Saturday, January 29, 2011
Saturday, January 22, 2011
No matter how long I run, surprises still come along; it's sweet when the surprise is a positive one. Such was the case with today's run.
It is the pit of winter here in Indiana. Today's dark lead-grey sky hovered over a sharp west wind with skiffs of snow blowing across the already-frozen tundra, the wind chill well below zero. I really didn't feel like running in this. Yet, the schedule called for mile repeats. I went out anyway.
And am I glad I didn't give in to the feelings.
What a terrific workout! The first mile checked in at 8:21 and I felt like I really wasn't pushing it. I picked it up and did my fourth at 8:04, finishing my last one at 8:15. And this counted the time picking around the snow drifts and gingerly working across the ice patches on the path. Bundled up. It was great and I'm glad I didn't chose to go with my feelings about heading out. And all of this two weeks after a 50K. Encouraging.
Have not mentioned here I upgraded to the Garmin Forerunner 305 w/ Heart Rate Monitor. Got a deal on-line just after Christmas and am still playing with the features which are an improvement over my old 201. I have had some problems getting consistent HR readouts, though, and tried an experiment; I shaved two spots on my rib cage for the electrodes to make better contact. Seemed to work for todays run. Gee, what we do...
My 2011 race plans are falling together nicely. The year started out surprisingly with my first 50K two weeks ago.
Next up is the Austin Marathon in Texas on February 20. This one rolled around wonderfully. Running pal Darrell emailed me last fall, noting he was going to run this race to knock off the Lone Star State in his quest for 50; did I want to run it with him? Well, I looked at the race and the calendar and suggested to my wife she come along and we spend the week following getting away from the aforementioned Indiana grey. She liked that. Before long, Darrell worked it out for his wife to come along too. We've all met before and we're looking forward to it. I'm renting a car; Darrell has to figure out interesting places to eat. Sounds like a good deal.
Five weeks later, March 26, I'm taking on another ultra. The Kal-Haven 33.5 mile Ultra Trail Run follows a rail trail from Kalamazoo, Michigan west to Lake Michigan, ending at South Haven. I've run the South Haven end of the trail a couple of times and look forward to doing the whole trail.
In five weeks after THAT race, I'll be back in Champaign/Urbana Illinois for my third straight Illinois Marathon on April 30. It's a nice race and super convenient for me, less than 2 hours from my driveway. They offered this year (and I entered)an odd "double"; a 5K on Friday night and then the marathon on Saturday morning. We'll see how that goes. Turns out Darrell might join me for this one as well, notching yet another state.
I'll use the time from May to October for shorter races, probably including the Sunburst HM in South Bend for the 7th straight year.
For the fall, I'm scouting for races. My birthday falls on a Sunday this year and it would be cool to run a Marathon on October 9. One possibility is Portland, but I still need to work out other possible visits with my son who lives there. There are lots of races that time of year...hoping to find an interesting event.
Looking longer term, I realized that had I run a marathon last December, I could be in line for my second star. I could do that next year...or I could just find two more marathons before October 10...hmmmmmm.
Shoot, it is fun to plan. And it also makes me smile to recall the phrase on the back of a shirt I saw at a marathon a couple of years ago: "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Yeah, that can happen too.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
I also thought you might enjoy some photos from the race. Not only was the race fully free but so were the photos. One of the pals of the RD posted these for all to use...no $20 cost, plus shipping, for a race photo. Since most FA-style races are on trails on public lands, I also thought I'd show you a way to do such a race in the fertile prairie of the Midwest.
Here's the pre-race start photo. The RD is giving us our instructions which mostly consisted of pointing out the clipboard on which he wanted us to post our time and distance when we finished. 78 folks started the race, each with his/her own distance targets for the day.
We flowed out of the school parking lot onto the adjacent asphalt-covered county road. 400 meters into the race, we were already stretching out.
As we passed the school after the short starting mile, our intrepid photographer snapped this photo of me behind a fellow runner. You can see how we were bundled up against the 17F temperatures. There was, fortunately, no wind and the blue skies were beautiful even though the sun imparted little warmth.
You thought we only have corn fields and no trees here in the Midwest?? Check out this magnificent oak we ran past six times. What a story I'm sure this tree could tell if it were an Ent.
RD at mile 9 uphill
Here you get a glimpse of a hill in Illinois. We had several of these. It was pleasant to enjoy the winding, climbing, tree-lined roads. Not quite foot trails through groves of mountain firs but, hey, it's the best we can do.
Race Director Bob is in the center. After getting us all started, he fell in line to enjoy an 11 mile run himself. He farms nearby and has been organizing this race for 16 years now. He told me, pre-race, he had an implantable defibrillator placed three years ago, yet still ran two marathons and one ultra in 2010. An amazing guy who clearly enjoyed hosting all of us on a cold day in January.
In the middle two miles of the course, the road curled alongside this pleasant stream. A stream on one side, big round hay bales on the other...it was a treat.
Somewhere along here came one of the funniest moments of the day. A fellow runner caught me from behind and told me she thought I had a "wonderfully color-coordinated running outfit." I smiled but hardly knew what to say. NEVER in my life has ANYONE ever complimented my clothing color choices. I'm an engineer. Shoot, I'm lucky just to get dressed properly every day. I've learned that navy blue Dockers always go with a shirt that is basically blue. And that's about as much as I ever think about it. And it's not like my color choices for running capture subtle effects of tone and texture to communicate a particular mood; I just got it all from Brooks. The only thing this garish combination of neon yellow and black communicates is "Please don't hit me with your giant SUV while I'm running." That bit of humor carried me all day long.
