Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fall 50

Cold Rain

I hate cold rain. But at least it's not raining all that hard. And at least it's not all that cold. And at least it's not too windy.

I'm here in Door County, Wisconsin with about 150 of my best friends, as the gun goes off. It's foggy, drizzly and gloomy, but last night's downpours have subsided. And it's in the 50's. All in all, things could be worse.

The fast guys - and with the Fall 50 being the USATF Road 50-Mile National Championship, their number is relatively legion - take off right away. They're gone. We won't see them again until the finish party. I am running with Michelle Wolff, and we have a similar goal: to finish. It would be nice, I think wistfully, to run this race fast and to be competitive, but then a dose of reality occurs; those days are pretty much in my distant past.

Debbie and I had driven up here yesterday, and we drove a good part of the point-to-point (Gills Rock to Sturgeon Bay) course. Debbie was concerned about finding her way from aid station to aid station, where she would try to support me. After seeing how well-marked the course was, even including the support vehicle detour routes, she was mostly reassured. We bumped into Andy and Michelle at the check-in / packet pickup in Sturgeon Bay near the finish line. We then all had dinner together at Villagio's, an Italian restaurant along the course that sponsors the "half-way buffet".

Door County is very tourist-oriented, and no wonder. It's the panoramic peninsula that extends into Lake Michigan, north of Green Bay. The Fall 50 is advertised as "the most scenic distance run in the Midwest", and although they could have possibly added even more qualifiers, Debbie and I did marvel at the beauty as we drove it yesterday. Too bad about the gloomy weather.

I only ran a mile and a half with Michelle before we became separated. Pete Schwanke, another MCRR member and one of the fast guys, ran up ahead early on.

My Blessings

I had been counting my blessings with the weather, but now, at Mile 11.5 or so, I'm pulling into the second aid station, and it's pouring really hard. And it seems colder. And more windy.

But I'm doing okay. I'm probably averaging between 9:30 and 10 minute pace, and I'm fine with that. I'm spending too much time at the aid stations, but that should improve later on. Debbie won't begin meeting me until the fourth one at mile 24 or so.


Yes, the sun is out. And the breathtakingly gorgeous course just became much more-so. I'm running through Peninsula State Park, and thinking that the race just couldn't be more scenic. The reds, oranges, yellows, golds, and every color in-between, combined with views of Green Bay (the bay, not the city), are simply spectacular. I think my pace is improving with the now favorable weather.

My Achilles tendon is talking to me.

Fish Creek

I emerge from the park right by our hotel in Fish Creek, and there's Debbie to meet me at the aid station. She gives me some Hammer Perpetuum, and I kiss her and take off again. I hope that she asks those around her - as she's done on other occasions, "Who was that guy?"

Did I mention that it's raining again? The sun didn't last long.

Half-Way, A Marathon and A 50K

Debbie continues to hand me Perpetuum and gel, and I continue to run. There had been a monster hill coming out of Fish Creek, but it's not the only one. I'd say that there are five or so Effie-type or bigger hills strategically placed along the course, and the biggest one, Monument Point hill, is yet to come.

I go through half-way in just under four hours, the marathon in something like 4:08, and 50K in just under five hours. I'm happy with all that. There's only one teensy little problem: everything hurts. Yes, everything.

The rain stops, then starts back up again.

The Thirties

I'm still moving pretty well, even despite the Achilles Tendonitis, and all the other pain. I've been alone a lot, not that there's anything wrong with that. I pass a couple people, but we runners few and very far between. The first and second relay teams go by. The relay teams started later than us solo runners. They tell me how awesome I am for making it this far. Not able to utter much more than a mumble of thanks, I also think, "The day ain't over yet."

At about mile 39 or so I come to Monument Point hill. Of course I walk it, as I've done for all the other large hills. I have this crazy fear that I won't be able to start running again when I do get to the top.

I do manage to run again, but it seems slower still.

Home Stretch

I have finally reached the final aid station, and now have less than five miles to go. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe I've kept things at a fairly steady 10-minute pace. Debbie tells me that I look great and I'm going to finish in a great time. I think, not for the first time, that the day ain't over yet.

