Saturday, December 31, 2016

Day 3,653: Consecutive day streak, 10 years

My second Masters win, this time at the Stamp Out Poverty 5K.
I haven't run in a 5K race since the Fast Track 5K in May. But with a new year of races ahead, particularly a few that I really enjoyed last year, I wanted to have a baseline race to kick off my training.

So I chose the Stamp Out Poverty 5K today in Grant Park. It looked to be a small race, but one that was USATF-certified although it really wouldn't matter what my time was in it.

It also was nice to pick a race for the final day of my 10th year of my daily running streak.

I drove up 40 minutes before the 10 a.m. start. The race didn't start on time, however, because it turned out one of the gates in the park along the race course was still locked and no one had the key.

So the race director made a quick change to the course, promising he would have it re-certified by Monday.

When the race started we all took off, following the director's black SUV through the park's roads. I was about 6th from the head of the pack and it was apparent that my 6:50/mile pace was too much. We took the first uphill turn after a quarter-mile and I felt shaky, not a good sign.

The course took us to the large three-tiered parking lot in the park. We were to run up the highest tier closest to Boulevard and then turn where the parking lot is bisected by an accessway then curve down to the second tier, then curve down to the lowest tier, where we would run the length of the lot along the bottom and then back up to the middle tier and then back toward the park.

Confusing, huh?

What this meant was the lead pack knew what was expected but everyone else didn't. When we were running along the bottom, people in the middle of the pack were pouring down from the top tier to the bottom and then turning back into the park.

And then when we were running along the middle tier, we had to cross the main flow of traffic that now was pouring down to the bottom tier. It was interesting, to say the least, to time the speed of your run, running at full bore, to miss people running slower than you but crossing your path.

The first two runners were now out of sight when I entered the park. I was about 30 seconds behind two other guys and I felt like maybe we wouldn't end up running the full 3.1 miles but at least if I tried to keep up with them I would place somehow.

When we entered the park from the parking lot, I was shocked to learn that there were plenty of runners ahead of us who were running in the same direction. I think these runners were the ones who ran to the bottom tier of the parking lot and then back into the park instead of running along the bottom perimeter of the lot and back.

It worried me a little bit, since now I thought I would have to race these runners, who started out behind me, to place at all in the race.

I worked my way to pass people and then we ran up to the locked gate and turned around, going back up the hill from the first turn of the race, making our way back near the parking lot, running around a large tree right before the asphalt started and then making our way back down to the finish.

On the way back down, I could hear loud clip-clopping. I was hoping this was the female in her 20s who was just behind me as I approached the turnaround tree. But it was a pretty tall European guy. He passed me and proceeded back down the hill.

But when we reached the bottom, he turned right -- back towards the locked gate, instead of the finish. Everyone was yelling at him to go the other way. After a second, he finally did turn around.

At this point, I started running as fast as I could to try to reach the finish before he could. But even with what my watch said was a 6:16/mile kick, he caught up with me and finished about four seconds ahead of me. (It turned out he placed first in his age group but under 30 years old).

I made sure I finished strong to keep anyone else from finishing ahead of me. I waited around for the awards and it turned out I was the first Masters male, even despite my finish time of 23:34, which means I have a bunch of work to do this season.

I started with a 7:14 first mile, then slowed to 7:41 for my second and third miles. The course was a little hilly but I know I'm capable of running faster.

Still, it was a nice way to end 10 years of running every day. I ran 1,818.61 miles this year and have run 14,157.12 miles for the streak!

Time: 10:14 a.m.
Temp: 41 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, long (Atlanta 10-Miler 2013), Technical T-shirt, short (Rock'n'Roll Chicago Half Marathon 2010), shorts, Brooks Pure Connect 4.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Day 3,643: The 500th Mile (Saucony Zealot ISO 2)

A pair of Saucony Zealot ISO 2s with 500 miles on them.
One of the things I love about running shoes is getting a pair to 500 miles, probably the farthest you should run on a pair.

In doing so, I get the most out of them for the money (these shoes list for $130) and it helps me pare down what is essentially a pretty large horde of running shoes (I have six other active pairs right now, not including a pair of racing flats and trail running shoes).

It also gives me the most amount of time to really review the shoe and see if it met my needs.

This is the second version of the Zealot that I've worn, the first being the original Zealot that I bought in April 2015. Then and now my purpose was to have a light, neutral, low-drop shoe (this shoe advertises a 4 mm drop and 9.5 ounce weight) that also was cushioned as much as possible.

I felt like the original Zealots were clunkers and pretty heavy, although Saucony's rubber treads really helped in rainy races like the 2015 Hotlanta Half Marathon.

Saucony says the new Zealot 2s feature "EVERUN topsole construction providing smoother landings in the heel and reduced pressure in the forefoot."

From the start I felt these shoes were much lighter than the original Zealots. They were cushy and fun to run in, whether I was doing tempo runs or pushing the double stroller around.

Still, the shoe gave my right foot some fits, reminding me of how the old Nike Air Pegasus used to be.

And then I finally wore them in a race, the Craft Classic Half Marathon. They felt great in the race but shortly afterward I developed my first serious running injury, what appeared to be a stress reaction in my right shin. I blame my marathon training load but it marked the last time I wore the Zealot 2s in a race.

I felt obligated to run them to 500 miles (262 more miles after that race). In the end, they are solid and dependable shoes. I didn't like how I wore friction holes on the inside of the heel (probably from not taking them off properly after runs) but they are dependable enough to keep around as non-running everyday shoes.

I have a second pair that I purchased pre-injury but I'm not as raring to take them to 500 miles ... yet. We'll see.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Day 3,633: Jeff Galloway 13.1

My 32nd half-marathon. 
My first race since the Oct. 9 Bank of America Chicago Marathon presented an interesting challenge -- what to wear for a chilly race morning. The low was to be 29 degrees, although it was 31 degrees when I woke up in the morning.

I decided to wear shorts instead of running pants as I've often felt that the pants have slowed my leg movement and speed in a race. And I didn't want to wear a windbreaker shell since I didn't want to have to run the race with it tied against my waist.

So what I decided on were two layers of long-sleeve technical T-shirts, which I call the "Zion Rules" after we went to the national park in December several years ago and I didn't have the luggage space to bring my heavy running layers. In place of the windbreaker, I decided to wear the Team BEEF short-sleeved shirt, also as a way to start chipping away at the $300 reimbursement that is allowed this year for races.

I ran to the start from home because I didn't want to worry about parking. It was 1.76 miles, a little longer than I would typically like for a warmup, but when I got to the start line I was pretty well warmed up and I only had to wait a few minutes. I brought a space blanket with me but didn't need to use it. A thin Outdoor Research watchcap and some old thin Nike gloves rounded out my kit.

When the race started my plan was to just run easily. The rolling hilly start in the first two miles seemed incredibly easy and I went back and forth with the 1:45 pace group. Since the race's namesake created the walk-run method, this was the way the pace group carried its business (suffice to say you don't normally see that in other half-marathons). 

While that is all fine and good, when it was the group's time to walk, they just stopped right where they were and walked. I suppose they only walked for a few seconds but it is the norm for walkers to move to the right during races. It created a little bit of a logjam in the early part of the race.

I felt pretty good throughout the race and tried to make sure I was running at no more than a 7:50/8 minute mile pace, even on downhills where lots of runners, including the pace group, picked it up. My main reasoning was I wanted to have something left for the last part of the race, especially the huge hill up St. Charles Avenue and later along 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue.

Around Mile 8 I ate one of my two GU gels that I carried with me. The space blanket took up a lot of space in my waist pack and I fumbled around for a while trying to get the gels (my hat and gloves were in there as well, having come off before Mile 2).

Around Mile 10, right after turning onto Piedmont Avenue from 10th Street, trouble hit. I started to get a cramp in my left leg. Then for the rest of the race they would alternate in both legs. I knew I had to slow down and I just tried to take it easy. I kicked myself for running such a long warmup, thinking that if I hadn't maybe the cramps would have developed a little closer to the finish line.

It led to an 8:30 Mile 11 and a very slow 9:39 for Mile 12. But I discovered that the cramping was going away near the end of the race, allowing me to pick up the race and finish with an 8:30 Mile 13, picking off three of the four people who'd passed me in the last mile.

I ended up finishing 20 seconds faster than what I ran last year, and improved my finish placing from 72nd last year to 62nd this year. After the results came out I counted and was chagrined to learn I likely will have placed fourth for my age group and maybe would have placed had I not been forced to slow down at the end of the race.

