Posts Tagged ‘PostAWeek


Running Goals for 2011: Looking Back

As has become a yearly right for me, it’s time to review my running goals for 2011 and see how I did. Overall I’m pretty pleased with this year, but there are clearly somethings that could have gone a little bit better.

  • Distance Run: 1500 miles
    Nope – I’m pleased to say that I came much closer this year. However, there were four extended periods where I did little to no running. In March I spent about three weeks in China. I went running once while there and really stuck out, but the bigger issue was that the air was toxic. In August I made the stupid mistake of trying to barefoot and getting huge blisters on my feet. Just when I was getting better I managed to get the norovirus. In September I spent two weeks in Europe. Finally, December was shaping up great to make 1500 miles, but my achilles tendon started to hurt, so rest was in order. I’ll finish the year with about 1375 miles, depending on whether or not I go running today or tomorrow.
  • Marathons: 3 (Grandma’s, Chicago, NYC)
    Yes! Grandma’s Marathon in June was a blast. I set a PR and ran most of it with a friend before she threatened to kill me around mile 22 and told me to go on ahead of her. My experience in Chicago, on the other hand, was downright miserable – hiccups made me want to die by the end of the race. It was so bad that I signed up for the Hartford Marathon six days later where I PR’d. I managed to shave a few more seconds off this PR at New York three weeks later. It was a good year for running marathons.
  • Weight: 170lbs
    Nope – according to my spreadsheet I hit my lowest weight at 173.2. Right now I’m a little over 10lbs north of that figure thanks to holiday bingeing while visiting relatives. Still, I’m about 15lbs better than I was at this time last year.
  • Fastest Mile: 5:50
    Nope – I did only a single one mile race, the 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile. I finished in 6:10. I was happy, although I’d love to see that leading six change into a five.
  • Marathon: 3:30
    Nope – marathon time predictors say to take your half marathon time and double it then add 10 minutes for your full marathon time. If I could do a half in 1:40, then a full in 3:30 should be possible, right? Not quite. While I did drop my PR in the marathon about 17 minutes this year, at 3:57:45 it’s not even close to this goal.
  • Half-Marathon: 1:40
    Nope – I was tempted to call this an “Old-School Boston Yes”. However, let’s be honest, that second digit is still a 4, and for me to make this goal the second digit needed to be a 3. I missed this goal by 23 seconds at the 2011 Brooklyn Half Marathon.
  • Cross-Training: 2 days a week
    Nope – I often manage this in Minneapolis. In New York I lack a bike and fail miserably at this. I rarely cross-trained.
  • Barefoot/Vibram a race of 10k or more
    Yes! – I did this at the 2011 Independence Day Races in Minneapolis. Not only that, I turned in a 10k PR that was a faster pace than my 5k PR.
  • Bench Press My Own Weight
    Nope – I think I tried bench pressing three times this year. Fail.
  • Run to and from Work at Least Five Times
    Nope – by the time I thought about this it was already late September and getting too dark to run on the roads around work in the evening. I never even did this once.
  • Post at Least 50 Blog Entries
    Nope – this blog was a bit more predictable in 2011. Assuming this is the last post of the year I’ll finish the year with 36.

So, what’s the overall conclusion. I didn’t run as much as a I hoped, I didn’t cross-train nearly as much as a I hoped, and I didn’t write about running quite as much as a I hoped. Was this year a let down? No. I don’t feel bad when I set an ambitious goal and I fail to meet them. I think I would have felt worse if I set goals and met each goal – it wouldn’t mean that they weren’t stretching me enough.

Next up, 2012 running goals.


Improving form with 100-ups

For the last year I’ve integrated “barefoot” (actually done in my Vibram Five Fingers) running into my regular routine as a method to work on different muscles and improve my form. I’ve worked myself up from only a couple of miles to a maximum of 17 miles this past summer. However, after 17 miles my heels were killing me, which is strange because barefoot running shouldn’t have a heel strike. Observation of my form showed that after long distances running barefoot my form goes to total crap and I take on a flat foot or almost heel strike in some cases. This really isn’t all that ideal, so I’m looking for alternatives.

As part of their coverage of the ING New York City Marathon this weekend, the New York Times is dedicating a large portion of their Sunday magazine to running, including some guest articles from folks like Christopher McDougall, the author of “Born To Run”. This includes a video where McDougall, and, for some strange reason, Peter Saarsgaard, demonstrate some exercises for proper barefoot running called 100-up. In short, this exercise has you almost run in place with a concentration on the proper way to bring your feet back down that will cause minimal injury.

While I’m in taper mode for the NYC Marathon this weekend and I don’t want to try anything new, this seems something that is simple enough that I could do it in my office over my lunch breaks.

Anyone else have good suggestions for simple training exercises to improve form?


Race Report: 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Part 3)

In part 1 of my writeup of the Chicago Marathon I detailed what happened before the marathon. In part 2 I covered everything up to about mile 16 — also known as the fun part of the race. Part 3, this part, covers what went so terribly wrong.

Mile 23 of the Chicago Marathon. I'm Not Looking so Happy.

Mile 23 of the Chicago Marathon. I'm Not Looking so Happy.

2011 Chicago Marathon Runkeeper Splits

2011 Chicago Marathon Runkeeper Splits

Shortly after mile 16 I started to feel some burning in my chest. I knew this was not a good sign and recognized it from previous marathons. I knew that the hiccups were coming, and when the hiccups come then often times vomit isn’t far behind.

