Saturday, January 21, 2017

Race Review: Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon 2017

ORN:   26.2 miles, 150 laps, R/W 4/1, 4:51:47, 11:09/mile, 25th of 36 overall finishers, lifetime marathon/ultra #70.  

Summary:

The Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon (ZYY) on January 8, 2017 was a blast.  It was terrific simply to run long in shorts in the middle of winter; Yet, this race experience was unique and most enjoyable.   Crazy to run 150 laps??  Not at all...it was a joy.  In two big ways.

Gory Details:

Last summer,  my local running pal Jon and I were musing on race plans over nachos when two dots connected.  Both of us have sons who recently moved to the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area.   Both of them have recently had daughters (well, their respective wives had the babies, but you get the idea).   Seems like a road trip, right?  So, can we find a race to run in or near Minneapolis?

Jon, a database guru par excellence himself, wiped the cheese from his fingers, jumped online, found ZYY and posed a fascinating idea; Let's drive to Minnesota in the dead of winter, visit our kids and run an indoor marathon!!  Made perfect sense, to us, and the plan was on; ZYY was the target race.  Pass the jalapenos, please.

Entry to ZYY is via lottery; Dick Draymont, the excellent RD, lays out the details on the website.   We put in our names mid summer and, over the Labor Day weekend, learned we were lucky winners of coveted entry slots to the race.   Travel plans got interesting and I'll spare you those details, but it all came off.  With temperatures at 7 below zero, Jon picked me up on race morning at my son's house at 5:00am and we drove the 20 miles from his place to lovely St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.


With Jon, pre-race at the start/finish line

Since Jon and I wanted to spend time with our kids, we missed the Saturday night buffet for runners, which I heard was terrific.  Nevertheless, we got our packets on race morning and found a spot along the track to "set up camp" for the morning run.  
Dick didn't mess around and we got started a few minutes early and at 6:30am on a cold, dark Sunday morning, we were running a marathon.   

One of the wonderful and unique features of this race is the lap counting.   You'd figure chip counting would be the norm, as other lap races have found.  Nope.  Instead, members of the St. Olaf women's cross country and track teams crawl out of their comfy dorm rooms as early as we did to manually record each runners' laps.   Yes; each runner had his/her own personal lap counter and timer, whom we met pre-race.   Dick added yet another layer of personalization of the race by doing his best to match some characteristic of the lap counter with the runner.   Mine was Susie.

Image result for susan hoops st olaf
Susie, on campus

Susie grew up about 50 miles from my home; we surmised we had likely even run in the same races while she was in high school or home on summers.   Susie is a senior and a math major, so I felt confident that she'd get all the numbers right. No third order partial differential equations in spherical coordinates required for this event.    

with Susie, pre-race
So, round and round we went.   Each time past the chairs with the relentlessly cheering student runners, I made sure I made eye contact with Susie; armed with her clipboard and watch, she dutifully recorded each lap time, to the second.   She updated me every 25 laps to the lap total...no way to keep track of that in your head.  Dick had set up a terrific playlist; the music was great.   We all had our names on a small bib on our back...we quickly got to know each other and the race became a social event.  

Two other personalization notes on this race.   Note above, I wore bib #63.   Dick asked me pre-race if I liked it...turns out he was able to make the bib number our age for about a third of the field.  Nice.   Second, below is a poster which Susie made for me.   In fact, all along the east wall short chute of the track was a poster for each runner, hand-made by the lap counters.   She got the state map of Indiana built in as well!   I brought it home...one of several wonderful mementos of the day.  

Not "GoJo", but "go Joe"
And that's pretty much how the race went.   This was my fifth indoor marathon and I've learned to just go run and forget the circles.  Dick set up tables at each corner of the 282m mezzanine course for water and food.   Every 20 minutes, I drank and had a quarter PB&J sandwich (my nod to trail racing).  Enjoy the music, play the air guitar, chat everyone up and eventually you cover 26.2 miles.  So it went in this event.  

And then there was lap 102.  

Over that summer bowl of nachos when Jon proposed the road trip, I immediately mentioned to him that January 8 was my Dad's birthday.   He would have been 102 years old on January 8, 2017.   It made me miss him to think of how he'd have laughed to hear me doing such a goofy thing on his birthday.   But, in the back of my mind all along, I thought it cool to be running on his birthday.   

On the Thursday night before the race, however, I got to thinking more about Dad.  It was brutally cold here at home and I was running 5 miles on an indoor track at home in my final training run before race day.   What might I do to honor him?  Gradually a series of thoughts gelled as I went round and round.   Hmmmm, he'd be 102...might I do something on my lap 102 to honor him?   He played football at Notre Dame; hey, that's it...might I pause and sing the Notre Dame fight song before I start lap 102?  Yes.  And I'll get a video me singing to share with my three sisters.  But what shirt would I wear in the video?  I had another shirt planned which suddenly made no sense...I'd really need to come up with a Notre Dame shirt but I don't have one.   And I'm leaving early on Friday morning.  And how about a photo of my Dad?   My sister might have one.  Could I carry a football with me?  Whew, dunno...maybe my son can find one for me to borrow. And, oh yeah, this might mess up the race...I should check with the RD for his permission.  But, I gotta move fast.  

