Monday, October 26, 2015

DETROIT MARATHON REFLECTIONS

The bonfire after the race on Sunday. Many beers, and Jell-O shots, were had. Too many... but I earned them!
Well, it's been a week now and I've had a lot of time to reflect on my experience in Detroit. Overall it was a really fun trip and I actually enjoyed the race quite a bit. I will say it was my favorite marathon that I have done when comparing Portland, Vancouver, and Detroit. They all have their strengths and weaknesses but overall Detroit's course is really great. It kind of makes me sad about the Portland Marathon... there is so much more potential there. The course is still decent and the support and organization are great... but man, how good could it be if they actually tried to feature the city like most other races do?

A lot of people may see my 4:21 and assume I walked quite a bit. The reason I can still hold my head up very high after this race is that I ran the vast majority of it. All that extra time was not walking, most of it was stopping to stretch. So I'd bet I ran at least 25 miles, if not more. I didn't walk much at all, a couple hills and prolonged water stations yes, but most of the time I was at least shuffling along at a jogging pace. So those 12 minute miles consisted of a 10:00/mile pace with 2 minutes of stretching. I think the race would have been a lot more frustrating if I actually had to walk it in, which I was prepared to do.

What's next? Well, I'm done with marathons for a while. Probably until Portland next year. Training during the winter for a spring marathon just sucks. I'd slogged through it for Vancouver, BC that one year but waking up early on a Saturday to run 18 miles in the rain is not the best. Plus, it will be nice to just concentrate on lower mileage and running faster. Give my body somewhat of a break before I do it all over again. I haven't fallen in love with the marathon distance but I do like the challenge. I like running with PMC in the summer. So pretty much nothing has changed!

Apparently we both decided to shoot him in the head.
My next race will be a half marathon Thanksgiving Weekend. The Hot Buttered Run Half Marathon. I did the 12k of this event way back in 2012 and have wanted to run it again. I was hoping to run the 12k, since I could actually still PR that, but they removed it in favor of the half marathon. Oh well. It'll be interesting to run a half marathon now that I actually have the legs for it. Not counting Bald Peak, my last half marathon was Rock n' Roll Portland and I still wasn't quite in half shape at the time. Hopefully after I take two weeks off (currently one week into that) my legs will be healed up and I can get a good time.

Also, a big thanks to Katie, Jerry, and the kids for being excellent hosts!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

2015 DETROIT MARATHON RACE REPORT

Halfway up the ramp to the Ambassador Bridge to run into Canada (stolen from Runs for Cookies... sorry Katie!)

PRE-RACE ACTIVITIES

My plane left at 7am on Thursday morning and I was in Detroit by 5pm local time after a stopover in Salt Lake City. Katie picked me up and we went straight to her cross country practice for the team she is coaching. That was fun to watch and if I were to ever coach again I think cross country would be a fun one to do. Jerry and the kids met us there and after the practice we went out to a place called Anson's to eat pizza. It was very good and they had all sorts of unique varieties. My favorite was the Rueben... yum! The night ended by sucking at Keno at a local bar near their house.

Red Wings game at Joe Lewis Arena! They lost 5-3.
Friday we spent most of the day in Detroit. The three of us had Caesar Salads for lunch at a BBQ place called Redsmoke. The Caesar dressing was interesting but very good... almost a cross between a Caesar and a balsamic vinaigrette. I got pulled chicken on my salad and tried a bunch of their different BBQ sauces. The honey mustard was my favorite. What can I say, I'm a sucker for anything honey mustard. After that yummy lunch we gambled a little bit at Greektown Casino... I played $20 and was up to $40 at one point, but as in true gambling fashion, kept playing and ended up with zero. Oops.

After that it was off to the expo. You've been to one, you've been to them all. The only unique thing about this one was showing your passport to a Department of Homeland Security official before you got your bib. Other than that though, same as usual. Bought some of the same Margarita Shot Blocks I used in Portland. After that we walked the River Walk and went to a bar and had a drink before going to my first NHL game. I had fun even though the Red Wings got housed. It was fun to see Joe Lewis Arena before they tear it down in a couple years.

Saturday was a fairly low-key day. In the morning we went their kids' cross country meet. It was my first meet and it was really interesting to watch even though it was super cold and I was freezing. Both kids ran and did really well and it was cool to see the variety of abilities there and all the different teams. After that we got lunch from a place called Eerie Bread Company and the sandwich I got was very good! Total calorie bomb though!

In the afternoon we played laser tag and went bowling with the kids. Laser tag was a lot of fun and it was cool to go to another arena other than the one here I always go to.  There wasn't a ton of people there so the first game was just Jerry, the kids, me, and two other people. The second game was the four of us versus a six pack of kids. My team won both times but I wasn't the top score, Katie's oldest was. Guess he's pretty good at laser tag! After that it was off to bowling. Did crappy on my first game (90-something) since I didn't have my ball or shoes, but got a 144 and 143 to redeem myself slightly in the final two.

Right after the race started.
RACE DAY MORNING

I actually adjusted to Eastern Time pretty well, probably the best of any trip back East for a race. Saturday night I fell asleep around 11 and woke up at 5. So about six hours of sleep. We left for the race at 5:30 and I had my normal breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese. The bagel was a pretzel bagel from Tim Horton's and it was pretty yummy! We parked at Greektown Casino and then took the People Mover to the start line. I was much less nervous for this race than Portland.

We probably should have studied the start line map because we got there with about 25 minutes until the race started. I needed to bag check the sweats and sweatshirt I was wearing (it was 33 degrees) and I couldn't find it. Maybe some directional signs would have helped. Anyways, it was super crowded due to the 15,000+ runners doing the various events, and getting anywhere was slow. I finally found bag check and checked my clothes with about one minute before the gun. All told, even though it was a close call, it worked out well. I was never cold because after checking my warm clothes I ran right to the start line and started the race.

