Friday, November 30, 2012

Turkey Trotting

Today I would do the local Turkey Trot; a 3-mile fun run with several thousand locals. Lots and lots of walkers and trotters. No chips, no results. Just run for fun and start the day off by burning calories.

This is my 8th time running this one. Two years ago I set my course record of 20:27 which was a post-high school PR. This year I am a little burned out from two pikermis the last two weeks, but I'm also in better shape. I decided to do the Loop Prediction Race and would be racing without the Garmin for the first time in 5 years. Just like old times! Considering my fatigue I predicted 20:45. I figured I would do my best, and guessed that 20:45 was the best I could do on tired legs.

I also decided to wear my new green Loopfest shirt, and see if it had the same magical qualities of its predecessor, which carried me, and many other loopsters, to many PRs. I really should have factored that into my prediction time, but it was a last minute decision.

DW was already busy in the kitchen, cooking up a Thanksgiving dinner that we will be taking to a less fortunate family. So I have no pictures for you. But I did get to meet up with several friends from my local running group.

At the gun I went out at a good clip, and I really missed not being able to check my pace. But I trusted in my (significant) race experience and figured I could manage to read my body's cues and stay on track. I felt pretty good. A good hard effort, but in control. I saw mile marker 1 and there was no clock or person reading splits. But I did hear some people behind me say it was about 6:45. Is that cheating?

Mile 1 I was passing people steadily, but mile 2 it became more about hanging on. I passed a few people, but a couple passed me too. It felt like a pace I could hold on to. At the mile 2 marker I again heard someone say 13:33, and knew I was ahead of schedule and if i wanted to hit my number I could slow down. But I was out here to run as hard as I could - not hit the number, and that would be cheating anyway. But I probably did take a half-step back from the hurt locker in that 3rd mile, knowing I had a good time in the bag.

Still, I was pushing hard and suffering. The last 1/4 mile I picked it up a little more and passed a few more on the way in. Final time was 20:16. I missed my goal by 29 seconds, or 2.3%. But more importantly, it was a new PR! The Loopfest shirt's PR magic is confirmed!

So I had my Garmin on (with only distance showing). So I checked my splits. 6:40, 6:46, 6:50. Not quite negative, but pretty darn close to even for a fat, blind man. I guess my racing instincts are still in pretty good shape.

Now I am taking at least two weeks with no running after feeling a little burnt out with a marathon and two halves in the last 7 weeks

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Conquering Mountains - Valley of Fire RR

In a valiant attempt to do everything before my body remembers it is old and should just slow down, I am saying yes to everybody and everything and using up my (many) vacation days. So, after returning from the awesomeness of Marshall on Monday, I put in two days at the office, and then headed out for another 4-day weekend. Las Vegas, baby!!!
It was time for my annual reunion trip with my high school buddies from Minnesota. Each November for about 15 years now, we get together in a warm-weather state for golfing, racing, and general camaraderie (drinking and eating). No wives allowed. There were nine of us this year, and we rented a huge house to camp in.

So in brief, here was my weekend:
  • Drive from LA to Las Vegas, picking up a friend on the way - 5.5 hours
  • Drinking, eating and gambling on the Strip

  • Side trip to Hoover Dam
  • 18 holes of golf - Best round ever! (111)
  • Back to the strip for dinner, drinking
  • James Bond movie (excellent!)

  • Half Marathon! (RR below)
  • Giant buffet on the strip
  • Drinking and football watching and gambling
  • Cirque du Soleil show (Beatles - Love)

  • 18 more holes of golf
  • Drive home

We had a great time. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to have so much fun.

Before I jump into the race report, let me tell you about my friend K. K was my best friend in high school. We were teammates in track and CC, and ran many miles together. One of my best memories is the only CC race that I had a chance to win. K and I were leading a smaller race and decided to finish in a tie. So we came in together, but someone had to go through the chute first, and he pushed me ahead.

About a year ago, K got diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. He had been training for the Twin Cities Marathon, and feeling sluggish so he went for a checkup. It was shocking news, and we all figured he had 3-6 months to live. This cancer is notoriously brutal and almost always fatal. But K started in on the chemo treatments, and after a while showed improvement. He kept working, and kept running when he could. His athletic vigor certainly helped him through the harrowing days of chemo.

It was a long road, but his last two visits have shown him to be cancer-free! So no more chemo, for a while at least. It has been incredibly inspiring and emotional, and we runners of course claimed that running helped his body and mind to be strong enough to win the battle.

