Archive for the ‘race report’ Category

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#55 – Learning Lessons at the Striders Classic

29 April 2008

Start of the Striders Classic. I don’t know what’s up with guys putting hands on their butts!

It was a year in the waiting but I finally got to run the Striders Classic 10 mile road race. Last year I was signed up to run but wisely decided to withdraw due to a minor achilles injury. Ironically I’m currently recovering from a different injury, to my right hamstring, but it’s healed enough that I could handle a 10 mile training run.

The plan was to simply have fun and take it easy. Wednesday before the race I tested the hamstring on the treadmill and was happy to see that a 9:00 pace didn’t bother it. In fact, I even pushed it up to 8:00 for a while and then even 7:00 for half a mile, and the hammy was OK. After the 4 miles on the treadmill my hamstring was clearly fatigued, but not sore. So far so good.

In retrospect, however, that was problem number one – it had been a couple months since my legs were tested above an 8:30 pace and days before a 10-miler is no time for that. Live and learn, and learn I did…

Striders has a great reputation for well-organized, no-frills races that attract some quality runners and the 2008 Classic was no exception. Just $20 gets you signed up and when I arrived Saturday morning for registration all I received was a bib number and a polo shirt. Simply perfect! No plastic bag full of useless SWAG like sample packets of body lube, cheap water bottle designs from the 1980’s, hair scrunchies, toothbrushes, yucky-smelling lip balm, and countless tri-folds advertising races I have no intention of running… You get the idea. Yes, those are all examples of actual SWAG rotting (slowly) in the nearest landfill.

After relaxing for a while I headed into the high school restroom and when I emerged, the hallways were empty! It was still five minutes before the 8:00am start time, yet somehow all 262 runners disappeared to the start line within moments. I joined them and heard Steve Webster giving out instructions via bullhorn when I noticed that my bib was pinned crookedly (or “katty-wompus” as some would say) so I removed all four pins to straighten it out…

“30 seconds!!” yelled Steve. What?! It was 7:57 – I guess Striders doesn’t wait around. Hurriedly I fumbled to get my bib pinned back on and finally clipped the last safety pin (after bending it twice in my haste) when the race started. Unfortunately my bib was even more katty-wompus than before, but oh well – time to run!

Mile 1 of the Striders Classic.

My plan had been to start at a 10:00 pace and gradually speed up for a negative split, ideally finishing in 1:30-1:45. I was so busy taking a photo at the 1-mile marker that I forgot to check my time, but at two miles my time was just under 18:00 and that included 30-60 seconds stopped while taking a few photos. Dang, I was going too fast…

And I was thirsty already. That morning I forgot my water bottle that I usually drink from during the drive to the race. Just two miles into the race and I’ve already made four mistakes! Trained too hard on the treadmill, rushed at the start line, early pace too fast, and now already dehydrating!

Running past a farm where the cows wanted to race!

I consciously slowed down and when I reached the aid station I walked while drinking the water – to this day I still can’t drink from a cup while running without choking. Cruising along I often stopped to take more photos of the countryside but sadly many of them came out blurry. One of the blurred ones was this cute calf that was trying to race us, running through his paddock while being chased by his mom cow! Don’t know what got into the little guy but it sure was funny.

The “big” hill of the 10-mile course.

The course is advertised as being hilly but really it’s not that bad – just a rolling country road with one sorta large double-peaked hill. Finally I hit the turn-around of this out-and-back course in 46 minutes, just over a 9:00 pace. Definitely too fast as I hadn’t had a training run above that pace since injuring my hamstring in October. Mistake #5 – not realizing that when I meant to slow down, that I hadn’t slowed down.

Despite finally easing off the pace at mile five, it all caught up to me at six miles. I felt like crap – not bonky, but just tired. At the aid station I grabbed two large cups of water and walked for the next five minutes while drinking them. After putzing along for a while I decided to get back up to speed (if you can call a 10:00 pace “speed”) and definitely felt better.

With 2.5 miles to go I upped the pace a bit and still feeling good with two miles left, I nudged the throttle again. Around here is when I passed Lori Gaier – a softball teammate who was running her first ever 10 mile distance! She was just behind me until passing at mile 6, chiding me for walking by asking if my camera’s memory card was full and I couldn’t run anymore. 🙂 When I passed her at mile 8, she complained “I can’t believe you were walking and you’re still going to beat me!”

Lori finishes her first 10 miler! Congrats!

I managed to hold a 9:00 for the last two miles to finish in an official time of 1:35:37 – not bad considering all of my mistakes. Did I mention that Striders likes to keep it simple? There was no chip timing, instead just a volunteer ripping the tag off of my bib to record my placing in old-school fashion. Pretty cool, although it cost me 13 seconds due to starting at the back of the field. I guess that’s what you can call a “bib pinning penalty”!

