Tag Archives: 5k

Views From The Finish Line…A Final Look Back.

There is never a true “beginning” to any story, nor is there ever a true “ending”. There is always a “before” and there will always be an “after” to absolutely everything.

There are, however, convenient starting and ending points for a narrative. A story arc always just feels more complete when there is a clear beginning to that tale, and a clear and concise point where that arc comes to its conclusion.

After a five year journey, which started with a vague decision to “lose a few pounds” and to “run a 5k”, I believe that this narrative has come to an end at the finish line of this week’s Twin Cities 10 Mile.

This does not mean that I will stop running, but this blog was intended to document my journey “from couch to Ironman”. That journey ended 2 years ago. It changed as I tried to find a new calling, a new passion. I dabbled in Ultramarathon and tried the 50 states marathon club. I even tried cross-country skiing. None of these endeavors excited me and those pursuits were abandoned. Finally, I decided that I just needed balence and to make running a PART of my life and a PART of my identity…not it’s sole defining feature. I decided upon this months ago…after signing up for most of this year’s events…and I made it to the end of that schedule. In the process, I tied up some loose ends and found peace in this new harmony.

Ultimately, this passion is something that will be more organic, more subdued, more balenced. It is changing my approach to running.

Events will be for fun and to motivate me to stay healthy. I have not been competative in awhile (except for the surprising results in Waconia) and I have mostly let go of that pressure. As such, the nature of these events will change as well. They will no longer be selected to push my body, and my boundaries, to the brink. They will not be extreme. They will also not be the basis of my yearly life schedule. Traveling for events will occur very rarely (if at all). I won’t bother with race swag or photos (unless included with registration fees) as the swag never gets used and all the race photos look the same after awhile.

My blog will also go dormant. This document was mostly for my own benefit. It was to keep me accountable and to track my journey. It has been successful in that regard…and I am stunned that so many others have followed this journey. But my future in the sport will be more mundane and I am finding that I have less and less to say. It is time to bring this to a close as well.

Despite these promised changes, I am not saying “never again”. I may compete in another marathon at some point. The one thing that I feel that I am missing is a World Marathon Major. There are three of these in the United States…Boston, New York, and Chicago. Chicago would be the easiest race logistically…and is the least inspiring for me. New York sounds amazing and is the biggest marathon in the world. Both races are lottery registrations. Boston is a bucket list race for almost any runner. I will NEVER qualify for this race, but I could do a charity registration. I would just need to find a charity that I believe in that would accept me. Maybe this will be a 50th birthday present to myself. Time will tell…

As for triathlons, I will do one or two local sprints every year just to keep me cycling and swimming. I will never do another full distance Ironman, but a 70.3 may be in my future. It is not a priority, but I’m not ruling it out either. It just feels increasingly unlikely. Despite two new Ironman 70.3’s being launched mithin driving distance, I have no current interest in signing up for either event. Time will tell…

USAT Age Group Nationals was an unexpected wild card. I qualified by winning my Age Group at the HITS Sprint Triathlon in Waconia. This opportunity will be too good to pass up and I know that I would regret passing on this race. I have been invited for the Olympic Distance Age Group National Championship in Omaha next year and I will also compete in the Sprint Age Group National Championship (no qualification needed) the next day. This will be the big travel event of 2017. The rest of the year’s schedule looks quite minimalist by my standards:

-Hot Chocolate 15k (Minneapolis) – April
-Lifetime Tri Minneapolis (Sprint Distance) – July
-USAT Nationals (Olympic and Sprint) – August
-Twin Cities Loony Challenge (10k, 5k, 10 mile) – October.

If I ever do a big race again (Boston, Ironman 70.3, or any full marathon), I will likely post a race report here. I can almost guarantee a few blog posts for Nationals. But my days of regular blogging has come to an end. To my readers, thank you for following me and for the encouragement and inspiration along the way. You have made this journey easier, and more enjoyable as well.

Before I sign off for the last time, I wanted to take a final look back at my five year journey…the medals, the 50 States Marathon map, and the views from the finish lines…

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Race Report: Twin Cities Loony Challenge

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October 8-9, 2016
Minneapolis/St. Paul MN
Events 104-107

For some odd reason, I consider the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend to the the official ending to the fall running season. I have no idea why I think that. I have scheduled an additional 1 or 2 marathons every single year after TCM (Disney, Detroit, Route 66 and Houston, Kansas City and Des Moines). I also tend to load up on throwaway races (Monster Dash, Turkey Trot, Santa Shuffle, Polar Dash, V-Day 5k, Get Luck 7k, etc) to stretch out the season. The end result is a brief slowdown during the dead of winter, but no real “off-season” break…until now. This was the season finale.

It’s a great way to finish the season. The Twin Cities Marathon is the biggest running event of the year in the Twin Cities, and one of the premiere marathons in the country. There is a whole weekend of activities including a phenomenal expo, multiple shorter events on Saturday, with the marathon and 10 miler capping off the weekend on Sunday.

This year, keeping with my desire to slow down a little, I opted not to run the marathon again (I am a three times finisher). Instead, I would compete in the 10 miler on Sunday, and run the 10k/5k/1 mile combo on Saturday before hitting the expo.

