Monday, January 30, 2006

RR - Miami Marathon

Race Report
ING Miami Marathon
Sun, Jan 29/06
# 255
3:33:36 - 3AG

I planned this marathon as another training run/marathon in my training program to reach peak shape for the inaugural Sarasota Marathon in March. The Everest Marathon and trip had set my training program back by about two months because of the lack of training during the trip and the illness following the trip. But the good news was that all that rest had enabled me to finish 2005 healthy and injury-free.

Miami was to be the first marathon in the program that I would ‘race’. I had two goals:
1) to run the first 20 miles at a sub 8-min pace
2) to finish in 3:35 -/+ 5 minutes

I set out on Sat morning to drive to Miami. I drove south past Naples and across ‘Alligator Alley’ to SoBe (South Beach). The trip is about 240 miles via Interstate/Freeway and Alligator Alley is a 90-mile Toll way across the Florida Everglades with no cops so I was able to let the Allante/red rocket loose and it refused to go under 100mph on the Toll way. I arrived in SoBe in 3:15! I had booked a cheap hotel in SoBe – the Henrosa! It was located on Collins Ave in the Heart of SoBe and one block from the beach. A bargain at $108/night compared to $300 that a friend paid for a Marriott Courtyard one block from the start line in downtown Miami! And I was sharing the cost with Frank- a friend from Siesta Key who I guided through the Boston Marathon in 2005 after he had his quadruple bypass. He was running the Half. If we overlooked the holes in the wall, the cracked and peeling paint and the mold in the bathroom it was a luxury room in a great location!

After checking into the hotel I drove to the convention center in downtown Miami to pick up our race packets and quickly remembered why I hate Miami. It is too big, too congested, too hard to find your way around and too expensive!
I ran the inaugural Miami Marathon in 2003 and remembered how poorly organized that race had been. Thankfully they had resolved and improved many of the issues. The registration/packet pick up was well organized. The expo had some good exhibits and vendors with good discounts – I spent over $100 on tights and race shorts that I needed.
Loaded down with my goodies it was time to return to our luxury hotel to meet Frank. He had been attending a medical conference in Ft. Lauderdale and drove down from there.
We were to meet another friend and member of the MTC (local running club) for dinner. Gerald’s family lives in the Miami area so he brought his whole family to join us for a traditional pasta dinner at a restaurant in SoBe. We enjoyed a great dinner and wonderful company. But it was time for the two old farts to retire to bed early since the 6am start meant a 4am wake-up call.

Frank was worried about getting a taxi to the start line around 5am. No need to worry! When we left the hotel about 4:45am Collins Ave was buzzing with people still partying or arriving back at their hotels after partying all night. Our luxury hotel was located near the 6-mile mark of the course so it was a short ($18) taxi ride to the start line. That was still a better option than trying to drive into downtown Miami and find parking near the start line. There were two races – a Marathon with 6,000 runners and a Half with 8,000 runners. Both races started at 6am in front of the AA Arena on Biscayne Ave. There were two holding pens/chutes – the marathoners lined up in corals on the east side of the road and the half marathoners on the west side.

It was dark and a typical winter morning in Miami – a temperature of 70F and 70% humidity. The good news was that there was a 20mph wind to make it feel cooler and the forecast called for cloudy skies and a high of 75F so it wouldn’t get much hotter during the race! In the inaugural race 3 years ago there weren’t enough Porto-Johns and I barely made it to the start line and had to jump into the last coral. I was determined not to let that happen this year. I was seeded in the 2nd coral and snuck into the 1st coral with the Big Dogs. Even so when the race started we were boxed behind 1000+ runners and it took 8:30 to reach mile 1. However the course opened up as we crossed the Macarthur Causeway to SoBe and I passed mile 3 in 23:59. The 20mph wind coming off the Atlantic Ocean was in our faces so I tucked in behind a group of runners and drafted until we headed west across the Venetian Causeway back to the mainland. I reached mile 10 in 1:17:49! I was on pace and felt good. At mile 12 I passed two old farts who looked like they were in my age group and I pushed the pace to leave some distance between us and passed the Half in 1:42:59. I knew then that I couldn’t run that same pace for the 2nd Half but decided to hold my sub 8-min pace till 20 miles and do another gut check.

