Thursday, May 12, 2016

Race Report: Wisconsin Marathon 2016

Essentials:  26.2 miles, 4:00:46, 9:11/mile, run

Quick Summary:

In my second attempt to qualify for Boston in the last three weeks, I corrected several key errors from the first attempt and executed the plan well.  And a 35mph head wind over the final 7.5 miles just knocked the pace enough to miss the target.  Yet I was very encouraged by the day and learned very much.  I'll attempt to capture those learnings here.

The Gory Details:

The Wisconsin Marathon is a fine race, which I've run twice before ( here's the 2013 report but I didn't publish a report on the 2015 race...sorry) and enjoyed.  It's a flat course hugging the Lake Michigan shoreline, with much scenery and good organization.  When I laid out my running goal for 2016, it's execution was clear.  First, try to qualify for Boston at the Carmel Marathon on April 16 and, if that failed, reload and try again in this race on May 7.  As I detailed in my Carmel report, I messed up both race-day nutrition and hydration which cost me the shot at a BQ.  So, the plan for Wisconsin was to correct those errors and execute the same plan.

I took the Friday before race day off from work, had breakfast out with my lovely wife, mowed our lawn and then drove to Kenosha mid-day, about a 4 hour drive.  I carefully prepared the food I was to eat on race morning and had it all laid out before I left.

Chicago traffic was not bad and arrived in plenty of time.  Local running club pal Kate and her husband Eric were there, as Kate was running the first of a double.  We met up around 4:30 at packet pick up and walked to a local hot spot for some of the best burgers the three of us had ever they are:

We wrapped this up by 7pm and I managed a decent night's sleep.  Up early on race day, I was parked and set by 5am.  It was beautiful to see the pre-dawn sky lighten over Lake Michigan.

I executed the plan of a pair of turkey and cheese sandwiches two hours before the 7am gun...with a smile, no less.  

And then there's the weather.  

As usual, I had been closely watching the forecast during race week.  Early, it looked good, with clear skies, temps in the mid 50s and modest winds.  By Friday, though, the prospect of thunderstorms appeared on the forecast.  The organizers sent out some cautionary notes.  Ultimately, the weather was uncertain, so we waited.

When I parked, I got out to walk and sense the weather.  The thermometer on my car dash said 68F and it felt every bit of that.  The air was heavy, with a small south breeze.  Having packed three shirts for the race (down from the six I've been known to pack), I was moving to the lightest of the combination.  By 6:15am, though, the wind had calmed but it seemed odd.  I left my car for good at 6:40am, and, belatedly, decided to take along a pair of toe-trimmed tube socks as arm warmers, just in case.  

Something I've never seen before then happened.  In the 20 minutes it took me to make one last trip to the portables, the wind turned 180 degrees and picked up pace, straight out of the north.  The temperature began to drop and I noted major rain clouds now looming just west of downtown.  I got out of the portables just as the National Anthem began.  During the "rockets red glare", we saw lightning in the west, followed musically by "the bombs bursting in air" during which we were treated to thunder.  My mind wandered off of noble patriotism to ponder instead what the day would hold.  

The gun went off on time and we would soon learn.  I tried to find my rhythm of early 8:43 miles, knowing the day's objective.  The wind was brisk from the right as we ran west towards town.  We then turned to meander thorugh town and got the first introduction to the wind for the day.  Between tall-ish buildings, the wind swirled and gusted and blew my visor off before mile 1 was done.  Stop, pick that up, get set.   So would the day go.  

The first 3+ miles were in and out around town.  At mile four, we turned north and would so continue until a U Turn at mile 8.  The early miles were in the 8:40 range but as we headed north, they slowed to 8:55.  The wind was around 15-20mph at this point and we felt it.  

I carried my handy, laminated BQ pace chart once more.  At mile 5, I was on track at the 3:51 accelerated pace.  By the mile 8 turnaround, I was a full minute behind that pace.  So striking, though, was the change with the wind at our backs, I began calculating what to do with it. 

Knowing we would be going straight south from mile 8 to mile 18, I did the math to plan the pace I needed to pick up to compensate for the final miles back into the wind.  I was able to drop the pace to 8:35-8:40 range and it felt comfortable.  By mile 10, I was just 20 seconds behind the left column and held that through mile 15.  I didn't gain, though, as I hit the only real low spot of the race around  mile 12.  Just felt a bit "heavy".  So, I focused on getting more fluids and also taking some longer tugs on the home-made gel every mile.  That helped.  By mile 17, I was almost back to the left column pace.  

Then, just before we crossed the Illinois state line, we did another U turn and pivoted back into the teeth of the north wind.  It too had found its "pace" during the 10 mile run south and was now steadily at 25mph, with gusts to 35.  

The impact was immediate, on both body and mind.  

What had been a very comfortable run now turned into a heavy slog, pressing into the oppressive headwind. Mile 19 was 9:03 and Mile 20 was 10 minutes flat.  Nevertheless, I hit the 20 mile mark in 2:55:30 the second fastest I've ever been through 20.  I felt fine but just could not make much progress in the face of the relentless headwind.  I knew I still had a shot at BQ but could I slog into the elements for the final 5 miles??