MILES 1-8: OH CANADA! (8:14, 8:24, 8:40, 8:37, 8:02, 8:17, 8:24, 8:34)

Due to the close call at the start line I was unable to get with the 3:35 pacer. My bib actually had me in a slower corral (I think I put 4:00 or 4:15 as my time expecting to be pacing Katie) but nobody was monitoring it. I ended up slipping in near the 3:55 group and crossing the start line about six minutes after the race started. The start line was a lot like Miami... really busy and chaotic. They are similar sized events due to the large half taking place at the same time.

In the crowds toward the beginning of the race.
That first mile or so I had to weave a bit as I was with a slightly slower group of people but it wasn't too bad. I didn't think I could catch the 3:35 pacer, as they probably started three minutes ahead of me, so I knew I'd probably have to pace myself. That first mile or so felt really easy. My legs felt good and I was thinking just maybe I'd have a good race. Did I mention it was snowing at the start? Yeah. Luckily I was never cold. My shorts, long sleeved t-shirt, hat, and gloves were more than enough to keep me warm, especially once the sun came out.

It was two miles until you start going up the ramp to the Ambassador Bridge. This ramp is a more gradual climb than the St. John's Bridge and thus the "hill" lasted a lot longer. I took it easy up the bridge, averaging about 8:40, knowing there was a lot of race left. This part of the race was really cool... crossing the bridge into Canada as the sun came up. Very awesome! We got some downhill into Canada and I clocked an 8:02. Legs started feeling not as fresh though.

Once we leveled out in Canada I tried to maintain about an 8:15 pace. I was able to do it for one mile but then slowly drifted off pace. More on that later. Canada was very cool. Not a ton to see, you mostly run along the river and it looks a lot like the river from the other side, but it was fun to see the Detroit skyline and the people really come out and cheer over there. The Canadian border people were a lot of fun too, high-fiving participants and getting in on the festivities. After a flat two miles it was time for the tunnel back to the United States.

The tunnel was cool but way hotter than I excepted. It was a good 70F in there and I had to take off my hat and roll up my sleeves. It was pretty neat but I could tell my legs were starting to slow. So while I enjoyed the tunnel, this part of the race was also where I kind of realized I wouldn't be running a 3:40 race. At this point I had to readjust my focus and think about going sub 4:00. The "hill" out of the tunnel was tougher than it should have been but I still managed an 8:34.

MILES 9-14: THE U.S. OF AHHHH CRAP MY LEGS (8:58, 9:09, 8:41, 9:16, 9:04, 9:01)

Looking back at Detroit from Canada (Runs For Cookies)
As you can see with my times, this was an adjustment period. The thought at this point was to finish averaging about 9:00/mile and finish in 3:55 or so. I even followed the 3:55 pace group for a majority of these miles. My legs didn't crap out yet, but they were feeling very "not fresh." I could tell they weren't recovered from the Portland Marathon yet and there was no way I could have a similar time. So the hope now was to hang on at 9:00/mile. It would be a grind, but maybe I could do it. Maybe my legs could hang in there.

This part of the course was the least interesting. The "industrial part" of Portland for Detroit. Even then it was way more interesting than that damn section of Portland. Just around downtown streets that all kind of looked the same. Generally maintaining my 9:00ish pace and hoping that my legs would stay in there. Honestly, nothing much stands out at this point of the race. I was getting agitated by all the half runners around me celebrating each mile and counting down. "Only two more to go!" Not what I wanted to hear as a marathoner. Some of the spectators were also shouting similar things.

Eventually the half marathon people split off and I was expecting it to really thin out but it seemed like maybe 40% of the people around me stuck around and were running the marathon. Maybe the half has a lot of slower folk/walkers and exodus would be much more noticeable at a slower pace. Overall it was a nice surprise and the amount of people felt a lot like Portland. So I wasn't alone at least. Again, these miles weren't very interesting but the scenery would quickly turn around.

MILES 15-20: HOUSTON, WE HAVE A SHIT SHOW (12:59, 11:06, 10:21, 11:02, 10:20, 9:43)

Here's one of Katie and Jerry coming
back into the US. Mile 8ish.
So, yeah... mile 15 was almost thirteen minutes. What happened? My legs finally gave out. They weren't recovered from Portland and eventually they just stopped responding. What finally triggered me to walk was a muscle in my right leg being strained and feeling it pull with every step and causing me to limp. It isn't my hamstring or my quad, it's located more on the side of my leg toward the back. I think it's my glute. It's acted up before but not in a long time and it only acts up when my legs have been overused. So I guess it's not surprising that it flared up!

Thanks to the modern miracle of GPS watch technology I can pinpoint exactly where I crapped out. It was right after my watch beeped for 14 miles, so probably mile 13.9 on the course. At that point I was staring at 12 miles of walking in 36 degrees. Surprisingly, I didn't freak out. I texted Katie to let her and Jerry know I was going to be later than expected and then tried to get back up and running. When I started running again I could feel the muscle pull. I tried to stretch it out a little bit and was able to run for about a block until I had to stop and stretch again.

The thought of quitting never crossed my mind. I've thought about what I would do in a situation like this and it was always to finish, no matter how I did it. After many stops and starts to stretch I was able to run from about 15.3 to 16.6 only stopping twice. If I kept my pace around 10:00/mile the muscle wasn't aggravated very much and I could kind of shuffle along. Even if I could run faster I'm not sure the rest of my legs had it in them. Energy wise I felt good, so it was just a matter of managing my body.