As has become tradition, the weather cooled off just in time for the event. Just two days before my first race, I was still training in shorts and a t-shirt. The cold front rolled in the day before the event with starting line temps expected to be in the high 30’s. This left me scrambling to figure out what to wear as I have not had to use layering in months.

One disappointment about this year’s events is…football. The starting line for the marathon and 10 miler was by the Minnesota Vikings home stadium (Metrodome) and runners were always provided pre-race access to stay warm and use the restrooms. This wasn’t permitted the last couple of years as the Metrodome was being demolished and U.S. Bank Stadium was under construction. We anticipated having access to that facility once construction was complete. However, the Vikings had a noon home game scheduled for marathon Sunday and access for runners was not allowed. Moreover, all of the parking lots near the Stadium/starting line would be charging “event rates” which would run as high as $80! Fortunately, there were other options, including parking by the finish line and taking a free shuttle to the start. Fortunately, a friend was also running the race and her husband offered to drop us off at the start and meet us at the finish. Thanks guys!

 

Saturday Events:

Thirty Four degrees. That was the morning temp…34F. Of course I have raced in much colder weather, but the coolest that I have run in the last 5 months or so was mid-fifties.

So, I over-dressed for the event.

I got down to the race site in plenty of time and parked next to the expo. It was a 1 mile hike to the start/finish line on the Minnesota Capitols front steps. I reached packet pick up and got three bibs and three shirts (10k, 5k, and 1 mile). The longer races were Brooks short sleeved tech shirts, and the 1 mile was a cotton/poly blend. All were good quality and great colors. I then ran around in circles looking for the corporate team tent (they moved it but didn’t update the map). That left me a little tight for time. I got there, got my race gear all set up, dropped my bag, and set off just in time to reach the start. The Saturday events all start/finish at the marathon finish line, and they follow the marathon route as a simple out and back. They start with the 10k using the last 3.1 miles of the marathon course. Then the events gets progressively shorter and shorter…blocking less and less roadway.

I don’t have too much to say about any of these events. It was chilly, it was crowded, and I was slow. After each event, i got some water and a small snack, returned to the corporate tent, swapped bibs, took off layers as the day got warmer, and headed back foe another round.

Finish Times:
10k – 1:03:07
5k – 32:28
1 mile – untimed

10k Finish (more layers)
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5k Finish (fewer layers)
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Once the running was over, I dropped off my gear and headed too the expo. It was the same as ever…great expo and easy to kill an hour or two. For once, I didn’t spend a dime. I got my 10 mile bib and long sleeve Brooks tech shirt (boring gray) and left to go run a few additional errands.

 

Sunday Events:

32F. Another brisk morning. Fortunately, a friend offered me a ride to the event. It saved me a lot of hassle. Got to downtown Minneapolis and the starting line at US Bank Stadium. It was still dark and about 10,000 participants were congregating for the 10 mile start (and another 10,000 runners for the marathon start 1 hour later). The sun started to rise and it was going to be a beautiful clear day. I headed to the coral and the race started. The course quickly got us out of the downtown core and along the Mississippi River. A few miles later, we crossed the river into St. Paul and the the slow 3 mile uphill grind started. Most of the 10 mile course is the same as the last several miles of the marathon…and the 3 mile uphill is pretty easy to manage at mile 4 and pretty brutal at mile 20. Fortunately, the leaves were changing and the fall colors were near peak.

My legs were a little jelly-like after my three race on Saturday, but I was able to run at a steady pace for the whole race (walked the aid stations). The temps started to climb by the end of the race and it turned into a perfect day for a run. Before I knew it, I had reached the St. Paul Cathedral and headed to the finish at the capital building.

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Finish Time – 1:45:53

I got my two medals at the finish (10 mile and multi race Summit Challenge). There was some decent food and a nice post race party. Certainly a good way to finish the season.

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Race Report: HITS Sprint Triathlon-Waconia

August 21, 2016
Wacconia,  MN
Triathlon #17
Event #102

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When it comes to races, participants usually have a script visualized in their minds eye. Sometimes it’s a dream. Sometimes it’s a fear. Mostly, it is a vision of what has gone before, and a realistic a hope for something a little bit better.

Some races transend expectation. This may be good or bad. Occasionally, they are both. A race that baffles the racer at the end of the day in every possible way.

This was one of those races. Nothing followed the script. Nothing was even close. It made for my worst and best race in recent memory.

My training volumes and intensity have been down from last year. I showed up to participate, not compete. But, I had thoughts that I could get my first ever podium finish. This is not because I thought I could smoke the competition. Instead, I remembered that this was a very small triathlon. Most participants got a podium award. Unfortunately, I was in the largest and most competative Age Group last year. Despite a decent showing, I ended up 5th out of 6 participants. If my age group happened to be a little smaller this time, I could get lucky and score a third place finish…maybe.

