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 #25: Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

This is part 2 of my Dark Side Challenge at the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend.  If you want to read my review of the 10k, you can find that here.

Okay!  When last we met, I was finishing up the Star Wars Dark Side 10K and then going to run another mile and a half chasing my kid around an inflatable obstacle course with a camera.  That was fun!  Really!  Enough that it requires multiple exclamation points!  But, it did leave me with a couple of challenges going into the second half of the Dark Side Challenge – the half marathon.

I was not, when I was chasing him, wearing running or technical equipment.  I didn’t have my compression shorts on.  And (and there is no way to do this but just to spit it out and get it over with) – I hadn’t prepared my nipples.  And though I didn’t leave that event actively hurting (other than my throbbing feet) … I did feel a sensitivity in the force, if you know what I mean.  Some gingerness in the upper thigh region.  A little scratchiness on the man nipples.

I had allowed myself to start chafing, is what I’m saying.

So I powdered and lotioned and did everything I knew how to do … and set my alarm for 2am and went to bed at 8pm.  The joys of an early runDisney start, and all of that.

My perspective on this race was different than my perspective on just about any race I’ve ever done.  I’m competitive.  I try not to be too competitive – in general, life is not a game – but I also know myself enough to know that if you call it a race then I’m going to try to win it in some way.  So it was a bit odd that I entered this one with the idea of not worrying too much about doing that.  I didn’t expect to PR, and I knew there were going to be places I wanted to stop to take pictures (Darth Maul!) – so just go out and have fun and get this finished, right?

Because of my experience on Saturday I had a much better idea of what to expect.  I got to Epcot at about 3:15, and when I got to the place we lined up for buses I discovered that they’d been running buses since 3am.  On the next bus I went and headed over to the same starting area as yesterday, where the lines were already looped back on themselves for pictures with characters.  Because I’d gotten Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt the day before, I went for BB-8 first, and then for the Rogue One scene.  I decided to pass on Kylo Ren altogether – he is at Hollywood Studios every day, after all – and try to get Captain Phasma at the finish line.  I waited in line for probably 25 – 30 minutes for BB-8, and 15 or so for the Rogue One scene – and then off to pee.

After the 10K debacle with the urination, I was determined to avoid the discomfort this time.  I did my thing, then got a bagel at the concession stand.  Then got in line and peed again.  Then walked over to the corral area.  Then peed again, and immediately walked down to the end … and peed again.  I was not going to start the race needing to go.  This time I was in Corral D, so I headed down and stretched a little, and waited for our turn.  I was impressed again with the start.  I was in the 8th wave to start, and was probably running within 15 minutes of the start of the race.  They shot off fireworks for every wave, which was cool, and we were off.

The course followed the 10K course until we got to the parking gate for Magic Kingdom on World Drive.  The band was there playing the fanfare again (still the coolest music ever), and R2-D2 had a huge line again.  But this time, instead of heading down World Drive, we turned right and headed down a service road toward Animal Kingdom.  At this point, my choices from the day before started to have an impact – I was barely past mile 1 and I could already feel my nipples starting to get sensitive.  My friction defense stuff wasn’t going to get it this day – and though Vaseline is the kind of thing that makes a mess on a shirt, I preferred Vaseline nipples to bloody nipples.  Fortunately there was a medical stop very early on, and they had the good stuff out on popsicle sticks just waiting for us.  Frankly, that saved my race – it would have been excruciating without it.

Just past this we went through one of the best parts of the course.  It was still very dark, and on a long, straight stretch of road they kept it dark – very few floodlights.  But what there was a lot of was the Battle of Endor.  There were lasers coming out of the woods, Ewok sounds everywhere, and even explosions back in the trees to mimic AT-ATs or Walkers blowing up.  This went on for several minutes.  It was very, very cool.  I heard some grumbling after about how some of the flashing lights caused some momentary loss of vision – but I couldn’t have cared less about that.  As long as we didn’t do anything crazy I don’t think there was any real danger – and wow, was the effect very real.  We then ran past probably the longest character line on the course – they had Ewoks out!  Because of the length of the line I kept running, but that looked like a cool picture.

Next, at about mile 3, we went past another fan favorite section of the race – the solid waste plant for Walt Disney World!  There wasn’t anything to see here, but it basically smelled like you’d expect a place that treats shit to smell.  It smelled shitty.  I just got a whiff or two, and while unpleasant, thems the ropes – they had to get us from Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom somehow, and running past the shit plant was it.

Going in to Animal Kingdom the back way was interesting.  Around mile 4 we started to see things you see from the train over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch – some of the animal housing, etc.  We basically ran right past the Planet Watch area, and then over behind where you catch the train to Planet Watch, past some trailers that house who-knows-what, and then, bang, we were in the park.

