Monday, May 22, 2006

RR Colorado Marathon

Race Report
Colorado Colfax Marathon
Denver, CO
Sun, May 21/06
Marathon # 264
3:58:39 - 1AG

Thank goodness. The third and final marathon in the past week!
As I mentioned in the two previous reports this brilliant idea originated with Maddog as a test of my marathon shape/condition prior to starting his ‘Suicidal High Altitude Training Camp’ this summer.

After running my old legs into the ground on Sat trying to win my age group at the Fargo Marathon I was not sure how much energy was left in them? And logistics didn’t help. The flight was late getting out of Fargo and arriving in Denver so it was 10 pm by the time I drove to the west end of Denver. I ate a late pasta dinner and checked into a hotel at 11 pm. I managed to get four hours of sleep since I had to wake at 3:30 am to drive to the finish line to catch a bus to the start line of the Colorado Colfax Marathon.

This was a brand new/inaugural marathon for Denver. The race started in Aurora, CO and ran along Colfax Avenue through Denver to finish at the Colorado Mills Mall in Lakewood, CO. All 26 miles of the race (except for a 1½ mile loop through Denver City Park at the mid-point) was run on Colfax Avenue – the longest continuous street in the country! The three cities had closed down all six lanes of Colfax Ave for 6 hours for the marathon! The race ran from east to west so that the runners always had a beautiful view of the Rocky Mtns to the west. The street is as straight as an arrow and the elevation starts about 5400 ft in Aurora and drops about 100 vertical feet over the first half and then climbs about 400 vertical feet in the second half – most of the elevation increase is in the last 8 miles!

As I was riding the bus to the start line I began to suffer severe stomach cramps and nausea? I figured it was the late meal, bad food or just too much stress in the past 24 hours? By the time I lined up on the start line for the 6 am start I was hoping that I would throw up and get whatever was bugging me out of my system.

I met a good running buddy (Edson) from NYC at the start line and we started the race together. The weather was sunny with a temp of 62 F and forecast to warm up to the mid 70s by the time we finished. There were about 2,800 runners in the Marathon and Half with 800 runners in the marathon. I started slow because my legs were a wee bit stiff and I needed to warm/loosen them up. We passed mile 1 in 9:00 minutes and were both sucking for air. I had hoped to average an 8:30-min pace till mile 18 and then expected to slow down as the course climbed the hills over the last 8 miles. However by the time I reached mile 5 in 43:07 I was struggling to average 8:45s and I had already left Edson behind.
I realized already that there was nothing left in my poor old legs and it was going to be an ugly/painful day. I decided to take GU gels every 3 miles in the hope that I could get some much-needed energy to my legs during the race. The stomach cramps and nausea had ceased by that time because the body had shut down all organs and systems that were not needed to survive and to run! Our bodies are pretty smart!

I realized that only experience and sheer willpower was going to get me to the finish line so I focused everything I had on blocking/ignoring the exhaustion and pain and keeping my wasted old legs moving. I passed the Half in Denver City Park in 1:53:55. Any thoughts/hopes of a 3:45 finish that I figured was necessary to win my age group were gone. I wasn’t even sure if I could hold on for a sub 4–hr finish since I still had to face the hills in the 2nd half? Somehow I managed to keep clicking off 8:45s until I reached the hills and the start of the 400 ft elevation climb to the finish. Mile 18 was a slow and painful 9:25!
I continued to climb to mile 20 in 2:57:53. I only had one hour to run the last 10K and mile 20 had been a 9:38 pace. By mile 22 I was struggling to run a 10-min pace. Mile 23 was a painfully slow 10:39 – my slowest mile of the race. Time 3:28:17! I had already conceded any chance of winning my age group but if I continued at that snail pace I wouldn’t even break 4 hrs! Fortunately Maddog took over. He did not consider it acceptable or respectable to finish slower than 4 hrs so he ignored my pleas and cries of pain and lowered the pace back to 9:30s! I knew it was pointless to argue so I just hung on and went along for the ride while trying to block the pain and feeling of total exhaustion! Thankfully mile 25 was a gentle downhill that gave the old legs a chance to recover while running a blazing 9:15 pace to pass the marker in 3:47:40.
I had 12 minutes to run the last 1¼ miles. Even though they were uphill there was no way Maddog was going to be denied his respect and he pushed my wasted old bod across the finish line at the Colorado Mills Mall in 3:58:39!!

