Monday, October 8, 2012

Doing the Double

At the beginning of 2012, I went through my normal goal-setting exercise to help me plan out my running year.  I like to set at least one goal that I know will be challenging, but difficult.  This year the challenge goal was to attempt to run one marathon each calendar month.

As I worked towards achieving this goal, I discovered that I truly love to run in these events.  I also have learned not to fear the distance.  Although it’s always tough to complete 26.2 miles of running, I’ve always managed to do it (sometimes with more difficulty than others).  During my planning for the second half of the year, I searched for a race in early September, and found the Bozeman Marathon.  As I reviewed various sites about Bozeman, I realized that another marathon would be held the day before – the Salmon Marathon – and that these two races were fairly close.  Bozeman is in Montana, and Salmon is in Idaho.  This intrigued me.  Could I “do a double”?  I wasn’t scared of running one marathon, but running back-to-back marathons was unknown territory for me.  I knew that plenty of others had done it, but would my legs hold out?  These two marathons are both small events and relatively low-cost, and I could run them both on a single airfare, so I decided to sign up and go for it.  I figured that if I got to race weekend and felt totally unprepared, I could simply opt out of one of them without too much loss.

Training for my double was a little different than normal.  I scheduled some weekends to have two longer runs, and after my July marathon (San Francisco) and my August marathon (Anchorage), I didn’t take it quite so easy the week after the race.  Generally speaking, I felt about as ready as I could be with the limited mileage that normally fills my log.  What I did not count on, though, was the fact that by early August, most of Montana and Idaho seemed to be burning down!  And they kept burning, right through race weekend.  A couple of days before the race, the Salmon race director sent an e-mail offering participants the right to defer registration to next year.  The hotel called and asked if I wanted to cancel (turns out the firefighters needed rooms and the government was offering to pay a higher rate).  Thus it was that as my plane dropped down to the Bozeman airport on September 6th, my eyes began to sting and I could smell smoke.  This was bad – so bad, in fact, that the weather forecasts for both areas called for “Areas smoke”:

Many of my friends advised me not to run, saying the risk to health was not worth it.  I decided to go anyway, since I had paid for a flight, and to make the decision on-site.

There were several other people in the Marathon Maniacs group who were racing either one or both events, and we had been chatting online in the days leading up to the events.  The Maniacs is a super group of folks, and some of us decided it would be sensible to share some costs and help each other out a bit.  I picked up my race packet on Friday, and also picked up David H.’s packet, then drove back to the airport to meet up with him.  We split a rental car and drove together over to Salmon, ID.  It was beautiful country to drive through – tons of wide open spaces and plenty of heavily forested land.  Unfortunately as we crossed the border the smoke was getting much thicker.  By the time we were on the State highway leading into Salmon, the smoke was almost too much and we passed National Guard personnel who were protecting evacuated ranches, and the largest camp of firefighters I’ve ever seen (I later read that there were over 1,000 stationed at that base).  It grew dark like twilight even though it was mid-day.  It was depressing to think that this area and all of the wildlife that must live there were under such an extreme threat.  This photo shows the smoke, but I think it was much worse than the photo reveals.

 We made it to Salmon in time to pick up our race packets, and checked in to the rustic hotel on the bank of the Salmon River.  Dinner was an awesome meal with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs.  It was really a great way to get to know new friends, hear amazing stories, and learn some tips from more experienced runners.  David, for example, has already run a marathon in all 50 states and several countries, and is now going back to run a Boston Qualifier (“BQ”) in every state.

 I also got a chance to visit with Regina Joyce, who ran for Team Ireland in the 1972 Women’s Olympic Marathon.  This was quite special, as 1972 was the first year that women were allowed to run the marathon distance at the Olympics.  Regina may not have achieved the fame of some other women, like Joan Benoit-Samuelson, but she actually placed fairly high at the Olympics and also was among the fastest women in the world at the distance in the couple of years prior.  Regina is now running with the rest of us, and is working on completing marathons in all 50 states with her friend Janet.  She was kind enough to let me record a very nice interview for the SunRunner Podcast project that evening.

