Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tough Mudder Looms.....

In less than a week, I will be tackling my first Tough Mudder. To say that I'm nervous is an understatement. I know it'll be an experience of a lifetime. I know I can run 11's the whole running 11 miles on rough terrain and conquering obstacles that worries me. I'm glad the ice bath is early, so I can get it out of my system. However, I've found that there are 2 obstacles that shock you, which I am not looking forward to.

Wish me luck. This should be interesting.

Madison 1/2 Marathon Report

....well....1/2 Marathon.....

The week leading up to the Madison Marathon was a roller coaster. The temperatures had spiked, and the Madison Marathon organizers had reported on Facebook that there was a high probability of race cancellation. Temperatures were expected to be in the 90's with high humidity. The organizers fully admitted that they couldn't move the start time forward due to agreements with the city of Madison.

Finally, on Thursday night they announced that the full marathon was cancelled. That didn't affect us much, as we had registered for the 1/2 marathon. However, they also stated all full marathon runners could run the 1/2 marathon distance. That told me that the field was going to be very full for most of the race.

We told ourselves that this would be a race about "being smart"....we told ourselves that we just "need to finish in one piece"...and that we "wouldn't push it".

We were lying to ourselves...and we knew it.

Becky and I went to the University of Madison, so part of us will always call it home. Any time we get to go back to that home of 4-5 years, we welcome it. We arrived early and parked just off Capital Square, where the start line was located. Unlike most races we run in, this race has no wave corrals. Just a big open area where everyone can get set where they feel like it. We knew we were back-of-the-pack people, so we found a comfortable spot about 3/4 of the way back of the starting line.

The temperatures were still comfortable, with spotty clouds overhead helping to shield the rising sun. We decided we would just run our race, and stay comfortable.

We had our pre-race instructions, at which point we were informed that those runners with yellow backgrounds on their bibs were current or ex-military. It was nice to see them honored in that way. I think it's always a boost to know those that protect our freedoms are out on the course with us.  The national anthem was performed, and we were off.

The course goes immediately downhill from the square and skirts near the UW campus. It then takes a turn and heads northeast away from campus. The crowd was shoulder to shoulder in this area, and we were getting blown away by faster runners. At about 1.5 miles in, we hit the first water stop, which was not at all prepared for the amount of runners that hit it at one time. We decided to get water, and as we approached the table, Becky fell because of the amount of plastic cups on the ground. We got past the tables and did a quick check to make sure she was okay, and continued on.

At mile 2, there was a "beer stop" being run by college kids that was offering beer and bacon. These guys gotta move to like mile 10 or 11 of a race. I don't want beer that early....late in the race - sure. Also in this area was a sign with a Bill Clinton mask that read "Just keep going - don't pull out. That's what she said!"

At about mile 4, we stopped for our first restroom break. The sun had finally taken full effect. Becky stopped at the port-a-potty for a bathroom break and I hit up some GU for electrolytes. When we continued, we decided to take a slower approach for awhile.

The course continued through a more affluent neighborhood, and toward the Governor's mansion. This race was right in the middle of the recall madness in Wisconsin, so a lot of comments were made about the governor in this area. The residents that lived in this area were awesome, however. Many had sprinklers set up on their front curb for runners to go through, or had their hoses running for runners to take a quick drink.

After passing the Governor's Mansion, we passed mile 5, at which point an ex marine was firing up the crowd around us, chanting "Alive at 5! Alive at 5!" He literally ran back and forth in the pack in that area, giving anybody who needed it an uplift. We were happy with our mile 5 time (right around an hour even), and kept moving forward, as this area of the city had a lot of trees that provided nice shade to run in. In addition, the crowd had finally started to thin out, giving us room to really settle into a pace without worrying about those around us. Before we knew it, we were at the 10k mark.

The course started getting boring for a little while after that. The run through Tenney Park was nice, where we stopped for fueling and another bathroom break.
The area after Tenney Park was exposed to the sun, so it was slow going, as the heat was really starting to ramp up. Add to that a large part of the course was a commercial area with nothing but concrete and buildings, which added to the perceived heat. Going from almost total shade to that was a huge transition.

Eventually, we made the turn and headed back toward the Capitol. I warned Becky that we would actually pass the capitol and then make a turn around on John Nolen Drive, and then go in for the final stretch.

