Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January 2015: "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked."

January was supposed to be a "down month" for me.  After having finished my focus races in the last months of 2014, I was looking forward to an easy month before gearing up for Uwharrie 20 and Ellerbe Marathon this February and March, respectively.  So much for that!  January 1st was the fourth annual Tightwad 5k, which is a tradition of which I love to partake.  The 10th was the Joe Davis Memorial 10k + 5k.  I had been looking to improve my 10k PR for a while, so I figured this might me a good opportunity.  Then, on the 17th was the CRC Trail Race 13-miler, which is a perennial favorite of mine.  So with the month a little more than half over, I had three races on the calendar.  Some down month.
Tightwad 5k:
This event is kind of like a DART family reunion.  A bunch of local friends all show up, tired from the New Years Eve shenanigans, ready to go out for an unsanctioned (but somehow officially timed) race to run in the new year.  I had planned to treat this free race as a workout.  A sub-19 would be fabulous.  However, with talk of some serious competition coming to race--namely my old DURT teammates Dave, Stan, and Bobby A.--I decided I had to bring some heat.  Dave dropped out before the race to play it safe with a dodgy hamstring.  Bobby, though predictably unpredictable, would be running with his daughter Nicole, so I figured I'd be safe from him.  Stan was a threat.  To add to the pot, fellow DARTer Dustin came strolling up to join on race morning and made his intentions quite clear.  Dustin had been following the rivalry between me and Sam.  He clearly wanted in on the action.  Suddenly, I had a feeling that there were cross-hairs on me.  Great.
Having run countless 5k races on this course, I knew how to play to the terrain: bang out the first mile fast to milk as much out of the long downhill on South Street, try not to lose too much time coming back uphill on Avinger, then open it up after the turnaround on Pine for the last uphill-to-flat mile.  With a traditional lack of ceremony, Chad gave us the go, and out I went, shoulder-to-shoulder with Dustin for the length of the South Street descent.  He was going out hard just like I was, but we heard nothing from the field behind us.  I tucked in behind Dustin as we turned onto the greenway and drifted ahead of him about 100 meters later.  He was running in my pocket, literally within arm's reach.  I cautioned about the slickness of the wooden bridge and called out our first mile split (5:51).  He acknowledged both with ragged, single-syllable responses.  As long as he was feeling more winded than me, that was fine.
I grunted my way up the hill on Avinger, and Dustin's footfalls became quieter behind me.  It wasn't until I made my way to the turnaround shortly before the 2-mile mark (or where it would've been if those tightwads had put a mile marker out) that I had an idea of where Dustin, Stan, and the rest of the field were.  Dustin was about 10 seconds behind me, and Stan was maybe 15 seconds behind him.  All I had to do was kick out the last mile fast, and it was likely that I would start 2015 off with a win.  So that's what I did.  I ran up Pine without looking back, and I surged after turning on Lorimer in order to put as much space as possible between Dustin and me before he made the turn.  I was still against the clock though.  If I was to break 19, I had to keep the pressure on for the length of Lorimer.  My last quarter mile or so ended up being just as fast as my first downhill mile.  I broke the (imaginary) tape at 18:54 with an overall win.  Happy New Year!  Dustin came in about 20 seconds later, and Stan followed him by 10 seconds.  Since Dustin was a bandit, Stan was the official 2nd place finisher.  Stan's wife Jinnie was the first (official) female as well...pushing a baby jogger!  Dustin congratulated me, but for some reason, I think he still has me on his hit list.
Happy New Year!  First race = first win of 2015.  Picture courtesy of Chad Randolph

Joe Davis Memorial 10k + 5k:
I rode down to Fort Mill, SC with Bobby and his daughter Nicole.  Nicole was doing the 5k, but Bobby and I planned to do the 10k and the 5k.  Since they started at 8am and 9:15 respectively, racing both was an option.  It was a cold 19 degrees at the start.  The field for the 10k was large and competitive.  Charlotte running friend Mark K. was there, and I expected him to be leading the pack with a 36 minute finish.  Also present were high school twins Jared and Jacob C., who just plain looked fast.  From scanning the crowd, I figured I'd be doing well to finish in the top ten.  The goal, of course, was to PR and go sub-39.
This was be a tough course for the task.  After the race, I later would hear from another Charlotte friend (Rob), that there were 57 turns.  That's significantly more turns than most city marathons have. One section near mile 1 (zoomed in satellite image below) took us off the road, turning sharply down a coarse gravel path,turning even more sharply towards a short tunnel to the other side of the road, then sharply turning a couple more times before coming back up to the other side of the road.  To add insult to injury, we had to do the same section again in reverse during mile 3.  In addition, the course was full of rolling hills and very little flat.  It would prove difficult to find and maintain a rhythm on this course.

Once we got underway, I never really noticed the cold.  A lead pack with Mark, Jared, Jacob, and a couple other contenders broke off and clearly would be out of reach.  I stayed within a strung-out grouping that comprised the rest of the top ten.  There was very little passing throughout the race.  My position in the first mile was pretty close to my finishing order.  There's very little I can recall about this race.  Most of what I remember is: turn, turn, climb, descend, turn, climb, turn, descend, ad nauseum.  I did however find a rhythm.  According to my GPS data, I kept pretty even splits.  So even though the course was twisty and hilly, it was consistently twisty and hilly.  I was running sub-6:15 pace and waiting for my lungs and legs to give out, but they held on.  I crossed the line at 38:40, accomplishing my goal and setting a long overdue 10k PR.  9th overall, second in a 10-year age group.
Somewhere in the first mile of the 10k.  Picture courtesy of Bill Weimer.

The real duty for the day was done, so I had no expectations for the 5k.  I'd still run hard, but I had no time goal.  After shaking out my legs with Nicole before the start, I was feeling surprisingly good; the soreness from the 10k had not had time to set in.  After a quick start and a few dozen people shooting out ahead of me, I felt rather comfortable at a 6:10ish pace, so I figured I've give sub-19 a shot.  I at least wanted to match or beat my pace from the 10k (6:13).  I passed a couple dozen runners in the first mile and continued to pick them off intermittently for the rest of the race.  Since the 5k course was pretty much the last 3 miles of the 10k course, it was still fresh in my mind, and the race seemed to go by quickly. At around 2 miles, I pulled into 7th place before being passed by a lanky 20-something who settled in about 5 seconds ahead of me.  I tied a mental rope around him and let him tow me for the last mile.  He faltered in the last 200 meters, and even though he saw me advancing on him quickly, he made no attempt to keep ahead of me.  I passed him to regain 7th place 50 meters from the finish.  The course was short (2.95 miles by my GPS), but I finished in 18:17, which would have played out to around 19:10 if I had maintained that pace for a true 5k distance.  But I won my age group, so I left the event with some decent swag!
Reckless Running Brand Ambassadors, unite!  Me, Nicole, and Bobby after a fun day of racing.  Nicole won her age group in the 5k too.

CRC Whitewater 13 Mile Trail Race
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love this race!  Each year, I think I might take a break from it, or opt for the shorter 9-mile or 4-mile options the following year, but like Don Corleone, I always get sucked back in!
Every time I think about not doing the CRC Trail 13-miler...

