Saturday, April 25, 2015

If You Like Rollers, This Race Is For You! -- St. Jude Country Music Marathon Race Report

I have had this race on my list FOREVER. I always knew it would be my Tennessee race. I love Nashville, I love country music, and I love Rock-N-Roll marathons, so it was a natural fit. It did not disappoint at all!

To start with, Nashville is the coolest of cities. It's pretty, there is tons of stuff to do, and it's alive. It was so nice to be in a city that was lively, not like dead Detroit. Their downtown is beautiful and jam-packed with people walking around. (Side note: The Seeing Eye actually started in Nashville because that was where Morris Frank lived. If the founders had not been such wimps and moved to New Jersey because they couldn't take the summer heat of Nashville, The Seeing Eye might still be in Nashville today. Wouldn't that be cool? I think so.)

The forecast for race day was BAD. 100% chance of rain for Saturday, with severe storms predicted including possible tornadoes. (The whole state was red on The Weather Channel, and the TorCon -- which I had never heard of but is apparently a tornado predictor -- was a 6, which means tornadoes very likely.) There was a lot of discussion on Facebook about whether the race would be cancelled, but ultimately they decided to go ahead and hold it, which was a relief. (The weather turned out to be fine -- 57 with no rain at the start line, no rain throughout the race -- plenty of sun and a little breeze instead -- and 70 at the finish, no tornadoes at all. The Illinois Marathon got cancelled halfway through for severe weather and the Louisville Marathon had rain the whole way, so Nashville just got lucky this time.)

I stayed in the Comfort Inn on Demonbreun, which was walking distance to everything -- the expo, the start line, and the finish line. That was nice. The expo was perfectly organized and huge, but I have to say -- what happened to all the free food? Was 5:30 p.m. on the day before the race just too late to arrive and still got food? Or is that a trend, that free food is disappearing? I am used to getting an entire meal from free samples at the expo, especially at a huge race like this with 30,000 runners, but I went through the whole expo and the only samples I got were a little cup with baby carrots and a minuscule dab of hummus, a cucumber on a toothpick with some spicy sauce on it, and another little bag of carrots with a container of onion-flavored Greek yogurt dip, which I tasted and threw away in disgust. Where were the Power Bars, the Clif Bars, the new drinks, the smoothies, the granola, and all the other stuff? Someone please tell me I was just too late and the good stuff was gone.

I may have mentioned that I am a huge fan of Rock-N-Roll races. I know some people love to hate them. "They're too big!" (People love them and want to participate in them, oh no!) "They cater to the half-marathoners!" (Well, there are like five times as many half-marathoners as there are marathoners, because that's a more attainable distance, so what?) "They're too commercial!" (Running is a business like any other. Would YOU put on a race if you weren't going to make money? I wouldn't.) "They're too expensive!" (That's because they're held in awesome urban areas and it takes money to create an awesome race experience for participants, which I personally am more than willing to pay.) In my opinion, R-N-R races have the best organization (aside from the 2010 San Diego finish line transportation debacle), the coolest courses, by far the best medals, and the best overall race experience, and therefore I am going to continue paying their relatively high entry fees. (By the way, registration for this marathon next year is only $55 right now, which is dirt cheap!) I am sad that in my 50 States quest I will probably only run two more R-N-R marathons -- St. Louis and Savannah -- unless I am forgetting one.

Anyway, there were 40 corrals at the start line. i was in #9. Oh, let me also mention that the First Baptist Church on Broadway, which is an enormous church, opened its facilities to runners. It was amazing that in a race of this size we were able to hang out inside a comfortable building and walk right into the bathroom with either no wait or else a very short wait (less than 5 minutes at 20 minutes to race start). Even though it wasn't raining, we all knew it could have been, and were profoundly appreciative of the church for letting us in. (What Would Jesus Do? Of course, open the church to the runners.)

The first part of the course went through downtown and Music Row. There were hills from the beginning -- constantly. I swear there is no part of this city that is flat. I enjoy rolling hills; they break up the monotony, and the good thing is that there were no too-lomg or too-steep hills. (That one at Mile 16-18 or so seemed a little too long, but then again it was a sweet downhill to the finish line at Mile 25!)  Most of the hills were the kind you could charge up and then coast down the other side, the kind I liked. It was also cool to run past the recording studios. A lot of them had banners out front with big pictures of the famous country singers on their labels.

We ran around Belmont University, where I am pretty sure I worked with a Seeing Eye client like ten years ago. It was a beautiful neighborhood, with huge, pretty houses and the entire neighborhood out to  cheer on the runners. We ran past one big front lawn party after another. After several small marathons in a row, it was a lot of fun to see a place where the city residents were actually proud of their marathon and supportive of it.

(I have a habit of noticing what dog breeds race spectators have with them. In Nashville the overwhelmingly most popular dog breed on the course was the golden retriever, followed by golden doodles, followed by Labs, then boxers, then I lost count. I only saw three shepherds, and none of them looked happy to be there. I didn't see a single Cavalier -- how sad! I did see two Bernese Mountain Dogs and two Australian Cattle Dogs, though. Yes, I am a geek about dog breeds and admit it. So what. Whatever gets me through the marathon, I say.)

