RR #27: Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k

I thought that Ragnar DC was going to be my last run for a while.  My plan had been to run that event, enjoy myself, and then take some time off from running to focus on some CrossFit goals.  I like how running makes me feel, but sometimes the actual doing of the thing is not my favorite.  And then, I ran Ragnar DC, and the curious thing that happens when you get around other runners having a good time … happened.  We started talking about the next events we want to run, the next races.  We started making plans.  And the next thing I know, I’m signing up for races.

I ran the Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k last year.  That was my first real attempt at getting back into running shape and running a race.  That 2016 Pancake Run represented my first “serious” race in over two years.  And I had a good run – I missed a PR by a minute or so, which was still a good outcome for me.  The race was pretty well run, though small, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it was raining and not a generally nice day.

My sign-up for the Pancake Run this year was prompted by two things.  First, I thought I was capable of finally breaking through the 30 minute barrier in a 5k.  The fat guy holy grail of a sub-30 minute 5k had eluded me now for several races, and this looked like an opportunity to get it done.  For whatever reason, 5k races don’t make my calendar much anymore.  Since that Pancake Run last year, I have run three 10ks, two half marathons, and a Ragnar … but no more 5ks.  This was a chance to see what I had.

The other reason to sign up for this was that they do a kid’s fun run – and the kids get medals.  My 5-year old has shown a lot of interest in running in these events with me, and he particularly likes the idea of starting a medal collection to begin to rival mine.  He has asked several times about kid’s runs as part of my larger events, and this one seemed like an obvious choice.  The start line is about a mile and a half from my house, and though my race started at 7:45am, the kid’s run wasn’t scheduled to start until 9am.  That sets up perfectly, so I signed us up.

Relatively last minute, we got a nice surprise – my brother-in-law, good old 6-minute, was coming to visit that weekend and he had signed up to run the 10k, his first.  So my family was represented in each of the events.  Dan is fast enough that I told him ahead of time he had a shot of winning the whole thing.  You never can tell if these things are important to him, but I found the idea very cool.

5k Start

They did a packet pick-up at town hall the day before.  I swung through on my way to work to pick up all three bibs and the shirts for me and Dan.  Our bibs had chips on them for timing, so they were obviously specific to us, but the bibs for the kid’s run were a stack of the race bibs you can buy at any running store.  Because I was the first one to pick up a kid’s bib, I got #1 for Noah.  He was excited for the run, anyway, but this was extra cool.

Where’s Matthew?

The morning of the race, Dan and I headed over a bit early to take care of bathroom and warm-up duties.  Plenty of port-a-potties, and a lot more people than were there the year before.  There was apparently a group warmup that we missed, and they sang the National Anthem though we were way back and couldn’t really hear it.  Dan lined up at the 10k start and took off at 7:30am.  The starting line for the 5k is in a different place than the one for the 10k, so they actually have to move the timing mat between the races – this causes a delay in the 5k start, and we got lined up to go.  Last year I lined up near the middle and got bottled up nearly immediately.  I learned that lesson and lined up about three rows from the front this year, and that worked out perfectly.

3-2-1, and we were off.  Because I was shooting for 30 minutes, which requires a 9:39 or better pace, my goal was to go out fast and try to hold it as long as I could, and then settle back into a 9:30 or so pace to bring it home.  I know from recent runs that I am capable of handling the 9:39, so I just wanted to build myself a cushion at the beginning.  And that is basically how this turned out.

My spot for lining up was perfect.  The guys in front of me took off, never to be seen again.  But nobody really passed me, either.  So I wound up being in just the right place.  This course winds around a little bit, and one benefit I had was that I knew where we were going.  I tried to focus on my breathing and hitting the tangents as closely as possible.  The weather was nice – temps in the upper 60s, low 70s, and low humidity – so everything was set up for this to go very well.

The first mile was a standard 5k first mile – get out really fast and try to figure out whether you can hold that pace.  Maybe half a mile in our course converged with the 10k course, so by the second turn there were several fast people around, which helps with that motivation as well.  I was being passed by super-fast 10k runners, but that was it.  My brother-in-law was already ahead of me by this point, and I didn’t see him again until the finish line.  I finished that first mile in 8.23, which may be the fastest mile I have run since high school.

