Sunday, October 05, 2014

Race Report: A Weekend Double: US Air Force Marathon, Fox Valley Marathon, Sept 20-21, 2014

Air Force Marathon:  4:52:51, 11:10/mile, R/W 3/1
Fox Valley Marathon:  4:46:52, 10:57/mile, R/W 3/1

It's amazing I ever ran one marathon, so much more so I'd ever complete 50.  Yet, it happened, as Air Force was my 50th and the next day I ran my 51st marathon at Fox Valley.  It was a marvelous two days of running, with no walls, no pain, a plan that worked and sheer joy throughout.  I'm very blessed, indeed.

Why a double?

An obvious question.  Isn't one marathon enough, Joe?? my more rational friends ask.  Well, yes, it's very fine.  Yet, for me, a process geek and a goal-oriented guy, the aim was not to do a double.  The aim is to enjoy the upcoming 50 mile Fall 50 in Door County, Wisconsin on Saturday October 25.  I set this target on January 1, 2014 and the double weekend was second of two crucial toll gates I needed to clear to be set for a 50 mile road race (I described the first one here ).

US Air Force Marathon, Saturday, September 20, 2014

This is the second time I've run the Air Force Marathon on the huge Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and represented an opportunity for redemption of sort.  In my report of that 2008 effort, the sad story of a bad bonk unfolds.  It taught me a lot and I've been keen to, someday, "get back on the horse" and see if I could be smarter.

I drove to Dayton, Ohio on Friday afternoon, fought the traffic to get in and out of packet pick up, slept in simple setting and was up at oh-dark-thirty to get to the race site.  Traffic and layout and race size is such that getting in and out is difficult.  I was parked at 5:12am for the 7:30am start and still had a one-mile walk to the start line.

The day dawned mild, with no wind and temps in the upper 50s, yet promised to warm.  I wore a special shirt in this military setting.  I'm so grateful for the six years our oldest son David served in the Army, with two trips to Iraq and one to South Korea.  He inspired our youngest son Matt who is in the Army now, back from one trip to Afghanistan and looking like he might be in for a while.

I really appreciated the kind greetings I received all day about this meant a lot.  

The race got started on time and the day unfolded.  I saw and talked with quite a few friends.  Early chats with Jen Savage and Elaine Green were fun.  During mile 1, I ran with Eddie "The Barefoot Bandito" Vega for a while.  Eddie ran the Circular Logic Marathon (I'm the RD for that event) last year and runs barefoot to raise money for shoes for kids in the Philippines.  He's an amazing guy.  Around mile 8, I ran quite a while with Michael Hoyt.  It's fascinating how, at races not even near my home, you still meet familiar faces.  

The plan for both weekend marathons was to test the pace, hydration and fuel plan for the upcoming 50 miler.  Since there were no drop bags for this race, I simplified my fuel plan.  After taking nothing for the first hour, I then ate every 20 minutes, alternating between my homemade gel in my waist pack and pretzel rods, below.  I packaged these in kitchen wrap and they fit perfectly in the pockets of my Race Ready shorts.  

I used a run 3 minutes/walk 1 minute sequence from beginning to end.  The run sequence was usually around a 10:15/mile pace and my aggregate miles were all in the 10:45 to 11:00 range.  This system just seems to work for me and I enjoyed the run.  

I hit the half marathon mark at 2:24:33, well ahead of my target time of 2:36.  During the second half of the race, I ran into long time running pal Mark Janowsky, who had completed two 100 mile races since we last saw each other in July in Milwaukee.  He gave me much good advice about my "mere" 50 miler!! 

The organizers did a great job.  Most water stops had some "theme".   The best one, IMHO, was the Alien Invader stop, handled by folks from the Air Force's National Air and Space Intelligence Center.  Hey, if anyone would know about aliens, it would be these guys, right???  They got into it and it was fun.  

While much of the course was open, there was a beautiful section between miles 18-20, an old road with full canopy of trees.  This was a visual treat and a welcome break from the growing warmth of the day.  

 I also saw a lot of interesting shirts in this race.  The funny ones I had not seen before included "This sure seems like a lot of work for a free banana" and "Humpty Dumpty had issues with walls too".   The most substantial one I saw, though, was this one.  It captured my rationale for running, just as it did for its owner.  This guy's daughter made the shirt for him...I may well make one for myself.  

The temperature rose and was in the upper 70s by the final six miles.  It was this stretch where I bonked badly in 2008 and those memories flowed as we covered the same turf this time.  Amazingly, I felt fine this time and powered through miles 22 to the finish with lowered splits each mile.  The hydration and fueling plan worked. 

The last half mile of this course is a wonderful U shaped trip next to the USAF Museum, lined with a very enthusiastic crowd in the shadow of many famous planes of our nation.  I pulled out a small US flag I had with me and got a lot of positive feedback for that plus my shirt.  The end was a thrill, thinking both of my sons and the personal accomplishment of my 50th marathon.  The emotion all came together as I hit the finish line, as you can see in this official race photo which I purchased to commemorate the event.   

I received my medal from a 2-star general who himself had two sons in the Army...we had a most enjoyable chat as two Dads who have a personal investment in our nation's military. 

