Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Race Report: AFC Half Marathon 2011

ORN: 13.1 miles, 1:54:47, 8:46/mile

The Quick Summary

Wow, what a fun weekend in San Diego! We had huge fun running America's Finest City Half Marathon, and even more fun with family. On a perfect day to run, I had my quickest HM time in three years.

The Gory (and Pictorial) Details

A trip to San Diego from Indiana for a long weekend means a lot of early mornings. I was out the door at 4am on Friday morning and, despite a flight cancellation causing me to fly from Indy to Houston to Denver to San Diego, I got there just a little after lunch. My sister picked me up and we got to visit a wonderful agency where she volunteers in San Diego, The Tomorrow Project, which gives many job skills to underpriveleged women. It was terrific to see how my big sis was contributing in her retirement.

Her oldest son, John, is technically my nephew but we are way more like brothers. He picked me up late afternoon and we headed to the expo to get our bibs. Walking in, a strange, impish idea hit me. I asked someone "Just where are the bibs for the elite runners?" She pointed, we walked over and I explained to the volunteer that I was hoping to just stand there, that this was as close as I'd ever be to elite status. She grinned and said, "Shoot, why don't you just hold one?"

"Elite" runners?

And so we did! It seems the #2 had already been picked up, but #1 and #3 seemed just fine for us!! We got photographic proof of our brief touch with world-class status.

From there, John, a two-time veteran of the AFC HM, drove me over the last half of the race. This proved very useful on race day, as the course gradually climbed in the 11th mile, then found a long steep up-hill grind over the last two miles.

We then headed to enjoy an evening of Major League Baseball. We went to Petco Park to watch the titanic struggle between the Florida Marlins and San Diego Padres. Since both teams were at the bottom of the National League East and West, it seemed only logical to wear a Cubs jersey to represent the bottom of the National League Central.


Thanks for StubHub, we got terrific deals on seats just 6 rows from the field right at third base. We were so close to the field, we could analyze whether the container in the right hip pocket of third-base umpire Tony Randazzo was a tin of snuff or a small package of sunflower seeds. (During the middle of the 5th, we confirmed it was the seeds, fortunately). John and I love baseball and we were able to get so close and analyze all the ins and outs of a tight, 4-3 Padre win. It was probably the most enjoyable major league game I've ever attended.

Saturday was a relaxing day with my sister and brother-in-law, capped off with a great pasta dinner and long conversation with John and his wife. We hit the hay early because Sunday was going to be a long day.

And so it was. The alarm went off at 3:30am, John and I headed to Balboa Park just before 4 and were on one of the 106 bus loads of runners hauled from the finish line to the start point at Point Loma at 4:40am. At the Point by 5am, we had two hours before the 7am start. And this time was sweet. It was dark and we found a quiet spot overlooking San Diego Bay. The cool quiet was a terrifically pleasant experience. As the sun rose, the marine layer kept the temps right at 60F for the entire 2 hours of the race...perfect running weather. At the right time, we did a short warm up run, and walked to the start grid, positioning ourselves about a third of the way back from the front. Despite our very ordinary four-digit numbers, we were ready to go.

At the start

The race started on time, we crossed the finish line two minutes after the gun sounded and the race was on. John and I wanted to run the race fairly hard, so had decided to try to hold to 8:40 miles, run together through mile 10 and then see how we felt for the final uphill climb. The first two miles were rolling, then we had a nearly two mile run downhill. The course then flattened out and we settled into a rhythm. We hit the 10K mat together in 52:41, a pace of 8:30, feeling good. With the early downhill, we were pleased with this pace.

The 10K mat

We turned onto Harbor Island and ran the "T" section of the course, emerging at mile 8. We shared some M&Ms, stayed hydrated and kept moving. It was terrific.