Around Mile Ten we ran back into the downtown area, and then the marathon split away from the half-marathon for a tedious out-and-back. I can't remember the name of the road but it was the same one we exited the freeway on yesterday. I hate long out-and-backs, at least on the out part. I do not mind the back part because I get to run past all those people who have longer to go than I do, whereas on the out part I am being passed by people who have less to go than I do, which is depressing. Now, in many past R-N-R Marathons -- like, all of them -- one thing that has been a pain is that they like to split the marathon and the half-marathon but then rejoin them later at a point where fast marathoners meet slow half-marathoners. In this marathon, the marathoners left the half-marathoners around Mile Eleven, ran the out-and-back, and rejoined the half-marathoners at Mile Sixteen, which was still Mile Eleven for the half-marathoners, which meant that 9:00 pace marathoners were joining up with like 12:30 pace half-marathoners, which has created a clusterf*ck in the past. But this time, they had gates separating the marathoners from the half-marathoners, so we were alongside them, but not with them. Brilliant! I was glad once we left the half-marathoners entirely and ran across the Cumberland River. I always want to kill all of them for the crime of being almost done while I still have miles of torture ahead of me.

Miles Seventeen through almost Twenty went uphill, but it was a gradual uphill that didn't hurt. Still, I walked around Mile Nineteen for a few minutes. I hadn't looked at my watch at all, and the clocks at the mile markers didn't really give me any information because the wave start meant that I hadn't started till well after gun time, but I hadn't paid attention to how much after gun time. I had a feeling that I was doing okay -- just the absence of needing to walk, the feeling that I was able to sprint up hills, the number of people I was passing, the fact that I hadn't been passed by a pace group… I wasn't aiming for any particular time though I was certainly hoping to beat my moderately crappy 4:25 from last month's marathon. I saw a lot of people who looked worse than me, and, as usual, that gave me more energy. As a runner, I feel like I am some kind of parasite who feeds off the weakness of other runners. That is not one of my better qualities as a human being, but nevertheless it does come in handy in the later miles of marathons.

Miles Twenty-One through Twenty-four were another out-and-back. This one led us into a park and on a long loop around a lake. Around Twenty-three I saw a guy who was screaming in pain from leg cramps. I asked him if he wanted a salt tab. (I have been carrying them around since I moved to Michigan but have never used them out here.) He said he did. I asked if he wanted one or two, and he said two. I think you're only supposed to take one at a time but my brain was fuzzy and I am pretty sure he was operating on the principle "If one is good, more is better!" I also operate on this principle at this stage in marathons, which leads to me doing things like eating ten Tums instead of four when I'm having stomach issues, so I totally understand. I gave him the salt tabs -- actually put them in his mouth because he didn't seem to be able to lift his hands to do it himself. He took them and I ran off, with new energy because at least I wasn't that guy.

It was really warm by now and I saw several casualties of the heat in the last few miles. The med tent guys were busy. I myself felt basically fine. Oh, I had a blister and I didn't want to run anymore and my legs felt like they wanted to cramp if I kept going much farther, but my stomach was fine and I really had no reason that I had to stop. I wanted to walk anyway but I finally looked at my watch and saw that as long as I kept up 11:00 pace I would finish under four hours. So I grudgingly dug up a little more energy and made it up that bitch of a hill between Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six (short, but nasty) and into the finish chute at 3:58:20 and having run 26.45 miles according to my Garmin.

Two last things that Rock-N-Roll is THE BEST at -- medals, always sparkly and heavy with the date on them, and finish line festivals. There is always a beer garden, which I have no interest in, live music, and tons of free food. I grabbed a banana, a cup of peaches, a mint Power Bar, a Gatorade, two waters, and a chocolate milk as I wandered out of the finish area, and would have grabbed more except I ran out of hands. My stomach was fine and I had eaten about half of what I picked up by the time I got out of the finish area and walked back to my hotel.

The concert tonight is Martina McBride but I am not going because I would rather just walk around Nashville (assuming I can stand when I quit typing this -- I haven't really tried standing after my two-hour nap and am not sure how that's going to feel). State #24 and Marathon #31 in the books! My next planned marathon is Deadwood in June but if anyone twists my arm I might be up for a May one too, to get me to the halfway point sooner.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bike Path and Mud -- Trailbreaker Marathon Race Report

State #23 (Wisconsin), Marathon #30. (I could've sworn my last marathon was State #23, but no, I checked Marathon Maniacs and this one is definitely 23. Bummer! Still so many states to go!)

I signed up for this race at almost the last possible moment -- online registration closed at midnight March 25, and I clicked "Confirm Registration" at 10:02 p.m. I am in no way in marathon shape. I did a 20-miler in early February, but between that and last weekend's 15, I haven't done anything more than 10, plus lots of cross-training at the gym. It seemed like a waste to not do a marathon in driving distance this weekend, though, since I had Friday off.