The race over, I started working my way back to my car knowing my day was far from over.  I ran into running buddy AJ Hacker, who had smoked the race in 3:36 and was already showered.  He snapped a mug shot for me, as we talked about the ups and downs of racing.
My finish time was officially 4:52:51.  As a set up for my 50 miler, I was very pleased with this.  Amazingly, I was 1442nd of 2908 overall...I was surprised this time would get me into the top half.  Even more amazingly, I was 21st of 79 in my AG.  

It was a good day.  Yet the adventure was not even half over yet.  


Our home in West Lafayette, Indiana is conveniently midway between Dayton, Ohio and the far western Chicago suburbs where the Fox Valley race happens.  I drove the three hours home, legs feeling good despite the car ride.  The hot shower was nice, a short meal with my wonderful (and oh-so supportive) wife was terrific, being off the road as a brief thunderstorm blew through was fortuitous and I was back on the road again.  Three more hours driving to St. Charles, Illinois, picking up my race bib from a local running friend who had been to the expo on my behalf (Thanks, Steve!), finding my motel and, to no surprise, I fell asleep very quickly at 10pm.  

Fox Valley Marathon, Sunday, September 21, 2014

The alarm went off at 5am again yet logistics were a lot simpler for this smaller marathon.  My motel was less than a mile from the start/finish line and I was able to park for free on the second deck of a garage which overlooked the start area...a complete contrast to the traffic and long walks of the previous day's race.  

The race was well organized and started right on time at 7:30.  Interestingly, though, it took me nearly 20 minutes to get across the start line as the organizers had a very simple and effective wave start process.  This was wonderfully done and vital.

The true star of the Fox Valley race was the course.  We spent all day on walking / running paths on either side of the Fox River which flows southward through the far western suburbs of Chicago.  Man, it was beautiful.  The image below shows a typical view; fully 3/4 of the course looked like this.  Thus, the wave start let the field stretch out and I was able to run comfortably, without crowding all day long.  

And I repeated the pattern from the previous day, as preparation for the 50 miler.  Run/walk in a 3/1 pattern, salt tabs once an hour, plenty of water, eating something every 20 minutes; lather, rinse, repeat.  

Did I mention the course was beautiful?? 

And that the trail was canopied and pleasant??  Oh, yes, I think I did.  

The day was just fun on the lovely course.  I hit the halfway mark in 2:25:49 and the miles kept clicking by.  There were a few moderate, minor inclines, but nothing major; in fact, the slight rolls helped create changes for leg angles which helped the cause.  

The overthinker that I am, I've been pondering these weekend races all year.  In particular, I knew the final 10 miles of the second marathon would prove the real test of my preparation for the 50 miler.  So, when I hit mile 16, I began noting closely how I felt.  Amazingly, I felt fine, so kept motoring.  At mile 18, I wondered if anything bad would go down...not yet.  Mile 20 came and went...I still felt fine.  Just before Mile 22 was a park where many family had gathered to cheer.  One young boy had a soccer ball and I motioned to him to toss it at my feet...he and I knocked the ball back and forth, to his Dad's delight and my psyche.  Yeah, I guess I'm doing OK. 

I realized I could open things up at this point holding anything back now.  My splits for the final miles were:

Mile 23   11:01
Mile 24   10:14
Mile 25    9:59
Mile 26    9:47
Mile 26.2   8:26 pace

Yes, descending splits.  I was grinning ear to ear for the final 3 miles, realizing the adventure was working well.  It's hard to describe but the energy kept flowing.

As we came to the final left turn, leaving a clear 250m path over a bridge to the finish line, I caught up again with fellow Marathon Maniac Jerry Olsen, with whom I had talked quite a bit during the race.  I said, "Hey, let's finish together."  He liked the idea and said "Let's link our hands at the finish!"  And we faster and faster, nearly sprinting, feeling good, relishing the moment, thrilled to have his 25th and my 51st marathon in the bag.  We were both as happy as it looks in this official finish photo.  

And there it was.  The task accomplished.  My first ever double marathon weekend.  Feeling fine throughout.  I'm still amazed.  

I walked through the finish area, grabbed some food and just tried to absorb what this all meant.  Jolted from my thoughts, who should I see, but the ubiquitous Dave Mari, who had run the half marathon.  What better than a selfie with the photo king himself??  That was a hoot!!!

Jerry and I met up again and had a chance as well to relive the whole was successful for Jerry, as he nailed a negative split and felt strong to the end.  Maniacs, indeed.   It was a treat to meet and then finish with Jerry.  

My finishing time was officially 4:46:52, a full six minutes faster than the previous day's marathon at Air Force.  That was largely due to the barely got to 60 during the race and was cloudy throughout.  Yet the field was more competitive, as I was merely 675th of 995 finishers and only 12th of 17  in my AG.   Fox Valley is a solid race that attracts quality runners.  


There are the numbers and then there are the thoughts.

The splits of half marathons for the weekend are particularly interesting to me...I did four, if you will, over the weekend:  2:24:33, 2:28:18, 2:25:45, 2:21:08.  Consistent and improving.  In particular, a negative split by over 4 minutes on the second marathon astounds me.  I guess, the weekend was a double negative split, if there is such a thing.

I've had a couple of weeks to think about this as of this writing.   I am so grateful to have been given the gift of good health and a supportive wife to be able to run.  I'm grateful for all the lessons I've learned which have morphed into a coherent strategy for running a long ways, regularly.  I can't imagine I'd ever finish 50 marathons...that boggles the mind.  Yet, here I am and it just doesn't seem to be such a big deal.

