Ramblings From The Road

The ramblings of a rambling runner rambling about running and rambling.

Browsing Posts published by Keath

Being nomads with a short attention span, it’s not often that we run the same race twice.  Frankly, we rarely return to the same time twice.  But with family in New Hampshire and New Jersey, the odds are slightly higher on races in those areas.  So I’ve run the Philadelphia Marathon twice, a couple of family Christmas trips to Savannah allowed to runnings of the Savannah Bridge Run Double Pump, and, well, that’s about it for repeat offenders.  So since our three weeks to New Hampshire coincided with this year’s D.A.R.E. Classic, we sweet talked my in-laws in to making an evening of it.

The D.A.R.E. Classic is one of those races run by smart people who realize that sometimes having a novelty destination where you wouldn’t normally get to run can help increase your numbers.  In this case, it’s on the racetrack at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH.

Also helping their numbers: fundraising for the State Police.  And probably the large catering sponsored by Hannaford Supermarkets open to both runners and spectators.  Oh, and K-9 demonstrations starring Diablo and Gator.

[media id=1 width=590 height=440]

In the two years between events, I can’t say with absolute certainty how new compares to prior, but I think for the most part things went very similarly.  There was definitely confusion about where the starting line is, and the race officials backed us all up several times before getting everyone in the right place and facing the the right direction.  Someone needs to offer a big “START” banner to the State Police.

As last time, the race consists of two laps, first around a majority of the race track, then off up a hill and and around the motorcycle course, back on the main track, past the finish line and around it all again.  Sounds confusing?  It is.  Especially with a lack of volunteers out on the course.  I think there were more people out there last time, but I could be making that up.  The leaders follow a pair of motorcycle cops and everyone else follows them.  As part of the faster midpackers, that leaves me in one of those challenging spots where keeping an eye on the guy ahead of me is pretty tough.  I managed, though, and tried to hold my own, managing a 19:56 finish, almost a minute off my PR from earlier in the summer, good for 13th place overall and 5th in my age group1.  Not too shabby considering I had run 8 miles that morning so as not to sabotage my marathon training plan…

Post-race, I tracked down my family, congratulated a friend who was running with her Hannaford store team2, and sought out some fruit at the magnificent smorgasbord of fruit, pizza, yogurt, and burgers.  The race is always held on the first Wednesday in August, which this year worked out to the third, which is National Watermelon Day.  Mmmmmm, watermelon.  Every race should have watermelon.  Watermelon and breakfast burritos, in fact, would be the perfect post-race array.  It would be like merging Texas and New Hampshire, which in itself might be quite interesting.  Toss in some small batch ice cream and craft beers (i.e. Vermont and Washington) and I think there’d be more people running in this country.

But I digress!3  Once everyone is off the course, they start the massive raffle.  Partially because they’re the State Police, and partially because Concord has a really good local merchant community, there are tons of merchandise giveaways donated by local businesses.  Last time we stuck it out for the whole thing, which was a good way to kill some time, but really overwhelmingly boring.  The Running Nuns out in Portsmouth, by contrast, do all the drawings by bib number while you’re out running and racers just check to see if they’ve won something when they finish.  Much more efficient.  I understand the desire to get people to stick around for the awards by offering a little incentive afterwards, but with tons of merch this gets a little out of control.  They need to find a balance4.

Having had past knowledge of the raffle duration and being transient folks who live in an RV and don’t really need/want more stuff, we skipped the raffle this year and headed to Boloco for dinner5 because they’re awesome.  Which, as it turns out, is also where the K9 guys from the State Police went with their families as soon as they could sneak away.

All in all, the D.A.R.E. Classic is an awesome event, though there are some things I’d like to see them do better.  Or at least differently.  Maybe I’m in the minority here.  It’s definitely a great late summer family event and they really handle the kids run well and provide an activity area/corral for kids while their parents are racing.  Plus, what kid doesn’t love Daren the D.A.R.E. lion?

The law enforcement challenge is a great inclusion, not only because the event supports the State Police but because it adds an element of team versus team excitement to the spectator aspect.  Not to mention the draw of different groups in the area to come prove themselves.  Be aware; do not mess with the Maine Game Wardens.  Those guys are BIG and FAST.  And probably pretty good shots, too, though they don’t race with guns.

My wife and I have definitely taken a liking to a few weeks in the late summer at a rental house on a New Hampshire lake.  So, if this becomes a habit6 the D.A.R.E. Classic could become my first-ever three time race.  Maybe I can take off another four seconds next year.  That’d be fancy.

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Incidentally, that’s the same age group finish position, but four seconds faster and four overall positions ahead of my 2009 finish.  Not a great improvement, but an improvement.
  2. Not quite as overt as the law enforcement challenge is the team challenge, which is mostly taken up by law enforcement teams and all the different Hannaford stores within a reasonable distance from Loudon competing against one another.  My friend is a nutritionist that gives “eat this, not that” type tours and lectures at the Londonderry Hannaford, so she joined the team and managed to win her age group!
  3. What else is new?
  4. Maybe save a small handful of the big ticket items for a post-awards drawing?
  5. If you think their logo looks familiar, you’ve probably seen a Currito Burrito, or worse yet, a Currito Cantina.  This, unfortunately, is their brilliant idea to expand beyond New England with a franchising approach, which has resulted mostly in abominations vaguely resembling burritos in airports and mall food courts, assembled employees who can barely walk upright.  Quite different than the real thing, and quite obvious why they didn’t use the same brand!
  6. As our budget planning is trying to do…

This ain’t my first rodeo.

It’s kind of neat being the “experienced” participant in a novelty event where the majority of people are first timers and have their own preconceived notions of what to expect.  Still, a good company will constantly be learning from past events and making changes to improve things in the future.  And, for the most part, Red Frog Events is a good company.  And Warrior Dash is an awesome event.

Last year we did the Rockies edition, and somehow1 managed to convince ourselves to register for this year’s race despite the fact that we’re nomads who don’t ever plan that far in advance.  Needless to say, we realized earlier this summer that we would not be in Colorado come July, and that getting there would quickly get very costly.  Fortunately, despite the fact that they’re definitely a for-profit company (as so many races are these days), Red Frog was more than happy to help us with a quick change our plans to run Warrior Dash Washington instead.

And so off to North Bend, WA we went!  (Incidentally, I’ve now run races in North Bend, South Bend2 , and Bend3, and am currently researching the existence and running communities of the hypothetical East Bend, West Bend, and any other Bends there might be.  Let me know if you’ve got some info…)


Last year we each ran our own race, but decided this year to have fun and run it together to culminate in a big, romantic, muddy finalé.  I’d cite “help each other on the obstacles,” but it’s not that kind of obstacle course.  With the exception of people who randomly got panic attacks atop a six foot slide, there’s no need for “assists.”  Despite not pushing the pace as much as I did last year, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the two events.  Some things I liked better, others not so much, but overall both races were loads of fun and I’d still endorse Warrior Dash for anyone with a glimmer of interest, even non-runners4.