A flavor of Indian Village. Sorry, no pics from the entire
2nd half of the race. Apparently I wasn't a intriguing target?
I had a great period of running from mile 16.6 to 20.0 where I only had to stop once. I actually was near the 4:00 pacer at this point and talked with some people. I was actually having a pretty good time! This was the Indian Village part of the course and it was really cool. Very nice neighborhood with cool old houses and large trees everywhere. Super pretty and it put a little pep in my step. I even had a 9:44 mile. At this point I was feeling much better about my situation. At mile 14 I was staring at walking the rest of the thing, but now I knew I could hopefully run most of it.

MILES 21-26.2: SURVIVING THE SECOND WAVE (11:34, 12:44, 12:22, 10:39, 11:10, 11:49)

After Indian Village I was feeling pretty good. I was actually kind of looking forward to Belle Isle, knowing it contained mile 20 and was the beginning of the final 10k. It was pretty and I was probably able to enjoy it more than if I were running a 3:40 pace, but it also featured the attack of the glute, round two. As you can see by the near 13 minute mile, it flared back up. This time the stop and stretch didn't loosen it up for a while, as soon as I started running it would pull again.

Belle Isle. Despite my legs, I still enjoyed the sights!
So much of the island was a frustrating experience of trying to stretch my legs in different directions to try and loosen them up. Sometimes I would last a couple steps. Sometimes I would last a quarter mile. Most of my running was just spent waiting for it to pull again though. Aside from that, I was still enjoying myself. There's a little more talking back with the 4:00+ folk so I was able to talk with a few people about the race, my Portland Marathon shirt, etc. Unfortunately I had to drop a couple chats to stop and stretch. Most of the two miles on the island were this frustrating start/stop.

Once off the island though I was able to get back into somewhat of a groove. In fact, I was able to run miles 23.2 to 24.6 without stopping. This was along the River Walk, which I had visited earlier, so it was familiar territory. After that I had to stop and stretch, but for the rest of the race I never had another bout like on Belle Island where I was flirting with a 13:00 mile. Most of the time one 30 second stop to stretch was enough to get me back up and running. Mile 25 was a little slower because there was a small hill of about three blocks I walked. Uphill running aggravated my strained muscle and there was no incentive to try and push it there.

Sprinting into the finish! Finally a pic!
After walking that hill around 25.4 I ran the final mile without stopping. My watch tracked me at 26.5, which I'd believe. I wasn't paying attention to tangents and kept having to run to the side of the road to stretch. So I'm pretty proud of running the final mile. The crowds and energy kept my leg from bothering me to much. Great support and energy that final little stretch. When I turned the corner and had about three blocks to go I looked at my watch and decided to try for a 4:20 (cuz Oregon). Unfortunately my full out sprint fell just short. Don't know how I was able to sprint for those three blocks, but it happened. I crossed the finish line with great relief.

POST RACE

While the chute wasn't highly comfortable, it wasn't nearly as bad as my other four marathons. I could have made it through without stopping to sit, but I figure it was a tradition by now so I took a short break. I think I was mostly paying for that final sprint in, otherwise the chute would have been fairly easy. Anyways, After shuffling through there and taking that couple minute break, I went out to find bag check and meet up with Katie and Jerry.

I was able to get my gear and get it on me before I got cold. I wasn't actually cold the entire morning which was surprising given the temperatures in the 30s! I met up with Katie and Jerry who froze a little waiting for me (sorry guys!). We pretty quickly headed back to the People Mover to get back to the car. My legs definitely felt the best they have after a marathon. Not to say they felt good, but the slower pace overall definitely did a little less damage to them even though they were sore and depleted from the Portland Marathon.

Overall I wasn't too bummed about the race at all. In fact, I think it might have been my favorite marathon experience after my first. I wasn't focused on any goals, I was going to try to run a pace similar to Portland but knew something like this could very well happen. When it did, I was mentally prepared for it and just kind of rolled with it. I loved the race itself, the course was awesome, the support was good... I had a good time. It was frustrating to keep having to stop and stretch, but overall I tried to just look past that and soak up the experience. I had a really fun time! The 4:21 didn't feel any longer than my 3:33 marathons.

I'll probably have another post about the race but I'll wrap this one up since it's already a novel. Looking back, I'm proud of my effort. I ran two marathons in 14 days and never gave up in Detroit despite my body kind of crapping out on me. I stayed positive mentally and enjoyed the race more than my other marathons. I don't think I'll be doing two marathons so close together again but it was fun to see what would happen... now I know!

Official Chip Time: 4:21:00, 9:57/mile. 1554/3801 overall, 1073/2149 male, 150/269 M25-29.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

2015 DETROIT MARATHON PREVIEW

Course map, click to enlarge. Most the highlights are in the first half of the race. Belle Isle is going to start the death march.
Can't believe I'll be in Detroit in less than 24 hours. This trip feels kind of weird... I don't know whether to be excited or dread the race. Unfortunately the weather is still looking just as cold. It will be interesting to see how I do in the cold though, all my previous marathons have been in the 50s and 60s. I certainly can't use the "too hot" excuse for this race, but I'll probably be pulling out "too cold." We'll see. At least it should be clear and crisp. Might actually be kind of nice.

I leave tomorrow morning at 7am and get into Detroit around 5pm. I'm excited to see the Foster gang. We'll be keeping things pretty low key in the lead up to the race. See some of the sights around Detroit without screwing up my chances in the marathon. Should be fun. I got to see a little bit of the area back in the spring when we did the Indianapolis Mini Marathon but it will be nice to explore more. Just wish it wasn't going to be so damn cold.