When I get the hiccups during a marathon they’re progressive. When they start out I can run for short periods. By the end of a race I just want to stop and puke all over the place. This really wasn’t any different. By mile 18 I was struggling to run more than 2 minutes at a time without feeling like I was going to puke. By mile 23 when I saw Kristina around Illinois Tech, our undergrad alma mater I could barely run at all. Luckily, I just happened to have a little bit left in me when I saw Kristina.

It was now 3:37 into the race and I had 3.2 miles left. I had resolved that I wasn’t going to make it under 4 hours. Maybe I could still beat 4:07 if I could run the whole way. However, that wasn’t going happen. The hiccups were become more profound and were now hitting while I was walking. It felt like my entire throat was burning. What has been a great race had gone horribly wrong.

I ended up walking almost the entirety of the next 3.2 miles. I was crushed. Somehow I managed to summon enough strength to ignore my overarching desire to vomit and run the last 200m to the finish line. After a 1:50:13 first half I finished the marathon in 4:20:16. Runkeeper worked okay, but because part of the beginning of the race is on the lower level of streets in Chicago, it lost GPS and said I ran about 28 miles. In reality I probably ran about 27 miles. Any way you slice it, it was a long day.

When I look back it I had three goals for the race:

  1. Run under a 3:45
  2. Run under a 4:00
  3. Not puke, not pee my pants, not poop my pants

Framed through that lens I suppose I didn’t do horrible. Heck, any day in which you don’t poop your pants counts as a good day, right?

2011 Chicago Marathon Official Splits

2011 Chicago Marathon Official Splits

Completely Exhausted at the End of the Marathon

Completely Exhausted at the End of the Marathon

After the race I decided that I should finally look up what causes these hiccups. It turns out that it could be a lot of different things. It could be related to a mild case of ulcerative colitis (it’s okay, insert a poop joke here). However, I haven’t tracked when that’s been giving me problems around the time of marathons. It could be something related to the mixture of the Gatorade Endurance Formula used in marathons. It might just take a while longer for it to hit me. It could be related to me drinking on the run. It’s all very hard to say. Clearly this is something that I should work on debugging more in future runs.

Despite all the bad stuff that happened in the race, I was still able to crack open a smile at the end of the race. It was a wonderfully well organized race, especially given the size. Quite simply it was the most well managed race I have run in. Despite the crowds, it seemed like you should easily be able to PR on the course. However, that was not in the cards for me. Now it’s time to try and figure out what has made me hiccup so badly during four of my seven marathons.

Me and My Wife at the End of the 2011 Chicago Marathon

Me and My Wife at the End of the 2011 Chicago Marathon

Keep Running.


Race Report: 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Part 2)

In Part 1 of my writeup I covered a little bit of getting to Chicago and the Marathon expo. This section covers getting to the marathon and the first 16 or so miles before everything went terribly, terribly wrong.

I woke up about a rather restless night, quickly donned my clothes and made my way to the El for the ride to the Jackson stop on the blue line. I always try to arrive well in advance of the starting time for a race as the lines of porta-potties can be atrocious. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was “Hey, it’s still dark out!”. The second thing I noticed was that you can’t see inside of a porta-potty when it is dark outside.

The marathon started and finished in Grant Park, across from Lake Michigan. This had the nice advantage of allowing me to see something that I had only seen once in the six years I lived in Chicago, sunrise over the lake. It’s a beautiful sight.

Sunrise over Lake Michigan before the start of the Chicago Marathon

Sunrise over Lake Michigan before the start of the Chicago Marathon

Gear check was some of the best that I’ve ever seen at a race. Very well organized system with stalls for each grouping of numbers and enough attendants so there wasn’t a huge line to check your gear (or pick it up after the race). I also felt confident that if it were raining on the day of the marathon my gear would stay dry. Fortunately, the forecast didn’t call for any rain, but it did call for temperatures in the high-70’s or lower 80’s by the end of the race.

By virtue of me running a pretty face half marathon for the Brooklyn Half in May 2011, I scored a spot in seeded corral. I felt like a total poseur being up that far. I knew I was undertrained for this race. I was relieved when I looked around and saw that contrary to the people I saw headed for corral A, most of the people in corral C looked really similar to me. Of course, most of them had probably trained better than me too.

I'm Ready to Go at the Start of the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

I'm Ready to Go at the Start of the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

I’m pretty certain that Chicago has one of the most beautiful starts to any marathon. Yes, Big Sur is beautiful, but the start is kinda in the woods away from the jagged shoreline. Twin Cities and it’s fall colors are beautiful, but you start next to the Metrodome. If you’re like me, when you run NYC you start looking into the lower level of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and hope that people on top don’t pee on you. You start Chicago looking at some of the beautiful skyscrapers that Chicago is known for. From my experiences, there is no comparison.

