Race Report #24: Star Wars Dark Side 10K

This is part 1 of my Dark Side Challenge race report – you can see the half marathon review here.

Hi.  My name is Matthew – and I’m a Star Wars nerd.

I own that.  Really own it.  And so it was a natural fit to make my first runDisney race … the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon.  But, in a fit of optimism brought about by a 10K PR on Thanksgiving, I did something that may seem foolish.  I signed up for the Dark Side Challenge.  This means I signed up for a 10K on Saturday AND a half marathon on Sunday.

Yikes.

I’m going to break this up into two posts – I’ll talk about the expo and the 10K in this one, and then the half marathon in the next one.

Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway), runDisney races are a big deal.  People come from all over the world for a chance to run through the different parks and take pictures with the themed characters.  Several characters come out especially for these races – you don’t see them at other times.  They estimated 14,000 people started the 10K – looks like just under 11,000 finished – and then 20,000 for the half marathon.  Even though many of those are the same people that ran both races (like me) – that’s still a ton of folks.   And, in typical Disney fashion, they’ve got it very well organized.

I went to the expo to get my bib on Friday – took a day off of work in anticipation of challenges with timing.   Everything opens at 10am at the ESPN Wild World of Sports complex.  Apparently there was a multi-hour line on Thursday, which is the first day of the expo, so I got there about 9am and hoped for the best.  Turns out I was about 6th in line, and thought I had really gone overboard with timing.  But I had not – by the time things opened up the line went all the way down the building, wrapped all the way back to where we were, and then went all the way back down the building.  Getting there early was a good thing.

After acquiring my bib (one bib for both races) and shirts (three technical shirts that I really like), I headed over to the merchandise building and hoped not to wreck things.  I wound up wrecking things.  Refer back to the opening of this post – I’m a Star Wars nerd … and there is a lot of cool Star Wars stuff.  I wound up with a new pair of shorts (with a Death Star on them), a pint glass (if a pint glass is available, I always get the pint glass), a pair of flip-flops for the boy (with Darth Vader on them, of course) and a handful of limited release race pins (because we do pin trading, and, yeah – Star Wars race pins!).  The shirts that came with the race are nice – though for the first time maybe ever my reaction is that they are too big.  I got XXL because I still generally need XXL, and it is clear that the runDisney folks use a different definition of XXL for these races.  Next time I do a Disney race I’ll get XL shirts.

Pins!

So then the rest of Friday my goal was to stay off of my feet.  One of the things that runDisney is notorious for is an early start – the race started at 5:30am on Saturday morning.  But now if you start backing up timing – 8pm bedtime.  2am wakeup.  30 minutes to wake up and choke down coffee and breakfast.  20 – 30 minutes to get over to Epcot.  10-15 minutes to walk to the line for busses.  The busses over to the starting line at the Magic Kingdom start running at 3:30am, and right on time they let us through.  A few minutes to get over to the starting line, and then…

A friend that had recently done the Princess Half gave me some very good advice – be on one of the early busses to the start line and that way you can have a relatively short wait for pictures with characters.  That was great advice – as we started hitting characters there were already lines forming.  But instead of beginning at the beginning (BB-8 already had a long line), I headed to the end and wound up being like 6th in line for Darth Vader – who was easily the toughest picture once the crowds showed up.  I got that picture, immediately popped over to Jabba the Hutt, and then was able to have only a 10 – 15 minute wait for Bobba Fett.  So … that worked out.

I found my lack of sleep … disturbing.

How cool is Han in carbonite in the background?

Of course, at this point, I still had over an hour to kill.  I used the port-o-potties (of which there were tons) twice, and then headed to my corral.  I somehow got into Corral B for the 10K, so I was up near the start.  They had big screens everywhere and good speakers for the race hosts, and they were showing clips from the movies and such.  Again, as expected, very good organization as they started walking us down to the start line.  When I did the Rock n’ Roll Half in DC it took me nearly an hour to get to the start line.  For this race I was running within 10 – 15 minutes.

And we were off.  Because of the multiple races this weekend, I went with a strategy of trying to race the 10K – PR if I could – and treat the half as a fun run.  I guess I didn’t stretch enough because my shins immediately froze up.  I had a decision to make, and I wound up deciding to push through the pain.  It took nearly 4 miles before things let go.  But I had also managed my pre-race poorly and I immediately needed to pee.    I also tried to gut that one out, but that wound up costing me my PR.

The first three miles of the course were pretty uneventful.  We ran back out of the Magic Kingdom parking lot and headed straight down World Drive.  Just past the start there was a high school band playing the Star Wars theme – which was awesome. Even walking to the bus feels somehow impressive when the Star Wars fanfare is going.  The first character photo happened before mile 1 – a huge line already for R2-D2.  There were a couple of other random photo-ops along the way, as well as screens set up showing scenes from the movies.  The mile markers are fancy, and featured different Dark Side characters – the first mile marker had Darth Maul on it and they were playing Duel of the Fates on speakers.  A nice touch.

Water and Powerade stop at about mile 1.5, which I ignored, and then medical just past mile 2. Thanks to the volunteers that really help that out.  And then we hit a cloverleaf to an overpass so we could head over to the first park.  The cloverleaf was banked for cars, and of course represented a decent hill for central Florida, so it wasn’t the most fun … but it also featured the 5K split.  We crossed World Drive and ran a bit toward the Swan and Dolphin, and then turned into a back entrance to Hollywood Studios.  Just before we hit the gate we got another character spot – this time Darth Maul.  I made a mental note to get that picture when I came through here on Sunday morning in the half.  Immediately inside the gate there was another water stop, and then the 501st Legion was all decked out to greet us – Tuscan Raiders, Jawas, Troopers of all types, the whole crew.  And then we were in the park.  But I couldn’t hold out anymore on the bathroom – I stopped at one of the park restrooms.  No line, but it wound up blowing my PR attempt.  Lesson learned – pee before you line up.

Running through the parks is why people pay a fortune and get up early to run Disney races.  We came out from behind the Tower of Terror, and were immediately greeted by Stormtroopers.  Running through the main drag of Hollywood studios, right at dawn, with Stormtroopers patrolling the place … it was a very cool scene.  We ran right up to and around the front gate, and then headed around to a path that connects Hollywood Studios to the Boardwalk area.  Instead of turning right onto the main Boardwalk, which I expected, we headed left toward the Yacht Club and Beach resorts.  That was boardwalk running all the way around to the back entrance to Epcot.  Just before we hit a service entrance into Epcot there was another water stop, and then we emerged right behind the Rose & Crown in the Great Britain section of the World Showcase.

I didn’t realize until I got the pictures that the photographers were so strategically placed…

One of the things you might not know unless you’ve experienced it is that they’ve got that whole park wired up with speakers so that they can speak to everybody there all at the same time.  And when we came out into the World Showcase … all of those speakers were blaring the Star Wars fanfare.  I’ve already owned that I’m a Star Wars nerd, but that was chilling.  My headphones came off for the rest of the race.

We turned left at Great Britain, ran through the Canada section, and then around to the main path headed toward Spaceship Earth.  There were Stormtroopers taking pictures in front in that area, and also photographers with Spaceship Earth in the background – and no line.  Since my PR was already not going to happen, I got a quick picture there and headed to the finish.  Just before the gate we cycled around through a cast member area, which also had some of the 501st.  Snowtroopers, Sandtroopers, Imperial Gunners, etc. – very cool.  We turned back into the finish line in the parking lot, and after getting past some patrolling Stormtroopers we were done.

Big finish chute – clearly set up to handle major crowds.  They did a great job running people through the sections and avoiding bottlenecks.  I collected my medal, and then a water and a Powerade.  We then walked through the Challenge Medal area (which was not being used until Sunday), and picked up our snack boxes (chips, cheese sauce, Oreos, dried fruit, granola bar) and bananas, and then through gear check and back out.  The characters from the beginning were also at the end, but I made the decision to hold off until Sunday to get the ones I hadn’t gotten and headed to my car.