As for the race itself, my main concerns are the weather (too cold) and sleep (too little). I meant to try to adjust my sleeping schedule a little bit before flying out there, but let's be honest. It's me. Not going to happen. Hopefully I can adjust quickly... if I can get 8ish hours on Friday night and 4-5 Saturday then I should be good to go. It starts at 4am my time, so that likely means a 2am wakeup call. I've done it before in Miami, but that was just for the half marathon. We'll see how it works for a full. Honestly, I don't think it will be too big of a deal during the race, but I'll probably crash pretty hard after.

The course itself looks really fun. The main reason I wanted to do this race was the course. If it was just some boring course through average parts of Detroit then I probably wouldn't have been jonesin' to do it. However, getting to run across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada and back through a mile long tunnel is pretty cool. Unfortunately those two highlights are in the first half of the race so there isn't a ton to look forward to on the back half. Normally in Portland I look forward to St. John's and seeing my parents and aunt right before mile 18. So we'll see. I'll look forward to Belle Isle because I know it is the beginning of the end.

The run up to the Ambassador Bridge is actually a lot like the run up to the St. John's Bridge. About 150 feet. So that shouldn't be a problem and it will be nice to have it at mile 2.5 instead of mile 16.5. I'll have to make sure to take it easy there and not let the beginning of the race excitement allow me to charge up it. The tunnel also is a small challenge... looks about like 100 feet down and then up. So that's another sizeable hill. Mile 8 though... shouldn't be a problem. After that, nothing major. I did read up that there is some noticeable uphill right at the end. And while on their elevation map it looks like small speed bump, the videos of the course show a decent hill. So that'll be something I'll need to be prepared for around mile 26.

Overall though it is very flat after coming out of the tunnel. The area in general is pretty flat so it's not surprise the "hills" of the race are mostly man-made. It'll be interesting to do such a flat course... my other marathon, Vancouver BC, was also kind of hilly. The main mental struggle will be once the half marathoners break off. The highlights of the course are over and 4/5th of my fellow runners will disappear. One of the major drawbacks about this race is the marathon is not featured and is almost a side event to the half marathon. I notice this every year in Miami and fell really bad for the full marathoners. That is a post for another time though. I'm just glad Portland caps their half at about 1/4th the size of the full and keeps the focus squarely on the full marathon.

We'll see how it goes. It'll be interesting to see how my legs react to the second marathon in 14 days. Because of the challenges that'll pose, along with sleep and the weather, I'm not setting any specific goals for this race. My plan will be to run with the 3:35 group (assuming I'm in their corral) and try to have a similar race to Portland. Maybe I do, maybe I don't. We'll see. No pressure to beat Portland and get under 3:40 or anything. I'd like to, but I'm not making it a focus or goal with all the unknowns. I would like to get under 4:00 at least, so if I have any goal, it's that.

This may be my last post until after the marathon, so until then!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

GEARING UP FOR THE MOTOR CITY

Prediction for temperature at the start of the race right now? 34 fucking degrees. That better change!
Can't believe I'm running another marathon in five days. I'm certainly not as nervous for this one as I was for Portland. I already got my "A" goal, I don't have any unfinished business I feel the need to accomplish, and I know I'm in good enough marathon shape to finish it without it being too terrible. I'd say my biggest worries at the moment are going to be the weather on race day and the lack of sleep I'll have to due to the time change and being a night owl.

They finally got the finish line photos up.
Let's back up real quick to my post-Portland Marathon recovery though. I was sore through about Thursday but by Friday I was feeling pretty good and back to normal. I decided to go on a bike ride after work and ended up doing an absolutely hilly, killer route. I would have much rather ran up many of those hills. Anyways, that bike ride was a great workout but probably a little too tough when I was still trying to take it easy. Saturday I felt good though and ended up playing indoor soccer for a good hour and a half. Lots of running, another great workout.

Sunday morning I woke up early and ran "six" miles with Matt and Katie. I put that in quotations because it included some trail running and we got shorted by our GPS watches. It was probably more like 6.5 or 7 miles. I felt pretty good during the run. Legs didn't seem to have any lingering effects from the marathon. Last night I ran with PRC and we did the winter route for the first time. Five hilly miles there and the fourth day in a row of decent activity. Today, I'm a little sore. Not too bad, but more sore than I'd like to be five days before a marathon. So I'm going to have to take it very easy the rest of the week.

Anyways, I'll try to get a Detroit Marathon preview up before I leave for the trip on Thursday. I'm pretty much still in denial that in less than 48 hours I'll be on a plane to run another marathon. Ignorance is bliss.

Friday, October 09, 2015

2015 PORTLAND MARATHON REFLECTIONS

Importance of tangents. Yellow=me, red=most other runners. Saved some time on a couple of these.
This will just be a random hodgepodge of stuff that didn't make its way into the race report or came up after that post.

No Bathroom Break: I didn't go pee this marathon! This ends the steak of two marathons where I had to take a break to go pee. Good thing too, as I only had 26 seconds to spare and that might have been the difference between me getting my "A" goal. I stopped aggressively drinking mid-day on Saturday and that might have been the difference.

Tangent Thomas: Also a good thing that I was running the tangents when I could (and when I was "with" enough to realize it). Again, this made a difference in my 26 second "A" goal achievement. I actually missed the Oregonian photo essay of 3:35-3:40 runners because I was running the tangent. Everyone was on the right side of this road on one turn when the tangent was clearly hugging the left edge. So I went solo over to the other side of the road and ran the shortest distance instead of hugging the right side of the road like everyone was doing. No photo taken, but probably a good five or ten seconds saved. Multiply that by about a half dozen.

