Friday, February 13, 2015

33 Hours in a Van with Strangers? A Fine Proposal! Ragnar Key West

Some time last year former Loopster Rushourunner suggested joining her Ragnar team in Florida. I had just done Hood to Coast and had relay fever. And I've never been to Miami or Key West. So I signed up and committed and bought plane tickets. I figured I could talk some Loopsters into joining, but that didn't work out, so it was me and 10 strangers and one person I've met once. Woo Hoo! Adventure!

So off I went to Miami and was introduced to people in a hotel room. That we were all sharing. 3 rooms, 6 beds, two couples, 7 ladies, and me.

I guess I could have asked for a cot, but I'm kind of stubborn and lazy, and after some awkward conversation, I eventually convinced them I was a harmless old man, and got one of them to share a bed with me. No biggie.

Meanwhile, we decorated the vans, and had a really good Philly Cheesesteak at a dumpy little place run by a Philly guy. It was better than the one I had in Philly 3 years ago! Got to know my teammates a little over a few beers. Didn't get to see any of Miami though, except the airport and some random neighborhoods on the way out of town. Oh well. I'll take my talents to South Beach another time.

I was in van 2, so I got to sleep in a little. Van 1 got started at 6AM. Our group was mostly slower runners. We averaged 9:55 for the whole race. Here was our tracking sheet. We ended up staying pretty close to it, finishing within 18 minutes at the end.

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You'll see there were two quicker runners to keep me honest. I quickly got competitive with Lisa over who would be the fastest. She is a hard-core runner, with many marathons and Ragnars under her belt, and competitive! So we ended up pushing each other on every leg. That helped make it feel like a race.

As we casually made our way to exchange 6 by 9AM, van 1 had an extra surprise going on. Runner 6 was planning to propose to runner 5 as she finished her leg! He had some signs made up and stretched the team out over the last section of her leg.

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Thankfully she said yes! Otherwise it would have been a long day in that van!

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Of course, he then had to go and run his leg, so she was left with a big ring and time to spread the word from her phone.

We met up with van 1 at the first exchange and heard the story and talked for a bit, but soon we had to go chase down our runner. Lisa ran 7:25 pace for her leg, so the gauntlet was thrown, and I had my goal for leg one.


I took off at what I thought was conservative pace. But Garmin told me 6:25, so I dialed it back a bit. We were running on sidewalks since there were no road closures, and we had to follow traffic laws. So when I hit a major intersection after just 1/4 mile I had to stop for a red light. A looooonnnggg red light. The two people I had passed jogged up and we stood together chatting. I had decided to hit my lap button for red lights, so I had clean running numbers. The light was 2 minutes and 4 seconds. This graph shows my pace and you can spot the stoplights.

leg1Four stoplights total, although one I may or may not have blown through one because there were no cars...

Anyway, I was working pretty hard, picked up 12 kills, yelled at two headphone wearers who had missed the turn and saved them some time, averaged 7:15 when I was running and did the last 1/4 at 6:22 pace feeling good!

It was 70's and sunny and more humid than I am used to, so I had a good sweat going. But it was back in the van and on we go! I did have a sweat towel, and 3 sets of running gear, so nastiness was kept to a minimum. Still...

After our first legs, we dined at Chili's and then drove through the Everglades into the Keys. Van 1 got to run through the major crocodile section at dusk, but we had to keep our eyes open.

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I never saw one though, sadly.

By now it was dark, and we were on highway 1 for the rest of the race - one long, straight, flat road along the Keys. We hung out at a high school for hours. Some slept, some showered. Lots of waiting. I got to know my teammates a little better. I couldn't sleep. We started our 2nd legs about midnight and mine was at 2:30AM. 10.7 miles in the dark. Lisa had nailed her leg at sub-8 pace, so I planned to treat it like a long run, go out over 8, and than bring it down as I warmed up to marathon pace, maybe 7:45.

But, you know, racing! Mile 1 was 7:52, and I was just getting warmed up. 7:47, 7:41, 7:42, 7:30, 7:26, 7:25, 7:30, 7:36, 7:41 and 7:13 for the last 0.7.

