Medoc Trail 10 Miler race report

Last Saturday, I had the wonderful opportunity to race the Medoc trail 10 miler Saturday thanks to Bull City Running Company (thanks for the spot!). Last year, I “ran” the marathon in a personal worst (which wasn’t terribly surprising, given my training, or lack thereof). I knew I was pacing the Bull City Race Fest half Sunday, and my legs were just finally starting to come around from my 24 hour race three weeks ago, so my plan going into Medoc this year was to 1) not injure myself and 2) run reasonably hard but not so hard as to be wrecked for Sunday. Basically, I wanted to treat it as a workout. Having run the year before, I knew generally what to expect, and thusly knew the entire thing was runnable and a decent time was possible.
We drove up the morning of, and in a total departure from the norm for me, were there 45 minutes before the race started. Being used to having to roll into a race whilst getting my shoes tied, bib pinned, etc etc, it was weird to park and have the opportunity to just sit for a minute or two and relax. Once the marathon started, I went and got my bib, bathroom, shoes, jogged around a bit to warm up. As I made my way to the start, I recognized Ben (randomly… Ben won the half marathon at Triple Lakes the year I ran my first official ultra out there, back in 2011, so I knew he was fast and probably gonna win). Ari told me before I lined up not to do anything too stupid (HA! It’s like she doesn’t even know me) and I took my spot near the front next to Ben and Jon.
Right at 8:30 we were off, Ben shot out ahead and I gave chase at a pace I knew was fine for the road mile+ but would definitely slow once we got to the trail. That first mile felt better than expected, given it was the first fast mile I’d run in 3 weeks, and as we hit the trail, Ben was already out of sight and I had what I figured was a few second gap on the first place woman. I knew the first few miles were fairly runnable so I was determined to push hard until I got to the “mountain” and that’s what I did. I had set my watch to heart rate mode because I knew the GPS would likely be wonky from the twisty trails and I was more concerned with running a consistent hard effort on the undulating course, which I think helped me stay more engaged throughout.
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Making the turn onto the trails around mile 1.5

That first mile or two on the trail were really pleasant. There was no one I could see in front of behind me and I was just enjoying the feeling of whipping in and out through the trees, up and down the small rollers. The big hill came right around mile 3 and I pushed hard knowing it wasn’t that long and I would get a nice, long, runnable downhill stretch immediately after. Once at the top, it took a few seconds to feel like my heart wasn’t going to beat out of my chest, and then I pushed the rest of the way to the aid station by mile 4.
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Moosin’ and feeling good somewhere in the middle miles

I grabbed a quick water at the aid station and proceeded to recklessly (Ari would probably say stupidly, I would probably agree) bomb downhill back toward the river. In retrospect, it would have been far more prudent to use a modicum of caution here, seeing as how I was already pretty sure I was not going to catch Ben, and a rolled ankle (or worse) would have derailed the rest of my Fall plans, but damn was it fun! I literally was yelling WEEEEEE out loud the whole way down. Once back along the river, I began to come up on some marathoners, which helped me stay mentally engaged. The next few miles meandered about and as I got to mile 7, where you can sort of see the start area through the woods, I got a mental boost, knowing I only had 3 miles to go. I pushed the ensuing downhill and focused solely on running to the next marathoner, reeling one in, going by, and setting my sights on the next one the rest of the way. Somewhere in this section, there was some stairs I managed not to fall down, and some twists and turns to make back up the elevation, all I managed to push well enough. When I got out to the bathrooms by the RV camp area, I knew I was basically done. One more quick jaunt through the last wooded section and I popped out by where we started. There was one final big grass loop and I picked it up a bit. After trundling through three loops last year, it was nice to make a right to the finish on my first loop this year. I crossed the line in second place, a little under 68 minutes, two and a half minutes behind Ben, and about two minutes faster than I figured I’d go.
Medoc is such a cool race, the volunteers and other runners are also so friendly and encouraging, the trails are beautiful and runnable, and the atmosphere is great. Plus, the medals are gorgeous (coming from someone who cares zero about race medals) and the swag is top notch (seriously, the hoodie is SO SWEET). I’d HIGHLY recommend it to anyone looking for a fall trail race. Thanks again, Kim and Jason, for the chance to redeem myself some for last year.
Post-script: I managed to make it to the start of the BCRF half about 10 minutes before the start, much more Mark-like. That left me enough time to hand my friend Andy his bib (good thing too, he’d go on to finish in 2nd in a PR, after running three legs of the Tuna 200 the day before!), tie my shoes, and say hi to the other 7:00 pacers. Happy to report that despite some residual soreness, I managed to get around the course almost spot on, coming in about a minute under 7:00 pace, with a few happy racers in tow. All in all, a solid weekend and REALLY awesome to see so many friends doing great things on the trails and roads.
Mark, out.

October 25, 2017 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

2017 Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra Classic Race Report

Race information – Hinson Lake 24 Hour
Website: [results]
Strava activity: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

Training

A few weekends ago, I ran the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra Classic. While I didn’t train specifically for THIS race, training in a general sense has been going quite well since early July. After the Finger Lakes 50k on July 1, I took a down week to allow myself to physically (and, more importantly, mentally) recover and recuperate from what had been a successful but demanding first half of the year. After that week, I quickly ramped up the mileage and ground out an average of 110 miles/week through one of the more miserable summers I can remember. The summer was light on anything resembling quality or speed, but heavy on the volume. Starting in August, I began to incorporate some longer runs and was doing a few of them at odd hours (like starting at 10pm and finishing up in the early morning hours). While this had much to do with my general laziness and inability to wake up and run at a reasonable hour, I told myself it would also be good practice for running overnight and running tired. Super Week in early September went about as well as could be hoped for, and I wrapped up almost 190 miles with a really encouraging 50+ miler, finishing the run with negative splits and feeling stronger at the end than the beginning. All of that was encouraging and pointed to things moving in the right direction for my fall goals. Like I mentioned, Hinson Lake was not my goal race; that comes in December, when I will run 24 hours around a track at Desert Solstice in Phoenix, AZ. Even still, this would be an opportunity to test myself for 24 hours, something I have never done well in what had been seven attempts thus far, and get an idea of what works/doesn’t work in terms of pacing/nutrition/etc… things that cannot be imitated nearly as well in a non-24 hour race setting. The weekend before, some of my internet friends visited, and I ran a parkrun 5k on Saturday in my fastest time (17:49) since I was in PR shape back in 2011 and then a downhill 5:06 mile the next day, which is tied for my fastest all-time mile. I spent the week leading up to the race doing some easy shakeouts to keep the legs moving, nailed one baby 3 x mile workout on Wednesday, and felt as ready as I’ve ever been for a race like this.

Pre-race

Ari and I drove down to Rockingham after I got out of work on Friday. The past week had been very hot, but the forecast fortunately called for cooler temps overnight and through the weekend. After a stop at trusty Panera, we made it to our “hotel” a little after 9 pm. Ari was less than thrilled with me, as I had been tasked with booking a room for the night before the race. Of course, I chose the place that looked like we were definitely going to make it onto an episode of Law & Order. The beds were riddled with bugs, and we quickly went to Plan B — get a refund, drive to the lake, camp in our car. Fortunately, there was a spot for us right near the Lodge, a quick walk from the start/finish of the loop. We parked there, and Ari turned her Renegade into a pretty cozy mobile motel. After setting up our table by the aid station so I wouldn’t have to rush to do that in the morning, I settled in around 11:30 pm for what ended up being a relatively ok night’s sleep.

I woke up pretty easily about 6:45 am, ambled over to the Lodge to collect my bib, and proceeded to get ready in a much less rushed way than for almost any race I’ve done in recent memory. By 7:30, I’d already made my bathroom trips, gotten dressed – including my brand new, super sweet SHARK SHORTS – gone over some of my race plan, said hi to old friends, brought the rest of the stuff to the table, and gotten fully ready to go. The group of 300+ runners gathered near the timing mats a few minutes before the start. As is my standard nervous tic before races, I tied, untied, and retied each shoe at least 4-5 times in the last minutes. Right around 8:00 am, Jerry, the fantastic RD, said go, and we were off.

Race

The start of an ultra, and specifically that of a super long one like a 24-hour race, is such an odd sight. There’s just as much energy and enthusiasm and anticipation as there is at the start of your typical marathon, but when it starts, it almost seems like someone hit the slo-mo button. I took off at a torrid jog, waving to Ari as I went by, and settled into what felt barely quicker than a walk. Still, I was out in front of most, only a handful or so ahead of me. One guy, last year’s race winner, Ron, did sort of blast off to the front at what was definitely sub-8:00 (or close to world record 24-hr) pace. As we crossed the dam, passing by most peoples’ tents and tables and other aid accouterments, making our way to the woods, he was already rapidly moving out of sight.

The first lap went as uneventfully as I could have hoped for. I made my way around the 1.5032-mile lake loop, most of it shaded, with a bridge demarcating the halfway point of the loop; the highlight of this loop was one of what would be at least several dozen high-fives from an adorable 5- or 6-year-old named Fabiola who was out cheering on her mom for most of the day and night (and next morning). Hinson is unique even among ultramarathons for a number of reasons. First, it’s only $35 (used to be only $1/hour… inflation), so it’s super cheap for the amount of aid and goodies and the quality of timing services it provides. It’s also my understanding that Hinson is the largest 24-hour race in the country, with over 400 registered and 330+ actually ending up in the official results. Fortunately, the length of the loop, the fact that the trail is relatively wide in most places, and the fact that most people are there more for the party/reunion atmosphere and to get a specific mileage goal (50k, 50 miles, and 100k tend to be the most popular) make it seems much less crowded than one would imagine.

Despite my best efforts, the first lap ended up being my fastest of the race (roughly 9:00 pace, or about 45s/lap faster than I was targeting). The first few runners were already out of sight by the time I crossed the line the first time, and I was wondering how long they would hammer for before either reeling things in voluntarily or unavoidably burning out. I decided to not obsess about pacing early on, and in an effort to force myself to run by feel, I switched my watch over to HR mode and decided I would just aim to keep my heart rate at a number I knew correlated with a very easy pace for as long as I could manage and worry about paces and time later.

Around the start of the second lap, I came up on my running friend Cherie who was running with a tall guy, Ken, who I recognized from previous years. I ended up falling in step with them, and we shared a few early laps together as a group, catching up and whatnot. When Ken fell off a bit, Cherie and I stuck together more or less for the first two or so hours. It was a nice way to ease into what would be a long day without thinking too much about just how long right away.