This is in Dinoland – I remember thinking when it was taken that I hoped the dinosaur was visible in the background…

We came in right the left of the entrance to the Maharaja Jungle Trek, over by where the Kali River Rapids exit is.  We ran over past the Siamang Gibbons – which appeared to be hanging out together on the ropes – and headed around toward Expedition Everest.  I’ve never been in the Animal Kingdom at night, so I didn’t know they had that area around the mountain camp strung up with lights – it took an already very real-looking spot and made it look very authentic.  We ran past Everest, past the Finding Nemo theater, and into Dinoland, where we hit mile marker #5.

We left the Animal Kingdom over behind the gift shop in Dinoland, and were almost immediately greeted by members of the 501st Legion in full garb.  Emperor Palpatine was there, along with the Emperor’s guards in red.  Tuscan Raiders and Jawas were out, too.  Not stopping to get a picture with the Emperor and his guards was the first of two photo stops I regret not stopping for … but now I know.  And then we went straight into the doldrums of this race.

At about mile 5.5 we emerged from the service area into the Animal Kingdom parking lot.  We wound through the lot, past the second of two photo ops that I regret not stopping for … this time a scene with the Wampa in the ice cave on Hoth that was set up so that the picture looks like you’re hanging upside down and trying to get the light saber out of the snow.  In retrospect, missing that picture was my one big miss from this race.  I’ll run this whole race again next year just to get that picture.

And then we headed out onto Osceola Parkway.  From the parking lot emergence at mile 5.5 to the back entry to Hollywood Studios at about mile 9.5 the sole purpose of the course was to get us from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios.  We were running on a straight flat road, then turned onto World Drive, and then merged with where the 10K course headed into the next park.  Nobody really likes this stretch of this race, and while there is some grumbling, I get it … if we want to run through all of these parks, we have to actually get there, and there is only one way to do that.  We have to run on roads.

At this point I had some decisions to make.  I was running well, and hadn’t stopped for any reason byhalfway on the course.  I needed to decide if I was going to push through and try to get a good time or if I was going to really back off and enjoy the parks in the last 4 miles.  At the halfway point of the course, I was about two or three minutes behind PR pace.  But with a bunch of flat road running ahead, there was a chance I could start chipping into that.  I struggled with that decision for a few minutes, but ultimately decided not to hurt myself and backed off.

This was also the stretch that featured one of the more interesting little quirks of this race.  runDisney partners with Jeff Galloway, who is a proponent of the run/walk system when doing these big races.  The races are loaded with Galloway folks – many with audible timers that tell them when to pull over and start walking.  For the most part, this is no problem.  The runners generally do a good job of signaling and not getting run over, so my thought is run your own race.  There were also pace groups doing the run/walk method, with a leader carrying a sign that would signal the walking times.  During this stretch, I was just ahead of the 2:30 pace group, and they would sneak up on me.  I’d be in my own little world, and suddenly, alarmingly close, somebody would yell “Walk!” and startle me into speeding up a little.  I’d take off, pull away from them, and then a few minutes later we’d go through the same deal.  It was an interesting little back and forth.  What finally broke it up was that I ran into a fellow Celebration Crossfitter (hi, Michele!) and wound up ignoring that pace group.  It was about here that I started my own run/walk strategy, especially walking up any inclines and running down the other side.  And it was here that they had the water stop giving out energy gels, which really made a difference for me.

When we got to the back entrance of Hollywood Studios at mile 9.5, we also got to the one character photo I was determined to get, regardless of line – Darth Maul.  The line wound up being very short – I still completed the mile it was in in about 13 minutes, so I had maybe a 2 minute wait.  The Darth Maul costume is awesome, by the way – the way they do that really makes that guy look real.  This picture made me happy.

Citizen!


Jazz hands!

Inside Hollywood Studios we had exactly the same run as we’d had the day before.  This time I stopped for a quick picture with some Stormtroopers – I said “guys” when I walked up, and got “Citizen!” in return.  I then took off and smiled for the batch of photographers they’ve got through this stretch, and then we headed out toward the Boardwalk.  Unlike yesterday, this time we turned right and headed down the Boardwalk proper, and when we turned the corner there were crowds for the first time on the course.  Holding signs – my favorites of which were “I am proud of you, perfect stranger!” and the one that quoted Alice in Wonderland “Well after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs.”  There were also members of the 501st Legion here, too, as well as a Rey and some other characters.  And then we headed into the back entrance of Epcot.

Boardwalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas

Again a difference from the day before – when we emerged behind the Rose and Crown we turned right and headed around the entire World Showcase.  This time I was prepared for the music to be blaring, so the headphones came off and stayed off for the duration of the run.  They opened Epcot up to guests right after we got in there, so by the time I got to about Mexico there were people walking through looking at us like we were crazy.  The best part of that World Showcase stretch, other than the music and the atmosphere and, you know, Epcot, was that several of the cast members that worked in those pavilions were out waving their country’s flag and cheering us on in their language.  This was true for Italy, Germany, China – a very nice little feature.

That’s France in the background…


And Morocco…

And then when we got to the main entry way behind Spaceship Earth the course was exactly what we did for the 10k.  The 501st had folks stationed in the area – my favorite was the Scout Trooper – and then we wound around through the finish chute and that was it.  I was again in the top third of all finishers (4,393 / 16,302) and since I was in a relatively early corral there was basically no congestion through the finish chute.  This time we collected our challenge medals as we went through that part of the chute, and then the snack box and through gear check and we were back out into the public area.  I immediately went and got in line for a picture with Captain Phasma, and then after a quick run through the merchandise tent I headed to the car.

My finish time was 2:30.08, which is 8 minutes and 16 seconds behind the PR I set back in January.  Especially given the photo stops and the humidity and the 10k I ran the day before, I’m thrilled with that time.  For perspective, even with the photo stops, that would have been a nearly 5 minute PR for me if I hadn’t run that half marathon in January.  And I didn’t train well for this one.  I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since high school, and that extends to being able to complete a half marathon on very little running-specific training.  The incredibly shrinking Matthew is becoming athletic Matthew, and I couldn’t be happier.

Notes:

  • Again very, very impressed with the organization of this race and the course. Over 16k people ran the half (which is apparently fairly small for a runDisney half, though I imagine they did OK and the proximity to Easter and Spring Break didn’t really help).  I had very little congestion, there was great support all over the course, and in general that was as smooth as an event that size could have been from my perspective.  Admittedly I was fortunate enough to be in a relatively early corral … but still.  Great job.
  • The humidity was pretty brutal. I’m used to it, but I can only imagine what it must have been like for folks that traveled in from the Northeast or upper Midwest.  My Garmin showed a starting temperature of 72 degrees, and that was at 5:30.  By the time I got into the World Showcase the sweat had gotten into my socks and I was squishing when I walked.  It was pretty rough.  Which is funny, because the week before and the week since have featured perfect weather – cooler and less humid.  Florida!
  • Ever since we got our Disney passes I’ve maintained that my favorite park was Animal Kingdom. And I love Animal Kingdom, I do.  But I’ve finally come around on Epcot and changed my mind – what a hell of a place Epcot is.  It doesn’t hurt to have Star Wars music blaring while you are running through there feeling like you accomplished something, but still.  I plan on going back to Epcot hopefully very soon and just reveling in it.
  • I dealt with very little pain in my legs this time. Since I started at a much more reasonable pace my shins and calves never did freeze up, so mostly I was just fighting fatigue and the general beating 13 miles puts on your legs.
  • I mentioned running into fellow CCF athlete Michele – she unknowingly flipped a switch for me that I don’t particularly like that I have. It is one thing to be struggling along doing your own thing with thousands of people you don’t know.  But now that there is somebody you know in proximity, well … now we’re racing.  I’ll bet I finished 2 – 3 minutes faster than I would have otherwise.  That competitiveness is not exactly something I’m proud of, but it exists.  I recognized it for what it was and decided to use it to help me get through this time.  So, yeah …
  • At about mile 8 I let the 2:30 Galloway pace group go … and I never saw them again. Which is odd considering that we started at the same time and I finished in exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes.
  • I really only truly regret missing that one ice cave picture with the Wampa. Could be worse.

  • SWAG was as discussed in the last post – three very nice technical shirts (one each for my 10k, half marathon, and the Dark Side Challenge for running both), three heavy medals, and a very personalized bib. Since my annual pass includes the PhotoPass, I didn’t have to pay for any pictures – which is one hell of a nice perk.  And they did have the Virtual Goody Bag online, which was mostly discounts for stuff at the expo.  Also at the end there were full bottles of water and Powerade plus the snack box and bananas.  Overall, it felt very high-end.
  • Next Race – the next one I have scheduled is Ragnar Washington DC in September. I doubt I make it that far without at least running a 5k somewhere, but we’ll see.

Final thoughts – this was one hell of a fun weekend.  It will not be my last runDisney race.

And may the force be with you.

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.

Race Report #23: Celebration Half Marathon

When I registered for the Celebration Half Marathon, I actually viewed it as more of a training run than a goal race.  I’m registered for the Gasparilla Half Marathon in late February, and I had registered so early that I believed I could get in a “practice” half marathon and still have time to recover for a real push at Gasparilla.  Also – I live in Celebration.  It felt like if I were going to be doing a 12 or 13 mile training run in town, I might as well get a medal for it.  All indications are that the race is very well run and very runner friendly … so I signed up.