So, K was with us in Las Vegas. And he was the same guy as always. Looked the same, acted the same. No obvious change in his outlook on life. And his training partners said he's really on fire lately - running strong. Kicking death's ass tends to give you confidence and lets you not pay attention to a little running pain.

Race day we were up at 4:45 to do the 75 minute drive to the Valley of Fire, which is a state park in the middle of desert. The rocks are blazingly red and orange and beautiful, but we would be running on a 2-lane road in the desert. Only 73 people ran the half, so lots of alone time. Weather was good though. Low 40's maybe, and sunny.

Five of us did the half. Two others did the 10K. P was the favorite - a serious runner that I may have had a shot at if I was in top shape. But I planned to run with the other three guys (K, T and M) a bit slower. Normally I would be the #2 seed, but not by much.

The race starts out with a big hill in the first half mile. Followed by more hills.

So we go to the start and nobody is even on the line. Everyone is back 10-20 yards even though the start is seconds away. We go and realize why. There are no fast people in this race! Two guys went out ahead, and then there was us 5 middle age guys and a few others. I plan to jog up this hill, but P is already going ahead and so are K and T. By the top I am huffing and puffing and tied for last of our group. The downhill didn't change things either. Soon P was moving out of sight, and K and T kept pulling ahead. M and I just let them go because we were already going faster than planned, so we just decided to run our race and see what happened.

The elevation chart is not quite accurate because the hill at mile 10 actually got moved to mile 3 (an extra out and back), thus pushing the rest of the chart over. Anyway the first 3 miles were hilly before a long downhill. M and I stuck together for 5 miles, but then he started to slip as I seemed to find a good groove and starting pushing it a little. I waved good bye and set my sights on T who was a good quarter mile ahead. K and P were out of sight.

The road was very curvy and closed to traffic, so I was running the tangents. But nobody else was. It really made a difference. More people need to learn this trick. I passed a few people, but it was pretty desolate. There were some marathoners and 10Kers on the course too, but not many.

After mile 6, T started coming back to me. He was recovering from foot surgery and it made him slow quite a bit. I went by with a greeting and moved on. In mile 8 we hit a turn around so I could see the people ahead of me. P looked good. K had maybe 2-3 minutes on me. I figured if I kept feeling good he may come back to me.

The return trip had some major uphills, but I found a good trotting pace that didn't kill me and kept going. I passed some marathoners that had started 30 minutes earlier. Glad I wasn't going to be out in the sun for 5-6 hours! One guy stopped to take pictures around every turn.

At times I could see K up ahead and I think I was gaining a little ground. Then I saw him walking up a hill. OK. If he's struggling I can catch him. A mile later I saw him walking again up the last big hill. I was struggling too, but I knew I had some in the tank, so I kept plugging.

With about a mile to go I realized I was going to catch him. So I had to have a little conversation with myself. Should I stop and run in with him? Repeating our famous tie from high school? Or should I just run my race and go on by. I was pretty sure he wasn't going to rally and stay with me. Of course his recent bout with cancer was on my mind. I decided that a pity tie would be the last thing he would want. We are both competitors and knew that the race was the thing. So I beat him. I'm sure he would have done the same to me. Well, maybe not.

We gave each other a supportive cheer and I ran up over the last hill and flew downhill the last half mile. Finished in 1:46:44 and got 5th overall. P beat me by 4 minutes and got 3rd overall, which allowed me to get "1st" place in our age group, and the coveted cowbell award. My legs were not real happy afterward, but it was a good race.  I cheered the other guys in, and we got ready to celebrate in Las Vegas.

Coming in to the finish!
Photo: Racing in Nevada!

Photo: Another successful showing and beautiful day at the Valley of Fire Half Marathon for the Tonka class of 1980 gang.
Me, S, T, M2, K, M, B and P. My bro B and M2 did the 10K. S was supportive.

Looking forward to next year. New Orleans was mentioned as a possible destination.

Since then, my legs recovered a little. I did 5.6 miles Tuesday, and will be turkey trotting 3 miles tomorrow. Shooting for sub-7 pace. THEN I'll take a break. Really.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Marshall - Loopfest #5 - More Magic

You know, it should be illegal to have this much fun.

For those of you who have been to a loopfest, I don't really need to explain. You know the joy that everybody just gets wrapped up in for the whole weekend. I'm not sure why it happens, how it happens. Everyone says stuff like "Loopsters are the best people". I'm not sure that's really true or if it just happens because of the process of getting people together who only know each other from a magical website that only accepts positive vibes; People sharing the same passion who congregate in a place where they can put the "real world" aside for a while and just party and run and race and support each other. Whatever, it sure works, and this weekend was no exception.