It was fun. I wore the headlamp, but had trouble getting it to point the right way and stay steady, so I ended up holding it in my hand after I stepped right into a deep puddle I didn't see in mile 2. Lisa had 24 kills in her 8 miles, so I was trying to beat that too. But runners were scarce. I caught two in mile 1 and three in mile 2. There were long stretches where I couldn't see anyone in front of me. Then I would see some bobbing lights and I would have my next target. Most were lots slower than me so it was fun to track them down and blow by. I felt like an elite cruising through the field. 38 kills and no one passed me.

The views were awesome. Much of the time I could see ocean on both sides of the road. The wind was blowing pretty hard, but it was at my back the whole time. Especially going over the bridge, it was definitely giving me a huge boost! The full moon was overhead, and it made for a surreal run at 3 in the morning. Here is a pic of one of our other runners at dawn.

By dawn our van was pulling into exchange 30 and again I had a shower and failed to sleep. More time-killing, but there was a pancake breakfast which was edible. And coffee. I did sleep about an hour altogether I think, in phases.

Our 3rd legs were all short. Lisa killed her 4.4 miles at 7:15, but mine was only 2.7 miles, so I figured I could go for sub-7. Well, it was not to be. From the start my body just felt tired and I could not get up to speed. I got 12 more kills, but two guys passed me for the first time, and one of them was wearing a batman costume. Nothing kills your motivation like getting passed by Batman. I worked as hard as I felt that I could and averaged 7:23. So Lisa got me on that one.

But I was done. And now we got to cruise into Key West and gather for the group finish. Ragnar put on a good race - organization was great, traffic was not a problem, parking was pretty good. Much better than Hood to Coast! Limiting to 500 teams is a good plan.

The finish was on the sands of the beach, and directly into the party and beer garden. We all ran in together and commenced celebrating.

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Our medals were cool, and when you put all 12 together, the back created a puzzle.



After getting to the hotel and a shower, I think I napped for 15 minutes before it was time to go out. Key West was amazing! Lots and lots of bars and restaurants and one big party! Loved the casual beach vibe and party atmosphere. We ended up at the Ragnar party, where they rented the biggest bar in town (Rick's), and for an hour it was all you could drink for free. There was a great live band, multiple bars around an outdoor courtyard, and hundreds of runners in party mode. Lots of fun.

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The next day I got to tour more of Key West, had some Key Lime Pie, went through Ernest Hemingway's house, and then headed to the airport for the long flights home.

The strangers I met on Thursday I now count as friends. And now I know even more runners around the country to drop in on. Ragnars sound pretty silly when you try to explain it to people, but we runners just love to do our thing together and revel in it. And party after.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

PR or Bust:10K RR

This was serious business. I came into this race in great shape. No excuses, so I was going for a PR. Even though I just set one 8 weeks ago in my last race, and that felt like a 100% effort on a flat course. This one had a few hills, but netted out to zero. It's a course I knew well from 19 previous races, but then they went and changed it a few days before the race. Due to some road construction they reversed the course. Same course, just backwards.

I ran it that way on Thursday to check it out. I liked it! It got rid of the worst hill at mile 5.5 which was always brutal. Instead we would have several nasty little hills in the first 1.5 miles, but then the rest was mostly flat or downhill, with a downhill last two miles. I set up my plan to start out relaxed, not burn out too much at the start, and then attack the course the last 4 miles with progressively faster miles to the finish.

Here's the elevation.

The goal was to get under my PR of 43:08, and also under 43:00. So I had to average about 6:55. I wanted to keep it over 7 for miles 1 and 2, and then under 7 the rest of the way, and make up whatever I lost on the hills.