And that’s the major story for the first few hours. It’s strange how if I tried hard enough, I could probably remember minute bits and pieces of each lap, or at least most of them, but taken as a whole, things blend together in large chunks. The first few hours were coolish and pleasant, and I was hitting my goal splits despite almost immediately losing track of what lap I was on or how far behind the leaders I was. I was focused on making sure I was drinking enough and staying relaxed. To the former, I opted for three scoops of unflavored Tailwind in a large bike bottle and tried to sip on that pretty much constantly. I supplemented it with the odd orange slice or banana chunk early on; some sips of coconut water, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, or whatever Gatorade mixture they had at the aid station later; and the occasional Honey Stinger ginsting gel throughout.

Around 3 hours in (11 am), the sun started to break through the cloud cover, and I could sense a marked increase in temperature. Fortunately, the majority of the loop was shaded, but the bridge on the far side, the dam where the lap started and the area with all the aid were directly exposed. Despite this, I hit “50k” (really, 31.5ish miles) in exactly 5 hours, which happened to also be bang on goal pace (9:30). With the exception of a few stops to water a tree and a couple seconds to swap out bottles or grab a gel in between laps, I had been moving consistently and easily those first five hours.

Shortly after, I wavered for the first time. I don’t know specifically what mile or lap, but I remember coming through and mentioned the heat and how I was getting a little annoyed at the sun. A lap or two later, in typical Mark fashion, I yelled and cursed at the sun and gave it the middle finger in front of at least one or two children. One lap later, Ari, in her typical brilliant superhero way, threw my silly-ass bucket hat, which she had been soaking in ice in the cooler, on my head and tied my bandana (also soaked in ice) around my neck. Instantly, I felt a million times better and fresher. I meant to tell her the next time around and never remembered, but I can now… that simple move absolutely saved my race. I was allowing too many negative thoughts to seep in way too early and allowing the weather to affect me too much, and that snapped me out of all of it. It also helped in a practical sense, cooling me off, and my heart rate dropped 5-6 bpm almost immediately.

I set off, reminding myself that I knew the middle hours of the afternoon were going to be warm and that I had actually planned for that and allowed for some slowing here. I knew I just needed to get to the evening feeling fresh and able to keep pushing, when temps would cool and the trail would thin out, both considerably. Shortly after 4 pm, 8:19 into the race, I crossed the mat for the 34th time, giving me 51.1 miles, about an hour after the leader, Ron, had, but pretty close to an 8-hour 50-mile split, which was in line for my not-so-secret goal of hitting 150 miles as evenly as possible. Accounting for the weather (hotter) and the terrain (sandy and rocky/rooty pretty much the whole way around) compared to my 50+ miler a few weeks prior, I was happy with how I felt and was moving at that point. I’d already made one big bathroom stop (in the woods) and was hoping the worst of the heat was behind me.

At this point, I knew I’d been lapped at least four times, so I had 6+ miles to make up, which seems daunting in absolute terms, but in a race that was only 1/3rd over, it’s really not that much. Almost like magic, as 5 pm approached, either the weather DID begin cooling off considerably, or I was just adjusting to it well, because I began to feel much better again. I got a huge mental boost when I came through at the end of a lap and noticed Ron sitting on a table at the aid station, with a thousand-mile stare on his face, looking hot and tired. I knew he saw me so I didn’t even bother to slow down to grab anything that time, just giving a thumbs up to my crew (which had grown to include my friend [Jay](https://imgur.com/XcjmxWN) who, last year, had a stellar race, running 105+ miles to capture 3rd place, but had been dealing with some injuries that cropped up early in the day and decided to call it quits after a couple laps) and trucking along like I could (and would) do this all day.

Over the next eight laps, which took roughly two hours, I maintained my average pace almost to the tenth of a second. In doing so, I made up essentially all of the lead. When I crossed the mat at 63.1 miles, I was on the same lap as the leader and only 12 minutes behind with a little less than 14 hours still to run. As daylight turned to dusk, the temps began dropping precipitously, and each lap that went by, I was gaining minutes. This was probably the strongest I felt all race. At some point around here (maybe?), I asked Ari to retie my right shoe. My foot must have swelled some, and the laces were very much too tight and causing some increasingly troublesome pain with each step. Like the hat/bandana magic earlier, as soon as she did that, I felt like I had fresh legs. And my lap splits here show as much. They were all at or faster than many from just a few hours ago, despite no discernible increase in effort on my part. I was barely stopping between laps, and if I did it was to quickly swap out a bottle, grab a gel, or take a swig of Coke or Red Bull. In and out in mere seconds, truly the envy of any NASCAR pit stop.

As I was nearing the end of my 49th, and last, lap of the first 12 hours, I came up on and quickly went by the leader, who was walking with another participant. I crossed the line, 73.6 miles and 11:58:13 into the race, in the lead for the first time. Despite knowing I was only halfway there, I couldn’t help but feel pretty fucking stoked at this development. As I went by Ari (who was now joined by John Stiner, my friend and also incredible massage therapist), I yelled something that was likely incoherent and/or inappropriate, which probably came across as exceedingly bro-ish and douche-y, but I’d like to believe came across at the time as animated and adorably competitive. ::shrug:: The next lap was my second fastest of the whole race, one second slower than that first. Part of it was the adrenaline, and part of it was not wanting to give him a chance to respond and make a race of it… the whole surge when you go by someone in a race, just on a much bigger scale and at much slower speeds.

As the adrenaline burned off, I settled back in, darkness now fully enveloping the lake, and the sight of headlamps bobbing along stretched out like a slow moving, disorganized conga line. I, of course, grabbed the headlamp whose battery was dying rather quickly. The combination of my growing fatigue, my frustration about the battery (and dislike of wearing headlamps in general), coupled with the reemergence of the pain at the top of my right foot/ankle and one or two other aches/pains that inevitably emerge when one has been running for literally half a day, turned my mood rather despondent. I was approaching the low point of my race, I knew it, but there was little I could do, mentally or physically, to change it, or so it seemed. As I came to the end of a lap, I yelled at Ari that the headlamp sucks, the battery was dead, and everything was terrible. Of course, in my infinite wisdom, instead of spending a few brief moments to fix the problem, I muttered to myself and kept moving, leaving everyone in confusion about what exactly I needed them to do. Neat!

Fortunately, whereas I was going into diva mode, they were cool, calm, and collected. As I came around the next time, they handed me a marginally better headlamp and made me keep going. The next time I saw them, the previous headlamp had a fresh set of batteries and a very bright light, and all was basically right with the world again…at least in terms of my ability to see where the hell I was going. With less than ten hours to go, my lead had grown to a full lap or two, and I was still well on target to hit 145+ miles, despite the (largely self-inflicted) fiascos and now two fairly significant bathroom stops (in addition to the quick pees, hooray my kidneys are functioning pretty normally).  But mentally, I was still struggling.

My mental math told me I needed to average about 10:00/mile for the next ten hours to get that 145 and all of a sudden, in those terms, on that scale, the task seemed not just daunting but overwhelming. I stopped briefly when I got to Ari to tell her as much. I think I even told her I was running all out the last lap or two and could barely maintain the necessary pace (at the time, I even believed it but I know now that was a lie). She, rightly so, told me to shut the fuck up, that I could definitely keep doing that, and to go back out there and, well, do it. So I tried, and it sucked. I felt like I was pushing but could tell I wasn’t moving very well. Fortuitously, on this lap, I came up on the one and only Ray K. I slowed briefly to ask his advice, as I’ve followed his racing and training advice for much of my ultrarunning experience. I told him where I was at and what I’d need to do to hit 145, and he promptly asked me, “Why 145?”. I told him because that’s the number to make the list for the World Championship team. He quickly dismissed it, saying 145 won’t make the team (he’s right), and that on a course like this, I shouldn’t be killing myself for the bare minimum number. His advice amounted to, protect the lead (I was now up at least 4 laps), run smart, keep moving, don’t wreck yourself, and go run a lot more on the track.

This was, in the back of my mind, what I wanted to tell myself. But coming from me, I would feel like I was just being mentally weak in a 24-hour again. Coming from Ray, it sounded like sage advice. I immediately felt completely unburdened and eased eversoslightly off whatever gas pedal I was still pressing down. Like with many of the “eureka” moments during this race, I also felt better physically almost immediately. When I came around, Ari walked along the length of the dam with me as I explained my race plan to her. She showed me some really nice snaps from some people, including some of you wonderful Meese. Then she read me some of the comments that my delightfully irreverent friends and random internet strangers left on my live results page (apparently there was an option to leave comments for individuals if you clicked on their name as you were viewing the live results). The comments had me laughing and almost forgetting how ugh I felt. What was even better is that pretty much no one else in the race had any comments at all. It was like I had an entire cheering section virtually rooting for me, and that thought really gave me a huge mental boost. So, thanks to everyone who left an encouraging and/or inappropriate note, and BUTTS BUTTS BUTTS!

Right before 1 am, 16:41 into the race, I crossed the 100-mile mark (100.7 if we’re being precise). I’d slowed…but not excessively. Shortly after, Ari went to nap for a few hours in the Jeep while John stayed up to help with whatever I needed. As it were, I didn’t really need much in those early morning hours, falling into a pattern of walking from the timing mat to the aid station (maybe 100 yards), grabbing something if I needed it (usually just a fresh bottle of Tailwind or a gel), walking/shuffling the rest of the way back to the woods, and then doing what passed for running at that point the rest of the way around the loop. On some of those loops, I allowed myself to take it a bit easy on “Mount Hinson,” the rutted out “hill” of very loose sand that went on for maybe a tenth of a mile (or sixteen chemlights) right after the bridge halfway around the lake. Slowly but persistently, the laps and miles ticked on by. Even still, every time I came to the end of a lap, part of me hoped to see the clock further along than it was, even if that meant less opportunity for miles. I had figured that even with some extreme slowing, I was safe for 130 miles (likely 135, as long as I didn’t run into any major trouble). By 2 am, my lead had grown to 7 or 8 laps, and no one would cross 100 miles until over 2 hours after I had.

