Sunday, March 29, 2009

Next on the Menu: American Odyssey Relay

Less than four weeks until the American Odyssey Relay (AOR) and planning has taken on a fevered pitch.

The relay is a 200 mile run from Gettysburg to Washington, DC. Thankfully, I get 11 friends to run this with. Our team is comprised mostly of blogger friends from Ottawa (yes, Canadians are allowed!), Arizona, New Jersey, Arkansas, North Carolina and, of course, right here in Maryland.
Over the past few months, we've needed to replace seven or eight original members. Logistically, getting everyone from where they live to the start line, and then back, has been a challenge, but if everything works out right (like it always does, right?), we'll all make it to the starting line just in time.

The route is not exactly level. For some reason, they didn't build battlefields like Gettysburg or Antietam into the lowlands. Some of my teammates, being from, shall we say vertically challenged geographies (read: flat), are a bit nervous about the task ahead.

This week's training plan was to try to replicate the feeling of running three times in about a 24 hour period. The challenge for all of us was to get three runs in representing 60-70% of their AOR mileage total. Build in hills, if possible, too.

I think I've only done a multi-run day once, and that was years ago. I started Friday morning with boot camp. Just a mile and a half in the hour, but that goes to the total. At 8:30, after the kids were off to school, I met up with my neighbor Brian and we headed out for a hill run. My street is pretty hilly. The hills are steep, both up and down, but short. After we left my street, the main event is Tollhouse Road -- about 2/3 mile mostly uphill with a short breather in the middle. From there, some moderate hills, but nothing like the first half of the run. Brian is a much stronger runner, normally averaging about 8-9 minute miles. I struggle to keep up with him, but it's good to have him pushing me. Friday, not so much, we kept a 10 minute pace which we both felt good about for 4 1/4 miles.

At 2:30, I headed back out for another loop on my own. This wound up being the best of the three runs, breaking under 10 minutes average.

On Saturday, I planned to do 6 miles on the regular Team In Training course. We woke up to a torrential rain storm and I was having serious treadmill thoughts. Unfortunately, I had made comments to the team that I mentor not to skip a run in the rain. You can't control race day, so don't skip out on a long run. By the time I walked out the door, the rain had stopped. Attendance was understandably sparse. My team was a no-show. (Guess I need to do a better job emphasising my point.) Oh well, all of the mentors showed (and most even ran!) and a few hardy participants were there, too.

In short, this run sucked. I struggled the whole way and spent the first three miles of the out and back thinking about cutting the run short. Once I hit three miles, I was pretty well all-in. Only way back was three more miles by foot. I even walked the last third of a mile or so.

Not sure if it was the third run, the big mileage coming off the half a week before, the weather, or what, but it was mostly misery. Except, of course, that a bad run is better than no run at all.

So, 16 miles for my triple run. Not bad at all. Will do it again next weekend, trying to up the mileage a bit, too.

A good part of the AOR team took the challenge. We'll all be ready to hit the starting line on April 24. Can't hardly wait!


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cold and Cupless in the Capital

As you, my frequent visitor well know, I am semi-obsessed about the weather. Particularly as it relates to any outdoor activity. A week out, Dave saw rain in the forecast. By Tuesday it was gone, but in it's place, the temps were getting lower and lower, well down into the thirties by week's end.

Dave and I headed to the expo on Friday. I didn't have much of an expectation as Dave had warned me that last year's expo was no great shakes. This year was equally unimpressive. Maybe 20 booths selling their wares. We did meet Runner's World Chief Running Officer Bart Yasso. (I couldn't resist an autographed copy of his current book, of course.) Then it was back home to continue the carb load.

Friday night was a pasta dinner at home followed by the usual prep and a slight build up in stress that always accompanies race day. All the attire decisions were set and everything was laid out for a quick getaway in the morning.
The run was scheduled for 7 on Saturday. 4:30 came way too soon, but I was up and at 'em to meet Dave and be on site at about 6.