So, the year is taking shape.  I feel set for the 50 mile road test on October 25.  Stay tuned...we'll see if I can really run for 10 hours straight.

And, as always, persevere.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Race Report: Labor Day Weekend Trifecta; Parlor City Trot HM, Boomshakalaka HM, Blueberry Stomp 15K

Aug 30, 7:30am: Parlor City Trot HM, 1:58:15, 9:02/mile, all run
Aug 30, 7:00pm: Boomshakalaka HM, 2:23:00, 10:55/mile, run, then 4/1
Sept 1, 9:00am:  Blueberry Stomp 15K, 1:23:29, 8:59/mile, run


It all fell into place...three races in three days.  I enjoyed the weekend a lot, piled on 35.6 miles of racing and continued to get set for fall running.

Why Three Races: 

The answer is simple...this was an efficient way to get set for a major target race.  For a couple of years, I've wanted to take on the Door County Fall 50, a 50-mile Wisconsin ultramarathon on October 25 in an area where we've vacationed for 30+ years.  I haven't told many about this target, as I just didn't know if I could get ready for a 50 miler.  But my training through the summer has gone well, so I signed up.

As a final prep for the 50 miler, I'm going to do my first ever marathon double weekend, running the Air Force Marathon on Saturday, Sept 20 and the Fox Valley Marathon on Sunday, Sept 21.  Looking at the calendar, Labor Day weekend was exactly three weeks ahead of the double.  All 3 of these races were convenient to my home..could I call them collectively my long run for the double??  I decided I would.

The Races:

Parlor City Trot Half Marathon, Bluffton, Indiana, 7:30am Saturday

This is a gem of a race which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.  Amazingly, I had never heard of it and what a was wonderful.  There were a couple hundred runners and we were treated to a fabulous course on hard-surface bike trails through the Ouabache State Park just outside Bluffton, near Fort Wayne.  I loved the course.

My aim for each of the races was to run at a 9:00/mile pace.  Early on in this one, I fell in with Greg and Gail who were at that pace and we ran almost the entire race together.  The miles clicked by, steady and solid, despite the temperatures in the low 70s but high humidity.  The overcast skies kept the sun away and I finished under 2 hours at 1:58:15, a 9:02 pace.

A treat:  packet pickup was at a municipal gym and, post race, we could use the showers there for free.  It was terrific to get a hot shower after being soaked with sweat...the two hour drive home was much more pleasant as a result.

A fun bit of realism as well.  The award ceremony took place not long after I finished and, with a small field, 5 year age groups and awards for the top two in each AG, I thought this might be my chance to win an award.  As my high school math teacher was fond of saying "If you make the pond small enough, any of you can be a big fish."   Alas, the second place man in the 60-64 AG ran a 1:47, so I was at least 10 minutes shy of a big-fish moment.  I was fine and headed home.

Results:  93 of 192 overall, 4 of 7 in AG

Intermission--Saturday afternoon

Usually, when I get home from a race, it's back to the regular routine.  Not this day...I had to handle my nutrition and other activities knowing I was back on the road at 5pm for the 7pm race in Indy!  I did end up watching a wonderful Chelsea vs Everton soccer match from England, got my hair cut and got a new battery in my race-day watch.  Then, load up and head for Indy, only an hour away.

Boomshakalaka Half Marathon, Indianapolis, 7:00pm Saturday

This was the inaugural effort for this HM.  The night race format was fun.  The organizers measured the 13.1 mile distance into four equal laps in a city park area, starting and finishing at the Major Taylor Velodrome, just north of downtown Indy.

I had been by this complex many times but never in was well suited.  Plus, it's just cool to say the word "velodrome" and know it's a high speed bike track.

The course came into and out of the bike track through a door along the back straightaway and then went out and essentially did one big lap around a city golf course.  It contained two modest hills (well, in Indiana, we'd call them big but not many others would name them such) and was an interesting route.

After running at a 9:00/mile pace that morning, I hoped to do the same for this night race.  During the first lap, I did (in 30 minutes flat) but it was obvious to me as I completed lap one that would not hold up for the next three.  In this race photo, you can see my consternation as I completed lap one.

Re-calibrating my expectations as I headed out for lap two, I decided to accept the fatigue I felt in the legs and the heaviness of the 78 degree, very high humidity evening.  I turned the outing into a training run, instead of a race.  I switched to a 4/1 run/walk routine and ran in a more relaxed, unpressured manner.  It took most of the second time around (some 37 minutes) to get it right in mind and body, but you can see I am more at ease when I came across half way through.  

Laps three and four were actually fun, taking 37 and 38 minutes each.  I was able to talk with a number of folks I know and just knocked off the remaining miles.   The only fly in the running ointment was a dandy case of "sour stomach" pretty much from the first lap onwards.  Not sure what caused it, but I tend to think it was a hydration issue coupled with the timing of the afternoon food.

While a 2:23:00 half marathon is not that good, it gave me a full marathon of miles for the day in a total time of 4:21:15 in very hot weather and that was fine by me.

Result:   103 of 206 overall.