I basically did not prepare for this race at all, my last long run was a 9-mile run a month ago. Although that was the same way I prepared for my PR 1:42:40 Publix Georgia Half Marathon in March, I'd done much more plyometric work leading up to that race.

So next year I plan on running it again because it will be the fourth year for the race's streak. I'll be better prepared for the race and will count my lucky stars it will be enough to place in my age group (although in the 2015 race I would have had to run a 1:37 to do that).

Time: 8 a.m.
Temp: 31 degrees
Gear: Noted above, Brooks Pure Connect 4.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Day 3,611: A nice run with Mizuno's Wave Hitogami

Stopping on N. Decatur during a 5-mile run to show off these new kicks.
"You'll feel the road," the Mizuno rep warned me as I selected the Wave Hitogami as the shoe I would get for road testing a bunch of different running shoes last week at the Atlanta Track Club's office.

I did my homework and these shoes and the Wave Ekiden were my top choices of the bunch, mainly because I've shifted to low-drop, lightweight shoes since training for the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 and haven't looked back.

The Hitogamis didn't have that low of a drop (9 mm) but I felt it was worth a try. They came in the mail yesterday and I figured I would try them out on an easy 5-mile run to Emory's campus and back.

It didn't take too long to like what I felt on my feet. The shoes were light and offered good road protection for my midfoot strike and the heel. They had adequate protection against rocks in the road (something I never liked about my Saucony Kinvara 5s) and were not too light, as I've since concluded about the Nike Free RN Distance shoes that I've been training with.

Up and down hills, along concrete and asphalt, on grass, through turns and stops, I really liked what I felt. If only the shoe company's testers had asked me about this shoe!

I'll probably wear them in a 5K next to see how they perform at faster speeds.

Time: 7:40 a.m.
Temp: 55 degrees
Gear: T-shirt, short (Adams Realtor Run 5K), shorts, Mizuno Wave Hitogami.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I survived the 30-day Protein Challenge

I first learned about Team BEEF in 2014 before I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon. Basically they were offering free entries to the race if you donned the cherry red shirt and made yourself available for media functions in your area.

I procrastinated turning in my application and by the time I tried to join, all of the slots were full. That's why I jumped at the chance when I saw the Georgia Beef Board had opportunities to join their team at the Peachtree Road Race Expo the next summer.

Basically the way it works is you participate in a conference call that talks about the benefits of eating beef and what the board does. Then you wear the shirt at a race and submit your race registration for reimbursement. They typically reimburse $100 per person each fiscal year. This program is funded by $1 for each head of cattle sold in the state.

This year they offered a new wrinkle ... 50 of their members could have their reimbursements increased to $300 yearly if they participated in the 30 Day Protein Challenge. It started in October but I'm just now getting around to writing about it because I wanted to find out if I successfully completed the challenge first.

The main goal of the challenge is to get you to adjust your diet to where you eat 25 to 30 grams of protein for three meals a day.

It's not as difficult as it sounds, especially when you realize that endurance runners need up to 1.6 grams per kilogram of protein a day or 75 to 120 grams for 165-pound runner, according to Runner's World.

What I liked is that it got me to keep a nutrition journal, something I've never done in my 30 years of running. The first week you recorded eating what you like and then over the next few weeks you transition to eating the required protein amount for two of the three meals a day. Then there are rest days sprinkled in to help you transition.

Near the end of the month you are eating 25-30 grams of protein for all three meals. It wasn't as hard as I thought it was, although near the end of the month I grew tired of all the different things I was eating for breakfast just to make the challenge.

I found that when I ate a lot of protein for a meal, I felt fuller and snacked less than when I didn't. I also learned about the great sources of protein in non-meat foods such as wheat bread. I thought I'd have the most difficulty the day before the Chicago Marathon but luckily Oct. 8 was just a day to begin exchanging foods abundant in protein with what I would regularly eat and marathon day was a rest day on the schedule.

It definitely was an interesting way to focus on nutrition as part of my running lifestyle.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The day I put a nearly 10-year running streak on the line, part II (Chicago Marathon recap)

My right shin, on MRI, and the $1,300 question: Can I run 26.2 miles on it?
To a certain extent, a man must merely believe in his luck.
    -Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

If you ever have a running injury, the one thing you should never do is look for advice on running forums.

"You should NEVER run with a stress fracture," a poster wrote in reply to someone who once asked the very question I was asking at the moment -- could I run the Chicago Marathon injured?

I'd told the sports medicine doctor that I didn't need to do the race but then as the days approached I kept coming back to doing the race. There were two things that made me wonder if it was at all possible.

The first was the radiologist's report. "Cortical thickening of the medial tibial diaphysis with adjacent periosseous edema, worrisome for stress reaction," it concluded.

Without knowing for sure, this sounded a little bit different from what I was told over the phone. (Of course, if you check around, there is some thought that there is no difference between a stress reaction and a stress fracture).

The second happened on Oct. 5, just four days before the marathon. My right foot finally gained meaningful turnover on a short run of 2.13 miles.

Two days later, we boarded a plane and flew to Chicago. On the flight, I thought about what I knew. Having missed roughly four weeks of long runs and workouts, my goal was to merely finish. At my best pace at the time, 11 minute miles translates into roughly a 4:44 marathon.

But this would be a big if. I decided to bring money and a credit card with me if I had to drop out. I'd brought the book "Meb for Mortals" with me and it was heartening to hear elite marathon runner Meb Keflezighi mention the times he'd dropped out of races because of injuries. People get injured and there would be no shame for trying and not being able to complete the course.

"This is the most relaxed you've been for a race," the wife told me as we ate Corner Bakery takeout in our upgraded room at the Palmer House Hilton the night before the race. I was relaxed, since I really didn't have anything to lose. I would try to run it and if I needed to slow down I would just do that.

The night before, I gathered up my marathon kit. I decided to wear the red shirt from the 10-10-10 Chicago Marathon, the day I came really close to breaking four hours on an Indian summer day but just could not do it. My side pouch held seven GU Tri-Berry gels, the flavor I've trained and raced with for 16 years.

It also held four small red and black plastic bottles designed to look suspiciously like shotgun shells. These were an untested technology for me (because they are expensive) and my ace in the hole if I managed to run the whole race.

I also threw in two boxes of yogurt raisins that I picked up from the CVS across from the Corner Bakery the night before the race.

In the morning, I made my way over to the Buckingham Fountain staging area and got myself ready for the race. I still was pretty relaxed but wanted to make sure I got to the first wave corrals on time (in 2010, they closed the corrals about 10 minutes before the race, causing people to argue with the volunteers who closed the gate. People were crying, literally, and others jumped the fence in defiance of the volunteers).

I put myself in the back of Corral D, which was the second to the last corral in the first wave. Ahead of me I could see pacer signs for 3:45 and 3:40.

An opera singer sang the National Anthem and while it was beautiful, it felt ghastly as the sound echoed off the downtown skyscrapers. Three geese flew in formation over the corral, just like two tilt-rotor Osprey did when I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014. And just like that, a few minutes later the race began.

I'd consumed my first GU gel and planned to eat the others at every other water station, which was about every 4 miles or so. I also planned to drink water/Gatorade at each station, having brought one of my special "race straws" for that purpose.

Basically, you take a straw from a fast food restaurant or eatery and cut it about five inches tall, just tall enough to stick out of a Dixie cup. That way you can quickly drink out of the cup without any of it splashing all over you. (I would intentionally drain a cup at aid stations on this race and flick up the straw with my mouth, letting the empty cup drop).

It was cool but by the first mile I'd taken off my Mizuno arm sleeves and tied them carefully in knots around the band of my waist pack. (Later in the race, when I really needed to, I called each knot by my children's names to cheer me on).

The first 5K really told the story of the day. Although I'd had a plan of what I should run, the skyscrapers wreaked havoc with my Garmin GPS signal and it was really not reliable at all for most of the race.

I'd planned to run carefully and planned to bail at the first instance of pain or distress. But nothing happened. I cruised through that first split in 26 minutes, at a pace I knew I was capable. I was running at 8:22/mile when for four weeks I couldn't muster anything better than 11 minutes.

Because my watch was acting funny, I tried to make sure I just ran evenly, even though the pack often left me behind. I crossed 10K at 51:30, for 8:13/mile, and then passed the 15K mark at 1:16:49, having sped up to 8:09/mile.

But I had no way of knowing this. My watch was constantly saying I was running 12 minute miles one second and then 7:30s another. So I tried to run by feel.

