Tuesday, March 28, 2006

RR - Washington, DC

Race Report
National Marathon
Washington, DC
March 25/06

As I mentioned in my last report this marathon was originally not on my 2006 itinerary.
However a few months ago the race director sent me a letter with an ‘offer I couldn’t refuse’ – free entry into the race! Why? Three years ago I had registered for the DC Marathon that got canceled because of the Iraq war. I never did get a refund for the $75 entry fee! So the race committee for this brand new/inaugural National Marathon decided to offer all those runners who got screwed three years ago free entry into their race. A nice gesture – and it only cost me about $1000.00 (air fare, hotels, meals, etc) to accept the ‘free’ offer!

I accepted the offer for 3 reasons:
1) It was free???
2) I needed to run a 2nd marathon in DC as I work my way around the 50 States + DC for a 2nd time
3) I thought it would be a neat idea to run a marathon on my 62nd birthday (the actual day) and I figured I should be able to win my age group and the $100 cash award since I would be in good shape after the Sarasota Marathon.

Turned out that Meatloaf’s words in one of his better songs were so prophetic “Well, two out of three ain’t bad”!!!

As most of you know I had a great race and time in Sarasota – but then my running life encountered some hardships/difficulties. I continued to push my training program to prepare for DC and one week after Sarasota my right hamstring started to tighten and protest during a speed workout. Fortunately I was able to back off before tearing it but had to rest for a few days and run easy miles for the next week. Just when the right hamstring started to feel OK we traveled to Dallas, TX where I did a nostalgic 9-mile run around White Rock Lake with Fast Freddie at an 8-min pace. The left hamstring started to talk to me by the end of that run and two days later when I tried to run an easy 10 miles the hamstring tightened and locked up during the 1st mile. I was forced to stop and limp back to my car and the leg became so stiff and sore that I couldn’t run – could barely walk without pain for 2 days.

I had already decided that I was going to DC no matter what because I wasn’t willing to throw away the $1000 in prepaid expenses and even if I couldn’t run I could still celebrate my birthday in DC with my sports manager! On Thu morning I tested the leg by walking and jogging 4 miles. It hurt – but I figured if it didn’t hurt any worse than that I could walk and jog the marathon? I also managed to get an appointment with my masseuse that day in the hope that she could help sort out the strained/injured muscles.
The leg really hurt that evening but I took that as a good sign as I alternated ice and heat on the aching muscles.

On Fri morning the sports manager and I left for DC. After checking into our hotel we drove over to RFK Stadium to pick up my race package. I had to rent a car because the race started at 7am on Sat but the Metro did not start until 7am? A problem that needs to be looked at because driving around DC is not fun! By the time we returned to our hotel and contacted some running friends for dinner the leg was starting to feel much better. We enjoyed a pleasant pasta dinner with a very close friend from NYC – Edson and a lady friend Admas (from Ethiopia – lives in NYC). As we were walking back to our hotel I started to believe that there might be a slim chance that I could run/jog the marathon the next day???

Sat was race day – and my birthday! I drove Edson and Admas to the start line at RFK Stadium. The sports manager stayed in bed! The forecast called for CHILLY weather and rain/snow flurries and she was not getting out of bed for that! Fortunately the forecasters were only partially right. It was a chilly 38 F but the rain and snow never showed up. In fact we had some sun and temps around 50 F when I finished – it was great running weather! The organizers were hoping/planning on 5000 runners for the two races – a Marathon and a Half but there were only 1000 in the marathon and 1200 in the Half? I think the qualifying times placed on both races reduced the numbers of competitors?