One of the benefits to having done this race so much is that I remembered all the important parts of the complex trail course.  The first third was hard and fairly technical; the middle was the hardest due to relentless climbs and highly technical switchbacks; and the final third was the most tame--a good place to throw on some speed if you have any energy left.
I decided to run the whole race by feel.  I covered my watch with my arm sleeve and never peeked at it for the duration of the race.  I kept the lead pack within view for the first mile, before we got into the thick of the black diamond trail on the North end of the park.  As was with previous years, the first couple of trail miles were rife with calculated steps and aggressive, opportunistic passes.  It took a lot of brain energy to maintain good footing while trying not to get stuck behind other runners for long stretches of single track, losing precious seconds on the leaders.  I emerged from the North Main in what I thought was a favorable position.  I continued to pass runners here and there.  I resolved to pick my battles for this race; I was willing to use energy to pass people, but if someone tried to pass me, I wouldn't fight it.  As it turned out, no one passed me for the duration of the race, which makes this year unique among all the years I've run it.
About 5 miles in, the 13ers split off from the 9ers for an extra 500 meter loop while before rejoining the main trail (on which the 9ers had continued straight).  This allowed a few of the 9ers who had been behind me to be in front of me, which meant I had to make more passes in order to keep up my intended pace/effort.  I nearly busted my ass trying to get around my training buddy, AB.  He barked out some words of encouragement as I tried to open up some distance.  Hopefully, he and the other 9er with whom he was running would serve as a blocker for any other pursuing 13ers.
Before I knew it, we came upon Goat Hill, the longest sustained climb of the race.  Grunting through the switchbacks, I slowed to what seemed like a crawl.  I might have gone faster by walking, but I just kept picking up the knees and driving.  After three-and-a-half minutes of slogging, I turned at the top and tried to maintain my balance during a twisty descent on rubbery legs.  The climbing wasn't over.  The trail spat us out onto a muddy hill in the open, and I had to make my way back up to the top.  At least I could see some of the racers ahead of me in this exposed section.  Another treacherous descent ensued, and I made my way through the Carpet Trail to the Toilet Bowl.  This technical section was strewn with sharp turns and relentless climbs and descents that were just plain punishing after having exerting myself on Goat Hill.
The refreshingly pleasant Lake Loop made up the final third of the race.  Although I had been running quite hard and was feeling a little beaten up, I resolved to pick up the pace and finally find a rhythm on these last few scenic miles.  In years past, the front of the field had been so strung out that I likely would not see anyone near me on the trails at this point.  This year, I passed a couple of front-runners who were zapped from the 10+ miles of hard trail running already under foot.  At around 12 miles (there were no mile markers, and I had no reference of time), I came upon Cory Sundeen, who usually beats me handily at most local races.  He had looked so strong charging up hills in the beginning of the race, but now he made no retaliation to me passing him.  For the rest of the race, I just focused on keeping the tempo up and creating space.  When I broke out into the open on my way to the finish, I noticed some 9ers ahead of me.  Even though they were not competing with me, they served as a great visual cue to keep me pushing all the way to the finish.
I crossed the finish line at 1:38:25, which I thought was a pretty respectable time after not having checked my watch during the race.  Maybe I was in the top fifteen, or top ten on a good day.  As it turns out, it was a very good day; I was in fourth place!  That was good enough for first in my age group, and it was the best finish yet in the four years I had done this race and distance.  Next year, if they pull me back in, maybe I'll shoot for the podium!
1st age, 4th overall!  And I'm spent.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Score to Settle: Huntersville Half Recap

"Revenge is a dish best served cold"
-Old Klingon proverb

It was a cold morning on race day for the Huntersville Half.  Good.  The chilly air would keep the senses sharp and the risk of overheating low.  I was on a mission this day, and I woke up with a fiery determination that I only bring to the most serious races.  This was my last focus race of the year, and even though I had accomplished many running goals this year, this race arguably was the most important.  My mission was to vindicate myself for the humbling defeat I suffered at the hands of my Nemesis, Sam Mishler, at The Scream! Half Marathon this Summer.  The air was cold, but the fire in my veins was burning hot.  
The Nemesis and I saw one another before the race and did a few warm-up miles together.  The mood was friendly and lighthearted; the real business would not begin until race time.  Dozens of our running friends had shown up, some to run the race, others to bear witness to the legendary face-off that was to ensue.  Had this been a pay-per-view event, we might have rivaled the latest Mayweather fight for viewers.
My custom made "BEAT SAM" shirt.