Wisconsin is a state that not only had I never run a marathon in, I also had not ever visited. I don't know why; I've lived practically next door to it for two years now, and every guide dog school I've worked for has had grads there. I just never made it until now. The race was in Waukesha, which is a suburb of Milwaukee. It's a 6-hour drive from my house. It didn't look like anything spectacular race-wise; its chief appeal was proximity and cost (only $65 for the marathon, even at the last minute, with lots of cheap motels around).

My mindset going into this race was that I would use it as a supported training run. And it's a good thing that was my plan, because that was totally what it was. It was very small, just over a hundred people in the marathon, and while it had everything it needed, it didn't have one single extra thing. Fine with me -- I'd rather have it affordable and not fancy. If I want fancy I will stick to RNR marathons.

This race was so small it didn't even have an expo. Packet pickup was race morning. It was in the town's rec center, which also meant we had the luxury of hanging out indoors where it was heated and using real bathrooms with no lines. The "heated" was a good thing -- the forecasted low of 27 actually turned out to be 14, and 27 was more like the high. Brrrr. But there was so much sun that I never really felt cold during the whole run, even though I was only wearing one layer.

The first three miles of the race went around town -- along the Fox River and then through the downtown area, which was pretty cool. Then it switched to the Glacial Drum Trail -- which was actually a bike path. A long, long, boring bike path, albeit with some pretty views of farm country. This could've been the Macomb-Orchard Trail here or the American River bike path in Sacramento or really any long, straight bike path anywhere. It was totally flat, straight, and boring. I could usually see one or two runners ahead of me somewhere, but really there were as many runners coming towards me on training runs as there were people in the race. Aside from the boredom, I felt pretty good. I was purposely going slow so I wasn't uncomfortable at all. The colors of this race were blue (the sky), grey (the asphalt), and brown (everything else -- the naked trees, the farm fields, the cattails, the river water). It was a monotonous color scheme that didn't change at all throughout the whole race.

Shortly after the 11-mile mark (8+ miles of bike path), the course crossed the highway onto the Ice Age Trail. The website promised that this part of the race was "extremely rugged". For the first half-mile or so on this trail, I thought that claim was ridiculous. It was a gently rolling forest trail, and my feet were very happy to leave the bike path even if there were a good number of tree roots to watch out for. But then the mud appeared, and stayed. The trail became a giant mud pit where even walking was slightly risky, as evidenced by the number of slide marks in the mud and the number of runners coming the other way with mud smears all over them. I HATE MUD! I walked, and didn't feel bad about it, for two miles to the turn-around.

The turn-around was a lookout tower, reached by a long flight of wooden steps. Then, once we got to the tower, we had to climb six more flights of steps up to the top of it and ring a little bell. This was the highest point in the county and I got a brief impression of a dazzlingly beautiful view of lakes and farm country for what looked like a hundred miles, in every direction, with Milwaukee off in the distance. I'm afraid of heights and the view actually turned my legs to jelly so that when I turned around to come down I had to hold on to the splintery rail with both hands. I still have not decided whether having to climb the tower was cool or annoying. I think a little of both.

In my head I was thinking the run back to the bike path was going to be easy because of the downhill. This was, of course, wrong. It was much more slippery than before, both because gravity was working against my balance and because the trail had now been churned up more by all the runners behind me. What a mess. I walked more. I was never so happy to see boring bike path.

There's not much to say about the rest of the race. Again, on the way back I saw hardly any other runners, at least not runners in the marathon. There were plenty of recreational runners, cyclists, and dog walkers, but zero spectators and at most one other marathon runner in sight, often not even one. I ran most of the way, though not fast.

I was relieved to get back into town for the last mile and a half, but there were still no spectators. There were lots of turns going through the downtown area, but thankfully they were all well-marked and had race volunteers stationed at each one. (This race has gotten negative reviews in the past for confusing, badly-marked course; thankfully they seem to have rectified that problem.) I hadn't looked at my watch the whole time and was shocked to see 4:25 on the finish line clock. I mean, I knew the trail miles had slowed me down but I had felt like I was moving pretty good on the bike path. Later when I checked my watch I saw that I didn't do any miles under 9:00, sort of the opposite of how I felt on my last training run in Detroit when I was BQ pace the whole way while thinking I was running slow. That was kind of disappointing, but at least I didn't feel like puking and I'm not horrendously sore this morning.

Overall this was an okay marathon as long as you aren't expecting scenery, smooth trail, or spectators. I was forewarned of all those things so thought it was acceptable, though certainly not exciting. I sort of wish I'd held out for Milwaukee or Madison, but on the other hand, it would've been a shame to waste a free day off, and now I've got another state done. So it's all good.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome 2015!

Here's hoping that 2015 will be a better year, running-wise, than 2014!