  • This year’s event had about half a mile before any obstacles, which was a great way to spread people out a bit more than the 100 yard dash we had last year.  This might have been the norm last year, with adjustments necessary because of Copper Mountain being a ski resort and some obstacles not really being practical on the top of the slope, but it’s definitely better to set the first obstacle further out.
  • The tunnels from Rockies (which are apparently quite a common obstacle in several “adventure” races, presumably because they are easily disassembled and trucked around the country), were replaced this year with “The Blackout,” a short tent requiring the same basic low crawl, but lacking the severe bottleneck that the tunnels created in the midpack.  I’m definitely an anti-bottleneck person – the event should be about you and the obstacles, not waiting in line – but it also lacked the rough wood and rocks that cut up my knees last year.  Yeah, that certainly hurt less, but there’s something to be said for the hard core feeling of looking down at the mud and blood at the finish line.
  • Higher cargo net = better.
  • The “football” tires were extended much further and merged with the Road Rage (hurdle two rows of junked cars), which certainly slows the approach, spreads us out yet some more, and results in a better overall obstacle.  While I felt clever for gaining tons of ground last year being the only (or at least first) one  to not go over the middle, having everyone spread out is a much better execution5.
  • The North Bend event was held at Meadowbrook Farm6, which is, in part, an actual farm, and the majority of the course was through fallow crop fields, or, at times, just a swath through dried crops pushed down a la crop circles.  Thus, there was just about zero stable ground to run on – if there wasn’t plant debris to trip on, there were dips and ditches to step in.  While it wasn’t as cardiovascularly challenging as running up a ski slope, it was a whole new set of challenges, especially when trying to pass someone or get out of the way of someone passing you.  This, along with dirt paths through the woods that were soaked in to mud, ended up creating a challenge simply getting from obstacle to obstacle, a great innovation in making the event about the obstacles instead of just a running event.  While you could run full out in between obstacles, it’s certainly slower going.
  • The North Bend finish line was twenty yards of thick mud ranging from ankle to hip deep.  So no final sprint, kids.  My wife actually managed to fall face first across the finish line while I trudged through the muck a few feet behind.  I’m amazed that they were able to get any chip times recorded with everyone’s feet deep in mire, but it apparently works.  And ensures that everyone finishes up nice and muddy.  Since Rockies ends on the paved courtyard of Copper Mountain resort, they couldn’t do this, so I don’t know if this approach is unique to North Bend or if they do it everywhere that’s not paved.  From photos I’ve seen of others, I’m thinking some events do put you through a river rinse before the finish, but I think I’m definitely a fan of the mud approach.  Though there is a certain cool factor to leaping over fire as your final sprint to the finish.
  • Wash up hoses are apparently getting replaced with renting a local fire truck and bored firemen.  Instead of several garden hoses scattered about for people to use, a walk through “shower” rig, and a decorative fountain with official permission for people to jump in, North Bend just had an area where you could line up at a fence and wait for a brief burst of fire hose to sprinkle you.  While some people crowded the center and hogged the stream until they were “clean,” if you had any interest in enjoying the after-party before your body cools down and things get chilly, you were pretty much doing so muddy.  We rinsed our hands/arms as best we could7 and went on our way.  Definitely disappointed in this approach compared with previous experience.  We’re not looking to get squeaky clean; just to get a reasonable rinse off.
  • Finisher medals are smaller this year, presumably costing them less per unit so as to turn a better profit.  The t-shirt also looked a bit cheaper, but mostly because it’s white.  They dropped from three colors on grey to two colors on white, but I do like the 2011 design better.  If these changes mean they can keep doing the event and not raising the price (which is already pretty steep!) then I’m okay with this.  I’d rather they cut corners on swag we don’t need than on safety or insurance!


All in all, it was a different experience, but certainly not a worse one.  With a few exceptions, I think I liked all the changes as much, if not more than, 2010 Rockies.

Our official time was 44:518 but we weren’t pushing for a record.  My wife’s allergies were acting up, so we took it easy between obstacles and just had a great time on the course.  The folks at Red Frog Events definitely put on a good event and we hope to be able to try more of them in the future.




Show 8 footnotes

  1. Okay, we were drunk on endorphins and mediocre beer.
  2. Indiana; the 2010 Sunburst Marathon.
  3. Oregon; a pair of local 5ks to benefit the local track team and VFW, respectively
  4. Likewise, I’ll still try to discourage anyone from participating in a Tough Mudder, because while the event can be fun, the organizers and marketing department pretty much ruin the experience.
  5. For anyone keeping score against Tough Mudder, that’s a two-for-one obstacle in Warrior Dash, pushing them to 3.4 obstacles per mile if you count them separately versus TM’s 1.6 or 1.83, depending on whether you count “run in a straight line” as an obstacle.
  6. Not to be confused with the Meadowbrook Farm US Cellular Pavilion, of course.
  7. And then got them muddy again trying to liberate our timing chip/beer token from our shoes.
  8. Actually, my wife’s was 44:50, but I was 44:51.

To celebrate Canada’s 144th birthday, my wife and I signed up for a local 10k, initially not realizing that Canada Day was a Friday1. Though “The Rock” was a bit on the pricey side for a 10k, it included high end Brooks technical shirts, finisher medals for all, additional medals three deep for 10 year age groups, and a custom designed diamond and white gold necklace from José and Co for the top male, female, and fundraiser, plus a randomly drawn winner.

Of course, my wife advised me to win the diamond for her, which seemed like it might just be possible with the right combination of conditions and competition.

I’d spent the prior week in Long Beach2 for a conference.   I ran daily, primarily because there was a qigong class at the conference center every morning and I had to get to it one way or another3, and was getting pretty optimistic about this 10k, given how easily 7:20-7:45 paces were coming without pushing.  Granted, Long Beach is significantly flatter than White Rock.

When the race started and the starting chute stretched out, I was positioned in what I think was 7th place.  I held this with a pretty strong pace for a couple of kilometers, overtaking two other guys on the first couple of hills.  Unfortunately, this position was short lived, as around kilometer three I could barely see beyond the guy immediately in front of me and could distinctly hear two people on my tail.  In the third kilometer one of the two guys I’d passed caught up with me, shortly followed by the first woman.  My pace slowed, but I worked hard not to lose any more ground, despite the disheartening realization that 3.1 kilometers was not the half way point.

According to my splits, my slowest mile was mile three4, clocking in at 7:34 versus the 6:20 and 6:40 that preceded it.  After that, the course leveled out until the last mile and half, which was almost all downhill, progressively steeper as we neared the final little incline up to the finish.  I managed to hold position, clocking 6:55, 6:27, and 5:52 for the second half, but couldn’t quite catch up.

Initially, my time showed 40:35 on the printed race day results, which was close to my GPS 40:33 estimate, but the official results have since adjusted that to 41:06 for reasons unknown.  (Actually, the reason is probably tied to the same adjustment that bumped me from 5th overall and 1st in my age group to 7th overall and 2nd in my age group.  Two people ahead of me apparently didn’t record a time as they crossed the line.  At least one, the other guy in my age group, had his chip in his pocket.  Not sure about the other discrepancy.)  Regardless, I was happy with my time, despite it being short of my PR and sub-40 goals.

Post-race, we enjoyed a pair of musicians5 who entertained from the bandstand in Semiahmoo Park while participants waited for their fellow runners and walkers6, enjoyed brownies, fruit, and Gatorade, tried out the Street Striders that were there to demo, and generally loafed about on the grass.  José (of José and Co, of course) was showing off the necklaces he’d made and letting people pose for photos with him and the diamond jewelery7.   After the kid’s race8 we had the awards ceremony, starting with the overall top three and the winners’ diamonds, then working through all the age group awards.  Though I’m typically opposed to announcing every age group award, the combination of relatively fast paced announcements, the ten year spans instead of five, and the fact that this was a precursor to a lazy day on the beach for us (and a majority of Canada) made it work out just fine.  I could have gone for an earlier start to the kid’s race and awards, but since there were so many walkers, waiting for them is just the right thing to do9.

Overall, we had a great time.  It was really a very well run race.  There was a volunteer in jovial spirits on every corner or intersection, duded up in a high-viz vest, providing encouragement no matter how thick or thin the crowd10, controlling traffic as necessary, and directing runners to avoid any confusion.  If anyone went off-course it was deliberate.  (Except maybe for the bottom of Stayte Street, where you have to transition from a 45° downhill sprint to a sharp right turn towards the finish line.)  The finish line crew were great, managing to announce every single finisher’s name, letting them know if they won a “door” prize in the process, removing tags, and awarding finish medals without any confusion.  They even managed to let a guy who’d left his car parked overnight in a lot that was completely barricaded by the finish chute escape without running over any runners.  I don’t think I have a single complaint (unless I wanted to make a stink about the change in my finish time) save for the lack of brownies for walkers.

