Wednesday, February 23, 2011

LiveSTRONG Austin Marathon

State #19 in the books.

Back when I signed up for this race my intent was to train to get back under 4:00. I'd last accomplished that at a wonderfully cool clear day in Des Moines, Iowa. My two attempts at it in 2010 fell short. The first try in Twin Cities was foiled by inconsistent training and an uphill finish. My second attempt at Duke City was likely doomed from the start being just two weeks after Twin Cities.

So to try a fresh approach I adjusted my tried and true 5 day a week schedule to the FIRST schedule, running just three days and cross-training on 2 to 3 of the others. I did reasonably well at the speed work and tempo runs mid-week on this plan. But the long run pace and endurance never really came together. I've lamented that fact numerous times before.

I flew into town with my wife on Friday afternoon. After checking in to the hotel we walked over to the expo, actually arriving there before it even opened at 3:00. Packet pick up went smoothly. I picked up my own stuff as well as Joe, as and his wife were joining us the following day. On the walk back we enjoyed a frozen custard cone; something we don't get in California. We managed to continue eating our way through Austin the entire weekend.

Friday night we had dinner at the Iron Cactus in the middle of the 6th Street music district. I had a couple of Shiner Bocks with dinner. I was in Lance Armstrong's town and I remember he drank Shiner Bock in "It's Not About the Bike". Afterward we walked 6th St, stopping in at Coyote Ugly (a huge disappointment) and ultimately landing at The Thirsty Nickel and listened to a great local band, Nothing Left.

We got up the Saturday morning to a heavy overcast and light drizzle. We got a ride out to Magnolia Cafe on South Congress for a great late breakfast. We joined up with Joe and his wife around 2 pm and walked to the finish line to let Joe get the lay of the land for the next day.

Saturday nights carb load dinner was a bit of an adventure. Our original plan was to head back out to South Congress to Vespaio. The opened at 5:30. We arrived about 5 minutes later to find a full restaurant with a 90 minute wait. We ventured next door to their sister restaurant, Enoteca and lucked into 4 seats at the counter overlooking the street. We enjoyed a great meal and people watching in Austin. Right across the street were several food trucks. The food trucks were a common sight in empty lots throughout the downtown area. One particular truck caught our eye - Hey Cupcake. There was a continuous line throughout our entire meal. We headed over and enjoyed some really tasty cupcakes to help fuel our race efforts the next day. The four of us sat at a nearby picnic table for 30 minutes or so enjoying the crowd and some live country music. Joe added his own renditions every once in a while.

Race morning dawned overcast, breezy and a bit warm at 63-degrees. Joe and I headed out and met some other Marathon Maniacs from a group photo. Thanks to Dave Mari for organizing that. We then each headed to our prospective starting areas. Joe stayed at 4:45 and I optimistically headed up towards the 4:00 group. I didn't really think I could do it, but decided to give a shot at least. I lined up just ahead of the 4:15 sign.

Even though there were close to 19,000 runner out there, the starting area didn't' feel overly cramped or congested. Things seemed to have started off without a hitch. It did take me almost 12 minutes to get to the starting line, but the mood was relaxed.

The "hills" of this race start almost immediately after leaving the starting line. I'd read a three part preview of the race on Facebook that talked a lot about the ups and downs of the course. They come early and often. Not necessarily hills in the truest sense but the Austin route is definitely a non-stop up and down roller coaster.

I stopped at the port-a-johns at Mile 1. I wasn't in panic mode yet but the lines were short and I decided to get it out of the way before it did. I'd started the race wearing a "throw away" long sleeve t-shirt which I immediately removed upon exiting the big blue box. I ended up carrying the shirt the rest of the race, switching it periodically from hand to hand. The weather in Austin was warm and humid, so the T came in handy as a sweat rag most of the day.

Up through Mile 11, I'd been keeping up a pace between 9:15 and 9:30 per mile. This was off pace but more realistically what I felt I could do to get me in around 4:15 to 4:20. So far I was feeling pretty good. I was soaked through, but I'd been very mindful of my fluid intake and had taken a gel at the 5 and 10 mile marks. Soon after this the half marathoners split off from us. I remember feeling sort of jealous of them, knowing that they only had two more miles to go and they were still feeling pretty fresh at that point. At least the folks around me seemed to be.