That field was full of fast runners. The winner came home in under 55 minutes with 25 runners – almost 10% of the field – finishing in better than 1:05. The winners all got some cool prizes – no medals, but sweatshirts, gift certificates to Striders, and coffee mugs. Then another few dozen sweatshirts and gift certificate were raffled off in a random drawing of bib numbers. Someday, I swear, I will win a door prize at a race!

After the race I spent some time chatting with some of my co-workers who took part in the event: photogenic Dave Horne, Perry Cheathem, and Mike Mast. Our company is big enough that I don’t actually work with these guys, but thanks to running and/or softball I’ve had the chance to get to know them. I think I’ve met as many co-workers through those two sports as I have through the various programs I’ve worked on!

Telling my dad about the day he started laughing at all of my misfortunes and even teased me by asking if I’d ever run before. Truth is, though, I’ll never run a race where I don’t learn something. This is one of my favorite aspects about running – there’s always something more to learn, something new to discover, every time I put my feet in motion. At the Striders Classic this year, I learned a lot!

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#51 – Behind the Lens at the Irish Jig 5K

17 March 2008
Sunrise

Sunrise over Reeds Lake – I can’t believe folks are ice fishing after several days of 40+ degree weather!

One year ago I ran the 2007 Irish Jig 5K and surprised myself by notching a post-high-school PR. This year’s event would just be a training run for me, however, since my right hamstring is still not ready for any kind of speed.

Taking advantage of the relaxed pace I decided to carry a camera, inspired by the exploits of trail runner Scott Dunlap who takes photos during his races. One major difference between us is that when Scott ran a 5K just for fun, stopping to take photos along the way, he finished in 20:22! I can only match that time when being towed by a dog, and the 2008 Irish Jig saw me clock a pedestrian 28:53. But it was fun!

Gaslight Village

Downtown East Grand Rapids at sunrise.

I arrived before sunrise and had some time to wander around downtown East Grand Rapids to catch a couple photos of the beautiful morning. Sunny, yes, warm, no. Before the sun came up it was below freezing but once our part of the world got some solar radiation the air warmed to the lower 30’s.

Registration

Runners staying warm at the Irish Jig 5K registration.

After a while the chilliness motivated me to go indoors and join hundreds of other runners in the high school gym seeking out some warmth, or more importantly picking up our registration packets. Celtic Kilroy was already jamming away, keeping us entertained and setting a festive mood for the event.

Celtic Kilroy

Celtic Kilroy entertains the runners.

This year the Irish Jig was split into two races: a men’s race at 9:00 and a women’s race at 9:30. The guy next to me at the registration table was in a good mood despite being given a bib for the women’s race! Even though he checked the “M” box, he joked that from now on he’ll use his full name of “Patrick” instead of just writing “Pat” on the forms. Don’t worry, the volunteers got his gender changed in no time. 🙂

Starting Line

Green light indeed – runners waiting for the start of the race.

Around 8:45 I walked the quarter mile to the start line and did my best to keep my legs loose in the cold air. While doing a warm-up jog on a side street the race pack began moving forward! At first I thought I’d missed the starting horn but in fact they were just moving across the intersection to the official start line. I settled into position at the back of the pack just in time to hear the horn. We’re off!

After a quarter mile or so we turned to face directly into the rising sun. It did wonders for the ambiance of the race but it also made photography very difficult, especially with an inexpensive five year old camera. While making an attempt I heard someone shout behind me “Hey, Andrew’s taking pictures!” Who recognized me?

Dave Horne

Dave Horne smiling for the camera… while running backwards!

It was Dave Horne, one of my co-workers. He accelerated in front of me then turned around, running backwards and begging for a photo. Even though I couldn’t see the camera’s LCD screen due to the glare, I think Dave’s portrait turned out pretty well. Like me, he was nursing an injury (an achilles tendon that he partially detached from the heel bone while skiing – ouch!) and taking it easy. Unlike me, he’s very fast when healthy and still fast when injured; soon he was out of sight.

Around the one mile mark I noticed Don Kern running next to me. I first met Don at a book signing for Dean Karnazes two years ago – Don organized the small group of us that ran with Dean that night. Don is the race director of the Grand Rapids Marathon and an avid marathoner himself. I asked him what he was doing at a 5K and he assured me that he had a 17-mile run planned for the next day. He also told me that his “marathon a month” streak is up to 60 – five straight years of running at least one organized marathon every month! There’s a good reason they call him “Marathon Don”.

Shortly after chatting with Don I noticed a runner fly past in the opposite direction – the race leader! He was about 1/4 mile from the finish line. My watch read 11:00 and I was confounded; no way was someone going to set a world record in this event?! Then I remembered that almost 3,000 folks had signed up for the Irish Jig and I had started at the back, requiring a couple minutes before I reached the start line. Later I learned that the winner was Boaz Cheboiywo, who blazed an absolutely amazing 14:14, nine seconds faster than his winning time from 2007.

