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.