So, after I finished, I remembered a local store where I once saw Notre Dame shirts.   I zipped over there, hoping to find something, willing to settle even for a cotton shirt.   Alas, they actually had tech fabric Notre Dame shirts, in my size, on sale!!  Bingo.  I zapped a note to Dick the RD, asking his permission.   Another email to my sister Karen, the family historian and archivist of all family photos.   Zip...Dick wrote back, enthusiastically welcoming my effort...that was nice.   Zip...Karen emailed me this "action photo" of my Dad which we think was taken during his junior year at Notre Dame in 1936.  It was falling into place.  I printed off the picture of Dad and packed for the Twin Cities.


Gene Ely, Notre Dame tackle, c 1936
When I got to Minneapolis, I shared the plan with my son, Nathan.  Hmmm, he says...one phone call to a neighbor and we had a football I could borrow as a prop for the day. 

with Nathan Ely, the night before the race

So, it all was set up.   Prerace, Dick asked me if I was all set; he was so supportive.   Several times during the race he asked me how close I was to my lap 102.  Sorry, Dick, I'm not all that fast!!  In fact, the race winner finished about 3 laps before I got to lap 102, at about mile 18!! (You'll see him early on the video, in the bright yellow shirt with a medal.)  Susie let me know my countdown, starting at lap 95.   I had my props assembled at my base camp.   It was so much fun to anticipate.   Finally, I finished lap 101 and, in front of the assembled timers, explained what I was doing and, in honor of my Dad, Gene Ely, on his 102nd, did my best to sing the Notre Dame Victory March.   Jon captured it all on video.



And here is the video:




It's hard to sing well after running 18+ miles but who cares...this moment was one of the highlights of all the running I've ever done.   I can't even quite express what it meant to remember my Dad on his birthday and have others who never knew or even heard of him realize it was special.     

I then ran lap 102, carrying Dad's photo and a football.   So many of my fellow runners realized what was going on and were so supportive.   I'm deeply (and forever) grateful for Jon pausing in his race to capture the video for me.  It was a blast.   I could almost hear my Dad's big, hearty laugh as I ran that lap, even though he died in 1993.   

I finished lap 102, stowed the photo and football and proceeded to run 8 more miles, nearly an hour and a half worth of running.   No "Wall" in this race, though...the adrenaline and enjoyment carried me the rest of the way.   I told Susie "we're back to normal the rest of the way."   And, pretty much, we were.  

The rest of the race went well.   The final 10 laps seemed to go by quickly...Susie commented I seemed to run them quickly.  It felt that way.  Spontaneously, as I got to my final lap, I grabbed my Dad's photo and the football and crossed the finish line with them.    Marathon #70 concluded and what a day it was.   

With Susie, post race, time chart, football and photo in hand.

Close up of the handwritten lap record...very special!


I felt bad for the students tracking those of us in the back of the pack.  They were so positive, though, and real troopers to hang around despite our slowness.  I warmly thanked Susie for her help all day and let her get on with something far more interesting than watching old guys shuffle around the track.   Yet, the enthusiasm from all the students was unique and truly a difference maker.  

Jon finished up a little bit after I did.  We cleaned up and headed back to our kids' houses in the Twin Cities.  

It was a remarkable morning, a remarkable marathon.  Mega-thanks to RD Dick Draymont, all the amazing and tireless women of St Olaf's cross country/track teams and Jon for his friendship.   And, thanks again to my Dad...I'm blessed to have had such a great relationship with him.   The many things he taught and modeled for me will never be taken away.  















Persevere.



.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year In Review: 2016

It was a good year for running.

My monthly miles below showed more consistency than I've had in years past.  September was the only low month and that was due to a couple of overlapping tapers.  No injuries all year and some high miles in the first half of the year.















All of this totaled to 1,853 miles of running, an all-time best for a calendar year as you can see in the graph below.   I'm kind of amazed looking at this chart, frankly.   I've also logged 16,874 miles since resuming my running in the spring of 2004.






It's astounding to me to have run year-round for 13 years in a row now.  I've had only two injuries of note in this stretch.   Hope to keep it going.

Racing is fun, as always.  I ran 27 organized events this year, including one 50K, seven marathons and four half marathons.   Race day just never gets old for me.   I also continue to give back, as Race Director of the Circular Logic Marathon.   We held our fifth CLM and are getting set for the sixth edition on April 1, 2017.  Trekking to many races with local running pal Jon made race days even more fun.  I also had a first-time experience with an on-line running team through Running Ahead, which was a real treat.

I didn't hit my goal for the year, however.



BQ was not to be this year.   I gave it three shots, at Carmel Marathon, at Wisconsin Marathon and then at the Last Chance BQ Marathon.   I came up 3 minutes short.   Then I took a shot for the 2018 Boston at this fall's Chicago Marathon.  On a perfect day, with a perfect course, I still came up 7 minutes shy.

What did I learn?

First off, BQ is tough.   No two ways around it.   I needed to find enough sustained speed to get there and didn't quite find it. Coming up short at Chicago was telling to me.   If I couldn't do it on such a perfect day, maybe it just isn't set right now.

But....

I did the calendar and, as of October 2017, I get an additional 15 minutes on my BQ time for the 2019 Boston Marathon.  That's a 4:10 marathon, which suddenly feels very achievable.   Hmmmmmmm.

But, Boston notwithstanding, did I enjoy doing the miles this year.   A lot of miles. And I feel great.   Zero injuries, much enjoyment.   That's a good year.