I finished in 1:06.20, which was 2 minutes and 42 seconds off of my PR.  If I had managed my bathroom function a little better I had a shot of getting it – but I’m still happy with that run.  It was fun, I got to see a lot of cool things, and I also got acquainted with how they do things before I started out on the long run on Sunday.  I was home by 8:00 or 8:15 – and then heading back out to watch my oldest run his first event, an inflatable obstacle run.  This turned into a good day.

Notes:

  • Could not be more impressed with how well this was organized. I’m already on the Disney bandwagon, but this was just another place where they demonstrated how very good they are at handling big crowds and big experiences for their guests.
  • I observe the taboo on wearing a race shirt in the actual race – bad juju, plus the idea of wearing something completely new on race day.  Not only did I see a ton of race shirts for this – I saw a bunch of half marathon shirts, which wouldn’t be run until the next day.  And I even saw a couple of Dark Side Challenge shirts which, just … wow.
  • Something different – I finished in the top 25% overall and top third in my age division.  This has little to do with my speed and a lot to do with the facts of the race – they want people to stop and take pictures.  And a lot of people just are not regular runners – they are doing it for the Disney or the Star Wars parts.  Still…
  • I’ve seen several complaints about the overall course for both the 10k and the half since the race ended – and I think that’s nonsense. The logistics of making this work and letting us see as much as possible, in an environment where they’re going to be letting tens of thousands of people into their parks in some cases while we’re still running … those have to be a nightmare.  I thought the course was great.
  • The medal was intense – big and heavy, with a Stormtrooper on it. If this was the 10K medal, I was anxious to see the half marathon medal.
  • I didn’t mention the weather – it wasn’t so bad for somebody that lives in Florida – pretty normal for this race. Mid-60s and humid at race start.  Folks that traveled from up north were struggling with it, but overall I didn’t have a problem during the 10k.  Bit of a different story on Sunday.
  • My goal of going home and basically not standing up for hours after got blown all to hell. The obstacle course my son was doing had a parent run-along lane for 1.5 miles, and I was trying to stay ahead since I had the camera.  I wound up running most of the way in non-running stuff, and starting to put some irritation on my thighs and nipples.  I would have to deal with that the next day.  But it was so very worth it.
  • Another 8pm bedtime and 2am wakeup. Yay?
  • SWAG picture at the end of the next post – the bib was cool, the shirts were cool, and the medals were awesome. We got a virtual goody bag with discounts and things for the expo.  No other little stuff, though, which I’m OK with.
  • Next race – Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon – April 23rd. Post coming soon.

RR #22: Ashburn Farm 10K

In retrospect, I should have expected the email.  For whatever reason, though, I didn’t, and was a bit surprised when:

“Looking forward to seeing everybody on Thanksgiving – hey, there is a 10K about 45 minutes away – anybody want to do that?”

So, I signed up for a 10K on Thanksgiving morning.

This was the 23rd running of the Ashburn Farm 10K, which is a fundraising event organized by Crossroads United Methodist Church in Ashburn, Virginia.  They support a charity in Uganda that helps young people with school – a worthy cause.  They were expecting around 2,300 going into the event, though I did hear the number 3,000 at one point that morning.

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Six of us went – our hosts for the week, Dave and Erin, two of their kids, my sister-in-law, and me.  When I announced we needed to leave around 6:30am in order for me to be comfortable about getting there, my sister-in-law groaned a rather lot.  But we were out of the house by 6:40 – not bad.

We parked near the start line, which was about two blocks from the finish line and therefore a perfect place to make a quick exit after.  Packet pickup was in the church, and then we headed back and stayed warm in the car until the 10K start, which was 8:15.  Dave and one of the girls were running the 5K, so they came out and cheered and then presumably headed back to the car.

Couldn’t hear much from the back of the pack, 3-2-1, go.  It took about 45 seconds to get to the start line (this will be important later), and we were off.  I never felt crowded at the beginning, which was nice.  I had looked at the elevation profile, so was prepared for the hill in Mile 1 – a hill that was especially daunting for the Florida runner.  I can do an 8 mile long run and my Garmin will tell me that my total elevation gain is 8 feet.  So a 100 foot hill is a monster.

My goal was to PR, which is to say that I wanted to beat the time I ran less than two weeks before at The Florida Run – which was a 10:43 pace.  Mile 1 was a 10:38 mile, so ahead of pace even with the hill.  But I felt OK, so I went with it.

ashburn-farm-10k-course

Mile 2 was kind of rolling, with some downhills after the crest at the end of Mile 1.  Miles 2 – 5 were a big out-and-back, and at the end of Mile 2 is where I met the leaders going the other way, near their Mile 4.  Looked like running club or track kids – they were flying. Mile 2 was a 10:21.  In Mile 3, also kind of rolling, I met the three people I was running with coming back on the out-and-back, as well.  I wasn’t as far away from them as I might have thought.   Mile 3 was 10:22 – very consistent.

About halfway through Mile 4 we turned up a hill that, again, wasn’t that bad for most, but … Florida.  It sucked.  That hill continued into Mile 5, but by then I knew I was on a real PR pace and took off.  Mile 4 was 10:33, Mile 5 was 10:15.

And then the elevation turned downhill.  Mile 6 was a downhill bomb for me, losing 100 feet of elevation in the mile.  There was nobody around me – really not anybody in front or anybody behind.  I was on an island and decided to uncork it.  It felt … great.  I ran Mile 6 in 9:38, which is one of the fastest miles I’ve ever run in a race.  And to have that happen in the sixth mile of a 10K, well … that feels good.

Near the end of Mile 6 we met up with the 5K race, and because of my time that means I was with the walkers.  I spent half a mile dodging walkers, and as we neared the finish line we were in a residential area with turn-y roads and apartment complexes, so you couldn’t see the finish.  It was maddening.  A couple of hundred yards out Dave and his daughter came back to cheer for me and told me it was close, just go.  The clock at the finish line said 1:04.24 when I crossed it, and my watch said exactly 6.2 miles and 1:03.43.

My official time was 1:04.24, a 10:22 pace, and the timing company posted that my net time and my gun time were identical.  And that appears to be the case for most of the people that ran – there are very few people that have a different net time and gun time.  Of course, that doesn’t make sense.  It looks like their start line failed to register our bibs, so they had to go with the gun time at the finish.  That sucks – I’m convinced I ran this nearly 40 seconds faster, at a 10:15 pace, which is spectacular for what I’ve done in the past.

Update:  They updated the times!  My official time for this was race is now 1:03.38, or a 10:16 pace!  Not sure what made me look, but … woot!  The next paragraph has been edited to reflect the updated time.

I PRed by nearly 3 minutes, off of a 6.5 minute PR that I set less than two weeks before this race.  In the last two weeks, I’ve taken 10 minutes off of my 10K PR.  10 minutes. I’m crediting Crossfit – I’m about the size I was when I was running these a couple of years ago, but my aerobic threshold is so much higher.  I’m thrilled with this, even if I did lose a few seconds.

PR!

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Notes:

  • Much of the course was not completely closed to traffic, and I saw two different instances where cops were yelling at drivers.  Thanks to the boys in blue for coming out on Thanksgiving morning and keeping us safe.
  • Because they all finished a few minutes before me, I didn’t really get a chance to visit the after-race amenities inside the church.  They said it was a zoo in there though – fortunately, they grabbed me a water and a banana.
  • I don’t like uphills, of course – but I remember now why I don’t mind hills in general.  Downhills are awesome.  That last mile was a bomb and felt like it – I have almost never run that fast.
  • A few people cheering for me at the end by calling out my bib number.  It was cool.  I’ve got a couple of races coming up where my name is on the bib – I think that is going to be a good thing.
  • Afterward we went back to the house and WRECKED Thanksgiving dinner. Wrecked it.  My early calorie deficit did not last very long.  I ate a lot, is what I’m trying to say.
  • Not a lot of SWAG – a nice long-sleeve cotton shirt with the logo that you saw above, and some coupons to local places.  Apparently there were some door prizes, but I spent so little time in that area that I have no idea. Not complaining – it was a $35 race and they were raising money for charity.  And it is a nice shirt.
  • Next race:  Celebration Half Marathon, January 29th.  I may try to find a 5K between now and then, but other than that, a big one is next.  Given what has happened in the last two weeks, I feel REALLY good about that one.