I passed mile 16 in 2:05:54 but by mile 17 my legs started to tire and my pace slowed to 8:10s over the next 3 miles. However I still reached mile 20 in 2:38:40. I had achieved my 1st goal! There was no need to do a gut check – my legs were screaming at me that they were sore and tired and had no more 8-min miles left in them! I figured that if I slowed to an 8:30 pace I could still beat 3:35 so I decided to run easy for the next two miles to see if my legs could recover? That strategy only lasted till mile 21 when one of the old farts I had passed at 12 miles blew by me. Maddog wasn’t ready to accept that crap so he responded by lowering the hammer and catching the guy near mile 22. I ran beside him for about ½ mile and learned that he was a Canuck from Halifax, NS – and he was 68 years old!!! We had lowered the pace to 8 min/mile so I told him that he would win his age group, wished him “Good Luck” – and I am almost embarrassed to admit this – but I dropped back and let him go because I knew I couldn’t hold that pace for another 4 miles.

I decided to try to keep him in sight in case he faded before the finish line. I actually owe him some thanks because I would never have run as fast as I did over the last few miles if I hadn’t been trying to stay with him. My strategy almost worked as he faded and I closed within 100 feet at mile 25. But then – WHAM – I ran into that invisible WALL that many runners talk about. Almost knocked me flat on my ass!
There was absolutely nothing left in my legs! From experience I knew that energy fumes and sheer willpower would carry me the final mile. So I sucked it up and accepted the pain but it was a lonnnnnnnggggggg and painful mile at a 9:20 pace to cross the finish line in 3:33:36. I had to be satisfied with my time because I achieved my 2nd goal but I was not happy with my performance. I was hurting – my legs were stiff and sore – confirmation that I am not yet in peak condition and not yet ready or capable of breaking that mystical 3:30 BARRIER!
There were no race results posted at the finish line (?) but I later learned that I had finished in 3rd place in my age group and I was happy that my Canuck friend had indeed won his age group. Hope I can run a 3:32 when I am 68? My only disappointment came when I checked my past logs and discovered that I had finished the race exactly 20 seconds slower than 3 years ago. Damn – I am getting slower!!!

Frank was waiting at the finish line. He had finished the Half in 2:09:27 and he was not happy either because he got boxed in for the first 3 miles and it took 36 minutes to reach mile 3! We returned to our luxury hotel for a hot shower. I really wanted a hot soak in a tub but our luxury room did not have a tub? After a shower we walked over to Miami Beach for a photo op and to check out the young hot bods and naked breasts. There were some of each! It was time to return home. The red rocket made the return trip to Sarasota under 3 hours so I could jump in the hot tub for a much-needed soak and a few beers.

Now my concern is whether my legs can recover during the next week to ‘race’ another training marathon next weekend in Ocala, FL. The weather should be better/cooler but the course is tougher. I have run this marathon a few times and like the course – narrow, two-lane roads with lots of rolling hills through the horse country of Florida. I don’t believe I am ready to break 3:30 yet and I know I will have to fight for every minute – even ½ minute – as I try to get closer to the mystical barrier!

Stay tuned for the next report!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Race Report-Orlando Xtreme Marathon

Race Report
Orlando Extreme Marathon
Orlando, FL
Sat, Jan 21/06
3:42:45 - 13th OA - 2nd AG

The only reason I considered running this marathon was because I needed to run a long, fast training run as part of my training program to get in peak shape by March 5/06 for the inaugural Sarasota Marathon. I had planned to run the Gulf Coast Marathon in Clearwater, FL on the same date but it was changed to a Half Marathon because of road construction. Thus I searched for an alternative race/marathon that I could drive to and found the Orlando Extreme Marathon – described as an ‘off road’ or trail marathon. I really don’t like trail marathons and was not ready to run another one so soon after Everest but it was the only choice available. The decision was cemented when a running mate – Peter Graham - from the 100 Marathon Club (UK) emailed to say that he was running the Rock & Roll Marathon in Phoenix, AZ on Jan 15 and was looking for a Florida marathon to replace the Gulf Coast Marathon that he had planned to run. Peter is one of many Brits attempting to run all 50 States and wanted to run two states on the same trip. We decided to run the Extreme Marathon together.