Training went well.  I’ve clearly gotten faster, which I attribute largely to endurance gained with Crossfit.  My taper was very non-traditional – two weeks before the race I ran most of the actual course, about 12.25 miles by the time I was done.  And then I didn’t go for another formal run for those two weeks.  I went to Crossfit 6 days a week, and that often included running, but at no time did I go out for a run.  For dinner on Saturday night I made a chicken barley soup and homemade bread to carb up, and called it a taper.  My prior half marathon PR was 2:36 flat – my stated goal going into this was a PR, my secondary but really no-brainer goal was under 2:30, my stretch goal was under 2:25, and in my wildest dreams I hoped to get under 2:20.

Florida in January is generally a glorious place to be.  For the last several weeks the highs have been from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, with lots of sunshine and low(ish) humidity.  Winter training here is a completely different thing than winter training in New York.  Everything was going great until we started checking the forecast a week or so out – mid to upper 40s and rain.  From like 4am to 10am on that Sunday – the exact window that the race was scheduled to run in – Central Florida was going to get rain.

<sigh>

The race expo was at town hall, from 5pm to 9pm on Friday and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.  My thought was that I’d get there right around 5 on Friday and beat the rush.  Apparently that was a good idea, because by the time I got there the line to pick up bibs was quite long.  They moved it along quickly, though, and we got our bibs and a bag full of coupons and headed inside to the expo.  We all got very nice steel tumblers as part of our SWAG (very nice), and my bib number won a door prize – which was one of last year’s shirts.  The shirts we all got this year are very nice, and there was a small but nice expo with several vendors and local companies.  Then I did my best to stay off my feet until Sunday morning.

Race day, I got up 20 minutes earlier than normal, ate my traditional pre-race oatmeal and coffee (got to keep things, well, moving) and prepped up.  Because of the rain I had purchased a throw-away rain jacket at BJs for $13, and tried to dress warmly but not too- warmly.  The walk down to the start line was a bit over a mile, and about halfway there I passed a parking lot and entered the masses.  I’d brought along a coat in a gear check bag, so when I made it downtown I went and checked that at the very neat little area they had set up and then started wandering around trying to stay warm.  I knew several people running the race, but never did see any of them before we got started.  Of course, there were 2,500 of us milling about between the half and the full, not including family and volunteers, etc.

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The corrals were not formal, but there were plenty of signs designating where to start.  There were also professional pacers scattered throughout, so there was plenty of signage.  Lots of port-a-potties, so I got one last stop in, and then lined up just in front of the pacer with the 11:05 pace sign.  National Anthem, 3-2-1 go, and we were off.  I dropped my raincoat just on the other side of the start line and the race was on.

Lots of congestion early on.  The first mile of the course features several turns through a nice neighborhood, which is lovely when you’re running with a handful of people.  When you’re running with several hundred, though, those turns really bog down as people try to run the tangents.  Also, and I hate to be negative about this, but there is really no excuse in a start area this well signed for people that are going to be walking within the first mile to have been in front of me.  There were a few people running a Galloway-type run-walk program, some even with beepers, but they were all very courteous about stops and starts and stayed over to the side.  Other than that, though, if you’re going to be walking that early, line up farther back.  <sigh>  My first mile was the third slowest, at 11:09.

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Right at the first mile marker, two things happened.  First, we turned out of that neighborhood and began running a much more straight course, which cleared up much of the congestion.  Another, though, was the first of the spectators that was specifically cheering for a group of friends running the race, including me.  She and her kids had created a sign with “You Can Do It!” on one side and “Go <insert names here>!” on the other.  I could tell I was the first of our group to go by, because I seemed to take her by surprise, and by the time she got the sign turned around I was already by.  That kind of support, though, makes a monster difference – it was cool.  My second mile settled into very comfortable pace and came in at 10:39.

The third mile is a big out-and-back through a neighborhood called North Village.  I don’t like out-and-backs, but I had practiced this particular one several times since I knew I’d be running it.  I passed the time on the way out scanning the runners that were coming back, and then vice-versa on the way back.  I didn’t recognize anybody, but it sure made the miles go faster.  Mile 3 was a 10:38 mile.

This course is very, very flat.  Over the whole 13.1 miles, my Garmin only picked up 32 feet of elevation gain, total – and that’s not net, just the number going up.  Mile 4 goes through a stretch, though, that I’ve always felt like is slightly downhill.  Any time I run that stretch I always feel great going through there, and this time was no different.  Nothing remarkable – we wound around near the Water Tower Shoppes and then ran in front of the Disney offices here in town, headed toward the hospital.  Only one turn in mile 4, which helped it come in at 10:31.   At this point I was feeling very good and knew I had a very good chance to hit my goals, even the stretch or dream goals.  The rain had been spitting all morning, and it was chilly, but overall things were going very well.