Electricity was in the air as Nemesis and I toed the line.  Other training partners--Dennis Livesay, Jeremy Alsop, Matt Cline--and very fast Charlotte area runners were up at the front with us.  As RD Bear Robinson blasted the air horn, we took off too fast.  At least a dozen runners were ahead of us, and the natural reaction was to keep them in reach, but the rational thing to do was to let them go and focus on our own race.  So we backed off, but not by much.  Nemesis was in front of me, but I was running in his pocket.  I was close enough to tap him on the shoulder, but I chose to stay right behind him, let him set the pace for the time being, and make sure he could hear the proximity of my footfalls.  I consciously monitored my breathing to make sure it was smooth and rhythmic.  Again, this was for Nemesis to hear; I wanted him to think I was running effortlessly.  
My plan for the race was simple.  There were three main elements.  First, I wanted to get in Sam's head and stay there.  Anytime he could see me, hear me, or be aware of me, I had to make it appear as if I had more in the tank than he.  Second, I had to avoid making the race about the hills.  Sam is a strong hill runner, and the course was hilly, so I had to keep us from playing to his strong suit.  The third part was the tricky part.  After the Scream!, Sam had mentioned that the downhill course had battered his body, but it wasn't overly taxing on the cardio.  So for this race, I had to find that sweet-spot of a pace that was just uncomfortable enough to be beyond his reach for 13.1 miles.  If I locked in on that, I just had to outlast him. 
We passed through the first mile at around 6:18, which was too fast.  "That was stupid," said Nemesis.  I agreed.  From time to time, I would pull up alongside him or drift in front.  Usually, he would quick-step and get back in front of me.  I was content to let this happen.  That was more energy he was using.  When we passed through the mile 2 mark at 13 minutes on the dot, I heard Sam mutter something to the effect of "right on" under his breath.  I smiled.  "Uh-oh," he said, "did I just give away my plan?"  So that's how it was going to be...if I had to run 6:30 pace for 13 miles, so be it.  I was ready.  Was he?
Dennis caught up to us and overtook us shortly after the 2nd mile mark.  "You guys shot off like a rocket," he remarked.  Nemesis and I exchange tacit looks.  We both knew that if it took Dennis--who was markedly faster that either of us--this long to catch us, than we were going to fast.  At around mile 2.5, we approached the first really challenging hill of the course.  I slipped behind Sam to see how he was going to play this hill.  Both he and Dennis turned over for a decently quick climbing cadence, and I stayed right in their wake.  Sam wasn't making his move on this hill, so I moved on ahead of him after the top of the hill.  Now, with a couple of reasonably flat miles, I would set the pace. 
 For a mile of Ranson Road, some residential streets, and a nice stretch of greenway that led us South of Gilead Road, I did my best to lock in on a 6:30ish pace and maintain my rhythm.  Sam was behind me, but he was close.  I could hear his footfalls, and I could glimpse his orange shirt in my peripheral vision on turns.  Dennis was a great visual cue ahead of me.  Without him to occupy my focus, Sam's pursuit would be the only thing in my head.  Sam's footfalls became quieter and quieter as we neared the end of the greenway.  I knew the following couple of miles on Wynfield Creek Parkway would be a rolling (but mostly uphill) slog, so I had to capitalize on my separation.  Upon reaching the top of the first real hill emerging from the greenway, I surged down the back side to put more distance between Sam and me before he reached the top.  Hopefully, he would see the gaining lead and get demoralized.  I continued like this for a couple of miles, surging after cresting hills and rounding the corners of blind turns.  In doing so, I was keeping within respectable reach of Dennis and maintaining an overall pace that was matching my PR.  At just over halfway through, there was a question as to whether I could maintain it.  Any lead I had on my Nemesis could dissolve if I blew up badly enough.  
The Hugh Torrence/Hugh McAuley section of the course (miles 7.5-10) was the most rolling.  On one section, the course plunged down a 400 meter hill only to round the block at the bottom and come straight back up the same hill on the other side of the block.  As I made the climb back up this section, I peered over the grassy knolls and between the trees to try and get a glimpse of my Nemesis.  Instead I saw Matt Cline, who also spotted me and shouted cheers in my direction.  I didn't think Matt had passed Sam yet, so I surmised that Sam was somewhere down at the bottom of that segment, out of view but still in play.  After crossing a side street from Hugh Torrence to Hugh McAuley, there was a long downhill to a little "lollipop" around a block, and then a climb back uphill on the next block over.  I opened the throttle on the downhill and let the momentum take me into a quick turn around the lollipop.  Before turning left up the hill, I glanced to the right and saw the orange shirt of my Nemesis, who was just starting the block-loop of the lollipop.  I estimated that we was a little over a minute behind me.  There came Matt tearing up the asphalt down the hill with a big smile on his face and cheering me on once again.  Matt was not far behind my Nemesis.  Could he be a Dark Horse in this contest?
For the rest of the McAuley section and in the rolling streets leading back towards Devonshire, there was little company of note.  I stayed 10-15 seconds behind Dennis, sometimes gaining, sometimes losing ground, but always in sight.  At this point, with every mile that passed by, the possibility of a PR was becoming more and more real.  My thoughts became less centered on my Nemesis, and more geared toward beating my best time from two years ago.  I ditched my homemade "Beat Sam" shirt and would run the rest of the race in my singlet and arm sleeves.  Again, the coolness of the air renewed my vigor.  I welcomed cheers from several of my running friends--and several people I didn't know, but who apparently knew me.  When I reached the base of the mile-long hill on Brentfield near mile marker 11, I knew it would be my last big challenge.  I was still locked in and waiting for the moment when my legs would protest and refuse to keep the mid-6:30s pace I had been maintaining from the start.  I half expected to slow down to 7s on this long hill, but the gradient was just steep enough to keep the legs turning over quickly without reducing me to a crawl.  Yeah, it hurt, but as they say, pain is temporary and all that.  
Me near mile 11.  Photo courtesy of Cliff Weston.

The mile 12 marker was not far beyond the top of the hill.  I checked my watch.  I had just over 7 minutes to run 1.1 miles in order to set a new PR.  It was going to be close, but I was hoping the largely downhill last mile would help.  I found another gear and locked in.  The minutes flew by as I raced down Birkdale Commons Parkway towards the finish.  Dennis was locked in too.  I would not catch him, but I was just surprised to stay with him for the duration of the race.  When I got within a quarter mile, I knew I was going to get a PR, but I had to push the whole way to follow through.  The last 0.1 miles did a half-loop around the large parking lot of the finish area, so spectators got an extended view of finishing runners.  I was pumped!  I ran alongside the crowd of friends with an outstretched hand for high fives and I pumped my fists into the air as I crossed the finish line.  With an official time of 1:26:13, I had set a 25 second PR!
PR...and victory...well, over my Nemesis at least.

I relished in the rush of the finish and then looked toward the driveway from whence the finishers would approach.  I looked for Sam's orange shirt, but I first saw Matt--still ecstatic--blazing into the finishing area.  Not only had his Dark Horse passed my Nemesis, but he ran an 8+ minute PR!  Sam came through shortly thereafter, also overjoyed with a 90+ second PR.  I greeted him a the finish line and he congratulated me.  The feud was over...the score, settled.  All was right in the world. 
My Suunto GPS data can be seen here.
In other news, several DARTers and CRC members became world record holders for most runners tethered together to finish a 5k, so that's cool too. 
From left: Me (2nd AG 30-34), Matt (1st AG 35-39), and Sam (3rd AG 40-44).  Not pictured is Dennis, who won the 40-44 AG.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mishler VS Willimon: 24/7

Shit just got real.  
I've just returned from running a preview of the the Huntersville Half Marathon course for next week's race.  I was with a large, fun group including Dave, John, Mike, Derek, Enrique, J-Ma, Matt, Tim, Terry, Wendy, and of course, my nemesis: Sam Mishler.  For those of you who don't know, Sam and I are having a little throw-down at the Huntersville Half next weekend.  This is a follow-up to the begrudging loss I suffered to he who henceforth shall be referred to as Nemesis.  A gentlemanly challenge to a rematch followed by some not-so gentlemanly smack-talk that ensued for months to follow led us both spirally toward this race. 
Some propaganda being spread by my Nemesis.
The score will be settled.  Pain will ensue.  Yes, after running the course today, the Nemesis and I both agreed that no matter the outcome, much pain was assured.  The course itself is the ubiquitous third player in this duel of death.  It lures you in with a couple of easy miles--not without their hills, but easy enough.  In miles 3-5, there are a couple of notable hills to rein you in.  From miles 5-7, Wynfield Creek Parkway provides incessantly rolling terrain that trends uphill.  After that, there is a brief respite before a sadistic run downhill followed by a U-turn coming back up the same hill on the other side of the block.  Recovery from this section is brief as the course winds through a few loops for the next couple of miles, throwing ups and downs in at several places, making it hard to develop a good racing rhythm.  At mile 11, runners forgo the notorious hill on Devonshire (from previous years' courses) in favor of the longer climb on Brentfield.  By the time you reach the mile 12 mark, after more than a mile of steady, relentless climbing, you will be lamenting the missing Devonshire hill.  From this point on, it's a downhill finish, if you have anything left.
Throughout today's preview, the Nemesis and I were taking note of the where the challenges were, each of us silently plotting our strategy, no doubt trying to predict the other's moves.  Do I have a plan?  Sure, but I'd be a damned fool to write about it here while my Nemesis is watching.  I'm playing my cards pretty close to the chest on this one.
The stakes are real.  Just today, not one hour ago, my Nemesis and I agreed to the terms for the loser.  Dave was a witness to the agreements, so it is therefore binding.  I won't make the details of the bet public yet, but if I do lose, it will involve me shopping for a new piece of running apparel.  
If you're not racing Huntersville Half, or the companion 5k (at which there will be an attempt at the world record for a tethered 5k), come out as a spectator for the ensuing bloodsport...er...friendly competition.  
Ward VS Gatti...
Cubs VS Cardinals...
Marques VS Pacquiao...
Yankees VS Red Sox...
Hector VS Achilles...

