Sunday, July 26, 2015

Aspen Valley Marathon Recap

While trying to plan my races for the year I decided I needed to visit my family that moved out to Colorado a few years back.I hadn't been out there yet and figured that I can add a race and kill two birds with one stone.After weighing the options as well as the proximity to my family I settled on the Aspen Valley Marathon. I also wound up deciding to get there and get it over with rather than trying to adapt to the altitude.

I flew out for my race on Friday and landed in Denver bright and early. From there I took a shuttle to Vail. Then my cousin's coworker picked me up and then my cousin took me to his home. His girlfriend then took me to my aunt's place. Finally my aunt took me to the airport to rent a car to make the rest of my journey down to Aspen. It was a long day to say the least.I made it to town with about an hour to spare for packet pick up. Aspen itself was very walkable and full of characters from what I could tell. I wound up just getting my packet, a quick dinner, and then crashing.

Race morning came much too early. I was definitely sleep deprived. Luckily this wasn't a goal race.I got to the race site a bit early and walked around to stay loose. Oddly the race didn't have any port-o-potties at the start, but instead relied on a public restroom. I know there were only about 250 runners, but 2 stalls isn't going to cut it. Being there early enough helped and I took care of business with plenty of time. I also met and chatted with some fellow Marathon Maniacs at the start, including 1 who was pacing for 3:40 aka the fastest pacer for this race.

Quiet start area

Now this course likes to advertise itself as fast. The race shirt itself even bills the race a Boston Qualifier. This isn't without reason since the course has a net loss in elevation of nearly 1500 feet. The problem is the race starts at an elevation of nearly 8000 feet. Unless you're adapted to the altitude, you won't do nearly as well. I came in the day before so you can see where this is going.

Nice downhill for 20 miles

Soon the race started and we raced our way through downtown Aspen. I hung in behind the 3:40 pacer who may have shot out a little quick himself. I struggled to breath for the first mile or so and figured this was going to be a long day. After a bit we hit the Rio Grande Trail and I settled into a comfortable pace. By about mile 3 I was actually running quite relaxed with my heart rate and cadence both slowed down to training run efforts. Perhaps it was the scenery or running along the river that calmed me.

I eventually fell in with a group of runners for the next 8 miles. We broke off from other nearby runners, but couldn't lose each other. I finally started talking with the others and found out that one of the girls was shooting for a BQ after failing a few weeks prior and the guy was running his first marathon with only a long run of 16 miles under his belt. They were from Fort Collins and shocked that I was holding my own so well on my first high altitude run. I eventually lost them around mile 11 as I surged a bit and they faded.

Around mile 14 I felt a familiar rumbling in my tummy. One of the aspects of being at high altitude is that it can also upset the stomach. You would think by now that I would learn to take Imodium before a marathon, but haven't quite grasped that lesson yet. The downside of this race was that the aid stations were pretty far apart i.e. only 2 in first 7.5 miles and not all of them had restrooms. I had to wait until mile 16 to use the facilities. I wound up losing around 4 minutes here, but felt much relieved after.

Once back on the course I really picked up steam for a bit. I guess I was a bit determined to get back that 4 minutes I had lost. I passed a lot of runners and eventually re-passed the group I was running with before. They had broken apart as the girl was struggling and knew a BQ was out of site. The guy was still going pretty strong when I caught him, but soon started to fade. I also caught and passed the 3:40 pacer for the time being.

After the first 20 miles the course turns into rolling hills. I managed to keep strong until mile 22 when I finally decided I didn't like running uphill anymore. At that elevation I was getting winded just climbing stairs, so running up a hill felt like having a heart attack. I eased off and went with a walk/run approach from there to the finish. The temperature also had been rising and we no longer had the shade from trees on the path.

The final stretch of the race involved running into downtown Basalt. There were more people around here and I picked my pace back up. I also was nearly hit by cars twice in this stretch. First a guy making a right out of a parking lot kept looking left and never looked right to pull out. He decided to pull out when I was within feet of his car. I screamed at him and fellow onlookers couldn't believe it either. I also managed to capture this all on my GoPro. Then when nearly to the finish there were people directed traffic and apparently weren't paying attention since they directed a car to cross the intersection right in front of me. I did make it to the finish without any further incident.