While trying to photograph the race leaders (unfortunately I was shooting into the sun and the photos didn’t come out well) another familiar voice called out – it was Lori Lenar, another co-worker who often spends her lunch break out running where we’ve often crossed paths on the sidewalks. We talked about the high number of women in the “men’s race” – it seemed like 20% of the runners were women. Laurie was a perfect example of why it can be a problem to split up a race by gender since she wanted to run with her husband and other friends.

Mile 2

The 2 mile marker… Just 1.1 to go!

Finally I reached the marker for mile 3 and once again I took a photo that didn’t turn out well… How does Scott Dunlap do it? I guess I have some learning to do about how to photograph while on the run. Somehow I resisted the urge to sprint to the finish but that was not easy – one of my favorite parts of a 5K is kicking the last 0.1 as fast as I can but my wisdom overcame my competitiveness, even when Lori dashed by vowing “I can’t let an injured runner beat me!”

By the time I returned the timing chip it was 9:31 and I was over a quarter mile from the start line, so I didn’t get a chance to watch the women take off. Luckily the half mile point was nearby so I booked over to that section of the course in time to get a photo of the race leaders. It’s amazing how much easier it is to take a photo when the sun is at my back and I’m not running!

Fast Women

The lead pack of the women’s race quickly approaching.

I wandered back over to the “feed zone” to grab some breakfast SWAG, then watched the finish of the women’s race. You can see how fast they were running – by the time they whipped around the corner into view I was barely able to get a shot of race winner Denisa Costescu as she flew by. She won in 17:33 to defend her title (she won the 2007 Irish Jig in 17:03!) with Laurel Park just nine seconds back. The two of them were well ahead of the rest of the field as third place didn’t finish until almost a full minute later.

Denisa Costescu

Denisa Costescu has the finish line – and victory – in sight.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to hang around since I was slated to staff the booth for 2 Feet 4 Paws and Vicky’s Pet Connection at the local community expo. Before leaving I made sure to grab a piece of cake – yes, the Irish Jig serves cake to its runners! I wore my new race shirt at the expo and about a dozen people recognized it and asked if I ran that morning. It was great to see that so many folks were out running!

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#36 – Running with the (Dog) Pack

23 October 2007

My favorite race of the year is Bailey’s Doggie Dash 5K, a cross-country run for owners and their dogs to benefit the Kent County Parks Foundation. It’s not a large race, usually drawing around 50 participants, but it’s very well organized and one of the best races around where you can run with your dog.

Haven and I first ran the Doggie Dash in 2005 as my first ever organized running event since high school. That year we finished 10th overall in 24:39 and won my age group by virtue of being the only one in my age group (after they pulled out the overall winner, who had tied the course record in 18:17). In 2006 we improved to 5th overall, dropping nearly two minutes off our time with a 22:42 finish and winning the age group, this time a “large” group of four runners. How would Haven and I fare this year?

Just last week I set a post-high-school 5K PR of 20:56 in the Harvest Hustle so I knew I was better prepared to keep up with Haven in this year’s Doggie Dash. But I also had a plan to use canicross tactics – rather than hold Haven’s leash in my hand, I instead tied it to a belt around my waist so Haven could help pull me along. Haven and I trained in this setup for a few weeks before the race to make sure we both felt comfortable. I learned that it was necessary to have some form of shock absorption so I clamped an automobile tie-down bungee between Haven’s harness and the leash – it worked like a dream.

Saturday morning arrived bringing perfect weather – mid 40’s, clear blue sky, and near-peak fall colors that yielded some stunning photos by Amanda. The Doggie Dash sports a Halloween theme with a dog costume contest judged by the local weatherman and registration SWAG handed out in trick-or-treat jack-o-lanterns.

I think Haven remembers previous races – when everyone began lining up for the start this year one guy took off on a warm-up jog and Haven must’ve thought the race had begun. Haven started screaming in anticipation as I tried to calm her down – it was so cute and she was getting lots of smiles from the crowd.

At last it was “Ready, set, GO!” and we were off! The race director pedaled a mountain bike ahead of the lead runner to give his dog something to chase, a very keen idea. Haven bolted full steam ahead and we quickly settled into fifth position. One of the most difficult sections of the course was the beginning because it was downhill and paved – with Haven full of energy dragging me downhill, it was all my legs could do to simply not let me fall flat on my face! My feet and legs took quite a pounding right off the bat.

Next we slogged through a scenic wide-open lawn that was saturated with water and then up a short road to a wooded picnic area. Just before reaching the one-mile marker Haven and I passed two racers who were fading after a quick start. 20 yards ahead was a guy who looked way faster than me but I sped up a bit to keep close to him so that Haven would have someone to chase.

She loved it, almost too much! Whenever we rounded a bend Haven tried to cut the corner inside the course flags – she wanted to intercept the runner we were chasing. I repeatedly had to remind Haven to follow the rules but she didn’t want to hear it. 🙂 Every turn we’d lose 5-10 feet on the guy ahead of us since I’d have slow up to pull Haven outside the marker flags, but then we’d hustle to regain the lost ground.