Blisters and Chaffing: My feet fared pretty well this marathon, the only problem spot was a sizable blister on my left big toe. I've never gotten one there before and probably won't again for a long time. Also, I had some pretty noticeable chaffing on my right hip where my car key was snuggled against my leg in the little pocket the shorts provide. I also had a "tramp stamp" patch of chaffing right above my buttocks where my cell phone was sitting. All these have pretty much healed.

A slow down, but much more steady than last year.
Patient Pacing: I think my pacing really set up a "less worse" back half compared to the last couple marathons. Now, it still sucked, but when I think back to the other marathons I wasn't in nearly as much pain as before. My body was still yelling at me to stop, I still used the aid stations liberally, but overall I avoided any sort of real break down. I pretty much ran the whole race, which to me means I paced pretty well. I think I'll stick with the 3:35 group in Detroit too.

Lack of Desperation: Kind of going hand in hand with the above, mentally I was in a much better spot this time around than the last two. My last two marathons had me questioning not only running that distance, but running in general. I pretty much swore off both during each race and was super grouchy the last 10k. While this time around I wasn't necessarily enjoying myself, I didn't resolve to stop running and take up competitive eating during mile 24.

Healing Up: My healing pattern has been about the same this year as other years. Pretty sore Sunday after the race, really sore Monday, almost as sore Tuesday, better but still sore Wednesday, and only residually sore Thursday. I'll probably do five or six miles this weekend to shake off whatever crud is left, then only run once or twice more before doing it all over again in Detroit.

Back to Back: Surprisingly, I'm not dreading the Detroit Marathon much. Every year the big dread with the marathon is wondering if I am in shape for what I want to run and the "unknown" of what running a marathon is like, since it has been so long since I've done one. In Detroit I know I'm in shape, I know what the last six miles feels like, and I know I can do it. So really, it's not a big deal. I'll run for two and half hours fairly comfortably enjoying the new sights, struggle for just over an hour feeling like shit, and then it'll be all over. Easy peasy.

The Walking Dead: Starting about mile 20 there were a lot of people walking. It reminded me of my first year when I was in the Pearl District/Old Town and felt like I was in the middle of a Walking Dead episode. Seemed to start much earlier in the race this year, probably due to the weather. Anyways, while it made me want to walk and join them, it also gave me a boost. Feels pretty good to be running past a bunch of people who resorted to walking.

Shit Show in the Chute: While the race itself might have gone better, this race had me in the most pain afterward. Now Vancouver was pretty bad... I was in pain there too and actually started to have some core body heat issues. I didn't have a scare like that this year (much too warm for that!), but I think the actual level of leg pain was higher. I was almost in tears when I got out of the chute. I was barely walking and I'd be lying if I didn't say my eyes were watering a little bit. A fifteen minute sit down on the curb cured all though.

Still passing a good amount of people the last five miles!
I guess that's all for now. I am pretty pleased with my 3:39 and the way I ran the race. I'm not in love with marathon running, but I like the challenge. I'll probably do Portland again next year unless I get talked into some other fall race. I'd like to do Chicago or New York at some point but will need to convince a companion to join me.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

2015 PORTLAND MARATHON RACE REPORT

Me with my parents at the finish after recovering from my usual post-marathon leg issues.
Year three of the Portland Marathon was finally upon me. The anticipation of taper week is one of my least favorite parts of the marathon training cycle. I love being able to slack off, but the race hanging in front of you is nerve-wracking. I just want to get it over with already. This year, for whatever reason, I felt the most prepared for a marathon to date. Which is kind of odd, considering it was a full year since my last one and my training wasn't as good as before. All week I was confident I could finish and wasn't as nervous as in years past.

That being said, I was still very nervous. It really all hit me after a busy Saturday running around Portland to various sporting events. I finally got home around 10:30pm and realized I had nothing else to do next before the marathon. The next thing was the marathon. So I freaked out a little, calmed myself by rationally thinking, laid out my clothes, and then tried to get some sleep. Sleep was much easier to come by then in marathons past, I probably feel asleep within an hour and a half of going to bed, which was good! I believe I got about 4.5 hours of sleep. Not great, but on par with other marathons.

Early on in the race, sun just rising.
In the morning I was a little sick to my stomach, but again, not as bad as before. I'm never hungry on marathon mornings but I managed to choke down a bagel anyways. Had a Starbucks Iced Coffee thing for some energy and then hopped in my car to drive to Alejandro's to carpool to the race. We picked up Glenn along the way and then headed downtown to park. By now this part of the Portland Marathon seems routine, joining a steady stream of runners in the dark toward the noise of the start line downtown. Definitely not as nervous this year though, the pressure of PRing was off and all I had to do was my best.

The start line was much less formally organized this year compared to before. Nobody was checking bibs or anything, so it was up to you to get to the correct corral. The Portland Marathon has their absurd "no bag check" policy, but I didn't have anything to check. I had my cell phone, car key, and three packs of Shot Bloks in my Flip Belt. Love that thing... was able to carry all of that without really noticing it around my waist. I wandered to the B corral, my home, and stood next to the 3:35 pacer. Glenn was there with me. Pretty soon we were singing the national anthem and then the race was off!

MILES 1-6: STICKING WITH THE PACER (7:59, 8:30, 8:18, 7:40, 7:53, 8:05)

Mile six. Looking better than Bret for sure.
My goal again this year was to stick with the pacer. While last year it felt like trying to hang on with the pace group, this year it was much more comfortable. The adrenaline of race day was definitely in effect though as the 7:59 mile felt pretty easy. If I wasn't committed to sticking with the pacer I certainly would have run faster. I've ran this race enough times that the course is no longer a surprise, which makes this first part of the race feel longer than in years past. I remember that first year getting to mile eight before I even knew it. I was acutely aware of each mile this year, but that doesn't mean I was struggling.