At about this time, far ahead us, a 23 year-old Kenyan, Weldon Kirui, won the race in a blistering 1:03:18. Why was he so fast? Take a close look at his bib number:

The Winner #3

Yes, he wore Bib #3. If you zoom in on the original photograph, you can actually see John's fingerprints still on the corners of the bib. The inspiration was unquestionably the difference on race day. John is truly linked to running greatness, yet, in humility, did not want to detract from Mr. Kiruri's moment in the sun and so hung back in the pack.

Meanwhile, back on the course, we kept rolling along. Just before the 10 mile marker, though, I noticed John was rolling better than I was. We chatted about it and I sent him on his way with an encouraging fist bump. I watched him pull away steadily, looking strong. He kept a very strong pace, motoring up the two hilly miles in 8:13 and 8:11!

John finishing

John finished in 1:51:07. Breaking that down, from the 10K mat to the finish, he ran at an 8:29 pace. Wow...8:30/mile for first 10K of the race which had a big downhill, then 8:29 for the final 6.9 miles with a 2 mile grind uphill. That's an awesome finish and great pacing.

After John moved ahead, I hit one of those half-mile or so patches where I had to re-calibrate and reorient, both in mind and body. That seemed to help and then the hills began. The same two miles mentioned above took me 9:55 and 9:40, respectively. Such is the advantage John has by being able to train regularly on hills while I live in a remarkably flat area. That hill was just plain tough but I did run it without walking.

One of the most amazing experiences of this race for me occurred at the top of the hill, as we turned off the climb and onto the mostly flat final half mile in Balboa Park. I suddenly felt like I was accelerating...it's hard to explain but it was almost like coming out of a slingshot. I looked at my Garmin and saw a pace of 7:45 and it felt fine.

Joe near finish

I pushed hard to the finish, hitting the line at 1:54:47. I had wanted to go under 1:55 and had 13 seconds to spare. My pace after the 10K mat slowed to 9:00/mile but that's just the way it was on the hill.

John found me shortly after I crossed the finish line and we had a most wonderful time reliving the race. We hung out for 30 minutes or so, enjoying the entire atmosphere, even with our humble, four-digit bib numbers intact.


The rest of the day Sunday was more family. My sister, BIL and I joined John and his wife, daughters and boyfriends for supper on their new patio. What rich time together! It ended too quickly...up at 4am on Monday to catch a 6:30am flight home.

On reflection, the weekend was simply marvelous. It also says much. The baseball was perfect. The run was awesome. But, ultimately, baseball (like the Cubs) fades. Eventually I won't be able to run. Yet my family will always be there. And quality of the time with them eclipsed all the other terrific experiences of the weekend. Thanks, to all of you for your hospitality!

Persevere. Especially with your family.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Race Report: Eagle Creek Trail Half Marathon

ORN: 13.1 miles (-ish); 3:05:07

Quick Summary:

Wow! How do you capture fascinating, tough, gritty, enjoyable, glad-it-is-over, all at once?? I'm not sure...but that was what Planet Adventure's Eagle Creek Trail Half Marathon turned out to be. On a brutally hot, humid day, we ran a very technical, demanding course. I gave it a hard effort throughout; yet that effort earned me the slowest HM time I've ever had. And I wasn't the least bit dissatisfied...I simply "ran the best race conditions allowed."

And had some fun conversations as well...see the last story below.

Lots of photos today. A couple are mine but most come from Dave Mari, Michael Hoyt and the race organizers, who provided thousands of hi-res photos free for the download. What a concept! Enjoy.

The Gory Details

The race site was just under an hour from our house so it was easy to be out the door by 5:15am and have plenty of time to get parked, get the packet, relax and prepare for the (scheduled) 7:35am start.

Somewhat spontaneously, a Marathon Maniac photo-op happened before the race. Almost magically, folks with Maniac singlets appeared from all directions and we had quite an assemblage. Equally quickly, cameras appeared everywhere...maybe 20 or more folks snapping pix all at once. As close as I'll ever come to being a paparazzi subject! Since I was only running the half, I didn't wear my Maniac shirt but slid in the back of the photo anyway.