Peter arrived in Sarasota on Tue night to spend a few days with us. On Wed I asked a running friend from Siesta Key – Frank (the only other sane person in the world) – to guide us on a 6-mile running tour around Siesta Key including Siesta Beach. Unfortunately we were experiencing a cold front so there were no young hard bods on the beach to enjoy. On Thu Peter and I toured Sarasota before visiting Myakka State Park since he had only seen alligators in a zoo. I tried to convince him to wrestle a wild alligator like Tarzan but he refused? On Fri we drove across the state to Titusville. Our hotel in Titusville was the close to the St Johns National Wildlife Refuge and the Orlando Wetlands Park where the marathon was held. Titusville is also next door to the Kennedy Space Center so Peter and I decided to visit the Space Center for a few hours on Fri afternoon. We didn’t have time to do a lengthy tour but did visit some exhibits and toured a replica of the Space Shuttle. The Shuttle is much bigger than it looks on TV!

The cold front had departed and the weather turned sunny and HOT! The forecast called for temps in the mid 80s on Sat! On Fri afternoon we drove out to Christmas, FL where the Orlando Wetlands Park is located to make sure we knew where the race started and determine how long it would take to get there. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30 am on Sat. We arrived at the Park at 7 am because we still needed to pick up our race packets. We figured it would only take a few minutes since it was a small race? Unfortunately the race was poorly organized and the first of many problems surfaced. There was only one race volunteer handling race day registration and packet pick up so we had to wait in line while people registered for the race! We finally got our race numbers about 7:20 am and had to rush back to the car because the start for the marathon was supposed to be about 1 mile from the finish/registration area. We were in such a rush that we couldn’t prepare properly – I didn’t have time to put enough sun block on – I forgot my sunglasses, etc. We did make it to the start line in time – but the race did not start on time. There were four races – a Marathon, Half, 5K and 10K. All four races used the same course – a 6-mile loop around the Park. The races started simultaneously at four different locations on berms around the Park and many runners could not find their proper start location so the common start was delayed. I was already upset because nobody could tell us when the races would start and if we had time to go back to the car for sunglasses and sunblock. The races finally started at 8 am with the sun already up and a temp of 70 F! That 30-minute delay was very bad news. It meant that I would not have time to drive back to the hotel for a shower because the hotel required that we check out by 12 pm. It also meant that we would be finishing later in the day in and the temps would be hotter!

There were about 50 runners in the Marathon. I started out slowly because my legs were stiff from standing around for so long. As I mentioned the course was a 6-mile loop on sand berms around the wetlands. The trails were mainly two tire ruts on the berms – mostly hard-packed sand and grass - and were much better than expected. There were no rocks or tree roots but the tire ruts were uneven and had lots of holes so we had to be careful not to twist or sprain an ankle. The Marathon was essentially four 6-mile loops with the extra 2.2 miles added on to the first loop. I knew that the trails would slow most runners down but I still figured I should/could run under 4 hours. My strategy was to run the first 20 miles as hard/fast as possible - a 20- mile speed workout - and then try to hang on for the last 10K?

I passed the finish line for the 2nd time at 8.2 miles in 1:01:26. I was running a sub 8-minute pace. There were six water stops – supposedly located at every mile along the 6-mile loop. But they were so inaccurate that they were meaningless! The only accurate distance marker was the finish line at every 6 miles so it was essentially impossible to determine and adjust your pace which really upset me! The course was very boring. I had to concentrate on the trail because of the holes and uneven surface but I did manage to see several alligators along the course – not on the course but in the wetlands beside the course. I passed the finish line for the 3rd time at 14.2 miles in 1:53:58 or 52:32 for 6 miles. I had slowed to an 8:30 pace! I tried to pick up the pace but the temps were already close to 80 F! Between 16 and 17 miles the winner blew by me. I had been lapped which was very discouraging! I looked at my watch – 2:08! I figured he should finish the race about 2:30? (he won in 2:36!) I still had another lap to go!