I warmed up with about a mile, which was the distance from my house to the start. It was a perfect day - 50's and sunny. Many of my speedy running group were on hand, in uniform. We dominate this race, and it is fun to be part of the team, even though many of them were way ahead of me. The uniform makes me feel like a VIP; I'm one of those showoffs who does warmup runs in front of the start and then just moves to the front of the pack ahead of all the saps who have been standing there in the corral for fifteen minutes. In this crowd (~3,000) that was a necessity. The only other way in was through the back.

I moved about 5 rows back. And then we were off and running. I ran my plan and stayed relaxed. We hit the first hill after 1/4 mile and I kept telling myself to stay within myself. I glanced at G and it said 7:20. Great. Perfect. The hill got less steep and I started to pass the early starters already. I crested the first hill, and while I was huffing a bit, I was certainly in control and able to step it up a little.  A steep downhill let me open it up and fly a little, and I hit mile 1 at exactly 7:00.

OK, a little faster than plan, but I felt OK, but now there was another long hill. I dialed it back and again, stayed within myself (my mantra for miles 1-2). "Hold it back. Don't burn out early. This is not a 5K. Long way to go." Much huffing and puffing, but again I crested the hill feeling in control and was soon able to start pushing it again. Started heading down a long gradual downhill and got into the racing groove. Mile 2 clicked in at 7:08.

As I started mile 3 I saw my pace was about 6:55. Good, but I was going downhill and thought I may need more speed than that. Started getting near the red line, where the pain makes you not want to go any faster. "That's good enough right there, sir", my body was telling me. Then the course leveled off, and it started feeling harder. Ugh! Long way to go! But I was slowly catching people. All during the race I would spot people I knew from my running groups and go after them, and that really helped. Chasing people you know is a lot easier than chasing a time on a watch. Mile 3 was 6:57.

As I started mile 4 I was heading back toward the finish and had a long gradual uphill. Pace was showing just over 7. I had some water, but it just made me a little sick. A kid passed me. Dammit, this is hard! OK, It was time to see what I was made of and start pushing the envelope. I got the pace under 7 despite the hill and just worked it one block at a time.I was focused and working now. Passing people and then going for the next person. I knew I could do this. It would hurt a lot, but I've done enough to know that it could be done.  You just have to get through each minute and not give in to the urge to let up.

I saw this quote after, and had to add it here:

That's how I felt in miles 4 to 6. It hurt like hell. But I knew that pain. This was my 97th career 10K. I knew I could remain calm, set the pain aside, and get through to the other side. So I kept my foot on the gas. Mile 4 was 6:53.

The last two miles were mostly gradual downhill or flat, with a few little uphills mixed in. I saw another rival from the club and went after her. Also, coach Ed was just ahead so I chased him too. Got them both in mile 5, but I think I pushed a little too hard in running them down. After passing them I was really hurting and starting to get lactic acid buildup. I eased off just a tad because there was still a mile and a half to go. Mile 5 was 6:43.

Those little uphills near the end were nasty and brutish, but short. I was redlining it now, for basically the last mile. "Just hang on. Pace will take care of itself. Just keep moving." Passed the wife at mile 5.2 coming up the last little hill, and headed down to the finish.

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Still had one more club member to catch, a woman who normally runs just in front of me during intervals. I passed her with 0.4 to go. Legs were tying up, and I was just hanging on to the finish. I knew it was going to be close, so I kept pushing for every second. Mile 6 was 6:40, and I hung on to 6:29 pace for the last 0.25 to the merciful finish line. I stopped my watch and it showed 42:59.3.

Boom. Did it.


Officially 42:58, a ten-second AGPR, best time in 12 years, and on a tough course. This graph nicely shows my pace progression over the hills and the gradual move from 7:00 to 6:30 pace.

Once I got my breathing back and managed not to dry heave (another close one), the endorphins kicked in and I felt GREAT! Lots of friends to chat with (brag to), beers at the beach-side beer garden, and a beautiful warm day. And a goal achieved. I ran to my plan perfectly! It's a good feeling.

112th overall, 17th in my tough age division (needed a 37:20 to place top 3!)

And then, Loopsters! About six dropped by after Surf City for a Super Bowl party. We ate and drank and celebrated. Good times.