Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ice Age Trail 50 Mile

La Grange, Wisconsin, May 9, 2009.

This race is 50 miles of trails. A year ago I ran the McNaughton 50 mile trail race in Pekin, Illinois. You can read about that race
here (if you scroll down to April 2008). So here I was going to try the same distance on trails again.

Really the story for this begins nearly three weeks earlier after running Boston. Normally after a marathon I take it pretty easy for a good week or two. However in this case I needed to get ready quickly for this trail race. I've done two trail ultras before (McNaughton, and a 50K trail race in Louisville in February 2009) and both were ridiculously hilly and I suffered badly on the downhills. Not the uphills, since I mainly walk those. But the downhills tore up my shins and knees and quads. Because Boston was my priority I had not trained enough on downhills for this trail race.

So just two days after Boston I did a ~4 mile jog/walk. Then as often as I could for the next two weeks I found grassy hills or hilly trails and went up and down them, over and over. Usually walking up and running down. I normally only run three times per week but I ran 11 times from April 22 through May 9, including six days in a row in the middle of that. But the runs were short, all between 4 and 11 miles. And I ran very very slowly with lots of walking to work out those particular muscles. I took off the four days before the race completely.

Another thing. Exactly a week before the race my car died. I had to have it towed to the shop on a Saturday but the shop wasn't open until Monday. He had it fixed by Tuesday afternoon. It was the "crankshaft position sensor" which evidently rarely goes bad. Oh well. $360. I couldn't get to the shop before they closed Tuesday so I picked it up Wednesday morning.  However it was evident within hours that something was still wrong. It was sputtering so I took it back Thursday. It turned out that the installed sensor itself happened to be defective. He overnighted a new part since none were available in town. I reminded him I needed to leave at 1 pm on Friday to head up to my race for the packet pickup. On Friday, at 11:45 am, he called to let me know the part didn't arrive and wouldn't until Monday. So I had to get to a car rental agency pronto. I rode my motorcycle to Enterprise. They were out of cars. (?) So I went to Budget, got a car, leaving my motorycle there, drove to the shop to grab stuff out of my car, and headed home to get my stuff and left town by 1:15. I think it's pretty good I did all that in 90 minutes. (Turns out my mechanic paid for the rental too. Good deal. Chrysler Sebring. Nicer car than my own!)

The rest of that evening was uneventful. I arrived at Old World Wisconsin, a living history museum between East Troy and Whitewater, picked up my packet, and had an excellent pasta dinner there for $15.

Now I had checked the weather a zillion times during the week and was absolutely convinced there was no chance of rain. So...rain was on the way, I was told. By the time I was ready for bed in my little hotel room, I could hear the rain. So much for dry.

The Clausing Barn where the packet pickup and spaghetti dinner was held. I'm really not sure what a clausing barn is. This barn is octagonal in shape.

Gotta finish the race in 12 hours to earn this!

Waking up about 4:30, I could now hear it was very very windy. I headed to the start line and it was chilly and sprinkling rain a bit but not too bad, and the wind was dying down some. We took off at 6 am. The course mainly consisted of three sections, a 9 mile loop, a 17 mile out-and-back, and a 24 mile out-and-back (roughly). I did the first 9 miles WAY too fast, at maybe a 9 min/mi pace. But of course my legs were fresh from 4 days of inactivity. It rained some most of this loop but then stopped and I removed my long sleeve shirt for the rest of the race. The weather would turn out to be great: chilly, mainly cloudy, and low humidity. There was some mud here and there on the course but not enough to complain about.

We were allowed 3 drop bags which were transported to various aid stations on the course. The first was at the end of the 9 mile loop. The other two would be about midway between the other two sections, so I'd see both of those drop bags twice. There were a lot of aid stations so that I think our longest stretch between aid stations was less than 5 miles. The aid stations had water and gatorade and M&M's and other goodies and my favorite for these runs, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. In my drop bags were water bottles with my electroylte/protein drinks plus any other items I might need.

During the second section of the race, I began to slow down and was struggling quite a bit around mile 20 and was fighting to make it back to the aid station at 26.2 miles. Here I was met by friends (who happen to live in Whitewater) Renee and her daughter Kate. I took my longest break here (10 minutes) to refuel and refresh my legs, then set off on the final 24 miles.

At the aid station.

Just 23.8 miles to go! (Thanks to Renee and Kate for the pictures.)

