Thursday, October 29, 2009

Near Tempo Experiences (NTE's)

Near Death Experiences (NDE's) are well documented cases where people near death experience various visions. You can guess what a Near Tempo Experience would be - a close, but unsuccessful encounter with a tempo run. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I've always defined a tempo run as three or more consecutive sub-seven minute miles. Tempo runs were never really easy, and I've had other attempts that failed. But by and large, most of the time, when I wanted to do one, I could do it.

Not so lately. I've recently had more failures than successes. A failure would be any of the three miles at over seven minute pace. Today's run was a case in point. Twice I tried to get down to seven-minute pace, and twice I failed. Not that the ten-miler in 79 minutes was bad, mind you, it just wasn't as good, or as tempo-y as I wanted.

Signing up for Sunday's Inland Trail Marathon. It won't be one of my fastest.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Felt Like I was Flying

I felt surprisingly good this morning. Got out early and did my 11-mile loop, followed by my 3-mile loop. The running was strong and smooth, and I felt like I could keep on going and going. That's the good news. Only one little problem: these things called chronometers. They time your activity, and when that time/duration is combined with a known distance, your running speed is determined. And that running speed on this day when I felt like I was flying, pretty much told me just the opposite: that I was grounded. So whereas, for these sorts of training runs, on a good day when I'm in really good shape I'd average around 7:30 per mile, and on a good day when I'm in decent shape, which is as good as I got this year, I'd average about 8 minutes per mile, and on a good day these days, I averaged about 8:20 per mile. A month or two ago, I'd be disappointed to run so slow when I felt so fast, but today I'll just have to take what I can get.

Since I did feel so good for today's run, I probably *will* run the Inland Trail Marathon this Sunday. I'd been leaning against it, but now I'm leaning the other way. It'll be slow, mind you. Very slow. But it would be nice to run a smooth, strong, pain free marathon, regardless of what the chronometer says.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Run with Scissors

Training since the Towpath Marathon two weeks ago has been pretty abysmal. That cold didn't help, but even since it's been better, the running hasn't improved. But maybe it would all come together for Run with Scissors.

Since Roy Heger was such a great help for NC24, I asked what I could do to help with is race, Run with Scissors. He said, "run it". In other words, he needed runners more than he needed helpers. So although I knew that RWS is not my type of race, I lined up, and figured I might as well do the double, not the single marathon. After all, I ought to get my money's worth, right? Roy had made it clear that anyone could change events.

It was a cold (37F) start in the dark. I took the early start option in order to give myself enough time to do the entire 54+ miles. Note that each of the RWS "marathons" were something like 27 1/2 miles. And the reason these things aren't usually my cup of tea? The tough, tough, tough, and extremely muddy CVNP trails.

My new cheap headlamp wasn't doing too well on those trails, and it wouldn't get light for another 3 1/2 hours, so I was very lucky to catch up with Jim Fisher, who had a great little flashlight. Jim and I wound up running almost the entire way together. Nice conversations.

The pace felt easy, but soon the mountainous hills and the mud began to take their toll. I simply felt beat up. All along we talked about whether to do the double, but this seemed less likely as we kept going. At the 10/11 mile mark by the Covered Bridge they handed us scissors. At about half-way, we came upon a skeleton sitting on a chair and holding some books in the middle of a stream. We had to cut out a page and bring it back. Of course there were artistic pictures of nude models in the one book, and of course that's what I cut from.

That middle loop on the Perkins Trail turned out to be the toughest. As we returned to the covered bridge, it was beginning to get light. Now we were able to pick up the pace a bit. It felt like we were flying, but we were probably only doing 10 to 11 minute miles. We did manage to run the rest of the way at that decent pace.

Also as it got light, the great fall foliage in the valley began to really show itself. It was almost beautiful enough to make the whole thing worthwhile. Almost. As we came in at 9:35 or so, it was painfully obvious that neither of us would be heading back out for round two. We were just too beat up. Enough is enough. I'm glad I did it, but NEVER AGAIN!!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Running in the Smokies and Other post-TP Running

Only slow going for the few days spent in the Smokies. It was VERY vertical there, and I was mostly shuffling around. It even took a while to find my way into the close-by park, but even that run wasn't the greatest. Another problem: a post-TP cold.