Blueberry Stomp 15K, Monday, September 1, 9:00am

I've run this race three times before, unlike the other two races this weekend.  It's a hoot, as this race is part of a big civic event, which means we get to run in front of thousands of people who are lined up to see a big parade.  Two local runners rode along with me and we enjoyed the day.

We picked up our bibs, mine decidedly "round" for this race and got organized. My interest was to see just how I could run two days after doing the pair of HMs. Typically, two days after a long run is the "most-sore" day of them all.  I took a longer than normal warm up run and carefully stretched before we started.  The race started on time and off I was, racing all felt quite familiar.

The temperatures were in the upper 70s already, the humidity very high and the sky leaden and overcast.  The air was just plain heavy.  I tried to hit a 9:00/mile pace from the start.  There was some gentle roll to the course and one solid hill.  I was able to manage the ups and downs and hold the pattern.  My quickest mile was 8:37, my slowest 9:14 and the aggregate pace was 8:59/mile.  I was drenched at the finish but happy with the results and how I felt.

Result:  124 of 290 overall, 3 of 10 in Men 60-64

The Final Summary

Man, that was fun!  I really enjoyed the back to back to back races.  My legs and feet feel fine and, other than the sour stomach on Saturday night, it all worked.  Remarkably, I was in the top half of the field in each race, not something that happens all that often.  The heat bothered everyone, I guess.  Next stop is my first-ever double weekend on Sept 20-21.



The Weekend as a Whole:

Saturday, August 09, 2014

How to Eat during an Ultra Marathon: My Gastronomic Experiment at the Heatbreaker Indoor Half and Full Marathons, 2014

ORN:  July 26, 2014:
13.1 miles, 2:25:46, 11:23/mile;
then 26.2 miles, 5:17:40, 12:08/mile
Combined:  39.3 miles, 7:45:52, 11:52/mile

Summary:  The Heatbreaker Indoor Half Marathon and Marathon in Milwaukee afforded me a wonderful experiment in ultramarathoning in perfect 55F temperatures in the middle of the summer.

The Race:

The race setting itself was both simple and helpful. We ran on a 460 meter indoor track at the Pettit National Ice Center in suburban Milwaukee. A three-lane running track surrounds an Olympic-class speed skating rink.  In late January I had run the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon at the same site, so I knew the place and how it would work. Mega-thanks to the RD Chris to made it easy for me to get into this summer race.

The half marathon began 7:00am and consisted of 47 and a half laps of the track. I ran it and had about 20 minutes before the full marathon started at 10:00am, 95 full trips around the speed skating rink. Runners could choose to run either race or both, as I did. For me, however, I chose to not view the morning as two races but a single 39.3 mile ultramarathon.

As such, my plan was to run a consistent set of miles at 11:30 to 12 minute per mile pace staying with a run/walk sequence of 3 minutes run and 1 minute walk. And I was able to execute that plan. I carried the 3/1 run/walk from beginning to end and my combined pace was 11:52/mile. I was pleased.

So just how do you eat during an ultramarathon anyway?  

I'm hardly a guru.  

Ultramarathon strategies ultimately hinge on three things it seems to me. First is pace, second is hydration and third is nutrition. The setup for the Heatbreaker allowed a perfect laboratory to experiment with all three. I discussed pace above...the rest of this is about hydration and nutrition

In a way, it is a bit ludicrous for me to write about ultramarathon nutrition. Before Heatbreaker, I've run only six ultras; two of 33.5 miles and four 50Ks.  Hardly a grizzled ultra dude.  Yet, running is nothing if it is not a learning experience.  So, this is a summary of my learning so are welcome to come along for the ride.

I read quite a bit about nutrition and hydration before running this race and wrote this summary of what I have learned. Two information sources were very helpful for me. The first was the well-known book Relentless Forward Progress. The second was this long and well written description of fellow Maniac Bob Hearn's effort at the Western States 100 mile trail race earlier this summer. I strongly recommend this online post if you are interested. Bob really thought and thought and refined his eating and hydration strategy and his write up has much detail.

Summarizing what I found, a guy my size needs to eat much more than I had ever thought necessary. Specifically, I needed to consume between 60 and 75 grams of carbohydrates each and every hour during an ultra. Figuring this out demanded a controlled experiment (I'm an engineer, remember?) and the Heatbreaker offered this opportunity.

So I developed a list of food I thought I could digest easily and investigated the respective quantities offering 25 grams of carbohydrates each. Here is the list I complied:
  • Banana      1 small
  • Raisins       1/8 cup
  • Nature Valley Granola Bar   2 bars
  • M&M s        50 pieces
  • Gu                 1 pack
  • Salty, hard Pretzles   1/3 cup
  • Pita Bread     1 slice
  • Boiled Potatoes   2 small chunks
  • Oatmeal/raisin cookie 1 cookie
  • Home made brownie 1 1" square

It was astounding to me to think of eating three entries from this list each hour.  But I decided to take the considered experience of others literally and then see what I could learn.  So, I started putting the food together the week of the race.  I boiled up potatoes (20 minutes in lightly salted boiling water, then lightly salted again in the container) and bought other supplies.  

I then packaged these various goodies and laid out a schedule of how to eat three of these packages each hour. Here's my list, with thanks to the West Allis, Wisconsin Days Inn for the note pad.

And here is everything laid out in my motel room the night before.  

Yes, I even used a sharpie to label the hour during which I wanted to eat each banana.  Such is life when you have geek-esqe tendencies......