Saturday morning got off to a nice start.  The weather was nice and cool, and a beautiful conjunction of the moon and Jupiter graced the early sky.  The hotel provided a nice breakfast, and then we all climbed aboard school busses for the trip to the start line.  The starting area for the marathon is next to a one-room schoolhouse on a dirt road that seems to be in the middle of nowhere, and the school was open for runners to keep warm.  The school kids had drawn pictures and written precious notes of encouragement (and some warnings) to the runners, which was probably the most awesome pre-race motivation I’ve ever seen!

The course was point-to-point, and starts at close to 5,000 feet elevation.  The vast majority of the course was rocky dirt road.  In a fortunate twist of fate, the winds had blown most of the smoke in an opposite direction from us so it wasn’t too bad, although I could still taste and smell some slight smoke.  When the gun went off, about 100 marathoners took off; apparently, about 50 or so had accepted the deferral option to next year.  Within a few minutes I was basically on my own, and it stayed that way for almost the entire race.  The course was net downhill, with about a 1,000 foot net drop, but rolling hills kept things interesting.  It also became obvious early on that the rocks in the road required careful foot placement, and occasionally a rock would fly up or my heel would scrape the opposite ankle.  I wasn’t wearing trail shoes, and my normal Mizuno’s have a tendency to lock a rock into the gap on the bottom beneath the heel, which happened several times.  But the scenery was so amazingly beautiful, with farms interspersed with wilderness and streams, that I felt quite happy on the run.

I never hit the wall, but did slow in the final mile when the dirt switched to asphalt and the course entered the small town of Salmon.  I had been alone for so long that I committed a classic racing mistake and assumed nobody was near me.  Much to my surprise, another racer caught me as I approached the finish line, and while I did have some energy available I decided not to go all out with a kick because I knew I had another race to run the next day.  So he passed me just before the line, beat me fair and square by 1 second.  I congratulated him and within a short time we were friends, and discovered that we were both from Arizona and run some of the same races!  It was worth getting beat.  I still managed to get 10th place overall, crossing the line in 3:19:49.  The age groups were 10-year, and surprisingly the top 2 racers were in that group, plus the guy who outkicked me also was, so I got 4th in my age group.  But they took the overall winners out of age groups (I love it when race directors don’t allow double-dipping!) so I earned a 2nd place trophy.  The awards were very nice metal sculpture trophies of a jumping salmon!

My friend David was only a few minutes behind, and we enjoyed watching more of our maniac friends finishing.  After the awards ceremony, it was time for a quick clean-up followed by the 4 hour drive back up to Bozeman.  Normally I don’t recommend taking a 4 hour drive immediately after a marathon, but we had to get back in time to rest up for the next day’s event.  We loaded up on pizza in Bozeman for dinner, and I tried my best to keep my legs as loose as possible.

The air in Bozeman was a little cleaner on Sunday morning but looking at surrounding mountaintops made it obvious that there was still some smoke.  The runners gathered in front of the Bozeman Running Company shop to wait for the shuttle bus, and several of us who had run Salmon the day before compared stories.  It’s funny how common challenges can so quickly bond people together – marathoners who I had never heard of just 24 hours earlier now were my lifelong friends.
The bus was loaded and we made the long drive out of town to the race start.  It was chilly, but none of us were prepared for the strong winds that met us when we exited the bus.  Fortunately, the race was small enough that there was no mad rush to drop off gear check bags, so most of us waited until the last possible minute before stripping off our warmup clothes and throwing the bag into the trailer.  During the wait, I met a few more Marathon Maniacs, including one 67 year old who holds the world record for most official marathons run in a single year (113), Larry Macon.  Although both Bozeman and Salmon were small events, I made more friends than I ever have at the big races!  Here’s a photo of the start area, which was quite scenic:

When the gun went off, my legs felt a bit stiff and we were running uphill, but the wind was at our backs, which helped.  I had to make a porta-pottie stop at mile 2, but in general I felt better than I expected.  I was purposely holding back on the pace – this was totally new for me and I just did not know if I’d be able to keep running the whole way or not.  The Bozeman course was different from the day before in several ways.  This one was on paved roads, which were not closed to traffic, so it was necessary to run on the side.  The scenery was spectacular, but there weren’t many spectators.  The course started at about a mile high, and climbed to about 5,600 feet for the entire first half.  It then gradually dropped to finish a bit below 5,000 feet.  This photo was taken near the start:

I tried a new tactic in both races (I know, you should never try anything new in a marathon, but this whole double marathon concept was new anyway so it seemed trivial).  David suggested that it’s really not necessary to consume my normal 3-4 gels along the run, and that drinking the sports drink at aid stations would provide adequate calories.  So on both runs, I only ate a single gel.  I never bonked and I was able to continue running all the way with no walking on both races, so I may continue to use this technique in the future as I find it difficult to do much eating while running.

Although I didn’t bonk, I did eventually run low on energy in Bozeman.  I also had trouble with the continual running on the side of the road.  Running on a slant eventually becomes very rough on the legs, and I felt it.  Bozeman had a larger field of over 400 runners, so I was never totally alone but most of the time I wasn’t part of a group either.  By mile 24 or so I was eager to get this one wrapped up, and as we came in to the city and passed the university, it seemed like the auto traffic increased and the road camber got much worse.  I finally turned on to the main street and ran the final stretch to cross the finish line in 3:41:19.

I was 25th overall, and was excited to learn that I placed 2nd in my age group.  David also got 2nd in his age group, so we hung around for the awards ceremony.  We were disappointed to learn that they only gave awards for 1st place!  But that did not dampen my excitement level from knowing that I had just completed two marathons in two days, something I would not have even considered possible for me at the beginning of the year.  The weekend’s races also qualified me under two different criteria for a Iridium ranking in the Marathon Maniacs, and were the 10th and 11th states that I’ve run a marathon in, which qualified me for entry into the 50 States Marathon Club, as well as the 50 Sub 4 Club.  Being in these clubs isn’t a pride thing, it’s about joining up with other marathon enthusiasts, making new friends around the world, and helping each other out.  I came home with a couple of new race medals and a nice trophy, but I also came home with some wonderful new friends that I know I’ll be seeing again soon!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

September Race Recap

September was a busy month for racing, after several months with lighter schedules.  I’ll blog separately about my September marathons, and use this blog to recap several local races.

9/3/12 – Saguaro National Park Labor Day 8 Miler

The first race in September is normally the Saguaro National Park Labor Day 8 Miler, sponsored by the Southern Arizona Roadrunners.  I’ve run “Saguaro”, as local runners affectionately call it, numerous times.  It’s a Monday morning race, which makes planning a bit tricky.  I never quite know how much to run on Saturday and Sunday leading into the race.  This year, I was planning to run back-to-back marathons on the Saturday and Sunday following Saguaro, so I went easy and ran a quick 6.3 and easy 4 miles the two days prior.

I got up early to help with registration, then ran the race.  I purposely held back a little, to reserve something for the marathons, but I was happy with my finishing time of 56:48.  This is a very hilly course, with one very difficult climb from about 4 to 5 miles, so average paces at Saguaro are always slow.  Last year, my time was about 2 minutes faster.  I did manage to get 1st in my age group, and won a plastic cup.  Saguaro is a big race, with over a thousand runners, and I had a lot of fun socializing.  Here's a photo of me about 1/2 mile from the finish, taken by my friend Gilbert:

9/8/12 & 9/9/12 – Salmon Marathon & Bozeman Marathon – Separate Blog

9/22/12 – Catalina State Park Reverse the Course 10.3 Mile Trail Race

I don’t do a lot of trail runs, mainly because there just are not many in the Tucson area.  Trails in Southern Arizona are mostly rocky, rough terrain but I really do love to run on them.  Everyone Runs & Walks hosts two trail races each year on trails in Catalina State Park, with the same course but in opposite directions.  I think the Fall edition is a little harder because it has more downward stair-stepping, but either way has plenty of steep hills, curves, sand, and sometimes flowing water to challenge runners.