Miles two and three are uphill and this year was the first year I really noticed them. They didn't really bother me at all, I was feeling pretty good, but they were definitely a small challenge early in the race. Sticking with the 3:35 pacers, who were great (at least on the first half), really helped me I think. I wanted to run faster but knew the marathon is a long race and not to shoot off early like last year. We had a couple quicker miles on the downhill two miles, as planned, and then settled into a pace the pacers ran like clockwork. At the end of this section I was still feeling good. Legs and lungs felt great. Whatever cold like symptoms I had earlier in the week were a non-factor.

MILES 7-13: HITTING "ARRR" MARK PERFECTLY (8:04, 8:06, 8:07, 8:06, 8:07, 8:19, 7:59)

This is actually later on the bridge.
This part of the course is the most mind-numbing of the whole race. Basically it is a giant out and back along the ugliest, most industrial part of Portland. One thing it does have going for it is that it is flat. So the silver lining is that you can really settle into your race pace and get comfortable. I can't say enough how great the first-half 3:35 pacers were. There were ticking these miles off like a metronome and staying very consistent. At times I felt good and wanted to dart ahead, other times I started to slack behind and sped up a little to catch up. They were really good keeping me in check and not going with the up and down whims of the moment.

One thing they did not do was slow down during the aid stations, so I always had to catch up a little after those. I was jogging through these until about mile twenty, so it was easy to catch back up pretty quick. Most of the time I was nearly shoulder to shoulder with the pace group leaders. I was very committed and they were pacing me to a great race. I remember feeling kind of hopeless toward the end of this section last year. I was already feeling tired and the race was only half over. This year I was still feeling pretty good and more confident I could finish without too much of an issue.

The pirates were there again this year and it is always the highlight of this section. While this part of the race does suck, they are fun. No cannon shooting off this year, which was a little disappointing. I spotted Alejandro at the turnaround, running with the 3:10 pace group and looking good. He'd eventually speed up and finish in 3:07! He's put in a lot of time to training and it has certainly paid off. I also spotted Glenn about a minute ahead of me. He started with the 3:35 pacers but then darted ahead on the downhill 4th and 5th mile. I wanted to beat him but I wasn't going to chase after him. Had to run my own race! Anyways, the last part of this section has a minor uphill (8:19) and then a little downhill (7:59). Still feeling good. Toward the end our pace group caught up to Glenn, who finished in 3:51, and passed him.

MILES 14-18: SURVIVING IN ST. JOHNS (8:07, 8:07, 8:14, 8:52, 8:11)

High fiving my support squad in St. Johns!
This part of the course isn't quite as ugly but still nothing to write home about. Basically you have to run about three miles along a highway to get to the highlight of the race, the St. John's Bridge. I was still sticking with the pace group but the team switched at the half marathon mark with another group of two pacers. One of those pacers was running much too fast with the sign. The other guy was sticking behind at the correct pace and had to yell at her to cool her jets. I found their pacing a little uneven and eventually dropped off. The final 8:07 mile was ran with them maybe 30 feet in front of me.

Last year I ran up the hill to the bridge in 8:57, this year it was 8:52. In fact, from this point on, I was faster this year than last year. At the top of the hill I wasn't feeling as beat as last year but I still didn't feel great. I was hoping to catch back up to the pacers on the hill but they pulled even more ahead (even though their target pace on this mile was exactly what I had ran). Running over the bridge was cool but nothing compared to the excitement of that first year. I remember feeling like I was floating, it was great. By now I had ran over the bridge multiple times in races and training so the novelty has worn off a little.

That being said, I was SUPER excited to see my parents and my aunt at the bottom of the bridge. The pace group was probably 100 feet ahead of me at this point and while I tried to keep them in contact, any plans of "speeding up" were out the window. While I felt much better this year due to my early race pacing, I was still running a marathon and it was still starting to catch up with me. That was all forgotten briefly though as I high-fived my parents and my aunt, who were making a bunch of noise. Haha, they are great and it is always so fun to see them there.

MILE 19-24: ANNNNND THIS SUCKS NOW (8:16, 8:33, 8:59, 8:42, 8:38, 9:25)

Toward the end... feeling the pain.
Next came the challenge of running along the bluff. This is where the heat got to me last year and it was nearly as hot this year. I think it might have been about two degrees cooler, but there were still no clouds and the sun was right in your face. For a while, when I was feeling pretty good right before the bridge, I thought maybe this was the year when the "twenties" didn't suck. Unfortunately, that dream went out the window pretty quickly. Even before I hit twenty I started to feel the effects of the race. I was still keeping a decent pace, but I could no longer manage the 8:07s of earlier.

I started to walk through the aid stations. Brief five second walks to chug water became twenty second walks to sip water. I didn't walk other than the aid stations though, which was good. I really wanted to, but stopped myself from doing so because even though I was struggling, I was in much better shape at this point than last year. There were even times I was running and I'd feel pretty decent for a second and I'd have a small moment of victory for pain free running during mile 23. Anyways, the good and bad came in waves, with the bad slowly taking over the majority of my time.

Overall, however, I kept a pretty good clip. I knew if I kept all my miles under 9:00/mile that I would get my "A" goal. This hardly qualifies as a marathon blow up, just a slight struggle late in the race. All told it was the second best I've felt at this point of a marathon, behind my first ever, when I was running on magical first marathon fairy dust. This year I was pretty proud of continuing to pull out these sub 9 miles when all I wanted to do was give in and walk. The downhill this year wasn't even painful like the last two years. At one point I looked at my watch and I was running 7:40 down it. I slowed down because I knew what happened at the bottom last year and didn't want a repeat.

