Sunday, August 23, 2015

Day 3,157: Hotlanta Half Marathon, a.k.a. "The Rainfest"

I'm thinking of taking this in to get sharpened and giving it a future life as a pizza cutter.
I'm no enemy of the rain. In fact, some of my best running moments happened in the Pacific Northwest where I loved to train in the rain to give me that extra edge come rainy race day.

It's just ... wow, really?

Today marked my 25th half marathon, the Hotlanta Half Marathon that started (dry) and finished (very wet) downtown. Overall, it was a pretty wonderful race, with sights that I remember including Turner Field, the Eastside Beltline Trail, Piedmont Park, Georgia Tech and Centennial Olympic Park.

It happened to be the rainiest race that I've run in Georgia, putting the December 2013 Inman Frosty 5K to shame. Despite this, I ran my third fastest time (1:47:46) of 25 half marathons that I've done and this is the second fastest half that I've done in Georgia. It sadly was 1 minute, 16 seconds off of the 17-year-old PR I'd hoped to break today.

Coming into this race I didn't know what to expect. My speed has been the best it's been all my life, with a recent PR in the Vinings Downhill 5K and only a few seconds off my best time in this year's Peachtree Road Race.

But I knew that running all those races would take a toll on my half marathon training schedule -- I'd be too sore to do long runs after a quad-busting 5K race.

I decided that I would look at this race as a 13.1-mile tempo run, with the goal of keeping my pace at 8:04/minute mile as long as possible.

When the race started, I saw the 1:45 pace group up ahead and thought that I would try to keep it in sights, no more than 10 seconds slower than it. But the first mile went up the long hill that runs alongside Centennial Olympic Park and soon that pace flag was no longer in sight.

I also thought to myself to pay particular attention to the first six miles that included plenty of rolling hills up to the start of the Eastside Beltline Trail. Here, I knew that the trail's 1.9 miles of downhill could give me a breather if I needed it. But it turned out the Beltline was the start of the rain for my race.

I plugged along the Beltline and then up 10th Street for Mile 9. Mile 10 involved running inside Piedmont Park, along the very stretch of pavement that I use for my interval training and while it gave me a nice psychological boost, I logged one of my slowest miles (8:26) of the race in this pretty flat surface.

I thought the next mile would give me the most trouble because of the 12th Street hill but after seeing so many hills it really wasn't much worse than any other hill we encountered on the course.

By this time the rain was in full effect and there was no attempt on my part to keep from getting wet. When I rounded the corner onto 5th Street toward Georgia Tech I thought to myself "This could be a $600 race," since my cell phone was in a fanny pack pocket and not protected from the rain because it hadn't even occurred to me it would rain. (In last December's Honolulu Marathon I at least put my phone in a Ziploc bag before running).

In Georgia Tech, the water was deep enough that if you made the mistake I did you would get right in it and it would slow you down. A younger runner near me at this point said she worried about what was in the brown streaks that flowed with the water all over the road. At one point near the finish it did smell pretty awful.

When I came out onto North Avenue near Bobby Dodd Stadium, I thought we would go straight toward the park but no, we had to turn up it as in the end of the Publix Georgia Half Marathon course and I didn't feel too happy about this. Then we turned left at the top of the hill and before passing the Georgia Aquarium there was another pretty big hill to conquer.

I'd been wearing my cep compression sleeves over my calves and they felt pretty good and my calves did not cramp (I felt a tinge on the very last turn to the finish as I started to kick) during the race. Completely soaked, I gave myself a good kick down to the finish and happily gathered my pizza cutting instrument, er medal.

I was happy to see they had water coolers with nuun flavors of all kinds after the race. I must have gone back four times for the lemon-lime that I've become accustomed to drinking after my daily workouts.

Hydration/fueling: The rain created a different hydration sequence for me. I kept putting off drinking water but eventually did near Mile 6. At Mile 7 I ate one of those frozen energy popsicles and it really was pretty nice so I ended up not using either of the 2 GU gels that I brought in the race. I drank water again at Mile 10 and 11 to fill out the race.