After the awards, my wife and I partook in what is now cemented as our official post-race activity: pub brunch!  We chose Sláinte By The Pier, because, well, it had tasty looking vegetarian options and local cider.  It was pretty much delicious from start to finish.  As a bonus, our waiter had Iron Maiden Vans.  Until he randomly came out with different shoes.  Weird.  We had two desserts.  Yum.

We were hoping to continue the celebrations with an Independence Day race over the border on Monday, but the closest thing we could find was all the way back in Sedro-Woolley.  Jeez, Blaine.  Step it up, kids.  Represent the Runner Americana!

Show 10 footnotes

  1. Which wasn’t a big deal, aside from having to ask for the day off at the last minute…
  2. Which, frankly, has a fairly short beach.
  3. There was also a very poorly planned walk to Runner’s High in the trendy shopping district that turned out to be a 6.5 mile run, in a golf shirt, dress slacks, and flip flops, when I realized how poorly my estimates of walking times were.
  4. Yeah, I know, I’m switching back and forth in measurements here, but the course was marked in kilometers but my watch was still recording splits in miles.
  5. One of whom may or may not go by the stage name Tony Alto, and another who didn’t say his name often enough
  6. And seriously hard core Nordic pole walkers!
  7. And, in my favorite photo, a hip-mounted banana.
  8. Curiously, the music was stopped for the race, someone led the kids around the course at a very laid back pace, the music was resumed, then about ten minutes later the kids took off again, doing maybe four or five laps while the music confusingly played on…
  9. Though I think they missed out on the brownies – these things need to be time released!
  10. “Keep it loose, dear!”

Yup, it’s once again two weeks in to the next month when I get my ass in gear to look back on the prior month and how I’m doing with my 2011 goals.  But May was an awesome month, so it bears looking back on.  So there.

Prior Goals

  1. Mileage – May; 116 miles.  Pretty good consistency with 117, 108, 117, and 115, respectively.  And still holding just above the 104.131456 targeted average for the 2011 kilometer challenge.
  2. Race Weight – Definitely feeling better on this one.  I’m getting better at reducing my random snacking.  Not eliminating it, but reducing it1
    At the end of May, I was back where I began April, so that’s good.
  3. Cross Training – Slack.  Slack.  Slack.  I knew this would be my most difficult goal to stick with and I’m proving myself right.  Argh.  Weights, bike, and yoga were pretty much nil though May.  I really need to get back in the make this a habit.
  4. Water – I’m keeping strong with my fancy new bottle that doesn’t drip on me when I drink.  At least 100 ounces a day; no problem.
  5. Workouts, not just runs – I got in to a little bit of a groove in Gig Harbor, but got a few solid proper hill workouts in plus a couple of visits to the track.  Since we moved on to Concrete, WA, though, I’ve pretty much been running on a perfectly flat rail trail without much variation during the end of May.
  6. 19:00 5k – Bullseye!  I really want to break a 19:00 5k, but according to the chip timer, I hit 19:00 dead on at the Great Kilted Run on May 22.  If you missed the write up, it’s here, but in summary, great race, fun event, and my 19:00 got me first in my age group, and third overall!  It also broke a PR that had stood for just over two years.
  7. 1:32 half marathon – As reported in my “April” check up, I managed the Tacoma City Marathon half on May 1 in 1:29:56; not just 1:32, but sub-1:30.  Which means I’m officially allowed to start seeing my Marathon Mistress again.  Which brings us to . . .

New Goals

  1. Another sub-3:30 Marathon – my 26.2 PR currently stands at 3:29:37, from last January’s Museum of Aviation Foundation Marathon.  Unfortunately, the three marathons I did later that spring, though qualifying me for Marathon Maniacs, got progressively slower.  A majority of my times are still in the 3:40-3:45 range, and my average is just over 4 hours2.  I initially put myself on Marathon hiatus after realizing that my attempts to reach 3:15 (then BQ for me) were not reasonable based on projections from my fastest half, so I put myself on a half marathon speed goal (thus the 1:32 above).  So, my stretch goal for the marathon is still 3:15 (which is BQ again, now that I’ll be turning 35 this October), but I’m using 3:30 as a benchmark to reach first.
    To that end, I’ve registered for the Layton Marathon on October 8, and Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll on December 4.  (Can you tell what route we’re taking out of Washington?)  I have, for a long time, been opposed to Competitor (the group that runs the Rock ‘n’ Roll series) events because they’re obscenely expensive and for-profit.  But I wanted to run Vegas before they bought the rights to it and when they made it a nighttime run this year it intrigued my wife as well as myself, so we figured it was time to give them a chance.
    I started a Runners World Smart Coach plan on June 6 to ramp up for Layton.  Based on my Tacoma City half time, it’s telling me to target a 2:54:50 marathon in October.  (?!)

    I don’t know about that pace, but so far the training is going well, so we’ll see how things look in September.
  2. Sub-40:00 10k – It’s been almost two years since I ran a 10k.  My PR is 40:34 from the 2009 Run for the Shamrock in Eugene, OR, but the times I’m running for tempo runs in my marathon training have me hopeful that I can break that.  So far, I’ve only registered for one 10k, on July 1.  And as fate would have it, this year’s Canada Day Rock 10k is right near where we’ll be staying next week, and happens to be as close as a 7 day calendar can come to two years from my last 10k, the near-Canada Day Jo’s Road Race.  To avoid a repeat fo 2009’s embarrassment, I’m trying to learn the lyrics to Oh, Canada this time!
  3. Blog about something other than my training – I really didn’t intend for this blog to become a personal training blog, but it seems to have done that.  I ditched the idea of a podcast because I wanted to record the random thoughts that occur while running, but lacked decent recording tools and breath too heavily.  I should probably find some other way to keep track of said thoughts to share, though.  Because, believe it or not, there’s more to the world of running than me.  There’s Usain Bolt on Top Gear, for example.

    Yeah, I know this happened two years ago, but so did my last 10k3. Just about two weeks before the original air date, apparently. Anyway, enjoy. And don’t skip part 2.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. i.e. instead of grabbing a bowl of peanuts and raisins every time I get up from my desk, it’s maybe a half handful now…
  2. Though this includes pacing my wife on the 2009 Philly Marathon where she hurt herself and had to walk half of it.
  3. See how I still tied that back to me?

Sometimes, it’s good to pick your race about 18 hours before the gun.

We’d picked up a flier for The Great Kilted Run in Seattle either during the Tacoma City Marathon expo or during our epic search across every running store in the Tacoma area for a hydration backpack1, but had lost it in the shuffle of other races we had much less chance of participating in.  But when we started tidying the place up to move from Gig Harbor to Concrete, we re-found it, realized that Magnuson Park was an easy en route stop for our move, discussed, and ultimately decided that if we found reasonable kilt-like garments at Goodwill, then we’d get up early and go for it.  After all, we’re a sucker for themed races and Goodwill costumes.  We realized after the on-line registration cut-off that race day registration was $40 – a bit steep, but not ridiculous.  If we’re in the area again at the right time, we’d totally do it again, but with some pre-registration discounts.

The Event

I don’t really know if the race was held to commemorate anything in particular.  Nothing was promoted at the event, but it was the day before Scotland’s Victoria Day.  Mostly it seemed to be an opportunity to celebrate the Scottish heritage of many people in the area and to get people to dress up.  There were traditional, authentic kilts, many kilt analogues such as ours, and some creative homemade kilts with fun, quirky fabrics2.  Plus a few people in boring old shorts – really inexcusable given the huge selection of rental kilts they had on site.  (Even the local newspaper coverage of the event agreed on that front!)

Aside from the overall kilted awesomeness, the race was very well run.  There wasn’t a lot of pre-race shenanigans.  Just the essentials; beer garden, sponsor tents, registration desk, kilt rental, water, and beer garden.  Yes, pre-race beer was available before the 9:30 start if you were so inclined.  It reopened around the 30 minute finishers.  The pacific northwest takes their race beer seriously.  No Michelob Ultra water here; just two Pike Brewing beers; Dry Wit and, appropriately enough, Kilt Lifter.

