Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Smackdown at Grandma's

Or, Anatomy of a Crash and Burn

On Saturday I ran the 33rd annual Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN. This was pretty close to being a last second decision. About a month ago I looked at my schedule for June and noticed that I had this weekend off. I knew my brother was training to run a PR sub 3 hour marathon and I thought it would be fun to be there for that. So, I checked the website and even though it normally sells out in a couple of weeks, there were still slots available. Disregarding the fact I had just run my first two ultras in the last 3 weeks, I signed up for the marathon with 5 weeks to go.

Training: No question about it, my training was not the best. It was a combination recovery from the ultras, maintenance, and then taper. I had planned to do one 20 mile run two weeks prior to the marathon, but I had to cut that down to 17 miles.

I arrived in Minnesota on Wednesday and spent some time visiting family. My parents are both in their 80s and are still very active. There is a 5k walking/running/biking paved trail around the lake north of town and they frequently walk there. I hope I am as active as they are in 30 years. I did two short runs on Wednesday and Thursday around the lake.

Friday was the road trip to Duluth. (or Dulute if you are a local) It was my brother, my sister-in-law, Deb (who was running her very first marathon) and myself. The 4.5 hour drive seemed to fly by as we talked about training for and running a marathon and various other topics. We arrived in Duluth between 2 and 3 pm and checked into the UMD dorms where we were staying. The hotels are outrageously expensive that weekend, and even the dorm rooms (with a bathroom down the hall) were $180 for a two night stay. We then headed over to the Expo. It was a typical big marathon expo with packet pick-up and numerous vendor booths. One thing most big marathons don't have though, is Dick Beardsley. He is the course record holder and he is also the guy who lost the Boston Marathon to Alberto Salazar in 1982 in the famous "Duel in the Sun". Dick kept us all mesmerized with his stories for a solid hour. After the motivation, we ate the pasta dinner at the expo and then headed back to the dorms. After listening to Dick talk about how he always got a room with two beds, so that even if he tossed and turned all night, at least his racing outfit got a good night's sleep, I decided to try the same thing.

Race Day: After the expected tossing and turning we fueled up, dressed up, and got on the buses to head to Two Harbors for the start. The course is run along the north shore of Lake Superior and is very scenic. The day before, the temperatures were in the 50's and we hoped conditions would be ideal for a fast race. This was not the case. The temperature at the start was already close to 70 and forecast to reach the mid to high 80's. One interesting sidenote, I was waiting in the PortaPotty line and saw someone I recognized. It was Margaret who won the Darkside 8 Hour Run in Georgia 5 weeks ago. We chatted for just a bit, amazed at how small a world the running community sometimes is. I had hoped to line up with and run with the 5:00 pace group, but the starting area was already getting packed, so I ended up between the 5:00 and 5:30 pace groups.

The Start: After the National Anthem, we were treated to a two-ship flyby of F-16s. Shortly after that, we were off. Ok, the front-runners were off. Us back of the packers started our shuffle/stop move towards the start line. After about seven minutes, we crossed the start line. At this time, the 5:00 pace balloons were about 100-200 yards ahead of me. I settled into what at the time felt like a comfortable 11:15 - 11:30 minute/mile pace. I kept the 5:00 pace group in my sights and it looked like I was gaining about 5 yards per mile. In my optimistic mind, my plan was to slowly gain on them and catch up by the 15 mile point, then stay with them until after Lemon Drop Hill, then put the hammer down and race to a PR. The plan was on track all the way until the 6 mile point.

The Fade: Between miles 6 and 7, I noticed that the balloons were getting smaller, and by mile 8, I lost sight of them. I was still feeling OK, but my heart rate which had stayed below 160 was now around 165 and my pace was in the 11:40 - 11:50 range. Not my goal pace, but with a little bit of a slowdown, I was still confident of finishing near 5 hours, maybe not a PR, but not too much slower.