PR!

RR #21: The Florida Run at Lake Louisa State Park

Update – 12/19/2016 – the race published pictures!  I talked about each individual picture here, but I want to come back in and put them into this post for anybody that might be looking for reports on this race.  Pictures!

Here’s how the website describes, in part, The Florida Run at Lake Louisa State Park:

Known as one of Central Florida’s more challenging and unique races, the course will take runners on paved surfaces, dirt trails, grass trails and some sand.

Lake Louisa State Park is in Clermont, Florida, about a 30 minute drive from the house.  I was worried about timing for my traditional pre-run oatmeal, so I had my coffee and a bowl of cereal, snagged a couple of Lara bars, and headed out.  I have visited the park before – and I hit the gate at about 6:20am for an 8am start.  Normally the park opens at 8am, but they make an exception on race day.  I made my way to the back of the park and headed over to the lakeside bathrooms for a quick break … and saw this – which is a sunrise that you normally don’t get to see:

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Well.

After that auspicious start, it seemed it might be a good day.

This is a really small race but is very well managed.  The Florida Run includes a half marathon, the 10K, the 5K, and a kid’s fun run.  There wound up being 114 finishers in the 10K, and it was probably a few more than that for the half marathon.  But, packet pickup was smooth and easy, and the timing company did a great job.  There was an announcer, a nice chute, and good signage throughout.  Just very well run.

For whatever reason I needed two more trips to the restroom, and then headed over to cheer on the half marathon start, which left at 7:45.  While the mosquitos chewed on me, we had an opening prayer and then a very well done National Anthem – 3-2-1 go, and they were off.  Took maybe two minutes, maybe less, to clear the chute.  15 minutes later we lined up in the chute for the 10K, same 3-2-1, and off we went.

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Because we were in a state park and running what can only be described as a rural route, there was no spectator support.  We were on our own almost immediately.  The first mile was paved, was uneventful and maybe slightly rolling.  The first water station was at about the 1.5 mile mark, followed immediately by one of the bigger hills I’d seen in a while.  By my New York standards it almost doesn’t even count as a hill.  By my new Florida standards, it was tough.  But I powered up and did OK.  And then at about 1.8 miles, we turned off of the pavement onto a path, and the second mile marker was a bit down this path.  Mile #1 clocked in at 10:44, and Mile #2 at 11:04.

This part of Central Florida is basically one big sand dune.  And these paths were like a beach that had a lot of grass growing on it.  The ground was always a bit soft, and if there was no grass in an area it was not all that different from any sandy beach.  Obviously we tried to avoid those.  Maybe 0.75 mile into this we made a sharp right turn and headed up one of the bigger hills I’ve run in literally years.  Again, by non-Florida standards I don’t think it was so bad.  But, when you factor in the sand and the pancake-flat ground around my house that I train on, it was pretty brutal.  The next aid station was at the top of this hill, and they laughed when I said “Well – that sucked.”  The top of this hill was also the third mile marker – Mile #3, which included that crappy hill, was an 11:17 mile.

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At that point, we were back on pavement, and started back downhill, and I knew I was going to have a good day.  Even after those hills I was feeling good, and I knew that the hardest part of the run was behind me now.  Given that, I decided to uncork it a little and start reeling people in.  That got easier because at about this point the 10K and half marathon courses converged, and I was suddenly in the middle of a bunch of runners that were halfway through a race that they had started 15 minutes before I had started mine.  If this were a Ragnar, I’d say it was a target-rich environment, and I started focusing on picking people off.  Mile #4, which included some more off-road sandy trail, was a 10:31 mile, and Mile #5 – where we passed the first water station again going the other way, was a 10:41.

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At some point in all of that the half marathon course had diverged again, and there were only two 10K runners in front of me within reach, so I focused on trying to pick them off.  I actually got both of them with less than a quarter of a mile to go, but one guy apparently didn’t like that I passed him and hit the gas – he finished ahead of me by about 10 seconds.  I had passed a girl, too, and right at the very end she went by me at full sprint speed – again apparently not liking the idea of being beaten by a fat guy.  I wonder how far she would have been ahead had she portioned that energy out a little better.  Mile #6 was a 10:44 mile, and then the last little bit took a little over a minute – I forgot to hit the button on my watch until well after I crossed the line, so I don’t know exactly.

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I’m not sure who the spotter was as we came in to the finish, but the announcer called my name and town as I entered the chute, and I collected my very nice medal and bottle of water and headed over to the food tent.  They had Clif bars, oranges, bananas, and chocolate chip cookies – not a horrible spread.  About 10 minutes after I finished the first half marathon finisher came in, at about an hour and a half.  Dude was flying.

My stated goal going into this was a PR (1:13 and change) and my really hope-to-get goal was 1:08.  My finish time was 1:06.32 – a PR by nearly six and a half minutes!  I was and am thrilled.  Especially with the hills and the sand, I never would have expected to be able to do that.  I know based on my recent 5K and some recent training that I’m capable of that speed, but I didn’t think I would have been capable of that kind of endurance.  And my weekly mileage isn’t really that high – Crossfit is getting me into the best shape of my life.

I’m officially on the training schedule for the Celebration Half Marathon in January – this makes me very optimistic for that.

PR!

Notes:

  • Can’t say enough about how well the race seemed to be organized, especially for such a small race. I’ve run races that were quite a bit bigger than that one that didn’t have some of the niceties, and that didn’t go as smoothly.  Well done.
  • Those hills could have been worse, but they also weren’t exactly smooth. I’m going to have to figure out how to get hill training in somehow if I ever want to run any events outside of Florida.
  • I haven’t been training with water, so I didn’t take any at the first two water stations. I took Gatorade at the last one, with the thought that maybe I’d get a boost.  Not that I could tell, but it didn’t hurt, either.
  • When I got done with the last bit of trail running, there was a volunteer there that was yelling “No more sand!” I told him he was my hero.  I meant it.
  • I wish I had taken a picture of the trophy table. Other than a trophy that was designed for local teams to pass around, the trophies were all pieces of cut 2x lumber that had been laser printed with the race logo and the winner’s category.  Unique, and very cool.

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  • Actually got a SWAG bag, which doesn’t happen that often anymore. There were some coupons and flyers, a couple of medicine samples (Advil, etc.), and a little tube of sunscreen.  The race shirt was cotton but very nice (though they only had XL, so I may never be able to wear it … <sigh>).  And we all got a very nice medal.  I still don’t know how I feel about getting a medal for running a 10K, particularly since it is the exact same medal the half marathoners got (and, not for nothing, that the 5K runners got).  BUT – I am not conflicted enough to not hang it with all of the other medals.  The bib also was not only race-specific, but it was distance-specific … the different distances had different colors and descriptions.  I love that detail
  • Next race: Ashburn Farm 10K, Ashburn, Virginia – a Thanksgiving day race that I now intend to try and absolutely bomb.  We’ll see.

Onward!

RR #19 – The Great American Bacon Race

Selecting my first “race” (event is really more correct, but they’re called races so we’ll go with that) back from my little hiatus was an interesting thought experiment.  I’m new to the area, so I want to explore – but my son is older, too, and it would be fun to not have to drive so far and maybe the family could come.  Based on timing and theme, I chose The Great American Bacon Race in Tampa.

The Great American Bacon Race advertises itself as a bacon-themed 5K series, with everything that you’d think comes with that.  They started doing this in 2014, and they’ve only got three – Orlando in August, Miami in September, and Tampa in October.  The website is short on information (course maps, etc.) but long on really good advertising and playing up the theme.  I figured it couldn’t hurt – what the heck?  That’s about an hour drive, but since it didn’t start until 9 I thought maybe the family could come – and we might get some bacon, besides.  So I signed up.