Mishler VS Willimon...a duel for the ages!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Recaps: Couple of 5ks and a Marathon.

Since running Marine Corps Marathon, I've been on a bit of a confidence high, and I've been trying to extend my peak fitness window to include just a few more races.  In the past three weekends I raced (in respective order) the Spencer Mountain 5k, the Thunder Road Marathon (for which I was a pacer for the first half), and the Summit Twilight 5k.  I was not looking to break any PRs with these races, although I did plan to put forth serious efforts in each.  Here's how my November races went.
Spencer Mountain 5k
The Spencer Mountain 10 miler is a race I've wanted to do for a long time, and there usually is a cadre from DART that goes to the event as a group.  This year, Chad Randolph, Mark Ippolito, and young Nate McGivern were my company.  All three of them were doing the 10 miler.  Since I was responsible for pacing a fast first half of Thunder Road the following weekend, I elected to do the 5k instead of the 10 miler.  Unlike the 10'er, the 5k course was known to be a relatively flat and fast out-and-back course, with a slight, gradual incline in the first couple kilometers, and a rewarding, fast finish as runners went back into town on the descending direction of the same road.  Finishing time was not a concern for me as my friend Dave Munger ran the course the previous year and found it to be short.  I just wanted to get in a solid, 5k-effort run.  Maybe I had a shot at the win...
It was a cold day, so I did my warm-up run in full sweats.  By the time I was warm, I stripped down to a singlet and gloves with split shorts and felt a bit underdressed among the crowd who mostly wore tights and long sleeves.  I noticed three or four runners who looked like they would challenge me for the front of the pack.  A couple of high-school hotshots who may have been XC athletes stepped up next to me, as well as a wildcard who looked to be in my age group.  Sure enough, at the start, the hotshots flew out in front, with one of them in an honest-to-goodness sprint for the first 20 meters.  A couple of other racers drifted in front of me as well, but not too far.  The fellow thirty-something, who was called Franklin, floated past me in a relaxed and calculated manner.  I could tell he was fast and shrewd, and therefore he was the greatest threat.  Hotshots 1 and 2 already were beginning to fade halfway through the first mile.
After four minutes, everyone was behind me except for Franklin.  Suddenly, he stopped to tie his shoe and I sped past and took position behind the lead police cruiser.  It was a lackluster way to take the lead, but I took it nonetheless.  Now the pressure was on to keep it.  The gradual incline made it a bit more difficult to maintain my 6 minute/mile pace, and I found myself searching behind a couple of blind curves in the road for the turnaround.  Before I could get there, I heard the telltale footfalls of an advancing pursuer.  Sure enough, Franklin caught up to me and regained first place before we hit the turnaround.  That was bit of a blow to the ego considering he had done so after stopping to tie his shoe.  Thanks, buddy.
Upon reaching the turnaround, I realized two things: 1) The course would not be short this year; in fact it was going to be long, and 2) barring a catastrophe, I had second place or better locked up.  When the hotshots died, they really died.  Other runners had taken their places, but none it seemed with the leg speed to close the gap between themselves and me.  I broke into a very comfortable and fast rhythm for the inbound portion of the course.  On the slight downhill, I was maintaining a sub-6 minute pace.  Franklin must have been feeling as good or better than me though, because he just continued to pull away.  With about half a mile left, I conceded that he was well out of my reach, so I just focused on maintaining my respectable pace.  Surely that would give me a nice sub-19 minute finish, right?
A little over a mile from the finish, shooting for a sub-19.

Wrong.  As I suspected, the course was long.  Not just "hey-my-GPS-says-three-hundredths-of-a-mile" long, but nearly (or over) a tenth of a mile long.  Kicking as hard as I could at a 5:45 pace, I saw 19 minutes come and go shortly after passing the mile 3 mark.  I had not even made the last turn into the parking lot and the short dash toward the finish line.  I finished with 19:12, solidly in 2nd place, but for a 3.2+ mile race.  Had the course been accurate, my 5:59 average pace would have put me in the mid-high 18:30s, which is faster than all but a handful of the 5k races I've ever run.  Oh well.  2nd overall is still legit, and Nate, Chad, and Mark all had great 10 mile races, in that respective finishing order.
Spencer Mountain DARTers.  From left: Mark (PR), Chad (PR), Nate (PR, 1st 10-miler), and yours truly.