I found out last week that HITS would not be returning the Minnesota next year. Judging from last year’s event, this was not be a shock. About 50 participants in the full, 100 or so in the half, and small showings in the Sprint and Olympic distances. The medals and shirts were the same for everyone. The course was dull, even for a sprint, with only a small number of volunteers. Despite rock bottom pricing ($200 early bird pricing for the full), HITS just never caught on. Turnout is much better at local events (participants, volunteers, spectators). So, it was no surprise that this event was absent from next year’s calendar. I am starting to wonder is there even will be a 2018 HITS calendar. HITS has dropped events in Texas, Arizona, Colorado and now Minnesota. This leaves only events in New York, Florida and California. I wasn’t planning on running this event in 2017, but the loss of competition in the market is never a good thing. I truly hope that they can make a comeback.

The forcast called for a cold front to come through town the day before the event. Predicted morning temps was to hover around 50F. Fortunately, there wasn’t enough time for the lake temps to drop. The swim would be wetsuit legal, but comfortable. The run would be nice. I expected to freeze on the bike course, and I started going through my cool weather cycling wardrobe. The day before my race, HITS held their longer events (140.6 and 70.3). Those guys got clobbered with cold, rain, wind, and whitecaps. I definately got the better day of the weekend to compete.

Unfortunately, I did everything wrong leading up to this event. My training was sidetracked. I did not swim or bike for a month before this race. My running volume was down as well. I spent the day before the race watching Gwen Jorgensen win a Gold Medal in Rio (while Sarah True received a heartbreaking DNF). That night, Canada’s rock band – The Tragically Hip – streamed their final show online. The lead singer was diagnosed with brain cancer and had just had a craniotomy, chemo and radiation, and decided that he wanted to tour one last time. I had to watch the show. It was electrifying. But it also wasn’t over until 11:00 pm. Since I had a 90 minute drive to the race site the next morning, and the early transition time, I had to get up by 2:30 am. That gave me about 3 hours of sleep….

 

PRE-RACE:

The weather turned out better and worse then expected. It ended up being warmer (high 50’s) but felt colder due to strong winds. As I arrived at the venue, I could hear (but not see) the waves crashing against the shore. This immediately started to mess with my confidence. This is odd since I have swam in far worse conditions without issue. But the cool morning air, strong winds and the sound of the waves messed with by head. I suddenly had a bad feeling about this race.

It is a small event. Parking was close to the park and I got there just as packet pick up was starting. Generic shirt again (and wrong size), chip, bib, stickers and back to the car I went. After getting most of my gear together, I hiked back to transition and got my area organized. HITS does provide a nice transition area with benches for each participant. After setting up, I decided that it would be easier to get my wetsuit on in the back of my SUV instead on the wet grass…so another hike back to the car. I was walking back to transition for the last time when I took note that I was walking barefoot…I had left my running shoes in the car. My head was clearly not in the game that morning.

After everything was in place, I headed to the beach and saw the water for the first time. The waves weren’t as bad as they sounded, but there were a lot of them, and there was a very strong current coming towards the shore.

I was the first to hop in the water for a warmup. The water was very comfortable…but the anxiety skyrocketed as soon as I started taking a few test strokes. The current and frequent waves made it impossible for me to get into a rhythm and I started panicking. The more I swam, the worse it became. I started to doubt my ability to do this event.

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We were called back to shore for a quick pre-race briefing. It would be a mass start from the beach. I didn’t really pay attention to the rest as I was trying to get my heart rate and breathing under control. I couldn’t. Moments later the horn sounded. I let the small mass start (50 or so racers) go ahead and then, with an intense feeling of foreboding, I followed them into the water…

 

THE SWIM:

Let’s just sum it up. The swim was a complete disaster. It was my worst swim since Ironman 70.3 Racine (with the freezing lake temps, six foot swells, the current and the undertow). At least there, I had a reason to panic.

I may have been 100 feet from shore when I felt certain that I was going to drown out here. I actually turned around and started heading back to the beach. I then saw a paddle board that was closer and headed towards her instead (mostly because it was closer). I tried to calm down (didn’t really work) and the paddle boarder agreed to stay near me (since I was already about in last place and marked by the lifeguards as the most likely to need rescuing).

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The course was a triangle. The first leg, I would be fighting the current the whole way. The second leg, I would have waves coming onto my right side (the side I breath from), and the third leg, the current would help me back to shore.

I swam another hundred feet and had to latch on to the board again. I was doing head up breast stroke half the time. I doubt I took more then 5-6 freestyle strokes in a row. This pattern continued until I reached the turn buoy. I grabbed on to it for a break. I looked around me and there were a couple of struggling swimmers nearby, but almost everyone was long gone. I was dreading the second leg. Waves would be hitting me in the face as I tried to breath. I figured that the first one would send me into a complete panic. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I was able to keep my face above water, but I never found a rhythm. I was still doing a fair amount of breast stroke. I was still taking breathers on paddle boards and buoys.

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By the time I reach the final turn buoy, I started to wonder if I would miss the swim cutoff. We had thirty minutes to complete the swim. It felt that I was in the water longer then that. I checked my Garmin and realized that I never started to timer. I forgot that I could have just looked at time of day since we started racing as a mass start at 7:00 am. I was having that kind of morning.