For the last ten miles, give or take, I've completely ignored my watch. I had decided that I only needed to get to the finish. Yeah, the sooner the better, but knowledge of my pace and the mental math to determine potential finish times are now just too much for me.

I keep moving, and the pace still doesn't feel too much slower than it has been. There's a guy on my tail, and I can't shake him, even when I do pick it up slightly. Although I can't be sure, I don't think anyone has passed me since about the first aid station. But that changes as he goes by at mile 48.

Yes, now I've slowed down. I know I will finish, and I can only hope that the fellow who passed me is not in my ancient age group.

The rain stops. And then it starts again.

Crossing the line

I cross the line in eight hours, thirteen minutes. It's faster than the other two fifty-milers I've done, but I don't know if I can call it a PR because I've done the first 50 of a couple 100K runs faster. What do you think? Discuss amongst yourselves.

I see Debbie, and even more than usual, she's a sight for sore eyes. She helps me get around. I have no idea how I can run 50 miles, but then not be able to take a single walking step afterwards.

We see Pete. He ran an outstanding race. I try to change, and after an extreme amount of time, I'm somehow successful. Debbie and I have cold pizza and some beer and wine. I'm not doing too well. I want to wait to see Michelle finish, but I just can't. Debbie helps me back to the car.

But not before I look at the results. I won my age group! That means I'll receive a neat USATF medal and a National Champion patch.

But everything hurts. And the day ain't over yet.

The rain stops. And this time it doesn't start back up again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tales of The Kid, Part V: This Time It May Not Be So Rosy

Tales of The Kid usually turn out pretty good. If The Kid didn't run pretty well most of the time, he wouldn't be known as The Kid. But heaven knows The Kid ain't perfect. This time may just possibly be different.

The Kid is staying at the Geneva State Park Lodge with family. They are enjoying a fine fall weekend, enjoying the fall foliage, tasting wine, eating too much, and so on. But there is also running to be done.

The Kid's alarm goes off at 3:40 AM, and he's up and out the door within 40 minutes. This is pretty good for The Kid, who often takes an hour or so to wake himself up enough to get moving. So to speak. Why so early, you ask? Because The Kid has to do 20 miles today, and the family's breakfast reservation is for 8:15 AM. And he would also like to be done in time to take a pre-breakfast walk with his wife like he did yesterday.

If The Kid can average 9-minute miles today, he'll be quite happy. If he can't go that fast, he will just have to do the best he can. He can even run 10-minute miles and still make it back in time for breakfast. But The Kid simply doesn't go that slow. Mostly.

As The Kid begins his journey through Geneva State Park, he is very thankful for the new headlamp. It lights the way quite well on the all-purpose trail, especially in the deep, dark, wooded areas, which is most of the way.

The way takes The Kid the long way around the marina, over to the beach, by the campground, around the cabins, and out the other side of the park. The Kid mostly retraces his steps back to the Lodge for his first loop of 5.5 miles. It's going fairly well, although despite some huffing and puffing, The Kid is only averaging 10-minute miles. Perhaps the second loop will be better.

After a short break, The Kid sets out again. This time he runs through town. The Kid thinks that Geneva-on-the-Lake, also known as GOTL, is a pretty cool place. Being an old-fashioned beach/seaside resort town, it's pretty much build for fun. And The Kid is all about fun.

Except when he's running. This is serious business, dang-it. It doesn't matter that well-lit GOTL is mostly closed and borded up for the season, that there's almost no traffic in this early morning anyway, or anything else; it's the run that counts. And The Kid isn't setting the world on fire.

He returns to the Lodge again and realizes that he's still not running very fast. For the first time it occurs to him that he may have to call it quites before his 20 are done. The Kid still wants to take his wife for that walk, and he most assuredly doesn't want to miss breakfast.

The Kid is able to slurp some additional coffee down this time - it's now out in the lobby. And he gets moving once again.

And he returns yet once again at about 16 miles. Now - can he make it to 20? Should he just hang it up? Can he make it to 20 and still make it to breakfast?

These questions and more are bouncing around in The Kid's head as he goes back out to run at least a couple more. Heaven knows there isn't much else bouncing around up there. And furthermore, there's plenty of room. But The Kid digresses.