The 2017 goal??   I'm looking simply to run races I enjoy.   Likely running several ultras as well.   And might I go quick in a late fall race???   Maybe  :-)

Persevere.


.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Race Report: The HUFF 50K Trail Race, 2016

ORN:  50km, trails, 7:23:12 (14:16/mile); R/W 3/1 (mostly), placed 1st of 10 in 60-69 age group.

Summary:   The  HUFF was tough in 2016.   7" of light, powdery snow made footing tough for the entire 31+ miles.  It was a slow, long day in the Indiana woods. And it was remarkably joyful.

Gory Details:

As I've written before, the HUFF 50K Trail Race holds a special, unique place in my running.   I first participated on December 16, 2004, running a single 10 mile loop just seven months after the start of this era of running.  Until that day, I had never run trails at all.  I'd never run farther than 8 miles before that day.   So, it's funny to read now my race report of that day.  Dan Quayle, where are you now??

I've written about all five prior HUFFs since the organizers had to move the race to its current location at Chain O' Lakes State Park.  Weather conditions in late December in Indiana give each year its own character . 

2011:  The Deep Water Year. ( 7:33:44) The most philosophical I've ever been on my blog.  The lessons of that wet, cold, muddy day still hold, remarkably.  link  The 2011 race and the "aura" surrounding it has grown over the years.   When I meet anyone who also ran that day there is an instant bond.   

2012:  A very runnable race day: (6:26:45)   link

2013: Another nice HUFF race with more snow pack, but I ran in shorts anyway: (6:32:01)  link

2014:  A good day and a 50K PR at the time (6:19:28) link  

2015:   The most runnable of the series, leading to my current PR of 5:59:51 link

Which then brings us to the 2016 race.

Experience showed it key to watch the weather in the week leading into HUFF.  The temperatures looked favorable, with mild, mid-30s in the offing.   There was no rain in the week before, giving us hope we would not be flooded again.

Local running pal Jon and I decided to drive up the morning of the race, which meant being out of my door just past 4:00am.   As I backed the car out of the garage onto what appeared to be a wet driveway I got my first surprise of the day.   Hmmmmm, not just wet...it was a glaze of ice.  I locked the brakes and my car still slid slowly and safely down to the empty street.   I crept out of our neighborhood, finding the busier streets more clear.   Jon had to walk on the grass next to his driveway to get safely to my car.   The 2 hour drive to the race site went well, though we saw a lot of cars in the ditch.   We arrived a bit later than planned, yet still scored a good parking spot.  We walked down to packet pick up, which was smooth, went back to the car to get set with layers, then back to the start/finish line.   Kudos to Race Director Mitch and his merry band of soup-loving volunteers, though...they started the race on time.   So much so that Jon and I were just done leaving our drop bags when the gun went off.    We saw the pack leaving, chuckled, noted our thankfulness for chip timing, worked out where we would meet post race and began the race.

At the back of the pack, we immediately grasped what the day would hold.  In the micro-climate around Chain O Lakes State Park, we've often seen weather different from the areas near it.   For this race, this meant 7" of powdery, dry snow.   We didn't see such snow driving to the race site from the south.  But it was very evident, as you can see in these photos.




The trails are wide on this course but the snow effectively turned them into single tracks.   An ATV had driven over the snow ahead of us in an attempt to pack it somewhat.   However, the temperatures didn't let the snow pack;  instead there were a pair of "depressions" where the the ATV tires had been.   Jon and I chuckled afterwards at the day-long toggling, trying to find which rut was more runnable.  It was funny, because we never found a better track...both were tough.

The snow was so soft and powdery, running was difficult.   At every foot plant, my foot would schooch or turn or slide; there was never a firm launch to the next step.  It most closely resembled running on soft sand at a beach.   Only without the nice warm sea breeze.

Between miles 2 and 4 (the first aid station), I reset expectations for the day.   Self, I told myself, this is gonna be a long slow day in the woods.   Drop any expectations other than finishing, keep moving and enjoy any treats which may come your way.























And so it went.

The HUFF this year simply became a steady slow run.   As this is my sixth year on this two-loop course, I've been around the loop now twelve times.   Familiarity does help, as I always knew were I was, the distance to the two aid stations or start/finish line and what was ahead.   The day was quietly beautiful.  With no wind, the woods were silent save the crunch of footfalls.   The hills and trees were beautiful with the new snow; the views of the eponymous chains of lakes in the park were terrific.   I had the right number of layers on to stay comfortable...I just kept going.


One of the day's treats was to see so many folks I know.   After you've been running a while, you start to see other similarly crazy people who run long distances too.   Above are two recent friends, Bethany and Michelle from eastern Indiana who both finished their first ultra at HUFF.    Longtime buddies Walter (Go, Cubs, Go) Evans and Jen Savage ran too.   Our local club president Kate also persevered to finish.   Others were friendly and chatty, as is often the case in trail races.   The few folks who had also run in the Deep Water 2011 race became instant buddies.   A tough part of the day was that the deep snow and bad footing exacerbated a recurring injury for Jon and caused him to have to drop out early.   We've done so many races together, though, we've figured out how to alter plans.  He had an extra set of keys to my car, so was able to keep warm, find a book and wait for me.  

I finished the first loop in 3:27:25, which made me laugh.  Nearly a half hour slower than last year's very open course, it confirmed this day would be long.  I reloaded my water bottles, stuffed a couple of chocolate chip cookies in my pocket, wolfed down some PB&J and headed back out.   