For mile 5, we wound in around behind the Celebration Hospital, running through their parking lot and access road.  Here I should also say that the support on-course was GREAT.  There were police and volunteers at every intersection, and water stops with water and Gatorade at very regular intervals.  Particularly with the weather like it was, it was great to have that much support.  In my practice run two weeks before, I had refueled with a Lara Bar at the end of mile 5.  It felt too heavy on my stomach, so this time I brought lighter Nutri-Grain bars.  There was a water stop just before the mile marker, so I took my first walk break to eat that bar and wash it down.  Because of that little stop, mile 5 was a bit slower at 10:50.

At that point, though, we turned off onto a roughly 2.5 mile stretch of just straight running.  They had blocked off a lane on the main road coming into town and we had the whole thing for that stretch.  Wide lanes, no turns, just running, leads to good splits, and miles 6 and 7 were my fastest in the race – 10:29 and 10:21, respectively.  The marathon organizers had several signs printed up to line this stretch (“You’re running better than the government!” and “Hurry up marathoners, the half-marathoners are eating all the food!”, etc.)  There were also a few spectators, including one couple that had a big sign “Free Gatorade for runners!” and a cooler full of 20oz Gatorades.  Again, the support means a great deal.   These miles seemed to fly by, and I hit the official 10K split in 1:06.44, which is less than 3 minutes off of my 10K PR that I set on Thanksgiving.  And I still felt strong.

Just after the mile 7 marker we turned off onto a potentially hazardous stretch.  Celebration was basically built on a big swamp, and throughout town there are miles of paths that include boardwalks through some of the old forest.  These boardwalks are very nice, and make a lovely stroll or even a run under normal circumstances.  They are also very slippery when they get wet – and it was raining.  Between that and how narrow they are, we were warned multiple times to be very careful, and to stay right unless passing but don’t even really do that.  Most of mile 8 was on a boardwalk, and though I didn’t see any accidents or incidents, I also slowed down to a manageable 10:48 pace.  I both wanted to stay safe and also wanted to start conserving energy – my legs were starting to feel the miles, and about mile 9 was when I bonked pretty hard on my long training run.  So I throttled back a bit, and in the end this was the right strategy.

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At about mile 8.5 we came off of the boardwalk and crossed over a bridge into a neighborhood called Artisan Park for about 1.5 miles.  That bridge is the only way in and out of Artisan Park, so that’s where I’d told my wife to be if she wanted to bring the kids to cheer.  Both of my kids, but particularly the young one, have been pretty sick lately – and it was raining – so I had told her the night before that if they couldn’t make it I would not have my feelings hurt.  It was more important to keep everybody healthy than to get them all wet.  So I rounded that corner not knowing what to think – and there they were!  Part of my motivation for doing all of this is to be a good role model for my kids – I want them to see their Daddy doing healthy things and making active choices and living that kind of life.  And so when they see me and smile and give me fives and act excited – well, there really isn’t anything better.  It was awesome.  Just past my family I took another walk break to eat my second Nutri-Grain bar.  Between stopping to say hi and then eating that bar, mile 9 was by far my slowest at 11:29.

I have a standard loop that I do through Artisan Park … and this course actually cuts that loop off, making it feel like I’m cheating.  That helped.  I also saw another group of spectators that I knew – some friends live down in Artisan Park, and the wife was also running the race.  It is always good to get personalized words of encouragement – in this case a big “Go Hogs!” in reference to the Arkansas Razorbacks pullover I was wearing.  This got me through mile 10 in 10:37.  We also crossed the 15k mat in Artisan Park – my official 15k split was 1:40.44, which is nearly a 9 minute PR at that distance.

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My family was still there when I came back over the bridge – so another round of high fives and smiles later, I had my motivation to finish.  The final three miles are always a mental exercise, making sure your mind doesn’t tell your body to stop.  At this point I knew that I was going to finish in under 2:25, and what kept me going was the chance at getting under 2:20.  But I was also tired, so I started hitting every water stop … and then it was just put your head down and get to the finish.  Mile 11 goes through a little neighborhood called Aquila Loop (10:54), Mile 12 is partly in East Village and partly on a very nice path on the back edge of town all the way to Lake Evalyn (11:11), and then at the beginning of Mile 13 the full marathon course turns for its second loop and the half marathoners loop around behind the main lake in town, cross through the original startline, and wind around to the finish right in the middle of downtown.  In Mile 13 the rain picked up a little, but it was an 11:00 mile, and that last 0.1 mile I did at a 10:00 pace, to finish in 2:21.52.