The way I figured it, if I could maintain that lead until about 6 am, I would be able to, worst-case-scenario, just walk a bit and still win. That’s what I TOLD myself, but I should have realized I was never going to allow myself, or be allowed to, do that. Shortly before 4 am was my weakest moment of the whole race. I was almost 20 hours in; it felt like so much longer. The prospect of moving at all, let alone running, for another four hours caused some serious depression. I told myself to just walk one lap and then reset and get going. I stumbled along in the dark, headlamp off, just taking in the sounds of the night, feeling kind of sleepy, when I got to the bridge. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I laid down on a bench and closed my eyes. It felt like I was lying there for ten minutes (it definitely wasn’t), and part of me wanted to spend an hour or so there. But then I saw Ron run by, and something told me I shouldn’t just let him get a lap back that easily, so I popped up and quickly broke into an amble. In about a minute or so, my muscles relaxed enough to allow me to move in a way resembling running, but thanks to the 50-degree temperatures and the fact that I was still in my sweaty singlet from the start of the race, I started shivering rather violently. In my exhausted delirium, I figured my only hope of survival (dramatic much?) was to run fast enough to either warm up and stop shivering or to get back fast enough to change into something warmer. I ended up doing both almost simultaneously, and in the process caught up to Ron and went by him as we finished the loop.

As he slowed to a walk through the aid station, I quickly threw on a t-shirt and took off. My slowest lap was followed by two quicker ones. During this point, I made a deal with myself. I could easily do 20-minute laps from now to the finish; if I did that, I would hit 135 miles, and that seemed fine. At this point, it was approaching three hours to go, Ari was up again, and I felt like I could relax some. Her and I started walking a lap. As we approached the bridge, Ron came running past again. Just like a few laps prior, instinctually I went into race mode and took off chasing. We quickly caught up to him and maintained a gap of about 10 m until the end of the lap, where I once again went by and carried on at a much quicker pace than previous.

With three hours to go, I set off on the lap that would tie me with my current PR. That felt really cool. I knew I would only have to do a few more laps in the dark before the sun would start creeping over the horizon and I could finally be rid of my infernal headlamp. The pain in my foot had returned, and with two hours to go, I asked Ari to tie my shoelace as loose as it could possibly be. It gave me a modicum of relief, but I knew it would be enough to let me at least get to the end of the race. At this point, I could feel blisters on at least two or three toes, but I knew as long as I kept moving, it couldn’t start hurting too badly. It was here that I was very vividly thinking of the Breaking 2 documentary, specifically of how Kipchoge seems to force his face into a smile when he’s clearly grimacing in pain toward the end of his races. It was that thought, amongst a few others, that kept me driving in the waning hours before daybreak. Around 6:30 am, I could start seeing the faint strands of pink over the lake, and that gave me a renewed sense of optimism and urgency. I was going to win the race, and somehow, despite what it felt like just a few hours prior, the race WOULD end.

When I got done with lap 89 (133.7 miles), I saw 40 minutes to go on the clock and realized I’d miscalculated and underestimated myself. I told Ari I only had one more lap to go, and she laughed at me because we both knew I wasn’t stopping until the horn sounded. Despite knowing running faster wasn’t going to get me done any sooner, I started running harder. I finished 135.2 miles with 24 minutes to spare, blew through past my crew, and kept pressing. My last full lap, the 91st of the race, was an entire minute faster than the previous and as fast as most of the laps from the beginning of the race. It’s amazing what a second sunrise will do for your psyche and legs! When I crossed the mat, there was exactly 10 minutes on the clock. I grabbed my banana (another unique-ity about Hinson is that when there’s only a few minutes left and you won’t be able to finish a full lap, they hand you a banana with your bib number to run with; when you hear the airhorn to signal the race is over, you put the banana down, and they wheel measure everyone’s distance, so you get partial lap credit for your banana lap), and Ari said GOOOO! I figured that I could just run to the other side of the dam and that would assure me 137 miles. But Ari told me, fuck that, you’re running until the horn. And I did. I thought for sure that the horn would sound before I got halfway around. But it didn’t. I went up “Mt Hinson,” no horn. I went down. No horn. I ended up getting just over another mile before finally, mercifully, bewilderingly, the horn sounded. 8 am. FIN. It took me 10 minutes to run to that point and another 15 or so to shamble the half a mile remaining back to the end of the loop. It was as if my legs had exactly 24 hours worth of running in them and not one second more. D-O-N-E.

Post-race thoughts and what’s next

The final total turned out to be 137.8 miles. I literally don’t even like to drive that far! It works out to a 14+ mile PR and the win by about 10 miles. Given the outcome, it’s hard to be anything other than thrilled with the race, and I certainly am. More importantly, to me, is that I ran for the whole 24 hours with no major stops. According to my watch data, I was moving for roughly 23 1/2 hours total, which makes sense to me: two major crap breaks, about a half dozen pee stops, a few seconds to a minute here and there in between laps, and that almost certainly closer-to-2-or-3-minutes-than-10 moment of weakness on the bench. It may sound fairly obvious, but 24 hours is a long damn time to do any singular thing, let alone run. If I hadn’t actually done it, I would be slightly incredulous that it was even possible. I think the decision to run based on feel and heart rate instead of obsessing over pace allowed me to run smart and relatively even for a long time and also let me know that I definitely had more in the tank if need be later in the race.

Winning felt pretty satisfying, particularly at this race. I’ve had some less-than-great memories here among injuries, being out of shape, leading by three miles 16 hours in and then absolutely cratering and barely logging anything else the rest of the race in 2014, how stupid I was in 2015, and so on. For my efforts, I took home a cooler, $100, and a really cool, handmade pottery bowl (which the cats have taken a liking to, too). Jerry also told me that next year, I would have free entry into the race. At the time, that last bit seemed more like a cruel joke than a reward. I’m still not so sure it isn’t.

The damage from all that running was relatively minor and largely superficial. I had a few blisters on various toes and my instep, my ankles where the laces were cutting in were a little tender and swollen, and my left hip flexor had basically shut off and stopped working 14 hours into the race on. Immediately post-race and all day Sunday, I wasn’t able to lift my left knee off the ground without physically picking it up in my hands. A week later, I was sore in some places, but two of the four major blisters had subsided, and I lost one toenail (that was engulfed and forced off by a blister somehow) with one more on its way out, and the swelling in my ankles had largely subsided. The couple jogs I went on that first week were stiff but not impossible. I gave myself one more recovery week. As of today, three weeks post-race, thanks in large part to Stiner’s always (but even moreso than usual) incredible work, and me somehow managing (for once) not to be a fucking moron, I’m back to almost 100%, my hip flexor works like it’s supposed to, and I’m at the tail end of what looks like a more normal training week (with even some quicker-than-typical miles) and ready for that final push leading up to Desert Solstice.

BONUS PICTURES FOR GETTING THROUGH THIS MESS!

Before the start, happy to have fully operational legs, for now

Taking this very seriously

 

October 21, 2017 at 6:55 pm Leave a comment

Sunset Beach Half Marathon race report

A few weekends ago, I ran a half marathon at Sunset Beach. This was a bit noteworthy for the fact that it was the first half marathon I have actually raced since 2011. Going into this one, some quick research revealed that I had only raced four half marathons in my life (I have paced several at this point, which is way less stressful, and way cheaper). Interestingly, I had PRed in each one of them so far. I was not particularly optimistic that my legs had a PR in them, but was fairly confident that I could at least run something pretty respectable and better than I have in years.

Training specifically for this race was non-existent. I’ve been training with an eye on Seattle and sort of last minute decided that maybe it would be a good idea to race a flat half marathon a few weeks out as a gauge of my fitness. I’d run the Oak Island marathon, which is part of the coastal race series (there’s also Holden Beach and Ocean Isle half marathons later this year), and figured this would be flat enough. I hoped the weather would at least only be moderately warm at a 7 am start, but it’s May in NC so I was prepared for it to not be. Made the 4ish hour drive after work on Friday. Legs were a bit stiff when we got to packet pick-up but that was just from being cramped in the car. Ate a delicious pizza and pasta dinner in North Myrtle Beach and retired to our hotel room where I fell asleep reasonably early.

Race morning I got up before the alarm, around 5:15, bathroom, dress, bathroom, get everything together, check out, make the 20 minute drive to the start. Got to the start around 6:30 and went through the routine of lubing up, shoes, jogging around trying to get loose and go to the bathroom. The start was delayed about 20 minutes because of some shuttle snafu. Cool. It was already feeling a bit warmer than I’d hoped for, but worse than that… the humidity was making the air feel heavy and sticky. I knew pretty much immediately that in the less-than-ideal conditions, any realistic thoughts of running 1:21-1:22 were likely out. At the start, I recognized Lars and Adriano, two guys who ran Oak Island back in January; Adriano had finished about a minute ahead of me, Lars, about 2 minutes behind.

Race

As we got started, some guy with glasses blasted out to the front, followed by me a few steps back, and then the two aforementioned guys right behind. The first mile wound out of this park and up and over a bridge to the actual beach area, a good way to prevent things from going out to hard right away. Except thanks to the downhill off the bridge, that was my fastest mile of the day. I got passed by both Lars and Adriano as we were going down the bridge and was solidly in fourth by the first mile marker (which was way early; while the course itself was well measured I believe, some of the mileage markers were waaaay off, even accounting for a little GPS fudge factor). The next few miles made a sort of flat loop of the island. Shit got hard and in a hurry. Making a left immediately after getting off the bridge, the sun was right in my face and I suddenly felt the heat (only 74 but with the sun, it felt hotter, also I’m a wimp), the humidity (I dunno, like 85% I think) just sat on me like a large, wet dog, and the effort of actually running (which felt waaaay harder than the particular pace I was currently running had any business feeling, especially so early in the race). I tried dumping water on my head and down my back at the aid station but it was barely any respite. Also, I was terrible at my plan of grabbing a cup early, sipping it, then grabbing a second cup to dump. Most of the aid station volunteers weren’t sure what I was doing and there was at least one or two dropped cups and an equal amount of soaked volunteers.

The second mile was slower than goal marathon pace and I could hear someone behind me, my only thought in the moment was that I hoped he would just hurry up and pass me. Right around the 5k mark, I saw Ari and she looked like she was about to take a picture or, worse, a video. I yelled “NOOOOOOPE!” a few times, not wanting any record of the misery I was putting myself through. It was around here that I strongly considered just stopping and jogging back over the bridge and calling it a day. I told myself to at least “run” the next three miles, the course would head back over the bridge and by where we started and would finish later and if I still felt like absolute shit, I would stop. In my mind, there was no scenario where I wouldn’t feel like absolute shit, so this seemed fair.