Since we’d gotten there at the start of registration to ensure time to find a spot to park the rig, we had plenty of time to kill.  After registering we headed back to the rig to put on our awesome kilts – Ceridwen in her micro-mini kilt (and requisite tights) and me in my school marm kilt and sad attempt to make it look more kilt-y with a belt – before returning to the start line to stroll around the sponsor tents3, watch the kids fun run, and get warmed up for the 5k.

The course was advertised with the typical “flat and fast” description – and pretty much delivered on that front.  Magnuson park was apparently a military base at some point, was completely leveled, and only had some small hills put back in when they built a University of Washington complex and needed somewhere to put the dirt.  According to my watch, the total elevation difference between the high and low points of the course was about 17 feet.  Sweet.

The MC tried to get people to spread out according to expected paces, but with the somewhat novelty draw of the race, there were a lot of people who didn’t know their pace and a handful of eager kids who wanted to be up front regardless.  Fortunately, with a field of 350ish and a nice wide start, there was no big problem with finding your position.  There was, however, a photographer who thought that kneeling three feet in front of the start line was a brilliant idea.  I almost tripped over her.  The local news crew even caught it on camera!

Post race, once the beer was flowing, a Celtic drum band played and a good time was had by all until well past noon.  We hadn’t planned on staying that late, but after a couple of rounds we had the luxury of being able to hop over to the far parking lot for a shower and return.  The band was packing up and the crowd was dwindling, but there were still plenty of folks sticking it out.  We got chatting to the organizer of ProMotion events and her partner at the beer tent and are hoping to be able to volunteer at their next race – the Fremont 5k – a Friday night race with a briefcase relay.

At long last, it was time to go, which was a little challenging because baseball players were beginning to arrive in the previously isolated parking lot we stashed the rig at.  But we managed, despite me needing to do all the driving since somebody4 had a couple more rounds than intended.  Overall, the only possible thing I would suggest to be done differently would be the signs leading to the event – they featured a photo of a past event with an arrow, but the text was too small to know what it was for.  Though it was very easy to find the park and most people were local, something that’s predominantly text would certainly be better, even if it just says “RACE.”  Also, a larger beer garden might be in order.

Overall, though, this was awesome.  It was well organized, well publicized, well run, did a great job of balancing spectator and racer needs, and had an awesome MC that may have managed to announce every single person, first on the way by around mile 2.4, then again at the finish, keeping the enthusiasm going until the very last person came across the line.  And I didn’t do too shabby either . . .

My Race

It’s been quite a while since I ran a 5k, which has been a bit of a cramp in my attempts at meeting the goals I set out for myself this year.  Although we were certainly viewing this as a fun run, with the flat terrain and awesome weather (54ish degrees) it was a perfect day to go for a PR.  I hadn’t been doing any 5k-specific training, but my efforts to try to ensure speedwork or hillwork at least once a day have clearly been paying off.  (The hills of Gig Harbor’s Cushman Trail, which were hills weather it was hillwork or not, probably didn’t hurt either.)

It was a beautiful day, a good size crowd, and modest efforts were made to get people to line up based on expected pace.  I found myself with “the age groupers” – guys ranging from maybe five years my junior to twenty-some-odd years my senior checking in with one another as to who was what age in hopes of ensuring their own age group win.  The goal times I heard around me were “19:30, maybe 19:45,” which was just about right.  I lined up behind them, hoping that I’d be able to manage a sub-20 race “given the conditions.”

Be it the weather, the speed work, or just the combination of it all, I found myself passing all but one runner in the first hundred yards or so.  (Once I’d sidestepped the photographer, of course.)  Including one guy, surrounded by a few kids, all from a Scottish family with enough participants that they brought along their own family tent and all had matching (and presumably with authentic tartans) kilts, who was mumbling something along the lines of “I knew I shouldn’t have lined up that close to the front…”

A short while later, as I was trying to keep up with the leader, I heard a voice behind me (likely the same one) shout “you’re losing your kilt!”  Sure enough, I was.  I tugged it up, folded it over my belt, and hoped for the best.  I’m sure the race photos will look stellar.

As we spread out over the first mile, a guy named Jeffrey Gordon caught up to me and casually asked my target time.  I told him of my intents to target 19:15 or so, but that I’d be happy with just holding steady for a sub-20.  Clearly unimpressed, he wished me luck and caught up with the leader, Simon Barbe, a local 16 year old5, presumably to ask the same question to determine how hard he had to push in order to ensure victory.

By the time we hit the first mile marker we were spread out with Jeffrey in the lead, Simon maybe fifty yards behind him, me about fifty yards behind Simon, and Scott Roza about fifty yards behind me.  And the first digit on my watch was a FIVE.  Whoa.  At mile two I had lost sight of Jeffrey and the bicyclist leading us along the course and was working hard to keep Simon closer than Scott was to me.  I tried to close the gap, but the other guys were pushing as hard, or more likely harder, than I was.  We managed to hold this pattern for the remainder of the course, Jeffrey winning in an awesome 17:43.

The layout of the final stretch of the course was such that you couldn’t really see the clock until the last fifty feet or so.  I started my push just a few seconds after Simon did, maybe closing in a little bit, but far too late and slow to catch him.  He was just crossing the line when the clock came in to view, painfully clicking away the last few seconds of minute 18 as I pushed to catch it.  I crossed at 19:04, just shy of my goal of a sub-19 5k.

BUT, my chip time was 19:00 even, so while it might not technically be my sub-19 goal, it’s 18 seconds faster than my P.R. from just over two years ago.  And it’s as close to sub-19 as I can get.  One more second and I’m there.  Plus, in this particular event, it was good enough for an age group win and third place overall6.  And I’ve got to say, this is a pretty awesome prize!

I’m not going to beat myself up over that last second.  I’m letting myself consider it a huge accomplishment, but I’m going to keep the sub-19 goal on my list, keep up the speed training, and continue to try and find races to give it a go.

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Which was finally found at REI and purchased online for almost half the price…
  2. My favorites were a pair of girls in black and white plaid with neon “paintball” splotches on it and a guy in a beige and brown plaid accented with John Deere logos.
  3. Which were unexciting save for the ING financial guys who had some nice water bottles that were a welcome replacement to the one I got at the 2009 Philly Marathon – I’m getting sick of it dripping all over me.
  4. I’m not naming names…
  5. Who was apparently much shorter at the last race the MC saw him at.
  6. Yes, they award both.  Age group prizes were just simple ribbons, but I feel bad for the guy in fourth place in my age group.

I’m certainly not doing too hot on the whole “monthly reflection” of my 2011 goals thing, but two weeks in to May seems like it’s still a perfectly valid day to look back at April.  I’ve been mulling April over a lot, for reasons that will become apparent, and I guess I’m ready to write about it.