Thunder Road Marathon
I had a fantastic time pacing at Thunder Road last year, so I had promised to come back and do it again whenever I was given the opportunity.  Apparently, not many pacers (or faster local runners) are keen on pacing a 3:00 marathon group, even for only half of the course, so my job security is pretty strong on that front.  While I paced the back end last year, I wanted to pace the first half this year so I could continue running at my own pace after handing the group off to my reliever and enjoy a nice, full marathon with an honest finishing time.  Sam, my once and future nemesis, was kind enough to offer his vehicle for carpooling, so we got on site early, and he reaped the benefits of being associated with a pacer: admission to the heated, indoor VIP section before the race, which happened to be on an even more frigid day than Spencer Mountain.
After getting the pace team briefing in the VIP section, fellow 3:00 pacer Chris Czech and I politely elbowed our way to the front of the crowd.  Soon enough, we were off, and Chris and I were officially on duty.  Seeing as how the half and full marathon races started in unison, there were many, many people who shot out ahead of us.  I knew there weren't that many sub-3 marathoners in Charlotte, and I doubted there were as many sub-1:30 half marathoners as there were ahead of us.  We knew we would be seeing many of these folks again.
Aside from the 25 degree temperatures, the day was clear and beautiful.  It did not take long to get warmed up and comfortable.  Our first mile clocked in somewhere between 7:05 and 7:10, which Chris and I shrugged off, even though our prescribed pace was 6:52.  By this time, we had developed a sizable following, and all in attendance agreed that a slower, easier start was a better setup for the long race.  Sure enough, the next three miles saw us chipping away at our split times until we had a few seconds in the bank.  Also about this time, Meg Hovis--who was part of our group, but eventually would win the overall women's marathon--dropped us like a bad habit.  From that point on, our pace group was a sausagefest, so we were free to stop sucking in the guts and let the locker room humor fly.
With such a fun group, the first half went by very quickly.  We consistently banked a few more seconds every mile, even on the long climb up Morehead.  Unlike the previous Thunder Road course, the Morehead-Dilworth-Dowd  portion was around miles 8-10, rather than at the end.  The half course now included Southend, and the last mile was a long, straight, fairly boring shot into town on Mint St.  The finish was just beyond the football stadium, but on the wide openness of the thirteenth mile, one could see the destination from too far away.  Since I was only responsible for the first half, I talked up the half racers and urged them on for their last push. We picked up Brandon Lerch (my reliever) at about mile 12.5 and let him know that we had about a 25 second cushion.  As we came within sight of the finish, the half racers jetted on (at least one or two to a significant PR) while we bore left around the new baseball park and toward the starting area.  We passed the 13.1 split mat with a gun time of 1:29:34.  Mission accomplished.  I stayed with the group for another mile or so before I made a bathroom stop and bade them farewell.  Chris eventually would pace the full 26.2 with the group, finishing in 2:59:50ish.  I'd call that pretty spot on.
The rest of the race was a fun run for me.  I still kept a decent pace, spending much of the time in the mid-7's, but this felt fairly relaxed after 14 miles of 6:50.  I gave high-5s to kids, walked through water stops, sang along to curbside bands, and saluted familiar faces.  Despite some serious climbs and difficult sections on the second half, my fast first half still allowed me to coast in with a pretty respectable marathon time of 3:13:30.  And I finished with a smile on my face, which was most important.
High 5'n at Thunder Road.  Photo by Lee Neitzel.
Summit Twilight 5k
Even though this home turf race was in its fourth year, I had yet to race it, either due to injury or other race commitments.  This year, I finally dedicated the date to the Twilight 5k.  One week after Thunder Road, and a month after MCM, I did not have high expectations for this race.  I figured I could see a bunch of friends and get a nice 3+ mile workout in.  This race was more competitive than Spencer Mountain 5k or any of the other local Davidson 5k races due to its being the final race in the Summit Twilight racing series.  I would consider it a good evening if I landed in the top ten.   
Since I was making this my long run day as well, I previewed the course twice in the hour before the start.  I figured that would give me enough pre-mileage so that an abbreviated cool-down after the race would bump me easily into the double digits for the day's distance.  The course was not the hardest, but it had some challenges.  Within the first kilometer, there is a short, sharp descent on Spring Street that lead directly into a steep climb on Woodland.  From there, runners enjoy a good 1.5+ miles of mixed flat and descent before the hard finish.  The last 1000 meters or so is a climb up the length of the South Street hill.  Every runner in the Davidson area knows this hill.
I greeted several familiar faces, including my sometime nemesis, Sam.  Aside: although my score settling with Sam is scheduled for a later date, I kind of hoped to beat him at this race too.  When Brian Helfrich gave us the go, we were off to a quick start.  I don't know how many people shot ahead of me, but it was at least a couple dozen.  Of those that I knew personally, Mike Moran was up with the front runners, Sam was hidden in the crowd, I could make out Enrique well ahead of me, Matt Cline was in my peripheral vision, and I could recognize the often verbose Derek May's voice somewhere behind me.  
The crowd thinned out on the Woodland climb.  Handfuls of runners drifted back to me. Matt charged up the hill on my left, passing me near the summit.  Matt's a pretty fast guy, but I didn't expect him to pass me that quickly and easily.  I caught up to him on the flat stretch of Lorimer, but he stayed nearby...and in my head.  We reeled in Enrique shortly after, and the remaining runners ahead were spread out more sporadically.  Near the 1 mile mark, I peered through the darkness and recognized Sam's gait.  He must have recognized the sound of my stride, because before I even overtook him, he called out: "crunch, crunch, crunch...good job, Chas!"  Okay, I got a little satisfaction from passing Sam, but others were still knocking on my back door.  
A gradual downhill on Pine followed by a more steep downhill on Avinger really allowed me to open up and clock some sub-6 pace stretches en route to the greenway.  I turned onto the greenway shortly before the mile 2 maker.  This 1/2 mile stretch of paved path was lined on both sides with 1,000 luminaries spaced every 10 feet.  In the pitch darkness of the late Fall evening, the luminaries provided a serene beauty to the course.  I heard a runner approaching on my left, and I encouraged Matt as he passed me...wait...Matt?  Again...seriously?  Once more, Matt was looking strong, even more so considering the context of there being less than a mile left in the race.  I didn't try to retaliate, but I did keep him within reach.  
As we reached the end of the greenway, the course angled due North on South Street for the final, long hill.  There were maybe a dozen runners spread out  ahead of me on the hill.  Matt and I made quick work of one or two within the first 100 meters of the hill.  Now Matt was ever so gradually drifting back to me.  I was feeling the burn, but so was he.  Hell, so was everyone!  I decided to let it rip for as long as I could manage.  If I faded somewhere on the hill, so be it, but I wanted to put as much road behind me before then as possible.  I passed Matt about 1/3 of the way up the hill.  He said something encouraging to me, but amid our heavy breathing, it was unintelligible.  "Dig, dig, dig," I thought to myself, "anyone can hurt for just a couple more minutes!"  I resisted the urge to check my watch.  Had I checked, I would have been surprised to see that I was clocking equal splits or better up the hill.  I passed a couple more runners near the top, including Greig Jansen, Tristan's brother who was visiting from Africa.  Grieg didn't want to let me go, and the determination in his footfalls spurred me on in the final 50 meters or so to the finish.  
Final time: 18:42, good enough for 8th place overall, and an age group award for males 30-39.  I had run about equal pace on a much harder course than Spencer Mountain (and gotten the accurate time to show for it).  Grieg finished seconds after me, and Matt came in only seconds after him.  I don't know about Grieg, but I know that was a huge PR for Matt.  Sam came in a minute later in the 19:40s, and Derek and Chris Flaherty each finished with notable PRs, even though Chris had done a 13 mile long run that morning!  mPod (Michelle) finished with a solid enough time to lock down her age group for the series, and Hope finished her first race since having her gallbladder removed a couple months before.  DART made a solid showing for the hometown series, and the Summit Twilight 5k quickly took a seat as my favorite local 5k.  I'll be back next year.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Oorah! Marine Corps Marathon 2014