The Chicago Marathon Starting Line -- Look at those Beautiful Buildings

The Chicago Marathon Starting Line -- Look at those Beautiful Buildings

The course for Chicago begins by heading north from Grant Park into the River North area, back south into the loop, and then up toward Addison. It’s a real treat to run right through the loop as that other US based mega race member of the World Marathon Majors thinks it’s more important to run through the Bronx than down Broadway. I was keeping a pretty constant pace throughout this part of the race even though I wasn’t running with a pace team. My goal was to do 8:30-8:40 miles, which was true for the most part, although there were a few times that I dipped well into the 7’s. None the less I was feeling good

The fan support on the course was really great — no doubt augmented by the CTA running extra trains to transport marathon fans around. My wife managed to see me downtown twice and tried to see me up by Addison but must have missed me. There were also some great bands and sideshows to see — such as the Lady Gaga impersonators from FrontRunners (can I digress and say how awesome FrontRunners is? They’re a great club for running better always are a hugely positive influence regardless of whether you’re a member or not.). Aid and medical stations were simply amazing. They were huge with ample amounts of water and gatorade and probably half the doctors from the Chicagoland area. I was trying to be all manly and drink on the run. This probably was not a great idea.

By mile 11 you’re thundering back into downtown and across the Chicago River a few more times and out to UIC and the United Center. This is clearly the section of the course where the organizers said “Crap, this thing needs to be 26.2 miles, lets throw and out and back somewhere!” Rather than adding something interesting to the course such as a extending it down to Hyde Park, they have us run by the empty parking lots of the United Center. There were sections where the course was completely quiet. No fans. No support in those areas. No runners talking. It was also at one of the most difficult parts of the race, the first half of the second half of the race (around mile 15).

I finally managed to see my wife around mile 16, right by the UIC-Halsted stop on the Blue Line. I wasn’t even looking for her there because we hadn’t planned on meeting there, but I wasn’t complaining. She was a very welcome face to see at that point of the race. I was so excited that apparently I did Jazz hands, that’s something that Ali on the Run would do. I know nothing about dance.

Mile 16 and Going Strong! Wait, am I Doing Jazz Hands?

Mile 16 and Going Strong! Wait, am I Doing Jazz Hands?

Unfortunately, this was kinda the high point of the race. Stuff basically fell off a cliff after this point. A very sharp, very depressing cliff. But I’ll talk about that part 3 of my Chicago Marathon race report.


Race Report: 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Part 1)

It was the best of races,
It was the worst of races,
It was a day of wisdom,
It was a day of foolishness,
It was the marathon of belief,
It was the marathon of incredulity

I don’t think that I’ve had a more bipolar race than the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. How could things go so wonderful and later go so horrible? All within a span of about 45 minutes. With that in mind, this writeup will be two parts. In part 1, which is this part, I’ll cover the events pre-race such as the expo, part 2 covers everything up to about mile 16 of the race. Part 3 covers what happened that caused it to go terribly wrong and what I’m going to do about it.

First, this was my second attempt at running Chicago. Last year, 2010, I registered for the race and partially trained for it before giving up because of my hip injury. That utter failure taught me a valuable lesson, seek medical help earlier rather than later. This year when registration rolled around I was determined not to miss the race again. The timing was near perfect, I’d have 16 solid weeks of training since running Grandma’s Marathon in June. Unfortunately, a miserable August combined with travel (as detailed in my litany of excuses) meant that I was didn’t think was going to tear this up. Nonetheless, I had a plane ticket. My wife had a plane ticket. We had paid for a hotel room. I was going to run this race.

Now, before I get too far, let me say I’m very biased in favor of Chicago. I spent six wonderful years living on the south side of Chicago and I still think it’s one of the greatest cities on earth. Yes, I like it more than New York. So, in the following numerous upcoming locations where I describe how the Chicago Marathon is better than the New York City Marathon, please keep in mind that I’m biased. Also, remember the #1 scent of New York is urine. Okay, enough potty humor until part 2 of writeup.

Getting to the expo was a breeze. Hopped on the El down to the Roosevelt stop and wandered over to a well signed bus stop. A helpful volunteer told us we had 10 minutes until the next bus. This resulted in the second time in my life that I’ve ever walked inside of a Starbucks. I don’t drink coffee, but we did get a muffin. Back outside on the patio of Starbucks the volunteer chatted with various runners about the course and then a greyhound bus approached to shuttle us to McCormick place, which, just a stupidly as the Javitz Center in New York, lacks an real public transit. Fortunately, Chicago provides shuttle bus service rather than making you walk from the nearest train station the day before the race. Points for Chicago! Yay!

Me at the entrance to the Chicago Marathon Expo

Me at the entrance to the Chicago Marathon Expo

Arrived in McCormick Place and quickly found 45 booths handing out bibs. This actually made it really quick. Then the down side, you had to wander through the expo to get your T-Shirt, which was on the other side. Ughh. I love the idea of a marathon expo, but I’m a pretty crappy consumer. Heck, even products I like an support, like Injinji Toe Socks, I’ll look at during the expo and then buy online later. Yeah, I’m a bad marathoner. I missed many of the other interesting things in the expo. Apparently they had a wall with everyone’s name printed on it. I didn’t find my name — mostly because I didn’t know this wall existed until I read a writeup mentioning the wall from another marathoner.

What I thought was kinda interesting about the marathon expo is that there was one booth specifically protesting Bank of America. This wasn’t part of the Occupy Wall Street movements. Instead it was from the Rainforest Action Network and was distributing protest materials about Bank of America’s financial support for a very dirty and deadly coal fired plant on the marathon route. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall on Thursday morning when the expo opened and the title sponsor of the marathon saw the booth.

Rest of the day was non-eventful. Planned on going to Maggiano’s with my wife and a friend from college, but the wait was atrocious. Checked out a nice little Irish pub across the street where I was able to stock up on pasta and a little bit of beer the night before the race. Hopped on the El back out to our hotel and I was in bed by 10pm. Of course, I never sleep well the night before a marathon.