  1. Mileage – Official count; 115 miles in April.  Still keeping consistent with January’s 117, February’s 108, and March’s 117, and just above my 104.131456 targeted average for the 2011 kilometer challenge.
  2. Race Weight – I started April feeling like I was on the right track, but my grandmother whom I was very close to passed away on April 111, which not only sucked on a deeply emotional level, but resulted in a lot of what my family decided to call “bereavement calories.”  So, yeah, between airport food and the delicious pastries that family friends brought over, I wasn’t feeling to hot by the end of that week.
    For the second half of the month, I just held steady.  No more gain, no more loss.  But by month’s end, though I was still carrying the few extra pounds, I was feeling much leaner than I had a month prior.  I didn’t do any measure of BMI or try to figure out what percentage of my weight is muscle versus fat, but I’ve got to believe that I’m leaning in the right direction here.
    I’m still not where I want to be, but I’m trying to get there.  Definitely need more discipline on the diet and exercise tip.
  3. Cross Training – Aside from yoga, I managed maybe a once-per-week average through April – if that.  Mostly weights.  More recently (read; not April), I tried my first BodyRock TV workout.  And I definitely need to maintain more of both.
    I broke my yoga streak more than once in April, but am keeping at it.  So we’re on a new streak, but at least it’s a habit now.  Even if I’m not doing it every day, yoga is part of my routine now.
  4. Water – Now that it’s more consistently warmer out, I’m doing better on not front-loading with tea, but I’ve been letting the water go undrank, which is really not like me.  I never thought it would be a challenge to maintain this 100 ounces per day thing, but somehow I’ve fallen off the wagon.  Which is why it’s good to keep looking back at these goals, then turn to the water bottle, and get back on.
  5. Workouts, not just runs – I’ve let things slip a little bit since April ended, but have been doing pretty well in keeping every run a workout2.  Since leaving California, we’ve settled in to Gig Harbor, Washington, which is home to a wicked hilly multiuse trail, so every “easy” run is going to be a bit of a hill workout anyway.
  6. 19:00 5k – Still no attempts at a 5k or anything on the calendar.  But . . .
  7. 1:32 half marathon – I took two swings at this in April, setting a PR each time, but not quite making it.  On April 3, I ran the Great Bay Half Marathon in New Hampshire in 1:36:30, 42 seconds faster than the Santa to the Sea in December.  The next week, I shaved off another 3:05 and the Wine Country Half Marathon in Paso Robles, CA in 1:33:25.  I skipped the Western Pacific Half Marathon (and am very glad I did, given surrounding circumstances) but signed up for the Tacoma City Marathon half on May 1, which I managed to finish in 1:29:56, another 3:29 faster, third in my age group, twenty first overall, a full seven minutes and sixteen seconds faster than December.
    And, according to Greg McMillan‘s fancy calculations, that’s not only fast enough for my goal, I’m hypothetically capable of managing a 3:09:40 marathon.  Which means I ought to find myself a late summer marathon.  I’m looking at either the Lake Tahoe Marathon or Skagit Flats Marathon thus far . . . all I know is it’s got to be somewhere en route from Vancouver to San Francisco and before October, as my wife was selected in the lottery for the Nike Women’s Marathon!  Which means I get to be a marathon spectator!


Show 2 footnotes

  1. I wasn’t sure I wanted to mention this at all on the interwebs, but it affected me in many ways, and I’m getting to the point where I can discuss it with people I’m not related to, so here it is, world.
  2. Technically, recovery runs are workouts too, though, so I’m not as bad as I give myself crap for.

Oh.  Hell.  Yes.1

Yeah, I ran another half marathon today2.  And, yeah, I PRed again.  It feels awesome.  But enough about me . . .(for now).

The Race

The Tacoma City Marathon is one of a series of races put on throughout the year by the Tacoma City Marathon Association3. Obviously, it’s their headliner event, and as you might have guess by my participation in the half distance, it also includes a half marathon.  They also include a 5k (which my wife ran – and did an awesome job at!) and space out the starting times so that there’s very little downtime at the start/finish.

The event was, for the most part, very well managed, and was very enjoyable once we set aside our preconceived notions and took it for what it is.  For reasons unknown, both my wife and I had assumed it was a pretty big event – maybe just a bit smaller than the Philadelphia Marathon.  Yesterday, as soon as we found the little boutique hotel behind the convention center and came across the one-room expo, we realized our folly.  Tacoma is small.  And the Tacoma Marathon is the smallest “big city” event we’ve been to.  (Oddly enough, the two prior “small” city races were also this weekend; we ran Louisville last year, which is actually pretty big as an event, though most people run the Mini Marathon (half), and Eugene in 2009.)

Expectations adjusted, we grabbed our bibs and did a quick tour of the dozen or so tables – grabbed some fliers for events that might work out with our schedule, ate some cake provided by the awesome South South Triathletes training group4, and headed out.

This morning we left with a nice lazy start for the leisurely 8:00 start time5, paid for the exorbitant parking6, and moseyed on over to the start line to watch the marathon start.  The announcer was a bit hard to hear, but I’d later learn that everything was crystal clear within the corral, so no foul there.

A local girl scout troop ran the gear check – and kudos to them for a very well organized and efficient process.  My MC Frontalot button fell off my bag, which is a bummer, but really, I blame myself for leaving it on there and put no fault in the volunteers, especially those under the age of 12.

The three races all start and end at the same point, and run the same course for the first two miles or so.  The 5k runners then get to go back to where they started, along a nice tight loop with no major hills.  The marathon and half marathon continues to zig and zag through town, even cutting through an alley between two buildings a one point, which was kind of weird, before finally coming out to run along the waterfront around mile 7.  (Around mile 5, a woman who passed me7 commented on the lack of waterfront and bizarreness of the alley – at first glance the course map looks like a majority is along the water, but closer inspection reveals that not to be the case.)

Just past mile 9 the half marathoners get to turn around and head back from whence we came.  (On the “other” side of the one lane that is blocked off for the race.  It’s that small a race.)  I was able to count how many people were ahead of me (21 at the time) and kept that position up until the guy checking people off and announcing your position around mile 10.  The marathon course continued along the water up to Point Defiance State Park, which brings them out to what I think is the northernmost point of the peninsula that is Tacoma jutting out in to the Sound before heading south along the west side of town.  The only downside of the full marathon loop is that the last four or so miles run alongside route 16 before they return to downtown.  Which is certainly not fun to breathe, whether you’re pushing for your best time ever, struggling just to finish, or anywhere in between.

The return to town for the half marathon was pretty cool; the crowds that had thinned out along the course were a little more packed together, and even before you got to the finish line you can hear the announcer echoing through the street.  But to get there, you first need to climb up three blocks of downtown Tacoma’s hills.  (About 200 feet in two tenths of a mile.)  The top of the hill is the twelve mile marker, and, as they say, it’s all downhill from there.

This is also apparently a very good race to volunteer at.  There were volunteers at just about every corner or decision point, plenty of water station crew, and some volunteers just out along the course making sure all was going well.  They all did a great job, were encouraging and enthusiastic, and looked like they might have just been having fun while doing it – go figure!  And they all got some pretty nice looking embroidered hooded jackets.  Snazzy!

On that note, my apologies to the girl at the water station around mile 8.25/10.25 whom I almost ran over.  Really.  Sorry.  Totally my bad.  I think.

And did I mention the best half marathon medals, ever?

Post race, there was a good selection of food – bagels, pizza, fruit, chips, chocolate milk, and probably more that I didn’t notice – set up in a reasonable manner for the number of people to get what they needed without chaos.  Results were updated to a half dozen computers every 15 minutes or so, so you can type in your bib number and see how you did.  Brilliantly, if you won something in your age group, you then went over to the awards table to claim your prize.  Only the overall open and masters winners got formal announcements and fancy plaques and trophies.  Which is how is should be. Nobody wants to stand around while you personally congratulate 30% of the field.

So, yeah, smaller than we expected, a little weird choice of course routing around downtown and along a highway, but overall, very well run, very enjoyable, and a beautiful day for running.  In fact, at the start line, the announcer even pointed out that this is the best weather they’ve had in the five years they’ve been doing the race, so it’s “perfect weather to PR.”  Which brings me to…

My Race

Over the last couple of days I was seriously doubting having signed up for this.  Maybe I should have done the Rainier Duathlon.  Maybe I should have done the full.  Maybe I should have stayed in bed and contemplated the mysteries of the universe while icing my old man bits.

But after making some pretty good progress on my half marathon goal back in Pasa Robles, I’d signed up for Tacoma.  And I was able to subdue my old man pains with yoga and sheer force of will.  So off I went.

My wife – a brilliant woman – had pointed out that since she was not allowed to ride her bike along side me yelling at me to go faster then maybe I should set my watch to yell at me.  Something that had simply never occurred to me.  Wow.  Duh.  It seems so obvious, but I’d never tried it.