I started the final leg, and the current finally started to help me. I started to get into a rhythm, but I still fighting a very high anxiety level, and a certainty that I would get my first DNF. After what seemed like an eternity, my feet touched the sand and I crawled back onto the beach.

Swim Split – 26:57

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T1:

I expected to be handing over my timing chip. Instead, I was directed to the wetsuit stripper. A quick strip later and I was in transition. I looked around and I few stragglers we’re heading out on the bike and I was the last one there. I knew I passed at least one swimmer at the end of the last leg, so I was not dead last, but I was very close. I had to start catching up. I had to vindicate myself a little bit on the bike. I tried to get through transition as fast as I could, grabbed my bike, and headed out of T1.

T1 Split – 2:38

 

THE BIKE:

I looked at my Garmin. It still wasn’t on. But time of day was 7:30 am. So my swim + T1 time was 30 minutes. I knew that I had made the swim cutoff and wasn’t going to get an automatic DNF. But it had been close. I felt angry and embarrassed. I knew I wasn’t quite dead last, but I was close. I least nobody would likely be passing me on the bike. Hopefully, I could start reeling people in.

It was time to redeem myself.

I attacked from behind. In the first mile, I spotted the couple that had left transition just as I arrived…

“On your left!”

A mile later, I come to another rider…

“On your left!”

Then my first group of riders…

“On your left!”

You get the idea.

By the time I had reached the turnaround (it was a simple out and back course), I had lost count.

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On the way back, I counted how many were behind me. Twenty two. Not bad…

The ride back was lonely. I passed one more cyclist. Didn’t see anyone else. The stronger cyclist were way ahead of me, and I was all by myself in the middle of the pack.

It was a cold ride. Being fresh out of the lake didn’t help and the windy conditions made it worse. But the hard cycling and the sun did make for a pretty comfortable ride back.

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A few more miles at a steady pace and I was back in T2.

Bike Split – 44:10

 

T2:

I just tried to not waste any time. Certainly room for improvement.

T2 Split – 1:13

 

THE RUN:

I had found some redemption on the bike, and wanted to keep that going on the run. I still knew that a podium finish was a possibility and didn’t want to just miss it because I got lazy in the final few miles.

The first part of the course is a dirt trail. Unfortunately, torrential rains had struck the night before, and the trail was a mud run in locations. I maneuvered through as best I could and got to the road that we were racing on.

If it was cold for the bike, it was ideal for the run. I didn’t think that I would be reeling anyone in, but I wanted to be passed as little as possible. The course was again a simple out and back. On the was out, someone just flew past me. Fortunately, it was a female and not in my AG. I remembered at this point that the body markers had not placed the competitors age on the calf…I would not know if someone was in my AG or not. This would become a big deal later on.

I reached the turnaround and got some water. Several seconds later, I passed someone going out towards the turnaround. He looked my age. I glanced at his calf. His age wasn’t recorded. I had no way of knowing if he was in my age group or not. But a voice in my head told me to make damn certain that he didn’t pass me. I look further back. He still had a little bit of concrete between him and the turnaround. I had a comfortable lead with 1.5 miles to go.

I passed a small number of walkers on the way back in. None of them looked like AG competition. I glanced back occasionally. He was gaining on me, but I didn’t think that he could make up the rest of the distance in time. He was running out of run course.

Soon, I was back at the muddy path. I tried to stay in the grassy areas so I didn’t slip too much. A fall here and I would be overtaken. But, I safely maneuvered the path.

I got back to the park. I just had to get to the picnic pavilion and it would be over. Head down, final sprint, and I crossed the finish line.

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Run Split – 28:27

Finish Time – 1:43:25

 

POST RACE:

It certainly wasn’t the race I wanted. The swim was a disaster. The bike went well, but I was had significantly less training then last season and my bike split was slower then 2015. My run was a little faster this time, and my transitions were improved. But I was seven minutes slower overall. A podium was still a possibility, but it just depended on what the rest of my age group accomplished this day.

I got my medal and a bit of food. The first page of race results was printed and taped to a table. I looked at it. Nobody in my age group on the list. Maybe I had a chance after all. An announcement stated that the award ceremony would take place in about 30 minutes. So, a went to transition, grabbed my gear and headed to the car. After a quick clothing change and loading everything into the vehicle, I headed back to the park to see if I got lucky. I did not feel optimistic.

Upon my return, they were just setting up. I returned to the results board and a second page was posted. I scan down the age group column and started to curse. Two back-to-back M45-49 had made the list. I didn’t see anyone else in my AG. I was still in the running for third. There was still a glimmer of hope.

One last scan of the sheet and I saw it. My jaw dropped because I saw my name…

It was listed next to the first M45-49 result.

I had just won my age group. First place.

I scanned the sheets again. Nobody ahead of my in M45-49. There was one right behind me however. I was right to listen to that voice in my head. The guy chasing me on the run course was in my age group….and he was fast. His run split was 21:53. He had made up 6:30 on me in the run. If he had been 16 seconds faster, he would have won my age group. But he didn’t. I held him off. I was on a podium for the first time…and I was alone at the top.

 

AWARD CEREMONY:

I looked at the results again and took a pic. I texted my wife…and a few friends. I could not believe what I was seeing. The award ceremony was starting and I headed over.

