Saturday, March 31, 2007
Thursday, March 29, 2007
But those days are done. I'm going to try to bring morning workouts back into my routine. Running as the sun comes up is invigorating. I get to the office ready to go, as opposed to sluggishly beginning my work day. More energy, more concentration, better health.
We'll see how it goes....
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Monday, March 19, 2007
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
My official time was 6 hours, 53 minutes, 13 seconds. The first loop took me 1:58:47. I was through the second loop in 4:13:59. Overall, I finished 18th out of 26 runners. Oh well.
My legs are feeling much better today. I should be 100% by the weekend.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Not surprisingly (especially given my recent race arrival history), we pulled up to the Redwood Pavilion in Cameron Park about six minutes before the start. While Nell checked me in, I made a last minute restroom pit stop.
There were about 25-30 runners lined up for the 50K event. They all seemed to know each other, and everyone was very relaxed. With little fanfare, race director Tim Neckar gave us a brief overview of the course. “It’s flat and straight along the Brazos for the first mile. Then you’re on your own.” Hmmmm….
With little fanfare, Tim gave us the old “on your mark, get set, go!” and we were off. A few guys took off toward the front, but the bulk of the runners kept an easy pace. I consciously held back, trying to settle into a pace no fast than 10 minutes per mile.
The Waco Trail Runs consist of 3 races – a 50K (the Waco 5-0), 20.66 miles (the Waco 2-0), and 10.33 miles (the Waco 1-0). The course is a 10.33 mile loop through various single-track trails in Cameron Park. Based on the race description (“a rocky, rooty, hilly and very challenging (but fun) trail run”), my goal was to keep an easy pace and not burn out early.
The first mile was just as Tim promised. Flat and straight.
And then we turned left and into the trails. And uphill. And then downhill. And then uphill. And then some switchbacks. And lots of rocks and roots.
The hills were pretty severe. There was no way I was running up them. Walking was a chore. The first hill—which I soon found out wasn’t even one of the more difficult ones—had me wheezing like an asthmatic by the time I reached the top.
Going downhill was even tougher. The grade was steep and rocky. So steep in some places that you were basically trying to slow yourself down enough that you wouldn’t go sprawling head over feet. Forget about running. I was just trying to stay upright.
After a mile or two, I found myself running the same pace as two other trail veterans, Miles and Rebecca. They both remarked several times on the difficulty of the course. “This is your first 50K? Wow, you picked up tough one to get started.”
After 3.5 miles, I finally came to the first aid station. It was surreal to step out of the dense trails onto a park road. The race volunteers were hanging out under a canopy and listening to Willie Nelson. They had a great spread set out on the table. Sodas, gummy bears, chips, bananas, sandwiches, water, Gatorade. You needed it, they had it. I wasn’t too hungry yet, so I drank a Gatorade and filled up my water bottles before heading out. The next aid station was four miles away.
More ups and downs. My mind was pretty blank. Just concertrating on making it up the path and not falling off the cliffs. At the second aid station, I ate half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank a few swigs of Coca-Cola. Good stuff.
I kept moving and eventually made it through the trails and back onto pavement for the last quarter mile of the loop. Tim had done a good job of setting up the end of the loop on a nice downhill. Made us all look good as we ran into the finish.
I finished the first lap in just under 2 hours. With a third of the course over, I snagged another sandwich and headed out for lap two.
Nothing much happened on the second lap. I was by myself the entire time. I completely zoned out. It was meditative. Before I knew it, I was back at the Redwood Pavilion, getting ready to head out one more time.
The third lap was when it really got tough. It had taken me four hours and fifteen minutes to run 20 miles. Two weeks ago, I had run a marathon in less time. Hills are hard. Heat is hard.
Coming through the start/finish aid station before beginning lap three, I remember thinking, "One more loop. I can do one more loop." I was tired. It was getting warm. My legs were heavy, my feet hurt. I could feel the tension in my shoulders and biceps. Mentally, I told myself ten more miles wasn't that big of a deal, and yet it was a HUGE deal.
Nell told me I looked great. She's a good liar.