On the little out & back by mile 4, I saw that the lead guy had gotten passed by Lars and Adriano. They had almost 90 seconds on me already and 3rd place was closer to a minute up. Cool. I was running in no man’s land, about 30 seconds ahead of anyone else, and, despite having sprayed some sunblock on, my skin felt like it was cooking. Right after mile 5, we turned back onto the bridge toward the mainland. The little incline combined with the fact that we were running into the mass of 5k-ers who were taking up a good chunk of the roadway piled yet more burden on my already overwhelmed mind. I really, truly wanted to walk. I could easily blend in with the 5k people, no one would know I was essentially giving up. I didn’t, but I felt like running had slowed to essentially a walk. The only way I knew that wasn’t necessarily the case is that I was going by people. As I neared the top of the bridge, I caught sight of where we started and would eventually finish. Oh how I longed to just jog on over to the car and call it a day. I fantasized about doing just that, taking my shoes off, and sitting somewhere in the shade with the sno cones that were promised for after the race. It would be FAR preferable to running another 6+ miles in this shit, feeling the way I did (which, in case you hadn’t gathered yet was “not good, very bad”)

Of course, after breaking my longing glance, I set my eyes on the road in front of me and lo and behold, the rabbit who had blasted off to the front at the start was only a few lines on the roadway ahead of me, and looking like he was moving more side to side than straight ahead. A few seconds later, I realized the gap had closed by about half already. At this point, I was definitely going to catch him, and pass him, before we even got off the bridge. Sure enough, a few steps later I was going by him and had reached the split off. The 5k turned right to go be done, I went to the left, wondering why I keep doing this to myself. As I passed the traffic circle and began what seemed like a long, lonely stretch, I was a bit astonished to see Adriano up ahead, albeit it far in the distance, and Lars a decent way beyond him. Out of reach, for sure, but not out of sight. Yet.

For the next mile or so, I just focused on staying far enough to the left of the shoulder-less road to avoid becoming roadkill while still moving quick enough to avoid being mistaken for roadkill. I was so focused on this endeavor that when I looked up the road as the next turn was approaching, I was doubly astonished to see that it looked like I’d gained a not-insignificant amount on Adriano. We ran through a parking lot and out onto yet another road, this one eversoslightly uphill. Mercifully, there were some brief (too brief) stretches of shade along this road and, despite still feeling pretty awful, noticed I wasn’t feeling increasingly worse, just the same amount of bad. And I was pretty sure I could catch Adriano as long as I didn’t slow up. When we went through an aid station around 8.5 miles in, I figured he had about 10 seconds on me, with Lars about 30 seconds beyond, also closer than he’d been. Moments later I came up on, and went by, Adriano and probably attempted to get something encouraging out which likely sounded like unintelligible grunting.

I was pretty happy with where I was at and how things were going and tried to convince myself that, all things considered, 2nd place would be a fine showing on this day. Unfortunately, being in my own mind, as soon as I slid into 2nd and could see that I’d gained on Lars, I knew that previous thought to be a lie. Getting this close, just settling was no longer going to be enough. Considering my time was going to be much slower than planned, I needed something to salvage the day. And so I went about trying to cover the remaining 4 miles a little quicker than Lars.

At about 15 km, the course took another left. I was now only ~10 seconds back. My on the fly plan of trying to cut about 10 seconds/mile off the lead was going a bit better than anticipated. By mile 10, I had regained contact and it seemed like I was probably feeling a little better than Lars was. I grabbed an ice pop from some bros on the side of the road which was MUCH appreciated. Shortly after, I realized that sitting back here and trying to outkick someone when it was fairly clear to me that I was running better at that point was wasting a good opportunity, and kind of gutless. With that in mind, I picked up the effort, just a bit. It was enough to go ahead and immediately gain some separation. We exchanged brief encouragements and I was off.

By the time we turned onto the golf course driveway at 10.5, I had a gap and I was intent on increasing it. I now had a bike escort, which always feels pretty neat, and focused on the back tire which helped me not focus on how shitty my legs felt. I made every effort to take the tangents on the curvy road and also avoid getting hit by one of the many SUVs that came through. Success on the not getting hit, B+ on the tangents. At mile 12, I got a great surprise… Ari had jogged out to see me. I think she was as surprised to see me in the lead as I was to see her at all, but for both of us it was a GREAT surprise. My spirits significantly lifted, I pressed on to the finish. Right after I saw her, the course turned and with about a half mile to go, I allowed myself to steal a glance back. No one within sight, almost as beautiful to see as Ari (::eye roll emogi::) The road twisted and turned a few more times and dumped me out back on the road we drove in on before the race. I came upon the 13 mile sign, crossed the road, and turned for the finish. Somehow, Ari managed to sprint across the golf course to make it to the corner in time for me to go by, woot! I managed what little kick I had left in me and crossed the line first in 1:26:52.

Post-race thoughts

So I was pretty far off from my initial goal, and further still from a PR, but this is a performance I was satisfied with nonetheless. I haven’t felt so dejected, demoralized, or disengaged in a race, especially so early, in a long time. I legitimately wanted to quit when I saw Ari at mile 3. Somehow, I didn’t, and ended up running well enough to beat some very good runners. Mental toughness is definitely something I plan on working on significantly more over the next few months in hopes of preventing lapses like I had in the early miles. Now no more races longer than 8k stand between me and Seattle. Oh, and the sno cone tasted amazing.

Mark, out.

 

June 7, 2017 at 5:14 pm Leave a comment

Knock on Wood Running Festival: Forest Freak 50k race report

This past Saturday, I ran the Knock on Wood Running Festival Forest Freak 50k (THAT’S a mouthful!). At this point, the handful of people who read this regularly (HI JAIME!) know that one of my goals this year is to run at least one marathon or ultra every month. At the outset of 2017, I made it my mid-year goal to PR at the Rock n Roll Seattle Marathon on June 18th, with all my training so the previous few months geared toward that. Along the way, I’ve had better than expected results, including setting a 3+ minute marathon PR at the beginning of April in Raleigh and then beating my old PR again two weeks later in Newport. Since then, partly because I’ve been dealing with some sort of sickness/congestion/allergy crap and partly because the amount of travel we’ve been doing plus work has been exhausting me, training had been less than robust. In the three weeks following Newport, I ran about 30ish miles less per week than I’ve been averaging with nary a workout. On the plus side, I’ve been biking to work more so I guess that helped mitigate some of the decrease, and I guess partly my body probably needed it. The week leading up to the race, I decided I cared more about having a good week of training than I did about feeling fresh on Saturday, so instead of maintaining, I upped my mileage back to what it had been previously. Finally feeling pretty much back to normal (just a little lingering head congestion) I even managed to fit in my first track workout since March 29th on Wednesday. I did a “mini-taper” Thursday and Friday, only running an easy 5 miles both mornings with some strides Friday to remind my legs what running hard feels like, or something.
After biking home from work Friday, Ari and I drove down to Greenville. Thanks to getting on the road late-ish and the terrible thunderstorms we encountered along the way, we didn’t get to our airbnb until after 10pm, cramped, exhausted, and ready to PTFO. Race morning, I was up at 6 for the 8 am start, ate a honey stinger waffle and made two trips to the bathroom. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up my “aid station” supplies that amounted to a 4 pack of Red Bull and some bottles of coconut water. We got to the park where the race was being held at 7 and proceeded to get our bibs (Ari was doing the 8k that started at 9:30), got dressed, the usual pre-race stuff. About ten minutes before the start, I set up my “aid station” on a bench near the end of the loop, gave Ari a kiss, and made my way to the front of where everyone was lining up. I figured, even though there were a few guys who looked pretty fast/serious, I had a decent shot at placing pretty high.

Knock on Wood50k aid

Race

The race comprised six loops through Lake Conestee Nature Park, each roughly 5 miles long, consisting of a mix of twisting, rocky/rooty single track (some of it extremely muddy and slippery), a whole bunch of wet, wooden bridges that were EXTREMELY slick and treacherous, and some shady, paved park roads. Some of the trail was in particularly bad shape as the 100 mile race that was being run concurrently had started at 8pm the night before during the torrential rains. I was glad I wore my Lunartempo 2s instead of a trail shoe, as they were cushioned enough for the rocky spots but didn’t feel like they were weighing me down on the road stretches. The way the course meandered, there wasn’t much opportunity to find a rhythm. The road sections were all relatively short so that by the time you found one, it was back to some muddy trail. The trail was dry and runnable in spots but would dump you out at a bridge that you had to slow down for or risk busting your ass. That said, it was all runnable and I knew right away an absolute catastrophe would have to befall me to NOT run under 4:29.

Pre-race fit

[First Loop]

As soon as the RD gave us the start command, some guy (who I would later learn was Dan) absolutely blasted out like we were running a 400. Instinctively, I followed him at what felt like a dead sprint as we rounded the sidewalk and headed for the trail. At first I thought maybe this was just a guy volunteering with the race who would run the first bit in front to make sure we all went the right way, there’s no way a guy is running this hard at the start of a 50k. Moments later, as we descended down some switchbacks, I noticed his bib and there went that thought. I pushed harder and more reckless than I anticipated ever having to run here to maintain contact partly because not knowing the course at all, I didn’t want to get lost, and partly because my competitive fire was stoked, and I didn’t want to let this guy just run away from everyone else.

I hung to Dan as best I could for that whole first loop, mostly trying to take in the lay of the land for future reference while also trying not to go too far over the red line, which I had immediately approached. I used any road section to bridge the gap. About a mile or so in, Dan slipped while cornering off one of the aforementioned bridges but seemed to pop right back up and keep hammering. It did afford me the chance to regain contact that I would maintain for the rest of the loop. One one of the longer road stretches about halfway through the loop, I glanced back and noticed that we were already well out and away from anyone else, and thought well, it’s him or I today I suppose.