Mile #2 featured a little out-and-back into one of the big parks in town, and so I was able to see a couple of friends and gym-mates that were also running.  I still felt good, though my shins were starting to act stupid, like they do when I’m trying to run fast without warming up super well.  I didn’t think I could hold that 8.23 pace, so I was deliberately throttling down to avoid a major blow-up near the end.  I finished the second mile in 8.57.

By this point, I was so far ahead of my goal pace that only an injury or something really weird could have kept it from happening.  I was 2 miles in in 17.20, so I had over twelve and a half minutes to run 1.1 miles.  I throttled back again, just to make sure I didn’t bonk hard, and tried to focus on my breathing.  The last bit of this race runs by the elementary school in town and then heads back up to the finish line.  My brother-in-law had already finished his 10k, but wasn’t expecting me in for another couple of minutes, so was surprised to see me coming.  He ran me in the last hundred yards or so for a strong finish.  Mile #3 came in at 9.31, and then the last 0.1 mile at 29 seconds, for a finishing time of 27 minutes and 20 seconds.

So … THAT’S spectacular!  I beat my goal time by over two and a half minutes.  For the first time ever I ran a sub-9.00 mile for more than one mile – my overall pace for the race was 8.49 over 3.1 miles.  And I obliterated the line for the fat guy holy grail of the 30 minute 5k.  I now am in the sub-30 5k group, hopefully never to leave it again.  I finished 5th out of 18 in my age group (Male 31-40), about a minute and a half behind the guy that finished 4th.  The craziest stat, though, is that I finished 28th out of 242 runners overall – just outside of the top 10% .

I am now officially in better shape than I have been in since high school.  And though I was faster back then, I am almost certainly stronger now – if I could use the hopper test, there is a good chance I am in better shape than I have ever been.  It is immensely gratifying to know that all of this work and focus is paying off, not just in how I look and the clothes I wear, but also in the physical things my body is capable of doing.  27.20!  Woot!

Notes

  • My brother-in-law finished third overall in the 10k and won his age group. His time was 38.43 – a 6 minute, 15 second pace.  A friend described that time as pornographic.

Dan-the-Man, coming in for the win!

  • One thing that was cool about this race was that they did a kids fun run. The kids even got a medal and everything. When I did packet pickup, I was the first one there that asked for a fun run bib, so my five-year old got to be bib #1, which was even more exciting.  At the event, the lady running the fun run saw my 2 year old and asked if he didn’t want to run?  Turns out that they have an under-3 group for the run, as well.  So both kids got bibs and got to do their own runs – and got their own medals, which we are hanging in my office near where I hang mine.  That whole little thing is a big reason I’m doing all of what I’m doing – I want my kids to grow up in and around an active lifestyle … I want them to never know anything different.  It worked this time – they had a blast.

  • This was a pancake run, so there were pancakes and sausage and coffee and orange juice after, which is nice. The race takes place at the fire department, so they had the trucks out.  And they had bounce houses and games for the kids.  There was also a raffle.  Lots of activities, and on a perfect weather day.
  • Speaking of perfect weather – the turnout was much higher than the year before. The 5k had 242 finishers, and I think last year’s race was in the 150 range. So I hope the Rotary Club had a good day of fundraising. The timing and location are pretty perfect for me, so it looks like this one is going to be an annual 5k for me.
  • The SWAG for this one is good, too, especially for a small inexpensive race. There is a cotton race shirt, a small medal, and of course the pancake breakfast free for runners.  I’m still a little perplexed at the idea of getting medals for 5ks, and it still feels weird hanging it next to my half marathon medals.  But not so weird I don’t hang it…

The kids were happy that their medals were bigger than mine…

  • My next scheduled race is the Celebration Half Marathon on January 28th. I got my PR in that race last year, by something like 15 minutes.  I don’t expect to take another 15 minutes off this year, but I’m definitely going to try and go PR it again.

A three minute PR, under 9 minute miles, getting the fat guy holy grail, and watching my family be a part of all of this?  That’s a good day, right there.

RR# 26, continued: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 2

This is part two of my Ragnar Washington DC race report – if you haven’t read part one, you should click on this right now to head over there and read that first.

When we left off, we were pulling into Exchange #12 for our first break of the event.  The exchange was at a high school, and I have never seen so many white vans in one place in my life.  People everywhere.  The school had a spaghetti dinner they were selling as a fundraiser, and access to showers, as well, so there were some nice amenities.  There was also a big shady area back behind their tennis courts where everybody was taking their sleeping bags to go lie down … a sea of runners, in repose.