Shoes: I decided to not wear my Saucony Type A6s for this race because of the pounding and had put on my Skechers Go Run 3s. But those shoes were chafing a spot where I developed a blister while walking the littlest one in a stroller the other day so at the last moment I put on my Saucony Iso Zealots. They are my main go-to trainer and are heavier than my other shoes but they were perfect for this kind of weather.

Time: 7 a.m.
Temp: 72 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Asics blue), shorts, cep compression sleeves, Saucony Iso Zealot.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Day 3,155: My box of nuun, reviewed

You get 3 flavors in nuun's 63-count box. These are my favorites, from left to right.
After this morning's easy 6-mile run I finished the last of the 63-count nuun box that I bought from Costco at the end of May. The deal -- 63 tablets for $16.99, shipping included -- is still available until Sunday.

When I got the box, the only nuun flavor I'd tasted was grape, which I purchased in a 12-pack tube from Big Peach Running Co. in Decatur prior to running in last year's Honolulu Marathon. This box had different flavors -- lemon lime, strawberry lemonade and tri-berry.

Lemon lime turned out to be my favorite and the others grew on me as I tried to make lemon lime last as long as possible.

What was great was that I found myself drinking (nuun) water more, and I bought a reusable 16-ounce water bottle for that purpose.

Gone were the days that I would have to haul packs of Gatorade from Costco in the summer and have to drink a product that I considered heavy and something that I would not normally drink if I weren't running on hot days.

I found the nuun tablets to be light and pretty refreshing. They have great portability for travel -- I brought a single tablet with me to Oregon last week and drank it after running in the Bowerman 5K.

Perhaps in the future I'll try new flavors but I'm glad this deal was available to get me through the dog days of summer (and beyond).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Day 3,153: A free 5K in Atlanta

Even though I went to the West Coast for a weekend, my sleep schedule is still not right -- I go to bed really early and wake up and, well, here I am. I miss already the lower humidity (it was only 38 percent in Portland on Saturday when I ran in the Beaverton AC 5K).

I've only done light running this week, my main excuse is that I'm resting up for Sunday's Hotlanta Half Marathon. I haven't run a half since March 2014 when I ran in the Publix Georgia Half Marathon. My training hasn't been perfect but I'm going into the race with a lot of confidence since I've posted my fastest year of race times for shorter distances.

Anyway, a few days ago I saw an email from the Rock'n'roll race series about a free 5K race that will be held downtown on Sunday, Sept. 13. The Humana Atlanta 5K is touted as a tuneup for the Rock'n'roll marathon series. I signed up since 1). it's free and 2). why not? It's a no T-shirt race but I imagine the cost to put on something like this is not zero since the race will be on streets downtown.

The only drawback would be running a 5K race that day would take away an easy 10 mile run I have on schedule for the 13.1 Atlanta half on Oct. 4. And subsequent runs on schedule if I get too sore because of pushing myself like I usually do during the race.

The other neat thing was that this week I got in the mail my Team Beef race reimbursement for the Vinings Downhill 5K. It's neat that it really works and I'm glad to support a local campaign.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Day 3,149: A 5K at Nike's world campus!

On the running trail at Nike's world campus, you don't cross streets. You go over them.
BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Whenever I go on a trip I like to check to see if there's a race being held. It's definitely a fun way to spend part of your vacation and even win an award sometimes.

The other day I came across a article titled "7-Must Do Races in the United States," saying the Bowerman 5k is one of the "few opportunities for runners to explore inside the gates of Nike's world headquarters."

Really? Well I had to check this out.

So I looked into it -- it looked like your average community race -- and signed up. Race weekend came and I found myself looking forward to this event in the Portland suburbs even though I had other activities planned that day -- including a daunting 7 hours in the car from Portland to Seattle and back. Plus I'd just PR'd the weekend before at the Vinings Downhill 5K.

Would I be up to it? Would my legs have any life? Plus the race was being held at a unique time for me -- 7 p.m., which translated into my Eastern Time Zone body, would be 10 p.m., usually the time I'm going to bed.