Little did I know that John Nolen Drive would be the death of us. As pictured, John Nolen Drive is very picturesque, sitting between lakes Menona and Wingra. However, the sun was beating down on the course at this point, and there was absolutely no shade and nothing but concrete around, making it all worse. Somewhere on this stretch, my right hamstring started giving me issues by cramping up. I knew that cramps were a bad sign that I wasn't hydrated properly. However, it didn't seem like the water stops were helping me either, as I was already past the point I should have been. Although I did see a spectator with a sign that read, "Worst Parade Ever." It made me laugh for a bit.

This area took forever.....and I mean FOREVER. Between the cramping and the heat, I couldn't even run....we walked a large part of it. I felt terrible, as we had a good pace going, and Becky was looking at a PR. We walked toward the 10 mile sign.

Eventually, near the Dane County Coliseum, we turned around and headed back. I tried staying cool and taking as much ice water as I could. I was bonking. My mind was telling me I was done. If not for Becky pushing me, I doubt I would have run at all during the last 3 miles of the race. I ran in short spurts. Eventually, we saw relief, and towards the end of John Nolen, the Madison Fire Dept was helping to cool the runners off.

We entered the area around the Capitol, where we finally found shade again. I looked at my watch, and we decided that if we could run to the end, that we might be able to get a PR for Becky after all. We charged as hard as my body would allow...maybe even past my comfort point. We finally crossed the finish line in 2:48:48, which was a PR by about a minute for Becky. As soon as we crossed, I doubled over in pain. After taking a minute to collect myself, and refusing a medical offer of assistance, I collected my medal, and got an obligatory finisher's picture.

Overall, this was a great course. The heat, which was beyond the organizer's control was the major factor in how I performed. The organizers were right to cancel the full marathon, and have since decided to move it to the fall, and said they may have the John Nolen Drive stretch near the beginning, which would be a better move. That section is very flat and picturesque, but took a beating from the sun when it got hot.

I still love running at "home". I'll be back.

12:53 Average Mile
322/333 - Age Group
1956/2010 - Males
4149/4393 - Overall

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Some dream of greatness....others stay up late to achieve it....time to run. (@ Snap Fitness) [pic]:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

It's Time....

This week starts a shift in the way I approach racing. No longer is the half marathon going to be my goal. B and I have started training this week for the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon!

We will be utilizing Jeff Galloway's Run/Walk plan, as we tend to struggle right now toward the end of races, and we wanted to utilize a strategy that lets us carry strength through the run.

Stay tuned here for training updates!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Oshkosh 1/2 Marathon Report

On April 22nd , I took part in my 3rd half marathon of 2012 - the Oshkosh, WI 1/2 Marathon. I felt like I had done a lot of traveling over the last 15 months in order to run half marathons. I decided that since this one was basically in my back yard, I would give it a try. In 2011, the course was plagued by torrential rains the day before that made it a very hard muddy course. This year, rain held off, but early spring remained, with race time temperatures in the 40's.

This was the first race that I had run without B at my side since my 1st half marathon over a year ago, so I was nervous that I was going to have a hard time setting my pace, since we tend to pace each other nicely as we run. I arrived to the start area about an hour  before racetime.
The starting line was next to the Oshkosh Convention Center. Having run nothing but bigger races in the past, I wasn't quite sure what the starting line procedure was until they called all racers to the the starting line about 30 minutes before the start. The crowd moved en masse to the starting area. I picked a spot in the middle of the pack, having no idea if the people around me were going to be slower or faster than me. The national anthem was performed, and then we were off.

I quickly learned I was much to far forward in the pack, as the faster runners quickly moved past me as we went the short distance down Main St. I knew I had to run my own race, and refused to let myself come up to their pace, as it would be my destruction later on. After about a block on Main St, we made a left hand bend onto Algoma Blvd, and started a long straight stretch that went through the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The road was wide, and the pack sorted itself out quickly. I found myself a place in the center of the road, and continued at my own pace.

The course was well marked, but the mile markers were not. I've run enough races now that it becomes a mental hurdle for me to know where I am on the course. I missed the mile marker for the first mile, and didn't realize until mile 2 that the mile markers were taped to cones on the side of the road.

Shortly after mile 2, Riverside Cemetery arrived on our left hand side. I could see the leaders on the other side of the cemetery running along the lake trail. I knew that there was a turn around near the 5k mark. About a mile ahead, the course took a bend into the cemetery. As I saw the 5k timing mat, I glanced at my watch and saw 30 minutes right on the head. "Not bad" I thought.....although I was a little concerned that I was going to blow myself out, as this was faster than my normal pace. But - the weather was cool, and I was feeling great, so I took my first walk break, and sent B a text, who had to work that morning updating her on my progress.