The race goes down at the Florida State Fairgrounds – so pay $6 to park, park on the grass, and a decent hike in to the check-in.  About halfway on that hike from the parking lot, the smell starts happening.

Bacon smells amazing.

No check-in bag – just your bib, your safety pins, and a strip attached to your bib that you use to go get your shirt.  So I lined up for my shirt, and then took it all back to my car to pin the bib and put the shirt away and kill a few minutes.

About an hour before the race started, people started circulating with huge pans of bacon that were being cooked on big griddles over by the finish line.  Just huge piles of bacon.  They said at one point that about 1,000 registered, and they had around 20,000 slices of bacon.

One of the thing about themed races like this is that they appeal to non-runners, and that was evident immediately.  There were a lot of kids and a lot of people with non-traditional running body shapes.  This is not a critique, just a fact – one look at me and you know I have no place for critiques.  There were a lot of costumes – many bacon themed ones, of course, but also tutus and pig ears and something that looked like a sandwich that I never really understood.  And, a solid hour before the scheduled race start, several of the kids and costumes started lining up at the start line, which, well, tells anybody that is taking this seriously what is going to happen in the first half mile.  No judgies, just statement of fact.

Notice the children and people in costume.  Also, you can see me clearly, if you look.

Notice the children and people in costume. Also, you can see me clearly, if you look.

They got everybody lined up, countdown from 10, fire the horn, and we’re off.

First thing, I was right about the chaos in the first several hundred yards.  I lined up in the front third or so of the pack because I knew what was about to happen, and I was still dodging walkers immediately.  There was one apparent incident where a woman was tripped and fell, too.  If I were going to give a single piece of feedback to the organizers it would be on this point – add signs for expected finish times, including one for walkers at the back, and make it clear over and over that walkers need to start back there.

Great American Bacon Race Map

Now, take a look at the screenshot of the course map that I got off of my Garmin.  It turns out that putting together a 3.1 mile run inside the Florida State Fairgrounds requires a lot of out and back weaving, most of it in parking lots.  The first mile or so was all in the parking area, with each “back” leg right into the sun.  Then we peeled off, passed the first Bacon Station on the course (I expected two, but never did see the second one) and ran over near the barns and the rodeo & livestock arenas, which was much more interesting.  Then another half mile or so weaving through a parking lot, and then a bit of looping through where the midway would be, and then around to the finish.

First, and I normally give massive benefit of the doubt on this one, but that course was not 3.1 miles long.  My Garmin stopped at 2.83, and my phone, which was tracking because I had an episode of Zombies! Run going, stopped at just over 2.9.  So it appears to have been about a quarter of a mile short.  Some of that is likely due to all of the weaving around – how you take corners and run the lines makes a difference, so there is that.  Benefit of the doubt has been given.

2015-10-03 09.36.53-1

Another interesting phenomenon – there was one couple in particular that stood out as non-traditional runner.  He was dressed up as a slice of bacon, and both of them were significantly larger than I am.  They were at the start line at 8am for a 9am start, and were among the first half-dozen people off the line when the gun went off.  As expected, I blew by them in the first minute, and wound around to start my out and around weaving.  Because of all of the weaving, you can see everybody that isn’t going all speed racer, and at about half a mile in … they were ahead of me again.  What the hell?  Took me a couple of minutes to catch them, and then maybe a mile later … they were ahead of me again.  It took me forever to figure out that they were cutting through and not completing all of the loops.

The bastards were power-leveling the 5K course.

Once I figured that out, I noticed it from several people, including one older (but fit-looking) lady that had come over to me at the beginning of the race for the express purpose of telling me she’d already had two Bloody Marys and that she planned on having fun.  This activity distracted me.  I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it does.  Skipping whole sections of this thing is not how this works.  I don’t care how much you love bacon, if you want to take credit for finishing a 5K, you’ve got to earn that by finishing a 5K.  Dammit.

My official finishing time was 35:34.4, and my watch had the exact same time but only 2.83 miles.  If I extrapolate up from the pace I covered my last half-mile at, this would have been a roughly 39 minute 5K, in my estimation.  My stated goal was to just go and do it, and I did that, and it was awesome.  My non-stated, but like-to-have goal was to make sure this stayed under 40 minutes.  Check.  And my dream goal was to get under my first ever 5K time, which was 38:15 … that didn’t happen, but I’m happy nonetheless.  It felt really good to get back out there.

2015-10-03 09.37.45

A finish line picture!

Notes:

  •  No, really – it felt GREAT to get back out there.  There is just an energy around these events.  Being around generally fit people is inspiring.  Being around generally not-fit people who are working their asses off is inspiring.  Just being a part of something going on is exciting.  I love seeing new things and being out in the morning.  Really – getting back out there was a good thing.
  •  My hat, it turns out, does a poor job of stopping sweat.  And one of the things about running in the daytime versus in the morning before sunrise is that I sweat more.  And it all ran into my eyes.  And stung.  So I purchased a headband at the race, and I’ve got another, and I’m going to see how I like headbands.
  • The running-through-the-parking-lot bits of this were tedious, but the other parts of the race – the barns and the arenas and the midway – that was pretty cool.  It would be nice for that course to try and incorporate more of that.
  • I never walked.  I spent a lot of time around people that were doing a run-walk strategy – they’d blow by me when they were running, and then I’d pass them 30 – 60 seconds later when they were walking.  But I kept ’em churning.  Nobody impressed me more than the speed-walking lady that passed me at about mile 2, though.  I had passed her early in the race, but apparently I slowed down and she hit her stride, because, wow.
  • No real swag in terms of a bag of crap.  But the quality of what we got was quite high.  We got a medal, which is something I’m not accustomed to in a 5K.  I almost feel bad about hanging it next to my half-marathon medals – but not bad enough to not hang it.  The bib was specific for this event, which I love, and the shirt was a very high quality cotton shirt with a nice logo – a shirt I’ll actually wear.  One thing about for-profit races, they don’t need to fill their shirts with sponsor logos, so that helps.  In the picture below, I purchased the headband only…

    SWAG

    SWAG

  • Next Race:  Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Breakfast 5K on October 31st. Hopefully this one winds up being somewhat faster.  We’ll see.

Throwback Thursday – RR #18 – Phillips 10K Trail Run/Walk

Aaaaand – we’ve got a continuity issue.

This event was my 4th, in June of 2013.  If anybody is counting, that would make it race report #4.  However, I never did a race report on this event – some of which was laziness, some of which was politeness, some of which was dissatisfaction with my performance – and continued to number the rest of them – numerically.  So I had run 18 events, but only had 17 race reports, numbered 1 – 17.  This can be confusing, and it is just frankly time to true this up.  So this report is delayed by over 2 years, but without further delay…

I signed up for the Phillips 10K Trail Run without, frankly, knowing what I was doing.  This was the second year for the organizers of this event, and a new course for them in Lewis Morris Park near Morristown, New Jersey.

I did two things wrong going into this.  First, I randomly bought a pair of low-drop trail running shoes online, thinking that they’d be magical.  And second, I didn’t really do a lot of training on trails.  There was some of that, sure, but they were relatively short runs on relatively well maintained trails.  My achilles tendons hurt like mad whenever I wore those shoes, but I tried to ignore it and headed into this race – my first 10K – thinking I was ready.

Turns out, I was not.

I made the hour drive out to Morristown, and about the time I got there I got a call from my wife saying they had decided to come along, too, and would be there when I finished the race.  That was exciting, because this was the first time they were able to come and cheer for me since that first race in March.

Head into the parking lot, park the car, open the door, and step into a very strange sound landscape – a low level drone that never ended – a constant buzz with no direction at all.  It turned out to be cicadas – this was during the big cicada takeover in the summer of 2013, and they were EVERYWHERE.  Flying around, on trees and tables and benches, and just generally making a nuisance of themselves.  My son, as you might imagine, was fascinated.