My goal at this point was to make sure I would pass the half marathon mark solidly. In 2010, this was the point where I felt myself slowing down past 4 hour pace.

20K came and I ran it in 1:42:41, setting a PR for me this day. (My half marathon PR is 1:42:40, but since there are so few timed splits for the 20K distance, this is why the shorter distance PR is nearly the same).

When the half marathon mark came at 1:48:25, I felt pretty good. I was running alongside some older guy with a shirt that identified him as "Fabio" and the crowd, every few minutes, would shout "Fabio!" Even though that wasn't me, it felt pretty good to run with him.

Even the 1:48 felt good, since I ran that split on Sept. 3 when I ran a simulated 30K at a PR pace of 2:34.

At this point they'd passed out some kind of Power Bar gel. I ate it and it was watery and really not what I was expecting. A mile or so later I tried to eat one of my boxes of yogurt raisins and it was hard to eat on the run without a lot of water.

Right at Mile 16 I felt my calves, both of them, start to really tighten up so I unleashed the first of my four "secret weapons."

These bottles are called "Hotshot," and they claim to be scientifically created to eliminate muscle cramps. I popped one of the bottles open and downed it. The cinnamon flavor burned my throat. (I'll review these things in another post).

I've never run a marathon without having calf cramps and in 2010 they were so severe that I had to stop just to stop them from hurting.

Shortly after I started to get tinges in my calf muscles. But they were not severe, although they heralded something else. My glycogen was gone and I was going to have a slow 10-mile run coming up. My 25K split was 2:09:22, for an 8:39/mile pace, signalling that I was slowing.

I kind of laughed when the calf tinges hit. This is what I wanted, right? So preoccupied with the thought that I'd developed a running injury so severe that I wouldn't get to do what I normally do and this was it -- run without abandon until the tank was empty.

So here it was. Have at it.

I started to have cramps at Mile 18 and downed my second HOTSHOT canister. I was down to two of these and really started to worry about what would happen if I ran out of these.  I stopped taking GU gels since they really would not be helping me at this point.

At 30K, I set another PR at 2:37:37, for a 9:06 pace. Things were getting pretty brutal. The day before I recalled how in 2010 I hobbled through the Chinatown gate after Mile 20 and really it now was going to be the same. But this time I had something that kept me from having to stop because of cramps.

Only now I had one more, destined to be used at Mile 22. (I lamented not bringing the entire six pack with me but I didn't think I'd use even one).

As we entered the southside and I'd passed 35K at 3:10:49 (10:42/mile pace), I'd calculated in my mind that I probably would finish in 4:02 or more. The slide was brutal and I reached 40K at 3:46:54, running at 11:37/mile. It was hard to run at this stretch, running so slow on the right side of the road but still being bumped by lots of runners (who probably also lost the ability to steer themselves through the crowd).

The sun was out and it felt brutally hot to be shuffling along. The 3:40 pace group passed me, and then the 3:45 pace group. Then the 3:50 pace group and the 3:55 pace group.

There was only a mile or so to go but something funny happened. At Mile 25, you could see the entire crowd of runners start to speed up. I did, too, and consumed my last HOTSHOT that I'd been saving since Mile 20, ignoring several calf cramps before this, for this situation.

I was surprised that my pace was starting to inch below 10-minute-miles. I knew that at this point it would be extremely close to breaking four hours. I'd somehow still remained ahead of the 4:00 pace group.

I crossed the short overpass that runners here call "Mount Roosevelt" because it is such an awful thing to have to climb up at the end of the race.

On the downhill to the finish, I caught a glimpse of a female runner wearing green slicing across the crowd. She was the only person in the crowd kicking to the finish.

At this point, I told myself that I bet her $100 that she couldn't outkick me and I started to follow her through the crowd, every other stride being shocked into place by my seizing right calf.

She crossed before me (never cashing in on the imaginary bet) but I finished in 3:59:30 (9:15/mile pace for the last split). I yelled out as I finished. It was not a PR but this was an outcome I could not have imagined. I'd missed so much training, wasn't confident that my leg would hold up, ran too fast and bonked 10 miles out and still broke four hours.

It was one of the most tactically gratifying races I've ever run in 30 years of racing -- come up with a plan in the last 5K of the race to run under 10-minute miles when I was only capable of running closer to 12-minute miles. Willing to put my nearly 10-year running streak on the line, I went home knowing I earned something on this day.

I am kind of back to square one. It reminds me of my early days running half marathons, in which sometimes I'd bonk and my calves would cramp up. It would be wonderful to run a complete race someday and with this there's so much I can work on.

When I got back home, I cancelled my follow-up with the sports medicine doctor. Several times I was tempted to type in the patient portal "3:59:30" but I let it go.

Time: 7:41 a.m.
Temp: 55 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Chicago Marathon '10), Mizuno arm sleeves, shorts, Brooks Pure Connect 3.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Day 3,602: Being a Mizuno shoe tester

Testing 11 pairs of shoes by running .2 mile with each of them turns into quite a workout.
 Today was my day to visit the Atlanta Track Club and provide feedback to Mizuno Running on different shoes. I'd thought they would all be Mizuno shoes but this was not the case. They were all different (major) brands, including a pair that I already own.

You basically run in them outside on the road (I ran each for .2 miles) and then come in and fill out a form that compares them to shoes you already own.

I tended to like pretty much all of the Brooks shoes I tried, although their max cushioned Beast was a little much. The Ghost and the Adrenaline really fit like my now-discontinued Brooks Pure Connects that I race in.

I also liked the Nike Lunar Glide and the fact that I tried it right after the Nike Free RN Distance (which I currently own) made me think that the latter shoe is too light of a shoe for me. I even felt speedy in the Nike Structure, even though I've always felt my feet are neutral enough to not need any stability.

The Adidas Ultra Boost was the most different shoe I've worn. It has a bootie that you have to stick your foot into and once you do, it is very cushioned on the heel, almost like you are wearing high heels. I wondered if this is some kind of trainer for a midfoot strike.

The Saucony Ride felt fast but I also noticed that my right heel tended to hurt in it just like when I run in my Zealot ISO 2s. I wonder if that has something to do with the fit with their new EVERUN cushioning materials.

I felt like the Asics Gel Kayano was the cheapest shoe that I tested in terms of materials. It felt like a very basic trainer. The only Mizuno shoe I tried, the popular Wave Rider, also felt like it was about a generation behind what Brooks and Saucony are using in their shoes.

In the end, you get to select any Mizuno shoe and they will send it to you. They don't currently carry any low drop shoes (maybe that's why they had us test low-drop shoes on the market like the Nike Free RN Distance) so I picked a pair of Mizuno Hitogamis (9 mm drop).

I ran most of these shoes at a good clip and it was one of the first times that I've run at a faster pace since my shin injury.

Time: 10 a.m.
Temp: 55 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, long (Eastside Beltline 10K), shorts.
Asics Gel Nimbus

Mizuno Wave Rider

Brooks Adrenaline

Saucony Ride

Nike Free RN Distance

Nike Structure
Brooks Ghost

Brooks Beast
Adidas Ultra Boost

Asics Gel Kayano

Nike Lunar Glide, the only shoe I'll likely buy after testing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Day 3,600: "Electing" to be out on the Silver Comet

DALLAS, Ga. -- I'd voted early about a week ago so when preschool was closed for Election Day, it was time to hit the trail.

It was the perfect way to do a 6-mile run in a double stroller. This part of the Silver Comet Trail is far enough away (we hit mile markers 28-30) that leaves covered several parts of the concrete path. It is both beautiful and remote -- the scenery reminds me of the hours and days that I've spent playing games like Fallout and Skyrim.

Unlike when we visited the well-patrolled section of the trail near Hiram almost three weeks ago, this section is unsupervised. However, during the two hours we were here, we saw 14 cyclists, seven each coming and going.

It was an extremely nice way to spend part of the day.

Time: 10:38 a.m.
Temp: 57 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, long (Intown Ten), shorts, Saucony Zealot ISO 2.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Day 3,591: Going to get free Mizuno shoes (as a shoe tester)!

There are some benefits to not doing a long run every Sunday. Today I had a 7-mile run on the list but when I went out, I wasn't feeling it, so I came back early.

And during that time when I should have been running, I saw a post from the Atlanta Track Club that their main sponsor, Mizuno (who has their North American headquarters in metro Atlanta), was seeking shoe testers at the track club's offices in two weeks.

Basically, you sign up for a two-hour slot and test 11 different pairs of shoes, running in each for up to 5 minutes and then you say what you like or dislike about them.