The Crash: My heart rate continued its climb even with the slowdown, and by mile 15 it was above 170. I was also feeling very slightly light-headed, so I slowed way down, walking a majority of the time now. I was wearing my I-phone and it was about this time I got a text message. My brother John had just set a 7 minute PR and met his goal of a sub 3 hour marathon. Just incredible in these conditions. This gave my spirit and mind a boost, but my body had surrendered. I still had over 11 miles to go, but I had plenty of company at the back of the pack. The fans were amazing, even out away from Duluth. Some people living on the course even set up hoses on ladders for runners to run under. While I was walking, I sent a text to my brother congratulating him and telling him not to expect me until 5:15. (This was way optimistic!)

The Second Wind: I continued to mostly walk and run a little bit until about mile 21. At this time Marie, who was leading the 5:30 pace group, caught up to me. The six mile pullback had gotten my average heart rate back below 160, so I pulled in alongside with hopes of staying with the group until the end. Marie was an excellent pace leader, and they were doing a 5 minute run/1 minute walk pace. I managed to stay with the group all the way up Lemon Drop Hill and about a half mile past, but once again I was just a little ambitious, and at the end of one of the walk breaks I had to keep walking.

The Finish: By this time we were well into the city of Duluth and the crowds were incredible. Even though I was walking almost the whole time, people were cheering like I was leading the pack. With about a mile to go, my brother showed up and walked me in. We did speed up to a jog for the cameras, and I zoomed all the way up to a 12:00 mile for the final .2 miles. I finally finished in a PW (personal worst) of 5:38:49. My legs had held up fine, I had no blisters, I just didn't have it in me.

What Went Wrong: The primary reason I crashed and burned was that I was undertrained for a PR. Also, I was not fully recovered from my ultras. Another reason was that I went out too fast for the conditions. I'm convinced that if I had started out conservatively with the 5:30 pace group, I would have done much better.

What's Next: On the road trip home, I announced that I will run a 4:45 marathon at the PF Chang Rock N Roll marathon in January. To do this, I'll concentrate on training for that one race and try to do what my brother did and drop 10 pounds.

How the Rest of the Road Trip Crew Did: I've already told you about my brother's sub 3 hour effort. My sis-in-law wasn't happy with her result but she ran an amazing 4:21 in difficult conditions. Our neophyte, Deb, ran an incredible 4:28. Congrats to all.

For a report from the other side of a smackdown, check out my brother's blog here and offer him some well deserved congratulations.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I Feel The Need.....

Even with the temperature at 90 degrees, the dew point at 74, and the heat index at 99, there was a good turnout for the weekly track series. I'd estimate there were over 50 kids competing and about a dozen adults. My volunteer duties consisted of being a popsicle hander outer at the finish of the kids 10 and under 50 yard dash (us big kids didn't get popsicles).

I had a successful run. The first heat was for the sub-6 minute milers, so one of my worries (being lapped not once, but twice) was greatly reduced. There were about 15 of us lined up for the second heat, and I tried not to trample any kids at the start. After about a half a lap, I settled in behind a kid that couldn't have been more than 7 years old. He ran a very consistent race, and was a good pacer for me. However, he turned up the speed on the last lap, and I couldn't hang with him. After the race, I shook his hand and thanked him for being such a good pacer.

Now for the results. Despite the heat and humidity, I ran an 8:48, meeting my first goal. Although I didn't actually puke, I felt very close to it the last half lap, so I'm counting this as a success. I ran fairly consistent splits of 2:08, 2:12, 2:15, and 2:13. My heart rate was definitely in the anaerobic zone averaging 169 for the whole mile and 177 for the last lap.

I'm going to have to try this again someday, maybe when conditions are cooler, and go for an even faster time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Something New?

