Saturday, June 28, 2008

RR - Slacker Half Marathon

Race Report

Sat, June 28/08
Slacker Half Marathon
Loveland Ski Resort, CO
2 miles above Sea Level
1:47:29 - 5AG

It has been a long, tough and painful two weeks since my last race in Estes Park, CO. As you may remember I started and finished that race with foot and back injuries/problems?

By the time we returned home I was in severe pain and glad that I had already set up appointments with docs. The first appointment was with a Podiatrist the following Tue. I thought I was suffering from plantar fascitis since the pain/symptoms seemed to be similar to those I had suffered many times? However with the help of X-rays and ultrasound he quickly diagnosed the problem as Morton’s Neuroma? Never heard of it? What is it? In summary – a nerve that runs between the 3rd and 4th toes becomes inflamed because of pressure /friction by the toes. As the nerve becomes inflamed it enlarges and the friction increases and it becomes a never-ending vicious/painful cycle until the pain becomes so severe that you can’t even walk! The doc explained several treatment options. Maddog chose the most aggressive and fastest one – a shot of cortisone into the inflamed area to reduce the inflammation and pain and the doc also adjusted my orthotics to spread the toes and reduce the pressure on the nerve. The cortisone worked quickly as expected to reduce the pain and I was able to continue running/training 10/12 miles each day. Now the back pain became a showstopper. It didn’t hurt when I ran but after I finished I was in agony for the rest of the day? (But of course it didn’t stop Maddog from running each day!)

I begged my Orthoped to squeeze me into an earlier appointment which he was able to do on Thu. X-rays revealed no obvious problem so he decided (guessed?) that the problem was a strained back muscle that kept going into spasms? He prescribed a muscle relaxant and PT (physical therapy). The meds eased the pain but kicked my ass – literally! I would take one after dinner – sleep for 12 hours – get up – take another pill – run 10/12 miles and sleep another 4 hours! After 4 days of fuzzy/lethargic/pathetic living Maddog became disgusted and threw the meds in the garbage! That crap is dangerous! It steals your life away! Fortunately by then I had started PT and massage and especially electrical stimulation eased the pain enough that I could continue to run and get some of my life back. By the 3rd PT session I felt good enough to think about running one of my favorite Half Marathons in the High Country. The Slacker Half Marathon was being run on Sat.

It is a fast downhill race that starts at the Loveland Ski Resort – more than 2 miles above sea level (10,630 ft) and finishes in Georgetown (8500 ft). The race requires raw speed and a good set of lungs! I ran this race 3 times before and finished all 3 times in 1:41 – resulting in 2 wins and a 2nd AG! Because of my poor conditioning and injuries/problems I was under no false illusion/fantasy of finishing in my usual time. I figured a realistic goal was a finish time between 1:45 and 1:50 - probably not good enough to win but maybe to place?

I lined up at the start line at 8 am with 900 runners. The weather was great – sunny and 45 F. My foot was hurting but the back felt OK. I was a wee bit concerned how the steep down hills would affect both injuries? The first ½ mile is uphill and by the time I crested that hill I was sucking desperately for air and my lungs were burning. That is normal – but for the first time I said to myself: “I’m getting too old for this crap”! By the time I passed mile 1 in 8:51 my lungs and legs had adjusted to the thin air and my splits dropped to sub 8s! The first 5 miles are on a dirt/rocky service road so it is necessary to be careful not to fall or twist an ankle. I passed an old fart around 3 miles and never saw another old fart during the race which meant one of two things:
1) I was in 1st place (unlikely at my slow pace)
2) The other old farts were so far ahead of me that I would never catch or even see them (more likely – and turned out to be the case)

I passed mile 5 in 41:11 and the endorphins had kicked in and killed all pain. The course enters a paved road after mile 5 and starts a long slow climb to mile 6. My split slowed to 9:03! But the next four miles are downhill on a paved service road to a bike path at 10 miles. I reached mile 10 in 1:22:38 and began a steep 500 ft drop over the next two miles of bike path. My splits dropped to 7:30s and I reached the bottom of the bike path in Georgetown at mile 12 in 1:37:41. My legs were totally wasted from the fast, steep down hills. I knew it was going to be a difficult struggle (as it always is) to gut out the final mile through Georgetown. That final mile is flat with several rolling hills(at 8500 ft)! I figured if I could just keep my legs moving and run the final 1.1 miles in 10 minutes I would finish in 1:47 and achieve my goal? It took a lot of willpower NOT to walk on a few of the hills but I finally reached mile 13 in 1:46:40 (an 8:59 split) and struggled across the finish line in 1:47:29!