This, the following weekend is better. I did about 11 muddy trail miles with Dave and then with Roy as an orientation run at the covered bridge yesterday. Today I did the old Substation 20 mile course, and it was slow, but fairly steady.

This is another situation where I've got to train a lot and then taper for the Run with Scissors. I'm duly concerned.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Towpath Marathon 2009

The Towpath Marathon remains one of my favorites. Maybe it's just the familiarity, but the Cuyahoga Valley in general, and the towpath trail area in particular are, in my humble opinion, extremely high among the most beautiful places on the planet in which to run (or walk, or crawl or slither for that matter). The best time of year to experience the the Cuyahoga Valley is surely autumn. So it's no mystery why I like this race so much. This fall has been as beautiful as any in recent memory. Something about having plenty of rain and generally cool to average temperatures in recent weeks and months. So today the valley was ablaze in glory; a feast for the eyes. I just can't imagine a more beautiful place for a race. Add to this the great temperatures (mostly in the 40s for the entire time of the race), and you have the perfect day for a marathon.

Too bad I would actually have to run 26.2 miles to get the full enjoyment. The percentage of marathons where everything goes well - I feel good throughout, I run a steady pace but finish strong, I finish with a time that I had planned for, I place well, etc. - is exceedingly small. And the trouble is, it's getting smaller. On the other hand, the number of marathons that are complete disasters isn't that large either. The vast majority are the type where I just gradually slow down during the race, don't finish strong, and therefore fail to accomplish my time goal, whatever it is. Those goals always seem to be reasonable when I think about them before-hand. And I keep ratcheting them down toward slower and slower times.

It was fun to talk to several friends, including several from MCRR, before and during the race. Couldn't stick around afterward - I had to open the store at noon. In fact, I figured I'd have to run a 3:20 to finish at 11:20, get over to the car and drive to Medina in order to open in time. So this would be my time goal. 3:20 cand be a tall order, but I thought I just might be capable.

After starting out with Debbie Scheel, I picked it up and eventually caught up with Jim Chaney, who was practicing at 7:37 pace in order to be the 3:20 pace leader in Columbus next week. This suited me just fine, so we ran together for many of the middle miles. Went through 13.1 in 1:39+. I slowed a bit at mile 19, and Jim dropped out as planned at 20. That, of course, is where it got tough for me. Those last miles were generally painful - nothing specific, just general pain. And of course they were slower than the rest. The wheels never came off completely, but they were wobbly. I'd say the last 6 averaged between 7:50 and 8:30. I passed a few, and a couple passed me, but I was mostly running alone. In the last mile I heard footsteps behind me and picked it up to try for a strong finish. A man and a woman still managed to pass me in the final 10 yards or so. And wouldn't you know it? He was in my age group. I finished in 3:25.

A couple unknowns: 1) were there any other geezers ahead of us?, and 2) in the event that they score age groups by net time, where did that guy start in relation to me? The results aren't posted yet, but whatever will be will be. Right now I just want the pain to mercifully go away.

And remember how I figured I needed a 3:20 to get to the store by noon? With my 3:25 I got there at 12:05. Don't tell anyone.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

NC24: A Race Director’s Perspective

It all started with a little conversation about a year ago. “We should have one around here”, said Connie Gardner. She and I had been discussing other 24-hour events. “Yeah,” I said, “I want to do one too.” Connie immediately started to say that we would be able to attract the best ultra runners in the country, including several who lived nearby in Northeast Ohio. Whoa, thought I - we weren’t even off the ground yet. But this talk did turn out to be the start of what was to become the NorthCoast 24-Hour Endurance Run.

My first call was to my friend, Joe Jurczyk. Joe has directed more ultra events than I’ve even run. Calling Joe turned out to be the best thing I did, as the race wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without him. I also contacted several other experienced ultrarunners, including Rita Barnes, Dan Fox, Roy Heger and Shannon Fisher to form the core race committee. I can’t imagine a better group of people to put on an event like this. “Anyone want the RD job, so that I can run the race?” I asked. Nope, it would be me.

