out of town runners and novice runners who may confuse this with the Twin Cities Marathon.

If you are looking for a great race in the Twin Cities, there are a ton of them. It just isn’t any of these…

As this is being published, Team Ortho has no race course or permit with under 2 weeks until race day…yet registration remains open. Sigh…

http://www.runnersworld.com/watchdog/minneapolis-marathon-organizer-scrambles-to-set-new-course

http://www.runnersworld.com/watchdog/nonprofit-race-organizer-draws-complaints-for-small-donations-to-charity-disorganization

http://www.bbb.org/minnesota/business-reviews/non-profit-organizations-general-membership/team-ortho-foundation-in-minneapolis-mn-96556851

http://www.runnersworld.com/watchdog/nonprofit-race-organizer-draws-complaints-for-small-donations-to-charity-disorganization

 

 

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