I passed the finish line for the 4th time at 20.2 miles in 2:47:35 or 53:43 for 6 miles. I had slowed down some more but calculated that even if I ran the final lap in 1 hour I would still break 4 hours. If I could hold my pace I could break 3:45? But the sun was beating down mercilessly and the temps were now 80+ F. At each water stop I started to drink one cup of water and pour one on my head in an effort to cool down. At 23 miles there was no water left at the water stop. No problem - I could wait for the next water stop at mile 24. No water there either! Now I was pissed off! Thankfully I had kept hydrated but I was very HOT! I became discouraged and since I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind me I slowed down. Thankfully the final water stop near mile 25 had water and I poured several glasses on my head to cool down. As I started down the final mile that was straight I saw a runner ahead of me. As motivation to pick up my pace again I decided to catch him even though he was about ¼ mile ahead. I closed within a few hundred yards when he noticed me and picked up his pace. I couldn’t tell what age he was but he looked like a youngster and I decided it wasn’t worth hurting a lot just to pass a younger runner in the final ¼ mile so I followed him across the finish line in 3:42:45.

I was happy with my time until I learned that the runner who beat me by 32 seconds was in fact in my age group! We had both beat the old course record for our age group by more than 2 hours but he now holds the new course record because I didn’t believe 32 seconds was worth “a lot of pain”. Moral of this story: “Never back off or give up until you cross the finish line”! But I was really not disappointed because I had achieved – no surpassed- my initial goals. I had run a long, fast training run and had finished well under my target of 4 hours on a trail marathon. It gave me the confidence and encouragement to race the Miami Marathon next weekend (Jan 29). My goal will be to finish in 3:35 -/+ 5 minutes.

Once I consoled myself for being so foolish there was nothing to do but wait around (hot, sweaty, and smelly since I couldn’t have a shower) for Peter to finish. I found the race director and admonished him for the lack of water on the course and advised him to get water out there for the runners who would be on the course for another one or two hours in the horrendous heat! Peter finished in 5:57:22.

I dropped Peter off in Orlando where he will catch a return flight to London on Sun and drove home for a much-anticipated soak in the hot tub with a few microbrews.
I am looking forward to a good, fast race next weekend in Miami on my type of surface – asphalt!

Stay tuned for the next report!

Monday, January 09, 2006

RR Disney Marathon

Race Report
Disney Marathon
Orlando, FL
Sun, Jan 8/06

This was an unplanned/unscheduled marathon resulting from the prolonged illness I suffered after returning from the Everest Marathon in Nepal in Nov/05. I had planned to run the Jacksonville Marathon in Dec but was too sick and had to cancel. Once I recovered from the illness I started to look for a marathon in early Jan but it had to be in FL –or somewhere I could drive- because I am tired of planes!
The best option was the Disney marathon even though I don’t like the race. I ran the Disney marathon 4 years ago and found the logistics to be difficult. The race starts at 6 am and requires all runners to be at Epcot by 5am when it is very dark and cold.

There were some other factors that made it the ‘best’ option:
a) my sports manager and I needed to travel to Orlando to make final arrangements for a family reunion we are hosting there at the end of Feb
b) a group of runners from my old running club in Bishops’ Stortford were coming over from England to run the marathon and I wanted to meet them.
c) two very close running friends from way – back were planning to run the race. The last time we ran a race together and competed for the ‘tres amigos’ award was the Disney marathon in 2002.

So there were many reasons to run Disney even if I don’t like the race! And it was a challenge to get a race number because registration was already closed. Fortunately I was able to find a male member of the Sarasota Running Club who had registered but was unable to compete. He gave me his race number. This is against the rules but done quite often. Even though I was not in good shape I was concerned about placing in his age group and robbing some legitimate competitor of his position. Fortunately this concern was easily and innocently resolved when the runner forgot to give me his timing chip. Therefore I was never timed and given an official time or result!

I had built my weekly training mileage up to 60 miles since recovering from the Nepali cold/cough and had just started speed workouts but I had not run longer than 13 miles since the Bosnia Marathon in Oct. I did not count the Everest marathon since I did more walking than running in that race. So the Saturday before the marathon I did a 17-mile training run. I planned/needed to use the Disney Marathon as a long training run as part of my training program to get in shape to compete in an inaugural marathon in Sarasota on Mar 5/06.

