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 represents...it'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 early...at 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 run...my 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 go...it 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.