Van #2 ran well, and it was after dark when Dottie came rolling in and handed off to Michele.  The night legs are always an interesting part of a Ragnar … some people love them, some people hate them.  They bring their own challenges, to the runners and the support vans.  It is easier to get turned around at night if you are a runner, and it is harder to tell which runner is yours if you are in a van.  All runners are required to wear a headlamp, a taillight, and a reflective safety vest.  One thing I learned this time around is that making that setup as unique as possible really helps your team to be able to figure out where you are.  There were people that had light strips around their hands, and you couldn’t miss them.  Emily, in our van, had a vest that had red lights on it on the front, which helped us to pick her out.  Little things like this make a difference.

Leg #13 did a little winding in the first mile, and then was a straight shot for nearly four miles to the next exchange.  This was a no-van-support leg – the vans weren’t allowed to stop on the course to support their runners – so we headed straight to that exchange and settled in.  Michele killed it again, handed off to Dave, and we were off.  His leg was also a no-van-support leg, so off to the next exchange we went.  This series of legs was in a very rural area, and many of the roads were narrow and winding, so they couldn’t have the vans pulling over and blocking roads.

I took over for my second leg at an elementary school in Williamsport, Maryland, and immediately ran into an interesting start.  About a quarter of a mile in, I was running on a sidewalk near a drop-off location at the school, and a car came up behind me through the drop-off lane.  I thought it was my van, so I raised my hand to wave as they came by … and a guy leaned out the window and yelled, “I’ll kick your fucking ass!” and then they drove off.  I shrugged, and actually laughed at them, because … really?  The exchange didn’t bother me – it just felt like stupid kids on a Friday night in a small town.  I didn’t make a big deal out of it at all, but I did mention it to Dan and Dave when I finished my run.  I hadn’t thought about the implications for Emily, who would run after me, and so that kept us extra aware during the rest of the night runs.  The neighborhood I ran through in the next half a mile or so was redolent with the smell of weed, too.  So … Friday night in America!  I will say here that I never feared for my safety or the safety of any of my teammates.  But , this was an interesting start.

After a bit of winding, I turned onto one big three mile straight stretch on the highway.  After that I made a right turn and then had a two mile straight stretch, for a six mile total run.  My first mile I did in 9:40, and then the rest of it settled in to a consistent pace between 10:00 and 10:30 miles.  I was passed a few times, but never by somebody that reeled me in slowly – when I got passed, that person absolutely blew past me.  Because I was the runner that had the Ragnar leg, all of my fellow Runners #3 were beasts.  So that felt good – I held my own.  The overall pace I was able to hold for the run was a 10:15 average mile, which is very close to my 10k PR pace. My handoff was at a small church in a small town, and then we were off to support Emily on a run that turned out to be full of drama.

The first fun little thing happened maybe a mile or two into her 5-mile run.  We were ahead of her in the van, looking for a place to pull over and cheer her on.  At one point, there was a shop light set up on a tripod out at the end of somebody’s driveway, pointing so that it was facing to the eyes of the van drivers.  When we got up to it, there were two gentlemen sitting on camp chairs at the end of the driveway, drinking beer.  They seemed friendly enough, though the fellow with the shirt that said “Balls Deep” might have rethought his wardrobe if he were going to be headed to the opera or the symphony or wherever you go after you change out of your Balls Deep shirt.  We wouldn’t have given these guys a second look except for my experience with the gentlemen at the beginning of my last leg, so we looked for a place as close to them as we could get to pull over.  When we asked her later, Emily said she hadn’t noticed them … which was a good thing.

And then we had the real drama.  At about mile #2 of this leg, there is a confusing little intersection, and the runners were meant to turn left.  When we came through in the van, we didn’t make that turn, and got maybe a half mile down the road before Dave, who was navigating from the first row of seats, called out that we were off course.  We spent a minute trying to figure out what was going on, and then we made a realization.

Some assholes had taken the signs at the turn.