I chowed down on half a PB&J sandwich, sucked down ten ounces of flat Coca-Cola, and took off before I could think too much about what I was obligating myself to do. Once on the trail, I was stuck. The winding, twisting, hilly, evil route was unforgiving and indiscernible from the two previous times I had trod this way. All I could do was continue moving forward, following the orange arrows stapled to the trees and the orange ribbons leading my way.
The first mile was the worst. Flat and straight, it seemed to go on forever. I hated it. In an odd, inexplicable way, I wanted the hills. At least they provided a break. My legs burned one way going up; they burned another way going down. Different muscle groups meant different pain. It helped.
I had caught up with a couple of guys who had been ahead of me for most of the run. One of the guys was reserved, quiet. The other guy was just plain pissed off. "It's too damn hot. This is stupid. Screw this." Over and over again. He was angry. I wanted him to either pass me or me to pass him. Not that he was directing his anger toward me. But I didn't like being within earshot. This had become a personal battle, and I didn't need someone else messing with my own struggle.
After the 3.5 mile rest stop (mile 24 overall), I stopped to empty and refill my water bottles. Mr. Angry passed me, as did Mr. Pacifist. I wouldn't see them again until the finish, when they both cheered me across the line.
All of the trails were marked with names, and they were rated like ski slopes. Blue, green, and black diamond. The RD had sadistically set the toughest uphills on black diamond routes. In fact, it seemed that most of the course was black diamond (although, in hindsight, there were only a few black diamonds--with lots of blue routes). The ones that really stuck out were the "Vortex" (very fast, scary downhill luge-like trail), the "Mix Master" (black diamond), "Power Line" (with a giant electric tower at the top), "Shyst" (which I affectionately renamed "Oh Shyst!"), "Act of Faith" (appropriately named), "Leanto" (yet another black diamond), and "Root Canal" (the last hill before heading back to the start/finish).
About 6 miles into the third loop, I got lost. I was literally at a fork in the road, and there was no indication which way to go. Damn. I didn't want to go the wrong way. I walked back a few hundred yards and thankfully another runner approached. I didn't recognize him. Turns out, he was running the 20 mile race and had started an hour after me. He was on his second lap and knew the way. He told me he had run into the same problem on his first trip through the same intersection. Somehow, I had made it through twice with no trouble, but on the third shot, I was confused. Well, I shouldn't have been. The two paths ended up at the same spot, and they only diverged for a short bit.
Back on the trial, I eventually made it to the 7.5 mile aid station, where I gratefully snacked on the last PB&J and a few sips of Coca-Cola. Running by myself for most of the past couple of hours, I had entered a very reflective state. Why am I doing this? What purpose does this serve? Why am I doing this? Who am I? Serious, why am I doing this?
I thanked the volunteer for helping me get this far, slammed a Gatorade, and headed off for the last three miles.
Up and down unforgiving hills. Alone. At one point I came across a family--two adults and a small child. They were hiking the trail I was traversing. I remember the parents telling their son to move out of the way. I remember telling them, "it's okay." That's about it.
A mile or so later, heading down a hill, another runner approached. He passed me easily. I gave him an encouraging yelp (all I could muster). He grunted in thanks.
Half a mile later, I was lost again. Or I thought I was. I couldn't remember if I had made the right turn or not.
Luckily, a couple suddenly appeared on the trail.
"Did you guys happen to see another runner with a race number coming through this way?"
"Yeah, he's only a few minutes ahead of you. He didn't look like he was moving too fast. If you hurry, you can catch him."
I didn't have the heart to tell them I was on mile 29, there was no chance I was going to catch anyone, and I was just happy to know I was on the right track. Instead, I said, "Thanks, I'll try to get there."
The 10.33 mile course had mile markers stapled to trees along the route. On the third lap, I had come to rely on those markers to let me know my progress. I passed the mile 8 marker, but still hadn't seen mile 9. As I flew through the "Vortex" (trying not to fall flat on my face as I soared down the trail), I kept waiting for the mile 9 marker to appear.
Where the hell was it? How far had I run? I was hurting and tired. Surely, the marker was here somewhere. But I never saw it.
Eventually, the bamboo forest just before "Root Canal" appeared. A welcome site. The last hill before the end.