As I write this, it's been two years to the day since the last time I qualified for Boston.  I ran my guts out at Ridge To Bridge (now Peak To Creek) in 2012 to qualify by a mere 53 seconds.  Much can change in two years, chiefly my qualifying time for Boston.  This Fall racing season is the first in which I could qualify with a sub-3:10 instead of a sub-3:05.  This is especially significant because my 53 second window was not large enough to actually get me into Boston 2014 (in which I would have needed a 1:38 window).  Although I retained much of my fitness and speed over the past two years, the faster efforts were getting harder, and after a crash-and-burn BQ attempt at Wrightsville Beach, I figured I would need those extra five minutes.  A sub-3:10 would require my second fastest marathon at the very least.  A 3:08 would be a much safer bet for Boston.  Still, part of me longed to get another sub-3:05, just to prove that it wasn't just a fast, downhill course and perfect race conditions that qualified me two years ago.
Enter the Marine Corps Marathon.  I've always wanted to do this race, and having gotten in via lottery, 2014 was my chance.  This was my focus race, and I curtailed my usually busy racing schedule to put forth the proper discipline into a regimented four months of training.  I wasn't going to waltz my way in and expect to run fast like I tried to do at Wrightsville.  The plan was tough, but I trained through the hot summer, chose a handful of favorite tune-up races, and put all my eggs in the MCM basket.  It wasn't really until I ran an unexpected PR at Lungstrong 15k that I started to think "OK, I got this."
I did everything right in the preceding week: tapered mileage (but not too much), maintained high intensity, adequately hydrated, ensured proper sleep (mostly), and optimized my carb-calorie ratio.  Heidi and I also arrived in the capital on the Friday night before the Sunday race to make sure all I had to do on Saturday was pick up my packet at take it easy.  If I were to have a bad race, it would not be due to lack of preparation.
Fast forward to race day.  I woke up on the first alarm (no snoozing) at 4am to don my laid-out race gear and head to the lobby of the hotel for what was my first cup of coffee in two weeks.  I was probably looking forward to the coffee more than the race!  The two week caffeine fast paid off.  I was hyper-focused and ready to roll.  After a short metro ride to the runners' village between the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery, I saw that I was over-punctual.  I was one of the first few dozen of over 27 thousand runners to arrive.  I took my pick of a few hundred port-o-potties and made my way to the starting corrals.  And I waited...and waited...and waited.
Hurry up and wait...
As other early arrivals who were hoping for 3:00-3:20 times made their way to the corral, I made small talk, did intermittent sets of push-ups, and frequent trips to the bushes in order to subdue the nervous energy.  30 minutes before the start, actor Sean Astin (who would fire the starting pistol and then run the marathon) addressed the growing crowd to pump up the masses.  He was greeted with chants of "Ruuuudy," and "Go Samwise!"  "Goonies never say die," I added.  Then came a team of Marines parachuting into the starting area (also running the marathon).  Among them were Medal of Honor awardee Corporal Kyle Carpenter, some Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran amputees, and others who had gone above and beyond the call of duty.  90 seconds before the start, a trio of V-22 Ospreys performed a low-altitude flyby of the start line.  If anyone wasn't pumped for this race after all of this, they should've been checked for a pulse.
Bang!  Rudy Gamgee (aka Sean Astin) fired the starter pistol, which was followed in short order by the more symbolic Howitzer blast, and we were off.  Whereas Wrightsville Beach was a race of guts (go out at race pace and hold on until failure), my MCM race strategy was one of prudence.  A 7:03 pace would bring me in at 3:05, and a 7:10 pace would give me 3:08; either one of those times left a decent cushion for a BQ.  My plan was to set out at a 7:10 pace or slightly slower and then ease into a sub-7:05-7:10 pace over the first few miles (which were the hilliest).  After 10k, I would focus on staying between 7:00 and 7:05, or an equal effort as terrain would allow.
Although my watch recorded a 7:10 split for mile 1, I did not pass the first mile marker until my time read 7:20 or 7:21.  This is where I wanted to be, but I could tell right away that I would need to account for GPS error and use my splits at the official markers rather than trusting the pace display on my watch.  By mile 3, I had reached my proposed race pace and deduced that my watch was reading long by about 2%, or 8-9 seconds per mile.  By this quick calculation, I knew that in order to keep a pace in the low 7:00s range, my watch would have to read in the mid 6:50s range.  That was fine, but I had to trust to equal effort so I did not burn too much energy on the large Rosslyn hills in the first few miles.  Also at this point, I caught up with the official 3:05 pace group leader.  I hoped he was starting off conservatively like I was, because I had not anticipated catching him until the last 10k or so if all went according to plan.  I used the crowd that orbited the pace leader, but I made a conscious effort to not get too locked in.  At times, they pulled away for a few dozen yards, and at other times, I drifted ahead of them without really noticing.  I let it all happen.  The real "race" would not begin for quite a while.
As we crossed the Key Bridge into Georgetown, the field started to open up, and I really settled into my comfort zone.  The marathon pace that felt so labored and stressed-over during training just flowed naturally.  A long, scenic out-and-back allowed us to glimpse the front-runners.  One leader--a sinewy, 125 pound collection of lean muscle fibers--was far ahead.  One minute behind him were three or four similarly shaped East African runners.  On their heals was DC area elite ultra-runner and repeated JFK 50-miler champion Michael Wardian, who cruised by with the ultra-runner's stereotypical long, flowing locks, a bushy hipster beard, and a visage of laser-like of focus and determination.  "Go, Michael," urged several racers around me.  Wardian, who clearly was a hometown favorite, would end up finishing in 4th place with a 2:25.
As we turned around to head South out of Georgetown and toward the memorials and parks along the Potomac, I got to see much of the field.  I had forgotten just how many people were running this race.  For the next few miles, we followed Ohio Drive along the banks of the Potomac, past the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and all the the way down to Hains Point at the Southernmost tip of the Memorial Park Peninsula.  Just before reaching the Point, I passed over the timed split mat for 13.1.  My watch said 1:32:25, which was almost exactly on pace for a 3:05 if everything continued as it was.  Having passed the halfway point, being cheered on by volunteers from the Wounded Warrior Foundation, and running alongside the reverently arrayed portraits of servicemen and women lost in the line of duty, I felt a renewed sense of vigor.  Maintaining my splits, I felt a boon of confidence with each passing mile.
After circumnavigating Memorial Park, we turned on Independence back toward the Lincoln Memorial for another short out-and back.  Near the mile 16 mark, I heard my name called from the the sidewalk.  There was Heidi cheering for me and smiling broadly as she took a video of me on her phone.  I looked out for her again about a mile later as we looped back around on the other side of Independence.  Again, I got a boost as she cheered me on while snapping pictures.
About 17 miles in, enjoying the moment.  Photo by Heidi.
Half a mile later, turning alongside the National Mall.