At that point, we had three things to do.  First was to text race command and let them know.  Anna did that, and they got back quickly and said somebody was on the way.  Second was to get back to that intersection before Emily got there so that she didn’t miss the turn.  And third … we had to turn around all of the runners that had missed that intersection.  Since I was in the passenger seat, that was me – every time we would encounter a runner, we slowed down and I yelled at them that they were off course and then explained what happened.  There was a lot of confusion, and not a little bit of cursing.  But we got everybody turned around, and we made it back to the intersection about three minutes before Emily got there.  By then, there were a bunch of vans at that spot, so we left it with them and moved on.  That issue would have been figured out by somebody else very quickly – but it felt good to have helped and minimized the damage for those runners that had missed the turn.

From there, the rest of Emily’s run was uneventful and nice.  The weather was great – clear skies and cool at night – perfect for Ragnar night legs.  It was peaceful.  Dan took over at a little country church for his seven mile run, and I took over as driver with Emily in the passenger seat.  Dan hadn’t been happy with his first leg, so he was determined to really run this one hard – and he did.  Killed it.  His leg was in a very rural area, with narrow, winding roads and open fields.  At one point we went through a little community with a couple of one-lane bridges that were scenic even at night. His run was uneventful, and then Anna took over at yet another little country church.  Anna’s second leg was short – only 3.5 miles – but featured 2 miles of steep uphill followed by a 1.5 mile downhill bomb to the finish.  She lost something like 400 feet of elevation in that last 1.5 miles.  Exchange 18 was a major exchange, and was at a big creamery – a major dairy farm that the family had turned into a destination with an ice cream shop and activities centered around the cows.  We only really stopped twice for Anna, and on the last one she said she’d meet us at the exchange, so we headed over there to link up with Van #2.

The creamery opened for us through the night, which was cool.  We got some ice cream and went around to a booth they had set up for hamburgers and hot dogs, but they were already out, which was unfortunate.  The farm smelled like cattle farms do – smells like money! – and was somewhat loud, so we made the decision before Anna ever got there that we were going to move on to the next major exchange immediately.  Anna came in flying – she got a kill in the last few yards, which was awesome – and then Van #2 had the slap bracelet and we were off.

Exchange 24 was at a big park in Germantown, Maryland, and we got set up and then all tried to settle in to sleep.  I reclined the passenger seat in the front of the van and passed out for probably 3 – 4 hours.  Every Ragnar van has somebody that snores.  That is just one of those inevitable facts of life.  And it turns out … I was that person in our van.  I only snore if I’m lying on my back.  I know this because if I’m snoring at home I am summarily elbowed and asked (told) to roll over.  But lying on my back was all I had this time, so snore I did.  They told me after, and I felt bad, a little.  But only a little.  Next time I’ll bring my ENO hammock and do it that way.  I wished for it.

Breakfast shenanigans

The van began to rouse when the sun came up.  We breakfasted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, granola bars, and whatever we had.  We walked around to try and loosen up our legs.  I went over to the coffee table – but they had just started brewing, and it was going to be a few minutes.  We checked in on Van #2, which was going strong, and we got prepped up to go and get it.

Michele … literally flying

Our third set of legs was very different.  We were in suburban DC at this point, and the running began to look and feel like running in town.  There was traffic, and there were street crossings where we had to wait on lights.  And driving the support van became an exercise that required a lot more focus, as well, for the same reasons.  But the morning was nice, if a bit warm, and off Michele went.  We were able to actually give her some van support this time, and I was able to get a couple pictures that I thought turned out really good.  And then she was at the exchange and handed off to Dave.

“How long until we’re supposed to be finished?”

Another feature of our third set of legs was that they were generally shorter – with the big exception of Leg #30.  Dave’s leg was only 2.8 miles, so though we were technically able to support him, we really didn’t have time and headed straight to the next exchange.  My next leg was only 3.2 miles, slightly downhill until a decent bump in elevation in the last half mile.  Dave came flying in as only someone that knows they are now done running will do, and I was off.

I love this picture

My strategy on this one, since it was only 3 miles and was my last run, was to come out fast and try and hold it.  My first mile came in at 9 minutes flat, and my second mile came in at 9:30.  I was running without music – too many things to turn on and get right at the exchange – so I was really happy with this pace.  The third mile featured the hill, and all of the last 24 hours finally caught up and I bonked.  I did that last mile in 11:28 and then the last little bit at a 10:00 pace, for an average pace of exactly 10 minute miles.  That one hurt a little, but then I was also done running, and so didn’t really care at all. Emily then had about 4.5 miles through very busy residential and commercial areas, which she really ran fast, and then Dan took over for a 3.7 mile leg that was the first to feature some mileage on some local trails.  After he hit the trail we headed to the next exchange while Anna got ready, and then off she went.