Both races started at 7 am. I had planned to go to the back of the pack and walk/jog the 1st mile to test my leg. However my friends wanted to be close to the start line so when the race started I had to move to the side of the road where I could jog slowly and watch in frustration as more than a thousand runners passed by me in the first mile! I jogged the 1st mile loop around RFK Stadium in 9:28 – my slowest mile of the race! Although the left hamstring sent a slight ‘twinge’ down my leg with every foot plant the pain or discomfort was much less than expected so I continued to jog/run. I caught up to Edson near Capitol Hill at 3 miles and decided I would run with him for the first Half. We ran past the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Memorial and passed mile 5 in 44:26 – just under a 9-min pace and much faster than I had expected/hoped? As we looped back past the Monument Edson made a pit stop and I never saw him again? At that point the leg felt pretty good and I felt strong and full of energy. Maddog was urging me to let him loose! It took all the willpower I had to control/contain him. I reminded him that two days earlier I wasn’t even sure I would be able to walk/jog the marathon. I was doing well and I didn’t have any confidence that the hamstring would hold together for 20 more miles? A 9-min pace represented a sub 4-hr marathon. I would be very pleased with that time! I continued to jog and passed mile 10 in 1:29:33.

The first 10 miles had been flat and fast. If I had been healthy I could have scorched that section of the race. Again Maddog urged me to let him loose. I decided to hold the pace until the Half and then re-evaluate? Good decision! At mile 11 the half marathon runners split off and the marathoners entered Fort Dupont Park – and the hills began! The next 15 miles of the course were mostly hills as we ran through Prince George’s County, MD. I crested a BAH (Bad Ass Hill) at the Half in 1:58:44. I decided that if I could hold my current pace and finish under 4 hrs without screwing up my leg any further I would be pleased with my race. I passed mile 15 in 2:15:54 and maintained a steady pace through the next 5 miles of hills to reach 20 miles in 2:59:37. I was right on a 9-min pace. The leg was OK and I still felt strong. I thought about pushing the pace for the last 10 K but then wisely asked myself - WHY? Plus I was looking at mile 21 that was another BAH! I climbed that BAH in 9:23 and suddenly my right hamstring and knee started to hurt?? I figured that I was subconsciously changing my gait and stride to compensate for the left hamstring injury and was putting too much stress on the right leg! My primary goal for the next/last 5 miles was not time – but to focus on running my normal stride and relieving the stress/pain on the left knee!

I reached mile 23 in Capital Heights, MD in 3:26:29 and re-entered DC for the final 5K. The right knee now hurt more that either hamstring? I was very concerned that I was going through another of those vicious cycles that I went through 18 months ago. Remember? I had pushed the old bod through a stress fracture in my right foot and tore up my left knee requiring surgery. I did not want to go through that cycle again. So I really focused on relaxing and correcting my gait and stride. I passed Admas at mile 26 (she had a great race and placed 2nd in the 50+ age group). I crossed the finish line in 3:54:46 - can’t get much closer to a 9-min pace than that??

As I was cruising along the final 5 K I had thought to myself that if I had been healthy/injury-free I believe that I could have run that course in maybe 3:25 with all the hills? When I checked the preliminary results at the finish line 1st place in my age group was – yes – 3:25. It might have been a good duel/challenge if I had been healthy?

But considering the circumstances I was happy with my time and 5th place in my age group. I had expected to finish much slower. And although both legs were hurting/screwed up I don’t think I suffered any serious injury?

As Admas and I waited for Edson to finish I met several friends and members of the 50 States + DC club that I had not seen for years. After the race and a normal hot soak in the tub back at the hotel the sports manager and I decided to explore DC. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit the Smithsonian or National Gallery so we played tourist and visited all the landmarks in DC. After a few much-needed beers at Mr. Smith’s in Georgetown the sports manager treated me to a fabulous dinner at La Chaumiere –one of the best French restaurants in DC- to celebrate my 62nd birthday.

Considering the circumstances it was a good trip. Like Meatloaf says “two out of three ain’t bad”! I had a nice birthday and I had crossed DC off my list for the 2nd loop without suffering any serious injury.

The hamstrings and knee are still sore but a good massage and treatment with ice/heat and a week’s rest should help them heal enough to let me run the Martian Marathon next weekend? No silly – the race is not on Mars!!