I was pleased with both my time and performance considering the circumstances and difficulties I faced just getting to the start line. I checked the results posted at the finish line. My time period was not yet posted but I learned that the top 3 runners in my AG all finished under 1:45. I was not surprised! My guess is that I finished 4th AG? (Later learned I finished in a dismal 5AG)! I guess I shouldn’t be disappointed – but I am! I need to train much harder (and stay healthier) if I expect to compete against the Big Dogs from the Front Range – Denver/Boulder/Fort Collins! 1st place in my AG finished in 1:32 – a new course record! Damn – it is getting harder and harder to compete against those youngsters with each passing year! Maybe I am getting too old for this crap?

The good news is that nothing hurt (real bad) at the end of the race. The foot actually felt better and after back stretches/exercises and a long hot soak in the hot tub the back felt pretty good? I believe I will be OK to run the marathon I have scheduled next weekend in Portland, OR.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

RR- Estes Park

Race Report

Sun, June 16/08
Estes Park Marathon
Estes Park, CO
Marathon #305
4:13:39 – 1 AG

The “highest paved marathon in the world” so the race brochure claims? Even though it is a tough, hilly course with elevations between 7420 to 8150 ft I like visiting the town of Estes Park and nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. I planned to use the race as part of my high altitude training program but little did I foresee the obstacles and difficulties in getting to the start line?

First I had been struggling with severe pain in both my lower back and left foot since my last marathon two weeks ago. Then I had to interrupt my altitude training for one week while the Sports Manager and I traveled to Seattle to look after our son who got T-boned by a truck while riding his bike. Luckily the only serious injury he suffered was a broken kneecap! But the week in Seattle negated what little altitude acclimation I had attained and I was only able to run twice because of the injuries and the miserable weather in Seattle. We returned to the High Country on Thu before the race and I ran my ‘favorite’ hill loop on Fri to test my injuries in the hills. That short run went OK so we left for Estes Park on Sat.

Estes Park is a pretty little town nestled in Estes Valley at an elevation of 7600 ft. The Big Thompson River flows through the middle of the town into Lake Estes on the east side of the town. It has been a ‘tourist’ town/destination for many years since it is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. To the south the Front Range, including Longs Peak (14, 255 ft) towers above the valley and town. To the west Rocky Mountain National Park unveils a stunning array of mountain peaks, 74 of which reach elevations of 12,000 ft or more. The town has a lot of neat shops, bars and cafes overlooking the Big Thompson River. After registering and picking up my race packet we strolled along the shops on Main Street and enjoyed a pasta dinner at Mama Roses (the main race sponsor) overlooking the Big Thompson River.

On Sun I had to get up two hours before the race to apply heating pads to both my back and foot to ease the pain enough so that I could make it to the start line. I ran this marathon three years ago and set the course record (4:02) for the 60+ AG. (See archives – June 2005). I knew there was no way I could even consider challenging my own record due to the above factors but I hoped that if I ran a smart race I could at least run a BQ (Boston Qualifying) time of 4:15? The weather was perfect for running – sunny and a temp of 50F at the 7am start and temps in the mid 60s at the finish. There were about 150 runners in the Marathon and 300 in the Half. There were several runners from the 50 States Club and one runner from the Country List – Andy Kotulski.