Quick version of the how-to (for a Garmin 405); set up your profile in GTC so that one of the pace ranges has your target pace as the slow point and maybe 20-30 seconds faster as the fast point.  Set up a workout to go your race distance with that as the target pace.  (I set mine up to be 13 repeats of a one mile segment, so I could still get mile splits, followed by a .1 mile segment.)  Be sure to include a “cool down” segment in case the GPS thinks you’re done before you reach the finish line.  And then BAM; if you go too slow (or too fast), your wrist will start audibly complaining.

My biggest concern was that someone else running near me would get irritated by my “encouragement,” but I was hoping that would encourage me to keep in the zone.  I didn’t get so much as a dirty look, even though I ran nearly the entire first mile too fast.  Things thinned out after that, so even on the hills where I slowed down a bit, there weren’t many people to complain.  Though the spectators may have wondered why I was whining to my wrist that I was trying…

My pace was far from steady, but given the hills I’m not too concerned.  But my range of splits were far better than in Great Bay or Wine Country; only 42 seconds between my slowest (7:12, mile 128) and fastest (6:30, mile 1), compared to 62 seconds in Paso Robles and 100 seconds the night before.  Good progress!

And the watch helped.  Although it beeped at me a lot, I kept trying to respond by picking up the pace.  Five miles were slower than my 7 minute mile pace goal, but aside from mile 12, they weren’t that far off (7:09, 7:02 twice, and 7:03).

One guy passed me shortly after I was informed that I was in 22nd place, but I kept him in sight for the last 5k, which probably helped keep me going.  Even though I never caught him, the idea that I might be able to was great.  The 20th and 21st runners, way ahead of us, were long since out of sight.  I pushed harder up the hill then he did, so while I closed up some space, he took it right back on the downhill.  I made up some ground, but not enough.  He and I apparently managed to catch two other runners, so he ended up finishing 20th, with 21st for me.

All told, I came in to the finish chute as the announcer was letting everyone know that “anything faster than 1:30 is a really great time!” . . . as the clock ticked over to 1:30.  I hope he knew I was kidding when I told him that I hate him.  So 1:30:01 or so on the gun time, but the computer says my chip time was 1:29:56.

Did you see that?


Yeah.  Me.  Sub-1:30.  That’s a PR by three minutes and twenty-nine seconds, and exceeds my goal by two minutes and thirty-two seconds.  And it was good enough for third in my age group, which won me a fancy county fair style ribbon and . . . wine glasses.  Neat!










Show 8 footnotes

  1. Honey put on that party dress?
  2. That’s three in 28 days – nothing crazy, but certainly more frequent than one might advise.
  3. Which, in turn, as far as I can tell, is a combination of the local Fleet Feet and Marathon Maniacs
  4. Event though we’re only here for a few weeks, at only $20, we might just join up for a few rides…
  5. 7:30 start for the marathon, 8:00 start for the half, then 8:30 start for the 5k – see?  Pretty clever, right?
  6. There may or may not have been more reasonable or even free parking nearby, but as the out-of-towners with no clue, we went with what we found!
  7. And would go on to win the half!
  8. Yeah, the one with that hill

Seven days later, 3,176 miles southwest, and about 10° colder at the start line . . . I take another crack at my 90 minute half marathon goal.  I fail, but still set a PR by three minutes, which ain’t too shabby.

The Wine Country Half Marathon and 5k in Paso Robles (or, according to their sign on the highway, El Paso De Robles, the Passage of Oaks) fell in perfectly with our plan to take the long haul from Santa Paula to Pleasanton and break it in to two short days.  We got in to Paso Robles yesterday afternoon, popped over to packet pickup, went for a swim, soaked in the hot tub, and wandered around a bit in the beautiful weather before a somewhat early night in preparation for the threatened 34° start time forecast and overnight frost warning.

As luck would have it, though the car was covered in enough frost to actually have depth, the temperature was 39° at the half marathon start (8:00) and raised a little faster than forecast, making for an awesome run (though the chilly mist limited the awesome views to about 100 yards).

What They Did Right

For the most part, this race was very well run.  The core of it all is really the awesome course through, well, as you might imagine, wine country.  Specifically, the San Louis Obisbo County flavored wine country in Paso Robles.  As with last week’s race in New Hampshire, the roads are rural enough not to need to be closed off – they warned motorists simply by scattering surprisingly cheerful volunteers (given the temperature) along the course with little yellow signs indicating “runners in road.”  In contrast to the NH woods and bay, we enjoyed views of vineyards, orchards, farms, ranches, and several cryptic signs marked “IGGPRA”1 along a beautiful rolling loop course far away from the rest of the world.

Granted, running past ranches meant we caught a couple of lungsfull of horse and/or cow manure and the 5k course had to cut across an open field of mud near the end, but I’d take either or both of these over a busy city course full of car exhausts and frustrated drivers any day.

Though the entire course was hills, with the exception of one final ascent that the mapmyrun profile didn’t know about, there’s only a 34 foot difference between the course’s highest point and lowest point.  The final ascent, by the way, was snuck in at mile 12.8 or so, as we returned to the country club type place that hosted the start/finish, and boldly marked with “Welcome to Expletive Hill,” which is pretty much the perfect name for it.  Just as you think you’re coming up to a gentle cruise in to the finish you come around the bend and see a hundred foot gain over the next thirty yards or so.  Then you can frolic across the field and turn for the final paved finish.  Very cruel.  Very cool.  Very fun.

Though I apparently misread the website and was expecting Gu when there was none, there were more than enough (5) aid stations along the course, each offering water and gatorade by enthusiastic volunteers that were easily able to handle the volume in my neck of the race.  There may have been some areas where runner volume exceeded volunteer capacity, especially when some of the faster runners caught up with the mid-pack race-walkers (who started 45 minutes earlier), but I seriously doubt anyone was at a loss for hydration.

The mix of race-walkers (or anyone who considered themselves slow enough to want to start earlier, I think) and runners was a bit disconcerting at first, but I quickly grew to enjoy it.  I had no idea how many people were ahead of me, but in a race with a smaller field like this it’s nice to have other people around rather than, oh, say, the fading blur of someone a half mile ahead of you and the vague idea that you’re being followed on a lonely country road.

Post race “festivities” included a local DJ playing a mix of good, decent, and terrible pop music spanning more decades than anyone should have to think about and breakfast burritos, coffee, and OJ on top of the typical assortment of fruit.  The burritos were pretty bland compared to the ones they have at races I did in Austin, TX when I first started running, but it was a welcome treat and much better than the usual stale bagels or cookies.

Swag-wise, the finisher medals were small, but very nice for what is essentially a local race without any huge corporate sponsors.  The age group awards were a nice change of pace from other races, taking the race logo (a watercolor by a local painter) and applying it to a tile, which I presume can be used as a coaster for wine and other beverages.

One of the more innovative features of this race is that the first male and female finisher for the half wins their weight in wine.  And they don’t do this with any behind-the-scenes “so, uh, how much do you weigh, ma’am?” kind of deals.  They put the winner on one side of a big ol’ seesaw and load up the other side with cases of 2004 Syrah.  Alas, we did not have time to stick around for this ceremony, which brings us to . . .

What They Did Wrong

Or, at least, what they could have done better.  I’ll keep this list short and sweet, because I don’t want to taint my enjoyment of the event.

