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.