Monday, April 23, 2012

Boston Marathon and Double Blue Ridge Marathon

4/16/2012 - Boston Marathon

Boston was lots of fun, as usual.  I got up there on Saturday via bus with the team.  After a couple fun days in Boston, race morning came and, even in the early hours of the day, the predictions about the weather seemed to be proving accurate.  I wasn't really worried about that, though.  My plan was to try to PR, which I expected to be able to do - and I figured as long as I stayed hydrated and poured water on my head, the heat wouldn't be too much of a factor.

The gun went off at 10:00am and the mass of bodies began shifting forward.  I fell into a good PR pace around 6:15 or 6:20 I think.  My legs felt tired, which I thought was strange but maybe just due to the heat.  I expected they'd loosen up in a few miles.  I didn't have a specific goal in mind, but thought something in the 2:40s would be reasonable.  Anywhere from 2:43 to 2:48, I guess, is what I had in mind.  That sounded fast to me, but considering what I did at New York, I think it was a reasonable expectation.  Especially since I took the week leading up to Boston easy so that I'd be ready to run fast.  In these early Boston miles, I remembered my legs feeling the same way early on at New York (although for good reason, that time). 

Well, after 10km I started doubting my PR intentions.  I remember hitting that mark in something like 39:30, which coincided with my plan to run between 19:30 and 20:00 5k's.  But I was tired.  For the couple of miles after that my pace slowed closer to 6:45.  After 8 or 9 miles, I was essentially positive that it was not my day.  I knew there was a slight chance I could start feeling better and salvage what I had lost in those last few miles later on, but I continued to push at the same or higher effort level, and the miles continued to get slower. 

So by the time I got to Wellesley, I had slowed down considerably and was trying to just enjoy the experience.  I still had a little bit of hope to speed up again later on, but that hope was diminishing a little bit more with every mile.  I spent the entire second half taking in the energy of the crowds, which were amazing as always.  Boston really is second to none when it comes to fan support.  The atmosphere is so much fun.  I probably got close to 1,000 high-fives in the second half of the race. 

It was definitely hot.  I took a cup of either Gatorade or water at every station and poured at least one cup of water on my head.  After only an hour or so into the race, all the aid station water was already warm, and I soon learned that the trick was to take the cups of water from little kids and families between aid stations.  They had the coldest water, fresh out of the fridge or cooler. 

The hills in Newton were a little rough, but ended soon enough.  Then the last 6 miles were a blast.  I crossed the line in 3:03:57, soaking wet and sore.  Once the slow-down started early in the race, I remember thinking multiple times that, even though I wasn't having a good day, there was no reason I shouldn't run under 3 hours.  Sure it was hot, but I just ran a 3:01 on tired legs and a harder course a couple weeks ago.  Well, that expectation got trampled, as well.  I wasn't frustrated with the result when I crossed the line, though.  I figured it just wasn't my day, and that happens, and I made the most of it and had lots of fun.  Then I started hearing about everyone else's times, and almost everyone did relatively poorly. 

So I guess the heat really did have an effect.  It was mid- or upper-80s at the finish.  One thing I was thinking about during the race was that I'm glad I don't train all year specifically to PR at one or two marathons. 

Boston left me decently sore, but I felt pretty good on a shakeout the next day and had the Blue Ridge Marathon double to look forward to..

looks like Boylston Street, the best quarter mile in road marathoning

4/21/2012 - Double Blue Ridge Marathon

I'm really grateful to Kevin Green for organizing this unofficial event.  Randomly browsing the internet one night a month or two ago, I saw a link someone posted on facebook to the Blue Ridge Marathon.  I looked into it and thought it could be a fun little road trip and training run, with 3,620 feet of gain and loss.  As I was exploring the website, under Race Options, I noticed the "Official Unofficial Double Marathon."  Obviously, I was curious, so I emailed someone who put me in touch with Kevin.  After the HAT Run and Garden Spot, I was confident that I was healthy enough to handle 52 road miles and committed.  I talked to lots of people to try to recruit someone to make the trip with me, and had a single taker.  Josh Finger and I met halfway and then drove the last few hours to Roanoke together on Friday evening.