Luckily the I-5 traffic in between Portland and Seattle was kind and I got back to my hotel at a quarter until six, a little more than an hour before the race. I changed into my running gear (which I carried with me all day in case I got delayed and needed to change right then and there at Nike) and then made the quick drive over.

I entered at the designated spot, under a large white gate with the famous swoosh logo (it turns out these gates also dual function as overpasses for the Nike running trail, as in the picture above). and then made my way along a nicely forested curve of road until I found a parking space.

But it was the wrong one. A full-fledged soccer field was in between where I was and was supposed to be. So I drove around to that spot. Signs pointed me toward a cluster of modern and possibly futuristic buildings to a patio area on a pond that overlooks another part of the forest (the running trail goes by this pond so you can admire people blazing by on the wood-chips).

It sort of reminded me of being inside the Citadel in Mass Effect, or the place where you'd expect the Star Trek: TNG away team being beamed down in an old episode.

Anyway, races are races and I found myself at the back of a really long line for packet pickup. A lot of people wore the neon yellow shirts of last year's Bowerman AC 5K and many people were decked out in the company town gear (Nike shoes, shirts, etc.).

They had a DJ blasting out music near the lake. At one point they were playing the instrumental version of Young Jeezy's "Put On," which at one time was the intro to Hawks games at Philips Arena. While people mingled I looked over the lake, silently thinking the chorus ("I put on for my city, on for my city...") If that wasn't a sign, I don't know what is.

Once I got my bib and my neon blue T-shirt (for this year's race), I decided to stash what I didn't need in the car and make my way along the running trail (that typically is only for employees) to the start line.

Consider yourself warned: Runners ahead.
Seeing -- and plodding along -- the running trail reminded me of when Crash Davis talked about The Show in Bull Durham. Here, the trail was nicely padded with generous amounts of wood chips and even had at one point a statue of someone running along side it. Later on, after the race when I was leaving, I even noticed the trail had lots of little lights along it so you could run in the dark if you wanted to.

I made my way to the start line, which was just near the entrance afforded to us runners, and felt something I haven't felt in a long time -- intimidated. There were lots of fast looking runners in all kinds of gear. Many wore ultramarathon shirts and I was even jealous to see the technical shirts of runners who'd participated in the Hood to Coast relay (when I did it in 2000, cotton T's were the norm).

All I was wearing was a hodgepodge of gear that I travel with after losing a few prized race shirts on trips to Australia and New York -- my May the Fourth (Miler) Be With You shirt, which is a cool-looking charcoal grey but has the entire text of one of the race website pages plastered over the front of it. I wore a very worn-out looking pair of cobalt blue Nike shorts that I cannot wear here in Atlanta in the summer because of the humidity.

The only thing I brought with me that was part of my starting kit was my secret weapon, my Saucony Type A6 racing flats.

After seeing all these fast-looking runners, I told myself -- no need to worry, just do your best and have fun. You PR'd the week before and you have nothing to prove.

When the race gun started, I knew to expect a fast pace. And it really was. The thing that amazed me were the numbers of people who did not look like elite runners keeping up with it. I looked down at my watch at one point and it said 6:40/mile. Surely this would be untenable for some of these people. But I continued on.

After the first mile the race spills out of the world campus and into a wooded area that is a continuation of the running trail. But this surface was not wood chips, it was that smooth gravel stuff that I knew very well when I was 16 and running with the most basic of Nike trainers on a duo-exercise track called the Parcourse in Winston-Salem.

My racing flats had never touched this stuff. Suffice to say I don't know if they were meant for this slippery material. But I don't know if any shoe was. I decided to keep up with some pre-teen kids that were really killing it in the woods.

One of the kids came up on this trail, maybe 10 feet wide, on a guy who looked like he was in his 20s, really trying to burn it down (too much at this point?) and kind of moving back and forth on the trail from side to side like he was trying to prevent the little kid from passing him. That's what it looked like to me. The kid squirmed by and I told myself that we were going to have some words if his elbows touched me. I'd always heard about this kind of thing in cross country meets among school kids but had never experienced it.