Never has a photo captured my
feelings so perfectly.
While it wasn't a repeat, that 9:25 mile (my only above 9, thank you very much) was a struggle. The extra time was three factors. First, the terrain. After the downhill it flattens out and then climbs gradually uphill. The uphill normally wouldn't be an issue, but at mile 24, it's a challenge. Second, the heat. This all takes place in a jungle of on-ramps/off-ramps and a whole lot of concrete. At one point it felt like I was in an oven. It was only 66 degrees, but surrounded by blacktop, with no shade, at mile 24... it was hot. And lastly, I took part in the beer aid station and had a nice forty second stroll though there. Other than liberally enjoying the aid stations, I fought the urge to walk.

MILES 25-26.2: FINISHING STRONG (8:53, 8:37)

The only time I walked other than aid stations was up the hill to the Broadway Bridge. It's only a block and decently steep. I started to run up it but could feel my calves about to explode. Instead of risking it, I switched into a power walk and hoofed it up the hill. As soon as it flattened out I started running again. Up and over the Broadway Bridge. By the end of the bridge on the downhill I was going a sub 8:00/mile pace. My legs hurt some, but for mile 25 of a marathon they felt pretty good. I was pretty confident I could finish without issue.

The last mile always feels long, but it is never too terrible. The finish line is so close and you know in less than ten minutes you will be done. I skipped the last two aid stations because I just wanted it to be over and I knew I could finish without water. Good thing I did too, as I was very close to missing my "A" goal. I looked at my GPS watch at mile 25 and saw I had 11m30s to finish under 3:40. I knew that meant I'd have to keep a solid 9:00/mile pace or quicker to finish below my goal. There was no time to fuck around. I kept very determined and as you can see, my final full mile was 8:37... nothing to sneeze at!

Briefly hiding my pain for a photo.
Again, these last eight miles were done more quickly than last year. Now, I did have a mini-blow up last year, but that is a point of pride for me. I may not be quite as fast, but I held up reasonably well. I was feeling pretty decent in those last few blocks and Libbie, Matt, and Katie came out to cheer so it was fun to see them towards the end. All told it was one of the more triumphant last bits of a marathon. I didn't have a sprint in me this year, but I ran quickly through the finish and stopped my watch, confirming my "A" goal by 26 seconds. Heck yes!

AFTERMATH: AN ABSOLUTE SHIT SHOW IN THE CHUTE

Once I finished I slowed to a walk. During my first three marathons my legs gave out almost instantly after running. This time around they felt okay when I stopped running. I was able to walk around for about thirty seconds feeling worn, but alright. Then, all of a sudden, it hit. The usual feeling. Dammit all. Anyways, I then proceeded the painful limping that I am used to. Had to take a mid-chute break by sitting on the curb, as usual. That thing just goes on and on.

I did see a few people in the chute and that was fun. However, my legs were really starting to hurt. They kept getting worse and worse the longer I was on them. Eventually I found my way out of the chute and met up with my parents and friends. By the time I reached them my legs were in more pain than they had even been before after a marathon. What the hell? It was weird because they felt so much better towards the end of the race than most years (not to say they didn't hurt and weren't screaming at me to walk). Anyways, after a rough couple of minutes I was able to sit down and the pain went away.

With Glenn and Alejandro.
Like usual, after sitting for a little bit, my legs were sore, but fine. The shit show was over. For whatever reason, for about an hour after the marathon, I am pretty much useless. All I want to do is sit down but eventually they come back. I said goodbye to my parents and then went out for burgers and beers with Alejandro, Glenn, Katie, Matt, and Ale's friend (forgot her name). The burger and beer tasted really good. I wasn't necessarily starving, but it was good to get something in my belly anyways. After we were done there we limped back to the car and headed home.

Marathon number four is in the books and number five is less than two weeks away. Ahhh! I'll have some more reflections in another post. Overall though, I am very happy with my race. I paced myself pretty well and avoided some of the rougher late patches I had in my last two marathons. I got my "A" goal by 26 seconds and had some great support along the way.

Official Chip Time: 3:39:33, 8:23/mile. 696/5697 overall, 535/2760 male, 96/365 M25-29.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

ONE DAY OUT - 2015 PORTLAND MARATHON PREVIEW

Finishing the Vancouver Marathon in 2014. I won't have to worry about rain on Sunday? Bonking? That's a different story.
Well, the day is almost upon me. My third Portland Marathon and fourth ever 26.2 is just hours away. I'm a little more prepared than I thought I would be earlier in the summer so that does feel nice. My training wasn't the greatest, but I think I have enough base miles and experience in me that it shouldn't be too big of a problem. For a blow by blow of the course, you can read my 2013 race preview here. The course is identical again this year so I'm not going to waste your time with all that unless you want to refresh your memory.

The smile is lies. All lies.
Overall, Portland isn't too difficult of a course. I've heard people call it "hard," but I know it could get a lot worse. Basically you have a flat first mile, two miles gradually uphill (which I never feel since it's the beginning), two miles downhill (weeee), then eleven miles that are relatively flat. There is a challenging bridge climb at mile 16.5, then it is pretty flat until 22. One mile downhill, a short bridge climb, then flat to the finish. The only hill of any significance in my mind is the bridge at 16.5. The downhill at mile 22 is also pretty steep and never feels as good as it sounds.