KOWloop1

End of loop 1… I swear I’m enjoying this more than it looks

[Second Loop]

Coming in at the end of the first loop (35:05 split), I spied Ari sitting on the bench and quickly grabbed a honey stinger gel and a handheld before setting out on my second loop. Dan blew right through and headed back out, putting about 10-15 seconds on me. I again pushed a bit harder than I wanted/planned, wanting to regain contact. I managed to get back up to him a half mile in and we kept pushing until about halfway through the loop, when he started to slow down and asked something along the lines of, “this pace better for ya?” It was an odd question and kind of caught me off guard, but I said sure. We briefly introduced ourselves, and then he said something like, “we’ll keep it cool til the end and then it can be a shootout.” Again, a bit odd to me but I was game. In my head I was thinking he might have been starting to feel the hot early pace already and, not being able to shake me and not wanting to bonk early, figured if he slowed things down he might be able to outkick me over the last few miles when I tired. I was willing to make that gamble, as now I knew 1- we were certainly going to go under the CR and time was less important to me than running to win the race, which had become a distinct possibility and 2- I was confident in my ability to outkick him should it come down to that. For the rest of the loop we eased off the gas, still running reasonably hard but nowhere near the red line. Coming in at the end of the loop, I got to wish Ari good luck in the 8k, down a Red Bull, grab some stinger chews, and I was off. (Second loop split: 39:16, 1:14:22 elapsed)

Why so serious?

[Third Loop]

It was a lot easier to catch back up to Dan at the beginning of the third loop. We worked our way through the trail and road and back onto the trail. I was enjoying seeing all the 100 milers and 24 hour relay runners, and, because of the nature of the loop, we also got to see 50k runners in various spots. I was sending encouragement to everyone we went by and most were super friendly and encouraging back, definitely good vibes all around. With about a mile to go in the third loop, we were going down a twisting hill and Dan caught a root and landed hard on the ground. I stopped to make sure he was ok, worried he had twisted an ankle or a knee. After a few moments, he got back up, shook it off, and we were off, cautiously. I got to my bench, Ari was now out on the course, so I quickly grabbed a new bottle and was off. The third loop was by far my slowest (41:44, 1:56:06), but starting the fourth loop, I was feeling fresh and, dare I say, sprightly.

 

[Fourth Loop]

We went down the hill at the start of the first loop and then up over some rocks. Near the top, Dan pulled up and said go on ahead, he needed to work some stuff out. I guess the falls took their toll on him and he was tightening up? Realizing this was sort of a pivotal moment in the race, I bombed down the next downhill hard, wanting to put some distance between myself and Dan before he could loosen up. My hope was to this as an opportunity to build enough of a gap that closing it would require some serious hurting so that if he (or anyone) did catch up, they would have nothing left to outkick me. As I came out to a bridge a half mile in, I spied Ari running toward me, probably a mile and a half from finishing her own race. We high-fived and I thought to myself, “I bet she’s winning,” which gave me a huge bolt of energy as I hit a road stretch. The rest of this loop was just me pushing, finding someone up ahead, closing the gap, rinse, repeat. Also, I kept repeating to myself, “don’t fall, don’t fall!” Coming back toward the end of the loop, I saw Dan and another guy going out on part of an out&back-ish loop. I figured I had about a mile or so on them. As I finished up the fourth loop I saw Ari back on the bench, and as I was chugging another Red Bull and downing a gel, Ari said, “You wanna hear something funny?” I replied, “You won the damn race didn’t you?” Spoiler alert: she did! I glanced back as I ran through the timing mats and didn’t see anyone… cool. (38:14, 2:34:31)

Knock on Wood moosin

Somewhere on Loop 4… Moose X-ing!

[Fifth Loop]

My goal for the fifth loop was to just get through it reasonably quickly without expending too much energy. I wanted to be get to the start of the last loop with a comfortable lead, plenty of energy, and still with no falls or other mishaps. I was a little more careful on the bridges, muddy sections, and any sharp turn. I took the more uphill sections just a little easier. I didn’t go all-out reckless on the downhills. I was still moving faster than anyone else I saw, but I was just covering ground. I saw Jon Hunter and George Wannop and made sure to give them a shout out when I went by. They both looked strong and steady all day and were awesome in sending encouragements my way whenever I saw them. Having a few friendly and familiar faces out there throughout the race was definitely a huge boost each time we crossed paths, so — THANKS GUYS! This time I didn’t see anyone on the out&back toward the end, so I assumed I gained a bit (I had). At the aid bench, I grabbed my last gel and Red Bull, gave Ari a sticky, disgusting kiss, and off I went. (39:14, 3:13:35)

[Sixth Loop]

The last loop was pretty fun and anticlimactic. I was pretty confident that I was going to win, so I just kept it in cruise control. I took it as an opportunity to really enjoy the loop and send encouragement to the other runners I saw. As I ran up the last hill and made the turn onto the park path that would take me the last quarter mile to the finish, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction and gratitude. Satisfaction in executing a well-run race, gratitude that I was able to share this moment with Ari. I crossed the finish in 3:53:49 with an 11 minute win and a 36 minute course record.

Knock on Wood 50kfin

fin

Post-Race

Right after finishing, I got my finisher’s award and downed a ginger ale. I chatted a bit with the RD and watched second place come in before we walked back over to the bench, grabbed our stuff, and headed back to the car for the much more pleasant drive home.

As I write this two days later, my legs are feeling much better than they did 24 hours post-race. My quads and my feet initially felt particularly beat up from all the little ups and downs, twists and turns. An easy few miles Sunday and biking to and from work today definitely helped loosen stuff up. I have a flat half marathon in Sunset Beach this coming Saturday, which I’m hoping will be a good test of my fitness going into the final month of training for Seattle.

Mark, out.

May 16, 2017 at 10:48 am 1 comment

2017 Rock n Roll Raleigh race report

Sunday I ran the Rock n Roll Raleigh Marathon. This was my third time running this race, and also the third different course this race has used, although it was pretty much the same as last year with very minor tweaks (read: kept all of the damn hills, shuffled some inconsequential stretches). Three years ago, I was in the process of getting back into some semblance of decent shape and feeling good about my prospects in the days leading up to the race. The night before the race, I got into a huge argument with my then-girlfriend and ended up sleeping maybe two hours and running the race in a really weird mental state. Somehow I managed to PR and break 3 hours for the first (and only) time. Last year, I spent the entire day before the race at a beer and barbecue festival, overindulging in both. I woke up with a massive hangover, very dehydrated, on a few hours of fitful sleep, and ran the race dressed as a pirate. Despite not the best circumstances, I managed to reach all of my goals — don’t puke, don’t die (the bar was VERY low). Going into the race this year, things had to be more promising, and the past few months certainly have gone better than the lead up to either of those races. In fact, I have run more and felt better than I have in about five years. I was really excited to run this year, because I’ve had a not-so-secret competition with 2014 Mark. I have figured that if I can keep beating 2014 Mark, I have a good shot of having a very good fall of racing. I’m off to a good start, beating my Umstead Marathon time by a few minutes. This wouldn’t be a direct comparison as the courses were different, and it also was earlier in April this year, but close enough for me. And that meant that if I’m to stay ahead of three years ago, I’d need to PR at Raleigh. Running a 3:03 on a perfectly flat beach marathon course is one thing, running several minutes faster than that on a hilly-ish course is another. To add a little spiciness to the equation, I ran 140+ miles last week, so my “taper” consisted of two days of easy runs on Friday and Saturday before the race. Oh well, let’s see what we got.

Ari (who ran the half) and I got our bibs Friday night. I was feeling a bit more tired than I wanted from a long week at work. We headed over to Umstead for the pasta dinner and to meet up with some people, then went home for a little jog. Saturday morning we woke up early to get to Umstead for the start of the 100. We basically hung around the park most of the day, watching various friends go around and around and around and around. It was a beautiful day to just hang around the park and I was glad the weather forecast said it would be MUCH cooler for race day morning. I did another shakeout Saturday evening with a few pick-ups to what felt like a sustainable marathon pace. I didn’t fret that I felt pretty damn flat, trusting that a good night’s sleep and race day adrenaline would help counteract some of that.

Hobby Jogger

“Ultrahobbyjogger” wouldn’t fit

Race morning I awoke before the alarm, bathroom, food, bathroom, bathroom, dive to Raleigh and park downtown, about a quarter mile from the start, with 45 minutes to go. In the car, I got lubed up, put on my throwaway clothes, and we ambled over to the portapotty lines. With ten minutes to go, we made our way to the front corrals, I kissed Ari and wished her good luck, found a bush to pee one last time, and took my spot just off the front, fired up and ready to go.

Race

The first 5 miles are mostly in and around downtown Raleigh, flat-ish with a few undulations. My plan going into the race was to use the first few miles as an opportunity to settle into a comfortable marathon effort. Of course, despite reminding myself to stay disciplined, I took the first half mile-ish a bit harder than planned before backing off and coming through mile 1 in 6:40 (2:55 pace, way under PR pace, whoops). During mile 2 we ran under a bridge where an awesome marching band was playing. I wish they would have put them later in the race because they really pumped me up. Mile 2 split was right in line with the first (13:20). I was relaxing as people were still flying by in the early goings, knowing most were probably doing the half. Right before mile 5 came the first sorta uphill and I caught up to two or three people here without really exerting myself any more than I had been. Mile 5 was right on 33:20 and I was happy that I felt as good as I did so far.

The next two miles were one of the longer and bigger climbs in the race, up past Cameron Village. The spectators were, as with most of the course, pretty sparse, and there wasn’t much in the way of music either (except for a cool drum circle group). I accepted that I would slow a little here and knew I’d get some of it back later. Running under where I thought I’d be already helped with this thought. I took a honey stinger at the top of the hill, around mile 7.5. When we got to mile 8, the half runners split off and I was surprised how many made the right to continue for the full. Last year, despite being way further back in the field, it was quite lonely once the races split off. But here, I could see at least three or four runners strung out ahead of me. As we turned onto Hillsborough St for the out&back stretch to Meredith College, I passed a guy with a great beard and told him so. He seemed less appreciative of the compliment than I would have been two weeks ago. For the next mile and a half out, I was slowly working up toward a pair of guys. Right before mile 9, the leaders started running back toward us and I decided to pass the time by counting how many were ahead of me. By the time I got to the turnaround I counted at least 18-19 people including the lead female. I thought to myself, either some people went out too fast (I hit mile 9 in 1:00:10) or this race attracted A LOT more fast runners this year. Coming back, I caught up to the pair just after 10 (1:06:48) and briefly considered tucking in with them as there was more than a gentle breeze blowing at us. I quickly scrapped this idea as I was feeling pretty good, had found a rhythm that was working for me, and didn’t want to mess with that to stay with them. So off I went back down Hillsborough. We met back up with half marathoners here and ran side-by-side (on separate sides of the street, thankfully) for about a mile.  I could not, for the life of me, do the math necessary to figure out if I should expect to see Ari somewhere in this crowd, or if she was still behind, or way up ahead. Even now, I’m still not sure, but nevertheless, I didn’t see her. It was cool getting some cheers and cheering on half marathoners I DID see, although it was even cooler getting a nice half mile downhill where I let my legs stretch out some. Up a baby hill, then down another little out and back, this time on NC State’s campus, I hit the halfway clock in 1:27:04 (the website has a different time, and there was a mat a little ways beyond the halfway clock, but that mat was definitely not halfway). I thought to myself, ok, that’s a bit under what I planned (PR pace would have had me at 1:28:25), but at least I can run 1:30ish and still have a chance to PR. I figured I was, at the worst, looking good for sub-3, and, best case scenario, I only slow some on the second half hills, run 1:28ish, and try to kick to get under 2:55.