The awards just kind of whizzed by. I was in a fog for most of it. The announcer got to M45-49 and I held my breath. He announced my name. First place!

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I was just dazed after winning the award. Someone I was talking with earlier in the day had come over to congratulate me. He then asked “So, are you going to go to the Nationals?”

USA Triathlon National Age Group Championship. The 2016 event had just occurred a week earlier in Omaha. Some of my most talented triathlon buddies had qualified and attended. I remember reading their race reports and thinking how cool it would be to attend…but that I had no chance in the world of qualifying for it.

“You do know that you just qualified for Nationals right?”

No. No, I didn’t know that.

I got a dry mouth thinking about it. This is thiathlon equivalent to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

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USAT is the national triathlon organization. They sanction almost every race in the country. They select and train the Olympic athletes, set up collegiate programs, and have a series of regional and national championships. Most events are open and no qualification is needed…except for the Olympic Distance National Age Group Championship (the sprint event held on the same weekend is open to everyone).

I started to do some research. Triathletes qualify by completing a USAT sanctioned triathlon of ANY distance (super sprint to Ironaman) and finishing 1st in their Age Group OR in the top 10% of their age group. This race was USAT sanctioned, I was first in my AG, and a sprint was acceptable distance. There was a little bit of fine print, but none of it seemed to affect me. I reached out to friends who had just finished the race a week earlier, and they confirmed what I suspected. I had just qualified for Nationals.

They warned me not to hold my breath. Next year’s championship schedule would not be announced until the end of the year, and I likely would not get an invitation until January, but I had made it. They also confirmed that the event will be in Omaha for one more year. The venue would be perfect for me. Omaha is a 6 hour drive from home (I could not imagine shipping all my gear and flying to the race), and it was a calm inland lake for the swim (I just could not bring myself to doing an ocean or Great Lakes swim again). It would be a year until the event, so I would have time train for the longer distance in the spring…and get out to do some open water training since I clearly need it. Finally, the schedule shows that the Olympic Distance is held on Saturday, and that I could also do the sprint on Sunday. Sounds like an amazing opportunity!

So, yeah, I had a script in my mind for this event. I would be middle of the pack. It would be my best chance of the year to get a podium spot if luck went my way. I panicked on the swim, I almost turned around and quit. I almost missed the cutoff on the swim and almost got a DNF. Instead, I persevered, had a strong bike, a strategic run, I won my age group, and I qualified for 2017 National Championships. None of that was ever in the script. Sometimes, dreams come true. Occasionally, things you couldn’t even dare to dream of will come true as well. You never know what race day will bring…

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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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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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My Muscle Memory Marathon Training Plan…

“Respect The Distance” – Every Marathon Coach Everywhere

“Trust In Your Training” – Yoda

“As A Runner, You Will Do Some Dumb Things. But Try Not To Do Anything That Is Really Incredibly Stupid” – Me

“Whoops! I don’t know how it happened, but I accidentally signed up for another  marathon…” – Facebook Meme

Welcome to my “Incredibly Stupid” race preview…Fargo Marathon Edition.

Last season, I ran 5 marathons and one ultramarathon. I finished the year in October with 2 marathons in 2 days…and I was completely burnt out on running. My plan for this season was a much lighter racing schedule, less half-marathons and absolutely no full marathons. In fact, I ended last season wondering if I would ever run another full again.

As the off-season progressed, I came to a conclusion. My marathon running days were behind me. I had a lot of marathons left on my “to do” list and came to the conclusion that (baring a return to running several years from now and tackling a really big race like New York, Chicago, or MCM) the marathons on my dream list would stay there. Running long distances just too too much of a physical toll on my body and I wasn’t having fun anymore.

So, this season had a modest 4 half marathons on the schedule. Two were Disney races, one was part of a local series that has always been on my schedule, and the last one was Fargo.

Fargo Marathon would have been a race that I would have run sooner or later. It is a 3 hour drive down I-94, is a pancake flat course, and has a really good reputation. It offers a full and a half and I signed up for the half since I could get the experience without putting my body through the full marathon training.

Winter training went poorly. Lack of motivation and a 7 week bout with bronchitis left me on the couch for most of the winter. I struggled with completing my Disney Half Marathons.

That said, part of my brain (the emotional half) was not yet ready to let go of the full marathon distance. I think it was ok with it in theory, but wanted to have one final farewell race. My rational side told me that my longest training run since October was 10k. My three long races (a 10 miler and the two Disney halfs) were painful and I struggled to finish. My rational side told me that I had absolutely no business transferring to a full.

My emotional side waxed nostalgically about one final marathon. My rational sided countered that it could only end with a DNF and possible injury. The emotional side countered that there was a 7 hour cutoff time…I could walk most of it if need be.

Eventually, (with just three weeks to go before race day) I checked online “just to see” if a transfer was even possible. It was. And a few ill-advised clicks later, the transfer was complete.

What the hell had I just done?

I quickly scrambled for a training plan online.

Shockingly, there are no THREE WEEK marathon training plans.

Who knew?