  1. Packet pick-up at three different stations; one table featuring four volunteers checking names but then having to fish through one box for your bib, to pass you off to the timing company to scan your timing chip and link it to your bib, and finally off to get a t-shirt and bag of fliers from another group of volunteers with another set of name lists.  Which wouldn’t be such a big deal if the tables were sequential or at least not requiring people to double back from whence they came across other participants.  Ladies and gentlemen, there is a reason why “big” races have separate lines for people based on last name and/or  bib number – which would have been easy to organize given the fact that at this race the bib numbers are assigned by last name!
  2. If you are having people park in a wide open field, you need at least a volunteer or two to prevent people from blocking one another in.  The people coordinating parking on race morning were awesome.  If there were people coordinating parking at packet pickup on Saturday, they were MIA.
  3. The 5k route was run backwards!  While this may not be a big deal for some people, and obviously didn’t affect me, when you post a course route and profile on your web site, you need to stick relatively close to it, especially the direction!  It’s not just elites who plan a race strategy based on the course.
  4. People shouldn’t have to wait around for hours to get age group awards.  That’s called holding people hostage.  It was exciting to be fast enough in a small enough field to place, but I was waiting for the award almost as long as I was on the course.  Yes, it’s very nice to want to wait for everyone to finish before the awards.  And it’s lovely to split a small crowd up in to small age groups so that you can give awards to as many people as possible.  But you don’t need to announce everyone – especially if there’s no presentation – and there’s certainly no need to wait until three hours after the starting gun.  That’s almost as annoying as spending two hours drawing door prizes at a 5k.  You announce the overall winners.  Maybe make a big to-do for the under-14 finishers and any octogenarian awesomeness.  But the rest of us can check a piece of paper to see if we won anything and be happy with the recognition without a microphone and waiting around in cold, wet clothes2.

What I Did Wrong

Mostly, I’m just not there yet.  I definitely need to improve my speedwork.  I can tell it’s helping, but I still have further to go.  I’m not able to hold a strong pace for a full 13 miles yet, but I did a lot better on the gentle rolling hills of California than on the roller coaster baby mountains of New Hampshire.  Today, only 62 seconds separated my fastest mile (one, 6:37) from my slowest (twelve, 7:39)3.

But, while I’m getting closer to consistent, I’m also consistently running my first mile “too fast.”  If I could hang on to sub-7 miles the whole way, that’d be one thing, but aside from a nine mile training run I whipped out a few weeks ago I don’t think I’ve run further than a 10k at a sub-7 average since the NorCal 10 miler two years ago.

Argh.  Setting realistic goals is so frustrating!

I’m taking heart in running two halves seven days apart and setting a PR on both of them, improving my half time 3:30 since December, and not feeling like I’m wiped out twelve hours after the race.  (Though that last part may have more to do with not getting on a plane three hours post-race this time around.)  My current decision is whether to try for a 90 minute half one more time at the Tacoma City Half or to try something new and different at the Mount Rainier Duathlon.  Guess I ought to decide soon…

Show 3 footnotes

  1. One of which I finally got close enough to learn stands for Independent Grape Growers Paso Robles Area.
  2. Which, incidentally, is exactly what they did in New Hampshire last weekend, which I hereby declare is the awesomest way to do things!  Recognition without hostages!
  3. Compared with 100 seconds last week, mile one at 6:24 versus mile ten at 8:04.

I almost didn’t register for this race.  It fell on the last day of the last leg1 of our late-March visit to the east coast, and the late start time versus the amount of time necessary to fly from MHT to LAX had me doubting the intelligence involved.  But in the end, we found a decent evening connection through ATL which allowed for a not-too-rushed departure from the Great Bay Half Marathon in Newmarket this past Sunday2

And I’m very glad we did the race.  It’s pretty much awesome.  (“We,” for the record, include not only my wife, but her parents as well!)

The Race

There’s just something awesome about races in New Hampshire.  Like the New Hampshire Marathon around Newfound Lake that I did towards the end of 2009, the packet pickup was in the gym of the local high school.  No big expo center full of companies hawking junk you don’t need.  Just a table for race day registration, a table to pick up 5k packets, and a table to pick up half marathon packets.  Oh, and shirts from prior years’ races available for sale.  Which isn’t nearly as offensive.

The course itself starts out along Main Street (yes, literally) before a short loop through a neighborhood just north of downtown.  Just shy of the 2.5 mile mark, the 5k turns off and makes it’s way back to town while the half marathoners head out for a longer loop along Dame Road, which is only a paved road for the first bit.  We made our way through the hills, past places like “Stagecoach Farms Open Space,” “Schultz Place Open Space,” and “Willey Land,” until reaching Bay Road just shy of mile 6.  At this point, as the name might imply, the course turns back towards town along Great Bay.

And no, the return along  Great Bay isn’t “the scenic part.”  The whole race is the scenic part.  Even through town, it’s a beautiful old New England town – there’s no diversion through the industrial sector to keep the main roads open, no cutting through the “bad neighborhood” to avoid upsetting the rich people with runners near their lawns.  A, because Newmarket doesn’t have an industrial sector or bad neighborhood, and B, because aside from main street, no roads are closed.  They manage the whole thing with little more than a warning to drivers that there might be some delays due to runners on the road.  Very well done.

The course has several musicians performing along the course, but instead of the boring old generic rock bands you get at most races-with-music-in, we had awesome music from a cello and violin duo, a couple of acoustic guitarists, and my personal favorite – a guy playing a washboard and percussion half way up “the hill” just past mile 7.  Complete with mountain man beard and old floppy hat, he was definitely the perfect “only in New Hampshire” moment right when we needed it.

Apparently, the on-course entertainment that Great Bay is known for is really the belly dancers just before – and after – mile 11.  They get the prime spot you pass twice at the end of the out-and-back spur just before returning to town.  (For those of you following along on the map, that’s right at the end of Moody Point Open Space.)  This isn’t the first time that I’ve run a race with belly dancers in3, but they were actually really good dancers and I could see how some people would want to ditch their efforts towards a certain time goal and just hang out there for a while.

Coming back in to town is awesome, because after the final downhill return from the belly dancers, it’s pretty much a flat sprint to the finish.  While there are little pockets of spectators along the course, the majority are along main street, especially once the 5k is finished and the people spread along the shorter course converge on the finish.  Plus, the race is sponsored in part by Stonyfield Farms and Smuttynose Brewery, so you know that the only thing between you and free yogurt and beer is that finish line.

All in all, this is a great race and I totally understand why my friends in New Hampshire look forward to it every year.  If our travels work out to allow it, it’s definitely one I’d do again.

Of course, because it’s me, I need to find something to criticize, but know that I’m really nitpicking here to point out that the water stations were using plastic cups.  Gatorade was in paper cups, but water was in plastic.  Which is not only annoying if you’re one of those people who likes the pinch-and-tip method over the slow-down-pant-and-sip method of drinking, but also an eco-nerd no-no.  Come on, people.  Plastic?  Still?

My Race

Truth be told, this race snuck up on me.  I was just getting in to putting that extra effort in to my training, having ditched the worthless Active.com program and focused on really doing real speedwork every week, when all of a sudden I’m packing for Philly.  Bam.  Time to taper.  Really?

And yet preparation wasn’t my concern.  My concerns were multifold;

  1. 11:00 start time. Seriously?  I’ve run after eating before, but never raced after eating more than a quick bite or two of something.  But 11:00 requires some sort of meal to be had.  We stopped at a diner in Epsom en route to the race where I risked half an omelet.
  2. Snow on Friday.  I packed my tights and a long sleeve shirt, but didn’t really think I’d need much more than that.  However, after some brisk morning runs along the Schuylkill in Philly, it became clear that New Hampshire would be getting some pretty serious snowfall on Friday.  I didn’t even pack a hat.
  3. Shoes.  I packed my training shoes, a pair of Brooks GTS-9s with about a thousand miles on them and had a pair of K-Swiss Konejo IIs which I’d won in one of last summer’s dailymile promos waiting for me in New Jersey, but I didn’t really have anything in between 0 and 1000.  I opted for the tried and true Brooks.
  4. Cookies.  Had I mentioned that I ate many of them while at my parents?

But as is so often the case, I had nothing to worry about from that which I’d anticipated.  11:00 start time?  No problem with a 9:00 breakfast full of foods that bind4.  Snow on Friday?  Ha!  More melted on Saturday than fell on Friday, not to mention how little probably fell on the seacoast to begin with.  By 11:00 Sunday it was beautifully warm and dry5 in Newmarket.  And the shoes were no problem at all.  In another 300 miles or so, these GTSs will probably weigh roughly the same as my racing flats.  And while I’m sure I still had some cookie weight going on, I no longer felt like a human cookie.