The marathon started at 7600 ft and the first mile was uphill so I started real slow and still I was sucking desperately for air until I reached Mile 1 and started the second mile downhill. I passed Mile 3 in 28:01 and then the fun began! Miles 3 through 6 climbed 550 ft to the highest point of the course (8150 ft)! I struggled to hold a 10:30 min pace up that BAH (Bad Ass Hill) and reached Mile 6 with a 10:59 split – my slowest split of the race! But even more disturbing was the time of 1:00 – 6 min slower than when I ran the course record. At that pace any hope of a BQ time was gone? The only good news at that point was that the endorphins had killed all the pain in my back and foot. The back felt fine and the foot felt uncomfortable/not normal but OK – no pain? Fortunately the next 3 miles were downhill and I stretched out my stride and let gravity pull me down the hill at an 8:30 pace. When I reached Mile 10 in the center of Estes Park in 1:34:55 I figured I was back on a BQ pace as I continued through a series of rolling hills to Mile 12. The next two miles along Estes Lake were the only section of the course that was flat – and also the lowest elevation of the course at 7,420 ft.

I passed the Half in 2:03:44. I knew the 2nd Half would be much slower because there were more BAHs in that Half and altitude really starts to have a negative effect as mileage increases. However I felt good and I figured if I could run the 2nd Half in 2:10 – a 10 min pace – I could achieve my goal of a BQ finish time? The challenge began on a BAH at Mile 15 (9:59 split) and continued through a series of short rolling hills to Mile 17 (2:41:18). I was still on a BQ pace but I remembered the next three miles – the toughest part of the course! It climbed relentlessly for three miles back to 8000+ ft!
Once again I struggled to hold a 10:30 min pace up that BAH. I passed a lot of runners who were walking and almost succumbed myself before I crested the BAH at Mile 20 in 3:13:07 and a split of 10:47. I had 1 hour to run the final 10 Km! Mile 21 was downhill so once again I was able to stretch out my stride and let gravity assist and give my legs a chance to recover.

As I screamed down the hill in a blazing 8:53 split I was not happy to see another BAH facing me at Mile 22 that climbed back up to 8000 ft? Damn – I didn’t remember that final BAH! I struggled up that BAH in 10:51 – my slowest split of the Half – and reached Mile 22 in 3:32:52. I had 42 minutes to run the final 4.2miles! The good news was that the course dropped almost 500 ft over the next two miles and I was able to reach Mile 24 on the bike path along Estes Lake in 3:52:00. I had 23 minutes to run the final 2.2 miles! However the bad news was that my legs were trashed from the hills and altitude – I had no energy left and the final two miles climbed gently about 100 ft to the track at the high school!

I was too close to give up and I realized the only solution was to call in the Big Dog – er – Maddog and hand the race over to him! He has an uncanny/unbelievable ability to focus so strongly that he can shut down every non-essential part of my body not needed to run to conserve energy and he can block out all pain and the outside world. It’s like I am inside some kind of protective cocoon where there is no pain or distractions as I float toward the finish line? Only when I passed Mile 25 in 4:01:09 and a split of 9:08 did I finally have confidence that a BQ time was in the bag! I could walk/crawl the last mile in 14 minutes! I asked Maddog to ease off the pace and let me cruise to the finish line. The only remaining obstacle that I remembered (too well) was a short steep hill from the bike path up to the school at Mile 26. That damn hill felt like Mt Everest (again) but I struggled up it and entered the track at the high school. I managed to shuffle the wasted old legs the final 200 yards to cross the finish line in 4:13:39! Once I crossed the finish line I barely had enough energy to walk through the finish chute. But I felt good because I knew that I had left absolutely nothing on the course!

The Sports Manager had arrived at the finish line only a few minutes before me and after the obligatory finish line photo and a short walk in the infield to hydrate and recover I tried to check the results. They had not been posted yet so I decided to try a short massage in the hope that it would prevent the back and foot from flaring up again? Strangely they both felt OK at that time. However the second I layed down on the table both cramped and locked up! Fortunately the masseuse was able to work the cramps out and the foot felt much better but the back continued to hurt like Hell! I have appointments with docs in the next two weeks to check out the problems/injuries. I am hoping for a miracle/quick fix since my next marathon is in three weeks?