At the finish line we got our medals. I got a fist bump from the 3:40 pacer who congratulated me on a job well done. I also got a wonderful cold and wet towel to wipe down with. I guess I missed it in my initial post race haze, but there was also champagne at the finish line. I wound up heading straight for the beer line and got an Orange Shandy from Aspen Brewing Company. Definitely the refreshment I needed. The race also had a salad bar, but who eats salad after a marathon?

I liked the race other than the few bumps with the bathrooms and near misses. The course was absolutely stunning. I'm glad I had my GoPro on me and took clips throughout the race. The people were all also super friendly. I don't think I've ever talked so much to fellow runners as I did during this race. After spending several days with the family it was determined that I had to make this race an annual thing, an excuse to come back and visit. 

As for the final results - I finished in 3:45:48 and 33rd out of 226 finishers. If you course correct for the conditions and altitude, this time would be the equivalent of around a 3:25-3:30 in Chicago. I'm extremely pleased with that result given that much of the race was spent running conservatively. All that downhill did do a number on my quads and toes though. This now gives me 8 marathons in as many states in the last 10 months.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Strike Out ALS 5K 2015 Edition

This was my 4th time running the Strike Out ALS 5K. I almost didn't run it though. I've  been so committed to keeping up with my marathon training schedule that I've been hesitant to alter it in any way. A week before the race I decided to register and just run a double for the day to get my miles in. The race holds special meaning for me too since I lost my uncle to ALS 4 years ago.

I did the pre-race packet pick up at Roadrunner Sports the Saturday before the race. This was quick and easy since they have parking there and everything. I also decided to pick up a pair of racing flats to break in for my eventual goal marathon. After trying out some new stuff I got a pair of the new release Vazee Pace from New Balance. The shoes are super light and comfy with a 6mm heel drop and a good feel that leads to faster stride turnover. I wound up running the 5K in them.

 Race day was a bit different for me this time around. Since I signed up last minute I hadn't roped my friends into running with me. I got down to US Cellular field early and relaxed for a bit. The weather had cooled off and felt pretty good. I had run 10 miles in the morning and had melted then so this was a nice change. I dropped my bag off at gear check and went for a short jog to loosen up a bit. I noticed that in addition to the cooling off the wind had also picked up and might make things difficult.

Soon enough I was heading into the start corral for some announcements including the reciting of Lou Gehrig's famous retirement speech. Unfortunately and ill-placed generator plus the wind was blowing fumes into the faces of those of us near the front. I was ready to get moving so I could breath again. After the all clear it was off went.

Mile 1:
I got sucked into the fast start of the lead runners. It just felt so natural, but a quarter of a mile in I slowed to a more manageable pace before I got myself into real trouble. It was crazy only seeing 8 runners in front of me. I wound up passing another after he fell off after the fast start. We ran and zig zagged south through the stadium parking lots towards Pershing before turning back north. Once we turned north we were slammed by a pretty strong wind. I managed to cross the mile marker in 6:12 which is my fastest timed mile ever.

Mile 2:
We continued north past where we started to the north edge of the lots, then turned east, then south briefly and then back north. The wind was just relentless and started wearing on me. I did manage to pass another runner who was also struggling with the wind. Finally towards the end of the mile we turned back south. The wind did its damage though and this mile was done in 6:40.

Mile 3:
We were now zig zagging south before finally entering the stadium for a lap around the field. This is always a lot of fun, but running on the gravel can slow you down a little too. I also had to deal with a photographer who decided that the right spot for picture was right in the optimal running route so I had to dance around him. Right near the exit for the stadium I was passed by 2 runners. Once I got out of the tunnel I checked my time and knew I still had some fight left so I tried to push the pace and kept up with the 2 runners. I hit the mile 3 marker at 19:25 for a 6:33 mile.

Mile 3.1:
I knew I had to really book it for the finish if I was going to crack 20. I picked up the pace even more. After one last turn I had 10 seconds left to make it and found myself in an all out sprint. I wound up neck and neck with the other 2 runners who had passed me. I stopped my watch a little after the finish line at 19:59.9. The official results have me at 20:00 even. If there ever was a time you wanted race results reported down to the tenth of a second this was it.