Determining an appropriate location and date took longer than I thought it would. It was March before we settled on Edgewater and the first weekend in October. Edgewater is a scenic state park on the shore of Lake Erie, just a couple miles from downtown Cleveland. There is a .9 mile all-purpose trail loop. The only concern would be the wind coming off the lake – we would just have to hope for the best. The first weekend in October was one of the few early autumn weekends without some other major local marathon or ultra event.

Early on, we managed to convince the American UltraRunning Association (AUA) that we had organized our race committee and chosen a location and time frame well enough to qualify our event as the 2009 U.S. National 24-Hour Run National Championship. The AUA would have liked for us to offer substantial prize money to further legitimize the event and attract more high-profile runners, but by starting later in the year, lack of major sponsorship was a problem. I was concerned, in fact, about getting enough runners to simply break even, given our other expenses. Who would be on the hook if we didn’t? Me. Within the last couple months we finally did land some sponsorship, thanks to the hard work of committee member Charles Elkins as well as several others. And we also saw the number of race entries increase such that we eventually exceeded 100 runners.

Several of those runners signing up were the best in the country. It became very obvious that we would have a “dream” field of top runners for the event. The AUA announced that the national teams would include the top three Americans at NC24, provided that they also met a minimum standard of miles. We were also attracting a wide variety of other runners: everyone from experienced ultrarunners to those who had run marathons but nothing further and wanted to see how far they could go.

Monthly meetings became weekly ones as the race date approached. Training runs were held. I answered email questions. Meetings and other communication took place with our timer, Jim Chaney of Terry Lewis’ RS Racing Systems. The course was certified. Volunteers were recruited. Also lined up to help were Dr. Andrew Lovy and his medical students, as well as the Podiatry College. Shannon ordered the food and Roy got the generators. I helped where I could, and also kept an eye on the weather. Before we knew it, race day was upon us.

The set-up, the registration, the pre-race meeting all went by much too fast for me; it almost seemed like a blur. I’m just happy to have had all the great help from Shannon and the volunteers. I thought things would settle down as the race got going. They didn’t. There were probably too few volunteers for the first five or six hours, so I had to help at the aid station and wherever else I could. I also checked in with the Jim several times to make sure the timing was going well. And I did sneak a little time to watch the race unfold.

And watching that race unfold turned out to be a most satisfactory activity. Now and then I had to stop myself from doing something that seemed important at the time, to just think: this is what we’ve all worked so hard for. These runners were the best in the country, and here they were, doing their thing. It was incredibly exciting. All of the runners were truly an inspiration, and any of us who watched the event won’t soon forget it.

I never slept, or even sat down. Some of the runners, especially some of the top finishers could say the same thing. The one aspect of the day that we had no control over was the weather, and the weather held up just fine. There was cloudiness, some wind at times, but no appreciable rain. The temperature was mostly in the fifties. The wind calmed down during the night, so that was actually the most comfortable time. Shannon and the volunteers kept the food coming at all times.

Of course there were a few race-day glitches. The most important one was traffic control at the parking lot entrance. I had several conversations with the park rangers about that, and we eventually got it under control.

By and by I managed to talk with most of the volunteers and most of the runners. What a great bunch of people. UltraRunners rule! Eventually the event ended and for me, once again, time speeded up. We had to do the final measurements to determine the winners and places. The winners, by the way, were truly spectacular. Earlier along the way we also had to work with three age group records. For more on the race itself, check out our website. The awards ceremony went well, but of course this also felt like a blur to me.

And then it was all over, but the clean-up. Where had the last 30 hours gone? If certainly didn’t feel like a day at all. Was it worth it, and would I do it again? You bet!

Recent Running and Prep for TP

I'm not real hopeful about the upcoming Towpath Marathon. Last weekend took a real lot out of me. Not the running (I didn't do any), but just staying on my feet for 30 plus hours. But I'll still go out and do my best.

I ran 8 1-mile intervals on the mill last Friday. Still tired on Monday, I managed to do a slow 10. Yesterday was a little better: I managed to get a tempo run in during my 11-mile loop, but the rest of the run was fairly slow.

I'll try to get something decent in tomorrow, and then begin my two-day taper.

For what it's worth, I'm even less confident about the Run With Scissors event coming up later in the month.

North Canton YMCA 4th of July 5-mile

Since I have participated in the Ohio Challenge Series many years, I've done this race many times, albeit many moons ago. It's a fun...