Luckily, he doesn't digress long. It's getting lighter, and The Kid takes a different route around the park - this time making an actual loop. A loop turns out to be a good thing for The Kid; it's less easy to just turn back and call it a morning. In fact, The Kid finally begins to run at a (relatively) faster pace. He'd been averaging 10-mimute miles almost the entire way, and only now gets a couple decent ones in. Mile 20 is his fastest: a blistering 8:59.

Long run of 20 miles: check.
Getting done in time for breakfast: check.
Averaging a decent pace: not so check.
Getting done in time to do a pre-breakfast walk with his wife: no check. But they are able to walk after breakfast anyway. Why didn't The Kid think of that?

Monday, October 05, 2015

No Feeling in the World

There's no feeling in the world like running strong in the closing miles of a marathon. I didn't say it was the best feeling in the world, although it's definitely in the top ten. I didn't say running strong for the closing mile or at the end of a marathon, although those experiences are nice too. No, by closing miles, I mean something like the last three to seven miles or so.

It's truly unique. Running strong at the end of a 5K or even 10-miler does feel good, but not as good as a marathon. I suppose that running strong at the end of an ultramarathon might be as nice too.

The thing is, for many of us, these situations are exceedingy rare. Out of my 102 marathons, I would guess that less than 30% saw a strong finish. Of those, probably half were considered by me to be long training runs and not full-blown efforts. That leaves us with perhaps 15% of the efforts where the finishing miles are what I'd call strong. Strong being faster than the average pace for the rest of the race.

Now that the definitions are out of the way, I would like to try to describe the feeling itself... But I can't. There's no way to talk about it; it simply has to be experienced.

And being so rare, it may take a lot of tries. But it's worth it. Worth all the times when things didn't go so well. Every single one of them.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Feels Like Old Times

It feels exactly the same. Back then, it was 6:50 pace. Now it's more like 8:40. But it feels no different whatsoever.

Today I ran the Northern Ohio Marathon with friends Michelle Wolff and Maureen Oblander. The race started and finished at Mentor Headlands State park, and took place mostly on city streets in Painesville, Mentor and Willoughby. The weather was a marathoner's dream come true: mostly 50's with very little wind and not too much sun.

All I wanted to do was to maintain a steady pace. After last week's marathon, I was thinking nine-minute miles would be nice. It would be nicer still if I could pick it up ever so slightly in the second half. And my double-secret probation goal was a sub-3:50 - an 8:40-ish pace. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The early miles were fun. I ran with Michelle for a while, and then Paul Lang and his nephew. The roads were wet from an early drizzle, but the cool air felt good. By about mile 10, it was drier, and I was running mostly alone. At this point we ran through a car dealership, near a dead deer that was actually partially on the bike trail we were running on, other dead animals and bazilions of orange cones.

Yes, there were orange cones galore. For many of the middle miles were on the sides of the road where fairly busy traffic was maintained in both directions. Our coned-off space wasn't very wide, and it was canted (that is to say, slanted) quite a bit. I didn't much care for it.

The last eight or so miles were closer to Lake Erie, affording some nice views and some less busy roads. Miles 21 to 23 included a nice limestone trail through a park. Of course the finish back at Headlands State Park was quite nice, as most finish lines are.

My pace quickened to some extent around mile 10, mostly because I didn't like those cones and the narrow running space. I hit half-way at about 1:56, and I managed to pick it up even a little more after that. Mile 20 was about 2:55. Could I pick it up faster still?

Yes, I could, and I did. After passing Mo and telling her to not forget to unleash the beast, did some unleashing myself and passed some more people, including a couple guys who turned out to be in my age group. The last two miles were my best ones: 8:00 and 8:10, and the final half mile (the course was a quarter mile long according to my Garmin) was at 7:42 pace.

The final time was 3:48:15. That's 50 minutes off my PR, but it truly felt like my many of my best ones did. All those years ago.

Hinckley is Back

Okay, okay. Hinckley never really left. But a lot of us did; we hadn't been meeting there for our Sunday morning runs for quite some tim...