Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shamrock Shuffle Race Recap

Every year I look forward to the Shamrock Shuffle. It was my first ever race and has since become tradition. This year was my 4th time running the race.The difference this year was that I was taking on a marathon the day before. While I did complete 4 races in a row for the Dopey Challenge, it is a much difference experience with the marathon coming first. There's no avoiding beating yourself up running 26.2 miles.

I headed down on Friday during my lunch break to get my packet since I was leaving Friday evening to head to Indiana. I took the El down to the new green line station. All in all it took forever to get down there and pick up my packet and finally get home. I didn't even have time to dawdle and check out the goodies at the expo. Once I got back from Indiana Saturday evening worries started creeping in. My stomach had been in knots since the 2nd half of the marathon and I was having trouble even eating. I finally did get some pizza down and went to bed at a relatively decent hour. A few restless hours later I awoke and headed down to Grant Park.

Once I got to the park I heard my name and saw Mo sitting there with her cousin. We sat and chatted for a bit. Neither of us were too beat up from the marathon and cautiously optimistic about the race ahead. After not spotting anyone else we made our way down the street to see if we could find where the meet up was and ran into a whole crowd. We took some pictures and chatted for a bit. Me and Mo were told we were crazy.  Soon enough it was off to gear check and then the start corrals.

Once over in the corrals the coldness set in. It was uncontrollable shivering whenever the wind picked up. I settled in towards the back of the A corral with Mo and soon we spotted Charlyn.  We all settle in, the national anthem was sung, and the race began. Charlyn darted off since she's been gaining crazy speed in her training. I quickly lost Mo and struggled to coax my body into running.

The first mile was a total struggle. All of a sudden my lungs and chest ached on top of the soreness I had in my legs. The one nice thing about this year's Shuffle was a smaller field with only 22k finishers vs the normal 36k.The reduced field was noticeable and I didn't have to worry about getting trampled for finding room to run. I came into the race hoping to crack 40 minutes and clocked a first mile in 8:11. I had some work to do.

The 2nd mile I started to find my groove and settle into a nice pace. The wind was blowing from the south but wasn't as bad heading south on State street. Mile 2 was completed in 7:45. As we wound around the Loop it felt tougher, but not as hard as an 8K would normally be. Mile 3 clocked in at 7:38. Turning back south down Franklin saw the wind return with vengeance. All I could do is tuck into the crowd, put my head down, and ride it out. It was all I could do until we turned back east on Harrison. The 4th mile was done in 7:31.

I decided I was going to give things a go on the final mile. I knew my 2014 Shuffle time was 38:xx and so I was well within reach to challenge it. I got my legs moving as efficiently as I could. I had to stay someone conservative heading south on Michigan Ave since the wind was gusting fiercely every now and then. I knew I also had to save some energy for Mount Roosevelt. Eventually I willed myself up the hill and gave everything I had left for the homestretch. It felt like I was running in molasses, but somehow I was moving forward. One last push got me across the finish line in 37:58 beating last year's time by 14 seconds. The final 0.97 miles was run in 6:54.

I had competed as part of the Mikkeller Run Club and we wound up in 8th of 58 teams in our division. A very surprising and strong performance thanks mostly to our fast women.

I learned a bit about myself in doing a "fast" race after a marathon. Even with tired and beat up legs I could still coax some turnover out of them. I just need to remember that for the later stages of my future marathons and ultras. It was a successful weekend overall with my 2nd fastest of 7 marathons and my 3rd fastest of 7 8K races.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Circular Logic Marathon Race Recap

Awhile back I was convinced by Mo to sign up for the Circular Logic Marathon. Since I'm trying to knock out states and it is a relatively close and cheap race I figured why not. We would drive down together and split hotel costs with Kelly and some of her running club.

I took the blue line out to the Harlem stop to meet Mo and Friday afternoon. This made it easier for her to pick me up and jump on the expressway. We still hit quite a bit of traffic and wound up arriving in West Lafayette a little later than intended. The 2 of us went across the street and grabbed dinner where the waiter told us they served "Michelle-lob" beer. Back at the hotel we stayed up and watched Michigan State get an improbably win and make it into the Final Four. It was also in the evening that I realized that I had forgot my watch.

