Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Runnin' Loops at the Napa Wine Country Marathon

Having ran an Enviro Sports marathon before, I knew that this run might not live up to what I thought it would be. In some ways this was true, but in others it was better.

Napa Wine Country Marathon - 4:54:11 (11:19 pace; 14/24)

I signed up for this one because all my friends wanted to do a run in Napa. Originally it was the half marathon, so I signed up for the marathon. I mean, why not sign up for the longer event if I was going to be there anyway? So the marathon I did, but all my friends ended up signing up for the 10k. So now I had to work out how to meet up with them since I was the numb nuts who signed up for something that would take a lot longer than everyone else.

Backtrack: I arrived the night before and checked in to my hotel room. All my other friends would arrive at different times. Kind of strange. We all live close together and yet we all drove separately! Anyway, after seeing my friends Sagar, Anjai and their baby Simran, I wound down and went to bed.

To be woken up by my other friends Steve and Lily, who showed up at 1 after a Halloween party in San Francisco. Not too fun being woken up from a sound sleep by a drunk friend. Wide awake, I got to hear him say how wide awake he was. Five minutes later he was snoring and I couldn't fall asleep.

Eventually I got to the park in Calistoga and met two more friends, Carla and Brian. This was fun! Having all my friends together doing something I love, sharing something that I know they would love as well. The marathoners were first to take off. It was a small crowd as we all began the climb. Yup, the first 2 to 2.5 miles were steep. Did I say the hill was steep? Oh yeah, steep it was as we trudged on up. We were on a fire road for about a mile before turning on to beautiful single track trails. As we rose ever higher the temp rose, until we got to the top and crossed a rocky ridge that had heat waves coming off of it. (The temp would eventually reach the low 90s.)

Eventually we turned back down to have some extremely steep descents. Some so steep you had to walk, and that even was enough to make me almost fall. Anyway, a babbling creek was a nice surprise as we crossed over it and by it several times. Amazing how the temp would drop when you neared the running water.

Did I mention this was a five loop course? Anyway, I came in from the first 6 mile loop, refilled my gatorade, and went the opposite direction for a different 4 mile loop. This one was nowhere near as dramatic, being an out and back: uphill halfway to the out, then turn around and run back to the end of the loop. As lush and cool as the first loop was, this one was the complete opposite, being dry and brown, and nowhere near as steep. I finished this loop twice before returning to the 6 mile loop for another two times.

This was where it got difficult as I started walking a ton more. The steeps were really steep when tired. And I wasn't eating as much as I should have. I did have a good moment that made me smile. I came upon a woman who was dragging her feet and walking slowly. Whenever I come across someone like this I always offer some electrolytes and shot bloks, but runner's pride always makes them say thanks, but no thanks. Anyway, she accepted. We went our separate ways and I figured I would see her at the finish line. With a half a mile to go I hear some feet pounding behind me. I turned and there she was, running just fine. I asked her how her energy was and she loved the shot bloks, giving her running a new life at the end of the race. As much as I didn't like a runner passing me during the last half mile, I loved that I was able to help someone who was crashing...

Anyway, overall the race was a good one. Great location, great weather until the end when the heat filtered in, and about what I expected for time and effort. But what I expected to find at an Enviro Sports run I was a bit confused by. The race, logically, didn't seem like it was 26 miles. In fact it seemed off. For example, the 4 mile loop seemed short as I ran it a lot faster than I thought I would have, especially for miles 7-14. Than my body screams at me as my legs, hips and calves feel as though they ran a marathon, not too mention a 4:54 time was about what I expected to run for a trail marathon with little training. So it was a wash, a feeling I don't know what to feel. I approached the race director after the 3rd loop to ask him about this "feeling", and before I could get two words out he cut me off with his loud and billowing voice as he cut me off. He seemed put out and angry that I would ask him such a simple question that I didn't even get to say! Mayhap other runners had questioned him before me? Who knows, either way I would recommend caution with their runs. If you want a fun run that doesn't seem too accurate, or makes you wonder at how far you were really running than stay away. They do put on a good fun run in great locations. I know I won't be running anymore Enviro Sports runs. I don't like the wondering doubt.