Stay tuned for the next report.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

RR Sarasota Marathon

Race Report
Sarasota Marathon
Sarasota, FL
Sun, Mar 5/06
3:22:11 – 41 OA – 1 AG

Finally - the race of the year – the race that had been the focus of Maddog’s training program for the past 12 weeks – the inaugural Sarasota Marathon - in my hometown!

After five tune-up marathons in Jan and Feb spaced between some good speed workouts I believed I was ready? Only one small glitch. Turned out that a family reunion that had been planned for two years and the one we were hosting in Orlando, FL was the weekend before the marathon. A family reunion – especially a Wallace reunion – where there is lots of partying/eating/drinking is not conducive to good training for a marathon! But the partying took my mind off the race, the medicine (read – alcohol) cured my head cold and the rest from running helped improve the plantar fasciitis/injury in my feet.
When the last Wallace sibling returned to TundraLand (aka Canada) on Thu I locked the beer fridge to begin three days of drying out/detoxification and started eating healthy food in preparation for the marathon. And I carefully watched the weather forecast that changed on a daily basis. I was hoping for cool weather vs the warm/hot weather that was initially forecast.

It had been a long time since I enjoyed the benefits of a hometown marathon – no traveling to another city/state/country – sleeping in my own bed and eating a great pasta dinner cooked by the sports manager. And 75 % of the marathon course was on roads/routes that I use every day for my training runs.

Sun was M-day. There were two races – a Marathon and a Half-marathon. Both races started at 6 am and I was shocked when the sports manager also got up at 4 am to get ready for the race. She planned to watch the start and then walk 10/12 miles of the course. The Weather Gods were kind – it was a cool 57 F and low humidity at the 6 am start and only warmed up to the low 70s by the time I finished. The only negative factor was a slight breeze blowing from the East that sometimes gusted at 20/25 mph.
Both races started and finished on the grounds of the Ringling Museum. There were 500 runners in the Marathon and 1100 in the Half – a great turnout for an inaugural race! There is a large and good running community/club in Sarasota so I expected some good competition. There were runners from 48 states and 15 countries including a Kenyan who decided to enter at the last moment. My goals were: a) to defend my home turf and win my age group and b) finish under 3:30. I figured if I could achieve the 2nd goal it should assure the 1st goal?

The race started on a narrow driveway/road on the Ringling Grounds (one of the few errors of the race organization because the road was too small to handle that large of a start). Because of the congestion I lined up on the start line with the Big Dogs and let them pull me through the 1st mile in 7:32. Two colleagues/runners from the MTC (Manasota Track Club) had asked me if they could pace off me because they needed to run a sub 3:30 marathon and wanted to use my experience to pull them through in that time. I apologized for the quick start and quickly slowed the pace down to 7:50s. By Mile Five I had settled into a smooth and easy 7:50 pace. NOTE - when I tried to recall my split times from my heart monitor/watch I hit a wrong button and deleted the complete race file and now I have to provide my split times based on memory! (Needless to say I was very upset because I really wanted to check and verify my splits over the last 10K!!!) We ran over the Ringling Bridge (the highest ‘hill’ in Sarasota at 65 ft above sea level) at mile 6 and at mile 8 the course headed East on City Island into the wind. I motioned for the youngest runner in our pack to take the lead and dropped behind him to draft for the next mile into the head wind to conserve energy. We passed mile 10 around 1:18. Around mile 12 my two friends started to drop back and by the time I passed the Half in 1:43 I was leaving them behind quickly.

I felt really good/strong but decided that I would be cautious and stay on a sub 8-min pace until at least 20 miles and then do another gut check. Mile 15 was back over the Ringling Bridge into a brisk 20/25 mph head wind and I had nobody to draft behind! It was the toughest mile of the race – and my slowest at 8:30! However when we reached the bay front along downtown Sarasota the buildings shielded us from the wind and it was no longer a factor. At mile 17 I passed my masseuse/friend – Cynthia aka Attila the Huness – whose exuberance and cheering helped shake me out of a slight lull I had fallen into. I picked up the pace and around mile 19 I started looking for a dear old friend/neighbor – Willard - who is 91 years old. The course passed directly in front of his Assisted-Care home and I had asked him to come outside and watch the race. He had driven his electric scooter down to the sidewalk to watch the race and waved and cheered as I passed by. It was a special moment for both of us and provided a big boost to me. When I reached mile 19 in 2:30 I knew that a sub 3:30 marathon was ‘in the bag’. I was still feeling strong and there was no doubt in my mind that I could do whatever was needed to break 3:30.