At the 1 mile mark I was shocked to see 6:20 on my watch! Haven was definitely doing her part and it was fun to still have the leader in sight although I knew it wouldn’t last. Down a slight hill the course turned off into a wooded section of singletrack for a 1/4 mile before heading out and around the beach playground. Here Haven kept trying to stop for a drink in the large puddles of water pooling in the sand. I obliged her at one of them and she tried to lie down in the water to cool off! Sorry Haven but we have to finish the race first!

After the beach we ran along a dirt road and then onto a paved loop that carried us through the park’s campground. We were still close to the #2 runner at the 2 mile mark – our second mile was run at a 6:30 pace! I was getting pretty excited but I also knew that one or both of us were going to hit the wall soon.

It wound up being Haven; shortly after the second mile we started losing contact with the guy ahead of us as Haven no longer had the energy to pull my weight. Running is hard when my dog isn’t helping! Haven and I ran side-by-side for the next half mile as her leash was now slack – she was just trotting but I was trying to run as hard as I could. Dogs were born to run; humans, not so much. 🙂

With about half a mile to go as we approached a long hill Haven began to fall behind. Going up the hill we reversed roles as I found myself trying to pull Haven along! I tried yelling “RABBITS!!” to her, a word that usually gets her all spooled up (she LOVES to chase rabbits) but she was to tired to care. Finally at the top of the hill we had just a 1/4 mile to go and I still couldn’t get her to pull even with me.

Even though I knew we were losing time quickly, this wasn’t my race – Haven was every bit a part of this effort and it wouldn’t be fair to speed up and drag her to the finish. I did keep the pace fast enough to maintain some tension – I figured I might as well help her out a bit without pulling so hard as to bunch the harness up around her head.

Finally in the last 100 yard grassy home stretch I tried another “RABBITS!!” but Haven was done, so we maintained our pace to the finish for a very satisfying 3rd place overall. Better yet was our time: 20:17! That was the second-fastest 5K I’ve ever run in my life, even though I had some help. My high school PR was 20:08 and my next-best teenage run was 21:13. Haven is my hero!

Seriously, Haven was the hardest-working dog at the race. Both runners who finished ahead of us had humans that were much more fit than I am while their greyhound-mix dogs were running alongside on a slack leash; i.e. the guys who beat us did so without the canine assistance that I needed. Some other dogs behind us were certainly pulling their owners, but at 195 pounds I was probably the heaviest human cargo to be mushed by any dog. Those greyhounds couldn’t have outrun Haven if I was dragging them down!

Post-race food was great – bagels, cookies, candy and cider for the humans and water and doggie biscuits for the canines. Naturally Haven got to eat first before I took a crack at the goodies as we watched the rest of the field finish with the song “Who Let the Dogs Out” blaring on repeat over the loudspeakers.

After everyone finished we were treated to a demonstration of frisbee dogs by Pawsitive Vybe‘s professional dog trainers Apryl Lea and Ron Sutton.  Spectacular show!  Six dogs (IIRC) displayed their talents and some of them were insanely good leapers and blazing runners.

Following the frisbee demo was the awards ceremony.  Some very nice handmade dog beds were raffled off and for the third year in a row, I didn’t win one.  One guy that did win a bed and a free pair of shoes was Ron Durham who drove all the way from the east side of Michigan.  The reason I mention Ron is because he adopted his golden retriever Kasey thanks to reading my blog!

Despite our 3rd place overall finish Haven and I wound up taking 2nd in my age group as the guy we’d been chasing for two miles is in my bracket.  In fact the overall winner Joel Bierling – who also won in 2005 and 2006 – is in my age group, too.  Men 30-35 were representin’ at the Doggie Dash!

There was no way I could’ve caught either of those fast runners, but in retrospect I probably could’ve helped Haven and I get a faster time if I’d managed Haven’s workload more effectively.  For the first mile there was nothing I could do but hang on for the ride, but mile 1.5 through 2.0 I should’ve quickened my pace a tad to ease the drag on Haven; that way she may have sustained her energy long enough to keep the both of us on the tail of the #2 finisher for another half mile until finally running the last half mile with a slack leash and not having to pull her.

Nevertheless, we ran an awesome race, had a ton of fun, and we’re already looking forward to the 2008 Doggie Dash!

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#35 – Winter is Near at the Harvest Hustle 5K

19 October 2007

Saturday, October 13 was a crisp morning, perfect for the upcoming Harvest Celebration in downtown Lowell. The opening act for the event was the Harvest Hustle 5K and I was signed up to race. 2007 was the 3rd annual running of the 5K and given that the course goes right past my house, I had to take part! Ironically I was completely unaware of the race for its first year, and last year I finally learned of it just two days prior so I merely spectated.

