Wednesday, November 28, 2012

California International Marathon Preview

When I first read that Bart Yasso quote about the California Inernational Marathon course being the best course to attempt a Boston Qualifying time (BQ), I had not yet considered running 26.2 miles. His words stuck in the back of my head for a year or so, more so because of the race's proximity to my home than because I have any designs on getting my BQ any time soon. So when I decided that 2012 would be the year I ran my first marathon, CIM immediately rose to the top of the potential races. It will be my 16th race of 2012, which was my first full year of running injury free.

This year marks the 30th annual CIM in Sacramento. From the CIM website: the course "[traces] an historic route used by the gold miners during the 1849 Gold Rush. It begins at the Folsom Dam, passes through semi-rural suburbs into bustling midtown Sacramento, and has a spectacular finish in front of the California State Capitol."

CIM Course Map
Organized by the Sacramento Running Association, the CIM has become a world class event, and is often a regional or national USATF Championship event, as well. I have talked to many repeat participants, and not one has had a negative opinion on the race organization or course. However, there are a few stories of carnage that I uncovered. Some years the heat is unbearable, some years the latter half of the course is enveloped in fog, resulting in chilled runners wishing they had not discarded so many layers at the beginning. Many recount how the whole "net-downhill" aspect is over-hyped. The hills in the first half can easily roast your quads if you let them. "Don't plan on walking any stairs on Monday", said Mike Buzbee, a fellow Sierra Trailblazer. Mike is one of 12 CIM streakers, planning to run his 30th this year.

Race Day forecast from Accuweather
This year's event will be a soaker. The forecast for Northern California is predicting a "Pineapple Express" storm system to move slowly through from Wednesday through next week. This "river of storms" is the West Coast's version of a hurricane. As I write this, the rain and winds have already begun in the Bay. Some areas will receive up to 18 inches of rain, and flooding is anticipated for race day. On top of that, there will be a stiff SW headwind for most of the course!

In situations like these, I look to the coach for guidance. First, my favorite quote from the legendary Coach Bill Bowerman:

"There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people"

I bet I'll be feeling pretty soft, water-logged, prune-skinned and squishy at the finish line!

and Coach Tim provided positive anecdotes:

"I've run some of my fastest races in the rain! Positive attitude! ... Don't forget to wear your rubbers."

CIM has a tradition of having dozens of musical acts along the course, which I have been looking forward to, as I think they would break the miles up and provide some energy. I wonder how many of the scheduled acts will actually brave the elements? Plus, will the rain keep the spectators away? As I have absolutely no power over these outcomes, I am not getting too tied up in the answers. My main concerns at this point are what to wear, and how much Body Glide should I apply on race morning!

So, as the rain continues to build, I make plans to drive the course Saturday morning, hit the expo to stock up on swag, and jog the final miles of the course so that I know where to kick, if I can...

Finally, this weekend will be the first race I am attending solo. Twirly's company Christmas party is the night before the race, and she is organizing the event. So, I will make an appearance, and then drive down to a hotel a couple of miles from the race start. Race morning I'll take a shuttle bus to the start line, and my epic journey to marathon-dom will begin. I hope that Twirly will be able to make it down to the Capitol in time to see me finish, but I know how company Christmas parties go, so I have already decided to let her off the hook. Her support of my running seems boundless, and I would really like her to be a part of my first marathon, but if she misses it, it will not change my accomplishment.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Race Report: 2012 MEB2 Turkey Trot

The 2009 MEB2 Turkey Trot was my first race. Looking back, the motivation that came with signing up was the tip of an iceberg I have yet to fully discover. My sights are set farther than 5K now, but the excitement of participating in organized races continues to pay dividends and provide motivation to keep getting out there and training hard. Plus, racing seems easier than training. It might be the company, or the competition, but a 7:00 mile just seems easier when others are nearby.

The final Gold Country Grand Prix event of the year, the Michael E Bratton II Turkey Trot is a fundraiser for the MEB2 Foundation. The foundation was created in 2006 to provide sponsorship for "Anew Day, local youth activities & suicide and depression awareness", in honor of Michael E Bratton II, who took his own life. 2012 marked the seventh year of the event. Attracting over 1000 participants, the Turkey Trot is easily the largest field in the Grand Prix.