I wound up finished 8th overall out of over 400 runners and walkers and 3rd in my age group. My time was 1:04 faster than last year when I was 2nd in my age group. It's always funny how the times ebb and flow year to year for events. There was no official award ceremony, except to announce the male and female overall winners. I still got a medal though which was nice.

As I was leaving I managed to catch the final runner finishing. He was an ALS patient who decided that he too was going to finish the course. It was a great moment of bravery. Many of the runners took a break from their post race fun in order to go over to the finish and cheer him on as well.

Strike Out ALS 5K is always a well run event and for a good cause. The logistics may be inconvenient since it's always held on All Star Tuesday in the evening at US Cellular Field. The course also contains something around 23 turns I think I counted so it isn't normally a PR type course even though I managed to set an 11 second PR myself during the race.

I'm proud of the way I ran. I've been absolutely torturing my legs with mileage, piling on more miles than I've ever run before and still managed to get some speed out of them. I was tired enough that I couldn't get my heart rate up to where I normally run 5Ks at. I know I'm more fit, but I just couldn't bring myself to the pain and huffing and puffing normally experienced during a 5K. I'll have to find a 5K after all the marathon madness is over and run it on fresh legs to see what I can really do. It's nice knowing that I could probably go sub 20 without any issues and that's always a confidence booster.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Cycle Begins Again

Summertime for me has turned into marathon training season. The typical training cycle is 18 weeks which means starting in June for a fall marathon for most folks. I'm a little behind on the times and am actually wrapping up week 4 of my training plan.  My goal marathon is Twin Cities on October 4th. I'm actually running 4 marathons and an ultra this fall, but that's a different story.

The past 2 years I trained for Chicago using different methods. I first used the Hanson Marathon Method in 2013 and failed miserably at keeping up with the plan and fell short of my goal. In 2014 I tried a different approach and basically came up with my own plan roughly following the weekly mileage guidelines of Higdon intermediate while sprinkling in speed workouts from Hanson and Yasso. I did meet my initial goal last year, but some gastro-intestinal distress left me short of my full potential. I've run 6 more marathons since Chicago without following a training plan at all, basically just maintaining fitness in between and have managed to excel and get faster.

This year I decided to return to using a defined plan. I chose the Pfitzinger 18/70 plan as something that will challenge me and hopefully take me to the next level. The plan is 18 weeks long and peaks at 70 miles in a week. The mileage from the plan would be 400 more miles than during my training cycle last year. I'm hoping the additional mileage will help my body adapt and stay strong through the whole race in addition to preparing me for the rigors of a 50 mile run.

So what have I done so far? I didn't quite follow the plan exactly the first 2 weeks. I was starting just 3 weeks after my last marathon so I did a reverse taper. Week 1 wound up being 43 miles instead of the planned 53. Week 2 was 54 instead of a planned 56, which is actually damn impressive given that I did this in spite of running 17.5 miles entirely too fast during Ragnar. Week 3 I was finally in sync with training and ran 58 miles.

The current week has been a bit different. I changed my routine and am now starting to run before work. It is definitely much cooler and peaceful running 14 miles on a Tuesday morning. Yes, I ran that much on Tuesday and it was only my mid-week medium long run. I still need to do a long run of 18 on Sunday. The plan is not for the timid. I won't drop below 55 miles until I taper. If you're curious to see what the schedule looks like, someone made a calendar that is just a week off from my plan.

So what is my goal for Twin Cities? That's hard to say at this point. I seem to make improvements by leaps and bounds. My last 2 marathons both featured blazing fast starts followed by 2nd half fades. With smarter pacing I would likely be somewhere between 3:20 and 3:25. I would love to make the improvement to BQ, but that would likely require a time around 3:03 for my age group. I'm not sure if I can make that jump in this time frame, but I'll definitely train hard and smart and see what happens. I need to stay healthy to make it through all my fall marathons.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ragnar Chicago 2015 Part 2

When I last left you my van was due up to be active. We did some quick decorating, putting our name on the back window - One Man Perv Per Van, and got our runner to the exchange zone to start our adventure. I was bad an accidentally missed the hand off since I ran into 2 other friends in the exchange area and spent a few minutes catching up. It was crazy how many people I knew were running Ragnar this year. After our runner was off we rallied the troops and hit the road for the next exchange. I had some time being the last runner in our van so I played navigator and played with my GoPro.