Maniac Meetup

Not surprisingly, in the middle of this photographic extravaganza was our irrepressible fellow Maniac, photo dude and friend to all, Dave Mari. I first met Dave at a MM photo meet-up before the Austin Marathon last February. Dave runs almost every weekend somewhere, camera in hand, meeting tons of folks. Amazingly, he actually remembered me and greeted me by name. It made for a fun start to the race.

Dave and Joe

The race had multiple events. The marathoners started first, albeit 20 minutes late. We half marathoners started 10 minutes later. After a similar gap, the 15K participants took off, followed by 5K runners. All told, 500 runners participated.

Did I mention this was a trail race?

Driving across the flatlands of northern Indiana, you'd be hard pressed to think there could even BE a trail race here. Much less find one inside the city limits of Indianapolis (Mayor: Peyton Manning). Even less find an elevation chart like this:

elevation chart

But the organizers put this all together and presented it accurately as a tough, largely single-track trail race.

The course had four real sections. The first 3+ miles were the toughest, a gnarly, twisty, narrow, up and down, course through the woods. As we started, this predictably turned into a woodsy conga line. The line carried me along with everyone else. I managed to recover from 5 near trips and falls and just kept moving.

conga line early

Just before we finished this tough section, a group of 15K runners blew past us at a rare, sorta-open section of the early course, braving stickler weeds to do so. And one of them looked familiar.

"Are you Margaret?" I yelled. Surprised, she turned and said "Yes!" "Did you work at Athletic Annex many years ago?" "Whoa, that was a long time ago, but yes!" she replied, moving out of earshot. "Great, I'll find you later!" and off she went, really moving quickly down the rough terrain.

Eventually, we burst onto the second section, a city thoroughfare, Indy's busy 56th Street. This 3/4 mile section was dead flat over a reservoir. We then reentered the park for the third portion with a much more runnable, if still up and down, trail.

Runnable Section

It was funny how much easier it was to do hills on nicely prepared stairs than a rooted trail!


While my splits were around 15 minutes/mile in the early conga line, then around 9:30 on 56th, they converged to the expected 11:00 on these more runnable sections with the pack thinning. I felt fine, despite the heat. I carried my own fluid and the Elixr tabs I'm now using in water make a huge difference. At a key intersection, I saw Dave again and, true to character, he snapped a photo! We had a nice chat, as we both caught our breath as best we could in the stifling humidity of the woods.

Joe mile 7ish

The fourth section of the course was a flat, scenic run on a causeway around a portion of the reservoir. It looked nice but was tough to run on. The rock base was made of large, sharp, quarried stone. Uneven and, were one to fall, quite able to inflict some dandy cuts or scrapes. So I took it easy, stopped to chat with a couple of fishermen and kept moving.


Coming off the causeway, we retraced our steps back to the start. The runnable part of the course was enjoyable and I kept moving well. The temperature climbed to the mid 80s, as it was about 10am when we reached 56th Street, out of the shade and under the sun.

The final section was every bit as demanding as it was at the start, only more so on tired legs with higher temperatures. We had fully 50 downed trees like this to climb over or under on the 3.5 mile trek back to the start. It took plenty of concentration, besides the obvious physical effort.

Trees in Trail

I felt fine but, as I met many marathoners heading out for their second lap, I was very glad I had fought the urge to enter this race as a marathon in early August. I truly don't think I could have done it in this heat.

It never gets old to get closer to the finish line. As I crossed ditch after ditch and climbed dead logs galore, I could hear the music and loudspeaker getting closer. It was fun to pop out of the woods and make one more circle of the grassy area to cross the finish line.

Finish Line

The time of day was 11:04 as you can see; my race time was 3:05 and I was fully satisfied with it, as surprising as that might sound. I was gassed...no more effort I could have really put out in those conditions. And that was fine.

The organizers had some good fluids and food available at the finish. That and a seat in the shade was all I wanted for 10 minutes post race.

But then I remembered one task remaining. Where was Margaret?

I got up from the picnic table, started looking at each knot of people still standing around and finally saw Margaret and her husband getting ready to leave. I reintroduced myself and asked her if I could tell her the story.