Here is a compatriot crossing the finish line well ahead of me. You can see here the combined race expo, registration pavilion, information desk, central aid station, timing technology core and finish coordination. All on a piece of plywood across a couple of sawhorses. Just love it.
Twenty-two folks finished the full 50K; I was 19th among them. Lots of others ran either 11 or 21 miles or some other combination. It was a fun day.
Enjoy the photos. And keep persevering.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
31.0 miles, 6:23:21, R/W: 4/1 thru 21, then 2/1; 12:22/mile
Who'd a thunk it? Running 50 km on a cold day in January on county roads in central Illinois. And enjoying it?? Amazing.
With little planning other than a desire to get in a long run, on Sunday, January 9, the Illinois FA 50K became my first bona fide ultramarathon. I truly enjoyed the experience. Despite a couple of mental low spots in the 18-20 mile section, the race went well and I finished feeling terrific.
The Gory Details
As I detailed a couple of days before the race, this event popped up on my radar screen just two weeks ago. So it worked out great to drive to Chicago on Saturday, drop son Matt off for the start of his last semester of college (amazing on its own), the drive the 2 hours or so south and west of the city, where I spent the night near the small village of McNabb, Illinois.
The weather turned out to be great for a January race in the Midwest. The overnight lows were in the teens but the day dawned with full sun and no wind…that's an amazing thing. While the mercury never got much above 23F all day, the lack of wind and the visual pleasure of a sunny, blue sky made the weather a non-factor for those dressed correctly. I learned from race veterans this was far better than last year's race with snow-pack, a vicious wind and lead-grey skies.
The race HQ was a rural Junior High School. About 70 of us gathered and, since there was no entry fee or other complex organization, we signed in and heard the race director give us two instructions; Have fun and when you cross the finish line, write down your name, time and distance you ran on this clipboard. He stepped back, said "Go" and we were off.
If you've ever driven across central Illinois, you will recall just How Very Flat it is. I had read a description of the course, stating it had several hills but wondered just where we'd find any hills in this flatland. On race morning, I found out. To make the 31 miles for a 50K race, we first ran a half mile east of the school and back. The remainder of the day was on a wonderful five-mile route on virtually deserted but paved country roads to the west.
Mile 1 was flat at first, with a modest down and up at the end. Mile 2 wound down and around a bluff, up a smaller hill then down again. Miles 3 and 4 were flat and picturesque, winding along a small stream through small farms, one with a herd of fine looking Black Angus cattle. Mile 5 then took us up and over a ridge to the turn around point. Lather, rinse, repeat. Three round trips added 30 miles to our initial one mile for 50K.
The first round trip and the second run out went fine. I used a 4/1 run/walk ratio from the beginning, averaging 10:45/mile at a heart rate of about 120 bpm. I had a bit of tightness in my right Achilles tendon around mile 8 but a stretching session against the side of a barn cleared that up.
The first of two low spots arrived midway back on the second trip and surprised me. It was mile 18 or so and I started to feel stiff and tight. I reviewed pace, form and, oh yes, hydration. Up to that point I had been regularly drinking water with Camelbak Elixir, a new addition to my system. And I realized I had drifted off into some introspection and quit drinking for a mile or so. I immediately corrected that; the grape-fizzy flavor of the electrolyte drink tasted great and within about 10 minutes the tightness eased and I was running comfortably again.
The second low spot I had anticipated. The race layout was convenient for folks wanting to run either 11 or 21 or 31 miles…you just got off the bus after one or two trips. As I approached the school with about 20 miles done I debated what to do. A third trip would entail another 2+ hours running, the sun was fading, maybe this was nuts, I really ought to be driving home by now and I'd hurt myself for any spring marathons and and and. Yet, this was my best situation to finish a 50K. What to do?
The geek mind came to the rescue. I had given myself permission before the race to switch from a 4/1 ratio to a 2/1 ratio for the last 10 miles. So, just before the school parking lot, I pulled off a mitten, reset my timer to a 2/1ratio and decided to go for it. At the turn around, I grabbed a banana from my car (delightfully un-frozen), made a pit stop, filled my water bottles and headed out once more. Just making the decision was invigorating.
It is really kind of amazing to truthfully report there were no more low spots in this race. I knew the course now after two trips. The shift to a 2/1 worked. I walked all the steeper uphills and just enjoyed myself. At the far turnaround, the race director (who was driving the course) stopped, actually remembered my name (gotta love small races!) and paid me a nice compliment saying "Joe, I'm worried about a couple of folks still out here but not about you!"
I headed back, knowing I still had five miles to go, yet knowing full well I had this race in the bag. As near as I could tell, I hit the marathon distance at 5:08. This made me smile, as 3 of my 4 marathons last year were way over 5:08 yet here I was on a cold day on a lonely road in a tiny race in rural Illinois running 50K and feeling so much better than in big city marathons in LA and Chicago. I think I smiled most of the way back.
As I got within sight of the school and the finish line I laughed out loud. Only about eight cars remained in the parking lot and not a single person was anywhere in sight. It was so fitting for this simple, free race. I ran across the finish line, arms up and let out a whoop which nobody heard. It was terrific to finish strong. I dutifully wrote down my name, my time of 6:23:21 and headed to the locker room.
Yes, the locker room. For a free race, this event had wonderful perks. Being able to walk about 100 feet from the finish line and get a hot shower before driving home was a huge treat. Two other guys were there and we all chuckled we hadn't had a locker-room conversation in decades. After the shower, I had a piece of pizza with the other late finishers, hopped in the car and began the 3 hour drive home across the dark prairie.
I learned a lot in this most enjoyable race. I'll write more about that before long. What a great way to start the year.