Over all I like the trails we ran on. In fact I loved the location. Decent results for the amount of training I have done recently. Not too mention that it is also my 3rd marathon or longer in 5 weeks. Time to rest and recover.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Huffin and Puffin at the Oktoberfest 5k

I certainly didn't set my hopes high for this one. There would not be a PR today. I've only ran 2 other 5ks. My first was around 22 minutes and was the run leg of a triathlon. My PR was a 20:53 over a year ago. With the little bit of running I've done this year, I would be happy with anything less than 24 minutes.

Oktoberfest 5k - 23:18 (7:31 pace; 31/258)

Speed is certainly something that I have never focused on, this year or last. So when I originally signed up I for this 5k I had done so to get a little speed, and to work some of the kinks out from the last month of running (a marathon and a 50k) in order to, hopefully, help prepare for the marathon in Napa coming up next weekend. Not to improve speed, or endurance, but to work some of the heaviness out of my legs that have been ever present.

So when I arrived at the start line in 60 degree weather I couldn't have asked for better conditions. As we toed the line the race director casually moved up through the crowd and pushed his way out front. After a little crowd control he turns to us and says "You ready?" and before he finished he blew the horn! What the?!?!? Anyways, everyone frantically started as watches beeped all around.

The first mile was a tough one. I started out fast. I was hoping to run three sub 8 minute miles, and maybe a 7:30 first. As the lead pack pushed more out of sight I began to feel tired as the heavy legs caught up with me. The mile 1 marker finally came and, lo and behold, I ran a 6:53! Whoa, I didn't think I would be able to run the first mile that fast. And just as I smiled to myself, the realization set in that the final 2 would certainly be tougher than I thought because of my erratic first mile.

Mile 2 was tough, as guessed. I took a couple of walk breaks in order to get my breathing under control. My mouth began to become very dry as my spit stuck to my lips as I tried to expel it to the concrete below. 8:01 was about where I thought it would be.

Mile 3 wasn't as tough for some reason. Perhaps I had finally got my breathing under control. Or maybe I realized the end was in sight. Either way, I pushed on. I eventually took one walk break before turning the afterburners on and speeding in to the finish, running the last mile in 8:02.

I certainly accomplished what I had wanted, running a 7:31 pace to come in under 24 minutes. I really couldn't have expected a better result, but it is still amazing to see what not training for a couple of months does. A little over a year ago I ran a 6:53 pace 5k. At the beginning of this year I ran a 7:28 pace hilly 5 miler, and a 7:30 pace 10k.

If that isn't motivation than I don't know what is.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Race In The Mind of a Marathoner

The marathon is an amazing endurance event to finish.  To accomplish crossing that finish line takes a lot.  The obvious is the physical.  Everyone always thinks of the physical strength every marathoner must have and use in order to make sure they finish.  What they don't realize is how much willpower and mental strength is also needed, and at times during the race it feels like the mental strength is the most difficult.

Case in point: Cowtown Marathon.  This is a perfect example on almost every marathon or 50k I've ran.  You start the race and feel great.  You brush aside any of the nagging feelings in the legs or doubts you may have simply because you are running a steady race and you feel extremely strong.  For me this was easily through the first 5 miles.  I was running a little slow, but I couldn't help but imagine fireworks and hearts - uh, wrong daydream - at the finish as I come sprinting down the homestretch as though I hadn't ran at all.  A smile would spread across my face at the thought of it.

That same smile would slowly slip away over miles 6-9 as the miles stretched on.  Mind you, my pace was still the same at that point, but I could tell things were tightening up but I was so close to the halfway point.