I went in to the race feeling a bit weary from the marathons a couple of weeks prior.  My trail shoes are heavier than my regular road shoes, and I had not done any trail training for a long time, so my feet were not feeling too fleet in the race.  There were several spots where the course doubled back on itself, and the 10.3 miler was two loops, so it was fun to see friends and cheer them on.  Here's a photo taken by the Everyone Runs photographer near the top of an especially challenging hill, on the second loop:

I finished in 1:21:18, 12th overall and 1st in my age group, so I won a track bag.  My time was nearly 5 minutes slower than the year before, and the second loop was especially hard for me, but I was happy to run this one again.

9/28/12 – Nike Desert Twilight Cross-Country 5k Citizens Race

The Nike Desert Twilight is actually a huge festival with a focus on high-school cross-country teams.  It’s super-fun to watch the different heats of kids racing their hearts out, but they also have a “Citizen’s Race” for everyone else.  The race is on Friday night, starting at 8:00 p.m., and the course is on a golf course in Mesa, Arizona.  My wife, Pam, coaches a high-school team and they drove up earlier in the day.  Her girls team won a 2nd place trophy, and all of her kids did very good.  I drove up with my son, Jason, who also entered the Citizen’s 5k.

Since the race was on mostly grass, I decided to wear some super-light racing flats.  They don’t have spikes and almost felt like socks instead of shoes.  I thought about going easy, because I was also planning to run a 5k the next morning, but when it came time to start I decided to push a bit.  The start line of this race was the worst one I’ve ever experienced – hundreds of people sprint out from a very wide line, and there is more banging and jostling than any race I’ve ever done.  Most of the early sprinters really don’t belong up front and as the course narrows, it becomes a dodge game to avoid major collisions.  Somehow I made it through with only one near-fatal crash.

The course winds around and there are literally thousands of spectators cheering so it’s an exciting environment.  I crossed the finish line in 19:18, which I was happy with.  It was 10 seconds faster than last year’s time, but this year brought some faster guys to my 10-year age group so no awards.  Pam ran the Citizen’s 5k while her team cheered her on, and got a great time.  Jason also finished the 5k, which was enough to make him happy since he hasn’t been training lately.  This is a high-energy race where many runners wear glow sticks and they have big fireworks displays.

 9/29/12 – Fiesta Sahuarita 5k

I ran this 5k with less than 2 hours of sleep.  After the Nike Desert Twilight the night before, I drove over 2 hours to get home, then had to get up very early to drive an hour South for this race.  So I was very tired, but the excitement of race morning always compensates a little.  The Fiesta Sahuarita is held in conjunction with the Town of Sahuarita’s “birthday” celebration, and the 5k this year was hosted by Anderson Racing Adventures.

I pushed hard right from the start, and tried to keep a strong pace.  The course was an out-and-back and when I reached the halfway point I didn’t feel like it had already been 1.5 miles!  The temperature was cooler than the previous night’s race, and it was on asphalt instead of grass, so it was easier to maintain a faster pace.  I held on for 3rd overall in a final time of 19:11.  There was a nice awards ceremony afterward and I won a $25 gift certificate for being 1st place Masters.  Many of my friends won awards also, here’s a photo of Me, Sue, Melody, Don, and Connie with our loot:

September was a great racing month!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Marathoning with Humungous Herbivores

My August marathon was the “Moose’s Tooth Marathon” held in Anchorage, Alaska.  While I wasn’t expecting giant herds of wild moose to give me yet another excuse for missing out on the elusive sub-3 goal, I did think it was a possibility that I’d at least see one – especially since photos from previous races included shots of a Mama Moose with her baby casually snacking as marathoners ran by.