As I walked to the car in the parking lot of the mall the stomach cramps and nausea came back and I wasn’t sure if I could make it to the car w/o another swan dive like I did in Boston a few years back? So I laid down in the parking lot for a few minutes and recovered enough to walk to the car, get my camera and walk back to the finish line for the customary finish line photo. The results weren’t posted yet so I decided to go back to the hotel for a long hot soak and to get some coke and chocolate (sugar) into my system because I knew my blood sugar level was alarmingly low!

The hot bath and sugar made me feel much better but the stomach cramps would not go away? I wasn’t really keen on going back to the finish area to learn how badly I had done but I figured I should stop and check. I was totally shocked (almost embarrassed) to learn that my time of 3:58 won 1st place (out of 17) and established the course record for my age group! At first I felt like I didn’t earn/deserve it but then I remembered how much pain I had suffered and endured to get to the finish line and decided that maybe I had earned it for perseverance? But next year I plan to go back with fresh legs and run a better and more respectable race. I know I can take at least 15 minutes off my time!!

The stomach cramps and nausea worsened after the race and robbed me of a much-anticipated reward – a few Colorado microbrews in my hot tub!
I am now back in Paradise/High Country. The stomach cramps and nausea lasted until Mon so I don’t know what caused that problem and I hope it never returns? I can’t say that I am happy with my performance on this 3rd marathon. I was happy just to finish alive! Maddog was disappointed and furious! He did not give me high marks for my marathon shape/condition based on his test of three marathons in the past week. I guess that two –1st places, one course record and one – 2nd place do not meet his high standards/expectations? I fear that my training program has now become harder? And Maddog’s ‘Suicidal High Altitude Training Camp’ starts this week. Anyone care to join me? I have to get ready quickly for four mountain/high altitude races in the Rocky Mtns in June – one each weekend! Nothing but 1st place in each race will appease Maddog!

Stay tuned for the race reports.

Race Review:

A good race for an inaugural marathon.
Good website.
Expo was well organized and had some good deals on running gear.
The course was well organized. Good traffic control (we had 3 lanes of Colfax to ourselves with no cars). Water stops and digital clocks every mile. Lots of spectators along the course.

Only a few minor negatives – poor course control at the relay exchange points – had to fight our way through relay runners at some exchanges!
Award ceremony was held at 4 pm in Denver and they would not give out any awards at the finish area to those who could not go to the ceremony. Hope they mail my award to me?

RR Fargo Marathon

Race Report
Fargo Marathon
Fargo, ND
Sat, May 20/06
#263 – State #43 (2nd loop)
3:31:45 - 2 AG

This marathon was the only race I had scheduled for May (to run the 43rd state on my 2nd loop around the 50 States) until Maddog decided to add two ‘surprise’ marathons – one before and one after Fargo but all in the same week – to test my marathon condition.

I researched last year’s race to find the winning time for the 60(+)-year old runners – 3:37. Thus I figured I needed to run between 3:30 and 3:35 to win my age group. On the way to the airport in Denver on Fri morning I had to stop in downtown Denver to pick up my race packet for the Colorado Colfax Marathon on Sun.

I arrived in Fargo on Fri evening in time to pick up my race packet at the Fargodome and then eat a traditional pasta dinner before retiring to bed. Sat was ‘M’ day. The race started at the Fargodome at 8am. The weather was overcast with a temp of 52 F. There was a brief rain burst about 10 minutes before the start but it stopped and never rained during the race. The biggest negative factor was a strong wind blowing at 20 to 30 mph from the North. It was a bigger race than expected – about 2600 runners with 1000 in the Marathon and 1600 in the Half.