Next up, part 2: the first 16 miles.


Race Report: 2011 Independence Day 10k

Two weeks ago I ran Grandma’s Marathon. I had a great time and unlike previous races, my legs weren’t completely dead after the race. I took the rest of the week off and looked for other opportunities for running. An obvious choice was the Twin Cities in Motion Red, White, and Boom Half Marathon on July 4th in Minneapolis. It sounded like a great idea, but I, however, didn’t quite feel up for paying $55 to run another half marathon. Instead, my wife found a nice little 10k around Lake Harriet on July 2nd, The Independence Day Races.

This is a small event, and I’m not even really sure who organizes it. There were about 300 people total between the 5k and 10k race. I still wasn’t feeling 100% like racing, so I figured this would be a great time to check off one of my 2011 Running Goals and do a race in my Vibrams. Looking around at the starting line, I’m pretty sure I was the only person who made this choice. Apparently Minneapolis isn’t as hip with the minimalist running thing as New York is.

A lap around Lake Harriet is about 3.05 miles, so 5k is a little more than a loop. Because of this 10k runners started first, then the 5k runners assembled at their starting line and took off about 3-4 minutes after the 10k. This meant that at some point during my first lap around the lake I was going to be passed by the lead 5k runners, I can handle that. It was all a question of when.

Being a smaller race this race started off FAST. Unlike previous races around Lake Harriet there was no jostling for position or jumping onto the sidewalk. The 10k runners quickly spread out and by the time that I finally had my phone and keys situated in my SpiBelt about five minutes into the race I was running the clear and no longer needed to worry about dodging runners. Combined with excellent weather, about 72°F but with fairly high humidity, this allowed me to concentrate on my footfalls and running the race I wanted to run. I settled in with a group of three runners doing somewhere around a 7:20 pace.

Around mile 2 one of the runners from the back of the pack came up to me. I took the opportunity to ask if we were going slower or he was going faster. Luckily, he had sped up and I wasn’t loosing much ground. By the time I was about 2.8 miles into the race I started to wonder where the lead 5k runners were. Finally, about 3 miles in the lead 5k runner passed me. He looked to be doing about 6:00/mi.

As I crossed the finish line on the first lap I was a little astonished. About 22:40 for about 3.15 miles. That’s fast. Faster than I’ve done a 5k before. Faster than I wanted to run. Faster than I had ever run in shoes and I was running my Vibrams. Youch.

The second lap was very spread out. Starting about mile 2 there was a little weaving in and out of some large packs of slow 5k walkers, but no big deal. I throttled back my pace some because I didn’t want to kill myself during the run. This caused some of the runners I was around to pass me, but I wasn’t too concerned. I just wanted to run a good race. I wasn’t shooting for a PR.

Well, sometimes stuff just happens. In this case I crossed the finish line at 45:04. Good enough for 14th place out of 133 runners and 3/10 in my age group. No complaints about that. I grabbed my water, scored a freeze pop, and wandered over to watch my wife set a 10k PR for her too.

Pace vs Elevation for the 2011 Independence Day 10k At Lake Harriet

Pace vs Elevation for the 2011 Independence Day 10k At Lake Harriet

Looking at the chart of Pace vs Elevation from RunKeeper you can see that I ended up slowing down as I got further in the race. Normally this isn’t something that I should try to do, but in this case I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I wanted to run a nice fun race and when I realized I was running at a pace that I wasn’t trained for, I decided to throttle it back some. This is also evident in my mile splits.

2011 Independence Day 10k Mile Splits

2011 Independence Day 10k Mile Splits

As usual, ignore my last mile split because I’m often not very good at turning off RunKeeper right away. Such was the case here where I spent some time talking to the girl that I finished with (she was 3rd place female). I’m a little concerned that I might have slowed down too much for mile 6, but now I have something to shoot for. I know I should be able to easily break 45:00 for a 10k. Maybe a stretch goal is in order? How about 43:00 for 10k? That sounds like a challenge I can work toward.

Keep Running.


Race Report: 2011 Grandma’s Marathon (Part 2: The Race)

Back in February I signed up for my two primary marathons this year, Chicago and New York. I was in Minnesota when a friend, KL, mentioned she was going to run Grandma’s Marathon. Being the attention hog that I am I asked if I could go for the stroll along the North Shore with her, and she was cool about it. We agreed to run the race together and set our goal time to be 4 hours even. At the end of April we had a great time running the Get In Gear Half Marathon together but realized that our goal time might have been a bit too aggressive and backed off to 4:10 for a goal time. If you’re keeping score at home and read my post on the Brooklyn Half Marathon you’ll realize that in theory I can probably run something faster. Therefore, the goal of this race wasn’t to run as fast as I can and crash, but to enjoy the scenery, pace KL as long as I could keep up with her, and run a good race.

As usual the night before a race was brutal when it came to sleeping. Although the folks at the Holiday Inn were good enough to basically shut down all public areas at 9pm the night before. Sadly, the silence of the hotel didn’t go into my mind which was running on all sorts of things from worries about the weather to trying to figure out new graph traversal algorithms for my real job. I figure I probably got about five or six hours of solid sleep. Not the best, but certainly better than before Big Sur last year or the Brooklyn Half just a few weeks ago. At 4:45 my alarm went off and did my usual pre-race cleansing ritual, which is to say nothing. No face wash, no deodorant, no shaving. This ensures that I’m extra delicious at the finish of the race. The only change was that I liberally applied body glide — it was raining outside and I figured even if I used a whole stick it would be worth it. It would suck if 600 miles of training were for naught because of chafing.

