Monday, February 11, 2002

RR Birmingham Marathon

Mercedes Marathon
Birmingham, AL

This trip/race fell into place because I wanted to run one more marathon before taking a few weeks off for a ski trip to Colorado. Initially I had planned to go to a race in Myrtle Beach, SC but when I met up with my friends from the 50 States Club at Disney, Edson, my friend from NYC indicated that he was going to run the inaugural marathon in Birmingham. I decided to run that race instead and share a room with Edson.

That meant leaving my sports manager behind but she didn’t mind since it was only going to be a one-night trip. Besides she slipped up in her duties at the Ocala Marathon last weekend! She slept in and didn’t get to the finish line until after I had finished? But you have to remember that sports managers have a tough job. They have to travel all over the country and world going to places that they may not want to visit. They always have to eat pasta (or Italian) the night before the race even if they don’t feel like it! They sometimes have to get up at 3am to drive the runner to the start line and wait around until the race starts to take his warm-up clothes. But mostly they just pull the covers over their head when the runner rises at 5am and tries to dress in the dark so as not to wake them as he slips out into the dark to walk to the start line! And then they MUST be at the finish line to cheer the runner in and take a finish photo. The real good sports mangers will also appear at various spots along the course to cheer the runner on but that type of manager is difficult to find (especially after 100+ races). Typically they stay in bed or go back to bed right after the start while the poor runner is out there on the course busting his ass. And then they will be upset and look for sympathy because they have to wake up (again) in 3 hours and hustle out to the finish line before the runner finishes. Yes sirree – a tough job! So I took pity on my sports manager and gave her the weekend off.

I arrived in Birmingham late Saturday afternoon and headed straight to the Sheraton Hotel and race registration. I had to check to make sure that I had arrived in Birmingham, AL and NOT Birmingham, England because the first two runners that I met at registration were friends from London, England! Small world – especially for runners! After picking up my race package I found Edson and we decided to go to the race pasta party. We don’t normally go to those dinners but they were offering a great pasta buffet at the McWane Center followed by a free movie at the Imax Theatre. The movie was about the Shackleton expedition to Antarctica and the spectacular scenery brought back fond memories of our marathon adventure to Antarctica. During dinner we met up with another friend, Don Lang, from the 50 States Club and my English mates again.

Sunday was M-Day. Do I ever like these kinds of races. The start line was right in front of the Sheraton so Edson and I slept in until 6am and then walked out the front door at 6:55am and strolled over to the start line. No lining up for a porta-potty or freezing our butts off waiting for the gun to go off! We lucked in with the weather. It was supposed to be cool and rainy but instead it was cool and sunny at the 7am start. It warmed up for the next hour but then became overcast and cooled off again. The only negative weather factor was a strong wind that always seemed to blow INTO our face no matter which direction we ran? We got off to a fast start – first mile in 7:59! We wisely slowed down to an 8:10 pace over the next 4 miles. Edson and I ran together until 5 miles and then he dropped back and I never saw him again until he crossed the finish line about nine minutes behind me. We had looked at the course profile the night before. The course was very hilly with lots of BIG hills staring at mile 6 and continuing all the way through to mile 23 with the toughest/biggest hills in the first half. At mile 5 I felt that the pace was too fast but the hills soon corrected that problem. From mile 9.5 to 11 we climbed the toughest BAH (Big-ASS Hill) of the course. I had forgotten how big the hills in Birmingham are! I pushed as hard as I could up that BAH and still could only manage a 9:30 pace. I was able to make up some time running down the backside of that BAH and crossed the half in 1:50:54.