This lap race provided a perfect opportunity to set up shop knowing I would see my bag and food every 3 minutes or so.  So, when I arrived, I found this table next to the track, as you can see here, and laid out my food and water. 

Turns out I share this table with two fellow maniacs; Mark "Mad Dog" Janowsky, whom I've known for a long time and Maniac Liz from Florida whom I met for the first time at this race. The three of us had a good chuckle about our respective approaches towards nutrition since all three of us ran both races.

Zooming in on my stuff, you can see I just laid it out chronologically, with my note pad and pen at the top. This organization made it easy to keep track of things for the nearly 8 hours I was running.

Having set, thought through and then overthougt further this strategy, I then just executed the plan. I didn't eat the first hour but then began to consume a 25g packet three times an hour. I split that into picking up a food item every 20 minutes. On top of that, I took 1 salt tablet at the top of each hour. I also tried to consume 20 ounces of water each hour. I used Diet Coke bottles with water, each labeled for a certain hour. Here I am with a water bottle during the marathon.

Joe, quit talking and tell us if it worked already!!!

OK, OK, sorry for rambling.  

Overall, I was thrilled with what I learned. It didn't seem like I was overeating, to my surprise. I had no cramps, no queasy stomach, no problems either during or after the race with this pace/food/hydration plan. Somewhat amazingly, I ran my fastest lap of the day on my final lap of the day, at a 7:50/mile pace. Here are some specific observations.

First, as the day went on, it seemed I was either getting ready to eat, eating, or finishing up eating virtually the entire race. This did wonders psychologically as it kept my mind busy and, being a process geek, gave me plenty to analyze.  Here you can see me carrying a bag of Sun Chips...they lasted several laps as did all the food I used except the boiled potatoes.

Second, I really liked the variety of food I laid out. From experience, I knew the bananas and boiled potatoes would work perfectly. I didn't know about the other foods, though. It turned out the pretzels were terrific, the oatmeal/raisin cookies were nice and the pita bread was a surprising plus. The SunChips were ok. The best of all was how well the brownies went down and sat. I think the combination of chocolate plus the chewy nature of these chocolate gems made them last and inspire.  

Third, it was very clear all the planning was worth it. The fact I did not have to think about what to grab made all the difference.

Now it is very clear that very few races will allow this level of precision. But this one did and it allowed me to learn much and the experiment was worthwhile. Certainly, in an ultramarathon where we could place drop bags, I could incorporate some of these strategies. Other races with no drop bags I can simply carrying a bottle of my homemade gel and simply take a good tug every 20 minutes just as Bob did during Western States.

So that's what I learned about eating during an ultramarathon I really welcome comments from people far more experience.

Thanks for reading.  And persevere, no matter what or how you eat!!


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Race Report: Sunburst Marathon 2014

ORN:  26.2 miles, 4:39:30, R/W 6/1, 10:41/mile

Summary:  Once again, I enjoyed the hilt running the Sunburst Marathon yesterday.  The connections for my family are many.  It's well organized and is one of the races about which I arrange all my other races for the late spring and summer.

Gory Details:

A little different approach for this race are a few photos with captions.  Then a bunch of text about the day at the end.  Enjoy.

On the drive up, I drove by this small diner in the town of Logansport.  John and I stopped here to dine in style when we ran Sunburst in's a classic small town eatery.  It's been closed for several years now and looks it...yet a unique spot, where the elite meet to eat.

At packet pick up on Friday, I found this sign in the t shirt tent humorous.  "Marathon Men can be either half or full !!"

The marathon started at's a rather lousy selfie in the pre-dawn cool.

During mile one, I found the legendary Jim Simpson, in the red shirt here, and ran with him for a while.  I also ran with Larry Macon for a while too...both men are amazing and it was terrific to see them both once more.

The course had three turn around points and, at the third, I asked a person to get a photo of me actually turning around.   Banana in hand (see text below), I got an action photo of myself.

Here's my photo of Notre Dame's famous Golden can read the story below of why this was significant.

The race organizers had to shift the finish line away from the customary 50 yard line of Notre Dame Stadium and we got a glimpse after the race of why this was needed.  Even on a Saturday morning, heavy equipment was carefully grooming the substrate for the new field turf going in.  Despite just finishing a marathon, the engineer in me noted and appreciated the laser-guided bulldozer blade getting the grade just right.  When you watch Notre Dame football on TV this fall, you can now say "Hey, I saw a photo a guy took of what's underneath all that green!"  And you will be the life of the party with a line like that.   This is a full service blog, you know.  


Ok, here's the story of the race. 

I think I got the "run the best race conditions allow" on this one.  My official time was 4:39:30 and it was my fastest marathon since Monumental last November at 4:07.  The temperatures, particularly for the final hour of my running, were warm, yet they didn't really bother me.   Some thoughts. 