Nearly a 15 minute PR!

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So, yeah, I was pretty amped up.  They’ve got a chute set up to run through at the finish, and they were calling names.  Lots of people were cheering, music, a great atmosphere.  In the chute we got our medals, a Clif bar, a bottle of water, orange slices, bananas, and a little cover-up from the rain.  I inhaled all of that that was edible, probably through a big smile.  I went over and retrieved my checked bag so I could put a heavier coat on, and then cheered the other runners until my friends came by.  At about 2:40 the winner of the full marathon came through, flying – I saw him coming and thought “Wow, that guy is running fast” before I could see his bib and tell he had run a completely different race.  Once everybody around me realized what he was, there was a really big cheer.  It is impressive watching somebody do something you can’t.

And at that point I headed to the after-party, which is really really great for a race this size.  All of the local restaurants had a tent set up with food.  You got a card with all of their logos on it, which entitled you to a sample at their tent.  It was awesome.  We got two beers at the beer tent, a mimosa at that tent, and the restaurants had awesome food – standouts were the clam chowder from the Tavern, the black beans and rice from the Columbia, and the chili from Market Street diner.  Café D’Antonio had big doughy pizza, and Upper Crust had hot rolls.  I didn’t make it to all of the tents, but I know Imperium Wine and Avocado’s Mexican were out there, too – as well as Starbucks.  Just an awesome perk for the runners.

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I could not be happier with that run.  My training was good, but at the end of the day my mileage was lower than when I trained for the half marathons I did in the past.  I’m convinced that the difference is Crossfit – my cardiovascular endurance, as well as my leg and core strength, are drastically improved from what they were, and I got there without pounding my legs out on all of those miles.  To be this much faster than before, AND injury free, is an awesome feeling.

If you’re looking for a small, flat, fast, runner-friendly race, I’m not sure you could possibly do any better than the Celebration Marathon and Half Marathon.

15 minutes!

Notes:

  • Everybody on social media is raving about the race, as well they should. Lest I be considered biased, there is one decent complaint – the area where they do the bag check is not covered, and if you didn’t put your stuff inside something waterproof in your bag, your stuff probably got wet.  Mine did.  That was a bit annoying – to have thought ahead to pack a dry warm coat, and then have it be pretty wet, was not what I was looking for.  BUT – it wasn’t all that bad, and I’m going to give them a break.  I’m going to bet they haven’t seen weather this crappy since they started this race, and I’ll also bet that the next time it rains on race day they’ll have a solve for this.  At the end of the day, this was pretty minor.
  • It turns out that I’m not going to be running Gasparilla – the cost and logistics of getting to that area on that day are just prohibitive, and the Crossfit Open starts that weekend. Also, it’ll be nice to take a break from training for a race – though it’ll be a short break, because the next one is not that far out.  All of that to say – running this was absolutely the right call, all the way around.
  • There is something really odd about running a decently big goal-type race in your own town when you walk to and from the starting line. These are routes I run all the time, and this was just like a training run – except with a couple thousand of my closest friends, and water stops along the way.  Kind of surreal, really.  I imagine it’ll be even worse the next time I get out there to do a regular run.
  • The encouragement I got from my Crossfit box was incredible, and really means a lot. A couple of my fellow athletes also ran (go Nanette, Joanne, and Brooke!) also ran, and I got several texts and other encouragement from others.  The community is the best part of Crossfit, and this is just another example of that.
  • Also a big congrats to Holly and Elizabeth for killing that race, and thanks to Laura and William for standing out in the rain with a sign. I’ve never lived in a community where friends all root for friends like this.  I like it.
  • This race is worth it for the food after. Seriously – the beans and rice from the Columbia was absolutely perfect after this.  Also, for dinner that evening we came back down to the Tavern and I absolutely crushed a cheeseburger & fries & onion rings & beers & a post-race meal that I’d been planning for several days.
  • Back on the wagon on Monday morning, though.
  • Speaking of Monday morning – I had a checkup with my doctor the morning after the race. The nurse that took my vitals engaged me in my single favorite medical interaction of all time:

Nurse:  Is your pulse always very low?

Me:  Oh, uh … I run.

Nurse:  Ah – ok.

End of conversation.

(for the record, my resting pulse was 45 bpm) (#running)

  • The SWAG was awesome, too – our shirt was organic cotton from RawThreads, and is a shirt I’ll actually wear. The steel tumbler is exceptionally nice, and unlike anything I’ve ever gotten in race SWAG before.  And the flyers and coupons included are all for discounts for local restaurants and stores – which is handy, because I actually live here and may use them.  There was also a light-up safety arm band and something they called a “buff”, which really saved my ears going to and from the race.celebration-half-swag
  • My next scheduled race is The Dark Side Challenge on April 22nd and 23rd at Disney World. That’s Star Wars Dark Side weekend, and I’ll be running the 10K on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday.  Which, in retrospect, was crazy for me to sign up for.  May the force be with me.