I was really off my game in a big way in 2014. I only did two marathons, both squeezed in at the end of the year, and I had big chunks of the year where I didn't work out at all for a week or two weeks at a time. I also ate like a Midwesterner pretty much all year long. Surprisingly, that didn't make me obese (not quite), not even the fattest I've ever been (though close). But it does make me feel lumpy and not myself. Although, this time of year, who can tell underneath all the layers? All Michiganders are fat in winter, whether they really are or not. Anyway, starting at Thanksgiving and continuing steadily all the way through Christmas, I ate so much garbage -- so many empty carbs, sugar by the pound -- that I actually don't even want to eat garbage anymore. During my trip home from California, I got a salad in the L.A. airport. It was one of the best salads I've ever had, all green and fresh. I fell on that thing like I hadn't eaten a week, and gorged myself on lettuce and didn't even want anything else. My body was like, THANK YOU!! (And I paused to think how sad it was that an airport salad in L.A. was better than any salad I've had in Michigan the whole time I've been here, not counting the amazing ones the kitchen at Leader serves. Salads in Michigan seem to be an afterthought; it's like wilted iceberg lettuce is nothing for a restaurant to be ashamed of.)

I am already registered for two marathons, Nashville and Deadwood, so that is an improvement over last year when I didn't sign up for anything but the Corktown 5k all year long. I'm still planning on the back-to-back Connecticut/Rhode Island in October, but that's a little too far out to sign up for now. I really should squeeze in a fifth marathon somewhere. If I want to finish my 50 states goal doing four marathons a year, I won't be done until 2020. I think five a year is doable both financially and training-wise, but we'll see.

I miss Tucson more and more all the time. I have always thought about Tucson every day, but often it feels like I think about it all day every day. The way I miss Tucson is like waves on the beach -- the feeling of missing Tucson rolls in, and then rolls out briefly, and then comes right back in again. I miss things I thought I would never miss, like running up the 36th Street hill by my house (a quarter-mile long, always a headwind) and running at Reid Park (which I thought I was thoroughly sick of a few years ago), and even that feeling in July and August and September like I was running through a blast furnace. I remember when I lived in Tucson I had random moments all the time when I would be stopped at a traffic light and look up at the mountains and feel certain that I would never leave and nothing that would require me to leave was ever even a possibility to be considered. I remember how I always felt just a little not-quite-right leaving the city limits for any reason, and the profound feeling of relief when I got back home afterwards. Tucson was the place I recognized as home the first time I saw it (in my headlights at 3 a.m. in January of 1997) and spent much of my adult life trying to get to. Without the running group in Tucson, I would never have tried trail running, let alone done the Pikes Peak Marathon twice or any ultras at all. And I certainly never would have qualified for Boston. I can't tell you how much I think about WOG and ComeRun and wish I was able to go on the runs I hear about on Facebook and on the list.

Okay, but even as much as I miss Tucson, I don't hate Michigan. Michigan is... all right. I don't dislike it as much as I disliked New York and New Jersey. People are nice here and it's cheap to live and I have everything I need. And the other big thing is that, the way I miss Tucson now? I missed this job -- being a guide dog instructor -- when I was living in Tucson EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. It was exactly the same feeling of waves coming in on a beach -- I thought about it constantly and it never let up. Eventually it was strong enough to pull me out of Tucson. I wonder if some day the missing-Tucson will be strong enough to pull me back? The feeling of rightness I had in Tucson every time I walked in the cactus forest or looked up at a sunset or looked down at the city from up in the Catalinas is the same feeling I get almost every day in the middle of some random thing like correcting a work error a dog made or explaining to a client how to fix a situation or talking to a puppy raiser about how their dog is doing in training. I just don't think that feeling is going to let up soon, or ever. I don't think life is going to let me leave Michigan for a while, possibly not ever. Anyway, there is nothing in Tucson that I can do that wouldn't leave me with that soul-sucking feeling I had at the V.A., like I was wasting my life and not doing what I was supposed to be doing. (And the V.A. was a job that I LIKED; I mean, helping blind veterans? What's not to like about that? I liked my coworkers and the government treated me well. It just wasn't the right thing for me to do, because training guide dogs is the right thing for me to do.)

Anyway, I don't even know what the point of all this is. Maybe that in a roundabout way I was trying to blame my lack of commitment to running on missing Tucson? Who knows. I am going to do better this year and get back on track. I am lucky that I have a super-gym right across the road from work that I love going to, even after a year and a half (the eucalyptus steam room; the hot tub; the beautiful people; the unlimited towels!), and as much as I miss the running community in Tucson, I know that the one out here is top-notch, too. I know this from the limited number of times I've run with those people -- both the Rochester running group and the triathlon group -- they are great and I fit in with them fine. I think I just need to make more of an effort to adjust my schedule so that I can run with them more often. Maybe I just need to stop bitching about how I miss mountains and focus on enjoying running by rivers and lakes, and make myself as proud of being tough in the cold as I was proud of being tough in the heat. (Side note: I know the weather was probably the biggest thing I dreaded when I came to Michigan, but surprisingly it is not that much of a factor in missing Tucson as I thought it would be, and not just because we've had a mild December. I have come to love Michigan Grey, which is perfect writing weather -- I even found myself wishing it wasn't quite so relentlessly sunny when I was in California for Christmas -- and I even enjoy the crisp bite of cold winter air when I step outside, and for some reason it makes me happy to see snow falling. I would still choose heat over cold if I had the choice, but the cold has its own severe beauty that I never really got the chance to appreciate before coming here. And I work outside; this is not a theoretical appreciation of cold but an actual appreciation based on experience.)