The Pre-Run Happies -- Was It Really 34 Degrees Warm?
After a couple of bathroom breaks and even a late wardrobe change by one of us (hint: not me!), we were off to the start line as the sun finally arrived. Dave took his place in his corral and I went to mine. A few minutes later, Bart Yasso started the race and we were off. Well, some of us were off. Took more than seven minutes to cross the start line.
Finally, I was really off. Unfortunately, the pace was very slow at the start, trying to bob and weave through the crowd, especially for the first half mile or so.
As we turned the first corner, there was the Capital straight ahead. What a view to see a few thousand runners ahead, popping up and down with the US Capital right ahead. As I got moving, I could really feel the cold, dry air burning through my lungs.
The view at the 2 mile marker, Capital behind.
The course was fairly flat for the first six miles or so and I was keeping time at or below 10 minutes each. It was a comfortable pace, but was it too fast? Probably, but I was enjoying the run. At mile six, the lone hill of significance had arrived and it took it's toll. Between the just a bit too fast of a pace and the cold air, I slowed significantly getting up that hill.
Once the hill was past, I couldn't get back to the 10 minute pace. It was time to enjoy what little there was on the course once we left the historic stuff.
At the mile 6 water stop, something was missing: cups. Okay, somebody screwed up. I can get to the next one, no problem. At the next one, more of the same. "We ran out of cups, but feel free to drink from the bottle, just don't lip it." Gee thanks. Is it too much to ask for water and Gatorade IN A FRIGGIN CUP? Apparently so!
Along the way, there were some very nice folks that set up their own little water stop. I think it had nothing to do with the lack of cups, just some folks being neighborly. First table said "G2 Only", next was "Water". Finally, "Beer -- Really!" I took from the first only. Really! The rest of the way was more cupless water stops. You've got to be kidding me? How does this happen? Oh yeah, and there's still 2000 thirsty people behind me!
Along the way, there was a live band at DuPont Circle around mile 7 and a big group of high-fiving Howard U kids -- that was great. I even saw one of the Baltimore Team In Training Mentors on the course. Beth and I talked for a half mile or so and then I turned and had inadvertently dropper her. (Sorry, Beth, hope you had a great finish!)
As for the run, I was holding my own, running all the way, maintaining mostly 11 minute mile paces. At 11 miles, I started talking to myself -- just two to go. I've never made it that far without walking (other than water stops.) Today I was going to do it. I kept talking to myself and it was working.
Finally, the finish was in sight. The marathoners went left and the halfers went right. A decent crowd at the finish and it was done.
Official time: 2:18:04, bettering my Tampa personal best just three weeks ago by 4:43. Running all the way!
Next up, the hour wait for Dave. In the cold. Suddenly, the couple of hours worth of schvitz was now working against me as I hung out. In the mean time, it was great to watch the speedy marathon finishers and the back end of the half. It was great to watch the joy of those running their first marathon cross the finish line. Dave came in at 3:23, a personal best for this event.
Way to go, buddy!

Dave and I, marathon #15 and half #5 in the books!

I feel great about the day, but what I feel best about is that I know I could do better. Now, time to concentrate on the next event -- the American Odyssey Relay. Much more on that to come.

So much for this race report. Thanks for hanging in with me.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Kick Ass Wednesday

I'm feeling way way behind on so many fronts. I've deemed today to be Kick Ass Wednesday -- that's what Boot Camp Kenny calls our Wednesday workouts and I'm stealing his theme for my day today. Time to get caught up.


A friend spent the past four months or so not feeling right. Mostly some gastrointestinal issues. He started going to the doctor and they couldn't find anything. They scheduled a colonoscopy. Even though he started to feel better, the doc wanted to do the test anyway. The result? Colon cancer.

My friend is 39 years old with a four month old baby at home.

His prognosis is good.

I can't help but to think what he and his family have gone through in the past few weeks. It really puts everything else in life into perspective . . . the job loss, the day-to-day bs that we all deal with, the bs that you're going to read below. Just can't imagine.

Our thoughts and prayers are with him.

Old Friends

A couple of weeks ago I was walking through Trader Joe's and I ran into an old friend. We'll call him Greg. (No, not protecting his anonymity, that's his actual name.) I turned a corner and there he was. Greg and I went to college for a few years together and were good friends after college. In the last few years, we haven't seen each other or spoken, but I've always considered him a friend, even though our paths had diverged a bit.