I suffered a wee setback to my plans when I came down with another cold/flu early in the week. I thought it was a relapse of the Himalayan cold but discovered that several people in town were suffering from the same cold/flu. I rested on Monday and on Tue I foolishly tried to run a hard/fast 10-mile run and became so dizzy and nauseous by the end of the run that I almost fainted on the road. I staggered back to the house and laid in bed for two days with a high fever and cold/hot sweats. I figured that I would have to skip Disney but I felt much better on Thursday so did an easy 5-mile run and declared myself fit for the marathon?

Thus the sports manager and I drove over to Orlando on Sat morning to pick up my race number at the Sports Expo and to meet our friends. The Expo is still a big disappointment for such a large event. Because the weather forecast was calling for temps in the low 30s on Sun morning I wanted to buy a pair of running tights. There were none at the Expo?
More disappointments followed. Marty – one of the ‘tres amigos’ called to say that he was suffering from the same flu/cold and had decided not to run. I couldn’t find Edson – the other amigo- even though he was staying at the same hotel. And I couldn’t reach my friends from England? Things were not going well?

Nicole and I did manage to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant in old town Kissimmee that we wanted to evaluate for a formal dinner during our reunion. At least that part of our plan was successful and we made reservations for Feb. I didn’t try to contact our friends Sat night because I knew everyone would be in bed early since they had to be at Epcot by 4 or 5 am on Sun morning!

I drove over to Epcot at 4 am. It was very cold – temps in the low 30s! I had to get out of the car and start making my way to the start line at 5 am. You have to walk about 1 mile from the parking lot to the start line in Epcot. The race is very well organized – typical Disney organization – but the logistics are enormous and difficult to handle 24,000 runners in the park. The marathon had a split start with 12,000 runners in two corrals and they merged at 3.3 miles. My friend had a race number in the first corral of the Blue start. I went to the back of the corral because I did not want to start out too fast. I was wearing four layers of clothes and a garbage bag in an attempt to stay warm. The temp was 34 F at the 6 am start!

I was hemmed in and slowed down by 2,000 runners in front of me and ran the first 2 miles at a 9 min/mile pace. That was exactly what I wanted/needed. I reached mile 5 in 44:08 and had peeled off all my layers of clothes except for running tights and a long-sleeved Polypro shirt and T-shirt. There was frost/ice on the sleeves of my shirt! I was right on pace because my goal was to run the marathon or at least the 1st twenty miles at a 9 min pace. I was very concerned that I would tire or run out of energy by 20 miles because of the cold/flu and lack of long training runs? I passed the 10-mile mark in 1:26:51 as we ran through the various theme parks of the Magic Kingdom. We ran through Cinderella’s Castle about 10.5 miles where Mickey, Minnie, Donald and the other Disney characters cheered us on. I reached the Half in 1:53:49. I felt quite good which was encouraging. I considered picking up the pace but decided to stay with my original plan – at least till 20 miles.

I passed mile 18 in 2:35:39 and an 8:30 pace. I was running easy and relaxed but Maddog was chomping at the bit to lower the hammer. I had to keep reminding him “Patience – continue to run slow and easy”! When I passed mile 20 in 2:53:55 and still felt amazingly good I decided to let Maddog loose for the last 10K! He immediately lowered the hammer to sub 8s. When I passed mile 21 in a 7:45 pace I was a wee bit concerned but decided to just let him go and hang on! I was amazed that he ran the entire final 10K at a sub 8-min pace without any pain or struggles and crossed the finish line in 3:43:40! It was my fastest 10K of the race and resulted in a negative split of 4 minutes on the 2nd Half!

Needless to say I was surprised but very happy with both my time and performance. I would have bet a lot of money before the race that there was no way I could run under 3:45 that day! So I am very encouraged with my progress. I plan to run another marathon in the Orlando area in two weeks. I plan to run it as another long training run and if I do as well I will then race the marathon in Miami at the end of Jan.

Stay tuned!