And the best part of it is ... you get to take home the shoe model that you like! Easy peasy.

Luckily there was a time slot left that I could do this (when the little ones are in preschool). The rest of the slots went quickly, like within an hour after I signed up.

This will be great for me, since even though I lived for more than three years in Osaka, Japan, where Mizuno is headquartered, I've never tried any of their shoes. And I've always been on the lookout for any shoe that meets my needs.

Can't wait!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Day 3,588: The Dalton Red Carpet Virtual Half Marathon

Just another half-marathon.
In my mind, my next long run was really going to be weeks away. After the Chicago Marathon, I still had issues with speed that led to my initial consultation with a sports medicine doctor in late September and ultimately an MRI-confirmed stress fracture in my right shin.

This time, my recovery has been different. I hit two milestones last week -- the ability to run 10-minute miles instead of my typical 11s on Oct. 18 and then two days later, I was finally able to run under 10-minute miles.

But still ... I wasn't planning on doing any long runs until I felt I was ready.

Then I saw an announcement on Facebook. It was a virtual run offered by the Dalton Red Carpet Half Marathon. They just ran their race last Saturday and opened a virtual race, offering whatever they had leftover of their race shirts and medals if you registered (cost is $50 plus online fee). All proceeds would go to City of Refuge, their charity.

I am not fond of most virtual races but this was an excellent hook -- it's a way for a race to reduce their leftover inventory (that won't be good come next year's race) and raise more money for their cause.

So I signed up two days ago, planning to run today when I had a few extra hours. It is my second virtual race, after I ran a virtual Jeff Galloway 13.1 with a baby in a jogging stroller a year and a half ago just to be considered for streaker status in that race.

I set out to the park and hoped to just do 11 laps around Lake Clara Meer and then come home to finish it out. But of course, when I rounded the lake the first time a production crew was filming a speeding Jeep on the west side of the lake, blocking off access to that part.

I had to get creative and it mainly involved me running back and forth from the bowl near Park Tavern to the newer part of the park, Piedmont Park Commons.

My running was slow, I figured this would happen. I was a little surprised that by Mile 4, my Chicago Marathon race shirt felt too hot and I pondered going home to change. I stayed in the park but by Mile 6 I wondered if I would even be able to finish.

I convinced myself to stay through Mile 8 and then I convinced myself to go up and down past the dog park enough times until I could return home for 13.1 miles. I was able to speed up a little at the end but was pretty glad this was over.

I finished in 2:17:17, about four minutes slower than the 2:12:53 I ran in March 2015 for the Jeff Galloway virtual run, but who's counting?

Time: 9:29 a.m.
Temp: 64 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Chicago Marathon '16), shorts, Saucony Zealot ISO 2.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Day 3,580: Back to the Silver Comet

HIRAM, Ga. -- It's been 10 days since I ran in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and I came out with the littlest one today to do a few miles on the Silver Comet.

I'm only realizing this now but I can't believe it's been a year and a half since I last ran on this trail that stretches from Smyrna all the way to the Alabama border.

My legs still were sore from the race but just yesterday I had a decent breakthrough -- the ability to run 10-minute miles instead of the 11-minute miles that I'd grown accustomed to after injuring my right shin after the Sept. 10 Craft Classic Half Marathon.

My cadence is still mincemeat -- I don't know how I can have a 0 step per minute cadence in spots through the run. Just a sign I'm not out of the woods yet.

Still I plugged along the trail. Everyone was pretty friendly today -- a few cyclists and walkers. I was pretty happy to also see the smart car of the Paulding County Sheriff's Office cruising the trail (it came by going and coming back to the car).

Time: 10:56 a.m.
Temp: 73 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short, shorts, Nike Free RN Distance.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Day 3,576: Fall trail running in FDR state park

PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- It's been a while -- so long that I can't even tell in my running log the last time I put on my trail shoes -- but today I had a chance to run on the spectacular trails in FDR state park.

What happened was that I was worried about parking at a large geocaching event and so I decided to park my car about a mile away at a trailhead and run my way in.

I didn't expect to see red, yellow and orange hues -- wouldn't you think they would arrive in the northern part of the state first -- but that's what I saw as I bounded my way along the rocky paths.

It was perfect, to do something entirely different. I still haven't recovered from last Sunday's Bank of America Chicago Marathon but I enjoyed every step of my 2-mile workout. I liked that I didn't have to worry about my pace -- I can't really run too fast over trails anyway, and it's a different kind of running as you have to pay attention to what's immediately ahead of you on the trail.

I bought my trail running shoes in the middle of last year, wore them once or twice and although they aren't my favorite (I'm pining away for a pair of Brooks Cascadias in the future), I had great confidence in their ability to provide traction and their overall light weight.

I'm looking forward to returning here again and running and geocaching more throughout the park.

Time: 1:02 p.m.
Temp: 79 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Champion red), shorts, New Balance MT101 trail running shoes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Day 3,570: The day I put a nearly 10-year streak on the line, part I (Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

Picasso's Cubist sculpture in Chicago's Daley Plaza adorns this year's medal. I felt similarly distorted upon learning I'd suffered a serious running injury weeks before the race.
You can tell me when it's over, if the high was worth the pain.
   -Taylor Swift

I was only a few blocks away from home finishing a run when I received the call.

"You have a stress fracture," the sports medicine doctor said. "Chicago is out."

I took a deep breath and stopped. This was not what I was expecting at all. Just two days before I was explaining my predicament in the doctor's nicely appointed medical complex, filled with autographed pictures and jerseys from players in Atlanta's pro and college football teams. I felt a little foolish about it, but there was just one thing.

I somehow could not run fast. Eleven-minute miles were about all I could do for days on end.

It had been 16 days since I ran an extremely good race in the Craft Classic Half Marathon and my recovery was taking an extremely long time for someone who has been able to run at pace just a few days after running in a marathon.

I didn't think it was my knee but there was a strange pain around it and my leg seemed to do all kinds of crazy things like it was no longer stable. And when I tried to push off on the ball of my right foot, my leg felt weak.

The doc listened to me and then did a bunch of tests all along my leg. Nothing hurt.

"The good news is it's not anything obvious," he said. "The bad news ... is it's not anything obvious."

So he set up an appointment for an MRI the very next day.

In the weeks after the half marathon, my mileage was dropping fast. I went from an average of about 50 miles a week to just over 40 miles the first week. That's when I tried to do my speed and tempo workouts and just couldn't do them after a few miles.

The next week -- just three weeks before the Oct. 9 Bank of America Chicago Marathon -- I had my last 16 mile run under the Hansons Marathon Method scheduled. Music Midtown had taken up my usual running route around Lake Clara Meer in Piedmont Park so instead I ran on the loop around the Atlanta Track Club's new offices, an industrial complex just off of Interstate 85 and the Sweetwater Brewery.

The loop was nearly perfect, about 1.3 miles and as flat as you could expect to find in hilly Atlanta. I could only run 5 miles before giving up. I ended the week with 31 miles.

Still, I pushed on. With just two weeks before the marathon, I ran my last significant run of length -- a pair of easy 10-mile runs on Saturday and Sunday. After I finished the Sunday workout, I felt like I'd felt after running the half marathon, slightly sore and particularly stiff around my right knee and leg. I could not walk down stairs normally with my right foot.

The wife scheduled my appointment with the sports medicine office, as she'd recently sought guidance for a runner's knee and had also had an MRI. Initially I wasn't convinced I'd need to seek help but after the second 10-mile run troubled me, I was grateful the appointment was the very next day.

The office for the MRI luckily was in the same medical complex and this was the first time I'd ever seen one in real life. You put your things away in a locker in another room, particularly anything metal that would love to fly around magnetically at a high speed. The tech asked me a few different times which part of my body would be scanned and if I had anything metal inside me, like shrapnel pieces or a pacemaker.

The main thing for me was lying down in the machine when my leg was being scanned. It was nestled very well to prevent me from moving but it really was just the thought that I was not supposed to move made me want to move even more.

Even wearing earplugs, the machine's noise was loud and made War of the Worlds-style buzzing noises. The whole thing took 25 minutes and the digital display I could see on the machine recording the time spent reminded me of all those weeks of speedwork I'd done leading up to this.

When the doc called me, there were 12 days before the marathon. I'd already told him that I agreed that I was no longer interested in running in the marathon since if I couldn't run fast for two miles, how could I expect to run a marathon?

Still, he warned me that my recovery would take longer if I ran in it and my leg could completely fracture.