My plan was to run a 6/1 run/walk and hold it as long as I could, with a pace during the six minutes of running of 9:45 to 10:00/mile to finish right around 4:40.  Based on the long runs I've had since Illinois 5 weeks ago, I thought I could sustain that.  Amazingly, I did.  I never varied that plan.  At all.  It was a 6/1 all the way and I recall even in the 23rd mile, I found myself enjoying the run and then getting close to or under 9:00/mile pace.  Whoa, boy, you're not done yet and there's one really big hill to remaining...rein it in a bit.  And it worked.  From the mile splits on my watch, it looks like I  had either a negative split or a dead even first and second half.   They didn't precisely mark the halfway point but it looks to me like I was right at 2:20, there, which projects (let me get out my calculator here....) a 4:40 marathon.  My aggregate splits were in the mid to upper 10s all the way.  Mile 23 was 10:36, mile 24 was 10:10 and the final 1.2 miles were at a 10:09 pace.    Overall pace for the full marathon was 10:41/mile.  Quite bluntly, I lost about 4-5 minutes finding places to pee on the first half and looking for my previously stashed bananas....more on the latter below! 

In the final 1.5 miles, the route goes due east, one block south of the main E-W street, Angela Street, on the south edge of the campus.   In so doing, the route crosses Notre Dame Avenue, the street which angles up from downtown and runs directly into the heart of campus.  If you stand in the exact center of ND Avenue, you can see the Golden Dome lining up perfectly (and tree branches obviously trimmed back to afford such a view!).  I remember Dad talking about going to ND the first time in September, 1933, taking the trolley from the downtown train station on ND Avenue to campus and this being his first sight of campus proper.  

So, as we approached ND Ave, I decided to pause and try to capture this.  The photo above somehow hearkens back to what Dad may have seen.  I paused as well and just tried to absorb that for a moment.  

Of course, I still had over a mile to run from that point!!  And Dad would be the first to say "Joe, quit gawking and get on with the task!!!"  I can almost hear him saying that!!!  The temps were in the upper 70s by this point and I'd run 25.2 miles already and I was looking forward to being done.  Interestingly, though, the course was different from what we've had before, since there is heavy construction going on in ND stadium and we could not finish on the field.  So, instead of running directly past the Mendoza  (Line) School of Business building [always a highlight for me...who hits .200 in business?] to the stadium, we ran one block farther east, then turning north onto campus and then meandered around practice fields and construction zones to eventually get back to the W side of the stadium to the finish just north of the stadium tunnel.  

And as I ran the meandering final mile on tired legs, I tried to picture what on earth practice fields must have been like in Dad's day.  Yeeeesh...the grit, the dust, the minimal grass wearing hot wool practice uniforms....oh my!!  It must have been tough.  And so I thought, "OK, Dad, you gutted it out, I'll do the same in this last mile in your honor!"   So I did!!  It hurt but then again it really didn't hurt....I had this big smile on my face thinking of Dad, enjoying the pain and fatigue in a real, shared, sort of way with him.  Interestingly (and he'd be pleased with this) I also passed maybe 50 people in the last there was some reward for the effort.  I came around the stadium and hit the finish line, so happy, so grateful.  Hard to express, but it was terrific.  

In the offing, I also hit a nice goal.  I had hoped today to run a 4 hour, 40 minute marathon.  During much of the race, my pace/splits were indicating I'd be close but probably a little over that, like 4:42 to 4:44.  My actual finish time??  4:39:30...I beat the goal by 30 seconds and absolutely that last mile sealed the deal. 

What was also interesting to me, though, was what I observed just after the race.  Many of the people I passed in the final 1.5 miles I had been running with much of the day and so we had all chatted a bit, as it happens.  I got across the finish line and then hung around a bit outside the stadium before going to get some food to say hello and congratulate some of the folks I ran with.  With zero exceptions, they were too zonked to really engage.  I was energized, happy, enjoying and savoring the moment.  They were all wiped out, miserable, in pain, sore, clueless.  Amazing.  

There was one young woman who I actually talked to afterwards whom I had met in the starting grid.  She, her sister and a friend started together, all wearing matching green shirts.  So, I dubbed them "The Green Team" and chatted with all three along the way.  Gradually, they separated and I talked with them individually as well, since there were 3 out and back sections on this new course and you could see those ahead and behind you.  It was all of their first ever marathons and they all hurt, badly by the end.  The one at the front had a very sore foot, her sister just came across with blisters and the friend was still on the course, badly cramping in the calf.  

I walked back from the stadium to take the bus back downtown to my car and the bus was full of groaning, aching people, lots of ice packs and zombie-like looks.  The bus got to the drop off point downtown and hardly anyone moved on the was too much effort to stand up!!  Eventually, we all got off but, again, most were limping/gimping zoned out while walking back to the cars a block away.  

Why were all these people hurting and I wasn't?  I even felt a little guilty about it.  On reflection, though, the combination of experience, selection of pace, the run/walk, taking enough water and electrolytes along the way on a warm day made the difference.  And, what a be able to be coherent enough at the end of a marathon to know what is going on, to well remember my Dad, to encourage others along the way...that's now the equivalent of my "Olympic Trials"!  

Certainly, preparation helps.  The plan I worked up in mid April to amp up the mileage it taking hold.  Here's my monthly mileage chart for the last 12 full months.  Yes, winter is over and it's rolling up.  

And now we get to the very serious topic of Bananas.  

On Thursday, I pulled the course map, set up my GPS to map a route and made an efficient plan to drop off one banana at the 5,10, 15 and 20 mile marks.  I got this all done on Friday afternoon, plus picking up my race packet.  I thought I had found good spots along the race but still well concealed.  

Ha.  I was oh for four on this one.   