Bringing it home…

Doesn’t she look crazy fast?

Anna’s last leg was the worst one our van ran, with the possible exception of my first leg.  It was 8.4 miles in the middle of a hot day – upper 80s – after she had already run two legs.  Much of the first part of her run was on trails, so we couldn’t support her with water.  And then much of the second part of her run was in areas so congested and busy that it was difficult to support her with water.  We did our best, though, and then headed over to her last exchange.  When we did see her, she was uniformly positive.  We couldn’t have asked for a better runner #6, especially considering she had only signed on three weeks prior and hadn’t specifically trained for this.

As we headed over to Exchange #30, we got word from Van #2 that the Ragnar folks had given teams permission to send the runner on leg #31 before the runner finished leg #30. The heat was pretty bad for folks that didn’t come from Florida, and apparently there were more teams still out on the course than they had anticipated by that time. So in order to make sure we all finished at a comfortable time, they left it to our discretion to send our runner. We were making good time – we were going to finish well ahead of the time that their pace calculation estimated – but we couldn’t come up with a good reason not to do that. So when we got to Exchange #30, Van #2 was already gone. Anna could not have cared less – she got her miles in and was now done running.  We took a “Yay, we are done running!” picture, and headed to the finish line.

“Yay! We’re done running!”

I say that only because I know we ended up at the finish line.  I passed out almost immediately when we got back in the van.  Maybe I snored again, I don’t know.  But it was nap time.

The Finish Line

The finish line was at the Navy Yards in Washington DC, which is a cool area.  Dan and Emily had a hotel room two blocks from the finish, so we were able to head over there and get showered and drink beer while we waited on Van #2 to bring it home.  Leg #36, Dottie’s final leg, was a full 12 miles – she finished up with a half marathon! – and we walked over to the finish to wait.  Generally the teams wait for their final runner a bit out in front of the finish line and the whole team crosses together.  We were expecting the rest of Van #2 to meet us in that area … when here comes Dottie, flying and focused!  I took off to intercept her, and nearly had to tackle her to get her to slow down.  By then the rest of Van #1 had caught up, and we all crossed the final bridge to the finish line together.  The rest of Van #2 missed it by like a minute – they saw us crossing the bridge, and were at the finish line within a few seconds of the end.

The Orange Line

And then we were done.  We collected our medals and SWAG, took a few pictures, and hung out.  You get free beer at the finish, but the laws in DC don’t allow them to give you a beer outside of a roped off area where they check everybody’s ID.  We wound up not partaking, and headed out.  A few of us drove Michele to the airport – she had to get to work the next day (!) – and then we headed over to the Grants for some delicious barbeque pork and beer.

Our time was … it doesn’t matter what our time was.  Dan told me the first time I did this that these events are 5 teams trying to win, 295 teams trying to have a good time.  We were solidly in the latter camp.  I had a blast.  My fitness level has improved dramatically – I am now probably in better shape than I have been since I played basketball in high school, and I am still improving weekly.  I got to meet some great new friends, and got to spend some time with old friends that I don’t see anywhere near often enough.  If any of The Orange Line is reading this – thank you.  Thank you for agreeing to the craziness, and thank you for running with me (us) and thank you for your generosity and friendship.  It was a joy running with you.  And you’ll be getting an email shortly … start thinking about the next one.

Notes:

  • Being a captain on one of these teams really is different from being a member. The three responsibilities that are the hardest all involve people – recruiting teammates, assigning legs, and fronting and then getting reimbursed money.  When you are a standard runner, you write your check and these things happen.  When you are captain, you have to consider a ton of different things – you need the right runners on the right legs, and you need the right people in the right vans, and you have to contend with 12 different travel schedules and training / injury statuses (stati?) and you want to make sure you don’t have anybody disgruntled at the end of the process.  You need people who are gruntled, for sure.  But it was fun, and I enjoyed it.
  • These aren’t cheap, either. I probably fronted $3k – $4k.  Divide that by 12 and it gets reasonable; for what it is, it is downright cheap.  What makes an event like this one more expensive is the need to travel in.  When I ran Ragnar Tennessee, I was the only one that had to fly in – everybody else lived there.  This time, there were three people that lived there and another that was only a little over an hour away.  Everybody else had to make it a good distance.  Makes it even cooler that we were able to do this.
  • I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare of putting one of these together and managing it through the night. All of these people went 200 miles, through multiple cities and towns, on state roads and county roads and local municipal roads.  They certainly had to get dozens, if not hundreds, of permits, and then staff this thing well enough to be able to manage it.  And this on top of worrying about the inevitable handful of idiots you’re going to get when you try to get this many people to do anything – it only takes one stupid van to ruin your race’s relationship with a whole community.  My hats off to the folks at Ragnar Relays.
  • I really enjoyed the hills. They obviously suck while you are running them, but I love the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment you get when you do them.  I really felt like a badass when I topped out that mountain on Leg #3.  That feeling was fleeting – I don’t still feel like a badass – but I still liked it.  I would love to do one of the big mountain Ragnars, particularly the ones out West – Wasatch Back or Colorado.
  • Most of my teammates do not share that view.
  • The weather was really an interesting x-factor. For those of us that came up from Florida, we really enjoyed it.  It was hot, but not quite as hot as we’d been training in … and certainly not as humid.  But for the folks that traveled in from farther north, or west, or even lived there, it was a really hot day that impacted things during the runs.
  • Ain’t no SWAG like Ragnar SWAG. The shirts this year are great – great material, great fit, great design.  I love mine.  We also got 10th anniversary pint glasses, decals, stickers, etc.  I still have our slap bracelet, though my intention is to get that framed and present it to Dottie as our team MVP – she ran 29 miles!  And then the Ragnar medal is always awesome, bottle opener and everything.  And I got a separate medal for running the Ragnar leg, and they didn’t skimp on that thing, either.  As I say – ain’t no SWAG like Ragnar SWAG.
  • I had planned that to be my last race for some time. I want to spend some time focusing on my deadlifts and a few other things at CrossFit.  BUT – it appears that a whole bunch of people are coming to my house and Dottie’s house to run the Celebration Marathon & Half Marathon in January … so I’m signed up for that now.  I also wound up running the Pancake Run 5k that I ran last year – that race report is forthcoming.  Dave is also now doing that peer pressure thing about getting me to finally run a full marathon.  We’re tentatively eyeing Flying Pig in Cincinnati, but who knows.  So my next scheduled race is the Celebration Half, January 28th.

Ragnar!

RR #26: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 1

OK – it is time.

Let’s talk about Ragnar.

So … last Thanksgiving I ran a 10k (still stands as my 10k PR, ahem) with my sister-in-law and very good friends who’s house we were crashing in the DC area.  Great morning, great race, really had a good time.  During the drive, somebody mentioned a Ragnar, and it turned out that none of the runners in the van had ever run a Ragnar … except me.  A sister had, but other than that no direct experience.  And everybody just casually said what a great idea it would be to do one of those things one day, and wouldn’t that be fun?

Yeah – I tend to be the type that actively tries to move things from talking to doing.  Especially at that time, I was reading a book that really had me thinking hard about the choices I was making and what I wanted to do with my time and energy.  So the week after Thanksgiving, after stewing on the idea for a few days, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen if somebody didn’t take the ball and run with it … so I sent an email out and volunteered to be captain.  By the second week of December, we were signed up for Ragnar Washington DC, to be run in late September, from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, DC.

If you aren’t familiar with Ragnar, then two things.  First, follow that link up there a few lines ago (or this one) and read my description when I ran Ragnar Tennessee back in 2013.  I can’t say it any better than that right now.  And second, know that these things are a total blast.  They can be hard, and you don’t get much sleep, and there is various amounts of stress … but, man, what fun and adventure these things are.

What I learned this time is that being a captain takes the whole thing up another level or five.  Some of the logistical stuff isn’t so bad – getting signed up, booking the vans, arranging hotel rooms, etc.  Communicating and probably over-communicating.  The trick is finding 11 more people to run with you.  That trick is complicated when you’ve got a race people are traveling to … it is one thing to get somebody to sign up for the craziness.  It is another thing altogether to get them to sign up for all of that plus a trip across the country.  BUT … off we went.