We got some pizza downtown and then parked his car (Hotel Highlander) on the roof of a parking garage, and tried to get a little bit of sleep before the 2:30am start of the first marathon.  Before the alarm went off at 1:30, I had managed 1.5 or 2 hours of rough sleep, and Josh had managed 10-15 minutes.  The warthog Josh keeps in his backseat was breathing very heavily, apparently.  That, combined with the aroma of leftover pizza and the symphony of ensuing pizza farts between the two of us, made for a wonderful pre-race beauty sleep atmosphere. 

Hotel Highlander
 At 2:15, we drove down to the bottom level of the garage and parked the hotel.  We only walked a block before we saw a small group assembled on a street corner downtown.  We met Kevin and the other doublers, pinned on our numbers, and got a group picture taken by one of the race officials who was awesome enough to show up at 2:30am to show us off. 

The plan was to run the first marathon in roughly 4:45, to leave about 15 minutes of spare time before the 7:30 start of the actual marathon.  My legs felt okay.  The main thing I was still feeling from Boston were just very stiff hips.  But the slow pace felt fine.

The course gives you almost all of its 3,620 feet of gain and loss in the first 20 miles before essentially leveling out for the last six.  The climbs are long, but runnable.  It was cool to be running up the first couple mountains in the dark.  We couldn't see ahead of us and I had no idea when the climbs ended, or how long the descents would last.  We stayed as a group or close together the whole way, as planned.  There were some nice views from up high over the dark city of Roanoke, and the giant man-made light-up star at mile 13 was pretty sweet. 

The early miles were fun, getting to know a few of the other doublers a little bit while heading up the first mountain.  Then, while rolling through the mountain hills to the next peak, I kind of zoned out for a while.  There were a few miles during which I didn't speak a word and just listened to the other conversations while falling into a lull induced by the bouncing spots of light on the road.  When I came out of that lull, I remember thinking to myself how incredibly random my current behavior was.  Thirteen hours ago I was sitting in Differential Equations class, and now I was running in the pitch dark in a place I'd never been before with 5 or 6 people I didn't know.  The only word I could think of to describe it was just...random.  But it was so casual.  You'd almost think we did this every weekend or something and it was just business as usual.

After the man-made star which shines over the city of Roanoke from 2,100 feet or so, there is a long, steep-at-times, ~2 mile descent.  My energy after that was pretty low, but then, about 16 miles in, a lady greeted us on a street corner with Dunkin Donuts, gummy worms, granola bars, and cold water.  I had a chocolate donut and some worms and my energy sky-rocketed.  Next came 2 or 3 miles of mostly climbing through some really nice neighborhoods.  By about 20 miles in, the sun had risen on a cloudy but pretty morning. 

The first marathon took 4:42, and we rolled into the streets of Roanoke as a group, using the starting line as our first finish line.  The same gentleman who had been there at 2:30 for our start announced our arrival on the loudspeaker to all of the marathoners who were getting ready for the race start 15 minutes later.  Josh and I ran over to the car, ditched our headlamps, shirts, etc., and got back to the starting line in time for some remarks from the RD and the National Anthem. 

The second marathon went by much quicker.  There were a few reasons for this.  First, obviously, it literally was quicker.  But also, I knew what to expect this time, knew where the climbs started and stopped, and how long the descents were.  Plus it was daylight, so I could see what I couldn't see 5 hours earlier.  The views from up high were real nice in the daylight. 

During the first marathon, we had taken advantage of the aid stations which were not yet set up.  We stopped at a bunch of them just to fill up water bottles.  I also noticed that this race had more porta-johns along the course than I had probably ever seen at a marathon.  It was awesome.  There was literally a pair of toilets like every two miles.  Awesome, because I needed to use them twice during the first go around.

Anyways, the second marathon was fantastic.  I had ditched my bottle because I knew I could just take my time and get some water/gatorade/whatever at the aid stations, which were more than plentiful.  Just like the toilets, the aid stations seemed to be every couple of miles and usually had GU Brew and water.  A couple of them had orange slices and gummy bears, which I loved.  I generally took a cup of fluid at every station.

I had a rough patch after the long descent from the star.  It lasted about 2 or 3 miles, but once I started heading back uphill at mile 16 or 17, I started feeling a little better again.  The last few miles were a bit hot and exposed to the sun, but not too bad and I felt fine.  My 'goal' for the second marathon was under four hours, which I did with a 3:53.  Josh smoked it with a 3:26. 