It was great to see many of my "old friends" that I had seen once or twice before. And as always there was about half of the crowd that were new to the experience. Sharing the rookies' joy can be the best part.

I got a late start Friday night and took a red-eye flight from LA to DC, and then another flight to Charleston Saturday morning. So I only slept about 2 hours, but there would be no time for napping. I met Jenny Rae at the airport and we got acquainted on the drive to Sassafras Estates, where a huge home-cooked brunch buffet would be served, and loopsters dropped in for hours. Then it was off to Huntington and meeting everyone else at the expo and photo op.

Next we had a group carbo-loading and more social time, but eventually it was time to get some rest. Race day was tomorrow! I slept well for once, probably because I wasn't worried about my race, so I made up some of that lost sleep. I roomed with ForWill and it was nice to have a roommate who didn't snore like a grizzly bear! 

I had no goal for the race other than to have fun and enjoy the camaraderie. But I had a plan at least. The plan was to run with MildSauce. She and I were both not optimally trained to race, so we agreed to go out easy, maybe 8 minute pace, and then just see how it went. I figured we would pick it up a little from there and run negative splits. And in the back of my mind I thought about catching RunnerGuyMark and RunMonkey who were planning to run just a little bit faster.

We got to the course just in time to make a pit stop and get to the start. It was a pretty good crowd, but luckily ForWill found MildSauce in the crowd for me just before the national anthem. The weather was perfect, and soon we were off and running. We settled into a comfy pace, and found it was about 7:45, which we deemed acceptable, and trotted along enjoying race day excitement.

Miles 1-6 were 7:45, 7:45, 7:41, 7:47, 7:41 and 7:41. It wasn't easy, but it wasn't hard either. We were chatting and laughing and having fun passing people the whole race. Here we are at mile 3 spotting JB.


It was a clear day. The view by the river was beautiful. The trees still had colorful leaves. The bakery was blowing out fresh bread smell. Fun times.

As we got up to the running path by the park, it got even more fun. The crushed stone path was easier on our legs, and the curvy path through the grass made it feel like a training run. We started picking up the pace as we passed more people. It was a long progressive tempo run. Miles 7 and 8 were 7:38 and 7:26.

Mile 9 we both started feeling a little fatigue and took it down a little to 7:39. But then we saw a familiar green shirt ahead and thought it was RunnerGuyMark, and we kind of put him in our sights and stepped it up a little. We also got passed for the only time all day by a guy, and we ended up running with him and talking a little. Turns out he was a first time marathoner who was going out a little fast. I actually saw him finish later - at 4:49! Ouch.

Miles 10 and 11 were 7:33 and 7:25. Now we were starting to get in race mode. We still hadn't caught the green shirt so we were cranking it up. Mile 12 was 7:12 and we caught him...and it wasn't our loopster. Oh well, we had to keep it going now. It was a race after all so we were giving it a good, solid, honest effort and earning our medals. I was hurting a bit and asked Sauce if she was going to leave me behind, but she said no, and I hung on. Then in mile 13 I felt a little better, and pushed a little ahead, and she asked if I was going to leave HER behind. No, we were in this together. So we helped push each other through mile 13 in 7:17 and into the stadium.

There we caught our footballs and headed down the field, noticing the clock clicking toward 1:40. A last dash sprint seemed to get us in just under.

But...official time for both of us was 1:40:01. Poop.

However... the race lacked a chip strip at the start. Official time was gun time. And if there is no start strip I use Garmin time for chip time, so I'm calling it a 1:39:58.

So, a solid negative split run. More importantly, my recent injury problems were left behind in California and I had no problem at all. So I feel good about getting back to more serious training. In a few weeks. After another Pikermi this weekend and a 5K Turkey Trot next week...Hey, I like to race.

It was a blast running with the Sauce, and then hanging out for hours with so many Loopsters sharing all their stories. I was near tears many times as the first-timers came in for their victory laps, and goals were beaten, and loop love was in the air. Fantastic day.

And then we got to party.

The local pizza bar let us rent out the whole place, so we took over and acted like we owned the joint. The food was great, the beer was cold, and the Loopsters were all in great spirits. After that, most of us adjourned to the Sassafras house for a bonfire and moonshine and s'mores and singing. You will see many pics and stories from others. I'm getting tired so I leave it to them. But it was, you know, osom.