The second lap at the HUFF is always quite different than the first, in that the field thins and you are really by yourself.   For an introvert like me, this was perfect.    As I told Jon on the drive up, I was looking forward to this time alone.   It had been an exceedingly difficult prior week at work, as we had lost a valued colleague to a sudden, unexpected stroke.   It was sad, hard and tiring.  A long run allows one to work through much; it's one of the things I like so much about running.   

The aid stations at HUFF are wonderful.   I got back to the first station and loaded up on more cookies and some salty chips.   By the time I got to the second station at mile 23, however, the difficult footing was taking a toll.    Ah, I said, remembering the 2014 race...two years ago I got a magical half-hamburger at this exact point in the race.   Would they have burgers again??  YES!!   I asked and the volunteer put it together for me in a flash.   A heavy coat of ketchup sent me on my way, happy.   I ate it over the next mile and it gave me a nice bump.   

The final 8 miles were more of the same...up, down, tough footing.   My right leg, particularly, was hurting from ankle to hip, discomfort the burger couldn't cure.   Downhills were particularly tough.  Yet, each mile marker brought a smile to my face.   I was enjoying the run, despite the difficulty.   As I got into the final miles, my pace quickened.   The final lap, 23 minutes slower than the first lap, was over, with an official time of 7:23:12.  

It was terrific to finish, yet not just because a tough run was over.   More on that below.  I got my finishers belt buckle and headed to the finish tent to find Jon.   He filled me in on his day; that was tough news to get.   Yet, he was very congratulatory to me for finishing, having first-hand experience on trail conditions.   He had moved my car near the finish line; I got into some dry clothes, grabbed some salty snacks and we headed home.  While roads were still slick, we made it home safely after a long day.  I slept very well that night!  


With Jon at the finish area...note the piles of snow!
















I reflected over the next couple of days on my feeling of elation at the end of the race.   It was more than a sense of relief; it was a genuine positive feeling.  My Garmin's data showed the final two miles were the fastest (least slow??) individual miles of the whole day.  Yet, this race was hard, very hard; it rivaled only the 2011 High Water year in difficulty.   When I finished that 2011 race, though, I wanted nothing more to do with the event.   While I obviously got over that short-term emotion, it was totally different this year.   I was set to do it again.  But why?

I think it came down to joy vs happiness.

Philosophers, linguists, theologians, all a lot smarter than me, have debated if or what the difference is between these two words.   I'll not get into that debate, as most agree happiness is a somewhat more short-term condition than joy.  Happiness depends more on circumstances, where joy is a longer-term settledness of spirit.  Perhaps that's why the Christmas carol is not titled "Happiness To The World"?

The difficulty of the day did not bring happiness.  It was hard, slow running. Yet, as I've matured in understanding myself and my running, I've grown to understand the simple joy of being outdoors, moving, grateful for health and fitness.   The finish time doesn't matter; the age-group placing doesn't matter; moving and friendships matter.

That brought joy.

And that's enough.

Persevere.   And find your joy.


.

Friday, November 18, 2016

How to Inadvertently run a sub 2 hour Half Marathon

ORN:  13.1 miles, 1:59:46 (9:08/mile).

I went out for a morning jog of 5-8 miles on Saturday, November 12.  And stumbled into a Half Marathon.  And went sub 2 hours.  Go figure...go read.


The Gory Details:

Earlier this fall, our oldest son and his wife invited my wife and me to join them for a couple of nights at a cabin in the woods in southern Indiana.   They had rented it earlier in the year and wanted some time with just the four of us.   How cool when your adult kids make such an offer!!


David, Susan, Gretchen, Joe


David and Susan both had the Friday off, so they picked up Gretchen mid morning Friday.   They hiked around the very large and beautiful Brown County State Park near the cabin.  I had a very full day so drove down after work.  It's a little over a 2 hour drive...I arrived at the cabin a bit before 8, driving the whole way in the dark.  I was tired and glad to be off the road.  

While the three of them were out for dinner on Friday, Susan had noticed a flyer announcing a Half Marathon on Saturday morning.   Was I interested? she asked.   Not really; I'm so tired and I ran a full marathon last weekend and I'd really just like to not rush around in the morning.   Besides, she didn't recall any details, like where or when the race was happening.  We had no cell signal out in the woods; so I couldn't look it up.  I hoped to get in 5-8 miles sometime on Saturday but wasn't concerned just when or where. 

Wonderfully, I slept like a rock and gradually woke up around 7:30 on Saturday.   G and I chatted a bit, sleepily, as we came to the surface under warm covers.  She decided to get up around 8:00 and encouraged me to get up and run.  We both had noted the road to the cabin was narrow with no shoulder and quite a bit of traffic...not a good place to run.  So, she suggested I drive over to the State Park to run trails.  This sounded good, so I pried myself out of the warmth of the covers and got out the door at 8:20 ish.  

The car thermometer said it was 29F as I drove but it was sunny, not windy and looked to be a beautiful mid-November day.  I drove to park entrance, showed them our annual Indiana Parks pass and headed in.  

Just inside the entrance, to my surprise, I saw some "Parking" signs, directing cars to a big flat grassy field.   I saw a couple of folks in shorts on this cold morning.   It all looked familiar.  I pulled into the designated parking area, got out of the car to investigate when I heard a loudspeaker in the distance saying "Three! Two! One! Go!!!!!"    Hmmmm, I say to myself, this might be the race Susan mentioned but I still didn't see anything.   Then a guy came running to a car near me carrying what looked a lot like a race t shirt and I asked "Did a race just start?"  "Yeah, just a minute ago!" and he took off.  