I tried, I really tried.  Rarely, we would get a brief shelter from the wind due to a building or a line of trees or a jog in the road.  When those happened, I could run very well, dropping easily to 8:30 pace.  Yet, back we went to the open space and vicious headwind.  By mile 23, I was barely at the 3:55 target time.  I tried hanging on to the few runners who were passing me; not drafting but just saying "Stay with the guy in the green shirt!"  While that helped, each of these runners were eventually beat down by the wind as well.  

Mile 24 took 9:50; mile 25 a miserable 10:53.  The wind just didn't let up.  I had to let go of the BQ hope, it wasn't going to happen, despite the effort. 

Instructively, it turned out, the course took a 90 degree right turn, putting the wind to my left, also sheltered by a long row of 3 story condos for the final half mile.  With a neutral wind, I found it easy to run hard again, finishing the race at a 8:25 pace.  Hey, I can still run!!  It was pure joy to stride out and make progress, passing fellow wind-blown marathoners, all anxious to have this one over.  While I had hoped to at least get under four hours, that too was blown away I realized as I approached the finish line.  Over the final mat in 4:00:46.  Marathon #64 in the books.  

A friend of mine was announcing the finishers, he gave me a wonderful shout out as I finished.  He then popped over and we talked for 5 minutes or's encouraging, after a race like that, I was perfectly fine in mind and breath to carry on a full conversation.  

More than anything, I just wanted to get out of the wind.  I took some cheese from the finishers chute (it's Wisconsin, remember??) and some chocolate milk and headed straight to my car.  Man, did it feel good to get inside!  The temperatures had been in the mid 50s the whole race, quite fine, but the wind.  Wow.  Only then did I pull off the tube-sock arm grateful I was for packing them and wearing them.   I called my wife and then received a call from long time running pal Darrell, with whom I had run this race a year ago.  What a treat to talk with both of them. 

Donning a jacket and stocking cap, I walked back to the finish area for a few photos.  I then saw the effects of the wind.   A whole line of portable toilets had tipped reports of them being occupied but, wow, does that speak volumes. 

And you've heard of criminals "knocking over" an ATM?  Looks like the wind itself was headed for some time behind bars with this damage.  

Coming around the corner, I was happy to see Kate, who had just finished.  We commiserated briefly over the weather conditions and Eric snapped a photo.  There is such a shared misery after races in tough conditions.   Kate went on to finish the Kalamazoo Marathon the next day, qualifying for Marathon Maniacs in so doing and certifying herself as an avid runner.  Her write up of both is here .  Worth reading if you want to learn how to truly persevere.  

After getting home, I checked the official results.  Amazingly, I won my Age Group!!  I was first of 14 men age 60-64.  I've never won an AG award with more than one person in my group.  I was astounded.  Overall, I was 246 of 673 finishers, way better than my usual, and 182 of 380 men.  I'm not that quick, so these results describe how tough the weather was.  

Overall, this was truly an encouraging race, despite not getting a BQ.  I corrected the errors I made three weeks prior, executed the plan and had gas left in the tank at the end.  I still think I can qualify for Boston, learning more in this event.   Yet, I'm not so far ahead of the BQ standards I can expect to get there without some cooperation from course and weather.  And the latter, as we know, is out of our control.   Next BQ effort will be on September 10 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Thanks for reading.  Persevere, no matter how windy.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Race Report: Carmel Marathon 2016

Essentials:  3:57:19, a 9:04/mile pace; ran until mile 23, then 4/1 R/W to end

Summary:  The day was bright with promise.  Yet I violated a rule I know:  "Nothing new on race day" !!!  Thus, I messed up my fueling and, to a lesser extent, my hydration.  As a result, I fell short in my effort to qualify for the Boston Marathon, even though I set a PR for the marathon.  I learned  a lot.

Photos and longer summary:

Here's a brief description of the day and some pix.  Detailed analysis awaits at for the end.

Races in the Indy area have a nice rhythm to them, which I know well.  Up around 4am ish and on the road early.  Such was the case here.  It was more social, though as local running buddies, Jon, Michelle and Terri all joined up.  We met, got to the start area and had plenty of time to get situated.

The start area was quite crowded and I got in a little late but still was able to stretch in the grid.

The race started on time and off we went.  I was hoping to qualify for Boston and built a laminated pace chart with four columns:

It was on two sides, fitting nicely in the pocket of my race shorts, here's what the full chart:

There are four columns for two target finishes, each with an accelerated and a linear schedule.  The accelerated schedule allows for a 30 second/mile drop off in pace from mile 19 to the end, while the linear column is, well, linear.  The two target times are for 3:51, the time I think I need to get into Boston, while the other times were for 3:55, the official qualifying time for my AG at Boston.  In the race, then, I could check my time at any mile marker and see how it lined up.  My aim was to keep my splits between the first two columns.  You can see below how I did.

The race went generally well for me, as you can see in one of the free photos distributed by the race organizers (much appreciated!).

Jon did well, striding through the wooded portion of the race.

Michelle had a decent race as well, and qualified as a Marathon Maniac in so doing!  Even more impressive as she was 20 weeks pregnant as she did it!!