Strangely, I didn't feel like I ran two marathons.  I was definitely more sore and tired when I crossed the line in Boston on Monday.  The totals for the day were 52.4 miles with 7,240 feet up and 7,240 feet down in 8:36:00.  It's weird, really.  I definitely feel better now (two days later) than I did Thursday/Friday (one/two days before).  That excites me, as I've put a lot of road miles in lately and my legs are feeling as good as ever.  Definitely excited to hit the trails at White Clay for some Triple Crown action next weekend, though. 

The organizers of the Blue Ridge Marathon deserve a lot of credit.  They advertise their marathon as "America's Toughest Road Marathon," which I was hesitant to accept as true.  After running it though, I don't doubt it.  Sure there are plenty of tougher trail marathons, but as far as road races go, this one quite likely takes the cake.  The course is phenomenal, the volunteers and aid stations were excellent as numerous as the hills, and even the local crowd support was good.  I'm very glad I doubled the fun, and another big thanks to Kevin Green for that opportunity.

Monday, April 2, 2012

GSV Marathon and Cherry Pit Ten - 3/31 and 4/1/2012

After the HAT Run, my legs were nice and sore from a hard effort, which I liked.  I took a day off and then continued running slowly to recover, with no pain whatsoever, which I liked even more.  I decided a nice long run on tired legs would be good for the following weekend, since I was feeling healthy, and soon found the Garden Spot Village Marathon as a perfect option.  Rolling hills through Amish country, a new race for me, and beautiful scenery and Spring-time weather sounded like a perfect day.  Unfortunately, it was chilly and rainy, but still an excellent experience!

the start - from the GSV Marathon facebook
 I ran controlled, but hard.  I felt great for about a mile, but then maybe the little bit of "adrenaline" that might have been flowing wore off, and the tiredness set back in.  I still felt pretty good, relatively speaking, through 10 or 12 miles, though.  I was just having a good time, running alone for the most part but chatting with people here and there as we crossed paths.  I never looked at my watch, but knew I was a little under 7-minute pace.  That seemed reasonable.

The course goes out for about 12 miles, does a 3 or 4 mile loop, then comes back.  I saw Jackie at the end of the loop on my way back - she was waiting at the aid station to pace Alan for the rest of the way.  I think I still felt pretty decent at that point.  Shortly after that, a guy in a VT singlet came running up alongside me.  I thought I recognized him, and sure enough, he was one of the same guys I ran several miles with during Boston last year.  Pretty cool coincidence. 
Somewhere in there, from, say, mile 15-18, I was feeling pretty tired.  But then somewhere after that, the marathon distance started seeming kind of 'short' in my mind, and I started feeling better.  I started picking people off for the last 10km or so and finished nice and strong, adding on a few cool-down miles to make for a 50km training run.
early miles - from US Candids
Highlights of the Garden Spot Village Marathon include:
1. Lots of horses-and-buggies!
2. Very nice rolling country scenery.
3. The encounter with Jordan from VT, and a few other nice fellas.
4. Low-key feeling for a road race, sharing the roads with regular traffic.
5. Enthusiastic volunteers at the aid stations..
6. Great finishing area, with food, massages, etc.
7. The short, but very steep hill, which we pounded down at mile 6ish and then charged (read: trudged) up at mile 21ish!

The following day was the Cherry Pit 10 Miler with the marathon team.  I didn't know what to expect to be able to run, so, again, I never looked at my watch and just ran how I felt.  I felt fantastic for a half mile, then all the soreness from the previous day came back to me.  The good thing was, though, that 10 miles seemed VERY short in my mind, so I had a lot of fun pushing it.  There are a few tough hills on this course.  The uphills were difficult, and the downhills were painful.

It was a fun race, and I was pleased with the result.  Saw lots of local running friends either running in the race or volunteering on the sidelines, plus Liz from Rock'n'Roll cheering on her brother.

So the weekend consisted of a lot of hard road miles, and I was very happy with how my shin held up.  I drew my inspiration for the weekend from all kinds of wild performances in the ultra world, from my friend Josh's smoking fast winning time at NJ100 last weekend, as well as Tom's excellent performance there (and Tom was helping out at a road crossing during Cherry Pit), to all the folks experiencing far greater suffering than I this weekend at races like Umstead and the Barkleys.  Gotta love it!