So, about the only training plan I could come up with is what I am calling the “Muscle Memory Marathon Training Plan” (or 3M plan for short). Basically push myself out the door and see what I can do, see how fast I can ramp up, and hope the legs remember the rest.

Kids, do NOT try this at home…

So, last week, I went out 3 days in a row. One lap around the neighborhood is about 3 miles.

Day one, I managed one lap.

Crap, I may not last long enough to get to the first aid station to register my DNF. Wonderful…

Day two, I managed three laps (9 miles). So much for Muscle Memory…

Day three, I was shooting for five laps, I gutted out four.

When I started this process, I honestly had no idea at all what my legs would be able to do.

The answer, apparently, was “not much”.

Thursday, I tried again. Three laps….

I was in trouble…big time.

The marathon is now two weeks away. I need to complete some kind of long run, even if it is just to boost my confidence (and hopefully build my stamina and endurance). After this weekend, it would be too close to race day to try.

I went out the door today with the plan to go as slow and as far as I could. The weather was cooperating. By the end of the morning, I had completed 6 laps (18 miles) in four hours. Finally!

Of course, this is still far less training then I usually do heading into race day. Often, I get 3-4 training runs that are over 20 miles. Not this time, but 18 miles will likely be enough to help get me to the finish on race day.

My remaining training schedule will be a few short runs…likely just some 5k and perhaps a 10k as I taper.

Race day plan is to join one of the slower pace groups (likely 5:30) and hang with them as long as I can. I did something similar in Des Moines (the second leg of my back-to-back marathon challenge) and it worked nicely. The pace was slow enough that it allowed a lot of chatting…which distracted me from the pain and suffering. Hoping that works again.

We will find out in two weeks.

“May Fortune Favor The Foolish” – Captain Kirk

 

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Race Report: Disney/Star Wars Dark Side Challenge

April 15-17, 2016
Orlando, FL
Half Marathon #26
Events #95-97

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“2:21 am. In a shuttle with all my running essentials. Bib…check. Timing chip…check. Running belt…check. Garmin…check. Magic Band…check. Lightsaber…check. The list of running essentials is a little different at Disney…”
-FB post on Half Marathon morning

To me, Disney events are “experiences”, not races. With all sorts of photo stops and other distractions on the course, speed and finish time is a secondary consideration. As long as I am fast enough to not get swept, I’m happy,

The theme again was “Star Wars”. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a bit of a geek about all things Star Wars. That said, this will be my last trip to the House of Mouse. I have reached my saturation point with Disney…grateful for my experiences with no compelling desire for any more.
Registration:

Just registering for Disney events is a huge challenge. The events are very popular, and can sell out in minutes. I have heard many stories of people trying to register the moment the tickets went on sale…and they still could not get in. I was already registered for the Star Wars Disneyland races for 2016 when the WDW races were announced. They also announced a special coast to coast award for anyone running both in the same year. If I were to run both, I wanted that extra medal. The other motivating factor to sign up this yeas was that my speed had vanished in the past 18 months. I could still use some of my faster times from my 2014 season to guarantee me preferred coral placement. However, another Disney trip would be a significant expense that was NOT in the budget (Disney is very skilled at separating cash from their legal owners). With strong spousal support (thanks dear!) we sorted out a way to make it work…if I could get registered. Fortunately, there are a lot of Disney fans who are runners and there are a lot of Facebook groups out there of runDisney fans. I belong to several, and one group has set themselves up as an official runDisney travel group who can secure tickets in advance. I put in my requests and got everything I wanted. I then had to find hotels (at WDW, it is worthwhile to stay on property since nothing outside the parks is in walking distance, and there are free shuttles from all Disney resorts to and from the start/finish lines). After all that, I had to figure out “Magic Bands” for the first time. These bands are attached to your wrist and have a computer chip in them. They are linked to your credit card (allowing for easy purchases on site), are used as a room key, serve as your park admission tickets, and you can reserve dining and attraction FastPasses. Setting it up, downloading the app, and figuring my park itinerary months in advance took a lot of work (but, it did make life easier once I reached the parks).

July 14 – Expo

Straight off the plane, I headed to the expo.

Disney had lost my bib.

They had my info, my registration, and my bib number, but no bib. Took about 30 minutes to straighten out. Got a new bib (still in coral A), my 4 shirts (cotton shirt for 5k, tech shirt for 10k, HM, and “Dark Side” challenge). Once that had been sorted out, I headed to the expo. It was a decent size, but nothing overwhelming. There was a wait to get into the official merchandise area, and some things had already sold out (early afternoon on the first day!) Fortunately, my needs were modest. I wanted an official event cotton t-shirt, a few commemorative pins and I was set (I would have bought a hoodie too, but they didn’t make any for a race in Florida). Once that was done, I went to Downtown Disney to shop and eat before turning in for the night.
Ride Photos.

