Tuesday, February 19, 2008

RR -Jacksonville

Race Report
26.2 with Donna Marathon
Jacksonville, FL
Sun, Feb 17/08
Marathon #299
3:58:25 – 2 AG

Marathon #299!
There were a few times in the past six months (including the 10 mile mark of the race) when I didn’t think I would get to this point!

I had picked this race for #299 for a number of reasons:
a) It was two weeks before my hometown race where I wanted to run #300
b) It was an easy drive within FL
c) It was a new marathon for FL – ‘26.2 with Donna’ - and this was the inaugural race

I discovered a few negative aspects during the early registration process. The entry fee was a ridiculously high $115 but since it all went to the charity/fight for breast cancer I was willing to accept that price! The race had a start time of 8:30 am which seemed late for a FL race? The race start/finish was at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and since there was no parking all runners had to be shuttled to the start. This increased the logistics and the amount of time to get to/from the race. I must confess that I was not enthused or impressed with the race as I headed to Jacksonville but am happy to report that my negative opinion was changed. The races (Marathon and Half) were well organized and successful -more than 7,000 runners participated in the inaugural event!

I drove up to Jacksonville early Sat morning and headed straight to the Expo and packet pick up at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium. The expo was crowded because the space was too small to handle 7,000 runners (they only expected 5,000). However I found a booth that screen printed t-shirts and had a singlet custom-printed to commemorate my 300th marathon so I was happy. I was supposed to meet up with a friend from the 50 States Club but he had to cancel at the last minute so I was on my own for pasta dinner. I drove over to Neptune Beach to explore the beaches and enjoy a traditional pasta dinner.

Although the races didn’t start until 8:30 am I had to rise early to catch a shuttle bus to the start. Fortunately the weather was warm while we had to wait over an hour for the race to start. In fact the weather was too warm. It was already sunny, HOT and humid with temps in the low 60s and forecast to climb into the 80s by the time we finished! While waiting for the races to start I revised my race strategy for three reasons:
1) The weather forecast.
2) The late start. I thought the late start was due to the logistics of shuttling the runners to the start. However I talked to a few local runners and learned that the late start was necessary because part of the marathon course was on the beach and they had to be sure it was low tide!
3) The beach! The sand would slow the pace down.

I decided to go out fast as originally planned for the first 5 miles and then accept a slower pace on the sand/beach and by then the sun would be hot and the pace would have to be slower! Jeff Galloway who emceed the race urged/warned all runners to run at least 30-60 secs/mile slower than planned because of the heat!
The races started on time and we headed east on Butler Blvd towards the beaches. The first mile climbed a long steep bridge over St John’s River and offered a sweeping view of the Intracoastal Waterway where the river flows into the Atlantic Ocean. I passed mile 1 in 8:08. The next two miles included two overpasses so I was pleased when I passed mile 3 in 24:17 and turned on to Ocean Dr along the Atlantic Ocean. There had been no spectators on Butler Blvd but there were thousands of spectators and residents along the rest of the course! I passed mile 5 in 41:12 before we turned on to Jacksonville Beach. The sand was hard-packed in most places but I wasn’t sure what effect the sand would have on my pace (except to slow it down)? I decided to run by my heart monitor rather than trying to maintain the same pace. During the next/first mile on the beach I seemed to be struggling a lot for the pace I was running and I was shocked when I reached mile 6 in a split of 9:01? Surely the sand couldn’t have that huge of a negative effect? But miles 7 and 8 were splits of 9:15. Fortunately the course turned off the beach and back on to good old asphalt at mile 8! I decided to lower the hammer and get my pace back down below 8:30s. However I quickly discovered there was no hammer – there was no push – there was no energy! Suddenly I felt very poorly – I was either very overheated or had a fever and I was totally exhausted and out of energy? I realized that something was very wrong! I didn’t believe I could be tired/out of energy due to the great race I ran last weekend. One of Maddog’s strengths is his ability to recover quickly? And I noticed a strange phenomenon. Although I was trying to push the pace my heart monitor dropped about 10 bpm below my normal range and no matter how hard I tried I could not increase my heart level back to its normal marathon range? I wisely decided to slow down and jog the next two miles to give my legs/body a chance to rest and recover. However when I passed mile 10 in 1:28:08 and a split of 9:52 I still felt like shit and I knew I was in trouble!