Travelling to Alaska was an exciting prospect even without a marathon on the schedule.  I grew up in a family that places a high value on wilderness, and Alaska is probably the best state in the US to experience outdoor adventure.  My brother Darryl decided to make the trip with me and we planned a very fun “brothers weekend” which included the race on Sunday, August 19th.

August in Alaska is still close enough to summer that the weather forecast does not include snow.  The sun still dominates the sky, with a late sunset time of around 10 p.m.  Darryl and I arrived on Wednesday evening and decided to scout the area on Thursday on bicycle.  We rented a couple of bikes and spent about 4 hours cruising, mostly on the coastal trail.  The scenery was spectacular!  Green everywhere (something I’m not used to in Tucson), and overlooks to the Cook Inlet where we saw white whales (beluga?) surfacing.  Much of the marathon course was on this trail, so I got a chance to get a preview, and realized that although we were near sea level, this was actually going to be a hilly race.  We searched hard for moose, but they apparently had the day off.

We didn’t rent a car, so we did a lot of walking around.  Anchorage is a small town, and it reminded me of the region where I grew up in upstate New York.  It was evident that they depend on tourism, and by mid-August the tourist season has slowed down so things were fairly quiet.  Our hotel was next to Ship Creek, a pretty little creek where lots of salmon fishing happens.  Interestingly, the creek goes through cycles every few hours as the ocean tide causes it to rise and flow strongly, followed by a near-emptying of the creek.

I enjoyed a couple of nice runs from the hotel along Ship Creek.  It was tempting to go far, the trail system is very long in Anchorage and they are maintained very well.  I carried my camera on the runs and took plenty of photos.  It seemed like every curve revealed a new scene that begged for a photo.  I wish I could show them all here!  I kept an eye out for wildlife – unfortunately, no moose or bear spottings, but I did see a few smaller creatures including this beaver who was busy working on his dam:

On Friday, Darryl and I spent the day taking a glacier cruise.  This was such a fantastic experience, I could write a whole blog about it.  The cruise went into Prince William Sound, an area rich with history of famous expeditioners including James Cook and John Muir.  There were only about 20 tourists on our boat, and we had a great time cruising the bay and visiting glacier sites.  We saw some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever laid eyes on.  We also saw some wildlife, including sea otters, seals, sea lions, lots of birds, and even some whales.  We used binoculars to scan the shoreline, hoping to see bear or moose, without success.  We took hundreds of pictures.  I spent most of the day standing on deck in the cold, maybe not the best move 2 days before a marathon but it was well worth it.  Here is a photo of Darryl and I aboard the good ship Fairweather Express, in front of Surprise Glacier:

Saturday was expo day.  I was getting very excited about the race on Sunday!  We walked over a mile to the convention center to get our race packets.  I was signed up for the marathon, and Darryl was signed up for the Snow City 5k.  We enjoyed the expo, which was small but well organized.  I had a chance to visit with Olympian Jeff Galloway, who is now most famous for his ‘Run/Walk Method’, and he gave me a nice interview for my SunRunner Podcast project.

We also had lunch at the pasta feed.  I must say that this was by far the best pasta feed I have ever seen at a race despite being the least expensive.  First-class all the way!  We also spent some time browsing a local flea market.  Later in the day, we decided to have dinner at the race’s sponsor, the Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria.  It was about 4 miles from the hotel so we took a cab, and arrived to find a super-busy restaurant.  We waited over an hour just to be seated, and proceeded to eat some excellent pizza.

Sunday morning got off to a nice start.  The weather was cool, there was some drizzle in the air but it was not too bad.  I met up with some other Marathon Maniacs and we took a group photo a few minutes before the start:

My race began first, with Darryl’s 5k starting later.  It was a fast start but around a mile in, things settled down and we worked our way on to the coastal trail.  I was feeling good, the hernia surgery site was hurting but not too bad.  I kept a fairly quick pace for a while, but felt myself slowing as the miles clicked by.  For a relatively small race, I was very impressed by the crowd support and aid station quality.  At one point, there was an odd character playing a guitar in a random spot in the forest.  We ran by Earthquake Park, and next to the airport where jumbo jets took of directly overhead.  The cool air and beautiful scenery helped make the race fun, but the hills definitely took their toll, especially since my legs really did not get the proper rest in the few days prior when we biked and stood on the ship.