So, here's to a 2015 with a little bit more focus on running and a little bit more appreciation of the running resources Michigan has to offer. Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What's Next?

I don't know what's next, but I feel so much more like myself now that I am actually running long distances again. I don't know how I let that year go by; I really don't. Anyway, I am thinking about my race schedule for next year. I seriously want to get this 50 States thing done. I started in 2005 and I think I can finish in 2019 or 2020, realistically. I mean I could finish sooner if I had unlimited money and vacation time, but, sadly, I do not. So here are the races I want to do next year, and if anyone wants to join me for any of them, please do!

Nashville Country Music Marathon in April. Maybe it is a little bit overly optimistic of me to think I will actually train over the winter to be ready for an April marathon, but I am going to try for it. One of the few states with a marathon I am excited about running. (I also want to do Oklahoma City in April, but not quite as much as I want to do Nashville, so I will put OK City off till next April.)

Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon in South Dakota, June 1. I've never even been to South Dakota, always wanted to go, and I'm just tired of waiting.

Hatfield-McCoy is June 13, so just two weeks after Deadwood. On the one hand, that would be crazy. On the other hand, I did Marshall U two weeks after Indianapolis and had a good run, and wasn't too sore. So it is a possibility. (By the way, the Hatfield-McCoy course runs through both West Virginia and Kentucky. 50 States rules say that when a marathon is like that, you can count it for either state you want. Of course I would count it for Kentucky since I already have West Virginia, which means I wouldn't ever do the Kentucky Derby Marathon, which is kind of a bummer, but… oh well.)

And last, I am planning to attempt another set of back-to-back marathons, Hartford/Newport, R.I., in October. I vaguely remember the total suckiness of the last back-to-back marathons I did, but am going to try it again anyway. It's been long enough since New Hampshire-Maine that the details of how much it sucked have kind of faded away, and I'm not going to go back and read my blog entries to remind myself. That would just be dumb.

Here is some news that is a bit of a bummer. I went to fill in my states on a marathon map, and found out I actually only have 22, when I have been claiming 23 all this time. I didn't really think it was possible to lose count, but I did. My total marathon count is 29. Why didn't someone stop me from running extra marathons in California and Arizona? (Not Colorado. Pikes Peak deserved to be run twice. It deserves to be run every year but I will not attempt it again until I live somewhere where I can get above 1000' elevation.)

That is about all the running news from here. Other than the fact that I am considering squeezing in one more this year, the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in Delaware December 6. When I was inside the stadium after the Marshall U Marathon, I ran into this girl I know casually from the Rochester running club. I had no idea she would be there since I haven't spent any time with the running group at all this whole year. She's a 50 States person too and had just qualified for Boston for the first time and was very excited about it. She also said she was doing Rehoboth Beach. That put it on my radar. It's expensive, probably cold, not my favorite kind of course, but still, it would be nice to actually be at 23 states by the end of this year if I can swing it. We will see.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I Like Two-Loop Courses, Surprise! Marshall University Marathon Race Report

Let me be honest about something. I had written the first line of this race report in my head before I even got to Huntington, and it went like this in its original form: "This was the fourth in a row of mediocre small-town marathons -- nice for the community, logistically adequate, but totally lacking in any excitement for me as a runner." Then I actually did the marathon, and, wow! It is a really nice little marathon in every way.

I signed up for this race at the last possible minute, since I still wasn't sure whether there would be lingering effects from the Indianapolis Marathon two weeks ago. By last weekend I felt okay, so I went ahead and signed up, but not with very high expectations. The race reviews were generally good, but then again they almost always are, because (my theory) most people who write reviews pick their races based on the type of course they like, and they know the type of course the race is from reading previous reviews, so they are almost predisposed to like the races they enter. I, on the other hand, pick my races based on what's available at the last minute, how much money I can spend on travel, and which states I haven't done yet. So sometimes I end up in races that are not my type. I was pretty sure this would be one too.

I have to also say that I have never really liked West Virginia. (Sorry, Joan, I'm sure where you live is beautiful, but I've never been to that part.) I've been to four or five different places in West Virginia, and aside from the tourist part of Harpers Ferry, I have never found any part of it that didn't look exactly like what people outside the rural south thinks the rural south looks like. To me, West Virginia is one of those places, like the U.S./Mexico border, where stuff looks different the second you drive over a state line. Fences are rusty and sagging, sidewalks and streets are full of holes, porches have sofas on them and yard dogs are mean and the rednecks look like the dangerous kind. Huntington is kind of in the corner of West Virginia where it meets Ohio and Kentucky, and it didn't look any better than any other part of West Virginia I'd ever seen on the first pass. I was surprised by how big Marshall University was -- it looked like a real academic institution, which in my mind did not belong in West Virginia at all. Oh well, I was there to check off a state and not to look for a place to live.