The problem with being convinced not to run in a marathon that was going to happen in 12 days was there were still 12 days left, way too much time for me to think about it.

It was little things at first, the race T-shirt was cool, all of the daily reminders on social media from the marathon of how soon the race was approaching. There also was the fact that all of my travel plans were made way in advance. Not going meant eating probably $1,200 -- in non-refundable plane fares for a family of four, the $185 race fee and one reservation at Chicago's Palmer House Hilton, where I stayed when I ran in the race in 2010.

And then, in the back of my head, there was a little voice. It was actually more like a little thought, something you should never think when you are told you have a crack in one of your bones.

You can still run in this race.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Day 3,541: Craft Classic Half Marathon

This half marathon included a free pour at the end of the race.
Having been in marathon training for quite a while I've been ambivalent over races that I've signed up for that fell in the middle of marathon training.

This one was no different. It falls about a month before the Oct. 9 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. You could look at it as a good tune-up before the big race or maybe a race that is extraneous to my training. 

I felt like the March 21 Publix Georgia Half Marathon took a long time for me to recover and I really suffered during the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K the next month.

Anyway, what it came down to was ... reimbursement. I figured I would don the cherry red shirt of Team Beef representing the Georgia Beef Board for this race. That shirt has been extremely good to me, giving me long-sought PRs in the 5K and half marathon.

I told myself it would be just a training run (although I wisely skipped Thursday's 9-mile tempo run as is advised by the Hansons Marathon Method for a weekend race) and wondered if I would even break 2 hours.

I left home at about 6:45 and figured I would just park at Grant Park and have enough time for the 7:30 a.m. race. When I got to the parking lot by Boulevard I was surprised to see it completely full. Half of the lot was blocked off and unusable, so I had to find street parking just before Mile 13 of the race along the park.

It was fine because it wasn't a far walk to the starting area. I saw two other runners wearing Team Beef gear and I got ready to run. I brought what I usually bring out for training runs here in the hot summer -- an extra shirt wrapped up in a bag, one GU gel, and a towel (the only thing I actually used in this race).

The race didn't start at 7:30 a.m. -- the announcer gave us some course notes including that we would be running down the middle of the suicide lane along DeKalb Avenue and also for us to not make any turns along Virginia Avenue (where the Legal Runaround 5K would be running). 

When the race started off I basically just ambled along, not really knowing what pace I would run at. I ran the first mile in 8:49 and it felt fine to me.

After Mile 2 when we turned onto DeKalb Avenue, I felt extremely good. I was basically just cruising along, in the suicide lane, and really was running in step with some guy to my right. It felt like a training run.

After Mile 4 he surprised me by taking off down the incline along the neighborhood leading to Inman Park. I didn't follow, choosing to run at my own pace but ended up passing him along the huge hill up North Highland Avenue after turning from Elizabeth Street.

Down Elizabeth Street a short blonde woman had also passed me but I caught up to her near the water station. I was on the right and was pinned in by her since she was on the left. I wasn't going to take water but I also was not able to immediately get around her. At the last moment she moved to try to get into the water and although I was wearing my headphones, I clearly heard her say "Excuse you" to me, which I thought was odd. 

So I passed her too and went up toward Boulevard.

At Boulevard I assumed we would just take the PATH trail back to North Highland Avenue. But we actually rode a lane of Freedom Parkway. It was a downhill stretch and I thought those two people I passed would pass me back but I didn't see either of them the rest of the race. 

I continued down to the North Highland Avenue intersection and was going at a good clip, 7:37 for Mile 7.

I'd been looking forward to running in the neighborhood, since it really makes me feel at home. It also is pretty much downhill. Right before the Virginia-Highland triangle I saw a familiar neon yellow shirt -- it was Frank from Running for the second half of my life who was on a marathon training run with the Atlanta Track Club. It was nice to see someone I know on the race course and I felt like I was flying by -- Mile 8 here was 7:36.

On Virginia Avenue you could see on either side of the road near John Howell Park people mulling about in the other race. I wondered if the announcer delayed our race a little bit to hopefully ease some congestion.

I continued down the road, catching up with another middle-aged runner who had taken his shirt off but then put it back on. I passed him briefly before entering the Eastside Beltline Trail but he and another runner passed me going up it.

The Beltline is not really my favorite place to run a race. From north to south it is on an uphill incline, not too much, but enough that I think it gets into my head. Plus there were lots of regular runners, walkers and cyclists coming at you and I felt myself slowing. I'd just eaten a Cliff gel that they gave out at Mile 9 (7:31) and I made the mistake of drinking water first at the aid station and then consuming the gel.

Plus I didn't know where to put it, so I just crammed it into my waist pack. I ran Mile 10 in 8 minutes and was just hoping to get out of the Beltline without being passed. Mile 11 was 8:13 and I was wondering what rate I'd have to go to make a PR.

I was happy to finally exit the Beltline but the roads after it were hilly. I felt like I kept pushing and Mile 12 came at an 8:04 pace. Here I knew I would just have to hold on for a little bit longer.

Right before Mile 13 was a pretty big hill and then it was pretty much downhill alongside Grant Park. I knew the finish was close ... but where? I logged Mile 13 in 7:45.

When I entered the park I sped up. The end includes a 90-degree turn to the left, where you have to look over your left shoulder just to see the road ahead. I finally had the guy who passed me back on the Beltline in my sights (he had a 20-plus second lead on me on the Beltline) and when he turned I told him to kick it. I finished just a second behind him for 1:43:43, which is my second fastest half marathon time, just a minute slower than the 1:42:40 I ran in the Publix Georgia Half Marathon in March. (The last .22 mile on my watch was run at a 6:38/mile pace).

I drank a lot of nuun water after the finish and decided to get my complimentary draft beer before making my way back to the car.

I was extremely pleased with this race. It was hilly but it also gave me good confidence going into the marathon. I should have known I could not run slow ever in a race.

Time: 7:36 a.m.
Temp: 72 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Team BEEF), shorts, Headsweats visor, cep compression socks. Saucony Zealot ISO 2.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Day 3,539: Course correction? Two Saturday race courses overlap

The above section of the Craft Classic half marathon course is where a 5K will begin on Saturday.
With local races in my neighborhood the first notice I usually get is seeing warning signs along the race route.

I saw several of those yesterday during my easy 10 miles of running and then it dawned on me -- a 5K I ran in last year is going to inadvertently share a street mid-race with a half marathon I've signed up for.

Last year I ran in the Legal Runaround 5K and placed first in my age group. It starts on the edge of John Howell Park and then flies down Virginia Avenue for a few blocks before turning onto a side street. This year the race will begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

I remember how there was a crush of people last year at the starting intersection, which will be a little past Mile 8 on the Craft Classic Half Marathon course.

The half marathon, in its inaugural year, starts at 7:30 a.m. Saturday in Grant Park. Some runners in the half marathon easily will make Mile 8 after the first hour of the race. They likely will run into people (like myself last year) who will be flying down the road at 5K race pace ... and then a bunch of people much slower, including walkers.

I sent an email to the race director of the 5K and posted a note on the half marathon's Facebook page after I wasn't able to find contact information for race officials.

It will be interesting to see what happens. I guess one or both race routes could be altered, neither one appears to be a USATF-certified course. Or maybe some kind of dividing lane could be set up for the separate races, although this might tie up traffic since if I remember correctly, Virginia Avenue was open to cars before the 5K started. (The 5K race also advertises "no road closures" on its neighborhood warning signs).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Day 3,534: A 30K PR (simulated) and a weekly mileage record

Since a festival was scheduled for Sunday in the park and because the weather was finally cool again, I decided to do my long run a day early.

Although the Hansons Marathon Method typically lists a 16-mile run as the longest run in training (you do it three times, though), I decided to run a little bit longer since I felt I could get in a few miles within the 2-1/2 hour limit that is also recommended in the training schedule.

What I had in mind, however, was to break my 30K PR of 2:41:33 that I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 26, 2014. Yet since this was a training run, my goal was to do it within the guidelines of a slower-paced long run.

The cool weather was really a gift but also nearly was my downfall. Unlike in previous long runs in which I ate a gel and drank water after five or six miles, I didn't do this until mile 10. By this time I was surprised that I felt like I was slowing down a bit. Fortunately there was a couple running just ahead of me and it was enough for me to return back to my training pace.

I also had my second gel and water at Mile 14, when I needed to don a visor because of the sun. Around this time there was a runner who converged on my path from another one and we were running at about the same pace when I decided to pull ahead a bit so as to not run with him.