I felt worse with every step and realized that I had to go into ‘survival mode’ and just try to keep shuffling the old legs and make it to the Half and hope that somehow I would recover? I promised myself that if I could keep ‘running’ to the Half I would re-evaluate my condition and walk the 2nd Half if necessary. I knew I was just delaying the inevitable (walking) but quitting was not an option since I had to finish #299 or run another race next weekend! As I approached the Half it took every ounce of energy I had to just keep my feet moving and I knew the race was over for me. I was prepared to walk the entire 2nd Half if necessary! As soon as I crossed the timing mat at the Half in 1:57:19 I stopped and walked. The 2nd Half was going to be very UGLY!

I walked for a few minutes and strangely – almost miraculously – I started to feel better and energy seemed to be returning? I no longer felt like I was burning up? I started to jog and I noticed that my heart monitor began to slowly increase back to its normal marathon range (80% Max)? By the time I reached mile 14 my heart monitor was reading normal and my energy was returning although not fully. I decided to run again while holding my heart rate in the normal range and see what pace that translated to? I passed mile 15 in 2:14:57 and a split of 9:04. I still didn’t feel great but I was running again and I decided the smartest thing I could do was to maintain my heart monitor in its normal range and accept whatever pace the body was able and willing to give me in that range. I reached mile 18 in 2:42 and a split of 8:55. I started to feel stronger and decided to push the pace – and noted yet another strange phenomenon? As I increased my effort the heart monitor soared 10bpm above normal range to 90% Max but my pace or split increased to 9:25 on mile 19? None of that made sense? I kept my heart rate at 90% Max over the next mile and al I got for it was a split of 9:15? I had passed mile 20 in 3:00:48. I calculated that I only needed a 10 min pace for the last 10Km to break 4 hrs so I wisely decided to lower my heart rate back to its normal range and accept whatever pace that gave me! During the next three miles I felt the best I had since mile 5 and started passing hundreds of runners and walkers who had succumbed to the heat. The course was noisy with sirens and clustered with ambulances picking up distressed runners!

When I reached mile 23 in 3:28:24 back on Butler Blvd I was confident that I would break 4 hrs! Yes I still had the overpasses and bridge between me and the finish line and the sun was now hotter than Hell but I had 31 minutes to run 5 Km! I did have to dig deep and my heart monitor again soared to 90% Max over those final 3 miles as I had to weave among hundreds of Half marathoners waking a 4+ Hr Half but I crossed the finish line in 3:58:25! I am not sure how to assess my performance and results in this race! Based on my pre-race strategy and goals they sucked! But based on the conditions and what happened during the race I was glad that I finished – ALIVE – let alone under 4 hrs! I later learned that my finish time was good enough to place 2nd AG so I guess I didn’t do too badly?

I am curious if any of my doctor friends/readers have any idea/opinion of what caused the strange problems/symptoms that I experienced during the race. My guess is that I suffered a case of the ‘5-Mile Flu’?

The most important thing is that I finished marathon # 299 and I now have two weeks to get ready for #300 at my hometown race.

Some comments/appraisal of the race:
I think the entry fee is exorbitant and I didn’t like the shuttle buses and late start. But I will give credit when due. The race was very well organized. The race volunteers and residents were very cheerful and supportive. The course is unusual/different with the 3 miles on the beach. I won’t go back but I believe you will enjoy the experience if you run this race next year. I think this race will become popular and get much bigger!

And a final personal story that has a message for all my readers:

As most of my readers know I struggled through many injuries and trials the past 18 months. In early 2007 I set a goal to run my 300th marathon in my hometown race in Sarasota in March 2008. When I suffered a severe tear to the plantar fascia in my right foot last fall I thought that goal/dream was finished! I still had 10 marathons to run in the next 6 months just to get to #299! Indeed if I had listened to the doctors who advised me to take 6 to 9 months off to rest the injury and friends who told me it was foolish to run through such a serious injury – the dream would have been over! Instead I ignored all of them and listened to my body as I pursued my dream. But it was not easy! It was one of the most painful and frustrating experiences of my running career. The boredom of cross training – the pain and humbling experience of running/walking marathons in record slow times – the frustration of watching runners beat me that I could normally beat on any day. I experienced highs in achieving small improvements in my times and lows due to setbacks in the healing of the injury and slower times. But it has been a life-altering experience! I have learned to deal with pain, adversity and disappointments along with the happiness of achievement! And I believe I have finally learned to control my super-competitive nature and accept that I cannot win every race (not sure Maddog has reached that level?).