Complications began even before race day – Amanda was going to need our only car to volunteer with Vicky’s Pet Connection to assist at a Feral Cat Trap-In so I had to walk to the race! No big problem since the start was just a half mile away; in fact I jogged there to warm up. I did have to wear pants and a jacket in the chilly 40-degree air, which I left in my SWAG bag under a volunteer’s watchful eye at the registration area. Thanks!

While picking up my race bib I ran into Roger Bonga, a fellow Lowell resident but a much faster one – he’s a talented triathlete that I’ve seen at several 5Ks this year. He jokingly asked me if I was prepared to win; being a small race I was wondering if I could win my age group but as I would later find out, speedy Roger is in my age group… Doh!

By the time we started my hands were already painfully cold, but the rest of me felt pretty loose. The race begins with a half-mile straightaway due east into the rising sun before turning north to head up a steep, 80-foot-elevation hill. How cruel! But how fun, too. I passed three on the hill, the same hill I’ve run repeats on in the past for training. As I crest the hill I’m shocked to see Amanda standing at the corner with a camera! I guess she decided to be a bit late to volunteer so she could take a photo; I obliged her with a smiling wave.

West down the backside of the hill, which isn’t as steep, we then turn north for another long stretch through the old neighborhood of downtown Lowell. My hands were going numb already, but at least my brain and my legs were working. I realized that we were well past a mile – there weren’t any mile markers in this race – and I had no idea how fast I was going. At the end of the north-bound stretch is a small dirt road cul-de-sac for a turn-around. I spotted Roger solidly in third place; I was somewhere around the top 10.

Near this turn-around I was passed by a very young teenager and another guy about my age, and I could hear the breath and footsteps of a woman right on my tail. Heading south now I recalled on the course map that we should be turning west into a cemetery. The two ahead of me run straight, and I ask the lady if we’re supposed to turn. She confidently states that we should continue straight ahead and I figure she’s right; after all, who routes a road race through a cemetery when a neighborhood street runs right alongside?

Back at the next cross street the two ahead of me turn east, but by this point I know that we should be going west. I yell out to those two that they’re going the wrong way and they join the lady and me going the correct direction. I noticed that the volunteers who had been at that intersection directing runners on the way out had since disappeared. Later I learned that one runner went the wrong way and turned his 5K into a 4-miler… no fun.

The teenager, the guy, and the lady all decide it’s time to leave me in their wake. I still had no clue what pace we were holding but I was definitely feeling tired; I had to be close to max speed. The threesome had gained about 20 feet on me as we turned south onto the final long stretch, another half-mile street going due south. There was one more turn to the east but the finish line I knew had to be less than 100 feet after that turn, so finally I knew that there was just half a mile left to go.

I decided to push my luck early; usually I put in a strong finishing kick over the last 200 yards but this time I accelerated with the half mile yet to go and just hoped that I wouldn’t flame out. Within 100 yards I had regained the 20 feet to the threesome; once I pulled even I actually sprinted a bit to put some distance on them in the hopes that I would demoralize them rather than inspire them to hang with me!

Apparently my tactic worked – the sound of their footsteps faded and I was still feeling strong enough for a little kick to the finish. Just before hitting the intersection I went all out and leaned into the turn. Facing the finish line clock I was shocked to see the first two digits read “20”… no way! My previous PR was 21:07 back in March. Reflexively I sprinted the last 20 yards, glancing at the clock to confirm a new personal best of 20:56!!!

The lady finished a few seconds behind me as the first overall female, so I didn’t get “chicked” by anyone this time. When I saw her later walking a cute golden retriever, I went over to say hi to both of them and chatted for a bit. I told Tammy (the woman) and Gracie (the dog) about my plans for running the Bailey’s Doggie Dash 5K on October 20th with my dog Haven, and Tammy sounded quite interested so hopefully I can introduce Haven to Gracie this weekend. 🙂

Post-race food hit the spot: poppyseed muffins and apple cider. After hanging around to watch the rest of the runners and walkers finish, the organizers still hadn’t posted results. A volunteer informed me that they wouldn’t be posting results until later in the week on their website, but I wanted to at least confirm that I’d just run a PR. She agreed to check my time and confirmed the 20:56, but was very secretive about the results sheets, making me turn away while she looked them over. Weird.

Nevertheless, I had just run a PR despite not knowing my splits and having to conquer a big hill on the course. My other 5Ks this year have all been flatter, yet I ran this one the fastest! I’m just happy to have finally arrived under the 21-minute barrier.

The race was definitely fun – the local setting had some huge appeal, yet the organization left a lot to be desired. First, we started from inside the finishing chute, unnecessarily compressing the field. The roads weren’t closed to traffic, which was fine since nobody was out driving, yet a few runners and I did have to dodge a volunteer driving a gator cart driving in the middle of the street! Come on.