The course headed south through the campus of North Dakota State University and the old historic downtown area of Fargo so the wind was behind us for the first 10 miles. With the aid of a tail wind I passed mile 1 in 7:45 but at that point was passed by another old fart. I decided not to push the pace any faster but to keep him in sight and see if he was ‘for real’? I passed him back as I reached mile 3 in 23:30 – but then a 2nd old fart passed me. I kept him in sight as we passed mile 10 in 1:18:52. He was not slowing so he was ‘for real’. At that point the course turned 180 degrees and headed North to Moorhead, MN – directly into the wind! It was brutal! I decided it was necessary and smarter to find a pack of young runners to follow and draft behind rather than waste energy fighting the wind on my own. I would draft behind a runner (or runners) for a few miles but then they would tire and I would have to surge ahead and find another pack to hide behind. I passed the Half in 1:43:37. I was ahead of schedule but figured the wind would definitely slow the 2nd half. I passed mile 15 in 1:58:56 – still under an 8-min pace and the old fart was still in sight but he was not running smart. He was fighting the strong headwind on his own!

I was starting to tire but had dropped behind a group of three young runners who were running a steady 8-min pace and I figured it was smarter to continue to draft behind them rather than slow down and fight the headwind on my own. By mile 19 my wind blockers had decreased to one runner and we had closed on the old fart in front of me. I reached mile 20 in 2:39:43 and passed the old fart as we crossed a timing mat. But it cost me dearly! To make sure he didn’t try to respond or drop in behind us to draft I surged ahead for the next ½ mile and left him behind. But now I had no wind blocker. I couldn’t find a runner to draft behind and my pace dropped to 8:30s as I struggled into the gusting wind!

I tried drafting behind a young female runner. The scenery was nice but she was too small to block much wind. As we passed mile 23 in 3:05:04 I asked her when we would finally get to turn back south again and have a tailwind? She said around 24 ½ miles! So I struggled on by myself but decided not to push the pace back down to sub 8s because I figured I was probably in 1st place in my age group and didn’t want to use up any more energy than necessary because I needed to save as much as possible for the race on Sun.
Finally the course turned south at 24 ½ miles and I was able to drop the pace to 8:15s with the tailwind and cross the finish line inside the Fargodome in 3:31:45.

The university had set up a bank of computers for the runners to have immediate access to the results. I was very happy with my time until I learned that it was only good enough for 2nd place (out of 35) in my age group! I couldn’t believe the results until I discovered that the age group was unusual/non-standard – 58 to 63 – and I had been beat to the finish line by a 58-year old youngster. When I had researched last year’s results I had naively (and mistakenly) assumed the age group was the usual 60 to 64? Maddog was pretty upset! I was frustrated that I had wasted so much energy for an unsatisfactory result that could have been better saved for the race on Sun. At that point I was more concerned about how much was left in the old legs for the marathon on Sun?

After a quick hot soak and shower I decided to explore Fargo while I waited for my evening flight back to Denver. That took about two hours including lunch – there is not much to see or do in Fargo! So I decided to go back to the Fargodome for the awards ceremony at 5 pm. Unfortunately they did not start on time and I had to leave before collecting my award. I really didn’t want a ‘2nd place’ award but they did look nice – etched glass. Although I hadn’t succeeded in my goal of winning the age group because of the stupid/unfair age categories I had run a smart race and was pleased with both my time and performance.

But now it was time to catch my flight to Denver and get ready for the next marathon – and the final race of Maddog’s test!

Stay tuned for the next report!

Race Review:

The race is well organized.
The website is good and informative. (it was probably my own fault that I didn’t realize the strange age group categories)
About 50% of the runners are 50+ years old so old farts should expect lots of competition
The course is flat and fast but has a lot of turns. Traffic control was good. There were lots of water stops and the volunteers were very supportive.
It appears that there is always a North wind in Fargo at that time of year so be prepared to run against a strong wind!

The finish inside the Fargodome is nice. No waiting around in the cold or unpleasant weather.
The computer access for race results was great.

Only two minor complaints:
a) the unfair/stupid age group categories
b) the very late award ceremony ( I believe in the hope that most runners will stay an extra night in Fargo?)