Cicada #1 Cicada #2

 

 

They lined us up and off we went – the 5K runners (200 – 300 people) went one way, the 10K runners (all 30 or so of us) went the other.  The course itself was a hiking / biking single-track through this big park, and was generally pretty.  There were a couple of stream crossings and several good hills, and in general it would have been a pleasant hike.  There were four things, though, that wound up making it a fairly unpleasant run for me, and then one other really big thing that made it a very unpleasant run for everybody else.

1.  I had not anticipated that about 300 – 400 yards into the race the course would drop to single track on a hill – meaning nobody could pass me.  I wound up running entirely too fast in the first mile just to try and get out of everybody’s way.  That was a mistake.

2.  There were proper, 500 – 600 foot elevation gain hills.  I hadn’t prepared enough for that, and coupled with a fast start, they wore me down quickly.

3.  The course was not closed, and the trail turns out to be popular among mountain bikers.  And they, to a man (all men), refused to yield.  Dodging the cyclists sucked.

4.  About 4 miles in, I had hit a groove and was feeling really good when I stepped on a root and turned my ankle very badly.  It was the same ankle that I had injured at the close of my first race, back in March of 2013, and though I was able to eventually walk it off, that mile was more of a stumble than a walk, and certainly not a run.

The course came close to the finish line about half a mile before the actual finish line, so I was able to see my wife and son, and she told me about the bigger issue before I looped around and finished.

The biggest issue on the course was signage.  Because the overall course was a network of hiking trails, there were a lot of intersections and they weren’t always signed very well. But there was a particularly bad one at roughly the 3.5 mile mark.  The ground was flat and a trail T-ed off to the right of the direction we were running … and there was a tree right across from that intersection with a sign that could be interpreted as either “Turn Right” or “Go Straight”.  What they actually wanted us to do was turn right.  I wound up going straight, but not very far before I second guessed it and doubled back.  A few yards down the correct path you could see another sign, but only if you looked.  Fortunately, I looked, so I didn’t get lost.

Others were not so fortunate.  One lady apparently had a sizable lead and was going to win the race but missed that turn and tacked on another mile.  Several others had the same issue.  The crowd at the award ceremony after was not … friendly.  After it was all over we got an email from the organizers offering to refund our money, but I don’t think anybody took them up on it.

This was the only race I’ve ever run where I came in functionally last (as opposed to DFL).  Not technically last – there were two walkers, each of which finished 30 – 45 minutes behind me – but for those of us trying to run it, I came in last by about a minute.  The award ceremony was almost over when I crossed the finish line.  I was limping, exhausted, and muddy.  But my family was there, and I felt prouder to have done that than I think I would have if it were easier – I conquered that sucker, you know?

My time was a robust 1 hour, 26 minutes, and 17 seconds, for a 13.55 / mile pace that stands as the worst official performance of my running “career”.

Notes:

– One upside to doing this as my first 10K was that it was extraordinarily easy to PR in the next 10K.

– That was the last time I ran in those shoes.  I was so sore for the next three days that I needed a scapegoat.  They were thrown in the garbage with something like 30 miles on them.

– I’m also not convinced that the course was a full 6.1 miles – my watch only said about 5.5 miles, and the mile marker signs never seemed to align with what my watch was saying.  But, if they are calling it a 10K, I’m going with it.

– This did not sour me on the idea of trail races – in fact, I think I could really enjoy them – but it made me painfully aware that the preparation for trail races is different than the preparation for road races.  Especially now that I’m in Florida, that could be challenging.

– Decent SWAG – I obviously don’t remember everything in the bag, but they did have a branded refrigerator magnet, and the shirt became one of my favorites – I wore it a lot, as you can see in the picture below.

– The next race after this one was the CHK 4K, which I enjoyed a rather lot.

cropped-chk_4k.jpg

Not from the Phillips 10K, but I’m wearing the shirt I got at the Phillips 10K

RR #17: Run for a Reason 5K

I suppose we could call this one a Throwback Thursday, couldn’t we?  Because this happened almost exactly one year ago, though I never did a race report.  I’m a bit out of practice, but here goes nothing.

The morning dawned bright and muggy.

Nope – too much.

Each year for over 10 years now, my wife’s parents rent a beach house at some very nice location for their vacation.  What has always happened is that they would rent a house big enough for all of their kids and their families, and then they would invite everyone.  Come, don’t come, that doesn’t matter – you are all invited.  July of 2015 will be the 8th year I’ve been in the family for this, and it was a long-established tradition before I got there.

They started in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach, Virginia.  That’s where my first year was.  But my first year in Sandbridge was the family’s last year in Sandbridge – the drive from northern New Jersey was proving too much.  So we gradually began migrating up the coast.  The following year was in Cape May, New Jersey.  The year after that began a two-year run in Mantaloking, New Jersey.  And then there were three years in Southampton, New York, on Long Island.

By this point in the summer of 2014, I was basically not running anymore but had not yet given up on the idea of me running.  And one of my sisters-in-law is very athletic and saw this 5k and sent out a blast to the family – I want to run it, lets have a bunch of us do that.  So I signed up.

There was some confusion at the bib pickup, and I knew there would be – when I signed up online, there was never an option to pay.  So when I showed up at the race, they said “You’re the guy that didn’t pay!”  But, because I was expecting that I was prepared with cash and we didn’t have a problem.  It turned out that the only family members that actually were running the race were the aforementioned sister-in-law, my niece who is in high school and runs cross country, and me.  I made it clear very early on that my feelings would not be hurt when they left me in the dust.

The 2014 Southampton Family Vacation 5K team

The 2014 Southampton Family Vacation 5K team

We got there pretty early, so we spent 30 minutes warming up by jogging around the little park where the start line was.  And then we lined up and were off.  We ran down about 200 yards, turned left and climbed the only real hill of the race, and then ran a big square in a neighborhood area full of $1million+ homes in the Hamptons.  We then came back down the hill and headed back to the finish line.

So, yeah, I was unprepared for this race.  Things went OK until I got maybe a quarter mile past the top of the hill, and then my right shin seized up and that was it.  I run / walked the rest of the way in pain, wondering what in the hell my shins had against me.

My wife’s family is the cheering type, and since there were three of us running, they came out and sat near the finish line.  As I come through, this is what I’m greeted with:

Seriously – that’s worth your time.  That’s my son on the left – I love it when he gets to come out and see me doing this.

My time was horrible – 38 minutes and 23 seconds.  That is slower than my first ever 5K.  I was so discouraged that this performance basically ended my running for the next six months – my last run was on August 3rd, with a little attempt in February 2015 and then a couple of fits and starts in May / June.

Notes:

– Hard to say it more strongly – that really really sucked.

– Having a cheering section like that, though, is amazing.  Seriously, amazing.

– Running in the Hamptons is a bit surreal, if you want to know the truth.  The houses we were running past were protected by huge hedges, so mostly we were running through a big green tunnel. And then when you did see a house, it was a freaking mansion.  Weird.

– My sister-in-law and my niece both did run away from me – they had a decent race.  I was happy for them, even if I was disappointed in myself.

– I don’t remember much about the SWAG.  The t-shirt was a cotton job that my wife wears all of the time around the house.  And the bib was a unique one that said Southampton Rotary Club, which I love.  The spread at the end was bagels and bananas, and there were plenty left when a back-of-the-packer like me made it to the table.

– That race was the 17th and last race of my streak.  In January of 2013, I weighed about 315 pounds.  In March of 2014, I ran my first 5K, and then ran at least one event in 16 straight months, losing 50 pounds in the process and feeling amazing.  During the streak I ran a Ragnar, two half marathons, a 15k, two 10ks, a 5-miler, ten 5ks, and a 4k.  I ran events in 6 states and the District of Columbia.  I ran through three pairs of shoes, and just basically felt like a million damn dollars.