For me, I kept trying to pace myself.  For the first 4+ miles, I locked in behind the 1:55 half marathon pace group, which got me into a good groove.  Once the HMers broke off, I soon found a guy in a blue shirt who was going at just the pace I needed.  The groove was good and I just keep going.  I hit the HM mat at 1:54:51, a little quick but I felt good. 

I hit a low spot around mile 17 but found a second wind and motored through to mile 21.  I then started to feel the increasing temperatures, lost contact with the man in the blue shirt and wondered how the day would go.  I recovered a bit, but by mile 23, it was clear I wasn't keeping pace.   Try as I may, I couldn't keep going.  So, I backed off the pace, doing a 4/1 run/walk the rest of the way.  Amazingly, I still ended up with a personal record, by all of 4 seconds.  

And there is the human touch.

About 3 minutes after I crossed the finish line, as I was still near the finish line, I looked and there was the guy in the blue shirt!!  In some way, I had passed him late without realizing it.  The photographer captured the moment wonderfully...we had made it in a shared struggle.  

It was a special moment.  I don't know the guy, we talked very little on the course, yet shared the experience.  Spontaneous and joyful.  

A few minutes late, who should cross the finish line but Ralph, a local running friend of mine and multi-year participant in the Circular Logic Marathon.  

Ralph recently turned 70, farms several thousand acres in the area.  We talked racing a bit but spent more time, in the finishers chute, discussing his planting strategy for the spring season.  We are more than running and it's great to connect on that level.  

So, that was the race!!  Thumbs up for the PR and sub 4.  Meh for missing the day's target.  

I can live with it.  

The final results were encouraging.  I was 282nd of 684 total finishers, 224th amongst the 423 men and 2nd of 13 in my 60-64 age group.  Those were encouraging.

And, if you are still alive, here's my technical analysis of why the effort failed. 

Why did I miss my BQ goal?  This is long....

To help me learn, this is a unique and fascinating opportunity to compare Carmel Marathon (CM) with last November's Indianapolis Monumental Marathon (IMM) (my race report here ).  They have some similarities, dissimilarities in nature:

  • Both in Indy, thus I could sleep at home and drive down on race day. 
  • Both very real difference between them in the minor rolls both have. 
  • No appreciable wind for either...5-10mph winds in each, never a factor. 
  • I took salt tabs in each, at the 1, 2 and 3 hour marks on my stopwatch.  I also took 3 Alleve tabs at mile 19 in IMM, mile 15 in CM.  I've been using both of these for the past 4 years without problem.  
  • I had a time objective in both...sub 4 at IMM, 3:51 at CM
  • Both were target races for me, subject to much thought. 
  • Both carpooled with local running pals Jon and Michelle.
  • AND, the big similarity, total time.  IMM, was 3:57:23, CM 3:57:19, a mere 4 seconds faster.  Identical.    
    • Geek note...I had to do the calculations.  
    • This is 14,243 seconds vs 14,239 seconds...a difference of 0.028%.   I doubt the course was measured that closely and I'm sure I didn't run the courses to similar equivalence!!!!

  • Breakfast.  
    • I had my usual pair of turkey/cheese sandwiches for IMM, consumed 90 minutes before gun.  
    • I forgot said sandwiches for CM, leaving them neatly stacked in our fridge at home.  Instead, I had mostly carbs before CM...a brownie from Starbucks, an old Clif's Bar I had in my running bag and two bananas I charmed from the post race table people who were setting up pre race.  
  • Weather.   
    • IMM was just about perfect to my taste, starting at about 42F, ending around 50F.  I only dumped water on my head at mile 24.  
    • CM was good at the start, 51F, but rising much more quickly, to 72F by the time I finished.  I started dumping water on my head at mile 16 and kept doing so to the end.  
  • Hydration/ Fuel Execution.  
    • IMM, I wore my usual water bottle belt with 2 10 oz bottles, filled, with an 8 oz bottle of my homemade energy gel, or "JoeGu".  I took a swig of water every 3/4 mile or so, plus a shot of JoeGu at each mile marker.   I started grabbing some water from water tables as well, around mile 9. I didn't walk more than a few steps when I did take water from the tables.  From my belt, I drank a swallow or two as I ran.   I refilled the bottles once at mile 18.  I took JoeGu all the way to the end.  I had zero stomach issues. 
    • CM, I decided to decrease the weight I was carrying, so did not use the belt.  Instead, I walked through each water stop, taking about 4-6 oz of water as I walked.  As for carbs, I switched to the real Gu.  Jon helped me pack (4) gels very smartly into my tube sock arm warmers and I loaded the other two into my Race Ready shorts pockets.  I ultimately ate (3) of the six, consuming each one over about a mile as I ran, during mile 5, mile 11 and mile 15.  I started to eat the 4th gel pack just past mile 19.  It nearly made me puke, so I tossed it in a trash can at a water stop.  I didn't touch the other two.  I had marked stomach/lower abdominal cramps around mile 16-17.   That resolved by 19.  
  • Run/Walk vs. Run; Pacing Groups
    • IMM, I intended to use a 4:30/:30 run/walk plan.  Instead, I found there was no room to walk, the streets were so crowded with runners, curb to curb.  I fell in with the 3:50 marathon pace group instead and so just ran.  I kept with this group until mile 18, when I could not stay with them.  I then flipped to the 4:30/:30 and used that to the finish line. 
    • CM, I intended to run as I did at IMM, only walking through the water stops.  They had no 3:55 pacing group available, but they did have a 1;55 pace group for the HM.  So I found that group (equivalent to a 3:50 marathon) and stayed with them until the HM broke off at mile 3.6.  This worked.  After that, I found a couple of folks who were running the perfect pace and I settled in behind them.  When the wheels came off around 22.5, I went to a run/walk...first a 4/:30 but that was too much.  I dialed back to a 3/:30 and held that until the final turn, 300m from the finish line and I gave it all I could to the finish line.  I was spent at the end.  
Still with me??  Thanks. 