I surprised myself by running at nearly marathon goal pace for the last 2.6 miles to complete my simulated 30K. It was interesting that my brain/body was getting me to slow down although I had plenty of gas left in the tank. When I stopped I felt like I could go for another couple miles, perhaps to 20 miles, but I decided to be conservative and end the run at my planned distance.

My training run was about seven minutes faster than my previous PR from the 2014 marathon, making me pretty excited about this fall's race.

I also ended up with 66.55 miles for the week, the most I've run since I ran 61.32 miles in the week ending Oct. 11, 2014.

Time: 7:09 a.m.
Temp: 66 degrees
Gear: Technical tank top, Mizuno (x2), shorts, Saucony Zealot ISO 2.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Day 3,532: A summer recap

It's been 7-1/2 weeks since I last posted and it's not because I haven't had any stories to tell. Instead of blogging, I've just been plugging away at my training for the Oct. 9 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (I'm in the middle of Week 13 as we speak) and I just haven't had much time to write about it. Since the training segment started in the middle of June, I've logged 617 miles with probably close to another 300 to go.

It's kind of a shame I haven't, since this summer has been one of the more brutal ones I've run through and in the midst of it I've completely overhauled my habits. This is the first season I've worn sleeveless technical shirts and tank tops (I went from zero to a whole drawer full of them).

I routinely carry a spare shirt with me whenever I run any significant distance and cannot run without a towel. I've also taken to running with a visor just to keep sweat out of my eyes (I guess those sweatbands of the 70s aren't fashionable anymore).

Gone is the Camelbak for training -- I now rely on water fountains at various parks and when this isn't possible on a route, I bring a very small plastic bladder of water to drink. Early on, I tried to keep my water drinking to about six ounces every few miles, on pace with what you'd expect from aid stations on a marathon course. But now I make sure I drink when I need to.

Lake Clara Meer in Piedmont Park has been my friend -- I used the roughly .9 mile of paths around it for interval training and (some) long runs during my 2014 training for the Marine Corps Marathon but as soon as I found out I was accepted to run in the Chicago Marathon, I knew I would do most of my training there, since it is one of the few flat stretches near me. I get a kind of sick joy thinking of when I ran around it 16 times for a long run. It still sounds crazy to me.

Upcoming festivals like Music Midtown are going to make me have to get creative on where I'm going to do my final set of workouts before the race.

I've bowed out of races that I'd signed up for previously before I knew I'd be doing a fall marathon -- the Aug. 6 Vinings Downhill Race for the Kids and likely the upcoming Big Peach Sizzler 10K on Labor Day. I'm a maybe for the inaugural Craft Classic Half Marathon on Sept. 10 but my marathon training schedule has become priority.

What I like about this training schedule this time around is that it feels easier for me. I've informally been following a very truncated Hansons schedule for nearly two years now since the Marine Corps Marathon and it's brought me speed, fitness and running success. I also feel like two years ago, I trained at a pace that wasn't challenging enough for me.

This time around, it's plenty challenging and everything is done at a much faster pace. I've been very mindful about not going too fast but already just running at a moderate clip (and not trying) I'm informally breaking PRs I've held in longer distance races or running at a pace that would have broken longtime bests that have fallen in recent races.

The heat has affected my training, though. I'm only now coming off of a period in which speedwork I'm accustomed to doing was not even doable for me and it's a huge relief now there's a little change in humidity that things seem to be back to normal.

There are costs involved -- I am often sore. The frequency of my FitStar workouts have decreased by half since I started this training cycle, although it's nice to know I do more burpees than when I started the smartphone sessions at the beginning of the year.

During this training segment, I've dropped five pounds below what I consider to be a good race weight for me. At a benefit of two less seconds per mile for each pound lost, you can bet I'm eager to enter the marathon as light as I can safely be.

The effect of all this work won't really be known until race day. I have a Plan A, B and C but there are a lot of unknowns like what the weather will be and what I really can do that day.

But posts or no, I'm still around, crushing the daily streak and maybe someday I'll tell you about the time when a three-car pileup happened just feet from me halfway through a 10-mile run or the time I made the mistake of pausing another long run to enter the sauna-like robotoilet in Piedmont Park.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Day 3,480: Eeek! A rattata on the run

Eeek! I encounter a rattata in Piedmont Park during a 6-mile run.
An easy 6-mile run was on today's schedule, one day after completing a long run at a moderate pace in which I unwittingly ran two seconds faster than the PR I set for the 10-mile distance last October.

When I entered the park, I turned on my new app for Pokemon GO, an augmented reality game that lets you collect Pokemon characters in the wild. I knew the park would be perfect for this.

Just off the path in the green bowl near Park Tavern, I glanced down at my phone and could see the digital rustling that takes place when one of these monsters is near. It turned out to be a rattata, a kind of rat in the game (which uses your phone's camera to blend the creature in with actual surroundings as in the picture above).

After a few flicks of pokeballs, I captured it and added it to my Pokemon collection.

I've found over the years that augmented reality games such as this help me run in actual reality. They can give me easy focus on creating new running routes especially during pretty detailed running schedules like the one I'm currently on. When you have to grind out six- to eight-mile runs almost daily (or have been running every day for the last 9.5 years), it can be difficult to be motivated to do the same courses over and over.

I've frequently run in the park to play Ingress, the other virtual reality game by the same creators as Pokemon GO.

This time around, however, I've been able to leave the phone in my pouch when the workout calls for running at a specific pace. It does give me an incentive, however, to make sure I finish with enough time to see what might be lurking in the digital expanse of what we know as Piedmont Park.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Day 3,473: My 12th Peachtree Road Race

Inside the Atlanta Track Club post-race tent: Maybe it should have said, "They are nuts!"
For sake of full disclosure, I'm eating a pint of Jake's root beer ice cream as I write this, trying to cool off a few hours after the race.

My 12th Peachtree Road Race was run on one of the hottest race days in recent memory -- 77 degrees and very high humidity. Despite this, I went into this very confident, as I'm now 5 weeks into training via Hansons and have been crushing my workouts and higher mileage.

So at the last moment I decided to throw caution to the wind and wear an all-black kit, from shirt to shoes, wearing a black tank top depicting a leopard's face with sunglasses from the rock-n-roll marathon series. It turned out that the shoes I wear for intervals (Brooks Pure Connect 4) are black, so they rounded out the outfit.

My father-in-law drove us up Piedmont as far as he could, dropping us off about a few blocks from Peachtree Road. This is what we did last year using the shuttle service from Phidippides. Although we walked maybe a mile to our corrals, it's way easier than jumping on MARTA and having to wait for a train and then be in a crush of people inside and out of the train.

We turned into the staging area at Lenox Mall just as the elites were walking out in a big group and we passed by Jared Ward, who will be going to Rio as the third place finisher in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon (he placed 5th in this race).

After wishing the wife a good race, I tried to do a short warmup but was a little discouraged by the Corrals A-E fence -- it was simply too hard to go out of it to run around in Lenox when so many people were trying to get in. So I ran back up the hill and got into the Group A corral maybe around 7:15 or so.

It was a little late to do so, as I ended up near the back and there continued to be a crush of people in this group. So I had to stand there for more than 10 minutes, it felt warm and I was sweaty just because of all the people around me. When the national anthem was sung, I happened to be directly below the giant flag they have up for the race and kind of felt like being in the first row of a movie theater.

The race started and it was pretty congested. I guess you expect this for this kind of race and at least everyone I could see was running, but it was still tricky to get out to pace. My plan was to run 7:20/mile the first three miles and then seeing what happened. With all of the people running around me, I ran the first mile in 7:30.

Maybe a little after mile 1.5, near Moe's Southwest Grill (they didn't throw anything out this year), the spacing was a little better and I settled into a decent pace. I didn't want to run faster than 7:20, but I ran miles 2 and 3 in 7:16 each.

Mile 4 includes the first of the two big hills on the course. I could feel myself slowing but at this point it was so hot as to be uncomfortable. I just settled into any pace that I could and just wanted to finish the race. I ran this mile in 7:48.

Mile 5 was really no different. I'd toyed with the idea of getting water here (really don't know why I didn't). It was just that my head felt hot and I didn't feel thirsty. It felt like it took a lot of effort to get to 14th Street and I ran this mile in 7:53.

The last mile was both easy and hard. I knew how much more I had to go but I just didn't have great speed to do so. I ended up speeding up a little in the last mile for 7:25.

And then I was done at 47:05! They didn't have some things I'd seen in the past, such as slices of pizza from Mellow Mushroom and later on I saw they didn't have Blue Bell ice cream sandwiches this time.