For the first half, of course, that was my only motivation, to get to 13.1.  There is something about that number, just the same as 26.2, that I absolutely love reaching.  Because of that my pace remained the same as I trudged on towards the halfway point.  Once there, of course, I know that I have less than half the course to go!  Woohoo!  A momentary surge of endorphins, or whatever it could be, that pushes me through to mile 14.  

In the back of mind I would start wondering, "Will this race ever end?  Man, I am going so slow, these miles just won't go by quicker."  Ha.  How do you go from "Yes, done with half" to "What the?"  Right when I hit 14 my pace dropped a good 2 minutes, and remained that way for the rest of the race.  Motivation seemed to drop.  Every mile dragged on.  Finally, mile 15.  Is that 16?  Oh, but a momentary respite as my mind weakly registered that I now have single digit miles to go.  This is and of itself is enough to give me fuel.  Knowing that at mile 16 I would have less than 10 miles to go.   Yes!

Then mile 17 and 18 come by and it barely registered, continuing on, not caring at all at this point.  Mind you, my pace was still consistent with my second half, but now all I wanted was to be done, to just stop and sit down.  Eat something.  At this point I always begin to wonder why I would ever decide to sign up for a marathon or 50k.  I mean, what kind of sadomasochist am I to willingly put myself through this?  Mile 18 usually comes as my lowest point in the marathon, and it certainly did at Cowtown.  I am usually hating life as I struggle to maintain a steady zombie shuffle.  After all, I am certainly not a lead gazelle.  I am no Kenyan.  I cannot run a marathon with ease.  It is always a struggle for me, no matter how much training I've done.  It happens, and I always struggle.

But then something begins to turn at around mile 19.  It is that in between mile.  The mile right after I had hit the wall.  The mile that I am struggling through in order to overcome the wall.  Just on the other side of it is mile 20 and the welcoming arms of a 10k.  How can I not push forward, even as I drown in the lows of The Wall?  No matter how hard I hit it, I know now, at least, that just one more mile would change everything.

And it did at Cowtown.  I finished mile 19 and moved on to mile 20.  As I hit the magic 2 0 that childish grin from the beginning of the race would invariably find its way across my face again.  I know my legs are tired.  I know that my calves hurt.  I can tell my muscles feel like cramping and that I am starving and low on energy.  But with a 10k to go how can I not enjoy myself?  The end was finally in sight.  With every passing mile they begin to fly by.  Whereas miles 14-19 seemed to take forever, miles 20-26.2 just fly by.  I move.  I continue to move.  And with every mile marker I now know that I am almost there.  

It is always a magical experience.  I actually enjoy the wall, after the fact, of course.  It always puts me in my place and shows me that I am doing something very difficult.  Invariably this always happens to me.  After the halfway point I begin a war with myself, berating myself for trying to do something that is much grander, something that is much more powerful that I am capable of.  That mental battle will mean the race, right there.  Miles 14-19 are where your mental strength come into play.  At every marathon I have ran I always struggle the most on mile 18.  It has happened way too consistently to not be a fact for my body in all future marathons.

Is it worth the momentous struggle during those miles?  Without a doubt it is.  For the struggle is but momentary, maybe an hour to an hour and half, but the joy and the feeling of accomplishment at the finish line cannot be measured.  I've now finished 8 marathons and 6 50ks and I can say without a doubt that I have felt these ups and downs at every single race, and at the finish line I am always smiling and am already impatient for the next one.  Everyone's body is different of course.  Maybe you don't run into these problems the same way I do when I come to the daunting wall and wonder, "How will I get around that?"  Maybe your wall is at 20 or 22.  But I would wager that there is a mental battle that begins as you lead up to that tough set of miles, cause you know what is ahead of you.

The wall is a bitch, but it is what makes the marathon so tough, and the reason why mental strength is needed just as much as physical strength.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Cowtown Cold?