As I trudged up the narrow path, I finally realized that I was going to finish the race. 31 miles on a trail 4 months before my 30th birthday and 5.5 months before the expected birth of my first child.
Nell, my sexy, intelligent, understanding, perfect (and pregnant) wife, was waiting for me at the finish.
Life is strange and wonderful and beautiful.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Race report to come, but here's some initial thoughts on my first real trail run and first attempt at running more than 26.2 miles (31.070699999 miles to be exact):
1. Waco is definetly part of the hill country.
2. Forget gels and energy bars. The best endurance food is flat Coca-Cola and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
4. Walking uphill is not only encouraged, it is often required. Especially when the course is designed by a mad genius.
5. The heat (like a 25 degree increase from the 50s to 80 degrees plus) can screw with your pace. But it's massive hills that really screw with you.
Monday, March 05, 2007
It was a tough course.... The 9-hour cutoff was a little demanding and there were a few that did not make it. An 8-hour cutoff would have been too severe. There were rocks, roots and hills galore. I'd have to say... the course was pretty technical. There were many, many places that there was no way you could negotiate them except by walking. Many hills were steep, and some were prolonged.
I may have underestimated this run.
Oh, and I'm just now getting well from a nasty sinus infection that's had me on the sidelines since the Mardi Gras Marathon.
What the heck did I get myself into???
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Back at the hotel, I secured the timing chip to my shoe and pinned the race number to my shirt. I finished off a Clif bar, shoved some Gu in my fanny pack, and kissed Nell before heading downstairs to meet Chan in front of the hotel.
Five minutes later, we were driving down St. Charles Avenue towards the Starbucks on Washington and Magazine. A few blocks from our turn, Chan suddenly blurted, “Dude, I forgot my race number and chip.” Oops.
We were supposed to meet Dave at 6:30 a.m. Didn’t happen. Instead, we detoured to Chan’s house, slammed our Starbucks, and hurriedly made it to our prearranged pickup spot where Dave was waiting.
By the time we finally got downtown and parked the car for the race (several blocks from the start), the gun had already sounded and the runners were barreling down Poydras Street. In our dash to the Superdome starting line, Dave and I accidentally activated our chips (by walking backwards across the chip mat) several minutes before we actually started running. So we were late to the official start and our chip times were going to be off.
As the race announcer made the last call for marathoners, Dave, Chan, and I finally began running. We ran together for about half a mile until Chan begged off. The pace (about 9 minutes per mile, maybe a little slower) was faster than he wanted to go. Dave, who was running the half marathon, stayed with me until just past mile one, then he decided to take a walk break.
The Mardi Gras Marathon is basically two out-and-back courses, starting and finishing at the Superdome. The first half goes down the far edge of the Quarter to Esplanade and along City Park before turning back and heading downtown to the Superdome. The second half cuts through the Central Business District to Pyrtania and then makes its way from the Garden District through Uptown and into Audubon Park before u-turning back towards the finish.
Running down Decatur through the Quarter, I tried to take in the sights, but I was fighting my natural instinct to pass the slower runners. My competitive juices were flowing, and I felt slighted by our late start. I tried to keep reminding myself that this was a training run, not a race.
We turned down Esplanade and headed toward City Park. The familiarity was comforting. Not only was this my third Mardi Gras Marathon, but I had also run the same route for a couple Crescent City Classics.
There were less people out to cheer us on than in years past, and I noticed several stores in mid-cities that were closed down. A few local markets had their doors boarded up. And other than the huffing and puffing of the runners, it was awfully quiet.
We got to the entrance at City Park and turned right, following the canal. The route was pretty much the same as in previous years, but at one point we turned off the main road for a mile out and back. Along the detour, I was shocked to see so many houses that had been ravaged by the storm. FEMA trailers were parked in nearly every front yard. It’s unbelievable that nearly 18 months after Katrina, people are still living in temporary housing.
Coming back towards downtown, I caught up with Dave, who was waiting at the base of the course’s only hill (a short bridge over the highway). Dave, who has had recurring arch problems for years, had started to develop some foot pain, so he decided to take it easy and not risk further injury. We ran together for another mile or so until he needed to stop to walk.