Hypothermia risk banner at Grandma's Marathon

Yup, a Hypothermia Risk in a June Marathon.

KL met me in the hotel around 5:20am for our bus to the starting line which left promptly at 5:30am. Normally city buses make me want to hurl, but oddly when they’re moving along at 55 miles per hour they’re quite nice. I was surprised to see that we were amongst the first runners to arrive at the starting line. Unlike New York, being first to the starting line means only an hour early, rather than four or five hours early. Fortunately, by the time we arrived most of the rain had stopped and porta potties were plentiful. The race flag was green indicating great conditions for a race — well it was green. After about 20 minutes the flag was changed to white. That’s right, a race on June 18th was run under a white flag indicating the risk of hypothermia.

Ready to Go Before Grandma's Marathon! Look at that Awesome Stubble!

Around 7:10am we made our way toward the sweat check, which was now surrounded by a slow moving mob of people. Luckily, this being Northern Minnesota it was the nicest mob you’ve ever met. When I accidentally walked past the drop for my bib number a guy walking by helpfully pointed out the fact. No complaints there, although it was a little strange dropping my sweats into a trash can to check them. By the time we dropped our sweats the starting mob was taking shape, unfortunately, this meant we were back near the walkers and needed to sneak our way up between the 4:00 and 4:15 pace teams. Here’s where things became a little interesting. Just like my experiences at the Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10M and the Valentine’s Day 5k there was once again no real notice of the starting gun. Maybe I’m just braindead when I do events in Minnesota, but it did remind me of how spoiled I am by the New York Road Runners’ consistently high quality events.

6500 Runners Ready to Go!

We set off at a moderate pace that put us between our two target pace groups. I was surprised by the number of fans early in the race, especially the wonderful fans around mile five in Knife River. I was expecting that the race would be much more like Big Sur, which was essentially barren for the first twenty miles. This was not the case, there was never a point that we were far removed from fans and we saw many fans several times during the race (huge props to the cheerleader chick in the Bemidji State sweatshirt who had amazing energy the four times I saw her along the course).

Somewhere around mile seven we both realized that nature was calling us. Unfortunately, the race was VERY short on restrooms. Luckily, we spied a couple with a very short line between mile nine and ten. This ended up costing us about two minutes, and perhaps more critically meant that we were on our own for pace as the 4:00 pace team was now out of sight. Oh well, at least I didn’t vomit from the stench of the restrooms like I did in New York.

If there was a bonus from losing the pace team it’s that I bumped into an older runner who introduced himself as John. John made the usual small talk asking me what other races I had done. I asked him and he told me that he had run all 35 Grandma’s Marathons and all 29 Twin Cities Marathons, and more than 150 in total. It turns out that John is one of three people who has completed every Grandma’s Marathon and the only one of the three who has also completed every Twin Cities Marathon. This is really remarkable and a huge inspiration. I felt pretty honored to have randomly bumped into him a couple of times during the race.

Somewhere around Mile 16 - We Both Still had Energy to Wave

We maintained a nice solid pace for the next eight or nine miles. The road followed the North Shore of Lake Superior, darting in and out of the woods, in front of homes, and by some small businesses. As we got closer to Duluth the fans became more dense and we started to see the most excellent bootleg rest stations. Lesson learned: Twizzlers are a bad idea. Not only are they more wax than anything else, but they shard in your throat and make it a pain to run while eating them.

Somewhere Around Mile 19 - I'm Holding a GU Packet That I Never Used

Around mile 15 or 16 we spotted my wife for the first time. She’s training for her first long triathlon and we had packed her road bike in the back of the car. As we continued along the path she rode ahead to meet us — well, most of the time. We actually beat her between two points which caused me to bellow “We’re beating you!” and got a few laughs from the crowd and other runners. I think this also made it apparent to many of the very tired runners around me that I still had way too much energy left relative to other runners.

Between mile 21 and 22 the 4:15 pace group was catching up to us. When KL and I discussed our pace we agreed that we’d go for a 4:14:36, as that would ensure a PR for me. At this point KL was still making good progress, but I think my energy was starting to annoy her and she told me to go away. I feel a little like an ass for abandoning my running partner, but I don’t think I could handle it if I didn’t manage below a 4:14 when I know I’m capable of it.

I was able to crank off the last four or five miles at a much faster pace than the runners around me. Somewhere around 8 minute miles. I had some fantasies about finishing under 4 hours, but I knew this wasn’t going to happen when I saw the gun clock hit 4:00 as I passed it at mile 25.

Look at Me Berating the Crowd for not Having Enough Energy at the Finish Line

The last mile of the marathon was incredibly painful. This wasn’t because I was tired, to the contrary I was feeling really good, but because the road twisted and turned as it made its way through Canal Park. Around each turn I thought we’d find the finish, but it never seemed to appear. Finally, the crowds grew and I knew I was near the finish. An arch of balloons popped into my view. Finish.

The crowd was much more dense than I expected as I approached the finish. But sadly, they didn’t seem all that excited. I was able to summon some energy in the final sprint to raise my hands and berate the crowd for not cheering. I apologize if I offended anyone, but come on, finishing a marathon is a big deal. Your cheering makes us go faster. Please cheer us on instead of staring into your smart phones. I was able to thunder through the finish line, go get my bags and meet my wonderful wife.