The course started along the Waubash Trail that runs along Lake Butte des Morts. The view was nice, and we were running along a smooth dirt trail, so it was a nice place to just zone out and continue on in my zone.
For almost the next 3 miles, I just had fun listening to my iPod running mix that was built for the Princess Half Marathon a month earlier. Shortly before mile 6, the course turned right onto Wisconsin Ave and went over a bridge giving a nice overview of the next part of the course. Of course, this is one of those views that looks are deceiving. Ahead, you can see people running straight and making a right hand bend. To my right I could see people going under the bridge I was on. In my head, I thought it was a simple turn around to come under the bridge.

I was wrong. First, we made that right hand bend into an industrial area. Then we kept going...and going...and going....and runners were coming from the other direction...meaning we were going to be coming back down this boring road. The saving grace for me along this stretch was that I found the 2:10 pace team, and I ran with them for awhile. I kept pace with them until my brain gave me a mental hurdle that caused me to slow down. I took a walk break to reset myself, and then kept going, although I never could catch up to the pace team again. I eventually made my way back to the boring road, where the back of the pack walkers were just starting this area of the course. I went under the bridge, grabbed some water, and a GU, and charged forward with new zeal.

The next couple miles were pretty straight forward down Hwy 44, and past several local businesses. I always enjoy stretches through areas of towns like this. The older architecture reminds me of the town I grew up in, and the locals always come out to lend support. The crowds were sparse, but good in this stretch. I always like having people on the side of the road cheering. It makes me want to keep going. I almost feel bad if I have to take a walk break, so I avoid it at all costs.

A short while later we had a detour through the winding paths in Steiger Park.
It was still cool at this point, which helped my breathing stay focused. We left the park, and headed through residential neighborhoods. I started watching where I was at, and noticed that I was totally killing my PR pace. It's not something I think about until I get to mile 10 or 11 generally, as I can pretend the last few miles is a different race and can push a little harder.

When I reached mile 10, I was at about the 2 hour mark. I texted B at work, to let her know and got a reply "You're gonna PR". I ran another mile and texted her one more time that I was on my last walk break and was going to drop the hammer as much as I could the last 2.1 miles. I came down Main St, and knew the finish line was close. I had to take a quick break going over the bridge, but then came through the finish area. I made a right hand bend and saw the clock at 2:29:00. I kicked it into high gear, and sprinted to the finish. To say I laid it all on the course is an understatement.
I finished with a chip time of 2:29:02, which shattered my old PR by over 20 minutes. I texted B to let her know, and grabbed a quick drink, and made the trip home. On the way, I decided to stop at the mall and see if I could find any running shirts to celebrate my great race. I didn't find any running shirts, but I did find this shirt, which I felt summed up my race nicely.
Yes, I know it's a wrestling shirt. But it fit my attitude for the day nicely. I'll definitely be back for this race next year. I also started a new tradition after this race. I've never smoke cigarettes, but ever since college, I've enjoyed a good cigar on the right occasion. Since the occasions are becoming less and less frequent, I decided that I would enjoy one for each 1/2 Marathon I complete.

66th in Age Group
485 in Division
1045 Overall

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Walt Disney World Princess 1/2 Marathon Report

In February, B and I returned to Walt Disney World to take part in the Princess Half Marathon. We had talked about doing this race for the last couple years, and when we had the opportunity to actually take our first vacation ever without kids, we jumped at the opportunity. We used the opportunity to get an upgraded room with a king bed overlooking a quaint courtyard at Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside.

We arrived Thursday, and the weather was absolutely fantastic. Warm during the days, and just cool enough to feel refreshing at night without the need for sweatshirts.

On Friday morning, we headed out to the "Fit For a Princess" Health and Wellness Expo at Disney's Wide World of Sports.

The Expo was huge as it always it at Disney. Because we had the luxury of time and no kids, we each had a massage courtesy of the staff at Florida Hospital. I almost fell asleep on the table, as my ankles and calves became more relaxed than they had been in a long time. We then shopped the merchandise a bit, but didn't buy too many items, although I still think B should have left with this little hat:
We then headed off to the resort to drop off all our items, and headed our for our official "carb load" meal, which is also one of our favorite places to eat - Via Napoli pizzeria in Epcot. We highly recommend it. The prices are very fair for Disney, and you never leave hungry.

 Saturday was spent staying low key and hydrating as much as possible. Traveling to another state to race always has its challenges, and we know that staying hydrated can make a big difference. We ate one more carb-meal and then went to bed early.

