Thursday, May 19, 2011

The 2011 Path to Progress 5K Recap

I promised you a race report and here it is.  Last week I was in Chicago for a conference (Shout out to all my NARCA homies!), and naturally I did some running.  Despite being hungover tired each morning, I would get myself out of bed and hit the streets of Chicago.  I was staying downtown at the Hyatt Regency on Wacker (that's just funny to say.  Admit it!), so I was pretty central to everything on Michigan Avenue.  I ran along the harbor, down to Soldier Field and around Millenium Park a little.  I had a blast, and for most of the week, the weather was wonderful. 

Since I knew that I would be in Chicago, I went to ye olde Internet and found me a 5K, the 2011 Path to Progress run/walk/strut around Soldier Field on Saturday (Actually I thought that I was going to be in Chicago till Sunday and had signed up for the half-marathon and then discovered that I was leaving on Saturday.  D'oh!).  So after a loooonnngggg night of socializing (my lovely wife called it "boozin' &shmoozin'"), I managed to get out of bed, get dressed, hail a cab and make it down to Soldier Field.  Remember when I said that the weather was perfect for most of the week?  Well, it wasn't on Saturday.  The temperature had dropped from the 70's into the low 40's and like a dumbass, I had not brought any warm running clothes ("It's May.  It won't be cold."  Of course, it was).  So there I am trying to register an hour before the race and my teeth are chattering and my hands are shaking (from the cold, I swear) so badly that I must have looked like I was going into epileptic shock.  I was wearing 2 techincal t-shirts and a pair of shorts with my trusty running shoes, but even this was doing nothing to keep the biting winds of Chicago at bay.  So as soon as I got my race T-shirt, I threw it on and thanked God for its heat-retaining thoruoghly abrasive cotton (runners know what I'm talking about.  Tape 'em up boys!).  I briefly toyed with running without it (as I hate to be the guy wearing the shirt of the race he's in), but it was too damn cold.  Fortunately the officials had set up a sponsor tent that offered minimal protection from the wind before the race started, so I hung out there most of the time before the race started.  I did find some reprieve from the cold in the shelter of a porta-potty but I'm afraid that the odor kept me from hanging out too long in there.

When the officials called for everyone to line up, I rushed to the front of the line but not too far up front.  I assumed that there would be a lot of fast people at this race, because I'm in the big city, right?  Well I guess most of them had planned on running the half-marathon the next day, because after the gun went off, I found myself very close to the lead pack.  As the race went on, I was picking off people and digging in for what I assumed would be an ugly race.  I caught a headwind in the middle of the first mile that almost blew me off my feet, but I hunkered down and shortened my stride.  The race started outside Soldier Field and went along Lake Michigan where we made the turn after a mile and half.  Luckily at that point, I caught a tailwind that gave me a decent boost into the third mile.  I was surprised that I was still moving so quickly as my guts were reminding me that I was not very good to them earlier that morning the night before.  As we were winding our way around the aquarium and into the Field Museum Campus, I was gearing up to make my final kick (I wasn't looking at my watch to check my distance.  Rookie mistake) when I almost ran into the runner in front of me and I realized we had just finished the race.  And just like that, it was over.  It felt anti-climatic, but it was fun nonetheless. 

I wandered around the Campus for a bit trying to decide what to do next.  Eventually I decided to head back to the hotel, and when I couldn't find a cab right away, I decided to just run back.  This let me see more of Michigan Avenue, which was a lot of fun.

My splits ended up being 7:02, 7:02, 6:45 and 6:35/mi for the last .1 mi.  I got 1st place in my age group!  When I found out later  that day, I was happy but exhausted from a week of boozin' & schmoozin'.  I haven't received my prize yet for coming in 1st, but it's nice to have the recognition even if I don't get my prize.  My time was 4 seconds slower than my PR, but I'm not complaining considering that I was lucky to make it to the race in the first place.