Pace and Elevation For Grandma's Marathon - The Spike Around Mile 17 is a Glitch

While waiting in line for my gear, which seemed like the slowest and coldest line in the history of man, I was able to check my mile splits. For the first time I was happy. I hadn’t realized it before, but up until this race I had never actually run a whole marathon. There’s a few anomalies in my splits — where we stopped to go to the bathroom and some weird stuff around mile 17, but over all we maintained a fairly steady pace and once I left KL I was able to really turn on the jets and finish strong.

Splits for Grandma's Marathon

By far the worst part of the marathon came at the end. This wasn’t because I was dead tired, but more because I get cold at the end of a marathon, and it was already a cold day. To make matters worse the spot to meet family was up on the berm that separated the finish area in Canal Park from Lake Superior. The wind coming off the lake was absolutely frigid. We quickly found a nice person to get a picture of me and my wife and then I donned my sweats, got my free ice cream and beer, and high tailed it back to the hotel. I knew I had PR’d and for the first time I had run an entire marathon.

Me and my Wife After the Marathon. It was FRIGIDLY COLD.

When the official results were available I was very pleased, a 4:07:43. Considering we stopped for 2:50 to use the restroom, I’m very happy with this result and can tell myself I did a 4:05ish. Also, I aid the day before that I wanted to finish around 4:10. KL, who I left behind around mile 22 also managed to run the entire way and rolled through around 4:16. Both of us were under the median time for the finishers and above a 50% for our age gender times (me 50%, KL 52%). Considering how bad NYC and Twin Cities were in 2009, you’ll hear no complaints here.

Official Time: 4:07:43 - a New PR

This is the first time that I’ve actually felt good after a marathon. Normally I go through these weird emotional roller coasters at the end. Not so this time. It probably helps that KL was next to me until mile 22 to keep me from going crazy. After a shower back at the hotel and an hour long nap I was good to go. My legs were a little sore, but in general I felt fine. Stairs didn’t hurt. I felt like I could run another marathon the next day. Instead, I’m resting this week and mentally prepping myself for Chicago. It’s going to be awesome.

Keep running.

Bib and Medal from Grandma's Marathon - Memoirs of a Great Race


Race Report: 2011 Grandma’s Marathon (Part 1: The Course)

I have a lot to say about Grandma’s Marathon, so this is broken into two parts. In part 1 I cover my perception of the course, expo, and other elements that shouldn’t change much from year to year. In part 2 I describe my performance in the marathon.

As a native Minnesotan I’ve taken some pride in the fact that my state is home to two of biggest and best marathons in the United States – the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon (8197 finishers in 2010) and Grandma’s Marathon (5611 finishers in 2010). Clearly these numbers aren’t anywhere close to the experience of running Chicago or New York, but when you consider the size of Minnesota, and especially the size of Duluth, it’s pretty remarkable. What’s more remarkable is that this was the 35th running of Grandma’s Marathon. Going in I figured it was a safe bet that they had running this event down to a science, for the most part they do.

First stop after a drive up I-35 plagued with road construction was the expo. I have to be honest, I didn’t expect much from the expo, but was very surprised. The first thing that hit me, the ENORMOUS cavern used for the pasta dinner. Walking past this hit the actual expo which was phenomenal for the size race. Lots of local events and stores along with a smattering of national events too. If you forgot anything for the marathon you could certainly get it there at pretty reasonable prices. Although, as seems to be the norm, the deals for the women seemed to be much better than the deals for men. Picking up marathon swag bag was breeze too. No complaints about the expo at all.

Transportation to the starting line and back from the finish line was provided by Grandma’s Marathon. Starting line transportation is a necessity as the race starts in the parking lot of the Ford dealer outside of Two Harbors. For most people running the full marathon transportation was provided from their hotels by city buses. I was dreading this at first, I had flashbacks to slow-moving buses in the dark on the way to Big Sur and I also often get nauseated on city buses. Surprisingly, cruising down a straight road at 55 miles per hour with no stops makes a city bus pretty nice transportation. However, starting in 2009 they added a unique form of transportation. About 650 runners each year can take the train from the DECC to the stating line. The train is slower than buses, but it’s got some ambiance to it that a city bus just doesn’t. Sadly, taking the train requires you to arrive at the DECC really early. There was a bus stop at my hotel, so I just took that. This allowed me to see that by the time the train arrived most buses had already arrived. The prime locations to wait were occupied and the bathroom lines were quite long. For those who weren’t staying in downtown Duluth the marathon also provided transportation back after completion — it’s one of those really nice things that they didn’t have to do but certainly reflected the whole Minnesota Nice of Duluth.

The actual course is pretty straightforward. For the most part it is a jaunt down Old Highway 61 from Two Harbors, MN to Duluth, MN, ending at the original namesake sponsor, Grandma’s Restaurant. Over the course of the 26.2 miles the course loses about 130 feet. There are a few hills, enough to keep it interesting, but none are really substantial. Lemon Drop Hill, around mile 22 inside the city limits of Duluth is probably the biggest challenge, but it’s pretty short and comparable to going over the Queensboro bridge in NYC, the Birmingham Bridge in Pittsburgh, or some of the smaller hills at the end of Big Sur.