The next 5ish miles were the part of the race I first told myself I needed to be strong during, both mentally and physically. There was a nice downhill as we left campus before turning on Avent Ferry Rd. It’s not the steepest and there are some downhill stretches, but it FEELS like it’s a long uphill grind, probably stemming from this being very barren (the people waiting for a bus or just generally looking unenthused or actively annoyed by the race outnumbered spectators 3:1) and winding and there’s still so much race left to run. I again knew my splits would slow, but I had some time banked even from 2:55 pace, so I wasn’t gonna stress. Still, I managed to push a little on the downhills and grind on the uphills and not lose quite as much time as anticipated. There was a string of runners up ahead that I was just focusing on reeling in. Toward the top of the hill, I treated myself to my second honey stinger and managed to get about half on my singlet and hands. Typical Mark. I just had to laugh. Avent Ferry bottomed out at Lake Johnson and I unsuccessfully tried to grab a cup of water here, which at least had the benefit of wetting my hands to get rid of the stickiness. The next mile and a half we wound along on a flat trail beside the lake. This was the worst I felt all race. I think the cumulative effort of working hard on the previous 16+ rolling miles (both up and down) hit me and I started to question whether I should have eased up and run slower like originally planned. Pffft… too late for second guessing, onward ho! At 17, I was at 1:52:30, still almost a full minute under 6:40 pace (I liked thinking in terms of 6:40 pace, because it’s really easy to do mental math, even in the latter stages of a marathon it turns out), but started feeling like my legs just didn’t have the pop or drive they did even ten minutes prior. I had to really call on some mental reserves here to stop from slowing considerably, asking myself to just push to 18 and then maybe I could take it easy on the next uphill. Around this point the lake trail goes along a dam and I caught sight of two more runners, one was the lead female, the other a guy I thought might be Owen Bradley, who had run 50 miles at Umstead the day before (DAMN!). The sight of them not so far off, plus the short, steep downhill, helped re-energize me a bit.

As soon as the trail ended, we turned right and were met with another short, steep uphill. At the top of the climb, we made a left and were greeted by… another hill! I was gaining on some of the people in front of me which helped take my mind off how blergh this stretch felt. This is the most desolate stretch of the race, back on NC State’s campus, running by a golf course, and some far off buildings. What passes for the Raleigh skyline comes into view around here, but at mile 19, it feels like more of a tease than an encouraging beacon. Just before mile 20 (2:12:56 — the hills had slowed me to just about 6:40 pace), I caught up to the lead woman and went by her, trying to grunt out something along the lines of, “stay strong.” The bike escort she had reminded me I now had a decent downhill which was very much appreciated, despite knowing what came next. I caught up to Owen, asked him if it was indeed him, and told him how friggin’ ridiculous and amazing it was that he was out here now. As we turned to start another mile and a half uphill grind to Dorothea Dix Park, we also caught up to a guy in an ECU singlet and I led the three of us passed the mile 21 marker. It was here, in the midst of this hill, that I made an important decision. I was still under even my dream goal pace, the last three miles were a bit easier, this stretch was exposed and I was feeling it. I thought about easing up, letting the two guys behind me go by and maybe trying to just keep in contact with them. But instead, I started pushing a little harder, trying to get some separation. I knew I wasn’t near the front, and never really felt like I was racing anyone but the clock, but I got competitive. I thought about the 25 hill repeats I did in the midst of my fourth 20 miler in four days last week, I thought how this was not even close to as bad as that felt, and I pushed up the damn hill into the park. For my efforts, I was rewarded with a little separation, a boring out and back stretch, and views of a few more runners ahead of me.

My legs were feeling the effort, but I didn’t want to just ease up and recover. I could see a sign for mile 23, and it felt soooo far away as we did this weird clover-y loop in a section of the park you’d imagine they’d find a body at the beginning of an episode of SVU. Right at 23, we met back up with the half marathon course, and I was even more glad than before that we had separate courses and that it seemed everyone was obeying the line of orange cones, because I did not have any extra energy to weave in and out of traffic. I appreciated the encouragement they were sending our way, but something about being around a lot of people again caused me to become acutely aware of the effort I was putting forth, and it sucked. Before the race, these last few miles were the ones I’d planned on hammering. “Empty the tank” is the term I like to use because that’s exactly what it feels like. Now, though, I was worried there would be nothing left in the tank to draw upon, having gone a little quicker than planned thus far. I was glad we had driven this section a few weeks ago, because I could mentally check off landmarks. At 24 (2:39:20 — when I saw it at the time, I wasn’t able to process that I had sped up), I caught up to another runner and told him let’s finish strong. Coming out of the park we made a left and got a nice downhill. I pushed, hard. I remember some people here and there cheering. I remember splashing myself with water somewhere in here. A right turn and then the last uphill of any significance as we approached mile 25. I felt like I was running in sand but somehow made it up the hill. Three years ago this was the spot in the race where I grew genuinely worried about collapsing because I was so overheated and exhausted and the idea of running even one more mile felt insurmountable. This time I felt better than I did there, but only marginally. Once on Boylan, I saw two more marathon guys and used them to force myself to keep the pedal down instead of easing up and coasting to the end. I went by them with about 3/4 mile to go and a guy on a bike pedaled up next to me, telling me I looked like I was finishing really strong. If only he knew how I was feeling! A turn brought me Nash Square, where our car was at, so I knew it was only a few minutes of suffering left. The course turned one more time and we were on McDowell, the finishing stretch. I could see the finish up ahead and started whatever passed for my finishing kick. I ran so hard, my peripheral vision started going black. I haven’t been this deep into the well in a long time. I was, essentially, scraping the bottom. As I approached the line, I thought I heard Ari yell my name. I just kept reminding myself to run all the way through the damn line. And I did. I ran right across the finish in 2:53:29, a PR by 3:23.

Everything hurts and I'm dying

Tank successfully emptied

Post-race

I staggered for a moment, stopped my watch, awkwardly took my medal, caught my breath and composed myself. Looking up I saw Ari on the sidewalk looking excited with tears in her eyes. I may have let out some sort of guttural noise and, once outside the transition zone, gave her a big sweaty hug and we both started sobbing. The stress and effort of the past almost-3 hours (and the distance traveled the past eight months, both physically and figuratively) caught up with me and I needed a minutes to compose myself. Turns out I was wrong at halfway… I split 1:27:04 for the first half and came back on what I would argue was the more difficult, hillier back half in 1:26:25. I think that was quite probably the best I have ever run a marathon. I got my finisher’s jacket and we headed back to Umstead to see the last few finishers and then home, where I [edit to add:, errm… ARI and I (sorry love!)]… spent the rest of the afternoon moving my furniture from my apartment into Ari’s. (Thankfully, I was able to coerce Stiner and Strunk into helping us with that endeavor).

So, I kinda already beat my A goal for Seattle. Hooray?!This week, I’m going to recuperate from the race and, once I feel recovered, I’m going to start trying to figure out what to shoot for there. In the meantime, we’re heading up to Rhode Island next weekend to run the Newport Marathon, and then we’ll be at the Boston Marathon(!). I’ll be dipping my toes back into the ultra world with a 50k in SC next month, but one step at a time, right?

Mark, out.

April 5, 2017 at 11:59 am 4 comments

2017 Umstead Trail Marathon race report

Last Saturday, I ran the Umstead Trail Marathon.This was my fifth time running this race, the only race I’ve run every year since moving down to NC (2015 was cancelled) and, by far, the race I’ve run the most. Obviously, this race holds a special place in my heart (see: 2012), and as I’ve joked with some people, every other time I run it, I have a pretty alright race. 2012 – pretty good, 2013 – pretty not good, 2014 – pretty alright, 2016 – unmitigated disaster. Of course, as Ari so compassionately put it earlier this week, “It hasn’t been your year since 2012.” I digress… In the two weeks since I ran Oak Island, I’ve managed to both recover well from that effort and maintain a good deal of training volume. I’ve had two decent track workouts, one encouraging M-pace run, and a good long run at Umstead last weekend that covered about 85% of the marathon course.

My parents were in town this weekend, and it was also Ari’s first marathon ever, so there was some added stressors but nothing too bad.The night before, we got our packets, and then it was a fiasco trying to find some dinner before eventually ending up at my favorite pizza place, Treforni, where I devoured a meatball sub. Got things set out and myself to bed reasonably early, and as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was asleep like a rock. I was up before the alarm, too. The nice thing about a 9 am race start is that my body is used to getting up at 5:30, so there is no rush to get up and out the door. I actually felt like I was sleeping in. We headed downtown to get some last-minute things and saw them setting up for Florence Forth; we were glad we were out of there before being trapped. We got to the park about an hour before race start, which, for me, is unheard of.

This race is like a big running family reunion and has some really cool quirks that have cemented its place permanently on my yearly racing calendar. Carolina Godiva does an absolutely top-notch job putting on this race, down to the last detail. The volunteers go to great lengths to make sure everything runs smoothly (pun decidedly intended), so it was fun to get into the lodge before the race and say hi to some friends. As I alluded to above, last year, I was undertrained (really, not trained at all), and the entire race was an abject catastrophe pretty much from the beginning. As a result, it was my first time running the race that I failed to get wood.  This year, I had three main goals (four if you count “don’t break an ankle on the single track”)… I wanted to get back at least to the top 15. But really, I wanted to see if I was in better shape than 2014, the year I ran 3:11:44. I figured, if I could beat that time, it would mean that I’m ahead of where I was at that year and would bode well for a PR attempt on an easier course down the line. I figured, if I could manage that time, it would also put me close to a respectable top-5 showing.

If Ari was nervous, she hid it well. We were ready and moseyed our way to the start area with a few minutes to go. I gave her a kiss and told her to kick ass and then walked up to the front. With about a minute to go, I ducked into a port-a-potty for a final bathroom trip, and as I returned, perfectly timed, we were off.