Ragnar changed it's legs and some of its routes this year. Last year I was runner 7 and had only a 2.9 mile first leg. This year being runner 12 I got stuck with the short leg again, but it was at night. That said, our runner 7 this year had the optional exchange zone leg. There was a mile long stretch of road the vans would park along and the exchange could happen wherever the runners liked. It wound up being a blessing in disguise since it shortened the leg for our runner who was hurting and the next runner took the extra distance like a champ.

So one by one the runners went and then finally it was my turn. Suzy slapped the bracelet on my wrist and away I went. It was a little awkward at first given that I always start too fast and I was trying to get comfortable running while carrying my phone in hand which I never do. I normally use a pouch, but since I'd have to text my team with a mile to go I didn't want to be digging for it during the middle of a run. My leg went well and I finished well ahead of planned pace. I get to the exchange and see people from both vans there to greet me. There was a round of high 5s and then an immediate let's go get dinner.  We went to Noodles and Co. and it was glorious. The girls missed the show though since they headed into the restaurant while I changed out of my wet clothes in the parking lot. They suggested I used the bathroom in the restaurant, but I knew better, it was lined up with runners from all the various teams.

After dinner we prepped for our night time runs. We got our safety gear out and looked all sexy in our vests.  The girls all made it through their runs without much issue, except for Krista who had some creepy moments. Once I was up I was off and running once again. I got lost not much after when the road split and there were no signs. I slowed to check my phone for directions and let a runner catch me to figure out where to go. It didn't help that this was a section that doubled back on on the runners coming in for the exchange so all the blinky lights in the dark through me off. This was my slowest mile of the entire event. Finally I was back on track and passing runners once again. The last stretch of the run was along a lakeront trail. There was a steep downhill that I decided to just go with and started flying when a rabbit darted in front of me. I definitely let an expletive fly as it truly startled me. I soon made it to the finish where our van 1 teammates were waiting after having napped in tent city.

Van 2 decided to get out of dodge and avoid sleeping in tent city given the noise, distance from where the van was parked, etc. We headed over to North Chicago High School to see that no volunteers were there yet and everything was pretty much in lock down. A few of us camped out on the porch of the school and the rest in the van. The porch was a good move since the overhang protected us from the thunderstorm that came through during the night. One of the guys on the sidewalk was starting to get wet so he decided to get a little cozy next to me. After a few hours of sleep we grabbed some breakfast at Dunkin Donuts and prepped for our final legs.

One by one we finished our final legs. Early cloudiness and fog gave way to clearing skies and rising temperatures. My last leg was going to be midday and I knew it was going to get rough if it kept getting warmer. My route didn't have a whole lot of shade either. As a team we made up some huge ground on our last legs and I was running a bit earlier than planned, just before 12:30PM. I took the exchange from Suzy and started running from the Northwestern Campus down the lake and Sheridan. It was a lot different from my first 2 legs since I had many pedestrians to contend with. I also had to stop at a lot of lights along Sheridan. There were stretches along the lake that made it so worth it though. I had originally intended to take things easy, especially to give the van a chance to find parking at the finish, but I was feeling pretty good in spite of the heat and just ran with it. I once again destroyed my anticipated pace. It was a bit odd running this leg since we were ahead of nearly all the other open teams. I only passed 3 other runners and was passed once by someone who had to be running in the 6 min range. I managed to capture the last 5 minutes of my leg on GoPro, including when I spotted Sara and told her to move her ass since she'd miss running across the finish line as a team.

Once we crossed the finish we waited for Sara and took a team photo.