It was cold, really cold, the night before, in the 30's with an icy cold wind blowing. Forecast was for sun on race day, but cold temps, low of 29. Luckily the forecast was wrong and it was 38 at the start line. There was plenty of free parking at the start, and we had access to the bathrooms inside the stadium, which was a total plus because they were heated. That is a serious luxury at a marathon start line. (Although it did mean I couldn't employ my usual technique for choosing a Portajohn line, which is to choose, not the shortest line, but the one where the last person in line is the most attractive guy who appears to be there by himself. Worst case scenario, you have a good view while you're standing there waiting; best case, you make a new friend!) The race started exactly at 7 (and let me say, it was nice having that extra hour this morning; the sun was actually up at race start).

This course was kind of like a figure 8 that the marathon loops twice. Well, kind of like a figure 8 except that the first part of the 8 was about 2.5 miles and the second part was 10.5. So, a grossly out-of-proportion figure 8. I had never done a double loop course and assumed I would not like it. I totally liked it, and wish all my other marathons could be double loops. The first part of the loop was strip malls and crappy houses close to the U. Huntington's roads are just like Michigan's, so watch your step. Once we passed the stadium again, we ran down to and through a park on the Ohio River. That part was very pretty, but then we got spit out into a 3-mile stretch of ugly industrial buildings. At least it was slightly downhill, although very slightly. The marathon is accurately advertised as flat -- amazing, considering the hills that surround it on every side. After that 3-mile stretch, we ran through "Central City" (which I am assuming is like Old Town Huntington) and then into another park. We were in this park, Ritter Park, for about 3 miles. The footing through the park was crushed limestone -- very compacted and such a relief for my feet! The park was pretty, with the path running right alongside a little creek (really more of a ditch) along the base of a really steep, wild hill, but it sort of had a scary, isolated feeling to it, like it would be the place where a local would dump a body. I wasn't worried about any body dumping today, though; there were too many people.

Once out of that park, we ran back up to Marshall U, with the slight uphill more than outweighed by a nice tailwind, and split off from the half-marathoners to run through the center of campus. It is a really pretty campus and actually reminded me a little of U of A, just because it was so pretty. The beauty took my mind off the fact that the half-marathoners were done while we were all going back for round two.

I had been feeling pretty good this whole time. My feet felt springy and nothing was hurting and the temperature was just right and I wasn't swallowing too much air this time. I figured the good feeling wouldn't last forever so I would just enjoy it as long as I could, but, surprise, it pretty much did end up lasting forever. I think that knowing exactly what was coming up helped a lot. None of the stretches were that long, so I knew I would feel like I was making good progress, unlike that horrible 6-mile out-and-back at Indianapolis. I did start to feel some blisters around Mile 21, but made up my mind to ignore them. I was wearing heavy winter socks and knew they were probably just bunched up and rubbing in the wrong places and would soon be rubbing again if I stopped and adjusted them, so I decided I would just let them rub.

I should have pushed harder to finish under 4 hours, but I just didn't feel like it, and got lazy in the last mile. I was thinking I was going to be about a half hour better than last marathon, and that was good enough and the actual number didn't matter. I did run the last half mile at a decent pace. The coolest thing about this race was probably the finish. As we ran into the stadium, volunteers handed us a football 100 yards from the finish, and we got to finish with a touchdown. That was admittedly cheesy, but also pretty cool. Ann Arbor's marathon finished in the stadium but there was definitely no football involved.

I felt fine afterwards. There was pretty amazing finish line food, chocolate milk and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in addition to all the usual post-race food. I'm really not sore at all, except for some really random armpit chafing, which I have never had before. I guess it was the absence of hills or maybe I just had a good day. Maybe the secret of marathon training is to run them a couple times a month with only minimal exercise in between? Or possibly extended binging on Halloween candy? I don't know, but whatever the case, I highly recommend Marshall U. Marathon for any 50 Staters who haven't done West Virginia yet.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ouch… Indianapolis Marathon Race Report

You know that saying "The hay is in the barn"? Well, that's what I should've been saying to myself while I was driving down to Indianapolis yesterday, and I would've been saying it if it was true. There was some hay in the barn, but only enough to last until about January of a Michigan winter, or not quite halfway through. I could blame class, or The Crud I had back in August, or the absence of a running group to inspire me, but I'm not going to blame anything except myself and my seeming inability to prioritize training for any event at all.

This was my 28th marathon and 22nd state. Almost halfway done! It was also my first marathon in over a year. My last one was Lehigh in September of last year. How does a year go by without me doing any marathons? I don't know, but that really can't happen again, not if I actually want to finish 50 States and beat Thomas. Whoops, how did that get in there? Anyway, I picked this one for proximity and value. I think Indiana is a boring state and Indianapolis is a boring city, and my impression of racing in Indiana is limited to that night when I did one loop with Kamran while he was doing his 100-miler. Wet and cold and a little boring is what I remember of that course. Well, this one was a little wet and a little cold and a lot boring. I did not have the impression that this would be an exciting race, but I thought it would be an okay one. I mean, it has generally good reviews and I like changing leaves as much as the next person. I should've known, though, when I got halfway through the the YouTube course video and had to turn it off because I got bored watching it, that this would not be a great course for me.