I still felt OK but was concerned about how much toll those hills had taken on my legs. I had really wanted to break 3:40 in this race but that meant that I would have to run negative splits i.e. run the 2nd half faster than the 1st. This is difficult enough to do on a flat, fast course but I still had another 10 miles of hills ahead of me. But what the hell –give it a try - at least to mile 20 and then reevaluate! The challenge became very difficult at mile 15 when the course turned directly into the wind for the next 5 miles. And my right leg started to hurt for the first time in the race. But it was only a MINOR pain/discomfort and the massage/pressure trick on the IT band got rid of it. Fortunately I found a big, fast runner who was running an 8:20 pace and tucked in behind him until mile 19. At that point we had to climb another big hill and he faded. As I pulled out to pass him I thanked him for being a great windbreak for 4 miles and continued to push on.
Mile 20 – 2:49:02! A quick calculation determined that I would have to run exactly an 8- minute pace with a sprint at the end to beat 3:40! Not likely to happen with still more hills and a strong head wind to overcome. Just as I was making a decision to back off the pace a ‘grayhead’ (a runner with gray hair who looks like he is in my age group) blew by me. Heh! – What’s this shit! I ain’t letting some old fart beat me at this point of the race!
So I tucked in behind him with a strategy to stick close and pick my time to make a move. It didn’t take long as we approached another hill at mile 21 and he stopped to walk. I passed him and continued to push hard for the next few miles to kill any silly notion/incentive he might have to try to catch me again.

Mile 24 –3:23:06. No way in hell I can break 3:40 - BUT – if I continue to push hard I can still run a negative split which is something I haven’t done in years! I am hurting but still feel good! (Only runners will understand that oxymoron). The pace drops to 8:14 over the next mile. I can taste that negative split now! Push harder – hurt more! Remember those famous words by Maddog “PAIN IS TEMPORARY – MEMORIES ARE FOREVER!” I am blowing by people on the final mile who are clapping and congratulating me on a great finish – that keeps the juices flowing and the legs churning. I am again rewarded with my fastest mile of the race – a 7:52! As I approach mile 26 I see another ‘grayhead’ about 100 feet in front. Can I do it? Only 285 yards left in the race and he has 100 feet on me! I am gaining but is there enough distance/time left? I don’t think there is anyway I can push the body faster?
I beg/plead for the old bod to find some more speed. I believe I ran that last 285 yards on pure 100% adrenaline as I caught and passed ‘grayhead’ 50 feet before the finish line and continued to charge across the finish line in 3:40:44! I almost collapsed as I crossed the finish line and my right hip/leg was screaming at me in pain for that maniacal push but the pain faded quickly to be replaced with the memory of my accomplishment!

Later when I checked the results I discovered that ‘grayhead’ was indeed in my age group and I had beaten him - but only for 4th place. 3rd place had run a 3:29 so neither of was in contention for an award or silverware. But I didn’t care. I was very, very happy with my performance and time. I had run negative splits (1:50:54 and 1:49:50) for the first time in many years. And most importantly my right leg had experienced very little pain during the race and I am optimistic that it is finally healing?

Nicole and I are leaving on Tuesday for Colorado. I plan to ski a lot with our son Jason and do very little running for two weeks which should give the leg lots of time and rest to heal properly. And my next marathon is not scheduled until March 24th in Thailand so it will have an additional 6 weeks of rest from racing.

But back to Birmingham. The course is tough as described but the race was well organized and supported for an inaugural race. There were water and time clocks every mile and the locals were very supportive along the course. There was a great post-race party at the Sheraton. I don’t normally go to the award ceremony but I had a late afternoon flight and nothing to do so went to the party. There was lots of food, beer and entertainment. After the wards were completed at 1pm there were only about 30 runners left to drink the last keg of free beer and believe me we made a gallant effort.
I give the race high marks!