After that we headed over for some much needed beers. And since it's never too early to plan, we started discussing ideas for next year. We joked about doing Super Troopers with the "I'm freaking out, van" and the "You are freaking out, van" , but found out later someone already did that team idea. We'll come up with something. After a couple beers and one last browse through the gear shop we jumped in the van and headed back to Mo's dad's. We made a pit stop at Mariano's to use the restroom and then crawled our way back. I dozed in the backseat. My energy was gone. We reached the house, cleaned out the vans and everyone parted ways. I went home and crashed. It was a fun time and unfortunately it had to end.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ragnar Chicago 2015 Part 1

Spending 2 days stuffed into a van with 5 other strangers while barely getting any sleep, eating terribly, and having to run every few hours sounds like a barrel of monkeys doesn't it?  To be perfectly honest it is actually one of the most fun things you can do and hence why I subjected myself to such torture for the 2nd consecutive year. The idea was to join forces with Mo and get together our van mates from last year and form a new team for another round of shenanigans.

As time progressed it became clear that Mo and I would be the only stalwarts and we would be joined by a new band of merrymakers. The call was put out to other running friends as well as using the Ragnar Ambassador program. We finally had a team and started planning a name and all that other fun stuff. Unfortunately injuries kept our team in flux and we had a rotating band of characters for awhile. Once things settled down we were with 2 males and thus One Man Per Van was born.

We finally got some shirts made up near last minute as well as some magnets for tagging other vans. Speaking of vans, Mo booked us some minivans to save on costs and took care of a bunch of other stuff keeping costs for the team to the minimum. Some lineup shuffling put Mo in van 1 and me in van 2 as runner 12. I would be the one who got to carry the slap bracelet to the finish.

Even though I was in a van of girls I either didn't know at all, or barely knew, I decided to break out the Lone Sausage persona and the #andEric created during last year's Ragnar given that I'd be the lone guy in the van again. Luckily the ladies were game and went along with it.

We decided to all head up to Madison the night before the race since we had a 7:45AM start time and wanted to do some team bonding over beer. We met at Mo's dad's place and started our trek from there. I met my van mates - Jessie, Susie, Beth, and Sara. The 6th, Krista would be joining us in Madison. There was a mix up and the rental place and we wound up with a Buick Enclave SUV to squeeze into. We had to play tetris with our bags, but eventually made them fit and off we went. Dinner was a Monk's and involved cheese curds and Spotted Cow. I don't think you get much more Wisconsin than that.

We headed back to our hotel and Mo hung out with my van mates and I for a bit before we finally crashed. After a restless night we awoke to see grey skies and rain clouds. Luckily the forecast called for it to clear up by the time our van was due to start, but we were supposed to go to the start for a team picture. We did and it was raining too much so we just got our shirts and hit the road to grab breakfast and chill before it was our turn to run.

We wound up at a coffee shop playing a game of Cards Against Humanity. It was the same team building game I played before the start of last year's Ragnar. What better way to get into the sick and twisted parts of your van mate's heads before spending 30 hours together. There may have been some real freaks in the group, but that's just between us. So we got notification that Van 1 was nearing so we headed to the exchange and prepped for us to be the active van.

More to come...

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bayshore Marathon

I'm playing a bit of catch up on life right now. I went from running a marathon to closing on a condo to moving to hosting my parents and nephews for a weekend. I've barely had time to breath. Next weekend I'm running Ragnar Relay and I've already started marathon training for my goal race in October. As Ferris Bueller once said " Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around for awhile, it could miss it." And so with that missive I took the time to enjoy a weekend in Traverse City, Michigan even with all the chaos going on.

The weekend began with a Friday road trip to the mitten state with Annabelle. We cruised along and luckily only hit a couple of slow spots with it being a big travel weekend and all. We made it to TC and to packet pick up in the early evening. Afterwards Annabelle dropped me off at my hotel where I waited for Mo to show up who came pretty late after being stuck in awful traffic. After a short night's sleep it was race day.

We were going to get a ride to the race start from Jakre, but the spectator bus was at the hotel as we walked out. The driver looked at us like we were crazy, but we jumped on the bus. We got to the start with plenty of time to spare. We headed into the school to stay warm since it was freezing outside. With bathroom lines crazy long indoors we went to use the facilities outside one last time before the race began. We headed to the start line and were soon off and running.