I ran the first 26.2 miles (a marathon) in 4:31. Since my goal was 11 hours for the race, I was nearly an hour ahead of my pace, and this made me worry I had really overdone it. I figured I'd end up walking a lot of the second half of the race. However my legs perked up a bit around mile 30 and in fact I actually was able to just keep chugging along, through some nice pine forest sections, just focusing on going from aid station to aid station. I realized at about 30 miles that barring a catastrophe, I'd easily make it in 11 hours. (The race rules are that you get a belt buckle only if you finish the race in 12 hours.) By around 35 miles I was even thinking I might do this in 10 hours. Keep in mind that my last 50 miler took me about 11:16. But I knew that was a more hilly course and rains had turned the course into peanut butter. This race was much easier.

It was very nice hitting the turnaround on the last out-and-back, at 40.5 miles. I hit it at about 7:30. It had taken me about 2:50 to do the last 14.3 miles. So to finish in 10 hours, I just needed to do 9.5 miles in 2:30. That truly seemed to be pretty easy!

During the course of the race, I did have the familiar shin/knee pain going on during the last half of the race, but not so much in my quads. In fact I started to realize it was mainly my left knee, that my left knee was actually injured to some extent. (I wonder now if this was the case in the last 2 ultras but just didn't realize it.) So I found that what I could do is do all the hard landings on my right leg. In other words, when coming down a hill I would kind of stutter step, limping on my left leg lightly and using my right leg to break. Interestingly this didn't bother my right leg much, reinforcing the idea that what I'm dealing with is more of an injury than just weakness in my legs.

At 40.5 miles I still hadn't walked any of the race. I need to qualify what that means. By "not walking," that means I did not walk any flat portions just for the sake of walking. I did walk many of the uphills since I can nearly walk them as fast as I can run them and that's part of the strategy. And of course there's always a bit of cheating at the aid stations, walking into them for 25 yards and walking out of them a few yards. That doesn't count as walking in my book.

In the end my steps were short and "shuffly" but I was still running, feeling alright. In the last home-stretch every step was pretty painful but I could feel the finish line somewhere up ahead and that kept me going. By mile 47.6, the second-to-last aid station, I started thinking that maybe I could finish in 9:30 (!) and it was only 0.9 miles to the next aid station (shortest distance between any two of them).  I left that final aid station at 9:12 and sprinted (ha ha, it felt like it) the final 1.5 miles, finishing in 9:28:24! I surely have never beat a goal by 90 minutes before and I doubt I will again! I never did walk. 50 miles of running. Pretty cool.

I actually didn't feel too horrible at the end. Legs shot, for sure, left knee feeling somewhat injured but not permanently so. So I had two brats, bbq sandwich, potato chips and pop and watched the other runners come in. I finish 56th of 203 finishers (more started), 50th of 159 among men, and 15th of 39 among male 45-49 (by FAR the largest division).

I did the first 26.2 miles at a 10:21 pace (4:31), the last 23.8 miles at a 12:01 pace (4:46), and those last 9.5 miles at a 12:06 pace (1:55).

During the race I found a couple of my Facebook Ultra friends, Jason Elliot and Brian Gaines. I got to chat with Jason for a bit. That was fun.

Afterwards I met up with Renee and her husband Charlie and Kate at Culvers and they treated me to a big malt. Yum! Then I drove home (4 hour drive), arriving at 11:15 pm and plopping into bed!

A welcome site!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Boston Marathon 2009

We arrived at the airport around 1pm Saturday. We had no problems on the flights. We grabbed a cab to our hotel, checked in, and headed right off to the Expo by quickly beginning to learn the subway system. Our hotel was about 3 blocks from the nearest subway station. We arrived at the Expo to find it jam-packed. It was a nice big Expo but hard to get around. We got my packet and browsed the gear and goodies. The lines for the Boston clothing gear were ridiculous. Having said that, I felt like the only runner not *already* wearing an official Boston race jacket. I never did get one and don't need one because I have a really nice jacket from the Detroit Marathon that my sister got me. I got a good technical long sleeve shirt in my packet. We were there close to three hours and my feet were starting to hurt so we got out of there and headed over to Faneuil Hall (pronounced, we were told, sort of like Daniel). This large marketplace area encompasses a number of buildings and shops. An outdoor fish/fruit/veggie market was winding down when we arrived. Nearby were also some bars and steak and seafood restaurants, including a bar called Sam's Place, based upon the show Cheers. Inside the Quincy (pronounced Quin-zee) Market building we found a food court with about 25 places serving all kinds of pasta, seafood, bakeries, and ice cream. I had pasta from one place and Clams Casino and Clam Chowder from another. Here we met up with the Riggins clan: Kelvin and Barb, Freddie and Sabrina, and Miriam. They had already eaten so we all had some dessert. I had a strawberry shortcake and a big chocolate chip cookie. After this we headed back to the hotel.

Top row: Me, Freddie, Deb. Bottom row: Miriam, Kelvin, Barb. Barb teaches with Deb. Kelvin is married to Barb. Freddie is Kelvin's brother. Miriam is Kelvin and Freddie's Mom.