On  race day we got to the site about 45 minutes before the race was to begin. This race is unique in that it features 1 mile loops through a park. You also get space on a table to set your own water bottles. We set up our stuff at our labeled spot on the table and head over to pick up our timing chips. They are the kind you strap onto your ankle and are re-usable. The race was smaller with around 125 runners plus a dozen relay teams along with friends, family, and support. It was much more communal compared to most races.

After a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner we were sent on our way. Without my watch I had to trust my gut as far as pacing went. It felt like I was off to a fast start, but not overly fast. The first lap featured a short out and back to get our additional 0.2.  You cross a timing pad each lap and your time is displayed on a screen. I missed my time on the first lap since names weren't in the system yet, but knew I was around 9:30 or so, but didn't know what pace that translated to since math is hard when you're cold and running a marathon. The 2nd time through my name did show up on the screen as well as a 7:26. Crap. I was going too fast.

At this point I decided to let things ride and see where it takes me. It wasn't a goal race so if I crashed and burned so be it. I soon spotted Noe who had stayed at the hotel with us. His goal for the day was to run a 3:15. I knew this was likely too fast for my current abilities, but had a morbid curiosity so I decided to run with him. And I did! I kept pace and chatted with him for a while. We'd pass Mo or Kelly and I'd be like "I've never run this fast before!".  Eventually around 11.5 miles Noe pulled away and I couldn't keep up with him anymore. My energy was waning a bit so I focused on slowing down some and just hanging on. This lasted until about mile 19 when I really started to feel my legs dragging.

I would continue to fight and run slower, but respectable splits until mile 23. By this point my stomach wasn't happy at all and I was starting to get dizzy. I started walking sections of each lap. Kelly and Brent wouldn't let me give up though. They made me jog with them since they were going at a slower pace. I told them I could walk it on home at still finish around a 3:40.  They weren't having any of that and made sure I kept moving.  With the end in site I saw that I could still beat 3:35 if I got my butt and gear and I did. I crossed in 3:34:52.

After crossing the finish line and getting my medal I got some chocolate milk and then went to cheer the others on. After seeing them all finish a lap I headed over to the car to get some dry clothes on to warm up and then headed back to cheer everyone on. Mo showed some real grit by finishing the race in spite of having the flu all week. She even ran the last lap as one of her fastest. Afterwards it was off to Chili's for post race celebrations and large beers.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Run Like a Hobbit

I get asked more and more these days to share my training secrets. There really isn't anything fancy to my methods. I just run "there and back again", many, many times. All hobbit tales aside, it is and isn't that simple. I became a student of running and applied what I had learned and let time and hard work do the rest. It's become a wild ride to see all the progress made.

The first step into becoming a better runner is to become more consistent. There are no gains to be made if you spend every other week sitting out with an injury. Sure there are cross training exercises you could do, but nothing fully replaces the gains made by running more frequently. Your body adapts to stress so you need to apply that stress at regular intervals in order to keep receiving gains. I took things to the extreme by decided to run every single day no matter what, but you should stick to your own plan whether that is 3 days a week or 7.

Learn about yourself and your limits. We are trying to push you to new limits here, but it isn't going to help if you go off the edge on every workout. In order to run everyday I learned that I needed to slow my training pace down. I started running with a heart rate monitor and did a little guesswork on the heart rate zones to get myself down to a manageable pace. Everyone's ticker is a bit different and so my heart may beat faster than yours. General rule of thumb is you should be able to easily carry on a conversation.

To get better you also need to sprinkle in some speed work. You don't want to over do things though. The rule of thumb is that 20% of your weekly mileage should be at a faster pace. If you're only running 20 miles a week, this means only 4 of those miles should be faster than conversational pace. This includes tempo runs, intervals, repeats, and fartleks. My personal favorite workout is to head to the track and run 800m repeats with a 400m jog for recovery. It strikes a good balance between developing speed for shorter races like 5Ks while still providing benefit for an endurance event like the marathon. There are so many different workouts out there that you shouldn't have trouble finding one you like on Google. Just make sure to change things up a little bit to give your body a new challenge.

After consistency and proper pacing you should really work on increasing volume. By getting out to run on a consistent basis and making sure I wasn't over-taxing my body with pace I was able to reach new levels of weekly mileage. Getting into the 40-50 mile per week range is where I really started to see tremendous gains in speed and endurance. The key is to not build up too fast and to also take a cut back week every 3rd or 4th week to allow your body a bit of recovery to adapt. It can be tough to find the time to run this much, but if you're like me and run every day then that's just 7 miles a day. I tend to vary that up a bit and have a longer run on the weekend though.