Just as I was crawling off the massage table they announced the awards for my Age Group. I finished 1st AG and at that time nobody else in my AG had even crossed the finish line. I later learned that 2nd and 3rd place finished exactly one hour behind me!
I was happy with my time and performance. Although I finished 10 minutes behind my own course record I ran ‘smart’and accomplished two things I had not been able to do the first time - I ran the entire course and finished with a BQ time! Even Maddog was pleased with my performance (all due to his assist at the end of course!).

We stayed in Estes Park one more day to enjoy a nice victory dinner and the next day we drove home through Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy the magnificent scenery and wildlife. I took some photos that I already shared with my readers.

Now it time to visit doc/quacks and hope that I can heal in time for my next race.

Stay tuned!

Monday, June 02, 2008

RR - Steamboat Springs, CO

Race Report
Steamboat Springs Marathon
Steamboat Springs, CO
Sun, Jun 1/08
Marathon # 304
4:01:26 – 3AG

This race was intended to be only a long, high altitude training run for a number of reasons.
1) I arrived at our summer home in CO just one week before the race so didn’t have much time to train or adjust to high altitude
2) As happens very/too often the many hours spent sitting in the car during the long drive from FL kills my back and or neck – this time it was my back that had been sore/stiff for the past week. It became so sore on Fri before the race that I had to call my masseuse - Pegi de Sade - and beg her to work on my back before the race. Thankfully she agreed to let me on her torture table on Sat morning before we left for Steamboat Springs.

The back felt sore after the torture session but was feeling much better when we arrived in Steamboat. I was able to enjoy a pleasant walk around the old western town w/o pain after picking up my race packet. On the drive to Steamboat we had received a phone call from our oldest son, Chris with shocking news. He was calling from a hospital! He had been biking with a group of friends in Seattle and was hit by a truck. The driver had run a red light while talking on a cell phone and hit Chris broadside! He was lucky to be alive! An ambulance took him to a hospital where the most serious injury found was a broken left knee. Needless to say that news put a damper on our weekend and made the race very insignificant and we spent most of the weekend on the phone with Chris. (More news on Chris later).

I had run the Steamboat Marathon three times before – winning my Age Group twice and placing 2nd in the last race. However this year I had no such expectation or aspirations. My only goal was to finish w/o aggravating my back and to finish with a BQ (Boston Qualifying) time – under 4:15!

The Steamboat course is advertised as “one of the 10 most scenic marathons in the world”. The course is point-to-point and starts 26 miles northwest of Steamboat at historic Hahn’s Peak Village at the base of an extinct volcano. The race starts at 8128 ft – drops about 100 vertical ft over the first mile and then climbs to the highest point of the course –8178 ft. at mile 2. The course then drops 1400 vertical ft over the next 18 miles although there are several rolling hills. At mile 20 the course climbs about 300 vertical feet over three miles and three BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) before dropping back down to 6728 ft at the finish line in Steamboat. The marathon is limited to 500 runners and the Half to 1000 runners.

After the long (almost 1 hr) bus ride to the start line my back was once again sore and stiff and I had to spend a lot of time stretching and massaging in an attempt to loosen it up. I hoped that once I started running the adrenaline and endorphins would control the pain? Both races started at 7:30am but the Half started at the Half-marathon point of the course. The weather was perfect for running – sunny with temps in the low 40s F and low humidity. The temps warmed up to the low 70s by the finish so I was never hot!
My biggest concern was going out too fast on the first downhill mile. The altitude and some chest congestion took care of that problem. I had been trapped in the car during our drive to CO with the Sports Manager who was sick with a severe cold and chest congestion. She was still suffering from the cold and I thought I had escaped the worst of it – until I reached the ½ mile point of the race. Even though I wasn’t running hard my lungs were on fire and I couldn’t breathe! Part of the problem was altitude but I figured I also had some congestion that hadn’t bothered me during my ‘easy’ training runs? I was forced to slow down drastically just to breathe and I reached mile 1 in 8:46. I struggled to breathe and hold that pace as I climbed to the highest point of the race (8178 ft) at mile 2. As I started the long descent to mile 20 my body and lungs finally started to adjust to the altitude and pace and I was able to run an 8:30 pace w/o difficulty. I passed mile 5 in 43:40 and was able to lower the pace over the next 2 downhill miles to 7:30s. I passed two old farts during that burst of speed but reminded myself not to get caught up in a competitive frenzy! I passed mile 10 in 1:26:21 and reached the Half in 1:54:33.