Of course the worst was that there were no volunteers directing traffic at several critical turns. Luckily even though most of the field (including myself) ran around instead of through the cemetery, the distance and terrain were the same so it made no difference. However, one runner missed another un-staffed turn and it wound up costing him an age group win.

After all of the participants had finished, it was another 30 minutes before the overall and age group winners were announced. How could it take them so long in a race with just 50 runners of widely-varying ability? They should’ve been able to post results in real-time as we finished. This race doesn’t use timing chips and has no need to, but I’ve run other races without chips that were scored quickly and easily.

I’ll certainly be back next year; I can’t pass up a race that runs past my house! Hopefully the organizers will work out their kinks and not continue to make rookie mistakes in the fourth running of the race. Once the brief ceremonies were over I had to jog back home, including running up that dang hill again! My legs were pretty beat by the time I staggered up my driveway, but I wasn’t done.

You see, I had to go join Amanda to help volunteer at the Trap-In. She had the car, which means I had to ride my bicycle on race-weary legs! It was brutal. 11 miles into a strong headwind the entire way. To make matters worse I forgot to check my tires and three miles into the ride I decided to add some pressure since the air was pretty low. My stupid portable bike pump broke and let all the air out instead! I had to force the pump onto the valve (it wouldn’t lock and seal) and manhandle some air back into the tires, which ended up being softer than before. A ride that would normally take me 45 minutes at a comfortable pace lasted over an hour. But I made it safe and sound, we raised lots of money for dogs and cats, and I was able to ride in the car at the end of the day.

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#32 – Fun and Frustration at The Bridge Run 5K

15 September 2007

Continuing my quest for a 20-minute 5K, I spent the morning in downtown Grand Rapids to race in The Bridge Run. The event sports both a 5K and a 10-mile run with most of the fast runners racing the longer distance, but that was fine with me. Under clear blue skies and unseasonably cool 45-degree temperatures the 10-milers lined up at 8am for the start of their race. I watched from the sidewalk since the 5K folks started at 8:10 and it was fun to see the speedy runners up close – you know, the ones who can run almost a 5:00 pace for 10 miles!

Soon enough it was 8:10am and I was running due north through downtown. I’m still no expert at pacing myself so I could only hope that I was hitting the 6:30 pace that I was targeting. The entire first mile is a straight shot north along a closed road, so it was a neat experience to run for so long in the same direction without having to navigate any obstacles like curbs, intersections, cars, etc. Unfortunately I never spotted the 1 mile marker so I couldn’t gauge my pace, but I later learned that it was at the turnaround.

Heading south now, the route carried us back along the road a ways before veering west across the 6th Street bridge and then down along the riverfront pathway. The mile 2 marker was at the entrance to the waterfront where I arrived at 13:50, a very disappointing 6:55 pace. I tried to speed up but my body wouldn’t have it – either I can’t run any faster, or the preceding two miles at that pace had ingrained that speed into my system. Shortly after the 2 mile marker an acute side stitch manifested itself and I got that fizzy/weezy feeling in my lungs. I was pushing as hard as I could.

Finally the finishing stretch came into view – it was about 100 yards of brick-paved street with barricades just like a big race despite there being just 700 runners combined in the two races. Stepping on to the bricks I accelerated into a finishing kick and noticed that I was gaining ground rapidly on the guy a hundred feet ahead of me. Involuntarily my legs flew into a full sprint (yes, I’m competitive) and I passed him just ten feet from the finish line. While that final kick was satisfying, seeing the clock read 21:33 was very disappointing.

For the time being I tried not to worry and focused on the food – a post race spread of 100% organic sustenance! I ate half an orange, an energy bar, two fruit-leather-type strips, an organic soda, and some water and enjoyed every bite and every sip. Organic food always seems to sit well with my stomach and taste buds! I didn’t have much time to enjoy it though as the elite 10-mile runners were due to finish soon and I wanted to grab my camera from the car to get some photos. I wound up jogging the half mile to and from the parking lot and made it to the corner of the home stretch just as the race winner, 2001 Michigan Runner of the Year Kyle Baker, cruised past. I hurriedly yanked the camera out of its case and managed to snap a shot just after Baker crossed the line as the #2 runner pulled into view.

I hung out at the finish for a while watching a couple co-workers finish the 10-miler while I chatted with another acquaintance. After a while I wandered around the food tents just taking in the crisp, sunny morning and watching more runners. Then my frustration set in as I thought about my race. In March I ran a 21:07 5K but since then have run four races at 21:26, 21:37, 21:45, and now today 21:33. I was hoping that today’s cooler weather would help, but apparently such speed was not in the cards for me. Once they posted the results I was even more vexed – I just missed winning my age group by 10 seconds! It’s not very often that I have a chance to win anything in a running race and this one had certainly been within reach.