I loved running in Chicago and my brief time up there has me leaning heavily towards making it my next marathon in the Fall of 2012.  Assuming the world doesn't come to an end on Saturday, I will probably start making my plans.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Race Re-Structuring

After my marathon, I've decided to back off the marathon (and marathon training) a bit.  I had originally planned on doing the Tuepelo Marathon in the fall and then the Disney Marathon (actually both the half and the full for anyone who's counting) in January.  However the date for the Tuepelo Marathon is extremely close to the arrival date of my new nephew or niece (much to my lovely wife's chagrin, my brother and his wife have decided to keep it a "surprise").  Throw in the fact that the CMM just beat the ever-loving crap out of me...again.  So frankly, I'm more than a little tired of training for distance.  Instead, I'm going to be working on speed and strength with just a smattering of distance (I've gotta get ready for the Goofy Challenge sometime).  This means a lot of intervals, more hill work (since I did almost no hill work last year, nearly anything will be a VAST improvement), faster tempo runs (my hamstrings are crying just looking at that sentence), even more gym/home workouts (I have to admit the skeletally skinny runners tend to freak me out.  Guys, lift a weight and eat a sandwich!), and whater ever neo-workout (i.e. torture) I read about.  That being said, I've been doing speed work for the last 2 weeks and it has been enormous fun.  My weekly mileage has been low (14 and 21), and though I feel slightly guilty about that, it has been extremely fun just cutting loose.  So for the rest of the year, I'm sticking with 5k's, 10k's and half-marathons, and then more of the same after Disney in January.  My hope is to do the Chicago Marathon in 2012.  I just got back from a work conference in Chicago, and I ran nearly  every day that I was there.  Running around downtown Chicago was a blast (even slightly hungover), because I could really explore the city that way.  Add in that it was mostly flat with plenty of pedestrian access, so now I have to do the marathon there.  I even did a 5K race around Soldier Field, but that my friends is a story for another day.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Country Music Marathon Race Report

Official subtitle:  "Finished Without Medical Assistance."  If you went just by the subtitle, you would believe that I did not have a good marathon, and looking at my finishing time, you would have ample evidence to support that.  But the truth of this race isn't in the numbers.  This marathon was told, as many are, (painfully) near the end, but we'll get to that later.
The day was perfect.  The temps started out in the mid-50's, I had made it to the parking lot and the starting village in plenty of time to stretch and do my "business."  Wisely I purchased the Publix Platinum Pass which gave me access to the exclusive parking, shuttles, food tent and portapotties.  If that is ever an option at race, I will always recommend it, especially for this one.  Fighting with 30,000 other people for about 200 portapotties is not fun.  I drank some water but really didn't eat much food as I had already had breakfast.  This might have been a mistake as it would be 3 hours between eating and starting my race, but I didn't want to take any chances on stomach issues.  I figured that I had plenty of GU to make up for my nutritional needs and keep me moving through the race.  (Dumbass.)
As for the race itself, what can I say?  Nashville is hilly and if you're not ready for it, it will punish you.  I truly believed that I was ready for it with my knowledge of the city, but during the heat of the day and 3 hours into a 8:30-ish pace, it will remind you otherwise.*  My splits were: 8:30, 8:16, 8:53, 9:11, 8:18, 8;00, 8:18, 8;19, 8;18, 8;13, 8:14, 9:07, 8:10, 8:17, 9:23, 8:10, 8:25, 9:02, 8:35, 8:38, 9:12, 9:29, 10:22, 11:11, 15:13, 26:22 and 13:51.  For those of you keeping score, yes that is a 26:22 in there;  the slowest mile I had ever ran walked in my entire running career.  I had hoped to make this marathon a PR, and honestly believed that going into mile 20 that could happen.  (Cocky Dumbass.)
For the majority of the race, I had been feeling good, not great, but running strong and fairly consistent.  I made a several potty break stops, and I made sure to hit every drink station.  I took my GU at 7, 13, 18 and 21.  I had made it past mile 11, 16, and 18 which had all proven to be game breaking (if not spirit-breaking) miles for me in the past.  Somewhere around mile 16, I had been running so long that I temporarily lost my ability to do math (a common problem for me when I've been running entirely too long), but I had regained it around mile 20 long enough to know that if I held my pace I should PR, if not barely hit my goal time of 3:45.  Until then, my average pace had been right around 8:30/mile and I was feeling happy that I had held onto my pace for that long.  (Jinxed Dumbass.)