There were several teammates built in because of how the idea started.  My good friend Dan and his wife Emily – the ones that turned me on to Ragnar in the first place – were in from the start.  My sister-in-law, Jessie, and brother-in-law, Dan (different Dan).  The folks whose house we crashed at Thanksgiving and one of their daughters – Dave, Erin, and Marlee.  Counting me, that was 8 people before we even got started good.  Then the sister that Erin mentioned during the Thanksgiving race … Rachel was 9.  The 10th fell into my lap during the CrossFit Open in early March – an ultrarunner!  Runner Number 12 was going to have to run a total of 29 miles, and I was stressed about who I was going to make do that.  When Dottie asked if she could run and told me she was an ultrarunner, I signed her up very, very quickly.  Then, as we got closer and all of our backups and our backup-backups started falling out, I put out a call to my gym and the 11th, Michele, the same one I had run into during the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon, signed up over the summer.  And then, just as I was beginning to think I was going to have to go to the boards and get a stranger, one of Jessie’s friends, Anna, agreed to run with us just three weeks before the race.

We had a team!

The Celebration CrossFit crew representing at Ragnar DC!

After a couple of interesting false starts (Shit Flows Downhill, anyone?), Dan came up with the name and concept of The Orange Line for our team – with a metro-themed logo and a nice, poke-fun at the DC Metro slogan of “We Run All Night”.  A shirt design was drawn up, and I did my over-communication thing, and then I had to assign legs.

The Orange Line … but we run all night

So the assigning of the legs, it turns out, might be the critically important thing about getting this whole Ragnar captain thing right.  Not only do you need the right people running the right legs, but you also need the right people together in the different vans.  You are literally stuck in a van with 5 other stinky and tired people for the better part of 2 days – having some compatibility there makes a difference.  The trick with this course is that there were a lot of hills, include some big ones and two particularly beasty ones.  And there were also some very long legs.  The runner that went the shortest distance went about 14 miles.  The runner that went the longest distance went 29.  I volunteered for what they call the Ragnar Leg, which is the leg that has been designated as the hardest one on the course.  If I am honest, I did it because that leg gets an extra medal, and I like medals.  But still, I did it.  And since Dottie was the hero that was going to be able to take the 29 mile Runner #12 slot, the rest were able to fit in and mostly fall into place.  I was really happy with how the vans shook out – Dan, Emily, Dave, Michele, Anna, and I were in Van #1 … Anna didn’t know anybody before Friday afternoon, but I figured that if you can’t get along with me, Dan, and Dave, then there is a fundamental issue anyway.  Also, Anna was awesome.  And then Erin (who got the other beasty hill leg – for which we are all duly grateful to her for running), Marlee, Rachel, Jessie, Dan, and Dottie were in Van #2.

The Ragnar Leg, leg #3 in this course, was particularly nasty looking.  I was going to run 8 miles, and miles 2.5 – 6 were essentially running up a mountain, gaining about 1,300 feet of elevation over those 4 miles.  One thing you might be noting if you know me or have read anything on this blog before … I live in Central Florida.  There aren’t any hills to train on around here.  And when there aren’t any hills to train on, you have to get creative.

I used a parking garage.

Up and down that damn parking garage, once or twice a week for three months.  I did long slogs up and down.  I did sprints up and down.  I did what I think of as line drills – down one level, up one level, down two levels, up two levels, etc.  I am so used to running on pancake flat roads and sidewalks that I knew it would be a big mistake not to train for that hill somehow … and that parking garage is probably the biggest hill around here for miles.

A moment of repose…

Expert Van Decorators

We all met up at Dave & Erin’s house on Friday – three of us from Florida, two from Atlanta, one all the way in from California, one really all the way in from Seattle, one from New York, one from Baltimore.  Dan is an expert van decorator, and so vans were decorated.  We had a group dinner at a brew pub, and then Van #1 headed to Cumberland to crash at a hotel and get ready for our 8:30am start.

Van #1, at Rocky Gap State Park

The race itself was great.  We had good weather, mostly – it was a little hot, which impacted the folks from up north much more than it did those of us up from Florida.  But it was clear and not so humid.  The start was at Rocky Gap State Park, a beautiful park on a lake in the mountains of western Maryland.  The runners went around this lake, and the first exchange was within a couple hundred yards from the start line.  Because this was a trail run, we couldn’t support our runner (Michele) directly, so we headed over to the exchange to wait.  When Michele came out of the woods she looked strong … but then after she handed off to runner #2 (Dave), I realized she was bleeding.  There were some particularly nasty roots on this trail, and one of them had taken her down.  She had twisted her knee and her ankle was swelling – an ominous start.  But it turns out that Michele is a champ.  She cleaned it up and then never spoke of it again.