We looped around the South side of the Washington Monument--which was a great view--and we turned East on Madison to run along the National Mall towards the Capitol.  It was around here that I was starting to notice the warmth of the day.  The temperature had been 66 degrees at the start--far warmer than the forecast of low 50s, but I was doing my best to ignore it.  While I was feeling warm, I wasn't feeling the perception of fatigue that accompanies heat stress yet.  I made a point out of staying hydrated and fueled, and I tried to maintain the flow that had taken me this far into the race.
In view of the scaffold-covered dome of the Capitol, I ran over the measured 30k split with a race time of 2:10:24, an official 30+ second PR for that distance.  I navigated Peace Circle and Garfield Circle to head back towards the Potomac along the South side of the Mall, passing the Smithsonian and other national museums along the way.
My next big challenge was the 14th Street Bridge, which started shortly after the mile 20 marker.  Much like the Lee Bridge on the Richmond Marathon course, the 14th St. Bridge was long, gradually uphill, and exposed to the wind.  My pace took a bit of a hit on the bridge, but I was feeling relatively good physically for being this far into the race, so I maintained a positive mental outlook.  I was to the point where I could start counting down minutes to the finish, which always helps me find a strong finish.  Even after crossing over the river, out of D.C., and back into Virginia, the elevated bridge kept going and going.  From the Jefferson Monument at the start of the bridge to the off ramp in Crystal City, the bridge portion of the course was just over 1.5 miles.
An out-and back from miles 22-24 through Crystal City with spectators lining the streets was a great place to pick up the pace and gain back another couple of quick miles.  At this point, I was passing quite a few people.  Some of them were walking, some were desperately maintaining a jog.  I was feeling pretty worked out, but my legs were not heavy yet, so I focused on negative splitting as much as I could without redlining.  These miles were in the 7:00-high 6:50s range (real pace, not GPS pace).
As I exited Crystal City and passed underneath the bridge on our way North to the Pentagon, I was blasted with a brutal, unexpected headwind.  The long stretch around the East side of the Pentagon was open and exposed, with few spectators and nothing to shield me from the heavy wind resistance.  Although it was flat, this was the most challenging part of the race for me.  My 7:00 pace slowed to somewhere between 7:20 and 7:30 around the Pentagon and on Highway 110 alongside Arlington Cemetery.  At this point, with about a mile left to go, I started to feel as if I was hitting a wall.  I willed myself through the pain and told myself to just keep hurting for a few more minutes, and I would finish under 3:05.
As I arduously brought the mile 26 marker to me, I knew there was one more steep hill to take leading up to the finish at the Iwo Jima Memorial.  Honestly, the hill didn't worry me; I just wanted to get out of the wind!  As I turned left off the highway, I ignored the top of the hill and focused on the road ahead of me.  Marines were on on either side, cheering me on.  Their words were unintelligible to me, but I used the energy regardless.  Turning right at the top of the hill, the finish line was 200 feet away.  I pushed with what I had left.  All of the sudden, I felt a hamstring go rubbery.  Then, my left shoulder started to seize up.  Everything else was starting to hurt.  The wheels were falling off within 100 feet of the finish line!  I grunted and grimaced my way past the finish line in 3:04:51.  I had done it!  Not only did I qualify for Boston by over 5 minutes, but I proved to myself that I could still run a sub-3:05, even if I didn't have to anymore!
I threw my leaden arms over the fence of the finishing chute, dropped my head, and let out a guttural yawp of victory, startling a toddler in a nearby stroller.  I smiled apologetically at the parents and hobbled my way towards a company of proud Marines waiting to put a medal around my neck.  I shook each one of their hands and thanked them for their service.  Doubled over on the grass in front of the iconic Iwo Jima Memorial, the exhaustion caught up with me, and I became overcome with emotion to the point of weeping real tears.  After I regained my composure, I stretched my many ailing muscles and joints, and I found Heidi watching the Marine Corps marching band just as they struck into the "Marine's Hymn."  We spent another hour or so enjoying the festivities in Rosslyn before retiring to the hotel for freshening up and heading to the airport.
The Marine Corps Marathon was an awesome experience for many reasons, both personal and general.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to do a big city marathon while getting a super-sized dose of patriotism and national pride.  Semper Fi!  Oorah!

*Out of 27,000+ runners, I was the 179th finisher.  I was the 4th finisher from the state of North Carolina.
*My first half was 1:32:25, and my second half was 1:32:26.  I kinda want that one second back!
*Counting the gel I ate before the start, I had a total of 7 gels for this race (about one every four miles), which is more than I've ever eaten for a 26.2, but it worked on this particular race day.
*Here is the Suunto GPS data for the race.  By the end of the run, the cumulative GPS error was roughly +1.5%
*Normally one to make up my own training as I go, I broke character and used a tailor-made training plan from McMillanrunning.com for this race.  It worked for me!

Shoes: Adidas Adios Boost 2
Socks: Swiftwick Zero
Singlet: Ascendant racing singlet by Reckless Running
Shorts: Brooks Sherpa IV 2-in-1
Compression: CEP Run+ calf sleeves
GPS watch: Suunto Ambit 2R
Gels: Clif Shots (3 Vanilla, 1 Lime [+caffeine], 1 Razz, 2 Turbo Espresso [+double caffeine])

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lungstrong 15k, 2014: Turning a Corner

This is the fourth consecutive year I've done Lungstrong 15k, and (spoiler alert) it's the fourth consecutive time I've set a 15k PR at the race.  In 2011, I was recovering from a nagging case of double ITBFS, so I ran at an easy pace for fun.  Still, having never raced 15k, it technically was a PR.  The 2012 Lungstrong was the first time I tested myself at the distance, and I was in the peak of the fitness I had built for what was (and still is) my best marathon to date.  2013 Lungstrong was a year in which Dave Munger and I chased the lofty goal of breaking 1 hour on the reputably long course.  We came up short (or long, as it were) of our goal, but I still managed to squeak out a 3 second PR after a miserable last 3 miles.  You can find Dave's recap of that race here.
After a gut-wrenching effort for what amounted to a fairly negligible improvement during the 2013 race, I did not go into this year's 15k with high expectations.  Once again, I am in the peak of my marathon training cycle, and I have been logging some hard workouts and taxing long runs.  Therefore, I approached Sunday's race with working-on-race-strategy mindset.  Sure, I would run hard, faster than I would for a half marathon, but I had no intentions of targeting a PR pace.  I enjoyed a nice warm-up along the 5k course with several friends from DART, and I felt pretty loose for the start of the race.  The lack of PR-chasing pressure made me actually look forward to toeing the start line.
At the start, I lost a few seconds to elbowing for space and I settled in with the traffic.  As always, the first 100 meters or so were deceivingly fast (5:30ish pace), so I made a conscious effort to dial back to something in the mid-6 range.  The crowd eventually thinned out, and I weaved my way through patches of familiar faces.  As we hit the first mile marker well into Jetton park, the clock read 6:35 (although my own GPS mile beep was about 10 seconds earlier).  Perfect.  This was brisk and sustainable.  10 meters ahead of me, I saw John McCormick, Clayton Venhuizen, and unnamed shirtless runner with 1% body fat, and the eventual 2nd overall female.  I had run with John and Clayton respectively in different pacing efforts for longer races, and I knew both of them to be just on the fast side of my wheelhouse.  This pack was not pulling away, and I figured running a second or two faster per mile to stay with them would be better than staying in the no-man's land in which I was running at the time.  For the next 1.5 miles, I made a very methodical effort to close the short distance with them.
Staying with the pack proved to be advantageous.  We naturally ebbed and flowed, with each of us drifting to the front occasionally to share some of the wind-blocking duty.  The camaraderie of running with familiar faces made the miles go by more quickly as well.  Before I knew it, we were at the mile 5 marker in 33 minutes, which meant we were maintaining even splits from the beginning of the race.  I was feeling better than I had at mile 1 or 2, so I figured I would at least hold this pace for the duration of the race and maybe get a sub-62 finish; not a PR, but a great time and fantastic training effort.
Mile 6 of the 9.3(+) mile course is where the race starts to wear on you.  This year was different.  I was feeling relatively good.  According to my watch, I passed through 10k in just under 40 minutes, which is where I was at the same point in 2013, but I was feeling quite fresh this year.  John must have been feeling it too, because he made his move at this point and pulled away from our group decisively.  I still wasn't quite in the chasing mindset, so I did not pursue him, but I did keep him in sight.  Our makeshift pace group began to disintegrate not long after.  Clayton's footfalls faded behind me, and while I could still hear the rapid cadence of 2nd Female, she was retreating slowly as well.  Shirtless had faded a while back, I believe.
There were a handful of hills left in the course, most of them long and gradual, but one short, steep hill before the mile 7 marker was the last real "high-heart-rate" challenge.  I almost died on this hill last year.  Watching John's feet cycle up and down ahead of me helped me crank out the hill without hemorrhaging time, and I caught my breath within a few short moments after.  I was feeling confident and knew I had gas in the tank, so I decided to open the throttle a little bit over the last couple of miles.  It was doubtful that I would catch up to John or the other runner on which he was gaining, but I was keeping them from opening up any more distance from me.  I heard nothing behind me, so I assumed I had broken off completely from what was left of our pack.  I dug in with purpose up the hills, and I turned my legs over as smoothly as I could on the descents.  I was rewarded with some faster splits, despite the increasingly rolling course.
When I turned off four-lane Jetton Road about 3/4 mile from the finish, I glanced over my shoulder back down the road to see what had happened to my running buddies.  2nd Female was about 100 meters behind me, and Clayton was out of view.  I would be in no danger of being sniped from here to the finish.  I milked the last long descent that led to a final climb through the residential back end of the course.  Dave, who won the 5k, was there to snap a photo of me at the bottom of the hill.
Photo courtesy of Dave.  Rarely will you see me smile this far into a race.