I just kept reeling off the miles, not as fast as I'd hoped, but I felt good, not speedy but good. At the half marathon point the 4:15 pace group caught up to me. I hung with them for about half a mile and then I let them go. I was just not going to be able to keep up their pace for long. I knew I would lose them at my next walk break anyway. I'd being using a run a mile-walk a mine schedule so far in the race.

After the half folks left us, I fell in with the long haul truckers and the pace slowed down. The next few miles came around 10:00, which I knew would still put me at a 4:20 race. By mile 17, although I still felt OK, I just had no speed in the legs. The Triple H - heat, humidity and hills - got to me I think. My pace slowed to 11:00, then 12:00. At Mile 20 I was passed by the 4:30 pace group. I didn't even make an attempt hang with them. Also at mile 20 I took my 4th and last gel of the day.

At Mile 20 the Triple H was joined by its good buddy the Head Wind. It was at this point that the 4H of Austin began to really mess with my 4H's - Heart, Head, Hands and Heart. The last 6 miles were an emotional roller coaster, although thankfully the course had finally taken a mostly downhill trajectory.

My hips were hurting, my ankles were hurting, my feet were hurting, my ego was hurting, my confidence was hurting. At the 25 mile mark the 4:45 pace group passed me by. On some of the hills although I was "running" my pace was more akin to walking at 14:00 or more.

I was worried that the little nagging pains were really something worse. I was worried that I had another race to run in 2 weeks as well as others I'd just recently signed up for in April and July. How would I ever get them done, let alone the 31 more I'd hoped to run on my goal to 50 States? I was worried that I'd made Lisa worry about me. I knew she'd been waiting patiently at the finish line for me expecting me to be there at least 30 minutes before.

I stuck to my Run 1/Walk 1 routine until Mile 24 when I just finally caved knowing that I would eventually finish anyway. I walked the hills and ran when I could. My pace slowed to 15:12 for Mile 25. I was happy to make those last few turns we'd previewed the day before. On my way down the final chute it was really good to catch a glimpse of Lisa and to finally stop running.

4:51:46 was one of my worst marathon showings not counting a 93 degree LA, an LA run with bronchitis and trail marathons in knee deep mud. After meeting Lisa at the finish I had one final meltdown until she reminded me that I do these for fun. I had to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. We each had a scoop of ice cream from the Amy's Ice Cream truck and I felt better. Joe finished only about 15 minutes behind me feeling pretty darn good. I wished I'd just run the race with him and enjoyed the day and saved myself the torment. Some day I will learn.

After getting cleaned up, the four of us headed out to Driftwood, TX to The Salt Lick BBQ. We met a lady that questioned whether or not we shouldn't really be napping after having run the marathon. I told her we'd run that far so we could eat whatever we wanted, we could nap later.

Lisa and I ended our day with appetizers and a couple glasses of Tempranillo at Max's Wine Dive where the slogan is "Fried Chicken and champagne - why the heck not?" We ended our culinary tour of Austin with a return trip to Magnolia's Cafe for breakfast on Monday morning, this time with Joe and Gretchen. Then it was back to the airport and on to LA.

Although the race wasn't what I'd have hoped it to be, I would highly recommend the LiveSTRONG Austin Marathon. The whole event was well organization. We got some great swag - a messenger bag, a SPI-belt, a whopper of a medal and a true finisher's shirt that you pick up at the finish line. The course while hilly shows off some great neighborhoods in Austin. Austin itself is a great place to visit. I'd go back just to hit a few more of its fine eating establishments.

Keep Austin Weird! and live to run (and eat) another day.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Rose Bowl Half Marathon

The 50,000 Foot View:
Typical California morning in February - 49 degrees at the start
Beautiful setting at the Rose Bowl and surrounding area
Advertised as 70% on trails
Finished in 2:03:28 - off pace, but satisfying

The Fine Print:
The plan offered up a 13 mile run at PMP, so what better way to get that done than to take part in an organized Half Marathon. The last time the plan called for 13 miles I ran the LA County Holiday Half. This time around it was the Rose Bowl Half. I was excited about this race because it gave me the opportunity to run my planned marathon pace (PMP). This program has me running all kinds of other speeds. The tempo runs that I was supposed to do at PMP, all happened at a pace faster than that. My skepticism continued on how I'd be able to pull off 26.2 miles at 9:09 pace when I'd never actually done it. All these years of training I've run most of my long runs at or near what I actually end up doing in the races that follow.