Don't forget the basics of running. Make sure you continue to have fun or the hard work really will become hard work. You should also do enough cross training to keep your body in check. I'm prone to muscle imbalances caused by a desk job and therefore have to work out my hips and glutes a couple times a week. I also tend to develop a sore right calf caused by repetitive stress and over pronation. It helps to learn how to massage out sore muscles. Make sure you have proper shoes too.

Keep it up and you too can find yourself celebrating new PRs and finding yourself able to do things you didn't think were possible before.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Road Trippin

My weekend adventures included a road trip in addition to my  marathon. I was up bright and early Friday morning to hit the road. I was joined by Natali on this journey. It was smooth sailing as we hit the roads before the morning rush. We stopped for a late breakfast in BFE Illinois when we stopped for gas. I think a road trips and late night drunken munchies are probably the only time it is acceptable to go to Denny's.

We continued on our journey and made a slight detour on our way down to Little Rock. We decided we wanted to get some good food and stopped off in Memphis for a late lunch. We went to a place called Charlie Vergos Rendezvous which was located in the basement of a building with an entrance in an alley. The looks didn't matter because you could smell the food a block away. We had some amazing ribs. They were served with just a dry rub on them and no sauce. They had so much flavor the sauce wasn't needed. There was some sauce on the table which I used sparingly just to kick up the flavor a bit more. After being stuffed silly we finished the trek to Little Rock.

I stayed on my own in Little Rock while Natali joined her friends who flew down. While my hotel was on the "wrong side" of I30 it was still a short walk to the main entertainment district. I wandered around a bit after visiting the expo, but it wasn't large so it didn't take long which helped spare the legs a bit. I had to check out Gus's World Famous Chicken after checking out Yelp. The fried chicken definitely lived up to the hype. It had the right crispness to it as well as a slight heat to the breading. They also had a tasty slaw on the side.

After getting cleaned up after the race on Sunday I headed to the local watering hole that everyone had recommended. The Flying Saucer featured a number of fine craft beers on tap and in bottle. The special was pints of local beer for $3.50. I quenched my thirst on a few Arkansas beers. I also met a fellow Maniac and discussed various races.

On the way back to Chicago we stopped off at a Waffle House knockoff called Huddle House. Service was a big slow but the food was ok. This time our detour was into St. Louis where we headed to Pappy's Smokehouse. I guess we lucked out since there was no line when we got in there, but a long one formed shortly after. Once again the ribs were amazing. I could only eat half a slab but they had carry out boxes so I brought the rest home for dinner. The BBQ stops nearly made the road trip worth it. The rush hour traffic when we got back to Chicago made things miserable.

On Tuesday I woke to realize that I should never spend 13 hours on a road trip the day after a marathon. I've never been in as bad of shape as I was post race. I was waddling around the office. I'm glad I was able to get some good BBQ, but I think the next time I have to go somewhere that far away I'll just book the flight.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Little Rock Marathon Recap

On March 1st, 2015 I ran in the 13th annual Little Rock Marathon. The weekend was very eventful, but I want to limit this post to everything race related.

The Little Rock Marathon is notorious for it's ever changing theme and giant bling. This year's event was to be pirate themed. Unfortunately the plate size medals were stuck on a ship that was being tied up due to the longshore strike on the west coast. The race directors did get advance notice out to runners about the situation. It was concerning given that last year's event was a partial disaster with the is it, isn't it canceled fiasco. The directors pulled through and were able to secure smaller place holder medals until our real ones could be shipped out. Disappointing to not get the real medal when we finished, but still nice to have something.

The expo was held at the State Convention Center. The pick up was quick and easy. The shirts were a hideous hunter orange. There was a small amount of race gear on sale including bandanas and doubloons. There were about 50 vendors there selling their wares. I took a quick walk through and left with a new pair of shoes.

Race day was cold and wet. The temperature hovered in the mid 30s and it would go from slow drizzle to steady rain and back. I headed out early to meet with the Marathon Maniacs for a group picture.It was supposed to be at 7:15, but they were already taking pictures as I approached the area at 7:13. I raced in to try and make it into a picture or 2. After I headed over to drop off my gear check bag and used the facilities. A short while later I lined up in Corral C near the 3:55 pace group and prepared to run.