I take pride that I am ready to walk up to the start line of my hometown race in two weeks and - NONE – NADA - NOT ONE - of those ‘naysayers’ will have the pleasure to join me at the start line to run THEIR 300th marathon!

The message is: “Never give up! Don’t always believe or accept what other people tell you what YOU can do! Listen to your own mind and body – they are the best advisors you will ever have!”

I have two more weeks to run speed work and a few tune ups to improve my marathon shape and win the Senior Title in the Sarasota Marathon.

Stay tuned!

Monday, February 11, 2008

RR Tampa

Race Report
Gasparilla Marathon
Tampa, FL
Sun, Feb 10/08
Marathon #298
3:42:06 – 1 AG

Marathon #298.
That was about the only significant fact on this marathon going into the race. In fact it was actually a make-up or substitute marathon to replace the Taiwan marathon that I had postponed in Dec 07. Fortunately there are lots of marathons in FL during Jan & Feb and I selected the Gasparilla marathon in Tampa because it is the closest to home and I had run it a few times before. The marathon is a part of the Gasparilla Festival and the Gasparilla Distance Classic – a series of road races. On Sat there were 5/10/15km races with several thousands of runners including elite runners in the flat and fast 15 Km. On Sun the Half/Marathon attracts about 3,000 runners.

I planned to use the marathon as a 20-mile tempo run (i.e. run the 1st 20 miles as hard/fast as possible and then just hold on to finish the final 10Km and race) as a tune up for my home town race in March where I plan to run marathon #300! Thus I convinced a few friends from the local running club to run the race too. Charlie and Linda wanted/needed to run a 3:45 marathon to qualify for Boston and I promised them that I would pace them through 20 miles at a 3:45 pace but after that they were on their own? However Mother Nature had other ideas as both Charlie and Linda came down with a very bad flu.
Luckily Charlie recovered the week before the race and decided to try running it but Linda was too sick and offered her race bib to Frank –‘the only other sane person in the world’. So Frank ran the Half as a young, beautiful blonde female! He offered to wear a blonde wig but when you look at the picture you will also agree that no disguise could help him?

Frank and I drove up to Tampa at 4 am on Sun and met Charlie at the start line. Since there were only 3,000 runners and no start corrals we were able to position ourselves on the start line to make sure that we didn’t get boxed in and had a fast start. The race started at 6am in the dark in downtown Tampa. The weather cooperated – it was 56 F and low humidity and the temps never rose above the low 60s during the race. I did not make the same mistake as Miami two weeks ago and wore a race singlet to reduce the risk of overheating! Charlie and I took off like scared rabbits and passed mile 1 in 7:50. Obviously way too fast! So I immediately threw out an anchor and slowed our split over mile 2 to 8:30. By the time we reached mile 6 on Davis Island in 50:14 we had settled into an easy/smooth 8:30 pace. At that point an old fart from TX passed us and asked if we were pacing each other? We explained that Charlie was trying to run a 3:45 to qualify for Boston. He then asked our age groups and we quickly realized he was in my AG. He then made a kind of sarcastic remark about not having to worry about me since I was running so slowly and took off. I wished him luck and let him go for two reasons: 1) I wanted to stay and pace Charlie and 2) I wasn’t foolish enough to get into a pissing match only 6 miles into a race!

At mile 7 the Half and Marathon courses split off and we had more room to run and my pace dropped to an 8:18 split on the next mile. At mile 9 the 3:40 pace group passed us and I dropped in behind them. I noticed that Charlie was starting to fall behind but I stayed behind the pace group hoping that Charlie would be motivated to keep them in sight. I followed the pace group through Mile 10 in 1:24:28. I was right on target but Charlie was already starting to fade? At Mile 11 the marathon course rejoined the Half marathon course back at the 7mile marker of the Half. This was a change in the marathon course and it was very confusing and annoying! There were runners merging and turning in all kinds of directions. Luckily I could still see the 3:40 pace group and just followed them. However we were now passing Half marathon runners who were running/walking a 12/14 min pace. For the next three miles we had to pay close attention to many slower runners on the course and weave around them which used up energy!