Sunday morning we got up and had a little fruit at the hotel and a granola bar or two for breakfast. We then headed to the Science Museum subway stop where we met up with the Riggins' and took a "Duck Tour" of Boston, with our tour guide "
Duck Pin". It was about 90 minutes long and quite good. The Ducks (actually DUKWs) are actual WWII amphibious vehicles that run on both land and water. Eventually we went right into the Charles River and floated around that for awhile. The tour guide did a good job of pointing out famous places, explaining bits of history, discussing architecture, and keeping us laughing. Deb and Kelvin also got to drive the DUCK when it was in the water. Definitely a worthwhile tour. (Read about their history.)

Deb driving the DUCK.

After this we headed off to have lunch at Abe & Louie's. It turns out this place was right next to the finish line, which was pretty cool! We took some fun photos there. I'm glad we did this because the next day I couldn't linger there at all. We all had burgers at the restaurant. Nothing like a big ol' cheeseburger 22 hours before a marathon.

The Winners Podium!

The Finish Line

After this we split up for awhile and Deb and I headed back to Faneuil Hall. We stopped by Bill Rodger's running store which was kinda cool b/c the walls are full of photos and momentos and we also saw Bill's brother Charlie working there. Then Deb insisted I sit a bit so I went back to the Quincy Market food court where I had an oatmeal cookie. Deb wasn't gone long though and then we headed to the Union Oyster House for dinner, meeting up with our friends again. This place claimed to be the oldest restaurant in America. I settled for a lighter meal of seafood soup and some of Deb's Boston baked beans. After this we headed back to the hotel and I got ready for the race, but didn't get to bed until well after 11pm.

The wreath Bill Rodgers wore after winning his first Boston Marathon

Monday. Race Day! I got up at 4:30 and got ready to go. I gave Deb a kiss goodbye and headed to the subway, taking it to the busses at Boston Commons. I got right onto a bus and after about 15 minutes we were heading to the start line in Hopkinton, which took at least a half hour. We arrived around 7:30am I think. We filed out of the bus and headed to the Athlete's Village. At this point I realized that I was a complete numbskull because I, for some reason, thought village meant "indoors". I thought we'd get to sit inside until the race started. But instead there were two vast fields to choose from and we had to wait outside. Both fields were basically the same, with a huge tent and some drinks and bagels and fruit. Luckily I did have a sweat suit on but it was still cold and for the next 2 hours I was basically freezing. I huddled on the ground and noticed people in sleeping bags and blankets. An announcer was trying to keep people entertained. There were many porta-potties but the lines were huge, since roughly 26,000 people were here. When I sat down, a girl next to me turned out to be from, of all places, the Quad Cities. Small world. I did have a bagel and some other food from my bag and tried to stay hydrated without overdoing it because of the bathroom situation. At about 9:15 my wave (Wave 1, there were two waves) headed the 0.7 miles to the start line. There were last chance portapotties there and I managed to get in and out fast enough (more lines) to get into my corral with 5 minutes to spare. We were almost ready to go! Our wave would begin at 10am. (Wave 2 at 10:30)

I was in the 11th corral, near the end of wave 1, so I never heard any gun go off to start the race, but eventually I could see up the hill that things were moving and we started walking towards the start line, taking about 7 minutes to get there. The actual running of the marathon itself, the nuts and bolts of the race, were in a way rather uneventful. I had trained well for this and there were no major problems or issues along the way. Having said that, the whole thing was fantastic. Really really fantastic. There was crowd support nearly the whole way and it was great. We started on a downhill and after that it was generally flat and I hit my 10K time about right. We passed through little towns and I knew that Deb and the Riggins should be in Natick which was at the 10 mile mark. Uncharacteristically I had overdressed some, wearing gloves, sleeves, and two shirts (long and short sleeve). I was worried about reports of a strong headwind. I soon removed the sleeves and gloves and carried those and around mile 9 I managed to pull off the long sleeve shirt (which was under the short sleeve). I really hoped I'd see Deb in Natick to give her my clothes! I ran on the left side of the street and looked on the right side, but luckily I spotted them on the left side and stopped and kissed Deb, shoved my clothes at her, hooted at the Riggins and kept on going. It was really cool to see them during the race! I was very psyched up and feeling good.

This is where I saw Deb and the Riggins. Feeling good at 10 miles!

At mile 13 is the famous Wellesley College and the Wellesley Girls. Heading up a hill towards them, you can hear them well before you see them. A wall of cheering. It was great! Then we were passing them for about 3 blocks, girls holding "Kiss Me" signs all over. I didn't kiss any but lots of guys did. I did high-five lots of them though and surely my pace was a good 30 seconds faster that mile. What a blast. I wanted to hit 13.1 miles at 1:44 and hit it around 1:44:20, so I knew I was a bit off my pace, but close.

