Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Mile High

So I decide to sign up somewhat last minute as a participant in the Denver Half Marathon. I figure; 1) It’s my hometown, 2) I needed to run 14 this last weekend anyway, and 3) I was in week 11 of my 18 week training program so what better time to figure out if all this work has made a difference.

No pressure…right? So, why was I a bundle of nerves the night before since this was a tune-up and really didn’t matter? The answer is my aforementioned competitive streak—see “Pink Torpedo.”

My previous (and only) PR was the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon at 1:39 in 2008. If you haven’t run the Georgetown ½, it’s a VERY fast race as it is virtually all downhill. Some people don’t like downhill; I don’t have an issue with it and would prefer downhill to uphill—duh!

Signing up for the Denver Half, my mind starts playing games and I’m thinking to myself…I have over a year of training since my last marathon and I’ve trained this season longer, harder and faster than any previous training sessions. Given that, I would surely finish faster than Georgetown—so there was my personal challenge!

I went to the Denver Marathon (DM) runners’s expo on Saturday before the race. Most runners are like kids in a candy store looking at all the clothing, nutrition, gadgets and gizmos. I couldn’t resist buying the long sleeve DM shirt and got totally suckered into getting a “Power Balance” energy bracelet. One of those snake oil, too good to be true things you find at the show that’s supposed to give you an added edge—hey, Shaq wears one, so why not. $100 lighter in the wallet, and I was out the door with my lucky #7744 bib number, electronic tape timer (hadn’t seen one of those before) and visions of a new PR with my added “edge” I purchased at the show.

The night before ritual went well; laying out the racing clothes, shoes, charging the Garmin, having the in-race shot bloks set aside, pinning the race bib number to my shirt….hmm…forecast called for warm weather so I opted for the singlet. I also chose to run in my “Skins” brand compression tights—my first race test of the Skins.

Between the expo and the semi-sleepless night, you would have thought I was a 9 yr. old the night before Christmas. I woke up plenty early, and started the morning ritual; light carb load, (ahem) bathroom visit, hydrate, nipple and chafing area lube, dressing with the gear laid out the night before, and heading out the door.

My wife was kind enough to drive me down and deal with my anxious pre-race behavior. The race start was 7AM and I arrived just after six to seek out my running group; Runner’s Edge of the Rockies. It was good to see the group before the race and “Amp up” beforehand. Once again, I hit the porta-potty, but the only mistake of the day, was hitting it too early. As race time approached, I turned in my gear bag and realized I thought I might have to “go again.” The lines were WAY too long, and I figured once I got started, I would “sweat out” the liquids and desire to pee would go away. Not exactly. The good news is that I think I only lost maybe 15 seconds as I was fortunate to find a porta-potty around mile 4 or 5 and set a record for relieving myself. Ahhh…

The only other challenge pre-race was arriving too late at the corral. It reminded me of Chicago, because they had iron fences around the start of the race and it was PACKED. My options were to line up with the back of the pack around the 12 min pace or hop the fence. Like Chicago, I hopped the fence, but this time I didn’t rip my shorts. I was still quite a bit further back than I wanted (around the 9 min pace) but there was no moving up. As the race began, it took me awhile to actually hit the electronic “Start”—hit the Garmin start button and I was off.

Race day (especially in a crowded race) presents situations you don’t encounter in training. With DM expecting in the neighborhood of 10,000 runners it was crowded in the corrals and like the “running of the bulls” at the beginning of the race. You have to be careful, as it’s easy to get your feet tangled in other runners, and despite the best plans, I always seem to start out too fast.

The only thing that prevented me from running way too fast was the fact that it was sooo crowded and there seemed to be a lot of slower (perhaps inexperienced runners) that wanted to be near the front. In the first couple miles, I think I actually had to weave around some woggers. NOTE TO NEW RUNNERS: LINE UP IN YOUR APPROPRIATE TIME/CORRAL. This wound up slowing me down quite a bit as I couldn’t run my pace and had to weave around quite a few slower runners. I’d learn out after the fact, that I’d run a negative split (faster in the 2nd half of my face.)

The first couple miles presented a couple spectators I wasn’t sure that would be out there—my Dad, brother, and nephew. I don’t think non-runners realize how much that support helps and is appreciated. I also ran into a couple women in my 3:30 pace group from Runner’s Edge around mile 1 or 2. We were excited to run into each other and they wanted to know what my pace was going to be. I told them sub-8 minute and started to “take off.”

As each mile passed, I realized how good I felt, how fast I was running, and the possibility of a PR. Despite being advertised as a “flat course,” it had a few hills; notably, coming out of downtown, and in and out of a couple of parks. With that, it also has some descent related to those hills.

I also got a boost from my wife at two spots along the course (thank you honey!) which is again a big help. As I hit mile 10, I knew I had a PR within reach…as I hit the last mile and headed up Lincoln St. in downtown Denver, I felt great and continued to pass a few runners as I approached the final stretch.

As I hit the home stretch, it was almost surreal as there was quite a crowd behind the iron fences, but they were awfully quiet. I “egged on” the crowd and got a roar from them as I hit the last 100 yards, which made me run even faster. A new PR; 1:38:23 with an overall 7:31 pace.

The ironic part of the end of the race is that I ran into a fellow Runner’s Edge runner (Theresa) who was wearing the Boston Marathon jacket at the first group run I went out on after my injury. I remember thinking then, and again at the end of the Denver ½ Marathon, “I want that (Boston Marathon) jacket!”

Was it the crytonite Power Balance bracelet, the skins, or 400 miles of training? I don't know, but I'll take it! Another step in the right direction.