In spite of the cold I decided to run in just shorts and short sleeves. It was going to warm up greatly during the race and I didn't want to be hindered. My conservative start soon gave way to recklessly fast miles much like I ran at Circular Logic.  I felt much comfortable this time though and wasn't straining. I even struck up a conversation or 2 with fellow runners. The course was beautiful. We were running down simple 2 lane roads past beautiful homes and amazing views of the bay. It was certainly one of the more scenic routes I've run. I reached the halfway point in around 1:37:xx much like I did for Circular Logic.

The race was an out and back course. After the turnaround I was facing a wall of wind I didn't realize I had been running with the first half. That along with rising temperatures had me feeling uncomfortable and off my stride and pace from earlier. I stopped to use the restroom to see if  that would straighten me out, but it didn't. I decided at mile 20 that rather than enduring a ton of discomfort pushing for a PR, that I would enjoy myself the rest of the race.

For the last 10K of the race I switched to a run/walk strategy and even stopped for a couple beers along the way. It may have taken me an hour to finish that last 10K, but I made sure that I wouldn't be miserable the rest of the weekend. I wound up crossing the finish line in 3:32:14 for my 2nd fastest marathon. Once past the finish line there was amazing ice cream and a food tent stocked with pop, homemade cookies, bananas, bagels, pretzels, etc.  All in all it was a well organized event and easy to see why it is so popular.

The rest of the weekend after the race became a blur. There were a couple bars hit after the race meeting with other Chicago runners. We also managed to hit 6 different breweries and a distillery. Somehow we managed to make it back to the hotel in time for Game of Thrones on Sunday night and then promptly passed out and missed the episode. Well at least I did.

Traveling home with @Ortonpants

Friday, May 22, 2015

Recap: Chase Corporate Challenge

This week I participated in my first J.P. Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge. My company was offering to partially subsidize anyone who ran for their race fees. I registered and then promptly forgot I did. The race date grew nearer and it dawned on me that oh yeah, I signed up for this. I wasn't paying attention at registration because I also realized that it was 2 days before a marathon I had signed up for. I figured I'd just turn it into a shake out run.

As race day grew nearer I looked at those who registered at my company for familiar names and didn't find very many. It looked like I might be in for a lonely night, or trying to make new friends from other departments. I also spied on last year's results and noticed something with the times... they were very achievable for my abilities. The top runner from my company ran the same pace as my 5K PR pace I ran just last month. My half marathon pace would also place me in the top 10 for my company. I was now debating whether to go for broke and try to get top honors for my company and bragging rights at the office.

Race day came and I worked from home so I could get downtown fairly easily. I got to Grant Park and found my company's tent. Good thing I had my head on a swivel because I saw our flags in a spot that wasn't where we were told we were going to be. I walk over and there's no formal check in or anything so I grab some water and a seat and wait for familiar faces. Eventually a former colleague who had transferred departments showed up and we chatted and I met others who I had only know by name and through email. We took team pictures, warmed up, and off to the start corrals we went.

The start was extremely crowded. I found out later that there were somewhere around 25K runners and walkers compared to 10K finishers last year. I found a gap in the gates and squeezed myself into corral A since I learned from others of how awful the start can be since no one lines up where they are supposed to. After the national anthem and some words and thanks, including some from my company's CEO, we were off and running. Sort of. It was very crowded and sure enough there were walkers clogging up things up front. I spent the first half mile moving in spurts through gaps when they opened up.

As the race progressed I quickly realized I was unable to find a steady rhythm with all the dodging and weaving I was doing. So I just settled in and rode it out moving through openings when I could get them and just conserving strength for the marathon. I passed several coworkers along the way and yelled words of encouragement. Heading down the home stretch I saw that people still hadn't even started the race yet. I crossed the finish and had to detour way around the corrals to get back to my company's tent. I was the 2nd person back to the tent which was encouraging. I had finished the 3.5 mile race in 24:28 for a 6:59 pace and wound up finishing 5th of 113 out of my coworkers. Our lead runners were faster than last year so I would of been hard pressed to catch them. After post race snacks and chatting with coworkers I went over and caught up with Maggie who's tent was 2 down from mine. I finally decided to head home since I had to be up for a road trip the next morning.

All in all it was a successful night in that I ran relatively well and at the effort I had wanted to without jeopardizing my marathon. I made a few new connections with coworkers as well. I'm not sure if I'd do the race again though just because the crowds were a bit much.