So, today, I reviewed my times at each mile marker in each race.   Here are the highlights, that tell the story,  to me.  
  • Mile 5:  IMM  44:51, CM 43:07.   I had a slow start at IMM and it really took me 5 miles to get my wits about me for the day.   No such problem at CM...had a good plan, more room and had planned.  Nearly 2 minutes quicker
  • Mile 10:  IMM 1:28:22, CM 1:26:47.  Still quicker.  Both races showed very steady miles, though, between 5 and 10, which is as it should be...that's a sweet spot, it should be easy.  IMM were at 8:42, CM at 8:43.  The quick start at CM still paid off.
  • Half Marathon, official times:  IMM 1:55:28, CM 1:54:51.  You can see the CM time is now catching up slightly with IMM.  Still, both HM times were well ahead of the respective days' objective.  I actually felt better, physically and mentally, at the half in CM than IMM.  I saw my time at the HM mat at Carmel and quietly said "Yes"...feeling confident, even allowing myself a small smile.  
  • Mile 15:  IMM 2:12:12, CM 2:10:13.  At IMM, I had my first inklings of a fade around mile 14.  Not so yesterday.  The gap between the two races improved to over a minute. 
  • Mile 17:  IMM 2:30:00, CM 2:29:00, still a minute advantage at CM.  In both races, though, the pace slowed through 16 and 17, logging my first 9+ miles.  But, at IMM, I just was getting tired.  At CM, by contrast, I was cramping and saw a loss of mental focus.  
  • Mile 20:  IMM 2:57:54, CM 2:56:03.  I faded badly at 18 at IMM but got a second wind after 18 at CM, getting back to  8:42 miles thru 18 and 19.  As a result, I had nearly a 2 minute advantage at CM compared to IMM.  I saw the 2:56 at the 20 mile marker and was really encouraged...could I hang on for the final 10K like I did at IMM??  I replayed the final IMM miles in my mind as we ran through a boring commercial area yesterday for these miles. 
  • Final individual miles...this tells the story:  IMM vs CM.. remember I had nearly 2 minutes in hand at 20
    • Mile 20   9:10 vs 8:54
    • Mile 21  9:32 vs 9:21
    • Mile 22   9:32 vs 9:33
    • Mile 23   9:42 vs 9:59
    • Mile 24   9:44 vs 9:57
    • Mile 25    9:43  vs 10:15
    • Mile 26     9:19  vs 10:20
    • last 0.2     1:58  vs 1:47
It really blew up at CM between 22 and 23.  I could feel it and it was remarkable; I knew what was happening and couldn't do a thing about it.  This is where we were coming out of a park/nature area with lots of construction.  The legs just wouldn't turn over.  It was gone.  

We got out of the park and back into the commercial area at about mile 23.2 when I noted the 3:55 pacing group passing me.  This was my final attempt.  "Hey, Joe, c'mon, hang with those guys and you might BQ anyway, even if it isn't enough to get entered! You have less than 5K to go!!  C'mon, man!  Dig Deep!!!  Let them do the work, just stay with them!!!"  My mind was willing.  I fell in with them, the pacer and three other intrepid runners.  It was hard work though and, after about 500m, I was panting and it was clear I couldn't stay with them for another 3 miles.  The legs could not execute what the mind requested.   I recognized this, fell back and chose to simply do the run/walk the rest of the way and accept how it went.  I was OK with it...the legs just wouldn't go.  It was a good final 3 miles to reflect on the day, the training and where to go next.  I think that's why I was OK with it all by the time I got to the finish line.  

Looking at the comparative lap times above, you can see the difference in the two races.  At IMM, I flipped to a 4:30/:30 at 18 and carried that all the way to the end.  While I fell off earlier than at CM, the falloff was not as pronounced.  The 9:44 I did in mile 24 at IMM was my slowest all day.   At CM, I was stronger though 20 but crashed more deeply.  And it felt like a crash, though I've bonked far worse in other races (two with you, John, remember Los Angeles and our 2010 Chicago).  But, given the day's objective and hope, the crash felt further at the moment.    For spite, I ran as hard as I could from the mile 26 marker to the finish line yesterday.  At IMM, I slowed down to bask in the moment.  You can see the difference above.  My wife adroitly noticed this and said "Joe, that's why you got the 4 second hustled at the end."  She's good.  

Early conclusions.  My early thoughts, with a day and a half to ponder.  I give you two full permission to question and offer input and alternate fact, please do.  You both know me and understand all this and want the best for me...thank you!!! 