 

Pictures!

Quick update to the race report I did for The Florida Run 10K that I ran back in November.  They posted pictures!  I’m a sucker for pictures.  Not really any super good ones of me, I don’t think, but I wound up with three.  I’m going to go back in and put them into the race report itself, but wanted to put them here since they’re new.

Pictures!

results%2f2350bfa8301645cdadc5%2fdsc_4848At the starting line.  You can see this was a small race, though they were very well organized.  This picture is a little Where’s Waldo, but with me.  I’m in here, though…

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Right after the start.  I really struggle with relaxing my arms – they always wind up high and tight like that unless I’m focusing on it.  I don’t know why, and I feel like I’ve done a much better job of working on it when I’m training.  But, especially when I am having to focus on other things (like a race start), they go back up there.  I’ll keep working on it, but I’m also open for ideas.

Incidentally – that guy in front of me was one that I marked early as “want to finish before him”.  Not sure why him, but there you go.  I stuck with him for the first mile or so, and then he left me behind. I figured that was that, until about mile 4, when I passed him as he was walking up a hill.  I never had to drop into a walk, and I never saw him again.  It was roughly there that I realized I had a very good race going.

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Not too often you get pictures from the back like this.  Look at those calves!

I linked to the full race report in the first line of this post, if you’re interested.

Pictures!

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

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

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

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

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

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Well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

florida-run-map

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!

Process and Tools

What a boring-as-hell title for a post.  Even better? This post contains screenshots of Excel spreadsheets!

You’ve been warned.

I had a conversation this morning with a guy at the gym (box?  Nope … still can’t call it a box) that made me realize I’ve never talked about my thinking around how I structure the physical part of my weight loss, and the tools and processes I use for tracking that.  One of the tenets of a SMART goal, and really business in general, is that your progress and results be measurable.  A rule of thumb that I use in my career is that you get what you measure – if you are not measuring a particular outcome, and creating action items based on that measurement, you will not get the outcome you want. It just doesn’t happen.

Now – I’m a finance guy.  Which also means I’m a process and measurement guy.  That is what I do.  Exercise and weight loss is a very data-rich environment.  I’m a hammer, this is a nail.  So – I made some plans and built some tracking and measurement goals against them.

First, and most obvious, is that I have to measure the weight loss itself.  I talked about this in the Goals post that I did, but it is worth revisiting.  If I am not weighing myself regularly, then it is easy to backslide.  If I weigh myself too regularly, then I’m likely to be regularly disappointed by daily, water-based fluctuations in the number on the scale.  I also need to see long-term benchmarks, so that I can have some perspective if I have a bad week or a very good week.  So:

Measurement technique #1:  Weigh myself weekly.  Thursday or Friday (depends on which day I’m home after my workout).  I like to do it after a workout or run, because that helps cut down on water fluctuations.  Then track that weight.  This is what it looks like when I input the weight, starting from when I started Crossfit:

Weight Table

“Straight-Line” is my benchmark weight based on a pound-a-week weight loss

And this is what it looks like visually (updated with last week’s weigh-in):

Weight Chart

Next, it is time to start thinking about exercise.  I need to balance a few things here.  First, I want to exercise as much as I can without taking away from my family time at all.  I have a 4-year old and a 1-year old, and I see them for about an hour and a half a day on a weekday, and then weekends.  I don’t want to give that precious time up.  So, I work out in the mornings, and I work out during the week.  When I started a few weeks ago, I was working out Monday – Friday; beginning last week, I have also added a Saturday morning long run that usually finishes before the rest of the house wakes up.

I also need to balance the activities themselves.  Before, when I lost all of the weight, I was only running.  That’s fine to a point, but is not complete.  I want my body to be more efficient and have a kind of strength that is more broadly functional.  But I am not good at cross-training.  Enter Crossfit.  When I started a few weeks ago, the idea was to go to the gym Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, & Friday, and run on Thursdays.  Then add in the long run on Saturdays.  And then, as I got closer to goal races, swap out one of the gym days for running days.  That schedule is flexible for business travel & vacation, and has also changed around a bit since I’m not going into the gym on testing days for the new levels system.

The key here, though, is to plan this out as far in advance as I can.  There is a whole line of thought in economics about how to make the long-term planner in you commit the short-term do-er in you to do things it might not particularly want to at the time.  One trick is called a commitment device, and mine is a calendar that I have planned out all the way through any upcoming goal.  It looks like this:

Calendar

And this is planned out this way all the way through the Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon at the end of February.  I color code things – you can see when I mark something as having been completed – and generally use this to be able to mentally prepare for what is coming and also adjust for any changes in schedule.  Importantly, this keeps me tied to daily exercise.  As an example, my calendar shows that I have not missed a weekday workout in over 16 weeks.  That has reached a point that any blank space on this thing is going to be a glaring failure for me going forward – and so, when the alarm goes off, I get up.