Hmmmm again.  Shoot, let's check this out, I quickly decided, still not seeing anything but finding the situation quite familiar.  It was so chilly, I pulled on an extra long sleeve shirt and started jogging towards the sound, on the other side of a small hill.   

Once cresting the hill, there was a familiar sight.  Streamers and cones along a park road, a small arch with a "Start/Finish" sign on it, several folks standing around.  I decided I had nothing to lose, so turned on my Garmin, reset my Timex watch to zero and ran towards the start/finish line like I knew what I was doing.  Mind you, I had no bib, had not registered, didn't even know when the start time was or if this was the same race Susan had seen advertised.   I just started running.   
As I approached the start line, I could see the tail end of the pack going up the first, steep hill and around a curve.  So, I just kept going, didn't ask permission, hit the start button on both watches as I crossed the starting mats and chuckled "Hey, I'm in a race!  I wonder how long it is??!!"   No one standing around said a thing and I didn't pause to ask!!

I quickly caught the tail end walkers and chatted with them as I passed.  The race experience is so familiar!   As I worked past the walkers, I started catching the slower runners; all of us plodding up a very steep hill.  Several were wearing the race T shirt, called "The Hilly Half".   This confirmed I had stumbled onto the race Susan mentioned.   Appropriately named, the first mile was straight up a very steep hill.  Eventually, I saw the "Mile One" marker and was still passing folks.  

But then, I started seeing faster, younger runners coming back at me.  OK, I say to myself, this must be an out and back course!  So, I won't get lost.   But why do I see folks returning already? 

Soon, I saw a big cone on the middle of the park road with a sign "5K Turnaround".  Oh, I'm starting to get it.   This is a 5K...and it might be part of the HM, maybe??  So, when I got to the volunteer at the turnaround, I just asked her.  "Hi!  I got a late start...how do I follow the Half Marathon route?"  She smiled and said "Oh, the half marathon, you're fine, just keep running straight!"   Good...settled the fact this was indeed a HM.  And there was a steady series of orange cones on the park road, so I just kept going, still mostly uphill.   

In another half mile or so, I caught more walkers.  Ah, OK, this is the tail end of the HM, I say, the organizers sent them off first, makes sense.  Again, I'm chatting with them as I pass, enjoying the spectacular fall morning.   In a mile or so, though, I saw more runners coming back at me.  Wow, I say to myself doing some math, these guys must be really fast if I'm at the tail of the HM but seeing the leaders coming back.  It didn't really make much sense, but, hey, I was warm in bed just an hour ago, so I didn't worry much.   

Well, wouldn't you know it, I kept passing people but a bit past the 3 mile marker, there was ANOTHER cone in the middle of the road with the sign "10K Turnaround".  Oy!!  They had a 10K and a 5K and a HM, all going on at the same time!  So, once more I check with the volunteer at the cone and she's very friendly and tells me "Oh, you're fine, just keep on running that way for the Half!"   What a hoot.

Well....leaving the 10K ers behind at mile 3.1, I'm now TOTALLY by myself.  No one is around.   The cones are still in the road and I know where I am, so, at worst, I can turn around and get back to my car.   But there are no runners anywhere in sight. So, I just keep running.   It's flatter by now, on a ridge line with spectacular views in the clear fall morning.   I'm doing around 8:50 miles and feeling fine, not using walk breaks.  

I came around a bend in the road and saw another volunteer directing traffic.  He seemed a bit alarmed to see me and asked "Are you running the Half Marathon?"   I had settled on my explanation for the day and gave it; "Yes, but I got a late start."  He looked concerned.  "Well, buddy, the sag wagon has already passed here, they were behind the slowest runner, they weren't expecting you."  I replied "Hey, I'm sorry!   But I can take care of myself, so don't worry about me!" and kept running.   Not sure quite what he thought of that.  I just kept rolling.  

Integrity still had to rule, despite the spontaneity of it all.   I had not paid for the race, didn't have a bib, the organizers had no coverage for me on a liability basis.   So I didn't take any water from the correctly placed water tables and tried to just be positive and not a pain.  I  hadn't had any fluids at all, in fact, since dinner the night before.  So, how will this go??  I sure felt good so far. 

Around mile 5.5, I came over a rise and, happily, saw the aforementioned sag wagon.  Two guys driving an ATV were puttzing along behind some walkers.   OK, finally this MUST be the back of the HM pack.  I caught the sag wagon, slowed and talked to the driver as I jogged next to him, telling him my "late start" story.  He thought that was funny and wondered if I was going to keep passing people.  Told him I hoped to and just wanted to have fun on a gorgeous morning. More chatting, more fun.   So, after a couple of miles totally alone, I was back with people and started passing them once more.  I also saw the leaders heading back, so it all made sense. 

About this time, I saw a photographer.  Later, the organizers published pix free on FB.  I really like that about small races.  Smiling, still in my heavy top layer...

 

A bit after this, I heard a guy yell "Joe Ely, what are you doing here??!!"   It was my chiropractor!!  He's a runner too and I had seen him earlier in the week, but we didn't mention this race.   I just passed him quickly and yelled, "It's a long story, Doug, but I didn't exactly plan this!"   He laughed and headed back.  Even two hours from home, I see someone I know.   