Monday, February 04, 2002

RR Ocala Marathon

Race Report
Ocala Marathon
Ocala, FL

I decided to go back to Ocala since I had run such a great race last year and finished in 3:26 - my fastest time last year. When I had finished a summer of hard training in the mountains of Colorado last year I was in great shape and planned to go back to Ocala and beat 3:25. But the constant injuries to my right leg that started last fall unfortunately killed that idea. However the latest treatments seemed to be helping and I had been able to run one tempo run last week - my first in several months.Ocala is about 140 miles north of Sarasota. It is the location of Florida's thoroughbred horse industry and the area is much different from Sarasota and South Florida. It has lots of rolling hills -yes, there are actually some hills in FL although they aren't big - and huge pine trees. The horse ranches are similar to those in Kentucky - miles of white fences along the roads. It is very scenic.It is a small local race with a marathon (250 runners) and a half (another 350 runners). But it is well managed.The race had been designated as a regional meeting for the 50 States Club and there were about 60 members of the club that showed up so I managed to meet many of my colleagues.Last year the weather was miserable - cold and rainy. But this year it was sunny and a pleasant 46 degrees at the 7am start. The course starts in the parking lot of the town mall and winds through horse country southeast of the town. There are lots of rolling hills but they are not big and I actually enjoy that type of course because I get to use all my leg muscles instead of suffering from the constant strain and 'muscle memory lock' of a flat course. I was lined up on the start line and looking around to see if I could spot my friend Marty from Lake Mary, FL (remember the guy who beat me by 30+ seconds at Disney?). As I was walking back into the pack the gun went off so I had to turn around and take off with the pack. First mile - 8:34. That was right on pace. I knew that 3:25 was out of the question. With all the damn injuries and lack of hard training the past few months any thought of a sub - 8 minute pace would be folly. But the leg had felt a bit better last week so I was hoping that I could at least get my finish time back down below 3:45. By mile 4 I had settled into an 8:20 pace which felt comfortable . My right hip started to ache a little but some massaging and pressure on the IT Band reduced the pain to a dull throb.The miles kept clicking by comfortably at 8:20s and I cruised across the half in 1:49:35 - the first time I had run the half under 1:50 in a long, long time. I still felt good and decided to hold that pace until my body told me otherwise. It didn't take long. At mile 15, I began to feel that if I tried to hold that pace till the end I would probably pay dearly in the last 10K. Besides my right hip started to flare up again and the massaging trick was not reducing the pain. So I decided to back off to 8:35 to 8:45s until 20 miles and reevaluate. About mile 17 a very pretty, long-legged lass about half my age blew past me and jokingly asked me to join her. "I'm only running an 8:20 pace - you can keep up to me" - she shouted. As I sadly watched her cute little buns leaving me behind I momentarily considered catching up and running with her but wisely decided to run my own race.20 miles -2:49:35! I did my customary gut check and was pleased to find that the old bod had indeed replenished some glycogen/energy during my slower pace so I decided to push again. I lowered the pace to 8:30. At mile 21 I spotted Ms Blonde Long Legs about one-quarter mile ahead and resolved to reel her in. I dropped the pace some more. Now my whole body was starting to hurt but it masked or overrode the pain in the right hip and it never bothered me again during the last 10K.It took me 3 miles but finally I passed her at 24 miles and sadly had to leave those cute little buns behind. I was determined that she would not pass me again so continued to push to mile 25 - 2:32:20! I knew that a sub 3:40 was not possible and was about to back off the pace when I noticed a few 'gray heads' about one-quarter mile in front of me. Oh Hell! Why not try to catch them? They just might be in my age group. I figured that I probably had no chance to place in my age group since my 3:26 last year was only good enough for 2nd place - but - I might as well try eliminate them anyway. So I begged the old bod to give me everything it had left and surprisingly it responded with my fastest mile of the race - a 7:53! I passed the last gray head at mile 26 and continued to sprint across the finish line in 3:41:51. It isn't a fast or great time but I was very pleased that I had run a smart race and felt good all the way. The right leg had some minor pain throughout the race but was much improved compared to the last few races. And you can imagine how surprised I was when I read the race results to learn that I had finished in 1st place in my age group (Old Farts!). I guess the competition didn't show up? And then another pleasant surprise - Marty came struggling across the finish line behind me - I had reclaimed my championship! However I get a chance to lose it as early as next weekend when I meet up with our other friend (Edson from NYC) at the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, AL.So I have to get back to training, continue the treatments on my leg which seem to be helping and prepare to defend my championship. I also plan to return to Ocala next year to defend my age group award. It is a small but very well-managed race and I believe that most runners would enjoy it.