Anyway, back to the story, "Hi, Greg" I said. I get this stare back. . . "I know you but I don't know who you are," I'm sure he's thinking. He throws out a name -- not mine. "Nope, it's Jeff," I said. Don't think Greg's chin could have dropped any lower.

Through this whole body changing adventure, this is the first reaction I've had like this. In the past year I haven't lost a whole lot, so I'm starting to accept what I look like and forget what I used to look like. This was a great reminder of how things have changed. I don't ever want to forget where I've been.

About the Bike

Okay, let me talk about my love/hate relationship with my bike. I love riding my bike, really I do. Unfortunately, I had no clue how much maintenance might be required. I was up for some maintenance, but I'm a low maintenance kinda guy. (I've thought about paving my lawn to avoid lawn work, to give you an idea what I'm talking about.)

The weather two weekend's ago was absolutely perfect, so I finally got around to truing up my wheels. My neighbor's truing stand had been in my garage for four months. An hour later, it was done. Sunday I went to ride.

Apparently, with the wheel issues, my gears were out of alignment. I was stuck in the middle front chain ring, which gives me nine gears. That's okay, though, I can handle the hills on the easier gears. That is, until I go into the easier gears -- bike is not happy about either the easiest or toughest gears. Oy! I'm down to just 5 or 6 working ears out of 27.

I get through the ride and head over to Kirk's Bike Shop. Never heard of Kirk's? Well, he's my neighbor and between Kirk and George, next door, they've got just about every tool made and have been invaluable in keeping me on the road. In about 5 minutes, Kirk has my gears working -- all 27 of them. Then he spend 10 minutes explaining the 4 hour overhaul I ought to do to clean the bike up. Needless to say, my head was spinning. Nobody told me about all the maintenance required. Guess I'll just have to get a new bike every six months or so.

Half to Go

Just three days until the National Half Marathon. Weather report is darn near perfect -- in the 40's, light winds and DRY! Goal for the day is to break 2:15. Will be tough, but using the Tampa barometer from a few weeks ago, I think it's there for the taking.

Speaking of Tampa -- got confirmation of my time from the race and apparently, I got 27 seconds faster in my sleep. The confirmation was 2:22:48 vs the initial 2:23:15. I knew I was getting faster, but I sure do like getting faster this way!

That's it for now. Next post will be after Saturday's half. It's back to Kick Ass Wednesday.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Race Report, With Extra Goodies!

Have we really been home from Florida for four days? Where has the week gone?

Last Tuesday, I headed to the chiropractor to address the calf issue, still not feeling better and a bit concerned with a half marathon scheduled for the trip. The doc got me right in and massaged the spot. Diagnosis was a micro tear in the muscle. Doesn't sound good, but you know already that things worked out. Glad I took the time to visit.

We picked the kids up from school early Tuesday afternoon. Amazingly, we were able to keep the trip a secret to them up to the point when we pulled into the parking lot at the airport. It certainly seemed like we'd spilled the beans on a few occasions, but the boys clearly aren't suspicious enough, though I'm sure that will change over time.

Once they figured out the secret destination, plenty of hoot'n and holler'n ensued.

Our Southwest flight was full but landed early in Tampa. From the airport, we headed out to Clearwater Beach for some fun in the sun.

We spent Wednesday locally at the pool and riding on a pirate ship. And we ate. And ate. And ate some more.

Thursday, I woke early and headed out for my first run since the prior weekend's triathlon. Though my chiropractor suggested waiting as long as possible to run -- Friday evening or Saturday morning -- I really was anxious to get out there and enjoy the weather. Besides, my calf was feeling much better. The run didn't disappoint. I'd say the pain was about 95% gone and I felt pretty good running in the early morning "cool", such as it was.

Once I got back, it was breakfast and on to a day of coasters and games at Busch Gardens Tampa. We could not have picked a better day weather wise. Just perfect. The only thing better were the light crowds at the park. My family has had a longstanding love affair with roller coasters. One of my disappointments as a fat guy was not being able to partake, but I've been making up for lost time, not skipping a ride at any park. My kids seem to have taken to the family love.