Monday, May 15, 2006

RR Lake Geneva Marathon

Race Report
Lake Geneva Marathon
Lake Geneva, WI
Sat, May 13/06
Marathon #262 State # 42 (2nd loop)
3:48:17 - 22 OA – 1 AG

This marathon was not on my 2006 Marathon Schedule. My first (and only) marathon in May was scheduled for May 20th in ND. However Maddog decided to add a surprise marathon in Wisconsin for two reasons:
a) to add another state to the list of 50 States completed for the 2nd time (# 42)
b) to test my marathon condition prior to starting the summer training program in the Rocky Mtns by running three marathons in one week

So three days after driving from Florida to our summer home in the Rocky Mtns I found myself on an airplane flying to Chicago where I rented a car and drove 75 miles northwest to Lake Geneva, WI. I had never been to Lake Geneva. It is a very pretty area. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. A huge storm front had stalled over the central states and it had been raining for 2 days and continued to rain for the 3 days I visited.

I arrived in Lake Geneva around 8 pm on Fri night – just in time to collect my race package and enjoy a traditional pasta dinner before retiring to bed for the marathon on Sat morning. The race started on the Lakefront Bridge in downtown Lake Geneva at 8 am. The biggest dilemma was what to wear? The forecast called for rain and temps in the low to high 40s F. It was 43 F at 8 am with only a light drizzle. I decided to wear a long sleeve T-shirt and shorts but soon regretted that choice as I was overheated by 3 miles!
The race information described the course as very hilly and challenging? I talked to a few local runners at the start line who informed me that there were hills throughout the entire course and some very steep BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) from miles 14 to 18! I decided that my strategy would be to run an 8:30 pace until I got through the BAHs and then see how I felt for the last 10K?

There were several different races and the Marathon and Half Marathon started together at 8 am with about 800 runners (maybe 200 runners in the marathon)? The course started at lake level and immediately started to climb hills along the south shore of the lake. I passed through the 3-mile mark in 24:42 - a bit too fast! Also problems with the course started to appear. There seemed to be two sets of mile markers at some places and no markers in others? I figured there was an old and new set. Not being sure which was correct I just decided to use the first ones I passed? I slowed my pace and passed 5 miles in 41:29. At 7 ½ miles the marathon and Half split off. The half marathon runners ran a straight tangent along the lake while the marathoners turned south and ran an extra 2 miles before everyone rejoined about the 12 mile mark of the marathon (10 mile mark of the Half). Although the turn-off was marked there was no race marshal or official confirming that the marathoners made the turn. It was easy for a runner to take 2 miles off the marathon?

I did make the turn and suddenly it got very lonely? I could only see 5 runners in front of me and I passed 4 of them before we rejoined the Half marathoners. It seemed strange when I rejoined the runners in the Half because those runners were running a 10-min pace and I was blowing by them at an 8:30 pace? I passed the (marathon) Half in 1:49:50. It started to rain at that point and continued to rain for the remainder of the race but it didn’t really have any effect since we were already soaked. I felt comfortable because I was just under an 8:30 pace. The BAHs started around mile 14 as promised but they were mostly downhill as the course descended to the finish line of the Half marathon at lake level in Fontana. After I passed the finish line of the Half (15 miles in the marathon) the confusion and race got worse! I must have passed that 5th marathon runner by mile 15 because all of a sudden I was completely alone! I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind me? This was not good because now I would really have to concentrate on looking for the course markings that were almost non-existent. And the course started to climb hills from lake level along the north shore of the lake. And they were very steep BAHs! I refused to walk and struggled to keep the old legs moving as I climbed several BAHs! I had to focus on blocking pain and keeping my legs moving - not looking for course markings but I did manage to find some markings but no mile markers until mile 17 which I passed in 2:21:56. However about 5 minutes later I had still not seen any other runners and no course markings and became concerned that I had missed a turn and was lost. I stopped and was on the verge of retracing my route when I finally noticed an arrow/marker on the side of the road and decided to continue along that road? Fortunately as I approached a very steep BAH near mile 18 I saw another runner which made me happy for two reasons:
a) I must still be on the marathon course or we were both lost
b) He looked like an old fart and he was walking up the BAH

I charged up the BAH and as I passed him I figured he was not in my age group –probably 55-59? He tried to respond and stay with me but I continued to charge the hill and buried him! Shortly after I crested the BAH I reached a water stop at mile 18 in 2:29:55. I was still on course but all alone again!