The course looped a bit on the far end to get the distance right and I just kept running, with a pace just above and just below 9:00/ mile.  I was just running by feel, enjoying it.  I felt fine.  I walked up the steepest portions of the uphills but otherwise ran continuously.   The entire course was on park roads, so it was a road race, not a trail race.   

The trip back to the start was fun...I steadily passed people all the way.  At one point, I pulled alongside a couple of runners and asked "Hey, I got started late, what time did the half actually start?"  Turns out it began at 8:30am.  I was a full 30 minutes late across the start line.   Really made me laugh.  

Did I mention the day was beautiful??  It was and the temps gradually warmed.   I stashed my top shirt layer well before the turnaround and picked it up on the way back, tying it around my waist.   And still didn't take any water.   Glad it was so cool.  And was still enjoying myself. 


Around mile 10 or so, I still felt good and I began to wonder, shoot, what might my finish time be??  With a 5K to go, I started doing math for the first time.   I knew the first two miles, steep uphills, were well over 10 minutes each, and I didn't feel like I was running hard, so figured I get done in 2:05 to 2:08, which seemed a good morning workout.   But, by the time I got to mile 11, I looked at my watch, did some further math, and realized I had an outside shot at a sub 2 hour HM.   It all depended on what I could make up doing down the final 2 miles.   I know, from experience, the downs never wipe out the ups, though.  

I just ran and kept enjoying it, chatting and laughing with folks.   

Mile 12 appeared quite quickly, it seemed.  Apparently, the race had advertised the final mile as "The Beer Mile".  A local microbrewery was handing out small cups of brew right at the Mile 12 marker.  Another smart aleck remark hit me.  I said to the guy standing there; "I don't always drink beer..." and he laughed and finished my sentence for me "...but when I do, it's at the 12 mile mark of a half marathon!" 

Still laughing, I looked at my watch; 1:50 and change.  Oh my, I thought, this is crazy, can I pound this final mile point one and go sub 2?   Shoot, the whole morning had been crazy, let's give it a go.  

Running fast downhill is not as easy at it seems, as you know.   But I tried to let it all loose.  I got to the mile 13 sign at 1:58:15 or so, but I still couldn't see the finish line, such were the trees, curves and hills.   But I let it fly, came around a curve, saw the finish and gave the best sprint I could.  I knew I had no chip, so had to hit my watch to get a time.  I crossed, looked down and had it in 1:59:42.    What an amazing thing!   

Waiting for me there was Dr. Doug, my chiropractor.  "What on earth is this story?" he asked in amazement.    I caught my breath and told him.  We had a great laugh.  He had driven down from Lafayette just for this run...I had stayed in bed until 8:15.   What a contrast.  


Later, I looked at the race results, to see how I might have fared.  Overall, I would have been 83rd of 206 finishers.  In Men 60-69, I would have been 5th of 14 (and only one minute away from 3rd...shouldn't have talked so much along the way!!).  

So, there you go, the oddest and perhaps the fun-est HM I may ever do.   Broke all the rules; no fluids, no carbs, no stretching, no warm up, too chatty, no registration. 

Persevere.   You never know what might happen.


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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Making Ice and Snow Running Shoes with Simple Screws

A few years ago, I blogged about how to improve winter running by putting short sheet metal screws in a pair of old running shoes.

I just produced a video with the same information.  I've used this so much, I wanted to make it available for many others.


Feel free to share!   And welcome to our kitchen!!

Persevere.


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Friday, October 28, 2016

Race Report: Chicago Marathon 2016

ORN:  26.2 miles, 4:03:29, 9:18/mile, mostly run, some 4/1 R/W.  13,416 of 40,468 overall (33%); 9,400th of 21,990 men (43%); 145th of 641 men 60-64 (23%).   Marathon finish #67.


Summary:   What can you say about the Chicago Marathon?   It's huge, it's amazing,  an estimated 1.7 million people on the streets, a vibe, an energy that's unique and likely only rivaled by the New York City Marathon.   In my third shot at Chicago, I had hoped to qualify for Boston Marathon but, again, came up shot, despite a perfect weather day.   Yet, race day fell on my 63rd birthday and it was a treat to run the best race I could on an October 9.


Gory Details:

My local running pal Jon and I were at it again and it was fun to do this together.  We drove to Chicago on Saturday afternoon and got through the Expo with minimal hassle, even with the traffic challenges.   We posed for the obligatory "Hey, I got my bib!" photo.




We spent the night in the 'burbs with fellow Marathon Maniac Jerry, whom I had met several years ago when we ran much of the Fox Valley Marathon together.  Jerry and his wife were quite gracious and it was terrific to be in a home, not a hotel.  Even better to share with Jerry the Cubs beating San Francisco to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Division Series.   I fell asleep hearing the final out...sweet.

We were up at 4am and backing out of the driveway at 5, heading downtown on empty Chicago expressways.  Jon did a terrific job to reserve a marvelously well-located parking spot on State Street, in which we parked by 5:30am.   We didn't want to be rushed and we weren't.

We got our layers on in the cool morning and walked towards the start area in Grant Park around 6:15am.   Jerry had advised us to be there early, due to security checks on all runners.  We beat the rush, moved through security and got near the starting grids with plenty of time.   In fact, we had so much time there were no lines yet at the portapots!!