Grandma's Marathon Course Map and Elevation

Aside from a small U-turn at the end Grandma's Marathon is a straight point-to-point course

After about 18 miles of scenic running down old Highway 61 the course finally enters Duluth, first in a pleasant residential area. This was a great spot to run because of all of the families and drunk UMD students cheering the runners on and offering beer (if it had been mile 25 I would have taken some). While it wasn’t Manhattan or Park Slope in terms of fan density, it was certainly a huge motivating factor. The locals really do seem to love the event. After about three miles in residential neighborhoods you hit Lemon Drop Hill which takes you into downtown Duluth. Some of the bars had really great cheering sections set up — although whatever bar had the fenced off area serving booze needs to use some cattle prods to liven up those fans.

Downtown Duluth was interesting to run through. Good support throughout the run, but the brick roads and the condition of some of the bricks made things a little difficult. When wet the bricks can be a little slippery and man of the bricks had broken corners which required you watch where your feet fell. At mile 25 the race hangs a left, goes over I-35 and heads toward the DECC and the finish line.

The last mile was the absolute worst part of the race. Not so much because it was the last mile, more because it follows a curvy road around Canal Park. If you don’t know where the race ends you think that it’s going to end at the next curve at least four or five times. You really have no idea. After what seems like a 3 mile run for the last mile the race finishes with excellent support and thousands of fans right by Grandma’s Restaurant in Canal Park. It’s great to know that even though Grandma’s isn’t the primary sponsor of the race anymore, they still get the name and the race still ends there — a wonderful touch of history and respect for a great marathon.

This isn’t to say that everything was awesome about the weekend. Duluth has a population of about 86,000 people. With 6400 people running the marathon and 6000 people running the half marathon, this was a strained city. Putting things in another perspective, if we kept the ratio of runners to citizens constant then the New York Road Runners would need to handle 640,000 people in the New York City Marathon. Even New York would have problems with traffic and hotel rooms if that many people were in a single event. Indeed, it seems as though every hotel within 20-30 miles of Duluth was booked full well in advance. Most hotels were charging the rack rate and required a 2-3 night stay, making this a very expensive marathon. The savvy pros realize you can get a room a UMD or UW Superior for significantly cheaper. Something to consider for next time.

There were two other downsides surrounding logistics. The first was restrooms during the course. Although there were plenty of portapotties at the start during the race there were very few. Every couple of miles we stumbled upon a pair of portapotties — often with a very long line. Most men took advantage of the wooded course and left the portapotties for the ladies in the race. Adding even an additional portapotty at each cluster could REALLY help out. The other issue was at the end of the race, getting checked bags was a bit of an ordeal, and being as it was very cold during the race, this forced runners to backtrack to get food after waiting in line to get their sweats back. Not a huge problem, but given the 48°F high on race day, this was really cold.

Is there a chance I’ll do Grandma’s again? Absolutely. It’s a great race with wonderful scenery that is masterfully run with great fans and great support. Except this time I’ll make sure to book my room and transportation early.

Keep running.


It’s all about the rhythm

No blog post for the last couple of weekends because I didn’t have a race to write about. Memorial day weekend was the peak of my training for Grandma’s Marathon where I did 24, 11, and 9 miles over the three day weekend. Sadly, I had to get up incredibly early on Tuesday morning to catch a flight back to rather warm and humid New York, and that’s where stuff started to go downhill.

I fly often enough that I have no problem sleeping on planes. Put me on a plane at any time of day and I can nearly guarantee that I can fall asleep. Often times it’s a little like magic, I board the plane early, side down by the window, and just fall asleep — completely missing the announcements, takeoff, and landing. Air travel truly is some sort of magic teleportation device for me. Unfortunately, this is never “quality” sleep. No matter how much I sleep on a plane I’m still tired. Such was the case on Tuesday. Get into New York around 11am and drive to work and stick around there until 7pm. Drive home and go out for a planned eight mile run up to Valhalla and back. No problem. Ughh. About two miles in I was sore and felt like I was dying. Time to turn around and walk the two miles home. No reason to be stupid and hurt myself during my taper.

Wednesday and Thursday are usually running days too. Not last week. Work calls, and this week it meant busting my ass (and that of my co-author) to get a CSCW 2012 paper out the door. Sadly, this meant 18 hour work days on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I felt enough like I was going to puke without the bonus of going for a run.

Which brought me to Saturday. A medium distance run of about 12 miles was the plan. No problem, right? It was good weather, I was reasonably hydrated. I felt good. Unfortunately, my old bones hurt like hell doing it. I tried to tell my body that it had only been out of commission for three days, but it wasn’t going to listen. I finished the run at about my marathon pace, but I worked my ass off to do it. Sunday wasn’t much better.

Tomorrow is supposed to be rest. It’s under two weeks to Grandma’s Marathon. Right now I feel like I just need to get a decent run under my belt. Loosing your rhythm two weeks before the Marathon is not such a wonderful thing.

Until next time, keep running.