Dude, what the hell are you doing with your body?!

Right before the start. I think Bart would call this a “classic Manz” pose. I don’t think anyone was amused. (Credit Shannon)

Race

The course is almost constantly either going up or down in a fairly unrelenting fashion. The first two miles are pretty much the easiest of the race, and a good opportunity to get things in gear before getting on the single track. Immediately from the start, a group of four guys went out and separated themselves from the rest of the pack. I was content to cruise up the hill right on the back of this pack. I recognized one guy as last year’s winner of the Umstead 100, Jason Tischer, and knew he would probably have the endurance to hold a decent pace. The other guys (white singlet, blue singlet, capri tights) I did not recognize, but they looked speedy enough to be up there. I hopped on the first bit of Company Mill single track at mile 2, solidly in 5th, and immediately began closing the few-second gap that the four guys had on me. I descended pretty recklessly, rolling my ankle a few times, and at one point, misjudging my speed and careening left forearm- and knee-first into a tree, but nothing too concerning.

By the first single-track climb, I had regained contact with the back of the group. They seemed to be going much more cautiously, but I was content to just maintain contact, allow them to set the pace, and recharge for the inevitable bridle trail push. Four miles in, we hit the short, steep Graylyn descent, and I passed two guys, moving into third before returning to the single track on Sycamore. We loped along the flattish, mostly non-technical section by the creek before ascending the steep, rugged uphill toward the Sycamore parking lot aid station near mile 6. On the downhill to that aid station, I briefly took the lead, mostly because I just wasn’t going to hold back on any downhills and knew I would (and did) get immediately re-passed on the ups. Heading down the final mile and a half of Sycamore single track, I found myself thinking something I never would have considered I would be — I was lamenting the fact that the single-track portion of the race was about to be over. I was actually wishing there would be more because I felt that would be the only way I had a chance on the other four; it seemed that I had clearly been the best (or at least most aggressive) on it and that they were stronger and quicker on the bridle trail.

Alas, right before mile 8, the single track ended, and we turned to run back up the Graylyn hill. The rest of the 18+ miles remaining would all be on wide, crushed gravel bridle trail, but that doesn’t mean they are any easier. As soon as we hit the hill, the four guys pulled away. Two (Tischer and blue singlet) ran way away and had a good 10-15 seconds by the top of the hill and gaining, and the other two (white singlet and capris) ran together slightly less far from me but were nevertheless pulling away. A quick glance behind, and I saw nary a soul; I was officially in 5th and also in no-man’s-land. I was actually ok with this development, as it mentally became just a more intense than normal long run in my favorite park. Running down corkscrew hill, I went hard but within myself and then continued to press but making sure to avoid approaching the red line on the longish, gradual climb up from Reedy Creek Lake to mile 10. By the time I got to the top, I could see the pair of 3rd/4th ahead and not really gaining much more on me. The first two guys were way out of sight already.

The next two miles trended downhill, and I could see the guys coming back to me a little. It was still relatively early. and the worst hills were yet to come, so I was content to hang back and eat up real estate slowly but surely. I think I saw Jim Clabeusch on a bike here, and that was a nice little break from the monotony. From 12-14.5, the Turkey Creek section is a hilarious stretch of steep, seemingly never-ending uphills and some downhills just short enough to tease you. At what I figured was about halfway, I was at about 1:34:30 on my watch, feeling reasonably good and ready to push the second half if need be. I caught White Singlet at the bottom of a downhill right at mile 14, passing him going up the last of the Turkey Creek hills toward Graylyn and moving into 4th. By the time we hit the aid station turnaround at the bottom of yet another hill near mile 15, I was even with Capris. Heading away from the aid station and re-tracing our steps from 15 to 21 meant I would get a chance to see where everyone else was and thus also get to see Ari. Exciting!

I really made an effort to push the downhills on the way back through Turkey Creek; I wanted to get a little gap on 4th place, figuring that the race for 1st and 2nd was over.

homeless guy off the street loves running and neon pink stuff

Me, “pushing” the downhills… or something. (Photo credit to Shannon Johnstone who managed to take amazing pictures like this while ALSO finishing 2nd place female!)

Unfortunately for me, when I got to the aid station before 17, he was right there with me and stayed there all the way to the mile 18 marker, where our next long, gradual climb began. If I had to pick a low point in the race, I guess this would be it. I was still 8 miles from being done, I had been running for a little over 2 hours, I had just pushed the last two miles and instead of getting any separation, capri guy was now going by me as soon as we started the uphill and looking stronger than I felt. I made my best attempt at staying with him, but I was mentally content to let him go and hope he’d come back to me on the next downhill stretch. Somehow I managed to run either side by side, or just a step behind, for a good portion of this climb. Just after mile 19, as we approached a powerline cut, a Wild Ari Appears! coming downhill toward us. Without thinking, I jumped up in the air and yelled her name. I was worried she might be in a bad place or tired, but she looked just as excited as I was to see her. I ran to the other side of the trail, gave her a big hug and kiss and told her to go for the Olympics as we ran our separate ways.

As corny as it may sound, that was seriously one of the BIGGEST highlights of the race for me. And as silly as it may sound, whatever lull I had been experiencing immediately went away. I found an extra gear in my stride, and a half-mile later, as we got to the top of the grind, I was pulling away from 4th place and stretching my legs out on the long, gradual descent ahead. There seemed to be a big group of what I figured were high school runners out running, and they were perfect to key off of. They were running just a little slower than I was, so I could focus on reeling them in and eventually go by. I also saw the guy who was in 2nd place (blue singlet) up ahead and definitely coming back to me. That was… unexpected. I figured maybe he tried to hang with Tischer, and it ended up being too much. By the time we hit the bridge and began a long, steep, winding uphill, I was even and then pulling away from him, too. I heard footsteps for about a minute and then nothing. Cool. I figured the race was now for 2nd, as I doubted Mr. 100 mile champion would fall apart late in a marathon, and I didn’t have any extra wheels to pick it up to try and catch him.

The final gut punch in this race is miles 21.5 to 24, Cedar Ridge. It’s a long downhill that ends very steeply, and then you immediately turn around and run back up it. There is a sign at the bottom as you begin the climb out that says “Welcome to Wheels-Fell-Off Hill.” It is accurately named. Last year, I walked/hobbled almost the entire uphill section, a combination of calf cramps and just being completely gassed. For the first time all race, I allowed myself to go full throttle down the hill. I knew I’d have enough to get out of it, and I wanted to put a cushion on the guys behind me. I saw the leader go by on my way down and when I got to the turnaround I calculated he must be about 3-3:30 up. I knew I wouldn’t have enough real estate to catch him (not to mention he still looked pretty strong), but I also found that I was about 2 minutes up on 3rd place at this point. With that info, I went into grind mode, just trying to get up the hill as best I could. Turning back onto the trail at the top of the hill, all that was left was to run back to camp. Cemetary Hill remained, the short, steep final obstacle literally standing in the way of sweet relief. One of the only nice things about the up & down nature of the course is that the last half mile you run is all downhill back to the finish. Turning onto the camp road, I had a smile on my face and knew I had 2nd place locked up, and, more importantly, barring a car hitting me, I was going to come in under my 2014 time. I ran through the finish line in 3:07:26, second overall, and my second fastest Umstead. Booya!

U2017finish

Finishing and not being burnt, or dead!

Post-race

I got my finisher’s pint glass and collected my wooden 2nd place plaque, put on some warmer clothes, and had a little bit of food (my stomach needed a bit immediately post-race before I could handle much more than a few orange slices and some gummy bears). Then I went back out to run Ari in. I got to the last long hill (Cedar Ridge) where Bill Harris told me she had already started down the hill – awesome. I met her and ran her most of the way in, going on ahead with a mile to go to give her that last stretch for herself and so I could get the camera set up to capture her finish. The feeling of seeing her cross the finish line, a first-time marathoner, at Umstead no less, after training for all of three months, was far and away the most satisfied and elated I felt all day. Neither of us could keep our emotions, or tears, in check. Ultimately, a hugely successful day. We both survived, I did reasonably well, she did amazing, neither of us are injured or really much worse for wear. Win-win-win (well, not quite win).

Seriously, do you even hands, bro?

I got wood. And I apparently forgot how to stand and not look awkward af. (Photo credit Dennis Geiser)

Proudest boyfriend/coach

Marathon success!!!! (Thanks Shannon!)

You can't spell 'elite' without 'Eli'

Thanks for your genes (and also for being responsible for me existing)!

Mark, out!

March 7, 2017 at 1:04 am 1 comment

Oak Island marathon race report

Saturday, I ran the Oak Island marathon along the southeastern coast of North Carolina. When I arbitrarily came up with my silly idea of running a marathon or ultra every month of 2017, I was a bit worried that February would involve some travel, a blizzard, or fighting polar bears, and initially, I hadn’t found anything that fit particularly well into my schedule. Then, the universe did me a solid: the race company that puts on a series of beach half marathons in the area decided to add a full marathon JUST to their Oak Island race. I could check February off my to-do list! AND, bonus: the weather this weekend was more mid-spring than mid-winter, so we got to enjoy a beautiful day at the beach after the race.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The ensuing weeks between Frosty Fifty and Oak Island have been some of the best I’ve had in a few years, despite each week having at least one, sometimes two, very easy days. I’m seeing Stiner regularly again, and that is making a HUGE difference in recovery time and how my legs feel day-to-day overall. I’m a few pounds lighter than I was back in January and almost twenty pounds down from when I was setting powerlifting PRs in December, so that helps with, well, everything. The past week or so, I’ve actually been eating somewhat better (which is not saying very much) and sleeping closer to 7-8 hours a night (which is saying A LOT). All this to say that heading in to this race, I was feeling optimistic that it would go reasonably alright and confident that I wouldn’t find myself at mile 18 wishing I had gone out for that run on a random Thursday night after work instead of sitting on my couch with a pint of Ben n Jerry’s (because I HAVE dragged myself out every single time this year).