The next 3 miles were confusing and course markers were scarce. There were no race volunteers and I resorted to asking people walking along the streets if I was on the marathon course. Some didn’t know – others confirmed that I was and I just had to trust that they were right. I finally found another mile marker at mile 21 (2:55:14). I figured even if I slowed to a 9-min pace I should finish in 3:40? But at that point the confusion and course went from bad to worse as the course turned off the paved roads on to a ‘phantom’ path along the edge of the lake! I say ‘phantom’ because it wasn’t really a well-defined or public path? It was a path along the edge of the lake though the lawns of private homes on the lake. The path was a few feet wide and made of bricks or flagstones or crushed stones and in some places just grass? After running along this phantom path – with absolutely no course markings for about a mile - the path abruptly ended? I figured I must have missed a marker or turn? I decided I had no choice but to turn around and retrace my steps and look for a turn? Fortunately I had only retraced about 100 yards when a kind homeowner realized that I was confused (or lost) and came out to tell me to turn back around and continue across the lawns where the path ended and I would find the ‘phantom’ path again. He was right. This guessing game continued (with much concern) for another few miles. I was lucky that each time I became concerned that I was indeed lost I would come across a homeowner who would verify that I was still on the marathon course and to continue along the edge of the lake.

Since there were no course or mileage markers on this long section of ‘phantom’ path I had no idea how far the finish line was? After 30 minutes of running on the ‘phantom’ path I figured I must have passed the 24-mile mark? WRONG! About that time I finally did reach a race volunteer who directed me to make a turn off the ‘phantom’ path up to a paved road. He informed me that I had about 1-½ miles to the finish line. However after running for a few minutes on the paved road I reached a mile marker – mile 24!!! Time – 3:27:25! It had taken 32:11 to run from mile marker 21 to 24??? That was not possible unless:
a) the markers were wrong
b) I had indeed got lost and ran extra mileage along the phantom path
c) That section of the course was long – about ½ to ¾ mile long??

It didn’t matter. Even if I ran an 8:30 pace for the last 2 miles I would not break 3:45! I was so disgusted with the race and the course at that point that I decided it made no sense to try to push the pace to make up time! There were still no runners in front or behind me so I decided to jog/cruise the last 2 miles and save my energy for the races next week. Shortly after I began to catch up to walkers? They were walking the marathon course and had started 2 hours early. At least I confirmed that I was still on the marathon course. I passed several walkers in the next mile and at mile 25 the course turned back to the lake - and the ‘phantom’ path! I didn’t care at that point and anyways there were some spectators along that section who kept assuring me that I was on the marathon course.
I crossed the finish line – wet and very pissed off in 3:48:17! At first I wanted to find the race director and kill him - or at least tear a piece off his incompetent ass but I figured that was a waste of my time and energy.

Instead I walked back to my car to get my camera for the obligatory finish line photo and wait for the results to be posted. I talked to several runners who finished before and after me and they all had the same complaints. “The course was poorly managed and marked – they had gotten lost- the course had to be about 1 mile long because they finished about 10 to 15 minutes slower than expected?” After waiting 30 minutes in the rain and cold for the results I decided that they weren’t going to get posted in my lifetime so I retreated to my hotel for a much-needed hot soak to soothe my legs and warm me up. I later returned to the finish area for the awards ceremony. Surprisingly they had posted the results? I had finished 22nd overall and won my age group! The old fart I had passed was indeed in the 55-59 age group and had placed 1st. However he must have crashed or got lost because he finished 16 minutes behind me? I was shocked to learn that 2nd place in my age group finished 50 minutes behind me? Obviously everybody had a bad day on that poorly managed course.

I did collect one of their lame awards – a choice of a baseball cap or a portable 6-pack cooler. I took the cooler!

I am trying not to let myself get upset about this bad experience! It was one of the most poorly organized races and the worst managed course I have ever had the displeasure of running! I will never run it again and I strongly advise/warn all runners to avoid this marathon! There are many other marathons in WI that are better!

Maddog keeps reminding me that there is always an upside to every case of misfortune or adversity. In this case the good news is that since I ran smart and slow my legs were not tired or trashed at the end of the race and should be in good shape for his next challenge: back-to-back marathons next weekend. And the toughest part of the challenge is that he expects me to win my age group in both races!

Stay tuned for the race reports!