I was able to pick up my bib and chip an hour before the race started and sit in my car until 10 minutes before the start. The starting line was on Arroyo Blvd. in front of the Rose Bowl. The actual start was very low-key. The starter announced 60 second to start; 30 seconds to start, and a simple GO! and we were off. No fanfare, no music, no air horn, just GO!

The race was advertised as 70% trails. I decided to wear my Adrenaline ASR's to take advantage of the little extra traction on the trail sections. Within the first half mile we left pavement and began the first trail section. Their was a bit of a bottle neck there but nothing too serious. I was happy to see that I'd managed Mile 1 in 9:03, right on target.

The horse trail we were on paralleled a flood control channel on either side. Before we to to Mile 2 we could see the leaders on their back the other side. Mile 2 - 8:43, Mile 3 - 8:49, Mile 4 - 9:26. Not sure what happened there. The pack had thinned considerably, but I decided not to worry too much at this point.

Soon after Mile 4 we were back on to pavement headed towards the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl has really nice paved running path that circles both it and the Brookside Golf Club. Mile 5 and 6 were on this path on the east side of the Bowl. Mile 5 - 9:15, Mile 6 - 8:59. This section was a very gentle uphill grade, but I seem to do well on that.

Soon we were back on trail headed out toward JPL. When I reached Mile 7, I saw the leaders again heading back. They were somewhere between Mile 10 and 11; already. Mile 7 - 9:42; the trails were slowing me down.

Right after Mile 7 we headed up the steepest rockiest hill on the course. Most of us were reduced to walking up. The hill took us to the top of the appropriately named Devil's Gate Dam. The worst part was knowing that we had to go back down that thing later. During this mile I also had to take a short biology break. Mile 8 - 10:47.

The next few miles wound around the Devil's Gate Reservoir and adjacent to the grounds of the Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL). It would be great to work there and to have access to these trails at lunch or right after work. Mile 9 - 9:37, Mile 10 - 4:18. I was slowing down and that last mile was obviously mismarked.

The next mile took us on a really nice single track through some oak forests and then dropped us back out onto the paved path around the golf course. Mile 11 - 15:17. Combine that with the short mile 10 and the pace was 9:45 for the 2 mile segment. I'd slowed down beyond what I'd hoped for but I attributed much of it to the hills. I've mentioned that this plan has not included hills at all. Another contributing factor might have been the leg workout I did yesterday at the gym and the 5 easy miles I ran on the hill of Bonelli right after that. Worst case scenario if my legs were feeling any negative effects from those two workouts, it would help to simulate running tired at the end of a marathon. Or at least I hoped.

The gentle down slope of the paved running path back towards the Rose Bowl rewarded me with my third fastest mile of the day. Mile 12 - 8:51.

I tried to keep the momentum going as we rounded the perimeter of the parking lot and headed back up Arroyo Blvd towards the Rose Bowl. The last little decline to get into the Rose Bowl hurt way more than it should have but it is always fun to enter a sports stadium at field level and to get to finish there. I wished I'd have had my camera with me. Mile 13.1 - 10:39 (9:40 pace).

Final time was 2:03:28 (9:26 pace). It was off what I'd hoped for, but realistically what I felt I was capable of. It is a little disconcerting that I ran a faster half 2 months ago when I started this training cycle. Getting slower is not exactly the desired effect you hope for from a training plan. But....I still satisfied because its the fasted pace I've kept up for that many miles in a really long time, which is still a positive achievement.

The only negative was a darn blister. I haven't had one in a long time. I could feel it coming on around mile 8. It is probably caused by the ASR's. I rarely wear them for anything longer than 5 miles. The one on my right foot felt like I should snug it up a bit but I never stopped to do it. The blister is in its usual spot right on the pad of my right foot right behind my big toe. Although the race did incorporate lots of off road running, my street shoes would have been fine. In hind sight I wish I had worn them instead.

Taper time is officially in session. Will I be able to achieve a sub 4:00 in Austin? I'm not sure - but I'll find out in two weeks.