Disney decided to stop outsourcing race photos for the first time. They do a very lucrative business taking guest photos at their parks and the race photos got bundled with those plans. So, for one fee, I got photos from all the races, all my ride photos and park character meet and greets. I’ll be spacing them throughout the race report. I’ll start with a few ride pics…

Test Track:

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Space Mountain:

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Seven Dwarves Mine Ride:

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Tower of Terror:

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Expedition Everest:

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Aerosmith Rock and Roll Coaster:

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April 15 – Dark Side 5k

The race started at 6am. The shuttles started rolling at 4am. I was up at 2:30am. Sometimes they have some cool things to do while waiting for the race to start. This event did not disappoint. They had set up 8 character meet and greets/photo ops with detailed backdrops. The mini-sets included Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, Darth Maul, Darth Vader, Captain Phasma, BB-8, Raptors (those tentacle monsters from Force Awakens), and Stormtroopers. With the lighter crowds at the 5k, and getting there early, I got through every line except BB-8. I’ll share highlights of each a little later. But I did spend as much time as I could at the photo ops before racing over to the starting lines.

The 5k course is pretty simple, and always the same at WDW. We start in the EPCOT parking lot, run for a mile outside the periphery of the park (to spread us out a little) before entering World Showcase and doing a lap. We then run through Future World and exit again…finishing in the parking area. The run through the park was great! Very scenic, lots of photographers, and just a few character photos (R2-D2, Chewbacca, Rebels, Stormtroopers, and a scenic shot of Spaceship Earth. The race wasn’t timed, and the lines at the photo ops were short (well, shorter then I expected them to be during the next couple of days). So I stopped at all of them. Once the fun run was over, I headed to the Magic Kingdom (mostly to check out the Seven Dwarves Mine Ride Coaster) before heading to Hollywood Studios and checking out the Star Wars themed attractions.

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In Park Character Meet and Greets:

Hollywood Studies has two Star Wars characters for meet and greet photo ops. These are Chewbacca and Kylo Ren. Unlike the photos at the races, there are not rushed. The actor stays in character and multiple photos are taken. Here’s a few highlights.

Chewbacca:

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Kylo Ren:

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April 16 – Tie Fighter 10k.

Race started at 5:30 am. Shuttles started at 3:00 am. I was on the first shuttle again, jogged to the meet and greets…to find that some of the lines were already cut off! I did get a couple, but the lines (and the crowds) were much worse today. The starting line was not in a parking lot, but on a closed highway. There were still 6 corals, but they were much larger. This race was point to point. It started outside of EPCOT, did a very short run from one side of the park to the other (no park tour today), followed by a run through a shopping/resort district on out way to Hollywood Studios. We had a nice run through there before the boring highway stretch to ESPN Sports Complex. Same characters as the previous day (much longer lines-45 minutes for Chewbacca) so I passed on most of them. They did have an Emperors chair set (from Return of the Jedi) that you could sit in (pretty cool) and speeder bikes, and a scenic shot at Tower of Terror. But, overall, kind of disappointing. They had moved all the starting line characters to the finish, and I had time to get several more photos. After that, I headed to the other two parks. Expedition Everest alone is worth the price of admission to Animal Kingdom. EPCOT disappointed. Future World has a retro-future charm that reminded me of The Jetsons. The 3 rides I wanted to see was Soaring (closed for refurbishment), Test Track (easily the worst coaster I have even been on…and basically an ad for Chevy), and Mission Space (retro dull flight simulator). However, there was a food and garden show going on in EPCOT where there were several food trucks with very good tapas style appetizers and deserts. I basically just ate my way through World Showcase. I headed back to the hotel early. The next day would be insanely early (even by my standards) and I had to get packed. I could not get a late checkout and time might be a little tight after tomorrow’s half marathon.

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Pre/Post Race Character Photos

I discussed this above. Some photos came out pretty good. Some didn’t. Here are the highlights.

Raptor:

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Stormtroopers:

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BB-8:

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Captain Phasma:

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Darth Maul:

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Jabba The Hutt:

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Boba Fett:

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Darth Vader:

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April 17 – Dark Side Half Marathon

I was up at 1:00 am. Shuttles started at 2:30, and I was on the first. Surprisingly, the lines were better. I got through Vader again, as well as Boba Fett. After that, I did not have time for a third. The crowd was bigger (12 corals today). Fortunately, I was able to use my 1:44 Half Marathon time from two years ago to get me front corral placement all weekend long (1:51 half marathon time or better was needed). Again, I counted on that preferred start to get me to the photos before the lines got crazy. It worked at the 5k, but not at the 10k. The course would follow yesterday’s 10k route until after Hollywood Studios. Then, it would take a long detour to Animal Kingdom before routing us back to ESPN. I figured that the first two photo ops would be the same as before (R2 and Chewie). I was satisfied with the photos I had of them and made the strategic plan to skip them and only wait in line for “new” characters. Surprisingly, R2’s line was short (shorter then the 5k). I could not pass that up. Then, Chewie’s was short as well, so I stopped yet again. I had lingered in line long enough by then that the course was much more crowded. Hollywood Studies had a big stage with Kylo and some Stormtroopers (stopped again). The road to Animal Kingdon was long and dull, once there, we did a big lap around the parking lot before entering the park. There were mini sets of the Trash Compactor and Wampa cave, Stormtroopers were on patrol, and scenic stops of “Everest” and the “Tree of Life” (stop, stop, stop), before the last stretch back to ESPN. When I got there, I received FOUR finishers medals (Half Marathon, Dark Side Challenge (finishing the 10k and Half Marathon during the same weekend), Kessel Run Challenge (finishing the Star Wars Half Marathon at both DisneyLand as well as Walt Disney World in the same calendar year), and Coast to Coast Challenge (finishing any Half Marathon in both parks during the same year). I snagged a couple more photos before leaving.