As the sun began to light the eastern sky over Lake Michigan, Jon and I posed for a pic in front of famous Buckingham Fountain.


We struck up a long conversation with a young man who was volunteering and wondered just why he was up so early.   We tried to help him see the value in it.  Maybe it helped, dunno.

Jon and I then split up to get to our respective start corrals.  On the way, who should I see but the ubiquitous Dave Mari!  I had last seen Dave at mile 10 in the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in June.  He remembered that...how, I don't know, he has a gazillion friends.   We had a fun talk and, of course, the mandatory selfie. 


With about 45 minutes until our corral started Wave 2 at 8:00am, I got in the corral, stretched and began to get ready mentally.   I took one final photo of the grid at about 15% filled, put the phone away and began to rehearse the plan for the day.  



The plan was simple at its core: run 8:55 miles, not too fast so as to use up reserves and not too slow to set me behind the hope of a 3:53 finishing time, a 2 minute cushion under my BQ requirement of 3:55.   How would this work in the crush of people running?  Would my GPS unit work in the concrete canyons of the Loop?  Could my form hold up?  We were about to find out.   

As 8:00am approached, the organizers had us queued well for the start of Wave 2, given the "fasties" in Wave 1 were already on the course following their 7:30am start.  I was midway back in the front corral and at 8:02, I began the journey.  It was very difficult to guage pace early on.  Indeed, the GPS lost track of the satellites between the buildings, so I ran by feel.  I passed the Mile 1 post at 9:00 even, a little behind.  It was a crush of people but not as much bobbing and weaving as I had feared.

Along the second mile, I fell in behind a lady who seemed to be running a perfect pace for me.  We hit mile 2 at 8:53, then mile 3 at 8:43.   Sweet.  I paid her a brief compliment and learned she had the same BQ time as me and was also attempting to qualify.  Then she added she had qualified for Boston three times and "knew how to get this done".  Good, I'll shut up and just stay with you.   So, we did through mile 9.   The miles clicked by perfectly, at an average of 8:52.  I was pleased.

But then, at one water stop, I lost her in the crowd.  I have no idea what happened.  I was back on my own.  I found a couple more runners who seemed to be on a good pace and fell in with them through mile 15.   I hit the half marathon mark at 1:56:19, nearly perfect for my 3:55 target.  If I could do the second half in 1:59, it would work.  

I worked through the west section of the course and made the turn where I bonked in 2010 with no problems   I was right at a 9:00/mile pace, and while that was OK, it was leaking on my target of 8:55.   I could feel it slipping but worked hard to keep it up.  Mile 19 was 9:12 and it was really easing away and mile 21 was the worst of the day, at 10:27.   

We wound through Chinatown and out towards White Sox Park...that gave this Cubs fan a smile.  But the miles weren't smiling as I was right at 10:00/mile for the rest of the way.   Across the Dan Ryan, through IIT and then, finally, the left turn onto Michigan Avenue for the last 5K.  

I did my best to run well down Michigan but the turnover wasn't there.  It was here I accepted there would be no BQ today.  When the 4:00 pace group passed me, I knew it was over.  So I resolved to simply run as well as I could, on a beautiful day in a terrific setting with a world around me.  I made the final right turn up the only significant hill on the course, then the quick left to the finish line.  4:03:29, done.  

And I was done.   Very done.  I hurt more at the conclusion of this marathon than I  have at the end of a marathon in a long time.  I guess I "left it on the course", which took me a couple of days to really grasp.   I leaned on the barricades and slowly, very slowly, made my way through the finishing area.   I put a good face on for a finish line photo on my phone...you can see what a magnificent day it was. 














I found the chocolate milk stand (masquerading as Gatorade Recovery drink) and downing two of them made a world of difference, along with a banana and an apple.  I was moving better at last and worked my way towards the exit of the runner area.

And saw this mass of humanity, crushing up against the barriers.  It was a little scary, actually.  I'm not quite sure how anyone really found a loved one in this mess.  I just had to take care of myself.







As I mentioned earlier, Jon found a terrific parking spot, so it was a short walk to his car, where I got some dry clothes and some further fluids.   I then headed back to Michigan Avenue, using the phone app to track Jon's location.  I found him around 16th Street and we ran a good half mile or so as he finished up.  I broke off before the security entrance for runners only and we met up at the car shortly.   On the road, soon we got home by 6pm, in time for a birthday gathering at our house.  It was quite a 63rd birthday, indeed.

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Since race day, much post-race reflection.   How did I actually feel about a 4:03 marathon?   I remain mixed.   My goal-oriented side is still disappointed.   My pragmatic side noted I had given it my best.   I wondered if I should have modified my training or racing plan.   Overthinking knows no bounds, after all.

Jon is a kind listener to my navel-gazing mental meanderings.  I sent him some race data from four decent marathons over the past year and, rather than just talk, he complied the mile by mile times in four sub 4:05 marathons into one coherent graph.   He's a data guru, professionally, and it shows.










The key here:  Blue is Monumental Marathon, 7 Nov 15;  green is Carmel Marathon, 16 Apr 16; yellow is Wisconsin Marathon, 7 May 16 and orange is this Chicago Marathon.

I've been fine through mile 20 in each of these races but fading at 20 to various degrees.   How do you simulate running 20 miles without running 20 miles?  How do you get your legs used to that grind, after running three hours?

So, I ponder that.