What I did not anticipate is that despite spending the last two months on the side of a canyon with my running routes amounting to either A, run uphill towards Ojai and then cruise back down or B, run downhill to Santa Paula and then push back up6 I was totally not ready for these hills.  I also didn’t remember to look at the course profile prior to the race, so the image I had in my head was the Mount Desert Island Marathon, which is shaped very differently indeed.

Shouldn't they have issued us tights or leg warmers instead of shirts with this printed on it?

While Great Bay is known for it’s hills (as the back of their tech shirt proclaims), they’re nothing obscenely crazy.  They’re just pretty constant and rolling.  I should have had no problem with them.  But they kicked my butt.  I was just completely unprepared.  Inexplicably unprepared in my mind.  By mile four I just had to come to terms with the fact that I would not be able to sustain a sub-7 pace – and as soon as I admitted this to myself it became true.  My brain beat my legs.  Again.  I hate my brain.

I tried to hang on as strong as I could.  I pushed as hard as I felt I could at the time.  It was a beautiful course and a great crowd and I loved every minute of it.  But I just couldn’t keep the pace up for the full distance, though I did pick it up a bit for the last couple of miles.

For the curious, my splits were 6:24, 6:47, 6:52, 7:11, 7:29, 7:03, 7:44, 7:54, 8:01, 8:04, 7:19, 7:37, and 7:28 (with a 31 second final tenth).  Don’t chart that.  It’s a textbook parabola of starting off too fast and holding back more than I should have due to incorrect expectations of the final two miles.

BUT, when all is said and done, I ran a strong race and still set a PR by 40 seconds according to my chip time.  Which is nothing to beat myself up about.

Photo Credit: Danielle Rice

Meanwhile, at the Beyond the Rainbow 5k, my wife and her parents had a great time on a well organized race, and apparently my father in law is now hooked on racing after his first ever race, having already registered for the Earth Day 5k run by the same race organizers.

Post race, in addition to family, I was able to catch up with friends (both from real life and dailymile) from the area who were running or there to cheer before we had to hit to road to catch a quick lunch7 en route to our flight.

Did I mention the PR?  That was nice.

Show 7 footnotes

  1. First, Philly for work, then New Jersey to visit my parents, then New Hampshire to visit my wife’s parents.
  2. Which I am finally, now, writing up, three days later, after spending the day sick in bed.  Ack.
  3. The Indian restaurant in downtown Duluth has dancers outside during Grandma’s Marathon.
  4. Though eggs and cheese on race day may not have been the brightest idea for someone who’s trying to work his way closer to vegan…
  5. 49° at the start, at 52° or 53° at the finish, depending on how fast you are.
  6. Technically there was also C, drive to the beach with my wife and run along the coast and D, drive to Ojai and run around their track, but those were far less frequent and not relevant to my point.
  7. Apparently, the waitress at Margaritas was quite impressed with how much of the queso fundito I was able to eat before giving up.  Most people don’t even make it through half the plate.

When I set out in January to keep an eye on my goals, I had planned on doing it monthly.  January, check, but February was pure chaos, so I’m using the close of March (out like a lamb, right?) to reflect on both months and the first 25% of 2011 coming to a close.

For those of you who missed it, I came up with seven points for my 2011 goals and hope to keep on top of them until I achieve them (or in perpetuity, as appropriate).

  1. Mileage – Consistency was my goal here; having seen 200+ mile months and < 80 mile months in 2010.  I’ve been a little inconsistent week to week, but on a monthly basis I’m doing pretty well; 117 in January, 108 in February, and 117 in March.  Which is pretty damn consistent when you account for the three less days in February and the fact that I took two big vacations that month1  Without looking at long runs and rest days, that breaks down in to 3.77 miles per day in January and March, and 3.85 in February.  Righteous.  And I’m sticking just above my 104.131456 targeted average for the 2011 kilometer challenge.
  2. Race Weight – I haven’t been very consistent in the Friday morning weigh-in, but I’ve been hitting the scale every weekend.  Up until these last couple of weeks where I had to travel to Philly for work2 and tacked visits to both my parents and my in-laws on to the end.
    I still haven’t figured out a good way to chart “the feel” aspect of things, but weight wise I’m holding steady.  I’m pretty sure I’ve put those initial five pounds back on while working from my parents’ house3 but I’m hoping when I get back to a scale it won’t be too terrible.  I’m considering it a success to have hit both Ottawa and Maui without packing on vacation weight.

    On the other hand, I’ve been seriously slacking on weight training, so there is 0% muscle weight going on here.  If I can run Sunday’s half marathon without feeling like a cookie in shorts4
  3. Cross Training – Fail.  Straight up.  I ditched the Active.com plan in January, but didn’t keep the weight training going.  I went from twice per week to once per week, maybe, to none all too quickly.  I have got to pick this back up.  My wife has started doing Zuzana’s workouts from BodyRock TV, so if I don’t step it up I’ll be left even more in the dust than I already am.
    On the plus side, the yoga has been keeping up well.  I’ve missed two days so far in the past 71, but have otherwise done at least a short routine every day.  The improved flexibility is awesome, and I can feel myself able to recover from hard workouts much more quickly, but it’s only part of the cross training equation.
  4. Water – The 100 ounces continues to be a non-issue, but I still start my days with too much tea and end up tail-loading.  This is a really hard habit to break, especially on chilly mornings!
  5. Workouts, not just runs – I’ve been doing much better with this, making almost every run a workout.  I’ve gotten to the track in Ojai a couple of times for some good speed workouts, including the Lactate Repeats from HellaSound, which is an awesome workout that really helps keep the effort going.

    With my wife’s help, I’ve also done a couple of strong longer tempo runs, along the beach, with my wife pacing me on her bicycle.  It’s awesome to have someone other than your own mind pushing you.  Now the challenge is to internalize that and remind myself of what I’m capable of sustaining in a race.  “No squealing, remember that it’s all in your head.”
  6. 19:00 5k – Still no attempts at a 5k or anything on the calendar.  The few near us just didn’t work out schedule-wise.  It’s almost spring though, and we’re just about ready to leave Ventura county, so I ought to be able to find something to target in Oregon or Washington.
  7. 1:32 half marathon – Further consideration of the Rose Bowl Half Marathon shook my grasp of reasonable race pricing.  I just couldn’t bring myself to spend $140 (plus $10 parking) for a local race.  And the travel gods had me in New Jersey during the Great Race of Agoura, so that didn’t happen, though race reports that I’ve read make it sound like I missed out on an awesome event.
    But, I am just three days away from my first attempt at this goal.  At the end of the family visits, I’m heading to Newmarket, NH for the Great Bay Half Marathon before hitting MHT.  It’ll be training prep versus cookie sabotage, but I’m hoping for a strong race.  I’m certain I can pull off a 1:45, I’m confident I can get close to 1:40, 1:37:11 will be a PR, and a 1:32 will make me very happy indeed.  Best of all, some friends from the area are running it and/or cheering, and my in-laws are running the 5k with my wife, so it will be the first race I’m running where I know more than one person in the crowd.
    Round two is scheduled for the week following; on our way from Ventura County to the San Francisco Bay, we’ll be stopping in Paso Robles for the Wine Country Half Marathon.  If I fall apart in NH, I’ll hold back and make it a final long run before CA.  And because I’m foolish like that, I might just keep the half marathon streak going and try the Western Pacific Half Marathon the week following Wine Country.
    And somewhere along the line I need to consider whether I want to run the Tacoma City Marathon as my tenth marathon, do the half as a four-in-a-row streak, or try my first duathlon at the Mount Rainier Duathlon.  A lot will depend on whether I reach this 1:32 goal at Great Bay or Wine Country.  (I’m not counting on a strong performance on a third consecutive half…)
    More importantly, I need to chill out.

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Both my anniversary and my wife’s birthday are in February, so it’s perennially our travel month…
  2. And didn’t get an upgrade to a room with a scale.
  3. More specifically, being near their well-stocked kitchen.
  4. Or, more likely, tights!