Well, I tried. I have to wonder, though: 1) Couldn’t I have run 10 seconds faster? 2) Will I ever approach 21 minutes again? 3) Will I ever reach my 20 minute goal? 4) Did running a marathon a month ago slow me down? Hopefully all those can be answered with “yes”. In the meantime, it looks like I’ll be doing more speedwork…

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#29 – Fallsburg Trail Marathon

19 August 2007

Although I’ve been focusing on shorter races this year, I couldn’t pass up the chance to run a trail marathon in my backyard! The Fallsburg Marathon uses the same roads and trails that I train on, including the two covered bridges of my “explore the countryside” trek in April. In fact that countryside 16-miler was my longest run of the year until two weeks ago when I decided I better gauge my fitness for the marathon by doing another 16 mile run. I decided I was fit enough to finish a trail marathon, but definitely not with a fast time – I estimated a finish time of between 5 and 6 hours.

Runners feeling fresh and having fun at the start of the Fallsburg Marathon.

The weather couldn’t have been better! It was sunny and 55 degrees at the start, warming to an overcast 70 degrees later in the afternoon. The Fallsburg Marathon started and finished at Fallasburg Park (yes, they’re spelled differently and no, I don’t know why!) It was a rather small event despite offering three race distances – marathon, half-marathon, and an 8K with about 20-40 runners in each event – but nobody was complaining about the low turnout. In fact, I thought it was more enjoyable with its laid-back and extra-friendly atmosphere. Most runners were local and I was probably the most local of them all, but a few runners were from out of state – I met representatives of Wisconsin, Kansas, and even California!

 

Crossing the Flat River – the field in the background was the home stretch before the finish.

The SWAG was pretty sweet, too – as a full marathon runner I received a t-shirt, a hooded pullover sweatshirt, and instead of a traditional finisher’s medal I was handed a bath towel printed with the words “Fallsburg Marathon Finisher” – very cool! The 8K race was dubbed the “Wimpy” to poke fun at the runners who declined to go 13.1 or 26.2 but the 8K’ers got the coolest t-shirt, featuring Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons.

Crossing the Fallasburg Covered Bridge – this was the second loop, thus no other runners nearby.

Within the first 1/4 mile all racers found themselves crossing the Fallasburg Covered Bridge and then staring at a long climb on the paved road. At mile 2.5 was the first aid station which also served as the turn-around for the 8K runners – for them it was almost all uphill for the first half and then downhill on the return. It wasn’t until mile 4 that pavement gave way to dirt road for the next three miles.

Descending a long hill enroute to crossing the Flat River.

This dirt road section was quite flat until just after crossing White’s Covered Bridge, where a towering hill loomed in front of us. I chose to walk up it and was able to keep pace with most of those were maintained a running stride.

Crossing the White’s Covered Bridge just before tackling a major climb.

Once at the top the hills didn’t stop – the surface switched to pavement again for a little over a mile but there were two large hills to tackle during that stretch. Lots of runners were surprised by the terrain; I kept hearing comments such as “I thought Michigan was flat!”

The unusually large rolling hills of rural west Michigan!

Finally after 8+ miles of running we finally turned off-road onto the trails! I had maintained a very constant 10:00 pace over the first 7 miles and it started slipping to an 11:00 pace by mile 10, which I held through the trail section and into the start/finish where I crossed the 13.1 mile mark in 2:19, good for a 10:37 first half pace. That was about what I expected; however what I hadn’t expected was that my heart rate was about 150-160 during that time. I should’ve been at 150 or below, ideally 140, at such a slow pace; in fact I’ve done some training runs at a 9:00 pace where I maintained a 150 HR, so I was a bit concerned.

An example of the beautiful trails that were part of the marathon course.

The concern was apparent at mile 14 when Amanda did a video interview of me running while she drove alongside in the car. I can be heard saying “I’m kinda tired” after warning Amanda to watch out for the mailbox that she almost hit! Filming and driving simultaneously can be difficult! Amanda had a busy day herself as she met me on the course at least a dozen times to snap some photos and even serve as my support crew when necessary.

Cruising along the North Country Trail about three hours into the race.

Just before mile 15 I hit the trails again, this time the section North Country Trail that I’ve run dozens of times in the past, especially with my dogs. It would’ve been fun to have had the dogs to keep me company but as it was, the next three miles went by rather quickly thanks to my familiarity with the trail. I was definitely slower, keeping an 11:00-12:00 pace (by running a 10:00 pace and taking occasional walking breaks) through mile 18.

Walking for a bit to recover some energy for the stomach and the legs.

However, I was feeling very fatigued so I decided to walk the entire mile between 18 and 19 – it helped, but not as much as I’d hoped and I was beginning to really struggle. I ran a bit after mile 19 but my stomach felt nauseous and my legs were extremely painful, probably due to the swelling of being on my feet for so long. I staggered for a couple miles and saw my hopes of a sub-5:00 marathon disappear, and soon again a 5:15 finish became unrealistic. Miles 21-23 were the worst as I was unable to drink much and my legs began to stiffen up.

Feeling pretty crappy as I shuffle along.