I hit the halfway point a few minutes over two hours. I felt good, but it was getting pretty warm outside. The forecast had the temperature in the mid-70s, and there was no question we were going to hit it. Without a cloud in the sky, the sun was beating down and I was getting hot.
Running down Pyrtania Street, I saw the familiar crowd of folks outside Bluebird Café waiting for their Sunday breakfast. I had a sudden desire to ditch this marathon foolishness in favor of a cup of coffee and some corned beef hash.
A mile or so later, I met up with Nell, who graciously cheered me on and handed me a cold bottle of water. (She also snapped lots of cool black and white photos!)
At Napoleon, the course turned toward the river for another out-and-bike half mile before resuming down Pyrtania. Not too far down the road, I passed Upperline restaurant and the new Martin Wine Cellar, relocated from its original spot a couple blocks lakeside of St. Charles. We used to go to Martin’s a lot when I was in law school. They had a great deli.
I saw Nell again before leaving Pyrtania for Audubon Park. She was getting around town and doing a great job of fan support.
Into Audubon Park, I started really feeling fatigued. I rubbed my face and was surprised to see that salt had started to form on my cheek. It was time to pop some Sport Beans and hit the Gatorade.
Nell was there again, which was great. I needed all the motivation I could get. This was getting tough.
Heading back up Pyrtania towards downtown, I saw Chan coming from the opposite direction. He was about 4.5 miles behind me on the course. I could tell he was hurting. He told me he was cramping. I felt bad for the guy—he still had eight or nine miles to go.
Passed Jackson Avenue, there was an aid station being manned by the New Orleans Hash Harriers. I don’t know what possessed me, but their offer of a cold beer sounded pretty good. I knew I was close enough that finishing wasn’t a problem. I had also given up any illusion of finishing under 4 hours, telling myself that I was saving it for the Waco 50K in two weeks.
So what the hell? I snagged a cup of ice cold Abita beer. And it was good. Real good. (I also chugged a Gatorade for hydration purposes.)
The last couple miles were actually pretty fun. Between the heat and the beer (and maybe the 24 miles I’d just run), I was a little light-headed. Almost giddy.
The course ends by looping around the backside of the hockey/basketball arena until you come to a short straightaway under the walkway-bridge into the Superdome. Just as I reached the arena, I came up on a young guy who was walking.
“Yeah, but I’m hurting. This is my first marathon.”
“Stay with man, you can do this. We’ll run it in together.”
As we rounded the corner, we could see the crowds of people. They weren’t as massive as Marine Corps or White Rock, but when I started throwing up my arms and encouraging them to cheer, they let loose. It was great. The guy I was running with started getting into it, too. Very cool.
I crossed the finish in 4:14:31, but I’m guessing my actual running time was around 4:08 something. It was a good race.
The next day, Nell and I grabbed dinner with Chan (who finished just under 5 hours) at the best restuarant in New Orleans Jacques-Imo’s.
Very good times.
Friday, March 02, 2007
I hoped the destruction wasn’t as bad as I feared, and that the rebuilding was going better than I had heard.
After checking into the Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, we began walking towards downtown. It was eerily quiet, but it was also a Saturday and most businesses were closed.
The remnants of last week’s Mardi Gras celebration were scattered haphazardly about the streets. Beads here, empty cans there, an occasional purple, green, and gold boa. And, of course, the ever present aroma—just beneath the surface—of stale beer and urine. Ah, New Orleans!
At Poydras Street, our stomachs grumbled and led us to Mother’s. It was comforting to see a line of people snaking out the door of the legendary sandwich shop. After a twenty minute wait, I was scarfing down my Ralph (a Ferdi—roast beef, ham, debris, gravy, shredded cabbage, pickles, and creole mustard—with swiss cheese) while Nell enjoyed her shrimp po’ boy.
I picked up my race packet and a new pair of sunglasses, and we waited for Kyu Chan to show up. After he had picked up his marathon goods, we caught a ride back to our hotel, where Nell and I settled in for a nice afternoon nap.
An hour or so later, we walked over to Magazine Street and grabbed some coffee at CC’s. Dave, who had driven in from Atlanta to run the 1/2 marathon, joined us a bit later, and, along with Kyu Chan, the four of us grabbed a pre-race dinner at Semolina's Bistro Italia.