The mile 5 banana turned out to not even be on the course.  They changed one of the out and backs and while I could see where it was, it would have been an extra 300m of running and I didn't think that wise.  I was lucky, in that just beyond that, they were passing out Gu packs, so I took a Gu.  I like the 100 calories from a banana better than 100 calories from a Gu, but I needed the energy.  The mile 10 banana was in the residential area just before Mount South Bend.  I think a member of the nice neighborhood must have seen me and wondered and took it off.  Disappointed, was I.  

Now I got lucky again, in that at an aid station at mile 13, they were passing out bananas and so I got one there.  Tasty, indeed and I knew I had another one at 15.  Yeah, right.  The same deal as happened at mile 10...a resident must have moved it or a critter carried it off.  Ugh.  But, then, lucky again, they were passing out bananas at mile 17.  And that very banana was the one in the photo at one of the other turnarounds.  Fine, I say, I still have one more at mile 20.  Nope, not today, dude...same deal as neat, tidy South Bend citizens cleaned up my hope for race nutrition!!!  So, I had nothing to eat from 17 on in but it worked out.  

Next time, I need to note that I must find more public places like parks or non-residential areas to stash my bananas.  Oh, the trauma.  But looking for these lost bananas probably did cost me a couple of minutes total!! 

And how about the signs people hold at marathons???

Around mile 13, we were coming up on an aid station and the folks staffing this station had put out a series of signs, most of them the usual.  I was running and chatting with two other guys at the time and the layout was along a slight curve, so the signs came into view one at a time.  And then we saw the new one and all three of us broke out laughing at the same time.  it said:

The NSA is tracking you.

So funny!!  Very clever and timely.  Then, one of the other guys had a further clever idea...he suggested they could place a second sign, 20 or 30 yards farther along the course, that said

No, really, the NSA actually IS tracking you.

That would be fun.  

So, there you have it.  A full blog post, the day after a race.  

Persevere.  My Dad sure did.  


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Circular Logic Marathon


Being a Race Director is a lot different than being a runner.  Yet, it is a terrific way to give back to a sport I so enjoy.  Our third Circular Logic Marathon on March 29, 2014 came off with our largest field ever on the worst weather day in our short history.  Much good came and while we still have a few kinks to work out of the event, it's encouraging.  And a lot of work.  I view every race I run though very different eyes since becoming an RD!!  Here's the story.  

Gory Details:

This was the third running of this quirky little marathon that first jelled in my mind several years ago.  (You can also read my reports on the 2013 race and our inaugural event in 2012)   It was also the biggest and we continue to learn a lot. 

During the 2013 race, we observed we could handle a few more runners on our 1.000 mile loop course, given all the passing that happens.  So we bumped our field size limit to 165 marathoners and 21 marathon relay teams.  We opened registration on November 1 and sold out the marathon on March 3 and the relay slots on March 14.    This never ceases to amaze me.   It also gives my wife many laughs as I express this amazement all winter long as each registration arrives.  And we all agreed this is about the right field size...we'll stick with this going forward.  

A huge reality of any road race is pick the date, way in advance, and hope for the best when it arrives.  Late March in Indiana is a roll of the weather dice and this year, while it wasn't snake eyes, it was hardly a seven.

My uber volunteer and work colleague Mike and I arrived at the race site at 5:30am on race day to 39F temperatures.  By the time we were set up for the early starters at 7am, it had started to snow.  The wet white stuff continued right through the 8am early start and was still coming down for our main start at 9am.  Snow on race day...yeow.  But that's what we had to deal with.

Not everyone who registered showed up.  In all we had 146 marathoners toe the (snowy, cold) start line and 128 finished.

We instituted a 6 hour time limit for this year's race but also allowed early starts for those who needed extra time and didn't want to compete for awards or Boston qualification.  Our early starters knew just what they were doing and persevered well, as this shows:

7am:   17 started, 16 finished
8am:  12 started, 11 finished
9am:  117 started, 101 finished

We had 19 of the 21 registered relay teams make it to the start and all 19 completed the race.  About half of our relay teams were made up of families and four teams were school age kids from a large local Middle School.  

And off we went. 

One of the cool things about a mile-loop marathon is the chance to see the race develop without even moving.  As in any race, a lead pack formed, setting the race pace.  Eventual race winner, Jake Gillette (in the white cap and singlet) ignored the cold and took charge from the beginning.

Our women's winner, Laura Gillette (in the turquoise singlet, above) also took charge of the women's race from the start, yet didn't have to run alone on our loop course.

And, yes, Laura and Jake are married!  And, yes, they both won the CLM for the second year in a row.   And, yes, they are really neat people too!!

With the race started, we then began to make sure the race progressed well.  

A unique feature of our race is our Litter Free Water Stop.  

All our runners bring one or more of their own water bottles.  We set up tables with a designated spot for each runner with his/her bib number and name.  It took seven full tables to serve this year's field and our water stop volunteers did an awesome job keeping the bottles filled and in order!

The race then simply happened.  It is so much fun to just have 300+ marathoners and relay team members hanging out in a city park running, having fun and (this year) trying to stay warm.

Man, it was cold.  

It wasn't all that awful for the full marathoners who were dressed properly; they warmed up and stayed warm with the proper layering.  Those who were not running (the Race Director, for one), however, just got chilled.  We all persevered, though and the race happened.  