My schedule called for a pretty rigorous cruise interval workout consisting of 5x5 @ 7:00 pace. Tim gave me the go ahead to race the Turkey Trot in place of the interval workout, and I knew I would need to work hard to place high enough to garner the points I needed to secure second place in the Grand Prix. Machen MacDonald and I were tied for second on race morning, and with such a large field of unknowns, I had no clue to what place I would finish.

My training had been unsatisfying in the weeks leading up to the race: missed workouts due to illness and fatigue, and legs feeling like lead accompanied by labored efforts were frequent. I decided to use the hilly course as pacing practice for the marathon which followed the race a week and a half later. I would go out at marathon pace for the first 5K (8:20/mile), and then use the last 5K as a tempo run (7:45/mile), making up for a failed tempo run earlier in the week. This strategy would both give me a negative split and a good shot at a top five (I hoped), which I would need to earn more than one point towards the Grand Prix standings.

The race director, Mike Bratton Sr., gives an emotional introduction to the event every year. Depression awareness and suicide prevention are the responsibility of a compassionate society, and the Foundation does what it can to help the cause. Mike and his family put on a top notch event and promise every dollar goes back to the community. As the race start neared, Mike asked for a show of hands from people who were running their 7th Turkey Trot, of which there were a few. But when he asked how many were first timers, the hands shot up all around the track at Nevada Union High School. Easily a majority of the participants were first-timers. There were so many people at the starting line, I couldn't see anyone I knew!

Then we were off. The course exited the track through a gate, which bottle necked the 1000+ runners, and then looped around a parking lot before funneling onto single-track trail. I managed to start near enough to the front, and by the time we hit the single-track, the crowd was mostly manageable. There were occasional slow downs, but my pace was a little faster than intended, so I went with the flow.

The first mile went by: 8:07

As the course left the high school grounds, it began climbing up Litton Hill, first along a gravel path and then along the street. this was where the runners began to spread out. The leaders came screaming down the other side of the street as they passed the halfway mark while most of us were trying to maintain some momentum heading up the hill. An aid station at the turn-around was staffed by eager youths cheering on runners, always appreciated.

On my trip down the hill I had a shoe come untied again! Two races in a row my double-knotted laces have come loose. I have to get to the bottom of this issue. Breaking stride, pulling over and then restarting throws off my rhythm and puts me in a bad place. Especially on a downhill where I was trying to stride smoothly. I managed to avoid sprinting to regain my place in the pack this time, which is an improvement on a bad situation.

Second mile: 8:15

The hill bottomed out as we returned to the Litton Trail , and I slowly started picking off runners who had either begun walking or slowed due to a slight grade coming back to the woods in which we began trail running. I knew the 5K runners around me would split towards the track as we entered the school grounds, so I did not assert myself in the latter part of his trail section, saving some steam for the climb ahead, where the 10K course leaves the school grounds along Ridge Road.

Third mile: 8:08

MEB2 Turkey Trot Course Map

As I crested the hill, Twirly was there cheering on the runners. I gave her a so-so sign in response to her query, and began focusing on catching whomever happened to be in front of me. Have you ever used the old "rubber band" trick? Imagine a rubber band pulling you towards the runner in front of you. It works! The fourth mile had another climb along Ridge Road, after an out-and-back along Sierra College Blvd. I passed three runners in that section, wishing each of them a happy Thanksgiving as I went by.

Mile four: 7:41

The fifth mile had the runners return to trail running along the Litton trail. I passed another along this stretch, again expounding holiday wishes. I have run this section of trail before, but it seemed to be more uphill than I recalled. Another runner was in my sights, and as we completed the out-and-back to cross Sierra College this time, I finally reigned him in.

As I passed and blurted my blessings, he said "Hey, your pace looks good. I'll run with you."

The fact that he had headphones on and likely had not heard me was not lost. I picked up my pace a bit, as no one I had passed had taken this tact.

"Your first time?" he asked.

I shook my head and added some more steam. I was not in the mood for conversation.  The last small climb was ahead, and the trail had few foes before me.