In descending order of importance, to me:
  • Weather matters.  It might be the biggest factor.  CM looked good in forecast but the additional 8-10 degrees which actually happened, though unanticipated in the forecast, mattered.  Put another way, IMM weather was sooooo perfect...I may never find another weather day that good and I'm so glad I got my first certified sub 4 that day!!
  • Hydration/carbs.  Joe, listen to yourself...dude, carry the water belt.  Use your own dextrose/sucrose concoction.  You are not from Kenya.  The pound and a half the belt adds won't matter.   Take water at the water stops too, might keep you from having to refill.  But, still, it's not a crime to refill.  
  • Breakfast.  Early protein is likely helpful.  Those two sandwiches on race day have proven themselves, over and over, since 2011.  Gotta not forget them. 
  • Pace.  Not fully sure about this but I'm wondering if I was simply too quick early at CM and would have been better to hold off a couple seconds per mile to save it for the end.

On sharing this information with pals Jon and Michelle, they each made some central observations. 
  • Nutrition.  Jon did the  math on my eating (and non eating) on race day and calculated I was likely down by 500-800 calories (gross) by mile 23 and, worse, having swapped some protein in the (missing) turkey sandwiches for simple sugar calories in the brownies, the quality of nutrition was down.   
  • Temperature.  Michelle (a fellow engineer, as well as a friend) adroitly cited this study, pointing to a 2% to 3% reduction in times as temperatures move over 60F.  Doing the math, she pointed out that my 3:57, reduced only by 2%, would have left me with a 3:52, likely enough to get into Boston.  
So, what to do with all this??  Easy.  Make a better list and don't leave the good sandwiches in the fridge.  And be content to carry the water and my own energy concoction. 

Wow, if you are still with me, I'm impressed.  I write this blog to help capture what I learn.  If it helps (or entertains or puts to you to sleep at 3am without use of drugs) others, all the better.  

Persevere.  With or without a sandwich.  


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Race Report: Icebreaker Indoor Marathon and Relay, 2016

Summary:  My running buddy Jon and I had a terrific road trip to Milwaukee to run the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon Relay and Marathon on Jan 30-31.  We split the marathon relay on Saturday afternoon and I finished a solo marathon on Sunday morning.  A well-organized event that lets us run in the winter in shorts.  And I finally reached my age in marathons plus ultras, putting #62 in the books.


This is the third time I've run a marathon at this venue ( here's the 2014 report and then the summer equivalent from 2014).  I like the event . Many people have asked me just what on earth an indoor marathon is. I've tried to explain, but it's hard to imagine.  So, I was pleased to see a fellow runner produced this video which gives you a full picture of the facility and the track.

Jon and I drove to Milwaukee on Saturday morning, arriving in plenty of time for the 1:00pm start of the Marathon Relay.

We dubbed our two-man team the "Miata Maniacs" as we both own the small Mazda two-seater.  A less certain decision was just how to split up the 95 laps for the relay.  Jon was coming off a leg injury and we decided to just play it by ear.

We set up our gear along the west turn of the indoor track and it quickly became apparent we were true newbies to this event.  Most of the relay teams had four people and had plans.  Some guys next to us were all engineers and had used blue tape to lay out their entry and exit plans for chip hand offs.

5S is a universal tool.

Anyway, Jon took the first shift running and fairly quickly we figured out that 5 laps at a time (about 1.4 miles) seemed to work for both of us.

The atmosphere in the rink was just wonderful during the relay because there were so many people there and so many people running fast.  The winning team was four track guys from a local college who combined for a 2:09 marathon.  It was amazing to run and see just how fast a 2:09 marathon looks, up close and personal.  It was further mind boggling to imagine a single person running at that pace (or faster) for 26.2.

We were more modest in our objective.  I did have my ubiquitous pace chart with me nevertheless.  Here's photographic proof I referred to it during the relay.

Once a geek, always a geek.

We kept the 5 lap routine going and then ran the final two laps together.  We finished in 4:30:47 and were not the last team on the track!!  It was fun.  Jon was quite encouraged he could run 13+ miles and hold up well, even with the injury.

By the time we finished, it was late afternoon.  We checked into a local hotel, grateful for the tasty snacks they gave us upon our entry, showered and got some supper.  It was up early for the marathon the next morning.

Jon had signed up for the marathon when we registered but chose, wisely, not to run as  he analyzed how he felt after Saturday's racing.  So, he found a good place to do some work for his job while I ran.  The 8am start time arrived soon enough, indeed.

Did I mention geek-ness??  Here are the two bibs I had for the weekend; 49 for the relay, 25 for the marathon.

I always look for prime numbers for bibs.  Neither of these are remotely prime.  But Jon quickly noted they are both perfect squares.  And, he wryly observed, how cool is it for a geek to run two races on an oval wearing perfect squares?  Works for me!!

Just before the start, we had the obligatory Marathon Maniac pre-race photo.  While Jon and I had been the only identified Maniacs at the relay, it was fascinating to me that out of the field of 100 marathoners, a quarter of us were Maniacs.  But, then again, maybe you need to be maniacal to sign up for a 95 lap indoor marathon.

Off we went on time and the race pretty much took care of itself.  Having done it before, I knew the drill and quickly fell into a rhythm.  I chose to use the race as a long workout, using a 4/1 run/walk ratio through the first 20 miles and then to run continuously for the final 6, training my legs run harder when they are tired.  
And the plan worked.  