– I want that back. I want it back badly.

– Next Race:  The Great American Bacon Race, 5K, Tampa, Florida, October 3rd, 2015

My son and his grandfather.  This - this right here - is what this is all about

My son and his grandfather. This – this right here – is what this is all about

RR #16: Branford Road Race

The Branford 5m Road Race was recommended to me by a poster over on the Motley Fool.  The recommendation was basically that this is a relatively large race that they’ve been doing for a long time and has great support.  The race is also part of a festival that is done on the green in Branford every Father’s Day.  When I looked it up, and saw that the race itself didn’t start until 10:15 – which means late enough that my family could come – I signed up.

So … it turns out that this Branford Festival is a thing.  A legit thing.  At 9am when we got there we were very surprised at how difficult parking in the area was … and then when we got to the green there were people and tents and just activity all over the place.  We didn’t explore a whole lot at first because I was prepping for the race, but it turned out that on the next block over there were rides and carnival games and food vendors and car shows and just all kinds of stuff.  And after the race was over we hung around and had a blast.  Overall, in spite of what I’m going to say in a minute, this was basically the best Father’s Day ever.

I like starting line pictures like this...

I like starting line pictures like this…

Not that I was as prepared as I thought I was for the race.

I went in optimistic – my mileage has been slowly increasing, and I’ve been feeling pretty good.  My intention was to try and keep it under control in the first mile and then see what was left in the tank at around mile 4 and try and finish strong.  My stated goal was 55 minutes, so 11 minute miles, which I expected to be very achievable.  My backup goal was an hour flat, which I almost didn’t even think bore mentioning.  And if I’d gotten to mile 4 at 44 minutes or less I was going to try and uncork it and see what I could do in the last mile.  I understood the course to be basically downhill or flat through the 3rd mile, mostly uphill in the 4th mile, and then flat to slightly uphill into the finish.

Confusion at the start – there was a 2-mile walking course that was, against all logic, set to start 5 minutes before the regular 5 mile race.  The idea was that after about a quarter of a mile they took a turn we didn’t, so they cleared the course.  However, we all were lined up in the same starting chute, so nobody was sure if they were in the right place.  When they let the walkers go there was a collective “oh shit!” from the walkers lined up at the back, and it took them awhile to push through.  Once they cleared the course, though, we had a national anthem and were off – just under 2,000 runners.

Mile 1 came in at 10:39, which was fast-ish for what I wanted to do but not too awful bad.  Mile 2 was 11:19, which means my first 2 miles were right on.  At about mile 2.5 we came to the bottom of the first hill and I just blew up.

Just blew right the hell up.

Seriously, I have no idea what happened other than I’m just completely out of shape.  Mile 3 was 12:46, Mile 4 was 13:15 (!), and Mile 5 was 12:42.  My shins tightened up, my right foot felt numb on the outside … which was weird.  And I just couldn’t summon the energy.  The hills went on longer than I expected – from mile 2.5 until basically mile 4.5 – but that’s no excuses … I just sucked.  My finish time was 1:00.46.  I missed my really easy goal by 46 seconds and my go-get goal by over 5 minutes.

I don’t usually do this – I like to stay positive – but I also got a jolt when I got the pictures after.  The pictures are standard, and the photographers were all in the last couple of miles of the course.  But one in particular stood out:

So, this is pretty horrifying.  I’ve only gained back between 5 and 10 pounds of the weight I’ve lost, but my self body image is no longer this.  I don’t think I’m svelte, by any means … but I thought I’d moved past mortifying pictures, or at least farther past them than this.

What I have to face is that I’m still a fat guy.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not that down on myself.  Only a little.  I think I probably needed this.  I’ve been going around lately acting like I’m not a fat guy.  I’ve been eating whatever I wanted, blowing off runs fairly regularly, just pretty much behaving as though I’m a regular high-metabolism skinny athletic guy.  And I’m not.  I’m just not.

For proof, see that picture up there.

Anyway – I didn’t have a great race, and I don’t feel great about where I’m at after it.  But I’m not done, by any stretch.  And I’m not going to feel sorry for myself.  Instead, I think I’ll run.  See you out there.

This one is better.  They caught me on the up...

This one is better. They caught me on the up…

Notes:

–          Seriously, though, with all of that – what a great day.  We had so much fun at the festival, and my wife and I each independently came to the conclusion that we could live in Branford, Connecticut.  That’s a successful race by any standard.

–          Speaking of successful races – they were quick to claim the title of best 5 mile race in the nation.  I heard that several times.  Have to give it to them, though – they go out and try to earn that.  There were bands on the course, many water stops, and there was plenty of support at the end.  Overall a very well run race.

–          For the last quarter of a mile or so they had the crowd behind barriers, and you had to round a corner just before the finish line.  It felt like coming into a legitimate chute and running for a big crowd.  Even the finish was cool.

–          Many many strollers.  One guy cut me off and nearly ran over the person running next to me.  And several others were being pretty rough as they ran through the crowds.  Just about the time I got frustrated with it, I was tapped on the shoulder and warned about one coming – but they were pushing an adult, just like the Hoyts.  I happily got out of their way – those guys are amazing.

–          They had an official 2.5m split, which is a weird distance.  I guess I get 2 PRs out of this, though…

–          One big acknowledgement of the William & Mary shirt I was wearing – lady practically knocked her husband down getting his attention to show him the shirt.

–          Not really any SWAG – an ink pen, several coupons and flyers for local businesses, and the shirt.  The shirt is the exact same brand and color as the shirt that I got at the Ridgewood 5K last month, just a different logo.  This is a good thing – it is a nice shirt.  I did, however, get a pint glass at the festival for $5 … and the festival made up for everything.

–          That was June, which is 16 straight months running a race.  This wasn’t my best, but it counts, and I’m proud I did it.

–          Next race:  NYCRUNS Shore Road Summer Mini-Series #2, 5K, Brooklyn, New York

Best.Father's.Day.EVER

Best.Father’s.Day.EVER

RR# 15 – Fred D’elia Ridgewood Run 5K

This was my exactly my fourth run in the month of May.  Count ‘em – four.  When I took myself out of the Superhero Half Marathon because of an injury, my thoughts immediately turned to the problem of my streak.  The half was on May 18th, and because of the injury that weekend was out.  But that only left two other weekends to get a race in – one of those was Memorial Day weekend, and the other had to have a race on Saturday because Sunday is the 1st of June.

I began to believe that the streak was going to come to an end.  I sat on that thought for a few days.  And then my stubbornness rose up, screaming, and basically asked me what the hell I was doing.  After 14 months of streaking … and with the next 5 months already booked up and registered for … and with the foot / ankle feeling much, much better … what the hell are you doing?

So I found this race and registered.  I had very few expectations – I only knew it was about 30 minutes from the house and this would be the 39th year, so there would be some organization.

The Ridgewood Run (I have no idea who Fred D’elia is) has been run by the New Jersey Masters running club on Memorial Day weekend for longer than I’ve been alive.  The day consists of multiple separate races – a 10K wheelchair event, a regular 10K, the 5K, an elite mile, a masters mile, and a one mile “fun run”.  There is prize money, and the mile requires a qualifying time for entry.   Interestingly, they run the races non-concurrently – the 10K goes first, and then the 5K doesn’t start until that one is completely done, then the mile, then the fun run.  That meant that my race wasn’t scheduled to start until 10:15am – which means the wife and child could come.

Ridgewood Run course

We got a perfect day, if a little hot.  We got there around 9:15, and by that time people were already crossing the finish line from the 10K.  Because of the number of people running (nearly 1,000 for the 10K, over 1,700 for the 5K), there actually was a little expo of sorts, with different local businesses set up at tables.  They had a DJ / MC presiding over things at the finish line, which is always nice.  And overall this felt like a real event.