Mile five: 7:49

The last mile coming into the school grounds felt great, although I slowed my pace a little once I ran out of people to pass. I managed a little kick coming into the stadium and finished strong.

Mile six: 7:58

I finished in 48:49, in 44th place out of 229 runners. 9th place in my age group meant I only received one point. I knew there would be a lot of competition for the age group points, but I was still disappointed. Ten runners in the top 50 were 40-49 year old men. Ironically, if I had raced the 5K I likely would have garnered more points, as Machen MacDonald took 5th place with a 24:40, earned 3 points and beat me for second place in the Grand Prix series by 2 points! I could have run the 5K, but two of my season goals were met: a top three in the Grand Prix, and run every 10K in the Grand Prix. So no regrets about a successful season. It was my first full year of injury-free running (knock wood).

As always, the event was run well by both organizers and participants. The refreshments were plentiful and the community was out in force. I chatted up some club members, while we waited for results, about the CIM experience. My racing year culminates in next weekend's marathon, and having met most of my goals for the year, I am looking forward to a strong showing.

Here are the details from the Turkey Trot:

Monday, November 26, 2012

CIM Training Week Fourteen and Thanksgiving in the Boat Yard

Despite feeling much closer to 100% this week, I still missed two hours of scheduled training. 90 minutes on Thanksgiving turned into the Turkey Trot 10K, and the other runs got in the way of Travel and boat projects. Twirly and I took advantage of the long holiday weekend to do biannual maintenance to Kuani's bottom. Here's how the training week played out:

Tuesday: 90 minute tempo - cut the tempo duration in half; felt poorly

Wednesday: 60 minutes at 9:00 effort

Thursday: MEB2 Turkey Trot 10K

Saturday: 45 minutes at 9:00 effort

Sunday: 60 minutes at 9:00 effort; fartleks

Totals: 34.36 miles, 1631'/1965' elevation gain/loss, avg HR 143

It's all over but the tapering now. I have to trust in the training I have done over the last fourteen weeks. I did not achieve all of the mileage I, or my coach, had planned, but I am confident I will put in a good showing at my debut marathon. The weather forecast looks like it will be a soggy Sunday morning, and that did bother me when I first heard, but I'm coming around. As long as I can stay warm once we start, I'm sure it will be a good experience. I may try to get in to see my chiropractor to loosen up my lower legs this week, but aside from the usual stiffness, I feel ready.

Safety first!
Any anxiety I had last weekend was eclipsed by a marathon of bottom painting in the boat yard. Twirly and I had three days to sand, clean, prep and paint Kuani's bottom in time to be launched and back in her slip on Monday. I had her hauled on Wednesday before taking the train home for Turkey Day, which we spent with Twirly's parents in Nevada City. Friday morning we drove down and got to work sanding; with the help of a friend we almost finished Friday evening. Saturday was spent completing the sanding and cleaning the hull.

 By Sunday we were ready to mask and paint, which we waited to do until the dew had evaporated. We ended up sprinting to get the job done before the sun went down and the dew dropped on our fresh paint, and by sundown, we were cleaned up and getting ready to go out for a celebratory dinner at Hotel Mac in Point Richmond.

Happy to be done.

Monday, November 19, 2012

CIM Training Week Thirteen & the Return to Health!

Well, this week went much better, as the critter that had set up shop in my system was finally defeated by my army of white blood cells, bombardment of Vitamin C and much needed rest. Symptoms began to abate and my energy levels returned, although I am not at 100% quite yet. I only missed two hour and fifteen minutes of scheduled training, due to lack of energy and a rainstorm that blew through the Bay over the weekend. Usually I enjoy running in weather (I love the Bowerman quote "... no such thing as bad weather, just soft people"), but it seemed like an invitation for the critter to return on Saturday, so I skipped a 90 minute workout. Fortunately, the weather broke in time for my long run on Sunday:

Monday: 45 minute walk <14:00 pace

Tuesday: 60 minute easy tempo, 8:00 pace

Thursday: 75 minute 3x8:00 hill repeats

Friday: 45 minute 9:00 effort

Sunday: 3 1/2 hours at 50K effort

Totals: 40.4 miles, 4864'/4715' elevation gain/loss, avg HR 144

The hill repeats and long run were in Redwood Park in the East Bay. Over 3000 feet of elevation during the long run really wore me down, but I feel like I am prepared for the rolling hills in the first half of CIM, as they will look small in comparison. A massage or two before the big day will hopefully have me feeling fresh at the start line. Tim has me doing some speedwork this week, and I have permission to race the Turkey Trot, so I'll see how my leg turnover is feeling. Racing the 10K on Thanksgiving gives me a good shot at securing second place in the Gold Country Grand Prix, which would be a timely confidence boost. Anxiety is creeping in as I contemplate Tim's recommendation that I go for a 3:40 marathon. It's a pace I feel will challenge me (8:20/mile), but I don't want to leave anything on the course. The last thing I want is to finish and realize that I have some gas left in the tank. Then again, I don't want to bonk the last 10K and end up walking it in! Again, I am in unfamiliar territory. One thing is for certain: in two weeks my first marathon will be in the books.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

CIM Training Week Twelve, the Lost Week

After the US Half Marathon on Sunday, my cold worsened. It violated the below the neck rule, moving into my chest, then my throat. So running was off the table for a while. It was easily the worst I'd felt in years. I'm used to experiencing cold symptoms for a few days, not weeks, and as the week wore on, the scheduled runs failed to manifest. Here's how the week played out:

Tuesday: 30 minutes at 9:30 effort - a body check run to see if there were any Half Marathon niggles.

Thursday: 45 minutes at 9:00 effort - heart rate climbed almost 10% higher than normal.

Total: 9.71 miles

Hopefully this sickness will abate sooner rather than later. My last long run before the marathon is next Sunday, and I'd really like to get an accurate assessment of my fitness. Tim has done well to counsel and remind me not to play catch up, but to ease back into the schedule. I missed almost five hours of training because of this damn cold, and that puts me in unfamiliar territory. Fortunately I have encouragement and guidance. Dealing with the unexpected factors is ubiquitous in running, as it is in life. Without the support of others, without the inclusion of others, the solitary experience can feel like a burden. Sharing the burden provides a sense of worth and ratification. Participating in an event, posting mileage on facebook, hiring a coach, rallying ones friend's,  these lift the spirit and result in new challenges.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Race Report: 2012 US Half Marathon

The US Half Marathon on November 4th, 2012 was my tune up race for the California International Marathon. The US Half has a sister race, formerly known as the "Other" half which is held Easter Sunday and follows the same course from Aquatic Park on the San Francisco waterfront, along the marina and Crissy Field and over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito before returning to Aquatic Park via Fort Mason. Crossing the bridge twice really makes this course spectacular!

Mile 9 of the "other" half, April 8, 2012

I ran the "Other" half last April (my first half marathon), finishing in 1:48:52. I remember feeling great coming off the bridge around mile 9. The endorphins were kicking and I was on top of the world. I had gone out very conservatively, around 9:00 pace, and negative split the race, clicking off 7:30's for the last three miles.

This time around was a different story. Over the past couple of weeks my goals for the race flip flopped more than a politician on the campaign trail. A tune up race ought to provide some insight for the goal race, and a 1:40 in this race would be both a PR and evidence that I might have a 3:30 marathon in me. Of course, my half marathon PR from September was on the flat course along the Embarcadero, not up and over the bridge twice, and shaving 40 seconds per mile off my spring performance was daunting. I was in better shape last spring, after hitting the gym hard over the winter recovering from stress fractures.

So, as if fifteen extra pounds and a daunting goal looming were not enough stress, last week I came down with a head cold of the snot factory variety. I began taking Sudafed and eating Vitamin C like it was leftover Halloween candy. I also began praying, sort of. I asked Tim what I should do and feebly remarked that a PR might not be in the cards. He recounted a stellar performance at Way Too Cool 50K (sub-four hour) he had negotiated through a head cold and told me to lay off the meds, which was NOT what I wanted to hear. Without the decongestant, my head felt like a balloon filled with pudding.