So I made a bee line to the Atlanta Track Club tent and got my drink tickets and settled in to eat some delicious peaches and so-so beer. While I waited I was a little concerned that maybe the heat would be too much for the wife and that she would have to walk but after a while she texted that she finished in 51 minutes and change.

Despite the heat, I finished 23 seconds slower than last year. And it turned out the heat affected everyone. This year I finished with the highest placing that I've done in 12 times, finishing in 1,661st. (Last year my 46:42 was good for 2,170th place). Obviously the placing doesn't mean anything but it made me check the web site to see what the cut off was to be awarded a race mug (it's the first 1,000 finishers).

Maybe one day ...

Time: 7:30 a.m.
Temp: 77 degrees
Gear: Technical Tank Top (Rock-n-roll series leopard), shorts, Brooks Pure Connect 4.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Day 3,436: Fast Track 5K

DULUTH, Ga. -- It has been seven weeks since my last race and I used the time in-between to focus on speed and conditioning.

I'd wanted to run in this race last year since it supported the Southeastern Railway Museum, but instead I ran in the Kettle Krush 5K, which was much closer to home. I'd run a PR in that race but it wasn't USATF certified, so it wasn't eligible for use as a qualifying time in the Peachtree Road Race.

So this year I signed up for the Fast Track 5K (which is USATF certified) at the last moment, thinking this course was bound to be pretty flat and I wanted to see how my fitness was prior to starting training for the Oct. 9 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

On race day, I got up early and made the 40-minute or so drive up to this suburban city. Parking was great near the town square and it was easy to check in and get my race bib and T-shirt. There also were restrooms as part of the town square and it didn't seem like there were too many people in this race (118 people finished it).

Before I parked, I drove along the course. It looked pretty flat except for two hills in the last mile. I thought about this as I waited for the race to start. My basic plan for this was to hopefully run a 7:00/mile pace so I'd end up with a 21:40 or so and qualify for Group A of the Peachtree Road Race (you need 21:52 in a 5K to do so).

When the race started, the pace was pretty fast as there weren't too many people in the race and the course went downhill. I ran 6:36 in the first mile and I decided to run at that pace believing that I wasn't working too hard.

When I reached Mile 2 I was running a little slower (6:51). At this point the course ends its 142-foot elevation drop and begins to climb the same amount back to the start. Right after Mile 2.5 there's the first of the hills. I could see some guy in his 20s or 30s walking halfway up the hill and then he resumed running. Normally I feel like I can catch up to people who stop and walk but he finished 22 seconds ahead of me!

For most of the race I trailed an 18-year-old Asian woman (who was the first female finisher). She was making good time up the first hill and then entered the roundabout which we first passed at .55 miles into the race and now at Mile 2.67.

But instead of continuing around to the other side of the roundabout, she took the first right, repeating the early part of the course! Police at the intersection were shouting at her and I was too. But she had headphones in her ears and only realized it at the last moment. She doubled back just as I was entering the roundabout.

Over the next few tenths of a mile she surged ahead but I ended up passing her on the second hill, which is about 2.93 miles into the race.

I didn't realize that once you get to the top of the hill, there really isn't much race left, maybe a few blocks and then you enter the Town Green for the finish. I kicked at that point and finished in 21:44, the first time this year I broke 22 minutes for a 5K.

I ended up being sixth overall and placed first in my age group, winning a red-colored railroad spike. I was happy with my race time, as I didn't feel too blown up after the race (although my quads were shot the next morning).

Yet I also need to work on that last mile -- I ran Mile 3 in 7:38. It was hilly but I want to be a little more consistent with my split times.

All in all it was a great race and it's definitely one that I could put on the calendar next year!

Time: 7:30 a.m.
Temp: 64 degrees
Gear: Sleeveless technical shirt (Mizuno), shorts, Brooks Pure Connect 3.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Day 3,412: Peachtree Road Race time standards get tougher!

This year, the Peachtree Road Race did away with the sub-seeded wave and made it tougher to get into Wave A.
With the Bank of America Chicago Marathon looming, I'd thought about not running in races that did not have specific meaning for my goals ahead.

That meant possibly skipping 5Ks and 10Ks as I moved forward. But today, the Atlanta Track Club gave me reason to run in those extra races because they've made it even harder to qualify for Wave A.

This year, they folded in the old sub-seed wave as well as special waves for the fastest women and the fastest masters runners and made a hybrid out of the seeded runners and Wave A.

"Several different waves starting at the same time created unnecessary confusion and no real benefit to the runners in those divisions," the track club said in an email today. "Combining those waves makes timing the runners more manageable, efficient and most importantly accurate."

To get into Wave A you have to have run a 5K in 21:52 or faster or a 10K in 45:23 or faster. Last year the Wave A standard was 22:58 for a 5K and 47:39 for a 10K.

Luckily, I'll still be in Wave A this year because of my 21:18 time in the Vinings Downhill 5K last August. I was considering not running in it this year but I think I will just to make sure I remain qualified for Wave A in the future.

In February I did run 45:16 in the Charles Harris 10K, qualifying for Wave A by seven seconds.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Day 3,408: The Great Southern Endurance Run (Oakhurst-Pine Lake)

My debut as a pacer. My friend dropped out of the race a little more than a mile east from the end point above.
PINE LAKE, Ga. -- "Water. That's all we need," the text message read. "Steve is water deprived."

I'd just gotten back into the neighborhood after leaving my car at Stone Mountain Village as I prepared to be a pacer for the very first time, for the Great Southern Endurance Run, one of the most daunting ultras I'd ever heard of.

The race starts at the top of Kennesaw Mountain, makes its way into Atlanta and out to Stone Mountain -- the actual mountain not the city. You have to climb to the top then make your way back to Stone Mountain Village to reach the 100K mark, which is the finish for the race my friend and her friend were doing.

But that's not all -- there's a 100 mile version of the race, the one chronicled a few years ago by AJC photographer Ben Gray, who still holds the course record for running the century in 23 hours and two minutes. From the 100K mark, the 100 mile course continues on from Stone Mountain and makes its way up around Chastain Park before heading back into the city, finishing at Centennial Olympic Park.

So I went down to the basement fridge, got a plastic bag and filled it with cold bottles of water. I pulled out my 100 oz. CamelBak -- that hadn't been used since the December 2014 Honolulu Marathon -- and filled it full of water. If the dude needed water, he could use it and afterward I would just get another bite valve.

"I think you are close to me I'll try to go out on route," I texted. "Meet at (Mile) 31.1 Plasters Ave."

There was no reply.

Probably the first mention of this race to Anna came just two days after she and her friend placed first overall in the Chehaw Challenge, a 50-mile ultra in a park near Albany, Ga. I just saw a listing for it when I was looking up other ultras in the area. The Great Southern Endurance Run seemed like the perfect thing to joke about since the start is at Kennesaw Mountain, where she and her friend frequently train.

"(The) description freaks me out. Are you thinking of doing it?" she asked.

"No, not ever," was my reply.

"Well that was easy. Never," she concluded.

By the end of February, however, her friend wanted to run in it and she decided to give the 100K a try.

It only took me a few minutes to drive over a few neighborhoods, cross under the Interstate 85 overpass and position my car at the edge of a Shell station with water and a few bags of potato chips, since they'd previously requested salty food for the run.

I waited. I did the math in my head, looking at the time of the last text message. Was I too late?

After a while a lone runner, actually walking, emerged from out of the overpass. He was wearing a white cap and carrying a water bottle. I unstrapped my 19-month-old from her car seat and carried her toward him.

"Hey, have you seen a blonde runner named Anna and a guy?" I asked.

"I think they're ahead of me," he said. "I'm just trying to wait out the heat."

I offered him some water but he said he was good and then I strapped the little one back in the car seat. Looking at the turn by turn race route, I didn't have many immediate options. The course leaves the road and then hops on the unimproved section of the Eastside Beltline Trail, running along Ansley golf course.

I've run on that section before, with a BOB stroller, hunting a geocache and it is full of hand-sized granite rocks that often line rail beds. A section of rail still exists here. Someday it will be a concrete bike path.

So there was no catching up with them by car that way. But since this area is where I train, I knew that the unimproved Beltline empties into the newest part of Piedmont Park, called Piedmont Commons. There's even a road that intersects the Beltline in a cul-de-sac called Westminster Drive.

I could go there and wait, unless they'd already crossed the road. Then there would be no catching up with them until the Park Tavern parking lot near 10th Street.