Zach was fearless at the park, riding every coaster at least once, and some several times. He even handled my favorite, SheiKra, a coaster that goes up 200 feet, does a straight 90 degree downward turn and the holds you at the apex for 4-5 seconds. Then, free fall. Matty rode most of the coasters as well.

Friday was beach day. We spent the whole day at the beach. Kids were in and out of the water. I sat and read a book. (My mom had lent me The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva months ago. Once I read page one, I couldn't put it down. ) That afternoon, I went for a pain free three mile run.

Saturday was moving day. From Clearwater Beach, we went to Tampa to the run expo, then off to watch the Yankees lose to the Twins (Yeah!)

Throughout the day Saturday, I spent more time worrying about weather than the actual run for the next day. Not just the weather in Tampa either. We had a 3pm flight home scheduled Sunday afternoon and Baltimore weather was calling for 4-7 inches of white stuff to start falling at 2 pm. Might we get stuck for an extra day? I could think of worse places to get stuck, for sure.

Deb had scouted out a Spaghetti Warehouse for Saturday night dinner in Ybor City. She called and asked about reservations. No problem to get in at 5-5:30. She mentioned all the runners carbing up. No clue. Off we went. We arrived at 5:30 to a one hour wait. Are you kidding me? No dice. We wandered Ybor City and found a nice little Italian place. Perfect. Food was great, timing was better. We finished eating about the time we would have been seated at the Warehouse.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel to get some sleep for the 4:30 wake up call. As it is, it's tough to get a good night's sleep before an event. Add to it a hotel in a strange town, a blackberry alarm backed up by an iffy hotel alarm clock and there just isn't a good way to sleep well. I started tossing and turning at about 3, never really falling back to sleep. By 5, I was on my way to the lobby. Hot Starbucks waiting, great start!

The forecast was questionable. Upper 60's and 90% humidity at race time. Wind and a good chance of rain. It is what it is. Just go and enjoy.

I was at the starting line 45 minutes early, just wandering, using the port-a-pot and just people watching. Even did some stretching.

The course was pretty flat and based on my recent long runs, I was hoping to maintain a 10 minute pace for as long as possible. If I could hang on, that would be 2:11 or so, but I thought 2:20 would be a great finish. I hooked up with the 4:20 marathon pace group. The full and half ran together for the first 7 miles. If I could hang with them, I'd be in great shape.

At 6, we were off and running. I didn't expect to feel the humidity so quickly. By a mile in, I was a bit behind the pace group, but struggling. I lost the pace group at about 2 1/2 miles. The humidity just didn't let up. Seemed to be getting worse. As we went past 5 miles, the skies started to turn black. At mile 8, black was upon us, but just 5 to go. At this point, the course is a 2 1/2 mile out and back to the finish. It felt like the run was into the teeth of hurricane winds. (According to the almanac, 20 mph sustained winds with 30 mph gusts. Go ahead, you try it!) I'm thinking after the turnaround the tailwind will be great. Yeah, good thought. Just doesn't work quite that way.

For the last 2 miles, the rain picked up a bit, but the end was near. I admit asking myself what the hell I was doing out there. I couldn't wait for it to be over. And soon it was. I blew through the finish in 2:23:15, a personal record by 13 minutes. I didn't see Deb and the boys immediately, but I heard them yell out for me and they were there. It was a great run. I walked the water stops, but ran the rest. Given the conditions, I couldn't be more happy with the finish. Oh, and the medal. . . sweet!

After some well deserved food, we wrapped up the trip and headed to the airport. Nothing exciting here. Flight on time and we arrived in Baltimore just as the first of many flakes were falling.

Thanks for reading this extra long report. Less than three weeks until the next race report!


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Home Again!

Just a quickie. Got back from Florida this afternoon to a nice 4-7" promised snowfall. We had a blast at Clearwater.

This morning was the Tampa Gasparilla Half Marathon. Weather sucked, high winds, rain for the last 4 miles, humidity of 90%+, but I finished in 2:23:15, a personal record.

Pictures and full story to come!