About mile 14 was the very first time I started to feel any noticable slight discomfort in my legs. Nothing major but after Natick and Wellesley there was a little lull in crowd support. I knew too that the famous four hills were coming up starting around mile 17. However, the truth is that the hills were not very impressive. They definitely slowed me down but I wasn't even sure when I was on which hill for sure. I knew that Heartbreak Hill, the final hill, came after 20 miles and so thought I was on it then, but it is not a steep hill and I only was completely positive about it after I crested it and an announcer said, "You just passed Heartbreak Hill!" I took them steady if not a bit slow and they really were not a problem. If I ran the race again I might push it harder on these hills.

After Heartbreak, it was only 5 miles to go, much of it downhill. However I started to feel the familiar near-cramping and this modified my pace slightly, but it never did become a major problem and eventually I pushed hard to the finish. A few small hills near the end actually felt tough because I had very little left. I had given it my all and probably ran a near-perfect race for me. The crowds and the excitement of it all helped me push it hard the last couple of miles when I was completely exhausted. When I crossed the line, I really was completely done. I feel like I couldn't have run another block. My legs were through. I could barely continue to stand and walk. It's kind of amazing how one can go from what seems like a near sprint to not being able to move.

If I had one small complaint about the whole weekend, it's right here. We were herded like sheep very very slowly to get our space blanket, our medal, our chip removed and a little bag with water, a bagel, and chips. Then down to the bus to retrieve our drop bag to get my sweat suit. This must have taken well over a half hour and I was freezing. It would be nice if they could have an actual post-race party area but I guess there is no place to put one there. I could barely sit down to put on my sweat pants and shirt. That took probably 5 minutes. Eventually I wound my way around countless barricades to find Deb and we very very slowly got to a subway and headed back to the hotel, along with thousands of other runners. Exhausting, but still wonderful to be a part of it all.

As I said, in the end I ran a nearly perfect race. I never did feel the wind that many commented on about afterwards. Nor did the hills bother me. But the hills did likely slow me enough that I missed my first goal which was to beat 3:28:05, my PR. I finished in 3:29:37, beating my second goal of 3:30. No complaints at all with that time! However I did make a mistake. Because there were no pace groups, I had decided to use my Garmin to pace me. I had to run a 7:56 pace. In fact, I finished with a 7:55 pace, but the Garmin was off. This is my fault because I know the watch is only so accurate, and I also knew it was off at the halfway point when I was slightly behind my time there. Still, I am not sure I could have run this race any faster even if my Garmin were perfectly accurate. Experience with the course might have helped some.


On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts and I got a Boston Creme donut. Yummy! At the hotel, Deb got ice for me so I could take a cold bath which I probably wouldn't have done otherwise. That was very helpful and I think I recuperated quickly. In fact we left maybe 2 hours later and I was still walking slowly but doing okay except for going downstairs. (Two days later I was able to do a very slow 4 mile run.) We headed to the North Side of Boston, where there are numerous Italian restaurants. I had an enormous calzone and a Sam Adams. After that we got some gelato at a nearby gelateria. Yum. From here we hopped on the subway again and went to Cambridge to a bar called the Plough and the Stars. My brother had heard about this place and in fact it was a nice little low-key neighborhood bar. I ordered a Rapscallion beer (7%) and Deb had a Cosmopolitan. I then called my old friend Wade whom I had not seen in probably 25 years. He came down and hung out with us for a couple of hours and another Rapscallion. Fun! He even gave us a ride back to the hotel. It was nice to see Wade. I think I was asleep about 5 minutes after arriving at the hotel.

Yeah that's a proper calzone!

On Tuesday we checked our luggage in at the desk. Breakfast included another donut (yay!) and then we were off to do some last minute exploring. We headed to see the
USS Constitution, otherwise known as Old Ironsides. We took a tour of the old boat which was very interesting. Named after the Constitution of the United States of America by President George Washington, she is the oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat in the world. The only bummer is that it was undergoing restoration so the masts were down and there was construction in the way of some parts of the boat. But still very fascinating. Active Navy personnel provided us with the tours. There was a small visitor's center there that we visited.

Guns on the USS Constitution

After this, it was back to the hotel. We grabbed a shuttle to the airport, which took only 10 minutes, making me wonder why the cab driver took about 30 minutes to get TO the hotel. Hmmmm...

I have to mention that this whole experience was made most special because I shared it with Deb, who encouraged and cheered me the whole way. And thanks to the Riggins for coming out to cheer as well. And finally thank you to EVERYONE who donated money for Lupus research and support. I wore a bib on the back of my shirt with your names on it, so you ran the marathon too!