P.S. Did I run serpentine style, or am I the only one that recorded this as a 13.33 half marathon?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

32 Rules of Zombieland and Marathon Training

If you haven’t seen the movie Zombieland this may not make any sense, but if you’re a marathon runner and zombie fanatic, you will see the parallels. In Zombieland, there’s the typical battle between flesh eating zombies and normal people trying to stay alive and get away from the bad guys. A clever spin on the movie is that the narrator weaves in the “32 Rules of Zombieland” throughout the movie.
As I sat through the movie, I couldn’t help but draw the parallels with marathon training.

Rule#1: Cardio. This is an obvious one as the slow humans are usually the first ones to lose a limb. As a runner, also an obvious one. We spend several hours throughout a given month and that intensifies in a typical 18 week training program. The training builds up the miles and cardio capability to hoof it through 26.2 miles.

Rule#24: No Drinking. This one is a toss-up as most runners I know enjoy their cold beverages. As it is with many things in life, moderation is the rule. A few beers the night before can fuel a good long run on a Saturday, but a bottle of red wine the night before a race and you’ll pay for it in the race and in Zombieland--lose the race, or lose a limb.

Rule#6: Travel in a Group. In Zombieland, you always want someone with you at all times for obvious reasons--mainly fighting off aforementioned flesh eating creatures. As a runner, it's insane to train alone...I know because that's what I did after reading Hal Higdon's book. I'd recommend the book; I wouldn't recommend running alone. You learn from other runners, it pushes you to keep the pace and stick to the training prescribed for that day.

Rule#32: Enjoy the Little Things. I don’t know about you, but I’m anal about charting my training program and logging my actuals vs. plan to see how I’m doing. Entering 22 into the “how many miles did I actually run” cell on the spreadsheet and checking it off the list is quite satisfying. As of this week, I’ve now logged over 400 training miles….ahhh…the little things.
Same holds true for the opportunity we have as runners to run in some really cool places during different times of the year (see Cool Running blog.)

Rule#2: Beware of Bathrooms. You’re a “sitting duck” in a bathroom in Zombieland. Advice to runners (especially on long runs)—know where your bathrooms are, or Beware of long stretches with no bathrooms. There’s a pine tree in Highlands Ranch that I can never look again without thinking of my lesson learned here. Nuf said.

Rule#2: Be Ruthless. This is a competition after all, isn’t it? Go for it—be (smart and ) ruthless in your training and be ruthless on race day. My highly competitive inner drive is always pushing me to hit some kind of goal. My ruthless goal—beat my previous PR of 3:32 and hit 3:30 to qualify for Boston.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cool Running

For those that don't have the privilege of living in Colorado, as a runner you have four very distinct seasons. The fall season is my favorite running time of the year as witnessed by two of my morning tempo runs this week. This morning's run felt like I was in some kind of Robert Frost postcard. There was a panacea of fall colors on the cottonwoods lining the Highline Canal route combined with a low cloud cover and mist rising off the water (see for yourself with the camera phone picture I took to your right.)

I definitely had to "dress the part" as the temps were just above freezing at dusk, but the cool wind in the lungs felt awesome.

There's a reason that most marathons are in the fall--you have roughly 18 weeks of good warm weather in which to train which leads up to cool mornings. On race day, a cool morning keeps the body engine temperature cooler and there seems to be a boost when puffing in cool morning weather. That is unless you're running the Chicago Marathon. I can only surmise that the late Chicago starts are due to TV broadcasting schedules, the last two years have been brutally hot in part due to the late start. At last year's Chicago Marathon, I did my customary two mile jog the day before around the finish line area around 9AM and it was HOT! I knew I was in for a hot race the next day.

Other than Chicago, cool temps are a runner's best friend (I'll skip the rain and wind.)

While today felt like a postcard, tomorrow's postcard may look more like Buffalo, NY. Forecast calls for Snain--combination of snow and rain for my 22 mile run.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Streets of San Francisco

Another week with another week of travel with another opportunity to run in a different city. As runners all know, we get way bored with the 4-5 different directions you can run from around your home, but with a busy life, you still wind up going out that boring six mile “out and back” loop from your house.

If you’re like me, you’ve mapped out the 18 weeks of training and I’m anal about not missing a given training day’s run. That means throwing the running gear into your Tumi bag and sometimes doing a 10PM run on a treadmill at a Marriott Courtyard.

The “flipside” of the crappy treadmill at 10PM is a run in a great city. Having a job that requires travel affords me the opportunity to throw in the running shoes and “mix it up” with a run in another city. You almost get the euphoria of a race day when you get to lace ‘em up with a run in another town—see “I’ll Take Manhattan”—my blog about running in New York city this year.

My latest great run in a great city was San Francisco. One of the greatest cities in the US—my wife and I love to travel there with so much to offer and even took the kids there this year on a city vacation. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my greatest “bucket list” runs was over the Golden Gate bridge to Tiburon with a ferry ride back. If you happen to have a “hills” day on the training schedule, you certainly have those as it’s the hilliest urban city I’ve run in.

This trip provided awesome weather and had a modest four mile run on the calendar. Staying downtown, I had a number of directions I could have ventured out, but chose a run toward the financial district, then down to the embarcadero. I played an hour of “hooky” from work and ventured out late afternoon with the sun out and a cool breeze—AWESOME!

I had a bit of elevation on the first half mile out and on the return. The rest was filled with great scenery including the Bay Bridge, farmer’s market, embarcadero, and Coit Tower.

All the above beats the heck out of dodging minivans on a early morning run in suburbia.

A footnote on the training program, I’m halfway through with one 20+ run under my belt with three more 20+ in the plan before taper. Knock on wood that the leg is holding up well.

About Me

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Average guy w/ an above average appetite for marathon racing and triathlons. Ran my 5th Boston in '15. 3:21, 1:29, 19:21 PR;full/half/5K Opinions & wit are mine