It was at mile 21 though, I could feel my legs cramp again.  They were small cramps, nothing that I wasn't used to, so in my head, I spewed some Rated R curses at my calves and kept running.  By mile 22 the cramps couldn't be denied, and I was forced to truly walk for the first time during the race.  I still held on to some false hope that I could pull out a PR if I could walk/run a 10:00/mi pace somehow.  By mile 23, the cramps were quickly moving up and down my legs, and I started to suspect that I was in real trouble.  At mile 23, I ran into another runner who abruptly quit running and started walking in front of me.  We both managed to stay on our feet, but the effort of keeping my balance dropped me to a walk again.  Then on the other side of the street, a runner had passed out on the ground, and I and several runners moving towards medical assistance called out help for her.  By this time I was walking more than I was running, but the cramps were still getting worse.  They would start in my toes, shoot up my calves, and then rip into my quads.  By mile 24, I locked up for the first time.  I stupidly tried to bend down and stretch out my legs and nearly fell on my face for my efforts.  It would have been funny (and today it actually is), if it haddn't hurt so damn much.  My left leg was so cramped that I couldn't set my foot flat down on the ground.  I pushed down on my knee and I was able to stretch out the cramp and start walking again.  Little did I know that this would become a common expercise for me.  I tried again to jog and my legs locked up again.  Bad idea.  I got the message.  10-4 Good Buddy.  Just don't hurt me again.  Mommy.  Swinging my arms, I tried to speed walk, but even that was a herculean effort.  So I resigned myself to limping along at whatever pace my legs would allow.  That was not much.  (Slow Dumbass.)

At the water station at mile 25, I seriously considered dropping out, but I was just too damned close to not finish (besides my lovely wife would have kicked my ass if I had to show up in an ambulance on her birthday).  I grabbed some Cytomax, water and salt and kept walking.  Into mile 26, I was walking, stopping, stretcching, repeat.  More times than I can remember.  I had several people stop and ask me if I needed help.  I waived them off as politely as I could muster and kept moving.  I even had some woman offer to rub the cramp out of my leg  that was visibily moving up and down my leg (it was painfully cool to watch) and a man offered to help me walk up to the top of the hill.  I thanked them but delined their assistance also.  I did take half-full bottle of Cytomax from a finished runner (Thank you, kind half-marathoner) and downed it like a man in the dessert.  At the turn with the last .2 miles left of the marathon, I took a salt packet from a volunteer and limped toward the finish line (When nothing works, they say take salt to help.  Salt is supposed to make you retain water.  It makes my tongue feel shitty and my legs still don't work.  Go figure).  Nearly every runner that passed me into the chute urged me on, and I was both thankful and really f'ing angry jealous of ther ability to still glide across the finish line.  Eventually I did too with a finishing time of 4:26:11. (Cooked Dumbass).
I did not get my goal time.  I did not PR.  I did not even get under 4 hours.  I DID finish.  I DID not quit, even though every step I took screamed at me to do so.  It sounds stupid (I know that I can't believe that I'm saying it either), but I'm proud of myself for just finishing, not letting this race beat me again.  Now in hindsight, I now truly know what it means to "hit the wall."  I thought that I understood the statement before, but this race showed me what it was.  I hit that wall head on, and I nearly did not get back up.  Finishing this race was one of the hardest things that I've ever done, and I know that I'm a better man than I was before for having made the effort (I'm looking at this statement, and I'm thinking what a preachy, self-centered asshat I must be.  This may all be true, but I still don't know a better way to explain it).
*-I will admit that I was undertrained a bit, but that's why I tried to be conservative with my pace.  However there were a ton of people that were chasing speed and were nearly falling down by mile 3. 
Some final notes:  The expo was great. The expo here is always huge and with big names like Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher in attendance, it was running geek heaven.  I also picked up some new kicks.  So awesome expo as usual.
Thanks to all my friends and family, and Nashville in general, for coming out and supporting myself and the other runners.  The crowd support here is amazing and one of the biggest reasons that I enjoy this race.  I love high fiving little kids along the course, and nothing beats seeing my wife and kids waivving to me along the course, except seeing them as I cross the finish line.
Congratulations to all my friends, acquintances and colleagues that ran yesterday.  Whether you walked or ran, you are all winners in my book for getting out there.  Specifically a shout out to my boy Matt, my girl Dawn, Kathleen, Elizabeth, Bill, Charlie, Emily, Jim and my daughter's teacher, Ms. Kenimer.  Great job guys!

Congratulations also to all the kids that ran in the Kids Marathon, including my son and all his friends.  They were all amazing and full of energy!

Next post:  We discuss my plans for the rest of the year and why I may be taking a break from the marathon for a while.

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