Race Report: 2011 NYRR Brooklyn Half Marathon

Throughout the year the New York Road Runners hold a series of six half marathons (seven if you’re a lady) — The NYRR Half Marathon Series consisting of the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island Half Marathons, Grete’s Great Gallop in Central Park, and the More Half Marathon also in Central Park (I don’t include the NYC Half Marathon because so few local runners get a chance to run it). In my mind the Half Marathon Series is better than the other two and the king of the Half Marathon Series is the Brooklyn Half Marathon (there’s a NYC pun in there…). Manhattan takes place in January, so you might freeze. Bronx and Queens are in the summer, so you’re probably going to bake. There could be good weather for Staten Island, but honestly, I’ve never really wanted to go there. The Brooklyn Half held in May is at an ideal time on a good course — twice around Prospect Park then down Ocean Parkway to the Coney Island Boardwalk. Sounds exciting, right? It is!

Unfortunately, there are some crappy aspects of this. First, it’s in Brooklyn, which even on good days mean that it’s going to take two hours of trains to make it there. However, even worse, the race started at 7am and baggage cutoff was supposed to be around 6:20am (in reality it was 6:40am). This meant I either needed to crash on a friends couch in the city and get up at 4am to make it to the race in time, or suck it up and get up at 3:30am and drive to Coney Island, park there, and take the subway to Prospect Park. It gets even better with the F train not running, which meant it was the day for a Q train. Ughh.

Nonetheless after going to bed at 10:30 last night I woke up a little past 3am ready to get in my car and drive the hour plus to Coney Island. I really don’t like driving and don’t consider myself to be good at it. I’m pretty sure the 45 miles from here to Coney Island is the furthest I’ve driven in the NYC area in almost a year. The fog had started to move in by the time that I arrived at Coney Island giving a bit of a surreal feel with the little bit of neon on at 5am. By the time I arrived in Prospect Park 5:45am the sun was starting peek through and there were signs that the fog would be gone soon.

Prospect Park Lake Shortly Before the Race

Prospect Park Lake Shortly Before the Race

The route seemed pretty straight-forward. Twice around the park, including the hill on the north side of the park, then a long straight run to a finish on the boardwalk. I had told myself that my goal was going to be 8 minute miles. As usual, I had no idea how fast I did my first mile because it was a little bit more than a minute before I crossed the starting line. The clock was somewhere around 9:15. For the rest of the race I would spend each mile thinking through what my next mile would have to end at to make me have an 8 minute mile. I failed for the next twelve mile markers. There were a few times, such as when I came out of the park toward Mile 8 when I thought I had it, but then I realized I was actually closer to a seven minute mile.

This race was made of three different parts. First was the two loops around Prospect Park, which was very enjoyable. I love running in Prospect Park, it has nice hills to keep it more interesting, beautiful scenery, is quiet, and, perhaps most importantly, lacks the mobs of tourists wandering about. Although the hills make me slower, I can tell that living at the top of a large hill has dramatically improved my hill running and made it significantly less painful. The second part was a straight shot for five miles down Ocean Parkway. While it seems like this would be a great chance to get to know Brooklyn, it’s not like the NYC marathon. The side roads along Ocean Parkway provide a strong buffer from the communities you run through. Also, running on a nearly perfectly straight road for five miles is horribly boring. Especially when it’s so wide and isolated as Ocean Parkway. Finally, we turned onto Surf Avenue and quickly headed over to the Coney Island Boardwalk.

I had thought the boardwalk would be this wonderful place to finish a race, and from a scenic point of view it was a simply wonderful place to end a race. But from a footing point of view it was a nightmare. The way the boardwalk gave inconsistently and how some boards were incredibly loose or had enormous screws sticking out. As it had been raining for most of the past week in New York the boardwalk was still moist in some spots which made for horrible traction. A great spot to end a race, but let’s face it, if you’re going to run a lot on a boardwalk you’re not aiming to set a PR for that span.

The Awesome Finish Line for the Brooklyn Half

The Awesome Finish Line for the Brooklyn Half

As I wrote earlier, I was originally aiming for 8 minute miles. This would put me slightly slower than my PR set at the 2010 NYC Half Marathon, but still very respectable. I realized after about four miles that I was on a PR pace and not only that I didn’t feel like I was running really hard. I’m certain I could have run harder, but hey, it’s supposed to be an off week.

Pace and Elevation for the Brooklyn Half Marathon

Pace and Elevation for the Brooklyn Half Marathon

Brooklyn Half Marathon Splits

Brooklyn Half Marathon Splits

That’s right, not a single mile was at my goal pace. This is exciting on some levels, but also horribly disappointing. It means that I’m far too stupid to properly set and run a pace. On the bright side, I felt just fine at the end of the race. I had the usual case of no appetite after a race and was tired, but that was much more because of getting up at that god-forsaken hour this morning. When I crossed the finish line, just like last week, my clock time was better than PR. So the question was by how much?

2011 Brooklyn Half Marathon Results

2011 Brooklyn Half Marathon Results

I wish I had known that I was so close to breaking 1:40. I’m certain that I could have kicked in a bit more over the last few miles and broken it. None the less, I am extremely pleased with my time and it portends well for running a good race in Chicago this fall.

Keep Running.

Recent Tweets

Error: Please make sure the Twitter account is public.

Marathon Times

2011 NYC Marathon3:57:45
2011 Hartford Marathon3:58:17
2011 Chicago Marathon4:20:16
2011 Grandma's Marathon4:07:43
2010 Big Sur International Marathon4:22:49
2009 NYC Marathon4:37:05
2009 Twin Cities Marathon4:43:28
2009 Pittsburgh Marathon4:14:38
2008 Erie Marathon5:11:40

Upcoming Races

  • Nov 6 - New York City Marathon, New York, NY
For previous races, check out my Race Log