The course is sort of a “Y” shaped out-and-back, but it became difficult to gauge my position because we eventually were merging with relay runners and half-marathoners.  By mile 20, I was feeling poor but kept trudging along.  The worst part of the race was in the final mile, when the course exits the trail and turns onto what appears to be the steepest road in the world.  It’s only about a tenth of a mile or two climb, but it is a brutal blow to a tired marathoner.  I slogged up it and turned onto the final homestretch.  A nice cheering crowd brought racers in and I crossed the line in 3:21:02.

This was a bit slower than I had hoped for but I was satisfied and got a nice finisher medal.  I was 31st place overall, and actually got 2nd in my age group!  The age group awards were a mug and ribbon.

The greatest part of the race for me, though, was that Darryl ran the 5k.  He’s not a runner, and this was his first race.  He worked very hard and earned a nice finisher medal for his efforts.  Taking a vacation with my brother was awesome, but wrapping it up with both of us completing a race was just incredible.  I was so proud to be able to share the event with him!

So overall, it was a wonderful weekend with so many great memories.  There’s only one negative – WE NEVER SAW ANY MOOSE!

A Race Too Tough to Die?

A short race report as I continue my gradual catching up.  The Tombstone Vigilante Days 10k Run has become a Southern Arizona tradition, and August 12, 2012 brought us the 26th edition of this challenging race.

The course is slightly longer than 10k, it’s at about 4,500 feet elevation, and it has some pretty hard hills.  Returning racers know that this won’t be a PR event, but we also know that the reward for the lucky few is one of the coolest out there – a handmade tombstone trophy.  It’s also one of those unique events that has location appeal – a fun historical contrast is to see modern runners hanging out in front of the infamous OK Corral, where the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday fought the Clantons and McLaurys.

 For those of us in Tucson, it requires a very early start to the day as the drive Southward to Tombstone takes over an hour.  The weather this year was warm and clear.   My last race was the San Francisco Marathon 2 weeks earlier, and while I was eager to run I also was still dealing with hernia surgery pain so wasn’t expecting a great run.  By the time we lined up at the start, I was tired from the drive and not in a full “ready-to-go” state of mind.

Once we got going I knew it wasn’t my day.  I felt sluggish from the start and when the first hills came, I was already struggling.  I kept on as best I could, but I certainly wasn't feeling like a tough cowboy.  There was one point where a huge snake was in the road – but on closer inspection it became clear that it had been run over so was no threat.  They put a couple of misting stations at the top of the major hill climbs and those helped cool me briefly, but the warm sun also took its toll.  The race finishes along Tombstone’s Main Street – here’s a photo of my friend Steve O. cruising towards the finish:

 I finally crossed the line at 43:13, over a minute slower than last year.  I was 10th place overall, but only 5th in my 10-year age group.  The first and second overall were also in my age group, but the organizers do things their own way and allowed “double-dipping” this year.  So, the winners got several awards and this year I didn’t get a tombstone (last year I won a tombstone for overall masters male).  I didn’t mind too much because I really don’t think I ran very well anyway, but I always think that it’s silly to give multiple awards to the same people, and I think that races should have a no-double-dipping policy to spread the awards out.

After the race, we tried to get all the Tucson runners together for a group photo.  We missed a few but here are most of us.

Tombstone is known as “The Town Too Tough to Die”, and it is now a fun tourist attraction.  But I have to wonder about the race itself – is it too tough to die?  I’ve noticed a gradual attrition in the quality of the race as well as the number of attendees.  This year’s race had just 100 or so runners.  The organizers do not appear to be runners themselves, and the event is part of the larger Vigilante Days weekend.  The T-shirt quality has declined, and for the past 2 years they no longer post results to the web.  I enjoy the race, and would be sad but not be surprised if they decided to discontinue it.