The day before the race, we had to drive down from Durham and needed every second and then some to make it to packet pick up just in time. We got our race bibs as they were packing up and then spent longer than we’d have liked getting a burger and fries from a decent-enough restaurant down the block. Serendipitously, our AirBnB was located a little over a half mile from where the race started and finished. We made our way there after dinner and were greeted by a lovely host and her adorable pugs. If you have never been greeted at a door by four tiny, affectionate pugs, you have not really lived. After getting our stuff in and settled, I went out for a short shakeout down to the beach and back. I spent a good minute or two by the water just staring up at the pitch-black sky, sending Ari snaps of blackness that was supposed to be beach and taking in the stars that you don’t get to admire near a city. Once back, it was my pre-race ritual of shaving my head and then a reasonably early bedtime, as the race started crazy early.

With a race that started at 6 am, that meant wake-up was somewhere around 4:30. Unlike many times in the past, I was up before the alarm and felt mostly awake and ready to go (thanks Amy for having the most luxurious bed to sleep on of any AirBnB we’ve stayed at!). I went to the bathroom, downed a Boost shake and most of a Quest bar, went to the bathroom, got dressed, went to the bathroom, got my shoes laced, went to the bathroom, got our stuff ready to go, went to the bathroom, and was off to the park. Even though it was only a short jaunt from where we stayed, we opted to park right next to the start so that Ari could chill out during the hour between when my race started and when hers did and so that after the race we could grab whatever we wanted immediately. It was still extremely dark with nothing but a few headlamps and the neon from the timing stuff at the start/finish lighting up the area. This meant that as I made my way to the start, with about three minutes to go, I had unlimited options for one last bathroom stop. With about a minute to go, I heard Brad Smythe yell for me to make my way up to the line, which at first surprised me (how did someone know my name?!) and then amused me. I gave Ari a quick kiss, she wished me luck and told to do it and go for the Olympics, and with that, we were off.

Right away, some guy blasted out and had gapped all of us jamokes by the time we had to make a left about 200 m into the race. I settled in to what felt like a comfortable uptempo pace and ultimately watched another three guys pull on ahead of me at a much less rapid pace. For the sake of this report, I will name them tri-guy (because he was wearing a triathlon-looking outfit), beard guy (because he had a solid beard and kinda looked like Jesus), and bad dog (because, shockingly, he had a singlet that said bad dog on it). With a dearth of street lights on the first four or so mile stretch of residential roads, I opted not to glance at my watch every few moments to see if I was “on pace” mostly because I didn’t have a specific pace in mind. Given how the 50k went and that training was going about as well as could be hoped for, I figured a 3:20ish would be a reasonable result, and if I had a good day, maybe I could stretch for a 3:15 (it WAS a flat course after all).

Comfortably in fifth, feeling relaxed, the first four seeming to continue to pull away, and with a few glances back on some of the turns noticing nobody really close, I was in a no man’s land that I actually relished in the early miles. I stopped to pee around mile 3.5, and in the thirty or so seconds that took, I didn’t see anyone coming up from behind. I was glad about this notsomuch because I cared about my placing but because I didn’t want to run with anyone. As the course turned out of the residential section near mile five, we hit the first of two bridges we’d be running over and back, this one the steeper and longer of the two (get it out of the way early, I suppose). As I made my way up, it was impossible not to notice the absolutely picturesque sunrise starting to take place to the east. So, silver lining on the bridge… perfect vantage point for maximum sunrise gawking. Alas, the gawking was kept to a minimum as there were miles to be run. Coming down from the bridge, I could barely see the leader, who was already almost a mile up, and the other three guys were strung out somewhere from a minute or so to several minutes ahead; the next guy back from me was a few minutes in arrears.

Only twenty miles to go, yippee. It was finally light enough to see my watch. Apparently I had been running just over 7:00 pace so far. So… not 3:20 pace. I had a brief but ultimately pointless mental conversation where I thought maybe we should ease back to which I rebutted myself figuring, hey, this feels alright, and worst case, I blow up later and jog it in, having gotten a decent workout out of the whole mess. The next few miles twisted through more residential areas and next to a golf course. Coming out, we made a left and ran toward one of the uglier lighthouses that dots the North Carolina coast (as Ari would later describe it, it looks like a cigarette. The three colors that comprise it are grey, other grey, and darker grey). This was a somewhat sad, lonely, and kind of monotonous out & back, but such is the nature of running near the beach.  Some people were waking up and out on their porches, but most “spectators” here were just construction crews getting to their site. As soon as I turned around right before mile 9, I realized something I hadn’t yet considered… the last two miles I was running felt pretty comfortable despite the quicker-than-planned speed…oh, right, maybe because we had a tailwind. I was immediately greeted by the headwind I hadn’t considered, and it was a little more jarring than it probably ought to have been. It knocked me out of rhythm and focus for a few minutes, and part of my mind again was like, “well, that inevitable slowdown happened sooner than anticipated, huh?” Fortunately, my legs were not part of this conversation and carried on, re-establishing a rhythm and maintaining a pretty consistent speed.

As I closed in on halfway, I felt better than I really had any business feeling, but I wasn’t going to fight it and had made up my mind to just hold on. There was a bet-hedging part of me that was attempting (with limited degrees of success) to do the mental math on what I would run if I slowed to 7:30 miles, or 8:00 miles. I passed through halfway in about 1:32:20 (there was no mat or marker so that’s my best guesstimate) and allowed myself to entertain the idea that I was very likely going to get that 3:15 and possibly even 3:10. I really didn’t consider the possibility that I wouldn’t slow down some. I figured that was inevitable, and my only goal was to do effective damage control when it started, hopefully close enough to the finish that I wouldn’t have to death march for very long.

Right after half way, the course ran back close to the start/finish, and here was the only clusterfuck of the day. You see, the second half of the marathon course was just the entire half marathon course and covered a portion of the accompanying 5k as well. The half started an hour after we did, but the 5k… didn’t? I still honestly don’t know when it started nor exactly what the course SHOULD have been. It seems that there was supposed to be a turnaround point and that they were then supposed to make a left, or something, but none of it was well marked. I just know that it seemed like no one actually knew where to run. It was just a mess of people, some walking, some running, strollers, children, in all directions, all across the entire roadway. For about a mile or so, I did my best Frogger impression. Fortunately, I was able to navigate the sea of people relatively unscathed (I think I rubbed into someone as I was going past, but in my defense, agility has never been my strong suit). I did have to miss an aid station which, boo-freaking-hoo. At some point in this, I passed Bad Dog and I guess pulled away, as I never saw him again. Hopefully he was not swallowed by the tide of lost soles.

Once the crowds started to clear, I was feeling a bit re-energized knowing it was just down to the end of the island and back, more of less (more, actually, because there was another bridge detour). And now, despite being toward the front of the marathon, I was working my way through the back end of the half, so I never felt lonely again and had targets to key in on, work up to, pass, rinse, repeat, instead of just ruminating on having to run another 5 miles in a straight line. The sun was very much out now, but it fortunately didn’t heat up much, and that headwind that had shocked me earlier now felt more like a refreshing breeze as I chugged along. At sixteen, I actually stopped at the aid station long enough to get two full cups of water and some Sport Legs down; when I started running again only a few seconds later, I felt like I was shot out of a cannon.

Three miles later, I could finally make out the end of the line where we’d turn and head back for home, another mental boost. It was cool hearing all the encouragement from the half marathoners when they realized I was running the full, and it was nice having the energy (for the most part) to give some back. I hit 20 miles in just a hair over 2:20 and finally allowed myself to figure 3:10 was probably a lock and now maybe, juuuuuust maybe, a 3:05 was possible. I also allowed for the possibility that with 10k still to go, it was possible I’d still have that slowdown; I told myself I would be ok with missing 3:05 if that were the case, but that was probably a lie, and at any rate, I was feeling about as strong as I had all race.

I was excited for the bridge section because, one, it would break up the monotony a bit, and two, I figured I would get to see how far up Ari was. I thought that if I didn’t see her until the bridge, that would mean she was having a good race. And that’s just when I did see her – right as we both crested the top of the bridge, her coming back in toward the island, me on my way out. I also noticed that tri-guy had moved into third, probably 2-3 minutes up on me, and beard guy was now only seconds ahead. As I turned around to head back, I saw him continue to come back to me until, with about 5k to go, I went by. Encouragements were exchanged. I pulled away, not so much because I didn’t want a race to the finish but because I wanted to see if I could catch Ari before she finished. Turning on to what I knew would be a long, straight stretch to the end, it was nice to have something else to occupy my mind.

With maybe a mile or so to go, I finally caught sight of her LOUD and oh-so-short shorts (pot, kettle, nice to meet you). Doing that had allowed me to actually pick up the pace ever-so-slightly. By the time I went by her (after briefly considering a butt slap and opting for just shouting, “GO ARI!” because slapping her butt would involve veering across the road some, and I didn’t trust my legs to run in anything but a straight line), I was pretty sure that I was no longer going to blow up, or even slow down, that I had enough in the tank to finish, and that, barring a sea bird swooping down and attacking, I was going to run under 3:05. I could make out the finish line from over half a mile away, and it just sat there, taunting me; I logically knew every step brought me closer, yet my eyes told me it was just going to sit there in the distance forever. Fortunately, it did not, and I hit the last block and did what passed for a kick at that point. The last mile of the race was my fastest. I crossed in 3:03:38, good for 3rd place overall and a Boston qualifying time that will almost certainly not be far enough under. I had just enough time to down a water and jog back out to see Ari cross in a time that was only a minute off her PR. So that was awesome!

https://www.facebook.com/pg/FreedomPhotoNC/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1629868463696443

Action shot. Still look a bit linebacker-ish. Courtesy of Freedom Photography NC

So there is my report that took about as long to write as it did to run the race. Good ratio. I went in figuring I was in somewhat better shape than, like, October, when I was a fat flump “running”/trudging/hiking around Medoc Mountain State Park and probably a teensy bit better than January, but to run a 3:03 off basically seven weeks of some easy runs is pretty damn surprising…and encouraging. How did that happen? I guess all the stuff I mentioned before about training and eating and not being a fat powerlifter actually have some sort of effect. I have a bit shorter turnaround time for March’s marathon, yet another date with the Umstead Trail Marathon. As anyone who knows me knows, this race holds a special place in my heart. I seem to follow up pretty good runs there with pretty terrible runs. Fortunately, I’m coming off my worst run ever there last year, so that hopefully bodes well for two weeks from now. In the meantime, it’s time to nom a burrito.

And here’s a prize for making it all the way to the end. Sorry it’s not a cookie:

and Shortest Shorts Relative to Leg Length Award!

Post-race, 3rd overall running, 1st overall beard

Mark, out.

February 21, 2017 at 12:18 am 1 comment

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