I got an email today from the running club I belong to asking for volunteers to help out at the weekly summer track series. This series lasts for six weeks and is mostly for kids, but they also have heats for adults. My plan is to show up tomorrow night to volunteer and see if I can also run the mile. I have never run a mile for time on a track, and I am very curious to see what kind of time I'll run. It'll be hot (probably close to 90 degrees), but I have two goals. The first is to see if I can run a mile in under nine minutes. The second is to approach my puke threshold. (I got the idea for my second goal from Helen) My pace for a 5k is similar to my pace for a marathon, I find it very difficult to push myself above my anaerobic threshold. I've explored the dark side of ultras, now its time to explore the world of speed (or at least my version of it). Will I achieve either one of my goals? Tune in tomorrow night.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Now What Do I Do?

After Friday's 17 mile run, I had convinced myself that there was no way I could run a PR in two weeks and that the best strategy would be to run with the 5:30 pace group. And then I have a run like today. I was in Burlington, VT and the weather was perfect. I decided to do a 1.5 hour run and take it easy. The first part of my run down to Lake Champlain included a mile long 300' descent. The whole way down, I'm thinking to myself, "this is going to be a real bear to run up after an hour and 20 minutes". Then I was on the bike paths and ran along the lake with spectacular views. I rarely looked at my Garmin, but when I did, I saw that I was running faster than marathon pace. My left brain was telling me to slow down and save my energy for the long uphill, but my right brain was telling me how beautiful it was and that I was feeling great, and that I should just keep going. I reached 45 minutes and turned around, still enjoying the scenery and seeing all the other runners, bike riders, and kids in the parks, all the while in the back of my mind I was thinking about that long long uphill finish. When I got to the start of the uphill, I slowed a little bit, but kept chugging along. I caught a couple of red lights and had to stop for maybe 10-15 seconds each time, but every time I thought about walking, I channeled my inner Jessica and kept on going. When I finally got to the hotel, I was tired, but not exceptionally so. When I downloaded my Garmin, I was amazed to find out I had actually run a negative split! Even with that monster uphill, the whole run was under my marathon pace. So, now I'm thinking that a PR might just be a possibility. Of course the conditions would have to be perfect. So, if the temperature at the start is under 50, the forecast for my finish time is under 70, no rain, overcast skies, AND a tailwind....if ALL those conditions are met, I'm going to go for a PR. If not, then I'll hang with the 5:30 pace group and have a fun time.

Now for some pictures.

Yesterday I was in Canton, OH. They have a nice rubberized running track that is about a 1.5 mile loop, but first you have to run through a kind of shady part of town.

Then there is a nice half mile gravel section.

And now on to the running track. I think this was built in the 70's because they also have exercise stations along the track.

Here is the start of my run in Burlington. You can see Lake Champlain about 1 mile away and 300 feet down.

On the way, I passed a Jazz Festival going on. After my run, I went back and enjoyed some good tunes.

A couple of views of the lake.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The People You Meet

Today I went out for my planned 20 mile run. About 1 mile into it, I caught up with a spry elderly gentleman who started running with me. We ran together for about 5-10 minutes. He asked how far I was going today, and when I told him 20 miles, he asked which marathon I was training for. (You know you're running with a runner when they assume you're training for a marathon when you mention you are doing a 20-miler.) I came to find out that several years ago (I'm going to guess about 15) he had run a 3:05 marathon at the age of 60! So now I can either say I ran with a 75-80 year old guy on my training run, or I can say that I hung with a 3:05 marathoner on my training run. I think I'll go with the second choice :)

However, I didn't make it to 20 miles, I called it quits after 17. The legs were fine, but I got a late start and the temperature got up to near 80 by the time I quit. I could have probably gutted it out for another 3 miles, but I didn't really see the point. I've already decided that a PR is out of the question for this marathon. There were two reasons I signed up for it; I want to be there to help my brother celebrate his first sub 3 hour marathon, and I want to be a Marathon Maniac. In order to do that, all I have to do is cross the finish line before they turn the clock off which is six hours. If I do my ultra pace vs my marathon pace, I should be able to finish in 5:15 to 5:30. I'm considering running with the 5:30 pace group if they are going to do walk breaks. Maybe I can help encourage some first time marathoners to keep going and cross the finish line.

Oh, and a PS to DavidRay. I am entered in the 8 Hour Hot to Trot in August! See you there.