Let me say that it would not be boring for a lot of people. Midwestern or Northeastern transplants who have moved to the Southwest and miss fall terribly every year would probably love this race. It's nothing but gently rolling hills and green grass and so, so many glorious leaves. I feel like we ran in showers of leaves the whole time. The weather is a roll of the dice this time of year -- on Friday it was 70 and sunny, and tomorrow it's going to be 40's and rainy, but today it was right around 50 and overcast with a few sprinkles basically the whole day, pretty much perfect marathon weather. For people who don't need any changing scenery, or any crowd support, or any glimpses of the actual city, this would be a great race!

Packet pickup was super easy, and the Expo, the race start, pretty much every single lodging option anyone could want, and pretty much every single restaurant option anyone could want were all located right next to each other in about a 5-mile radius. Oh, and everything was right off the freeway too. That was nice. The race start wasn't till 8:30 although the website said everyone needed to be there by 7:30. Paranoid because of last year's parking disaster at Lehigh, I was there at 6:45. (NOTE: According to reviews, Lehigh's logistics problems were all fixed this year, very good news since it was a great marathon except for those things.) There was virtually unlimited parking. I sat in my car and read for a while. I didn't get out of the car until 8:00, taking a guess at how much time I would need to stand in the Portajohn line before the race started.

My blood has definitely thickened since coming to Michigan. I was wearing shorts and T-shirt in 50 degrees and was a little on the chilly side, but not shivering while I stood in line. I was in line with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs, but I was incognito because I was wearing my SAR shirt instead of my Maniacs shirt. I listened to them discuss the race they had just done (Prairie Fire in Kansas) and the one they were doing next (Route 66 in Tulsa, two weeks from now). It was getting closer and closer to 8:30 and people kept jumping out of line because they didn't want to miss the start. The Marathon Maniacs and I were unconcerned; after this many marathons I do not care if I'm on the start line when the gun goes off. That's what chip timing is for, and I would much rather not have Portajohn time deducted from my chip time if I can get it in before the race starts. Today, though, so many people left the line that I was ducking under the rope for my corral at 8:30 exactly -- perfect!

The race takes place in and around Fort Harrison. I really hope that runners who live by this park know how lucky they are to have such a nice place to run! It is full of trails, both paved and dirt, and has a nice mix of hills and flat. The only problem was that I just didn't want to be there.

I had briefly enjoyed the atmosphere at the start line and was thinking how much I had missed races and runners and how I really needed to stop making excuses and start getting to know the running community out here… and then the race started and all I could think was that I didn't feel like doing this and couldn't I just go home? I felt like this all the way from Mile 1 to about Mile 5. Things got a little better after Mile 5, and I was feeling okay until about Mile 12. In this race, the half marathon course is the same as the first 13 miles of the marathon course, and the half marathon turns left and splits off just past Mile 12 to go back to the finish line. Just knowing that most of these people were going to get to be done, while I still had 13 more miles to go, made me depressed. Right past the point where the half marathoners split off, there was a guy holding a sign that read: "Pussies, make a left, badasses, straight ahead." To the guy with the sign: You, sir, are an asshole… and also hilarious. I laughed for almost a quarter mile, and hated the half marathoners a little less for being almost done. (Let me explain: a half-marathon is no small accomplishment; NO race is, not even a 5k. Every time I do a half, I reach the end wondering how I ever do twice that distance. I would never call anyone a pussy for doing any distance of race, and I don't think of myself as a badass for doing a marathon when I have friends who do 100-milers. It's just a little marathon black humor, if you ask me, and I for one appreciated it very much, and am pretty sure I still would've thought it was funny if I was running the half.)

The second half was pretty much one long -- really long -- out and back. It was at first mildly depressing, and then extremely depressing, to see the people coming back when the turnaround was nowhere in sight. It only took me a couple of miles to start feeling like I had had an acceptable first half and now if I wanted to walk I was just going to go ahead. Nothing was really hurting -- I mean, of course, nothing specific was hurting in an injury way, not that nothing at all was hurting. Everything was kind of hurting -- my knees, my internal organs, even a faint pain from my IT band, which hasn't even twinged in years -- but nothing outside of the usual pains. There was no reason why I couldn't keep running except for a strong desire not to. Out and backs are my least favorite things on a marathon course. I don't mind the "back" part, but the "out" part is pure torture. It's bad when they're a mile or two long but five miles sapped whatever spirit I had left completely. This one took place almost entirely on a road called Fall Creek Parkway, with the "out" portion being on the road and the "back" portion being on the gorgeous bike path. There were big, beautiful houses all along the route and not a spectator in sight, more cause for depression. The last worst thing was the headwind. Yes, it was causing the leaves to swirl down from the trees in a nonstop shower of red and yellow, but it was still a headwind. A chilly rain fell every now and then for a few minutes at a time. I wanted to be done with this, so badly! I contemplated all kinds of things -- thumbing a ride back, hiding in the bushes for several minutes, pulling off my tag, getting to the finish line and claiming it fell off somewhere -- but of course I didn't do them because I wanted the stupid medal and I wanted to do 50 States.