So what I thought was congestion turned out to be a cold. Originally I had thought that with congestion it wouldn't be too bad to run the marathon. I mean, it would be an annoyance, but all congestion really is is an annoyance, at least in my point of view. But being sick is a different matter as you have less energy.

And before I ran I was thinking the running might be good for the congestion, to help break it up some. But when I finished, which was the first indication, it actually got worse.

Mind you, I know my result was directly related to lack of training. But it is interesting to see the whole picture...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Round and Round Cowtown Marathon I Go

Literally, round and round, twice around, with each loop a half marathon. Not really a fan of loop races, but this one was okay because each loop was 13.1 miles.

Cowtown Marathon - 4:34:39 (10:28 pace; 168/288)

I had a lot going wrong going into this one. The obvious: no training in the last 2 months. But other stuff went wrong as well. First, I woke up hacking phlegm that would never come off the back of my throat. Scratchy and unpleasant, not the best to run a marathon in. Secondly, I started a new job that has me walking 8 hours a day, or roughly 9-10 miles, 5 days a week. My legs didn't really have that much rest. Finally, I had to get up at the god awful time of 3:50 because of of the 2 and a half hour drive, if you including picking up my friend Jill.

Anyway, I finally got to the race and had to wait in these huge lines for the bathroom. Also a fairly long line for gear check. Anyway, right when I stepped out of the bathroom the announcer blew the horn and it was perfect timing. I immediately went to the 10 minute pace area because I was guessing I would run a 4:30 marathon and that would be a good place to start. Unfortunately all the walkers and 15 minute pacers were there as well and the first 1.5 miles was stuck behind all the people who were not supposed to be at the front of the line. I don't think they realize that there is a reason there are pacing sections. To have you run with other runners your speed and to not slow down the other runners! At one point I was stuck behind three women walking! I could go on for a long time on this but, alas, I won't.

Anyway, the first half went about as I thought it would. I ran a 1:59. But I knew early on it was going to be a long day. By mile 5 my right hip was starting to have little aches and pains, and my legs still felt heavy. A few miles later and my left knee start aching. By the end of the first half my calves were already starting to cramp. It went, pace wise, about what I thought, but I had a lot of aches and pains that I knew would slow me down a lot in the first half.

The second half was botched horribly. I went from running the first 14 miles all sub 10 minute pace. Then I ran the second half in 2:35! Whoa, what a horrible split. But I kind of thought this was a huge possibility, even though I hoped it wouldn't happen. The second half ended up running an average of a 12 minute pace as I resorted to a run walk shuffle, with my longest mile clocking in at 12:42 (mile 23). The phlegm/congestion was definitely an annoyance, one that was always there. Eventually somewhere around mile 12 another sign of congestion appeared as this weird noise happened every time I stepped down and water or some fluid jostled around by my left ear. Strange.

The final interesting yet scary incident of this race happened about mile 23. The last time I had ate was at mile 21 and I figured I could finish the race without eating again. Anyway, back to mile 23, I noticed I was starving. I mean my stomach was growling and all I wanted to do was eat, but I figured I would still wait for the finish. Mile 25 rolled around and I started becoming dizzy. If I tried to run for any length of time the dizziness would build up and I would get a little cold. So I started walking and running intervals even more than I already was. Run, then walk and let my body convert some more fat to energy. By the time I finished I was not in the best of shape. I should have overcome my stubbornness and just ate again, but I didn't, and it probably took about 20 minutes of struggling to eat a bagel after the race before I had enough energy to stand up and walk around. Probably not the best move on my part, but a lesson learned and a symptom identified. The same thing happened at Pacifica earlier this year as I dropped because I was so hungry, and I realize now that if I would have continued on then then I would have become dizzy just as I did today.

All in all, I am pleased with how this marathon went, even with all the nagging problems that happened. As well the result was my third fastest marathon, and my 14th overall marathon or longer. Good result, good race, good everything (except final mile).