And she’s off!

We weren’t allowed to support runner #2, either, because of the way the roads were laid out, so we headed to the next exchange to await my turn.  I did my best to get ready for the beasty hill ahead, and waited.  Dave came in flying, handed off the bracelet, and off I went on my first leg.

The first couple of miles were nice – flat-ish, through a little town.  Nice.  Then we started up a long, straight hill on the highway that was one of those where they add extra passing lanes and you just go straight up the hill.  My van was able to stop and cheer me on and offer water, but I was afraid if I stopped I would struggle to get going again.  When I neared the top of that section, they were there with water, cheering, and a funny little exchange happened.

Dan – “You see that sign?  You made it to the top!”

Me – “Of this section.  I’m not even halfway up this mountain.”

Dan – “Oh.”

Oh, indeed.  From that little tiny stretch of relief, we turned up the hill onto basically a dirt road and headed straight up.  That section was one of the steepest sections of road I have ever tried to run, and I finally broke down into a walk for part of it just for sanity.  This started a good 3 mile stretch of just basically straight uphill running that was brutal.  Much of it was on dirt roads, so when vans passed I would get dusted out if they weren’t being careful.  About halfway up I got my first kill – I had been gaining on him for some time, and when I passed him he looked like he was trying to puke next to his van.  This was just brutal stuff.

See that mountain up there – yeah, I went up and over that thing.

My van was great, stopping with water and at one point I got a NutriGrain bar.  Eventually I topped out and then had another 2-or-so mile stretch that was pretty steeply downhill, then another mile of rollers, and finally I reached the finish line.  My Garmin said 7.66 miles in 1 hour, 34 minutes, and 2 seconds, for a 12:16 pace.  I was and am thrilled with that pace given the nastiness of that hill.  I gained 1,305 feet of elevation.  I lost 1,068 feet of elevation.  This was equal opportunity suck – my calves were dying from the run up, and my quads were trashed from the run down.  My fastest mile was the first one, in 10:22, and my slowest was mile 4, in 15:02.  In mile 3, which featured that crazy steep section, I gained 581 feet of elevation (in one mile!) and managed to do it in 14 minutes flat.  The run went as well as I could have hoped.

Leg #3, in the bag

I handed off to Emily at that point – who, incidentally, was the runner who handed off to me when we ran Ragnar Tennessee together, which I thought was cool – and then tried to cool down.  We were off supporting Emily for her run – she’s fast – and then when she handed off to Dan I became the driver.  Runner #6 was Anna … her leg sucked because it was steeply downhill and it was a very dry and dusty dirt road.  Support was not easy because I didn’t want to kick up dust.  But she was flying and knew the drill – Anna is a veteran of multiple Ragnar Adirondacks races – so we got through just fine.  Van #2 was waiting for us at the exchange, and Erin seemed nervous about the beasty hill in front of her.  The handoff went off without a hitch, and they were off.  After some pleasantries, we headed out in search of food.

Anna, coming down the mountain…

According to Yelp, the 4th best restaurant in Hancock, Maryland, is a place called the Potomac River Grill, right on the bridge over the Potomac to West Virginia. We didn’t know how much to trust that review since #5 was Pizza Hut, but we figured we would give it a shot.  They had gotten hammered with Ragnar folks – always six at a time – but we caught the tail end of the rush and wound up having a very pleasant meal.  Burgers and sandwiches and even some beers and the tip and everything … for the low, low price of about $80.  We recommend the place highly.

We headed to Exchange #12 and tried to rest while we waited for our next turn.  I’m already over 2,000 words, so I’m going to break this up – we’ll pick it up again with leg #13 shortly.

Van #1, in repose

Ragnar exchange sleeping EXPERT LEVEL

Ragnar!

 

Update:  Part 2 of this race report has now been posted.  Click here to head over there and read about the finish...

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!

31224504406_96942f60b0_o

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:

2016-11-12-06-39-44

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.

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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.

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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.

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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