I passed the Half in 1:49:43 and a split of 8:35. I was on target and felt much better/stronger than I did in Miami two weeks ago. I was confident I could hold the pace through 20 miles. Finally at mile 14 the Half runners turned back on Bayshore Blvd towards the finish line and I was running by myself. I had lots of room, felt good/strong and decided to lower the pace to 8:20s. I passed mile 16 in 2:14:21 and a split of 8:21 and mile 18 in 2:31:17 and a split of 8:17! At that point the course started to loop through residential areas next to MacDill Air Force Base before returning to Bayshore Blvd at mile 20.
I passed mile 20 in 2:48:21 – 01:40 ahead of pace! It was time to do a gut check. I still felt good/strong and was confident that I could hold the pace through the final 10 Km. There was only one slight/potential problem? The course was now heading north on Bayshore back to the finish line in downtown Tampa and a strong wind had seemed to come up during the loop through the residential area? It was gusting about 20/30 mph – into our faces! I managed to hold an 8:35 pace for the next two miles into the wind. Around mile 22 I noticed a runner coming from the other direction and acting very weird. He had veered into our lane and was heading straight for me? As I veered to avoid him he veered to collide with me? Only at the last second when he started laughing did I recognize my good friend Edson from NYC! Friggin idiot! He cost me valuable seconds and energy!

When I reached mile 22 in 3:05:25 I was in for an even bigger surprise! The course had left the protection of the expensive homes along Bayshore Blvd and the final 4 miles along Tampa Bay had nothing to protect/buffer us from the wind. It was now howling about 30mph off Tampa Bay down Bayshore Blvd and directly into our faces! It was brutal. I searched desperately for another runner to hide behind and draft but the wind was standing everyone straight up and slowing them down! I figured I would be lucky to manage a 9/10-min pace into that wind? But there was nothing to do but hunker down, make my body as small a target as possible and push on. At mile 23 a young buck blew by me and I dropped in behind him to draft but he was running an 8:15 pace and I couldn’t stay with him. When I passed mile 24 in 3:22:57 I became determined to average at least a 9-min pace for the final 2 miles to finish under 3:45! I dug deep, ignored the wind and pain and pushed on. In the final 1 ½ miles I passed two old farts but never even gave any thought/concern to my position in the race? I hadn’t seen the old fart from TX and assumed he was ahead of me and a 3:45 finish would probably not be good enough to place in the top three? I pushed across the finish line in 3:42:06!

Needless to say, both Maddog and I were very happy. I had run a smart race, stuck to my strategy and was pleased that I had been able to push the pace through the final 10 km. I was ecstatic about my finish time – I would never have believed before the race that I was ready to run a sub 3:45! I walked back to the car to find Frank napping. He had finished the Half in 3:15 (15 min faster than Miami) and was once again happy and proud that he had beat me back to the car! We walked back to the finish line to take some photos and look for Charlie. No Charlie so we took the photos and headed home. I didn’t even check the results at the finish line because I didn’t believe I had placed in my AG. I headed straight to the hot tub with a six pack of Labatt’s Blue for a much needed, much deserved hot soak to rejuvenate my tired old legs.

After the soak I was curious about how I finished in my Age group so I checked the results on the NET. Holy Crap! I won my AG by 50 secs – the two old farts I passed in the last mile finished 2nd and 3rd. The old fart/jerk from TX must have crashed big time because he finished 17 minutes behind me! Retribution can be nice/enjoyable! I also learned (via email) that Charlie had realized at mile 14 that a 3:45 marathon wasn’t going to happen so he wisely slowed down and jogged to the finish line to save his legs and energy for our hometown race.

I have one more ‘training’ marathon to run in Jacksonville, FL next weekend to complete marathon #299 and a final tune up to prepare me for #300! I plan to stick to the same strategy but go out at a faster (8:15 pace) for 20 miles and then try to hang on for the final 10Km.

Stay tuned!