I got back on Monroe but at the last second turned onto Piedmont Avenue to try Westminster. As I pulled down the side street, Anna, her friend Stephen, and her pacer, Marty, were just approaching the crossing.

"You need to read your text messages," I said with my head out the window. It turned out that Anna's battery was low and she hadn't been checking it.

I offered them the ice cold bottles of water and the chips. Anna's friend was shirtless and looked tired. Anna said he'd started walking right before Mile 25. I offered him my CamelBak but he declined and went to find some shade, sitting on the opposite side of the road with his shirt on his head.

Both Anna and Marty seemed fine. She'd run 32.6 miles officially at this point and it looked like the two of them were just another pair of weekend runners enjoying a four-mile loop through the park.

We chatted about how things were at hand and I told them before they continued that I would be in the area in case anyone needed a pick-up.

My original plan when I volunteered to be a pacer was actually to connect with them there, at the top of Piedmont Commons and then run with them as far as I could in-town before getting the wife to pick me up.

But they'd suggested that having a pacer in the last 15 miles or so would be more helpful, so I looked on the course map and decided that I could meet up with them at the aid station at the Columbia Theological Seminary. It's Mile 48.5 on the course map. I estimated I'd run about 10 miles with them until the next aid station in Stone Mountain Village. No way would I want to do that and then go up and down the mountain.

Anna's original estimate was that they would reach there around 1 p.m. With her friend not doing so well in the 82 degree heat and high humidity, their timetable already was pushed back. Yet without other updates I wasn't sure what to do but try to be in the area around the original estimated time, waiting for them to show up.

When we arrived at the seminary my family and I didn't see anybody. It was a little after 1 p.m. and we decided to go to a church playground across the street to wait it out.

Then, a little before 2 p.m., her pacer texted me, "Anna left Stephen behind." Anna's friend posted on Facebook that he had some issues with his hip and Anna continued on a Turner Field but he still intended to walk the rest of the way.

Marty indicated Anna was at Mile 42.5 at this point, which meant she was six miles away from the aid station, which easily could be another hour before she arrived. I wondered at this point if her pacer was continuing to run with her or if she was now running by herself. I texted to see if he was continuing to pace her. I didn't get a reply.

I decided that I would try to see if we could drive down the course to meet her and I would run a little farther on the route. We drove down through Oakhurst and then into Kirkwood. I actually made a wrong turn off the route and by the time I got back on the route I wondered if Anna had already passed this part of town.

So I had my wife drop me off in Oakhurst, about a mile away from the seminary aid station. I wandered down the course a few blocks away from the bar and restaurant district and settled down on a park bench where I'd hunted a geocache in the past. I put down my backpack and waited.

Doing the math in my head, I wasn't sure this was a good idea. If I guessed wrong, then Anna would already have passed this section. I'd then either have to run seven miles home or about 12.5 miles, the new length of my pacing route back to my car parked in Stone Mountain Village.

And then, I saw:

Marty and Anna running through Oakhurst.
I was so relieved, since this seemed to be one of the few things that worked out today. It turned out that Marty had run his route but returned to run with Anna at the Oakland Cemetery aid station after she was no longer running with her friend.

After getting me caught up on what had happened, he turned around and ran the six miles back to the aid station. (I don't know how many miles he logged this day but it had to be more than 20 since he did two out-and-back routes of the course).

As we trotted through Oakhurst at a slow jog, I told Anna what I had available with me, basically what I'd brought to support both her and her friend -- four water bottles that I'd frozen the night before, four GU gel packets, two pocket-sized emergency ponchos that my friend Hal had given me at various tailgating events, and a smattering of snacks -- granola bars, a bag of pretzels and Goldfish.

By this time we were trotting up the hill alongside the seminary when we heard someone clapping. Since I didn't think the aid station existed, I wasn't sure if this was part of the race or not. But Anna saw it was Ben Gray, the 100-mile course record holder and the host of the seminary aid station.

It turned out she was the first person to visit this aid station. As in the first person in the entire race, 100K or 100-miler, to reach this point.

He had a cooler for water and another for snacks, describing various things at Anna's disposal, including an ice water sponge that she used to cool down. She drank a cold paper cup of Ginger Ale.

"It was the best Ginger Ale in my whole life," she said later down the road.

Now that we were back on the road, I was in familiar territory. Thinking that a good pacer should know his section, I drove the 10-mile route the day before and immediately had some concerns. There were parts of the course that did not have sidewalks and put you on the road with cars, with little shoulder, including one place that to me had a bad blind spot.

This crushed my original thought to carry water and food for them in a cooler that I would push in a BOB baby stroller. Instead I carried all the support water and food in a small daypack that I thought I could run with. In doing so, I carried less of both since I no longer had a cooler's capacity.

Just a few hours before I drove the route, I popped into the Big Peach running store in Decatur and bought a Mizuno sleeveless shirt to help with the projected heat during the race segment. But after seeing that blind spot I opted to wear my bright orange technical shirt from the 2014 Publix Georgia Half Marathon. Safety before comfort.

In Avondale Estates our route was more of a walk-run, which was really understandable given the distance. Anna had her first GU gel and then over the next few miles, all of those gels were expended. She was in brand-new territory, having never raced more than 50 miles before.

We made our way over the Interstate 285 bridge and then over the blindspot hill that I worried about. It wasn't as bad as I thought but I didn't want to take any chances. It dawned on me that maybe Anna had signed a waiver for this race but I, the pacer, had not. So what was I doing here? The short segment on Indian Creek was similar but the road was already being used as a sidewalk by other pedestrians here.

Right before Mile 54 we crossed Memorial Drive, a section the race instructions said to "USE EXTREME CAUTION."

At this point the thunderstorms that forecasters warned us about all day came through. It poured down rain and I scrounged through my bag for one of the emergency ponchos and my Atlanta Track Club hat. I offered the other poncho to Anna, who declined.

It probably was a bad sign. At the next intersection we went about a half mile and then she said she probably could only walk from there on. I looked down at my running watch. It said I'd run a total of 5.19 miles -- I usually stop the watch whenever I walk.

We continued along Rockbridge Road. The rain had let up and I did some rough math in my head. We were about four miles away from the aid station and from there, four more to the finish, including the trip up and down Stone Mountain.

She stopped to eat a granola bar at a gas station that I told her has some of the cheapest gas in town. She'd gone through two water bottles and I went through the other two. Freezing them beforehand was pretty much useless, since half of the water we had was still ice. (The two bottles I drank out of finally defrosted the next day). We continued walking. A few men in a car honked as they drove by, likely not because we were in their way but because there was a skinny blonde lady walking down the road.

My friend wasn't feeling well and then with maybe 2.5 miles to the aid station, she'd had enough and decided to drop out of the race. I think the heat had something to do with it and the careful balance of hydration and nutrition you need for long runs like the marathon. She told me her knees were bothering her and why not -- that's a lot of punishment after 56 miles on the road and concrete.

Dropping out of the race happened pretty quickly -- I'd just texted her friend Marty that she was doing fine although we were walking the course from here on out. Another runner, who was seven minutes behind Anna at the seminary aid station and ultimately finished first, stopped and offered Anna encouragement to continue if she could.

He continued on and I wasn't sure what we were going to do. Then I realized that some of our geocaching friends were near the aid station and one of them graciously picked us up.

At about this point her friend who told her to go on at Turner Field had reached the seminary aid station. He then went on to finish the race in 15 hours, 35 minutes. None of the three women -- including Anna -- who participated in the 100K finished it, according to the results.

This was one of my most bittersweet moments in running. I'd prepared for many things as a pacer in the race but it didn't occur to me that the result would be Anna not finishing it. I went over my running data -- did I run too fast? My splits for that 5.16 miles was in the 10:15 to 10:30 range.

If I ever did this race -- and I promise you, I never will -- I would plan to have a series of pacers covering the entire course, as is currently permissible in this race.

I would also have a person drive along the course with me in a car, to help with aid, since the aid stations are far apart and maybe there should be more aid stations closer to the end of the race to help with aid and potential dropouts. I would also have a good communication system, including cellphones and chargers but also maybe two-way walkie-talkies that don't rely on cell service and don't burn battery so quickly.

And yeah, that part of the course that haunted me, the uphill curve with little shoulder and no sidewalk on Rockbridge, no thanks.

POSTSCRIPT: A few days later, Anna congratulated the runners in the race. "It hurts that I couldn't finish, but that gives me even more motivation to come out next year. Yep, see ya next year," she wrote on Facebook.