Yet, as I get a bit of distance from the event, I feel better about the race.  Placing in the top quarter of my AG and top third of the entire field was very encouraging to me.

Where to I go with my effort to qualify for Boston?  I'm not sure.   If I wait two years from now, I will only need at 4:10 to qualify.   Can I maintain that speed till then?   Oh, so much to think about.

And, maybe I just smile and enjoy running for its intrinsic pleasures.   More and more, I'm landing there.

Thanks for reading.

Persevere.


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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Race Report: Last Chance BQ2 Grand Rapids

ORN:  26.2 miles, 4:38:36, 10:38/mile; run, then 4/1 R/W, then 3/1 R/W
155 of 206 starters, 164 finishers.  8th of 8 in men 60-64, 92nd of 96 all males

Summary: The goal was to qualify for Boston in this race, meaning a 3:55 or better finish.  Didn't happen, not even close.  Temps in the low 70s and very, very high humidity made it a tough go for me and everyone else.  By mile 10, it was evident BQ was not going to happen, so I idled back, shifted to a run/walk and simply enjoyed finishing marathon #66.  And, ultimately, enjoyable it was.





Gory Details:

The Last Chance BQ2 Grand Rapids is an annual event conducted just ahead of registration opening for the Boston Marathon for the following spring.  Since qualifying for Boston was my 2016 running goal, this was, indeed, my last chance.  It was my 3rd attempt to BQ, having come up short at Carmel and Wisconsin marathons last spring, I registered for this event and trained for it through the summer.  And I hoped for helpful weather.

Summer training this year was so-so.  I ran all the miles on Hal Higdon's Intermediate II plan, which has served me well.  Yet, the speed work I did this summer was tough to get in.  It's been so hot and relentlessly humid, I wasn't sure if it was enough.

I drove to Grand Rapids after work on Friday, got my bib and met several other runners.  



With daylight still allowing it, I then drove to the start/finish area which proved helpful in finding my way around on race morning.

Up at 4:40am on race morning, I was heading to the site by 5:15am and was sad to see the pre-dawn temperature on my car thermometer at 72F.  The air was heavy with no stars in the sky.  I scored a good parking spot and had a good chance to relax before the gun.

By the 7am start, we were all assembled.  The first three digits on each runner's bib was his/her qualifying time for Boston.  The names on the bib made for a bit more personal approach as well.  This made it easy to see who to try to hang with and who to salute and wish well.  The grid for the 3:55 section was made of men, 60-64 and women 45-49.  Perhaps predictably, the women immediately began exchanging information and finding friends, while the men stood silent, alone in their thoughts.  Fascinating bit of human behavior to observe.

While 330 people had registered for this race, only 206 runners started.  The gun went off on schedule, though with the cloud cover, it was still quite dark, hard with my age-advanced eyesight to see my watches.  But they got started and off we went.   Over the first couple of miles, as we were all bunched together, the sheer number of beeps and buzzes I heard from everyone's various electronic devices as amazing.  This illustrated the unique nature of this race:  the only folks there were experienced runners AND had a clear goal with a plan to achieve it.

The course was, at its core, a 4+ mile, football shaped oval, with a half mile spur to one "point" of the football, followed by six laps and then a run back to the start/finish.   Several of us in the 3:55 group soon fell in with each other.  Little conversation took place, much less than in a normal race, given each of us was focused.

I finished the first lap, about 5 miles into the race, on pace for the 3:55.  Yet, I was already drenched with sweat and breathing more heavily than I'd have liked at that stage.  Around mile 7, I glanced at the race time on my normal watch and saw a blank screen.  Yep, my regular watch conked out on me.  I had my Garmin GPS watch on my right wrist, however, set to keep track of each full mile's time and the pace in each individual mile.  That would be the only timing I had.  I stuck with the plan I had in place, choosing to focus on simply executing each mile, one at a time, and working the plan.

Somewhere during mile 8, however, the pace fell off.  Miles 8 and 9 each clicked through at 10 minutes flat, far from the 8:55 pace I needed.  So, during mile 10, I settled the now-obvious fact that this day would not be the day.  The weather conditions (and, secondarily, my base of training through the summer) just were not conducive to a hard run this day.  So, I pivoted to my familiar run/walk plan and the objective shifted to simply enjoying a marathon, finishing without injury and staying well for the future.

The race went well from there on.  With my regular watch kaput, I jerry rigged my plan for run walk, using distance splits on my Garmin.  From miles 11 through 18, I took a short (like 30 seconds) walk break on the mile and half mile distance.  At 18, that felt a bit much, so I split each mile into thirds for a short walk break and carried that to the end.  It all worked.

I managed a 8:55 pace over the final half mile run back to the start/finish line and felt good at the end, always a measure of how well a race goes.   I talked with a few folks and made a bee-line for my car to get the cold milk/protein/banana/oatmeal smoothie from the cooler.  



In chatting with folks after the race and in reviewing official race statistics, it was clear I was hardly alone regarding the difficulty of the day.  Very few people qualified for Boston...only 3 of the 8 in my age group and fewer than that in other age groups.  Congratulations to those to made it...that was quite something on that day.

So, this was marathon #66 and I'm grateful for being able to run.  Will I BQ?  I truly don't know.  And if I never run Boston, I'll still die a happy man.  I do enjoy running and we'll see when or if the BQ happens.


Thanks for reading.  Persevere.


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