I had no intention to go try and PR – I knew better.  But I didn’t just want to go walk it, either.  So I took a couple of warmup laps around a nearby baseball field and then went and lined up.  There were no pacing signs or corrals, so the start line was a total free-for-all, and it felt that way for the first half mile.  But eventually things lined out and got comfortable.  The course itself was through a very nice residential neighborhood, and there was quite a lot of support.  There were probably four water stops (in a 5K!) and lots of people sitting out in their yards.  Many people had a water hose spraying the street, and in at least one place somebody had attached a sprinkler to a ladder so they didn’t have to stand there with the hose.

Predictably, I started way too fast.  My first mile came in at 9.46, which was a PR pace and totally unsustainable.  I felt OK, but as an academic exercise I knew that I was going to pay for that.  Not far into the second mile there was a little hill that forced me to slow down, and I maintained a more reasonable (for this race, anyway) 11.02 pace for the second mile.  The third mile brought a walk break over a decent sized hill, which slowed me down to 11.18 for that one – and then a downhill finish at 10:21 for the last .1 mile.  The clock said 33.27 when I crossed the finish line, and my chip time came in at 32.59, for a 10.39 pace, or about 2 ½ minutes off of my PR.

Given my general lack of preparation, I’m pretty happy with that.  The day was a big success – I extended the streak, felt good about the performance, and my family had a good time.  Win, win, win.  Now back to getting after it and preparing for the next race.  This time won’t be close to acceptable at my next 5K

Can't figure out how to stop holding my arms tight like that.

Can’t figure out how to stop holding my arms tight like that.

Notes:

– Prize money brings fast runners – the guy that won the 5K did it at 4.40 pace, and the winner of the mile did it at 4.02 pace.  Seriously blazing.

– Lots of confusion in the first mile, at water stops, and past the finish line.  People were weaving and darting unexpectedly, and twice I nearly ran over someone who just dead stopped in front of me.  Much of this was kids – there were several kids in the 8-12 age range.  I don’t get at frustrated with all of this as I used to, but it would be good if folks were a touch more considerate.

– Speaking of kids – I’ve noticed a pattern whenever I run races with kids.  They do not appear to be able to hold a pace.  They run really fast, and then stop and walk, rinse, repeat.  It can be disconcerting near the end of a race like this to get blown by, but then in less than half a mile you wind up going back by the walker.

– These things are fun when they feel like big events like this.  In particular, having a DJ / MC is great – the announcements are clear and timely and there is just no question what is going on.  Another cool thing is that they had a “History” tent, with pictures and t-shirts from many of the past runnings of this race.  That definitely lends credibility to the proceedings.

– The wife and boy were set up about a quarter mile from the end of the race.  Having a cheering section is great … and some random dude standing next to them was yelling my name, too.  Awesome.

– No real swag – I think the intent was that you get stuff at the tents.  The shirt was a nice blue technical shirt, and the bib was unique to this race – which you know I think makes a big difference.

– May is in the books, and the streak is intact!  That was 15 straight months with races.  I’m registered for races in each month through October (2 in October), so barring problems we get to 20 at least.  I’ve also targeted a couple of races for November and December.  We’re streaking…

– Next race: Branford Road Race 5M, Branford, Connecticut, June 15th.

They missed my fist pound...

They missed my fist pound…

RR# 14 – JFK Runway Run

You are not having déjà vu, and there is nothing wrong with your television set.  This 5k14-0002morning, for the first time in my running “career”, I ran in a race that I had competed in previously.   Last year’s JFK Runway Run was my second ever race, and I was coming off of an ankle injury that I’d sustained three weeks earlier at my first race.  All of which means that it was slow.  This year I was, barring injury or something weird, a lock to better last year’s time by several minutes, be competitive as hell with my PR, and hopefully even take a shot at a 30 minute race.

This is a rather unique race because of the setting – they actually shut down one of the runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens for the runners.  Both times I’ve run it we ran from the same place:  you run out about 200 yards and then hang a right, run for a bit less than a mile and a half in a straight line, and then turn around and run back.  There is no scenery at all (it is a huge airfield), though airplanes are landing over your head throughout the race, which is pretty neat.   The course is also perfectly flat and generally pretty windy – though this year the wind was not as bad as last year.

JFK Runway Run Course

JFK Runway Run Course

Because of the perfect flatness I decided to push hard and see what I could do, and that strategy worked out.  Other than the congestion in the first couple hundred yards my pace was remarkably consistent throughout the race – +/- 10 seconds at any given time.  This is a course where you can hit a groove and just go with it, and that’s what I was able to do.  My finishing time was 30:39, which is a 9:53/mile pace and a new 5K PR for me by 36 seconds!  For awhile I had hopes that I could seriously threaten an under-30 finish, but that was not meant to be … which does not do one thing to take away from my excitement at a new PR.

I consider this to be the first race of the season (as opposed to the last race of winter, which is what the USA Half was), and I’m ecstatic with how things have started.  I currently don’t have another 5K on my calendar for the year, so this PR will stand for several months – and I’m good with that.  The next time I take a crack at the distance it will be under-30 minutes or bust.

Start / Finish Line - I actually took this last year, but the setting was identical

Start / Finish Line – I actually took this last year, but the setting was identical

Notes:

– As cool as the setting is for this race, the logistics are a bit inconvenient.  They obviously can’t let people just randomly show up out on the airport runway, so all of the race infrastructure (check-in, prize stage, etc.) happens at an office building and they bus the runners out to the runway.  In order to make sure you get out there with plenty of time, though, you wind up killing quite a lot of time out on the runway with no shade or windbreak.  And this also discourages spectators, so the wife and child didn’t make the trip.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run it if you’re in the area … just know that there are challenges.

– The other thing about this one is that the organizers are kind of at the mercy of the TSA and Port Authority police.  The runners actually wait behind a barricade a few yards from the starting line, and then when we’re released we go line up under our pacing signs.  We wound up starting nearly a half-an-hour late, but I’m convinced by the way they acted that this had nothing to do with the organizers.  That stunk – it was chilly and windy –but comes with the territory for the cool setting.

– This race is an absolutely fascinating slice of humanity.  There were all ages from little kids up to elderly runners.  There was an ethnic mix that would actually be hard to put together outside of Queens.  Several teams run this race – a local martial arts dojo, corporate teams for airlines at the airport, that kind of thing – and that brings with it a bunch of people that clearly don’t run many races.  Many people there, in fact, weren’t there to run at all but to walk the course and get a look at the airport.  Several people were wearing jeans, and one walker was wearing a shirt that said “Airplane Spotting is NOT a Crime”, which gives away his motivation, doesn’t it?  There were half a dozen guys that ran the race at a sub-6:00 pace and many people that took well over an hour.  There was a guy in a wheelchair and two girls in full-on ballet tights with tutus.  Just a fascinating group of people.

Somebody tell these two girls they're officially blogged...

Somebody tell these two girls they’re officially blogged…

– All of that, of course, means that many people had NO idea how to line up even though there were pace signs.  When I line up at the back of 9:00 group and spend the first half mile passing people that are walking it takes all I can do to not scream “why did you line up so far up in line?!?!”

– One of my favorite things in these out-and-back (or loop) courses is watching to see when I see the leaders.  In this case the leader came by me at just past the mile mark for me and just past the 2 mile mark for him – just over 11 minutes into the race.  This same guy won the race last year, too, and he absolutely crushed it.   I couldn’t even see second place when he came through and he wound up winning by nearly a minute and a half.  Just impressive to watch.

– Basic swag – a cotton t-shirt, a bib that is unique to this race (which I love) and that’s about it.  There was water right past the finish lines, and bananas when we got off the buses back at race central.  They also had a raffle, which I didn’t stay for.  Photographers were at the start/finish line, and I’ll add pictures when they get them posted.

– That was April’s race, which means my streak of running at least one race or event per month has now been extended to 14 months.  I am registered for races in May & June, have targeted races in July, August, & September, and am registered for two events in October.   That would get me to 20.