 We were up at 2 am again, and on the bus as soon as we could. We arrived to the Epcot Parking lot and made the long walk to the athlete's area.
However, this time, Disney gave the entrance a little more pomp and circumstance.
 The athlete's area was great as always. Plenty of food/beverage trucks, souvenir stands, and the gigantic bag check was working well for those who used it. Before too long, we started going toward the starting corral, past a bunch of broken down attaction vehicles. Then we were in our corral, waiting for the start.

 We were in Corral D, in the front half of the field so it didn't take too long to see our fireworks and begin the course.

 The course is exactly the same as the one we had just run in January, which we both unexpectedly set a PR. We went through the course, where once again.
After crossing the Magic Kingdom Gates, we headed toward the Ticket and Transportation Center, where we both decided we were due for a bathroom break. Usually in this race, there are plenty of woods around, and guys will just run into the woods and handle their business. At this point, we started to see both men and women doing just that. B knew that the TTC was close, and that there should be regular bathrooms there, as well as port-a-johns (we were guessing). We went another mile and a half without seeing any port-a-johns, but eventually saw some bathrooms at the TTC. We each headed into our respective sides. As I was entering the men's room, I noticed 3 or 4 women coming out of it. I entered to find one of the strangest sights I've ever seen. Men were using the urinals with a line of women behind them waiting to use the stalls. The best part is everyone acted like it was totally normal. I was in an out in just a couple minutes, but it took B almost 10 minutes to get out of the women's bathroom because of the long line that was still coming out of the door. We left the TTC, and headed toward the Contemporary Resort, and mile 5.

Because B battles with her IT bands, she decided to be pro-active and take Tylenol at every medical tent in an effort to stay ahead of the pain.
I also used the biofreeze pumps to keep my knees pain free. Disney knows that a lot of first time runners are going to be running in their races, so they have medical stations much earlier in the route than most other major races. Shortly after the last picture, we were headed toward the Contemporary Resort
And then into the service Entrance for the Magic Kingdom:

This is what it looks like on the backside of Main Street, USA.
Shortly after, we made the turn onto Main Street, and posed for a quick picture:

We made the turn into tomorrowland, and followed the path into Fantasyland, and then went through the castle, and into Liberty Square:

We then went past Splash Mountain, and once again backstage toward float storage and mile 7:

Once again, the crowd slowed way down after leaving the Magic Kingdom. We tried to make time, as this was the boring stretch with nothing but cones and trees to look at, but just couldn't make any headway through the crowd. We eventually were able to gain some elbow room when we past the Grand Floridian Resort, and the road widened a bit.
We made our way past mile 10, and went up the cloverleaf onramp, where the 3 bridges to Epcot were awaiting us. For whatever reason, we couldn't get the steam to stay in a running groove. We continued on into Epcot and we were charging as hard as we could, trying to overcome the mental hurdles.
This was the 3rd time I've run this route, and I have to say that the out and back into Epcot felt like it was twice as long as it was the last 2. I had music blaring in my ears, trying to uplift me. I looked at Becky and could tell she was zoning out as best she could. We exited Epcot and crossed the finish line. We received our finisher's medals, and Becky received some pixie dust.

We didn't know exactly what our time was, but we knew we were going to be very close to the PR we had just sent a month prior. When we got on the bus, I was able to access our official results on the internet, and had a finishing time of 2:50:37. 30 seconds slower than our PR a month earlier. We both knew that the 10 minute bathroom stop at the TTC hurt us. We went back to our resort, showered, took a nap, and then went to Epcot where I celebrated with a Margarita.
All in all, it was still a great race, and we really did get slowed down by a lot of things along the course. It's not build to set PR's, although this course gets my adrenaline going like no other course I've run, which does help keep the pace up. At this point, I thought that I had collected the last RunDisney medal that was currently offered at the 1/2 marathon or less distance. Shortly after this race, they announced the new Tower of Terror 10-Miler. I guess I'll have to add that one to the hit list.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Time to Take the Bridge!

Tomorrow, Becky and I will be taking part in the Summerfest Rock 'n Sole 1/2 Marathon in Milwaukee. This race was plagued by problems last year, due to a late start time, and lack of water stations. A lot of runners were sent for medical attention following the race. The race starts and ends in the Summerfest grounds, and crosses the giant Hoan Ave bridge twice. 

The good news is that after last year's issues, management was passed onto the crew that runs the Madison Mini-Marathon. We ran the Mini last year, and it was a great experience, so I'm thinking a lot of the problems will be solved.