Under Tim's tutelage I also altered my pre-race routine a bit. Instead of carb loading with a big dinner the night before the race, I had a big meal two nights before, and a decent breakfast the day before. I tapered my food intake over the course of Saturday, had ONE beer at lunch (less than usual, even the day before a race, but I needed some alcohol to cut through some of the fog in my head) and a light dinner around 6pm. My race morning routine was unchanged: a bircher meusli smoothie, a Picky Bar and some coffee to get things moving. I was as ready as I was going to get.

Twirly and I got to the Ghirardelli parking garage about a half an hour before race start. Tim recommended I warm up well for about fifteen minutes with 3x15 second strides, which I did back and forth along Aquatic Park. Then ten minutes of walking before lining up and relaxing with some deep breathing and focusing on the task at hand.

The race starts at the foot of Van Ness between Fort Mason and Aquatic Park and runs uphill to Bay street and around Fort Mason to the marina. The line for the porta potties forms smack in the middle of Van Ness, and the line was still significant at 6:57, so with three minutes to go, the race director tacked on another five minutes to the start to avoid the inevitable trampling of those still waiting. This usually irks me, but I was warm and relaxed in the middle of the crowd about ten meters back from the starting line. I wanted to line up near the front to avoid the bottleneck on the bridge. In April I had gotten boxed in repeatedly while trying to maintain my pace in those middle miles. One last snot deposit in the rag I stuffed into my handheld, a couple of crowd-wide cheers for our World Champion San Francisco Giants, and we were off.

As always in a race, I felt great off the line. The incline up Van Ness does a good job of sorting out the runners, and the road and sidewalk are wide enough for everyone to find breathing room. We ran up and around Fort Mason and along the marina in the breaking dawn light, and I did my usual body check. No niggles, my sinuses began to clear, but I was still congested. My snot rockets were more like a shotgun blast at that point. My heart rate was good, less than 160, and my first mile was spot on for a 1:40 finish, 7:37. At this point, I backed off a little, knowing that I needed to save something for the end. The second mile clicked by at 7:42. Things were developing perfectly...

Then the wheels slowly began coming off. In the middle of the third mile amidst a good rhythm, my shoe came untied. That was a first! I always double knot my laces. I have no idea how it happened, but I pulled over and remedied the situation. When I resumed I could see the group I had been keeping pace with, and despite knowing better, I cranked it up to regain my place. That blew my heart rate, which I was unable to get back under control before we hit the first hill. The third mile was 7:52; my goal was still within reach, but I had some hills in my future.

And those hills seemed bigger this time around. Relatively speaking, the grades are runnable and less than 300 feet of elevation makes them short by comparison to most trail races. I powered up the first, which is short, but insulting, because the course drops you right back to your starting elevation before the second hill actually provides most of the climb to the bridge. As counseled by Tim, I ran right through the aid station at the top with my handheld water bottle, and reassessed my condition. No niggles, heart rate in the mid 160's (a bit high, but I was going for a PR) and my head was still producing plenty of phlegm, but at least I could breathe. Another small climb to the bridge, and then we were trucking north across the bay.

The view from mile ten
 My race plan called for an energy gel at 45 minutes and 75 minutes. Running along the bridge, in the middle of the sixth mile, eating a gel, I realised I was having GI issues again. Normally gels hit my tongue and I feel instantly energized and nourished. Instead, my stomach turned, and I quickly chased the gel with big gulps of water. Feeling it wasn't going to be my day, I tried to enjoy the views along the bridge. The KT tape on my Achilles began flapping around at this point, and it was difficult to keep my spirits up. At least my strategy to avoid the bottleneck had worked. I had plenty of room, and was getting passed more than being impeded.

By the time we had ducked under the Sausalito end of the bridge and conquered the last climb back up to the deck, I knew something was wrong. At mile seven I should have been in my groove, feeling that gel and finding an extra gear for the back half. It wasn't happening. I tried in vain to recall the feeling of flying I had in April coming back across the bridge, with the glorious view of the sunrise over the city. My legs wouldn't turn over, the snot would not abate, and my stomach did not feel ready to accept another gel, but I choked it down, because I knew I needed it. I did manage to click off a couple of sub-8:00 miles coming off the apex of the bridge, but I was working hard for that pace, and once I hit the flatland along the bay, my pace crept slowly towards 9:00/mile, while my effort still felt like 7-something.