– Next race:  Superhero Half Marathon, Morris Township, New Jersey, May 18th.  I’m debating buying Batman stuff – we’ll see.

Random people as we approach the finish line...

Random people as we approach the finish line…

RR#13 – Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon

So … I was a bit nervous about this race.

My original registration for Rock ‘n’ Roll USA was for the full marathon – it was to be my first.  And then I learned why people that live as far north as I do don’t often register for early spring marathons.  As I got further and further behind in my training, I realized that I was not going to make it … and so I switched over to the half and took a deep breath.  And my training was not really great even then – just too many distractions excuses and such.  And I even entertained the thought of backing out altogether.

And then I realized that was crazy talk.  Even if I had to walk it, I could do it – and even with relatively poor training I’m in better shape than I was last September when I did the half in 90 degree heat.   So I committed to making it happen, and I am so glad I did.  This was an awesome race.

Got to the expo on Friday afternoon and was confronted with a line out the door.  That wasn’t the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks, though – because the expo was in the DC Armory we were being screened by security.  That went quickly enough, and then I had no wait at all to pick up my number and get to the shopping.   My wife and 2-year old were with me on this one, so that got interesting – and a great big THANK YOU to the folks at the Williamsburg Marathon booth that gave him the Chik-Fil-A stuffed cow.  Anything to distract him at that point.

We were staying at my brother-in-law’s house in Alexandria, which is on the metro.  My morning nutrition was not optimal:  granola bars at their house and a banana at the race.  Not enough, but that turned out OK.  WMATA opened up the metro two hours early, and getting to the start could not have been easier.  It was so easy that I’d left myself entirely too much time and wound up needing to kill an hour.

Starting Line - I'm way back in Corral 27

Starting Line – I’m way back in Corral 27

This was easily the biggest race I’ve ever been a part of – I was in corral 27 and there were an awful lot of people behind me.  If you’ve ever done a Rock ‘n’ Roll race you know there is a ton of energy at the start line, which is nice … because it took 45 minutes for me to get to the start line.  And we were off.

The course itself was absolutely great, and we got nearly perfect weather.  We started on Constitution Avenue – my corral was directly in front of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History – and headed down the mall.  In the first mile we ran past the Washington Monument and the White House headed toward the Lincoln Memorial.  Mile 2 was an out-and-back on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with a gorgeous view of the cemetery.  Miles 3-6 were up the Potomac Parkway, so relatively quiet but very pretty.

Somewhere between mile 4 & mile 6

Somewhere between mile 4 & mile 6

 

Mile 7 had The Hill, which, um, sucked.  Once we topped out on the hill we ran near the National Zoo and then were in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.  From there on, the course was distinctly urban with GREAT crowd support.  That area is full of row houses and people were out on their stoops and porches and lining the streets cheering and holding signs.  The Rock ‘n’ Roll folks always have bands along the course … roughly one per mile.  I bring that up here because the absolute best was the Batala Drummers All-Women Percussion Band.  They were set up at the bottom of a big hill just as we turned to run through Howard University.   Hard to describe how very cool this was…

 

Another very interesting thing happened at roughly mile 9, just before we turned south on North Capitol Street and had that gorgeous view of the US Capitol.  I’ve been in races where somebody random sets up a table with “Free Beer!” or “Mixed Drinks!”  These are awesome, but not for me.  And so I almost ran by one of these tables until I realized the sign continued.  “Free Beer” was followed by “Free Brisket!”  And, yeah, I couldn’t not check that out.  And while a big ol’ slice of brisket is non-traditional mid-race fuel … it was incredible.

Incredible.

After we turned off of Capitol Street we wound through different neighborhoods for the last 4 miles or so for a finish at RFK Stadium.  The marathoners and half-marathoners split up just before mile 13, and the thought at that time of taking for another 13 miles made me cringe.  That’s going to happen, but not soon.

My family missed my finish by about 10 minutes, which legitimately sucked, but I was very very happy with my race.  My pacing was remarkably consistent – the fastest mile was mile 4 at 11.15 (because that’s always my best mile) and my slowest was mile 7 at 12.37 (because hill – 271 feet of elevation gain in that mile).  My overall time was 2:36.0, for a total pace of 11.54 / mile.  That takes nearly 19 (19!) minutes off of my previous half marathon time.  I also set PRs with my official 10K (1:13.04, nearly a 2 minute PR) and 10 mile (1:58.34) splits.

Here’s where I think I am – this is the race I had expected hoped to run in Virginia Beach last summer.  The conditions forced a much different race, though.  But I’ve been able to maintain that level of fitness through this winter even though I don’t feel great about my training.  The huge PR is a great validation of where I’ve gotten to – and I am feeling very motivated to blow right past here.  I’ve got another half scheduled for late spring, and I hope to blow that one away.

In the meantime – I LOVED this race.  The Rock ‘n’ Roll people did a great job with everything as far as I could tell.  And the overall vibe from the competitors, spectators, and city was just some of the most fun I’ve had running.   Thanks for everybody that worked on it and came out to cheer – you made it an awesome experience!

Approaching the finish line...

Approaching the finish line…

Notes:

–  Apparently the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks had some troubles at this race last year, especially with port-a-potties and the gear check.  They made a lot of noise about listening to the complaints and changing things, and by all accounts they got it right.  While there were lines at the port-a-potties throughout the race, the start and finish seemed to be fine.  And I didn’t check a gear bag because my family was coming, but the feedback is that they fixed that, too.  Kudos to the organizers for making it happen.

–  Speaking of port-a-potties, I had to make a pit stop just past mile 9 and lets just say that glad I’m a guy and move on.

–  I struggled with my fuel belt, strictly due to lack of practice.  I started the race with it on my back, but the way it bounced and pushed on my shorts was not comfortable.  So I turned it around like you see in the pictures up there … which blocked the pockets I usually keep my iPod in in that pullover.  So I wound up carrying the iPod in my hand for most of the race. The two times I tried to put it in the pocket interfered with the water bottle in the belt and made it fall out.  So … in the hand it was.  That’s what I get for using something I hadn’t used in 6 weeks.

–  Favorite signs:

  • Series:  “Harder Faster Stronger Better” followed by “That’s What She Said”
  • “Where Are All You Guys Going?”
  • “Its Not a Hill, Its a Beastmaker”
  • “Free High Fives” followed by two little kids, probably 6ish and 4ish

–  For whatever reason the nutrition didn’t hurt me.  I started fueling with gel relatively early and I think that helped.

–  It turns out that I’ve become a bit of a snob about walkers.  Not that I mind the walking, mind you – I do some of that myself.  But, for the love of Joe Pesci, when you are going to stop and walk move over to the side of the crowd.  Especially in the first mile or two when there is still a lot of congestion.

–  At around mile 25 for them the full marathoners came around the back of the parking lot where the finish line festival was.  My son and I walked over to cheer them on for a bit.  I’ve just got a ton of respect for those folks … they’d been running for 4 hours or so and just looked beaten down.  I can only imagine how they felt when they finished.  I want to feel that some day.

–  Not really any SWAG at this one, which is interesting.  The shirt is a Brooks technical that I like but caused some bitching because it is black.  People will complain about anything, I guess.  We got that and our gear bag and a couple of random little medical things (basically icy hot) … but that’s OK.  I did pick up my pint glass and 13.1 sticker, and then we did a little damage at the expo.  I intended to get my medal engraved like I did at Virginia Beach, but the wait was too long.  That does not take away from the medal, though, which is pretty awesome.

–  That was March’s race, which means I’ve now run in a race or an event in 13 consecutive months.  I am registered for a 5K in April, another half marathon in May, and a 5-miler (automatic PR!) in June.  Targeting an 8-miler (another automatic PR!) in July and a 10K in August.  And then Ragnar Tennessee in October.  So when I get September figured out that gets me to 20 months.  Who’d have thunk it?

–  Next Race:  JFK Runway Run, Queens, New York City, NY … April 6th

Another medal on the wall...

Another medal on the wall…