Our winners finished under 3 hours and our early starters started finishing and our final runner on the course came across the finish line 10 minutes before our 6 hour  (3pm) cutoff time.  Our volunteers pitched in and we had the entire park cleared by 3:30pm, clean, litter free, without visible evidence we'd had a big event.  That was really sweet.  

Since race day, I've reflected on a lot.  A few thoughts follow.

One of the best things about being a race director is hearing the unique stories of all of our runners. There are as many stories as there are runners, of course, yet a few stand out.
In December, the cross country coach from the University of Jamestown, a small school in Jamestown, North Dakota contacted me. He had a talented distance runner he felt had the skill to qualify for the NAIA national marathon championships.

The coach's problem was finding a marathon in some reasonable driving distance early enough in the season at which he could qualify. Last time we checked there are very few marathons in North Dakota during the winter and CLM popped up as a possibility, if we were game. Well, one thing led to another and we were very happy to welcome Conner Doppler (in the orange singlet above) to give it his best at the CLM. He and his father drove from North Dakota to Indiana for the express purpose of trying to run a fast marathon. And run fast he did! Connor tucked in with the leaders early on, ran the best race of his life and ultimately placed 2nd overall in 2:45:09, blasting his target time of 2:50.

In so doing, Connor qualified for the NAIA nationals in Gulf Shores, Alabama in June. He and I had a good laugh about just how different the weather in Mobile in June will be than the weather in which he qualified!

And then there was Jennifer Savage. Jenn has been a running friend of mine for many years and a fellow Marathon Maniac as you can tell in the photo below. Jen truly honored our race by setting up her racing schedule such that the CLM would be her 100th lifetime marathon. We gave her bib number 100 and she ran wonderfully well in this milestone event.

She had a terrific group of family and friends waiting at the finish line for her and she was thrilled both by the support and by the accomplishment of 100 marathon. We were very honored  Jenn selected our race for such a special personal accomplishment. Way to go, Jenn!!

And then there is Eddie "The Barefoot Bandito" Vega. Eddie is seeking to run a barefoot marathon in each of the 50 states to raise $50,000 for shoes for children in the Philippines and Pacific Islands. You can read his plan here and even donate to his cause.

Eddie is a fabulous guy, full of encouragement and energy and came all the way from South Carolina to notch Indiana in his quest for 50 states. That he ran barefoot in snow and cold, wet conditions is even more amazing. He was thrilled with his medal at the end and in showing off his well conditioned bare feet to the Race Director! Eddie, thanks for running.

The medals we awarded our finishers this year were different than what we've done before.

They were still in the shape of a circle rather than a traditional medal, as we have done before. But, if you look closely in this photo, the wording on the medal is itself circular logic. Relay runners got the smaller medal, marathoners the larger. In addition, anyone who had finished a previous CLM individual marathon this CLM got either two or three of the small Greek letter pi dangles on his/her medal. Consider that a "frequent runner" award. I was surprised at how excited our repeat runners were to have this extra bling on their medal.

Three people deserve special mention, as they really pitched in to make this year's race go so well and to relieve me of much concern.  

I already mentioned Mike.  He was a Division I college cross country runner and truly understands how competitive runners think.  He was a major adviser to me all along, a fact certainly enabled further by the fact we are both engineers at the same company.  On race day, Mike turned into a one-man, inexhaustible, really clever cheerleader.  He circulated all day along the course, learning virtually everyone's name, nick-name and Grandmother's maiden name.  So many expressed thanks to him to help them go.  He had no voice at race end but seemed happy anyway.  

The second is Mark.  He's not only the treasurer of our running club but also a great youth coach.  Mark recruited, organized and communicated with all our race volunteers.  Then, he led the four youth relay teams for the entire day, while running a full marathon himself.  Mark is an awesome detail guy, helped me so much with race finances and really made our volunteers feel better organized.  

Third is Sarah who did the terrific job of just keeping our water station going.  That's a central part of our race and it happened flawlessly.  

I'm deeply indebted to these three and the 30+ other volunteers who made this race happen.  It was due to them we've receive such wonderful and humbling post race comments on . 

Was everything peachy?  No.  I still don't have the lap timing and display nailed down perfectly.  We got it all worked out in the end but it was not yet perfect.  This drives the Race Director nuts and remains Job One in preparation for next year's race.

All in all, though, this year's race showed me something I had not fully grasped in the previous two CLMs. A loop marathon uniquely creates an event which is simultaneously a race and a community effort. Since our entire field of runners plus volunteers occupy a single space for multiple hours, we all sensed the group effort. All of us were focused on either finishing ourselves and/or helping other people to finish the colossal effort which is a marathon. Our relay teams worked together and with the individual marathoners to make the event special. I found this quite moving, at an emotional level.  And I'd never quite grasped this as much as I did this year.

So, as we began to wrap up race day, I asked my local running club colleague Cory (who had created our original race logo) to modify it for future use. He sent me the result a week later:

We inserted the initials of our Wabash River Runners Club in the center of the logo; our club is central to making this race happen. Then, we added the tagline "Together We Run". Indeed that's what we did all day on race day. Further it captures the genuine community effort that is running. We will use this new logo going forward, as it captures in a simple way just what this race has come to be. I hope others find this as helpful as I do.

Hope you enjoyed this write up.

Persevere.  Together, persevere.