The RD of this event, Chris Ponteri, and his staff have this event nailed.  Each time around we came past the aid station, where a very enthusiastic group of volunteers took care of us by handing us our own water bottles.  

A really fun part of any well organized, loop marathon is seeing people over and over as you pass and are passed.  I had a number of very pleasant conversations, two of them with old friends. 

I've run a number of ultras and marathons with Mary Moran.  She's a very upbeat, disciplined runner and also a fan of numbers.  She'll be running the Circular Logic Marathon in April for the first time...what fun to chat all morning.  

And when I grow up, I want to be like Roy Rubenstein of suburban Chicago.  Roy has run all 4 of the previous Circular Logic Marathons and, at age 79, just kept going and going and going all day at the Icebreaker.  He'll be with us again at CLM in a few weeks.   What a fun guy.  

And you know those people who stand by the side of races with signs??  How do you keep that fresh for 95 laps?  

This lady really did!!!  She had a full, spiral-bound art notebook of hand lettered motivational signs!!  And I don't think I saw the same one twice, such was her creativity and scale of signage.  How cool is that?? 

A fun feature of this marathon-- it was won by a female!!  She beat everybody, finishing in 3:03, six minutes ahead of the fastest male!!  I chatted with her several times during the race and got to give her a big high five as she headed into her final lap...she was grinning all the way around.  This is the second time this winter I've seen this...a female won the Carribean Christmas HM in December, too.  It's terrific so many women run and run well.  

Here I am getting one of several high fives from Bill Schneider, the intrepid announcer of the Icebreaker races.  Bill makes the day, in so many ways.  He puts together a terrific playlist for the day, building on requests from runners from registration.  From Frank Sinatra to Mark Bronson, with everything in between, it's marvelous music.  I sang so much during the race, it wasn't even funny (truly, it wasn't funny, you should hear me sing....).  Plus, I did an air guitar duet to Pete Townsend's "Won't Get Fooled Again" anthem around mile 22 with a volunteer.  The mind goes slightly mushy in a marathon.

Bill announces when each runner has 10 and then 5 laps to go, but the announcement we all coveted most was for him to say your name and bellow "This is yourrrrrrrrr FINAL LAP!!"  In earlier races, Bill figured out I was a disappointed radio announcer, so in this event, he let me do the final lap announcement for another runner, while I only had about 17 miles in the bank.  But the treat of the day, as I finished lap 94, was for him to wave me over and let me announce my own final lap!   Small pleasures for small minds, but it was a treat.

My final lap was my quickest of the day.  I just nipped the 4:30 mark, with an official time of 4:29:30, finishing 53rd of the 94 who completed the race, 3rd of 8 in my AG.  I felt terrific at the end, a good run, a great weekend.

It's hard to express how thankful I am to be blessed with the health and lack of injuries to just keep running.  I appreciate good friends like Jon to enjoy this and the support of my wife who truly makes it all possible.  

Icebreaker is a great event...I highly recommend it.  


PS.  In mid-March, announcer extraordinaire Bill Schneider produced a 20 minute video of the entire event.  This gives a terrific flavor of the event.  And, around the 17 minute mark, you can see me make a leap over the cameraman shooting from floor level.  



Sunday, January 10, 2016

Running is weird sometimes

So I came into the weekend with two runs on the schedule:  Saturday, to do 6 miles at Marathon Pace (which is currently 8:45 for me); Sunday, 8 miles at normal effort (which I have set at a 6/1 run/walk).,

Yesterday, Saturday, was amazingly warm; cloudy, no wind, 47F.  I was thrilled to have such a day in January.  I did the required run and hit the target (finished at an 8:41 pace) but, man, it hurt.  I was discouraged...marathon pace should be very comfortable through 6 miles.  This was not comfortable.  Oh well.

Then a cold front blew in.  It was windy early Sunday morning, so I wimped out for the morning run.  My wife and I went to church and the 17F temp with 20mph wind about carved us into ribbons as we walked to and from our car.

We got home and I muttered something about needing to get in 8.  My wife looked at me and said "So, you are going to go out in this awful cold just because the schedule says so?"  I just smiled at her and she smiled, knowing full well the answer.

But I wasn't looking forward to it.

I dressed according to my chart and headed out.  In the first mile, I couldn't believe how smooth it felt.  I then headed straight west for miles 2-4, straight into the teeth of the wind.  Not so bad.  I noted on  my Garmin my run segments were in the 8:35 pace range, even into the wind.  What's going on?  I headed back, now with the wind at my back and it was still comfortable.  I finished with 8.4 miles at a 9:12 pace and I held the 6/1 run/walk throughout.

How do you figure this out??  I have no idea.  Perhaps this is why running is so fascinating, perhaps a metaphor of life.  You have to go out and get it done, every day and not always worry about the results.  There is an unpredictability which makes it fascinating.

Persevere.  On the lousy days as well as the good.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year in Review; Goals for 2016

Wrapping up running for 2015, I must say I have been pleased with the year.  A couple of graphs capture much.