By that point the course had looped back on itself three times and I was confident that I was in first place in my age group so I had a decision to make. Should I continue to coast at an easy sub 8-min pace to finish under 3:30 and win my age group – or push the pace and see how much faster I could finish? I decided to go for it and immediately lowered the hammer. I don’t remember my split at 20 miles but I vividly recall my surprise/shock when I passed mile 21 in 6:32! That was not possible! One of the last two mile markers had to be wrong. But I continued to push the pace – actually I wasn’t pushing - I was floating. I was so juiced up on adrenaline and endorphins that I seemed to be floating - I seemed to be having an-out-of-body experience – it had to be somebody else’s body because my old bod wasn’t capable of running a 6:32 mile in the final 10K! I passed mile 22 in 6:53 and mile 23 in 6:50! I was so amazed and shocked that I began to question what the Hell was happening? I was going to break 3:25 at this pace? That was not possible. I was running ‘way over my head’ and I felt good???

By mile 24 reality started to set in and I started to tire and hurt but I was still pushing a sub 8-min pace. (I wish I hadn’t screwed up my watch so I could review my actual splits). I recall reaching mile 25 around 3:13 and commenting that I would finish close to 3:20 if I could hold the pace. I was now very tired and hurting but the old bod was still producing adrenaline and endorphins because of the exhilaration and sweet smell of victory and I was able to ignore the pain and keep pushing. I crossed the finish line in 3:22:11. I had left absolutely nothing on the course but I was in such shock/disbelief that I searched out one of the race organizers to question if the course was short. She assured me that the course had been checked and rechecked before it was certified by the USATF!

Maddog advised me to quit questioning my performance and time and to accept and enjoy the fact that I had a good day and great race – “and live with it”! My time placed me 41st overall and 1st in my age group. Since it was an inaugural marathon I have the honor of holding the course record for my hometown marathon – for at least one year!
I waited at the finish line to cheer in many of my running friends including my buddy Frank (the only other sane person in the world – with the quadruple heart bypass) who finished in 4:45:02. I did not stick around for the awards ceremony because the group awards were lame medals! When I got home I immediately checked my running log to find the last time I ran that fast? Other than a 3:20:48 in Podgorica, Montenegro in Oct 03 I had to go all the way back to Aug 95 (Edmonton, Alberta) to find a faster time. It was my 2nd fastest time in the past 11 years and most certainly a PR for my 6th decade!! I still find it unbelievable – but very, very satisfying!!! Home turf had to be a HUGE factor because I still don’t believe I am in peak condition yet?? I need another month of speed work to get there? We will soon see since I have another marathon scheduled at the end of March.

This marathon was unplanned/unscheduled in my race calendar until a few weeks ago when I received an offer I couldn’t refuse. What was the offer and where is the marathon?

Stay tuned for the next race report!!

P.S. A short comment/review on my hometown marathon.
It was an excellent race and very well organized for a 1st time race. All the credit goes to Lisette Riveron, the tireless race director who overcame many obstacles to make the marathon happen. The packet pick up and expo was small but well organized. Traffic control was excellent. There were plenty of water stops and markers at every mile.

Things that can be improved:
-the Start
– needs a bigger road/area to accommodate that many runners
– should have a timing carpet to enable computation of true ‘chip’ time

- could use some more digital clocks along the race
- the timing carpet should be located at the Half and not at 13 miles

- the city needs to get more spectators out but that will come with time
- awards should be artistic/creative items such as a ceramic grouper to represent the city of Sarasota or the race (Grouper marathon)

These small things can be improved with the next versions of the marathon that are already planned.