With 1/2 mile left, all there was to do was dig.  I glanced at my watch and realized that I had a definite PR in the bag, maybe a sub-61!  I hugged the last couple of turns and bird-dogged the race clock above the finish line on the last straightaway.  By the clock, I was going to miss sub-61 by 4 or 5 seconds, so I just cruised in at the same, steady pace I had maintained for the last mile.  Only after crossing the finish line did I realize that the gun clock was probably 3-4 seconds ahead of my chip time.  Had I sprinted the last straightaway, I likely would have recorded an official sub-61.  My official race time was 1:01:01, which has a nice symmetry to it.  It was also a surprise 30 second PR.
Cruising through the finish.  Photo courtesy of Dave.

I was beaming after I caught my breath.  I ran far more strongly than I figured I would be able to, and I had the impression that I could have kept it up for a little while longer if needed.  If this race was indicative of my fitness, than I can surmise that my marathon training is turning a corner, and I am beginning to reap the benefits of the program.  Lungstrong was a huge confidence builder, and an excellent high note to be my last race before Marine Corps Marathon in a month.  Now, I just need to get in one or two more quality long runs and nail some hard workouts, and I'll be ready to tear up some roads in DC come October 26th!  Run Reckless!
Great Day!  Bring on MCM!

P.S. For what it's worth, I do believe the 15k course is long by anywhere from .15-.20 miles.  According to my Suunto GPS data and Strava, I ran  15k in under an hour.  Hurray for that!  It may not be official, but at least I know it's within my ability, and that's all I need to know.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Best Running Shoes For Travel

So let's say you're going on vacation for an extended weekend or so.  If you're like me, the first thing you pack into your carry-on is your running gear.  Okay, well at least you know where MY priorities lie.  Anyway, running clothes are easy.  Shorts and tech shirts fold down so small that you could fit them in a side compartment if you really wanted to.  The real question for us shoe geeks is "what shoes am I going to take?"  For those that have a running shoe for every occasion (you know who you are), this is one of those questions that can give you the shakes.  It's not very practical to pack 3-4 pairs of shoes into one carry-on bag (even though some of us have tried), so you really need one--maybe two--pairs that will suit your needs for the whole trip.  I've gone ahead and compiled a list of what I believe are good travelling running shoes for various categories of runners.  Even though each shoe in this list caters to a slightly different audience, there are a few things they all have in common:

1) They're relatively* light and low profile.  This makes them easy to pack or wear at the airport.
2) They're suitable for many purposes.  If you're in the middle of a training cycle, you want some kicks that can support your long run but also be suitable for speed work.  Besides, maybe you'll decide to look up a local race while you're on holiday.
3) Except for one (the F-lite 195), they're all relatively* cheap.  You shouldn't have to worry about messing up an expensive pair of running shoes on your vacation.
*"Relatively" may mean something different for each category.  Obviously, "light" and "cheap" might mean something different between maximalist runners and minimalist runners.

For the Road Runner: The Saucony Kinvara 5 (or the Mirage 4)
I'll be honest.  I never used to be a big supporter of the Kinvara.  The fit and the cushioning were never to my liking, and it just never turned into the marathon shoe that I wanted it to be.  However, Saucony has been listening to its loyal Kinvara followers, and the 5th iteration of the shoe has come out with an overhauled fit and an underfoot feeling that really makes it scream "performance trainer."  The Kinvara keeps its sub-8 ounce weight, 4mm offset, and low profile that define its personality.  For those that feel a little more comfortable with a medial post for some light stability, the Mirage 4 is a guidance counterpart to the Kinvara.

For the Trail Runner: The Montrail FluidFlex 2
Trail runners often have a hard time getting a satisfying run in while traveling.  The FluidFlex is not only lightweight, but it's soft and versatile.  The Gryptonite rubber under the forefoot and heel is super grippy on all surfaces, and the soft foam makes it flexible and bouncy for the long haul.  It's a great road-to-trail shoe that can hold its own on either or both surfaces.

For the Minimalist: The Merrell Barefoot Road Glove 3 (or Trail Glove 2)
I still do at least half of my runs in zero-drop shoes, and Merrell always seems to have at least a couple of models that don't disappoint me.  It's hard to find a minimalist shoe that's not an easy travel shoe, but the Road Glove 3 is my favorite.  I hearkens back to the smooth feeling of the Road Glove 1, but it has a better outsole that handles more surfaces.  It's a pretty snappy shoe for kicking around town too.  For those that want a dual purpose shoe that's a little more trail specific, the Trail Glove 2 will not disappoint.

For the Maximalist:  The Hoka OneOne Clifton
The maximalist trend has boomed with as much gusto as the minimalist movement that directly preceded it.  However, most maximalist shoes are not easy to pack.  Enter the Clifton.  At ~8 ounces, the Clifton rivals the Kinvara and other light trainers in feathery weight.  Unlike some other light-ish maximalist shoes that sacrifice their characteristic cushion for weight, the Clifton maintains is floaty-ness while feeling light on foot.  The blown rubber on the outsole only exists in high abrasion areas, and as many Hoka enthusiast will attest, this road model would be just fine for all but the most technical or slippery trails.

For the Runner/CrossFit Enthusiast:  The Inov-8 F-Lite 195
I always enjoyed this shoe as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none kind of shoe.  I've used it for 20-milers, track workouts, light trail runs, and several hours in the gym.  I don't do CrossFit, but this shoe is definately geared toward that crowd.  Like most Inov-8 shoes, it's low-profile, it looks cool, and it weighs in at a svelte 195 grams (hence the designation).

That's my list, and I'm sticking to it.  What are your traveling running shoes?