Here are my monthly miles for the year.  I started the year with a persistent pain in my right Achilles tendon.  Dr Williams got it diagnosed for me in February and I became very good friends with my foam roller.  From that low point, you can see the miles ramping up, touching 160 miles in both August and September, something I've never done in a month.  The total for the year was 1,538 miles, the second best ever.  Had I stayed healthy, it would have likely been a record mileage year.

I'm even more encouraged by the next graph.  I started my current job in May, 2004.  The job change eliminated 70 minutes a day of commuting, so I swapped the drive time for run time, going back to the sport I first fell in love with in the late 70s.  I'm thrilled to now have 11 bars on this graph, which represent, as of the end of 2015, a total of 15,022 miles.  I am grateful for the good health this's a gift for which I am daily grateful.

Racing was also good this year.  I reached my main goal for the year, going under four hours for the marathon.  Overall, I ran 23 races, including 9 5Ks, one 10K, 5 Half Marathons, 8 Marathons and one Ultra.  I never get tired of race day, even for our local running club's free Wednesday 5Ks during the summer. 

A true highlight for my year was the budding friendship with Jon, pictured below at the Blueberry Stomp in September.  We've traveled to a bunch of races around Indiana together and have much in common, far beyond our shared enjoyment of running. 


Somewhat related, I also picked up (for a song) a 1994 Mazda Miata 2 seat convertible earlier this fall.  What a hoot to drive this little car!  Since Jon has a Miata as well, we have dubbed ourselves the "Miata Maniacs".  

The year also saw the arrival of our fourth grandchild, Stella, born in April.  She's a treat and we are grateful to have her.  It's also fascinating to watch our children be parents.  

Our other three grandkids keep growing and it's great to have them in town so we can go out for ice cream whenever we want.    The twins are now in 6th grade and Miss B is in 4th.  

The running goal for 2016?  

Having run a 3:57 marathon in November, I now know what it takes to run at that pace.  So, I'm going now to qualify for and get entered into the 2017 Boston Marathon during this year.  Practically speaking, this means I need to get a 3:51 marathon on a certified course this spring.  I'll take my first shot at the Carmel Marathon on April 16.  If that doesn't work, I'll try again three weeks later at the Wisconsin Marathon.  I've run both courses before, they are flat and friendly.  Stay tuned...I'll keep you posted here. 

Thanks for reading.  Persevere. 


Monday, December 28, 2015

Race Report: HUFF 50K Trail Run 2015

Results:  50km, 5:59:51, 11:35/mile, R/W 4/1.  PR

What a fun day in the woods.  On December 19, I finished my fifth consecutive HUFF 50K Trail Run, a race that never ceases to amaze.  This one went very well, with a 19 minute PR, negative split and under six hours.

The Gory Details:

The HUFF holds a special place in my running history. 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.  It's funny to read now my race report of that day.  Dan Quayle, where are you now??

I've written about all four prior HUFFs since the organizers had to move it 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.  The most philosophical I've ever been on my blog.  The lessons of that wet, cold, muddy day still hold, remarkably.  link  It was fascinating to me this year how the 2011 race and the "aura" surrounding it has grown.   

2012:  A very runnable race day:   link

2013: Another nice HUFF race with more snow pack, but I ran in shorts anyway:   link

2014:  A good day and my prior 50K PR  link  

For this year's race, the forecast was for temps in the 20s all day. So I knew I'd need to put screws in my shoes once again to have traction on cold, frozen trail.  On Thursday night before the race, I pulled my least-old running shoes and added eight #6, hex head, 3/8" self-tapping sheet metal screws to each shoe, six on the forefoot and two at the heel.  Total cost of 32 cents and I had traction.  They worked great!  It was interesting, after the race, so see I actually dropped three screws somewhere along the course.  I guess you could say this confirms what many have known about me for some time; I do have a few loose screws. 

Put the screws where the shoe wears.

Have I ever mentioned my pre-race checklist?  I use this to help me pack.  It's saved me numerous times.  I checked this off on Friday night as well and went to bed home.

I like checklists

For numerous reasons, I varied the logistics for the HUFF this year.  Rather than driving up the night before, I was up at 3:50am for the 2+ hour drive.  Work colleague Michelle accompanied me for this race, as she started (and completed) her first Ultramarathon.

The day was nice (in a Midwestern winter sense...)...sunny, which was visibly pleasant in the woods, about 20F at the start at 8:15am and only 28F at the end at 2:15.  There was wind but for the most part the woods broke it up.  A few open areas were breezy but they were short areas. My layering was right and I adjusted the total temperatures via my hands.  I started with gloves, mittens and chemical handwarmers.  By mile 8, I pulled the handwarmers and stuck them in my windbreaker pocket.  I then left bare hands in the mittens around mile 17.  Then stowed the mittens on my water belt and wore just the gloves from mile 23 to the end.  I wore tights, a polypropylene base layer, a heavy-tech quarter zip turtle neck, a windbreaker, wind cap and balaclava.  I was comfortable.

I chose to use a 4/1 run/walk ratio and held that for the entire race.  I was surprised at how fluid the run sections felt to me.  We did not have to contend with snow, ice or mud this year and much of the trail looked like this.

Typical Trail conditions 2015

The first 8-ish miles of the course were with minor rolling hills.  I found I could open up and cover ground.  It hit me just what the training this summer and fall has done.   It felt great.