Thankfully I was able to pass him. I kept up my pace, which was pretty much effortless. I told myself to just continue running, this was for fun. I imagined myself as one of the old Star Wars spacecraft -- like the aging A-wing fighter if you will, being led by, well, I don't know what you would call them in the Star Wars universe, young kids flying ... podracers?

Anyway, the two kids were pushing forward. I caught up with one of them and passed him. Right before we got out of the forest, the Mile 2 sign popped up and then I saw something incredible and unexpected -- two guys passed us from either side at the same time with a miler's kick. It looked like to me, still in analogy mode, as if X-wing fighters were starting their attack run.

Right before leaving the forest, and maybe now with .6 of a mile left, the kid I passed caught up to me, which was a relief, because he really was my fighter escort. We crossed the street, entered the campus again and was making our last turn before the finish, maybe .3 mile to go. The kid and another one entered the curve single file and I strode in behind him. I wasn't sure where I wanted to kick, if at all.

We passed Mile 3 and the kid really surged his kick. I did too, but nothing that fast. I crossed the finish line and then looked down at my watch: 21:20:83, basically two or three seconds off the PR I made last week on a downhill course.

My race time was good enough for 150th place out of 570 people. I was 15th in my age group (the Master's winner for the race, for example, is the current U.S. Master's 5K Champion and he dialed up a 14:59 race time).

I went back to the car and changed out of my tight racing flats for a pair of more comfy (and more rebellious?) Skechers Go Run 3s for the award ceremony and raffle of Nike gear, which included backpacks Nike gave to elite runners for the Hood to Coast relay. They had a cash bar and even healthy food like burrito wraps available to purchase. A little more than what you'd expect for your average Saturday evening race.

I stood on the patio and watched a trio of runners go by on the trail across the pond. In hindsight I should have taken a lap around myself for cooldown but didn't do so. I was elated. I'd never run under 22 minutes until this year and now I've done it four times.

I also felt like I earned this. It was a nice feeling to have.

Time: 7 p.m.
Temp: 79-80 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (May the Fourth (Miler) Be With You), shorts, Saucony Type A6.

A little blurry but even my Garmin knows where we are!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Day 3,142: Vinings Downhill 5K (PR)

It's been a month since I ran in my last race, the Peachtree Road Race. Today's race involved participating in the Vinings Downhill 5K in the hopes of setting another PR. It's a popular race because it is mainly downhill:

I also thought the race's popularity as a Peachtree 10K qualifier also would make it good to don the Team Beef shirt to spread the word about the Georgia Beef Board. One older volunteer said, "Team Beef -- that's my favorite shirt" as I walked by. Another group of runners explained to each other the race reimbursement benefits of Team Beef.

Anyway, when the race started it was a little congested but the downslope was so steep it was hard for everyone not to be running fast. Early on my watch recorded that I was running at a 6:05/minute pace. I basically went into this thinking that I would just try to hold on for dear life.

One thing about this race is that the 8 a.m. start was a little later than I'm used to running -- many times I'm out of the shower by the time 8 a.m. rolls around. The sun was up and very direct, almost oppressive.

In the first mile there's a hill that would be pretty brutal in any 5K but after that, as the announcer said, it was all downhill. My splits were 6:27/6:58/6:46, the first time that I've run sub-7 minute miles the entire race.

I finished with a PR of 21:19, which is just 8 seconds better than my non-official PR that I did in the May 30 Kettle Krush in Piedmont Park. (Edit: My race time was 21:18:34!) This race is USAT&F certified, and the other is not, so it is a real PR that I can use as a Peachtree qualifying time. (Incidentally before this race I researched the difference in times of the Master's winner in the Kettle Krush and even he only knocked off 20 seconds in last year's Downhill 5K, so I knew not to expect too much).

But it was nice. I loved the fact the early bird price for this race was only $25, which is what I'd ideally like to pay for a 5K but a rarity today. The race was well organized and it didn't take too long to get in and out of the parking deck. I would definitely do it again.

Time: 8 a.m.
Temp: 73 degrees (89 percent humidity)
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Team BEEF), shorts, Saucony Type A6.