Mile 1: There was no wave start, we all went off at the gun. A half mile in there were 2 firetrucks backed up to each side of an intersection with ladders extended over the road and an American flag hanging between them. A fireman was making his way up the ladder to to wave to runners. Pretty cool to run past. Time : 9:09

Mile 2: The first mile didn't feel the greatest and I though running sub 4:00 might be a bit of a challenge for the day, but I kept trucking. I ran by perceived effort instead of HR since my monitor wasn't working well. I never display my pace on my watch. Surprised to finish this mile in 8:16.

Mile 3: I did this one in 8:02 and fear I'm running to fast.

Mile 4: 7:49 WTF?!? I also feel the urge to pee.

Mile 5: I can't hold out and stop at the restroom. 8:30 with a minute stop, that's crazy.

7:48, 7:30, 7:33, 7:35, 7:28 - is this real life?

Mile 11: This was a decent downhill stretch that I hit in 7:13. I finally decide that I'm going to ride the wave and see what happens. I'm totally expecting complete meltdown later on, especially with the upcoming hills.

Mile 12: This one is bumpy but I'm still hanging in there 7:31.

Miles 13 and 14: Twin 8:01 splits for mostly uphill miles. There's nothing like this anywhere in Chicago. I just grit the teeth and keep running.

Mile 15 was bumpy but not completely uphill 7:35

Mile 16: This stretch looked like some backwoods and winded steeply downhill. I let gravity do it's job and tried not to slip as I blazed my way down. 6:52 and a yip and a skip when I saw my split time.

Mile 17: I passed the 3:30 pace group shortly after mile 16 and realized I was doing the unthinkable. 7:29

Miles 18-21 7:59, 7:48, 7:52, and 7:57. I was starting to feel the effects of the hills, but hung on.

I finally got fatigued during the 22nd mile but didn't give in. I strained a bit to hold on, but pacing slipped a bit. 8:15

8:27, 8:16, 8:34. There was one last steep hill that I finally gave in and partially walked. I decided saving the legs for one last push was the better idea. The 3:30 group passed by me, well I should say the pacer and 2 stragglers ran by representing all that was left of the group. I kept them in site the best I could.

Mile 26 I found some late willpower and did my damnedest to close the gap between me and the 3:30 pacer. I knew I had some ground to give since I started way behind him, but what fun is settling? 7:38

26.44 - I coasted in with what energy I had left and felt relieved when my watch was still showing a time beginning with 3:28 as I neared the end. Final time 3:28:42 and a whopping 21 minute PR over my Chicago 2014 time.

I was completely elated at the finish and floated through the athlete's village grabbing an apple, animal crackers, and chocolate milk. I skipped out on the piss water, I mean Michelob Ultra. Thankfully I grabbed a space blanket since I found a long line for gear check. It turns out they just threw the bags in a truck and didn't organize them. This means it took 90 minutes for me to finally get my jacket and pants. I was a frozen wet rat at this point and started shivering uncontrollably on the walk back to the hotel. After a long warm shower to thaw out I put on dry clothes and headed back to meet with my friends who finished after I did.

I didn't set out to run Little Rock as a goal race, but the stars aligned. I had actually run 50 miles in each of the 3 weeks before the race and another 24 the week of the race so there was no taper. I drove down to Little Rock which is a 10 hour trip. I then proceeded to eat and drink my way through town. All signs pointed to meh and then the awesome happened. My half splits were 1:44:09 and 1:44:33 meaning I had only a 24 second positive split which isn't terrible at all. They would also have been my 2nd and 3rd fastest half marathons if run separately. I also would of recorded my fastest half if you took the 13.1 mile stretch from mile 5 to mile 18.1. Now I'll be left dreaming of what could of been had I actually came into the race fresh and ate properly and ran a flat course.

Little Rock was fun, but wasn't free of issues. In addition to the gear check problems, they used a new timing system that didn't seem to log times properly. Many of people are missing splits, including me, and many more don't have a finish time. I initially finished 97th based on gun time. Once the results were cleaned up for people missing too many checkpoints and or dropped to the half I'm showing up as the 59th finisher. The race directors wouldn't do anything more than tell people to email the timing people. You would hope they would step up to address concerns, but they haven't. No mention apology was made for the gear check mess either. I wouldn't rule out this race in the future, but I'm going to check out some other races first.