The HUFF has offered free race photos now for several years and here's a fun wrinkle.  Just before the first aid station, we ran up a steep park road.  That's me on the right.

Up close and personal with Joe's traction control
I look more bundled than my fellow runners....

Zooming in on my feet, you can see the photographer caught the bottom of my old Brooks Adrenalines, providing evidence I really did run with screw shoes.

The HUFF is a two lap course and I was just over 3 hours the first time through...officially 3:01:30.  I've done that before; lap one was 3:00:09 a year ago and 3:01:58 two years ago.   But would I slow on lap two, as was my pattern at HUFF?   As I headed out, though, I found the early part of lap two to feel even better than lap one and, looking back at my Garmin mile splits later, the times told me the feelings weren't phony.

But right about mile 18, I felt a fade.  Not unusual, I've often felt this 18 miles or so into a race.  I focused on drinking more water plus a couple of extra tugs on the JoeGel I had on my belt.  Soon, the fade faded, comfort returning.

I went through the Aid Station at mile 23, the one which supplied my Very Necessary Cheeseburger a year ago.  I pulled in and looked and, YES, they had them again!  I was excited, told the lady how much it helped a year ago, could I have another one?  She laughed, laid on an extra slice of cheese, cut it in half and off I went, the burger slathered in ketchup.  I also refilled my water bottles and headed back on the course, anxious to keep moving.

This cheeseburger ultimately proved less miraculous than the one I had a year ago but, then again, my needs were fewer.  The run still felt smooth and I hit the marathon mark on my Garmin at a time of 5:07.   I couldn't remember a comparison but, hey, it was fine and it was a marathon done.

But I then hit a second low spot, just beyond the marathon mark.  I was surprised at that, having worked through the 18 mile mark slump.  It was perhaps my legs saying "Hey, Joe, isn't this when we go off duty??  Why are you still making me work?  Do I get overtime pay??  Can I go on strike???"   It went on longer than the 18 mile slump.  I kept hydrating and downing JoeGel but I found I was mostly just focusing on each four minute run section, counting down the miles to the end.

Gradually this time, the energy came back.  By the time I got to mile 28  (note...all miles were on my Garmin, there were no mile markers in the woods) I noted with surprise I was comfortable again.

And, it hit me at 28 that I only had a 5K to go.  Hmmmm...I wondered what my total time would be.  Looking at my watch, I was at 5:30:00.  I wondered with the 3:01 first lap how close I might end up to 6 hours.  Hmmm...I just needed a 30 minute 5K to break 6 hours.  But I'm also on some rugged trails.  I just didn't know.  So, I kept running and working the 5 minute cycles.  I figured I had a PR in the bag, since my previous best was 6:19.  But a sub 6 seemed unlikely.    I simply couldn't be precise as to just where I was...I didn't have confidence my Garmin distance was right, being in the woods and all.

But then I popped out of the woods and could see the finish line.  Visually, think of it like this...on a clock, the finish line was at 2 o'clock, I was at 10 o'clock, the lake was the middle, so I could now see the finish line across the lake and had to run from 10, clockwise to 2.  It looked like a five minute watch said 5:55:00...could I do it in five minutes??  I knew it would be close and decided to go for it.

I  ignored any further walk cycles and ran continuously, with whatever I had left.  I knew it would be close.  I kept checking my watch, taking every tangent offered.  I got near the finish but still had a half trip around the parking lot, my screws clacking on the asphalt...I had 30 seconds to was still going to be close.  I pushed it as hard as I could and was thrilled to hit stop at the timing mat and see 5:59:53.  Marathon/Ultra #61 was complete.

Michelle and me after the race

Shortly after I finished, I saw Michelle cross the finish line.  It was great to celebrate her first ultra.  We grabbed some soup and headed home.  A long but good day.

A subsequent review of Garmin data showed the final "sprint" around the top of the lake-centered clock to be at a 9:17/mile pace...I was thrilled to be able to do a 9:17 pace after 30 miles of trail running.

Final official numbers on the race:

Lap one:  3:01:30  (11:41/mile)
Lap two:  2:58:21   (11:24/mile)
total:   5:59:51  (11:35/mile)

Prior lap twos:  2013, 3:30:03; 2014, 3:19:17

Other stats were also encouraging.  Overall, I was 166th of 377 finishers, 131st of 253 men and 8th of 19 men 60-64.  Way better than average for me all around and by far the best I've done in the HUFF.  I was also encouraged in that I had raced a 1/2 marathon a week earlier and ran 20 mile and 10 mile training runs the weekend before that.  No "taper" for the HUFF, yet it went well.

Why no fade this year, unlike prior HUFFs?  I think the biggest reason is simply the higher mileage I've done since last June.  The other reason, I realized later I made three pit stops on lap one but I didn't need to "go" on the second lap.  Worse, on lap one around mile 11 or so, I discovered my tights had slid halfway down my rear, underneath my shorts..had to stop and get rearranged before something bad happened!   Thus, the second lap, even with its downs at 18 and 26.2, was still 3 minutes quicker.  Evidently, I ran at about the same pace when I was running.  I just ran more.  Even splits for a 50K??  That's a good day.

So that's the HUFF for 2015.  Thanks for listening.  Persevere.