Behind the smile, the bonk begins...
I focused on the trees of Fort Mason, knowing that Twirly would be there cheering runners up the final pimple of a hill. My brain considered walking, which resulted in an inner dialogue unfit for public consumption, but I muscled through what was the biggest bonk of my running career. I began observing my body from the outside, trying to assess what was left. The lactic acid burned in my legs, but my breathing was good. I wasn't quite anaerobic, but I just couldn't get my legs to turn over. My rhythm was gone. No mojo. Just heart.

As I approached the grass of Fort Mason I could hear Twirly cheering all the runners along. She has really embraced her inner cheerleader, and I love that she brings so much energy and positivity to spectating.

"Bonk city, I feel like shit" I told her as I slogged up the path.

"Almost there baby, you can make it!"

I was finding some humor in the spectators that would say "you're looking great, keep it up". They could not have been talking to me. I did find some solace after the race when Twirly showed me a video she took of the second place finisher as he passed her. This guy ran a 5:30 pace for the whole race, and his mantra felt like my inner dialogue:

Humbled but happy
I managed to carry a little speed off the last hill into the finishing chute, beating my time from April by 1:15 for a 1:47:36. I got my big-ass finishers medal (it feels like a chunk of the bridge!) and water bottle, some coconut water and muscle milk, and tried to stay in motion while I re-hydrated and stretched. I felt a bit woozy and had to put my hands on my knees a couple times, but by the time Twirly showed up with my gear bag, I was ready to consume my recovery drinks.

This race is really well organized, the course obviously rocks, and the post race festival comes with free Anchor Steam and Peasant Pies (I couldn't stomach the beer, another indication that something was very wrong that morning). They do a great job of announcing every one's names as they cross the finish line, which is cool, and the weather in early November is usually warm and clear. I highly recommend this race to anyone wanting to do a half marathon.

Looking forward is difficult given this cold that won't go away. With just weeks to go until the CIM, I am reassessing my goals for my debut marathon. I know I can finish. I'm fairly certain I can finish in less than four hours. Not so sure about that 3:30. I think 3:45 will be my goal, which would be 8:30/mile. More counselling from Coach Tim over the coming weeks should provide enough confidence in whatever goals I set. I just hope I kick this bug before I end up fatigued and under-trained!

Here are the details, for those who like details:

Monday, November 5, 2012

CIM Training Week Eleven and a Fraking Head Cold

This week the marathon began looming ominously. Overall mileage was moderate; Coach Footfeathers had me on a mini-taper coming into my tune-up half marathon on Sunday. Here's how the week played out:

Tuesday: 45 minutes at 9:00 effort

Wednesday: 45 minutes at 9:00 effort with 6x30 second strides

Friday: 30 minutes at 9:00 effort with 3x30 second strides

Saturday: 30 minutes shakeout jog

Sunday: US Half Marathon in San Francisco

Totals:  31.5 miles, 1939'/1611' elevation gain/loss, average heart rate = 147

I would like to say the week went well, but I cannot. A head cold began washing over me early in the week, and I was taking Sudafed and Vitamin C like it was going out of style. Without the decongestant, my head felt like a solid block, and everytime I blew my nose my ears would squeek loudly. Cold medicine makes me feel a bit loopy, and I was doubting my ability to put up a 1:40 half marathon time. My legs were feeling like lead, never getting loose on the shortened runs mid-week. A visit to my chiropractor helped some, but I need to incorporate massage and increase my foam rolling and stretching to facilitate flushing in my calves and hamstrings. The cold would not abate, so I sent Tim an email asking his advice:

"I ran a 3:59 at Way Too Cool with a bad cold all week... ... I wouldn't take any meds from now until the race. Once you start running you'll be fine"

Two days of no decongestant led to increased doubt going into the race, and it was not something I would have considered. I figured being able to breathe trumped any detrimental effect the drug would have on my performance, but I trust Tim's guidance, and followed his advice. I am still collecting my thoughts on my second half marathon across the Golden Gate Bridge, and the race report should be posted this week, so stay tuned...