With Margaret

On November 27, 2004, I met Margaret. (I wrote fully of this encounter that evening on my professional blog here.) I had just restarted running in May 2004 but was fighting calf and Achilles tendon pain. So, I went to a real running store and met her. She didn't try to sell me a shoe. Rather, she sat and asked me questions. We talked for 20 minutes before she even brought out a pair of shoes. Then she took more time, pondered what she saw as I ran up and down the sidewalk outside the store. We tried, retried, talked, observed, and re-tried. I found several possible pairs. The Brooks Adrenalines turned out to be perfect. I bought them and the pain was gone inside of two weeks. It was a wonderful "coincidence" to tell Margaret this story while wearing the Brooks singlet which the company gave me 18 months ago as part of a promotional program. She got me started with this excellent company.

My encounter with her on that chilly grey day in November 2004 was a central step in my running. It got me running, year round, pain free. And I've never forgotten it. Nor forgotten Margaret.

I've actually seen Margaret twice in the intervening years; both times as she blew past me in a race in Indy. I've never had the chance however to stop, talk and fully express my thanks. Saturday was the day. She was wonderfully gracious and, predictably from our first meeting, more interested in knowing how I was doing than receiving my thanks. Yet, it did bring a warm smile to her and I hope a bit of encouragement, probably of a different kind from knowing she had just finished the 15K as 3rd female overall and first in her age group.

You never know what bit of interaction can have a positive impact.

The race "medal" was made from a downed tree branch from this park and will be unique part of my collection.

the medal

A fun race. Be like Margaret...just listen well to someone today.



Monday, August 01, 2011

Upcoming Race Schedule

ORN:  too hot to run

Boy, is it hot...this takes a toll on mileage, just as the bitter cold of winter knocks down the miles.  But, we persevere and looking forward to fall racing is one way to keep rolling along.  The schedule had been in a lot of flux but recently all fell into place, quite nicely.  Here's a rundown of my plans.

This Saturday, August 6, I'll run the Planet Adventure Half Marathon in Indianapolis.  This is a trail half on some narrow, technical trails in a wetland area on the NW side of Indy.  A new race for me, it should be fun.  The weather is set to be well into the 80s as the race progresses.  But I don't have a time target, just want to enjoy the outing and get in a total of 18 miles for the day...because my next race is on 

Sunday, August 21 is the America's Finest City Half-Marathon, in San Diego (which is, according to the local Chamber of Commerce, "America's Finest City"...hubris??).  This will be a treat and was late in happening.  It will be a fun chance to run again with my nephew and good friend John.  He raves about this race.  The race filled up before I could register in June but I got a break and found an allowed way to transfer in.  My sister lives in SD as well and so it will be a great family time as well.  

Labor Day, September 5, will be a nearby race,  Blueberry Stomp 15K in Plymouth, Indiana.  I ran this race about 5 years ago.  I like the distance and the timing fits well for the fall schedule. 

On Sunday, October 2 is the first marathon of the season, the Planet Adventure Heritage Trail Marathon.  I'll never find a more local marathon...the start line is a mere 6 miles from my house.  It runs along the Wabash River on trails, river bank, roads and rocks.  

Saturday, October 22 is another local race, the Adams Mill Half Marathon in little Flora, Indiana (home of the famous Hog Jog).  It's a first year race and being local and in good timing, falls out nicely for me.  

Saturday, November 12 will have me running the Veteran's Marathon for the second year in a row in Columbia City, Indiana.  I really enjoyed this race a year ago.  If all works well, I may go for a hard run in this event.  Surely it will cool off by November??  

I'm not sure what December will hold...I'm debating between repeating two races I've done before...the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL on Dec 12 or the HUFF 50K on Dec 19.  

January could have some exciting news but I'm not sure and not ready to announce it yet.  

So, that's what the next few months hold.  As my wife likes to say, smiling, "Planning is half the fun for you, dear."  Yep, she's right.