Around mile 24 I decided on another extended recovery walk and this time it did wonders for me! I jogged down that very first hill I’d climbed some five hours earlier and before embarking on the last 1.2 miles of trail, I was greeted by some barking – Haven and Beacon! During our earlier rendez-vous Amanda and I arranged for her to pick up the dogs and when I met Amanda at mile 25 I traded my water bottle for a leash that had Haven attached to it!

The volunteers did a great job marking the trail with chalk dust.

Excitedly she dragged me down the trail and her “assistance” felt pretty good! As soon as we were far enough from the road I let her off leash to go sprint the trails and wade in the river. I’d recovered enough to maintain a 10:00 pace over the last 1.2 miles and even managed to pass a runner in the last half mile. I put Haven back on the leash – she may have towed me the first time, but I had to do the pulling across the finish line as Haven tried to socialize with spectators, Amanda and Beacon among them. We crossed the line in 5:31, “good” for 19th out of 22 marathon runners. At least I wasn’t last!

Crossing the finish line with Haven in tow!

Boy was I worn out but there was still plenty of food left – it reminded me of a picnic, with hot dogs, grilled chicken, watermelon, pop, water, popsicles and even a cake! I chilled for a while with Amanda and the dogs, snacking on some of the grub and thanking the race director and the volunteers. What a fun day! I was really looking forward to spending the rest of the evening on the sofa!

It felt great to get an epic long run under my belt for this year. Clearly I was under-trained but I knew that going in; however, I was surprised at the effect. I’m not sure why my heart rate was so high, but my stomach and legs weren’t used to having to function for so long under so much stress, and that’s just what a long run is supposed to prepare you for.

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#28 – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

11 August 2007

Deep in the heart of central Michigan farm country is Sleepy Hollow State Park, a splendid network of trails surrounding Lake Ovid. A hundred or so scantily-clad folks congregated here this morning, drawn here by The Legend. The legend of Ichabod Crane? The headless horseman? How about a trail run?

Why yes, these people were runners, searching not for a lost head (although some would argue otherwise!) but rather a win, a personal best, or just an enjoyable run through the woods. I joined the crowd at the start line despite waking up late (6:00 am) for the one-hour drive, showing up with 15 minutes to spare. The Legend is actually two races: a 5-mile trail run and a 10-miler that begins ten minutes later. This race is hosted by Running Fit, the same company that organized the Road Ends trail run that I ran earlier this spring.

I was tempted to run the 10 mile edition since it scenically circumnavigates Lake Ovid but with the Fallsburg Marathon coming up next weekend I didn’t want to overdo it. My goal today was simply a 40-minute 5-miler, just as I’d done at Road Ends. Things started off pretty well as my first mile passed by in a surprisingly fast (for me) 7:14 and although I was feeling good, I knew that this was a bit too quick. Sure enough, mile 2 arrived at a perfect 8:00 pace and I concentrated on maintaining my rhythm on the winding dirt trails.

Compared to the hilly and rocky trails of Road Ends, the trails here at The Legend were much flatter (with one big hill) and features countless sharp turns and exposed tree roots. In fact I did stumble twice but managed to stay upright. My face also took a couple blows from overhanging tree branches and I had to duck dozens of others – I noticed that my shorter competitors did not require such maneuvering! My lower back is a bit sore now, presumably from all of the bending to duck the attacking leaves.

But that is what makes trail running so much fun! Mile 3 went by at a 8:07 pace but I was feeling very fatigued at this point. I never figured out why – perhaps the poor night’s sleep, or running five miles yesterday, or starting out too fast, or maybe the heat of a warm, humid morning? All of the above? Well it doesn’t matter during the race – no excuses – and by this time I was getting passed quite regularly, about a dozen times in all. I knew I’d slowed down a bit, but was appalled to see mile 4 arrive at a 8:50 pace!

What a downer. I was going to need a sub-8:00 final mile to break 40 minutes and I was still feeling like crap. It’s frustrating… I tried to speed up and I just couldn’t. Coming down the home stretch I did my best to turn on a finishing kick but that last mile proved to be too slow and I crossed the line at 40:20.

Results aren’t online yet but they were posted at the race – I finished 25th overall, 21st male, and 4th in my age group. I think there were about 50 runners in the 5 mile. The overall winner was Ian Forsyth, a former Michigan Runner of the Year who dominates most races he enters, and he finished in 27+ minutes! A 5:31 pace! I don’t think I can even run one mile at that speed!

Despite missing my time goal, it was still a great race. The trails were a ton of fun and there was a great spread of post-race food. Better yet, not only was my wife Amanda there but also my newlywed brother Ryan and his wife Megan, plus her mom Sue and her little dachshund Mini. I actually had a cheering section! Megan grew up in the area and used to work at Sleepy Hollow during high school. We had fun chatting in the shade as we watched the finishers from both races cross the finish line and occasionally indulged Mini with a bite or two of some of the food. 🙂