My strategy this year will be again to stick with the pacer. Last year I ran with the 3:25 pacers, who were going to fast, and that kind of shot my race. This year I'll try to stay with the 3:35 group. Hopefully they go the right speed (8:22/mile) and I'll just be able to zone out and let them pace me so I don't have to think about it. I know it'll feel too slow at the beginning, but I just have to try and trust the process. The last two marathons I started quicker than anticipated and it came back to bite me in the ass, so time to try the other route.

Hopefully that'll get me over the St. John's Bridge feeling pretty decent. I remember feeling pretty good that first year, although I started to hurt shortly after the bridge. Luckily I was in good enough shape not to slow down very much. Last year I was already almost shot at the bridge. So hopefully I can get there feeling more like that first year and have a similar finish. We'll see. If on the off chance I'm feeling good once I'm across the bridge, I'll let the reigns go. I highly doubt I'll feel good enough to start running faster, but I won't allow myself to even entertain the thought until I'm up and over that bridge.

Some inspiration for you.
Plotting starting with the
3:35 pace group, falling
off pace a bit in the 20s,
but still getting 3:39.
All this week I have had people asking me about the marathon. Eventually the topic turns to my goal time and then comparing it to last year. When everyone hears that I'll finish somewhat slower they get this concerned and disappointed look on their face. First of all, I'm sorry for running 26 miles at 8:20/mile (let's hope!). Second, I was in super good shape last year and motivated. I was at the tail end of three consecutive marathon training cycles without much of a break and really on top of my game.

This year, my body broke down trying to transition to my fourth consecutive training cycle. I took some time off and when I came back I was slower and not nearly as motivated. I've seen what it's going to take to get really fast (sub 3:20s) and I don't have the drive in me. I'm not blessed much natural talent so it would take so much work to get down there. And I just don't love running that much. So running a 3:02 to qualify for Boston? No way. That dream, if it was ever a dream, is out the window.

So that leads me to where I am today. Last year a 3:40 marathon put someone in the top 11%. I should never feel bad about finishing in the top 11% of a major marathon. All told, I like where I am physically. With some work maybe next year I can get back to trying for a sub 3:30. Maybe not. We'll see. If I'm still running I'll call that a victory.

Last year I ran a 3:33. Maybe with a cooler day I get that 3:29, but it was not to be. This year the weather looks exactly the same, so my comparative results should be similar. If you plug in my time from the Corvallis Fall Festival Run this year and compare it with last year on the McMillan Running Calculator, it gives you a potential marathon time of seven minutes slower. I feel I gave the same effort each year, so it was a good comparison. And funny enough, when I add that to my time last year it lines up exactly with the goal I was floating in my head.

GOALS:

"A" Goal: 3:39:59 or less. Given my current level of fitness, getting in the 3:30s would be a great time. I wish I as quick as last year, but that is not the reality of the situation and trying to run like I was would be a recipe for disaster. It is still a great time and in the top 11% of finishers. This is 8:22/mile or quicker.

"B" Goal: 3:44:59 or less. This was going to be my main goal for most of the summer but in the last month or so I decided to shoot for a sub 3:40 instead. Should I miss my "A" goal for any reason, I can be satisfied with this time. To achieve this requires a 8:33/mile pace over 26.2 miles, no laughing matter. Barring a total meltdown I would like to get this time or better.

"C" Goal: 3:59:59 or less. I'll lead with the fact that no matter what, as long as I finish, I have something to be proud of. Doing a marathon is no joke. So if I blow up on my way to a 4:15, there is no shame. However, I can have a mini-blowup and still be under four hours. So if the race doesn't go my way for whatever reason and I'm really struggling, I'll adjust my goals and go for the popular "sub 4" mark. This is 9:07/mile or quicker.

Friday, October 02, 2015

TWO DAYS OUT

Well, the weather report hasn't changed much. If you compare Sunday's forecast from today (which I'm pretty confident is correct) to what they were predicting on Tuesday, it's pretty much spot on. So touché Oregon weathercasters. Luckily, unlike last year, the actual impact of that weather shouldn't take me by surprise. I know what it's going to feel like at mile 20... that 66 degrees is going to feel 80. So I'll mentally prepare and just grin and bear it. At least it won't be downpouring or have a high of 90. It could be a lot worse!

The sickness I mentioned two days ago has migrated to my nose/sinuses. Luckily, like the sore throat, it is a very low level thing. So while I woke up stuffed up and my nostrils are working about 25% of capacity, it shouldn't be too much of an issue. I'm pretty sure I breathe mostly through my mouth during the race anyways so I don't think it'll really affect me. I'd rather be stuffed up than be coughing up crap and having it in my lungs. That could really mess with my performance. It'll probably turn into a full blown cold after the marathon though given how depleted my body will be. Yay?

Going to the expo tonight to pick up my bib and then out to dinner to carbo-load. I'll have the full preview up tomorrow complete with race strategy and goals.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

THREE DAYS OUT

Thankfully the weather predictions have stopped getting warmer - unfortunately, they aren't getting cooler either. Near 11am, about when I'll finish, the predicted temperature right now is 69 degrees. That's about the same it was last year. Now, normally that is a very pleasant temperature. However, in the 20s of a marathon, when your body isn't so good at moderating it's internal thermometer, that's too hot. Overall, knowing how I broke down in the heat last year, this year I'll try my best to take it easy toward the beginning and run a more even race.

Today I've been pretty relaxed about the race. Not freaking out quite as bad as earlier in the week. That'll likely change tomorrow when I pick up my packet and it becomes more real. Right now I have plans with Alejandro to pick up our packets and then go out for dinner. Load up on some pasta and bread. I also have to make sure to buy some ShotBloks for the race. Last year I ate two packets during the race and I think this year I might try choking down three. Can't hurt.