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What The Heck, This Is A Race Report, So Here’s A Few Words About The Actual Running…

I was undertrained (a 5k training run once or twice a week since October) and I felt it. I was very slow and not very motivated. Despite the character stops, my finish times were awful. I was having pain in my big toe (never had that before, and it would just randomly come and go), both ankles (chronic issue, and getting worse), and my left knee was feeling modestly unstable. Hamstrings were tight by the final race. Fortunately, I had a head start and a generous amount of time to finish…so I was never at risk of being swept. The weather was great for the 5k and the half, but very muggy for the 10k. I did a lot of walk breaks beyond the photo stops and aid stations. The aid stations were plentiful, and Disney did a good job keeping up entertained. If you are a Star Wars fan, this is a great event and I would recommend it highly. My finish times are awful, but here they are…

5K – no idea-it was untimed and I forgot to stop my Garmin

10k – 1:14:30
3341/12169

Half Marathon – 3:03:46
10423/18171
Final Thoughts:

So, was the event worth it? Mostly yes…but I am a runner and a diehard Star Wars fan, who also loves Disney…so it hit all the right nerd notes for me. However, the California and Florida experience were quite similar (WDW did a great job having a lot of character experiences off the course so the lines would not be cut off and people would not get swept simply for stopping for photos…but I expect DL to incorporate that opportunity next year). I really enjoyed it, but a more casual fan should be fine with either DL or WDW event. Running all the races at a weekend does allow more opportunities for character and running photos, and I would recommend doing so to most participants. The 5k (being untimed, and much less crowded) provides a great opportunity to do the Disney experience. Then, the more serious runners can just run the timed events and ignore the distractions.

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As I stated, I had a great time, but this will be my last big trip for a long time. They are just too expensive, too much stress planning, and too much time away from home. I am driving to Fargo next month for a Half Marathon (3 hour drive and an overnight star at a Super 8). After that, I will be staying a little bit closer to home…

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Another “A” Corral!

My 2014 continues to pay dividends! With a 1:44:03 Half Marathon finish at the end of that season (how on earth did I do that), I find myself at the front of the line for the Disney/Star Wars Half Marathon/10k/5k races!

Of course, I will not be able to use my 2014 finish times for much longer. My spring 2015 races would have landed me in corral C. My current finish times would place me in corral F.

Sigh. The joys of aging…

So, one last time, I will get to enjoy starting at the front of the pack.

For the Disney/Star Wars races, this is actually a big deal. They have character photograph stops on course. The lines get really long and they do get cut off. Starting early makes it much easier to hit these stops (especially since the speedsters tend to be more concerned with their finish times then these photos), the lines are much shorter and are less likely to be closed.

Should be a great weekend!

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Race Report: Valentine’s Day 5K

February 13, 2016
Minneapolis, MN
Event #93

Although this this event has been around forever (oldest Twin Cities winter running event), I have never been tempted to run it. I run for bling, and I want chip timing. This event was always an untimed “fun run” with no medal. Last year, they added chip timing. This year they added bling. They also made it the first race of a series “Summit Challenge” that gives guaranteed entry to the Twin Cities 10 mile (one of only 2 events in the state that is a lottery). So, I signed up.

When race day arrived, I was very under motivated. The air temp was -10F. I would have to arrive early to get one of the few parking spots near the start line. So, this would be a 1 hour drive each way, and 1+ hour of waiting around for a 5k. I would have to layer up to the point that I would have a load of laundry from this 30 minute event.

The things I do for bling…

Fortunately, there was no wind. I didn’t count the layers as I put them on, but I had 6 thermal tops/jackets and 4 sets of bottoms. I ended up being nice and toasty.

I got there very early, hung out in the car and went down to get my packet. The event shirt was long sleeved, pink, and stated “Running makes me HOT”. They also had back tags to indicate relationship status-Green “Single”, Red “Taken”, and Yellow “It’s Complicated”. I saw a lot of yellow tags on the course. Did not see any mingling with the green tag folks (but, it’s hard to try to meet people when everybody had every square inch of their body bundled for the polar vortex).

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Not much to say about the event except that it was nice. It was one lap around a downtown lake. Most of the ice was off the path/road, but it was cold and crowded…I possible to try for a PR. So, I just fond a comfortable pace and plodded along.

Finish Time: 31:54

We got a heart shaped medal at the finish (the organizers of this event have never been known for their medal design, but have really stepped up their game in the last 1-2 years. This medal was not jaw-dropping, but a surprisingly nice 2.5″ effort for this organization). There was also some hot cocoa which everyone reached for as they scuttled back to the warmth of their car as fast as they could.

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Next event (and second series event): Hot Dash 10 Mile-March 19.

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