I knew the 2nd Half would not be as fast because of the numerous hills and especially the BAHs at mile 21. Although my legs were already tired I felt confident that I would beat 4:15 and thought there might even be a chance to beat 4 hrs if I didn’t crash? However as I climbed a BAH at mile 14 my pace slowed to 9 min and then slipped to 9:15s over the next 5 miles! I reached mile 20 in 2:58:13. My back had tightened up and was killing me! I would have to average a 10 min pace over the last 10Km and I knew that I wouldn’t/couldn’t run that pace through the BAHs from mile 20 to 23! My legs were wasted as I struggled to climb the 1st BAH at mile 21. I tried desperately to keep the legs moving/churning but finally had to give in and walk the final few hundred feet to the crest of the hill. I allowed myself to walk for 1 minute. That brief walk seemed to help both my legs and back and I was able to struggle through the final two BAHs before walking again briefly on the final hill. I crested that BAH at mile 23 in 3:29:43 and a split of 10:50!

I had 30 minutes to run the final 5Km! I didn’t think it was possible but mile 24 was downhill so I charged down the hill in a desperate attempt to see if I could break 4 hrs? I passed mile 24 in a 9:16 split and tried valiantly to hold that pace over the next mile. I reached mile 25 in 3:48:59 and a split of 9:59 – and I was finished! There was nothing left! My legs were totally out of energy- my back was killing me – and I was having trouble breathing again! At that point one of the Old Farts that I had passed early in the race charged by and challenged me to finish under 4 hrs! I couldn’t respond – and I didn’t care! I didn’t know if he was 1st or 2nd in our Age Group – and I didn’t care! I realized that I was finished but I could crawl to the finish line under 4:15 so my only goal was to get to the finish line w/o screwing up my back any more. I slowed down and ‘jogged’ the final mile to cross the finish line in 4:01:26.

I finished in 3rd place in my AG behind the Old Fart who passed me and finished in 3:59:11 (good for him!). At that time I really didn’t care but as I slowly recovered and met up with the Sports Manager to take the obligatory finish line photo I realized how close I had come to winning my AG and I became upset with myself for the lack of competitive desire and unwillingness to accept pain and agony to win. Maddog was extremely pissed off with me as he had been during the entire last 10Km of the race when he continuously chastised me and urged me to accept more pain and push the pace! Who was right? All I know is that I achieved my goal of a BQ time and it doesn’t appear that I aggravated by back problem?

When we arrived back home I headed straight for the hot tub with a 6-pack of Colorado microbrew to see if a combination of heat and booze would relieve the pain in my back. I am happy to report that it worked. My back feels much better today?

What’s next? Don’t know? We were scheduled to leave on Thu for a 1-week trip to TundraLand (aka Canada) to visit family and attend a wedding. But now we are waiting for Chris to visit his orthoped and get a final prognosis of his injuries. If he needs surgery for the broken knee or has other injuries then we will cancel the planned trip to Canada and fly to Seattle to take care of our baby (37 years old). He lives in a 3-level town home and will have difficulty getting around if his leg is immobilized? He is not a happy camper! He just resigned from his job last Thu and is scheduled to start a new job in two weeks. His health insurance terminated on Sat? And he planned to join the Sports Manager and I to run the Inca Trail Marathon in Aug and had prepaid the trip! Lots of unknowns to address in the next few days? He is going to need lots of moral support!

Either way it looks like I am going to screw up my high altitude conditioning because it goes away quickly when you leave the High Country! And I have another high altitude marathon in two weeks - the ‘highest paved marathon in the world’ – in Estes Park, CO.

Stay tuned!