Finally I got to the turnaround at Mile 19.5. After that I was finally, finally able to sort-of run. A slow shuffling jog, really, but I will count it as a run. I did this off and on until I got to the last two miles, which were all uphill, and then I said forget it. I was tired and cranky and cold and my stomach and knees both hurt and just NO. No running. The 4:30 pacer jogged past me with less than a mile to go and said, "Come on! 4:30! You can do it!" And I totally could have done it -- I had like 16 minutes left -- but I just shook my head at her. Nope. So she kept going. I walked almost the entire last two miles although I did manage to jog the last tenth of a mile. Painfully. I finished with one of my worst times ever, 4:32.

I wonder if I'm ever going to care if I run fast again or not? I don't really have any running friends out here, so it's not like I'll feel embarrassed about a lousy time. People out here just think it's cool that I finished a marathon at all. I also think that if I really want to finish 50 States, I am going to have to start doing a few more marathons, including probably a few back-to-backs, and in order to save my body I feel like I will have to do them slowly. And also I don't have any way to really know what effect the amount of walking at my job -- at least 6-8 miles per day on most days -- has on my running abilities. Add to that the fact that I don't have any running group friends to push me -- I miss you, WOG!! -- and it looks like I might just be slow forever.

I am up at 3:00 a.m. with sore legs but wide awake and in a sort of post-race funk that has nothing to do with my lousy time and more to do with the fact that I don't know when my next marathon will be. I am thinking about maybe doing the Marshall University Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia in two weeks --it's one I can drive to, and with as slow as I was in this marathon, I could probably have enough recovery time to finish another one (though probably not with a better time). We'll see.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Miss Mountains

This is the weekend of the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado. That is the one race that, for some reason, I can never get out of my head. I did it in 2012 and 2011 (race reports here, here, and here), and out of all of my race reports, those are the ones I reread the most, not Boston, not San Diego where I qualified for Boston after trying and failing to qualify 15 times, not either one of my two 50-mile races. There is something special about the Pikes Peak Marathon. My brain seems to have taken dozens of perfect-recall snapshots of that race (and then I also have this to remember it by). I remember how it felt standing at the start line looking up and up and up, at Pikes Peak all naked of trees and impossibly far away, and that brutal, breath-sucking climb out of town which I still think is the worst part of that course, and the moment when you break out above treeline and start picking through the boulder field, and the dizzying feeling of being on top and looking down and dimly thinking, if there's enough oxygen for your brain to think, that at least on the way down it will get easier to breathe with every step. That does not really sound like fun, and I admit it wasn't 100% fun while I was doing it, but even while I was suffering through it I knew I was doing something epic that I would never forget.

There are no mountains in Michigan. Where I live the elevation is around 600', and where I work it's between 800' and 900'. You can't even get to 2000' in the whole state of Michigan! There are nice hills where I work, lots of them, and I can get a nice roller coaster run just about anywhere I go around there. But I really, really miss mountains.

I grew up with mountains, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I missed them while I lived in New York and New Jersey, but honestly, in both of those places there were so many trees everywhere that I felt like I was always in a green tunnel with limited views of the sky anyway, so I missed the feeling of open space more than I actually missed mountains. Tucson was a perfect combination of openness and mountains. Tucson was ringed by mountains on all sides, and one of my favorite things about it was that I could run up Mount Lemmon or Wasson Peak or Mount Wrightson or Rincon Peak and look down on the city from the north or the west or the south or the east. I didn't always love running in the mountains -- the heat! the rocks! the climbs! the snakes! -- but I always loved having run in the mountains. And those moments up on the peaks were glorious.

Michigan is better than New Jersey and New York in that there are not quite so many trees so close together, and it is still possible to see the horizon. I didn't run trails in New York, and I only ran one trail -- the Patriots Path -- in New Jersey (which always had kind of a Blair Witch-y feeling about it, to me, because of all the trees and how it was always darkish in the forest, even in mid-day). I have run a few trails here. The soft footing, the fact that trails nearly always seem to run along a lake or a river, and the ever-present cool breeze in summer are good things. But the absence of mountains makes trail running here seem almost pointless. In Tucson, you accomplished something with trail running. You climbed a big-ass mountain! I used to think of the difficulty of a trail run in Tucson in terms of how many thousands of feet of elevation gain there was. So, for example, a run where you gained less than 2,000 feet of elevation was no big deal, and a run where you gained 5,000 feet kind of was a big deal. A run like Pikes Peak, where you gain 8,000 feet, was a REALLY big deal. Out here, I guess you just have to go either super long (which I will never do; I don't have the time for that kind of training) or super cold (which I will also never do; I hate the cold too much) if you want to make yourself feel like a badass.

I miss mountains more than I hate winter, and that is saying a lot. One thing is for sure, if any part of my life in Michigan ever went south, I would be running back to a place with mountains as fast as I could.