So now what is left is tracking the exercise itself.  My spreadsheet has not yet evolved to track the numbers associated with Crossfit.  Two reasons for that – one is that they can be a touch hard to track, and another is that the gym uses a service called Wodify that does a lot of that for you.  As an example, this morning we did a 15 minute 3-rep Power Snatch EMOM at 70% (yeah, I don’t know what that means either, but it sure sounds hard).  When I log what I did for that, I get this – which I can refer to the next time it is time to do Power Snatches:

Power Snatch Performance

And then there are the runs.

I use a Garmin Forerunner 410 that I’ve had for a few years now – I like it; it works.  I use MapMyRun to plan out distances.  And I use training schedules from people like Hal Higdon to figure out a basic approach to training for things.  And then I do a couple of things.  Each time I run, I log it:

Run Log

I have this going all the way back to my first run in 2012. Sometimes it is fun to go back through and read the Notes…

This allows me to do several things.  First, it is a place to keep thoughts and look for patterns in terms of things like injury, etc.  Second, it allows me to track my weekly mileage and my speed improvement over time.  Third, it allows me to track total mileage on my shoes and just in general.  So, it allows me to do things like this:

running mileage chart

And this:

Shoes

So that I know where I am at any given time and can see patterns.

I know there are many other things that could be tracked here.  One of the reasons I have not gotten a heart rate monitor is that I know that an influx of data like that could be dangerous for my tendency to over-analyze.

There are downsides to all of this, of course.  Anymore I feel like I can’t go for a run if I don’t have my Garmin – it is almost like it doesn’t count.  That is a silly, but very real, consequence of wanting to have all of the data to crunch.  There is also a time element to this, though most of the time is spent in the initial setting-up of the spreadsheet.  Now that I have it, in general this is pretty seamless.

Anyway – that’s how I do it.  Would love to hear how you do it.  And also any suggestions for extending this kind of analysis and measurement to food.

Running in Public

As mentioned, I was on a work trip to Washington DC last week, and the week prior to that I was on vacation in Delaware. There has been a fair amount of traveling this year, with several trips down to Florida before we moved, and some of the ins and outs of taking a new job that lives in a sales department.  On each and every one of these trips – including the last two weeks – I brought running gear.  Shoes, clothes, Road ID, hat, headphones, the whole getup.  I was ready for it.

And I can count on one finger how many times I actually went for a run.  In the last two weeks, that number was zero.

These last two weeks have been strange, because in both cases I was in a place that I ordinarily would have been excited to go running in.  In Delaware we were less than a mile from the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk (and beach), and in Washington DC I was about a mile from the Washington Monument.  So the beach and the National Mall – two spectacular places to run, particularly in the early morning hours that I typically go. Instead of rocking it, though, I stayed up too late and ignored my alarm in the morning. I just didn’t go.

The failure was so real that I was forced to do some reflecting on it, to try and pin down what is going on inside that causes me to sabotage and outright ignore these efforts.  And I think I figured it out.

I’m afraid somebody might see me.

You see, I’m a fat guy.  Especially now.  And what I think about when people see me running is that they are seeing this guy:

2014 JFK Runway Run

2013 JFK Runway Run

or maybe this guy:

2013 Rock & Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon

2013 Rock & Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon

Or definitely this guy:

2014 Branford Road Race

2014 Branford Road Race

When I’m at home, I leave to go running at 5am.  And at that hour, I generally see no people.  Maybe one or two.  There is nobody at home awake, there is nobody on the road, there is just not much going on.  In a hotel, though, at 5am I’m going to run into somebody. I’m going to see a night clerk, or another guest at the little gym, or the doorman on my way out to the streets for a run.  And I’m going to be totally self conscious that they are judging me.  Or, worse, laughing at me.

Now, I know from experience that my instinct on this one is incorrect.  95 times out of 100, people don’t even notice.  We are so wrapped up in our own little worlds – we don’t care.  And the other 5 times out of 100, when people do notice, they’re almost always doing the “good for him” in their heads.  That’s what I’m doing if I ever notice somebody running that is not what you’d expect from a traditional runner.

But, for all of that, I still really struggle to go.  My mechanism, by the way, is to sabotage the morning by staying up entirely too late the night before.  This is another place where home is better, because my wife won’t let that go on for too long without shaming me.  Or at least making me feel awkward because I have to answer the question “what the hell were you DOING up that late, anyway?”

This wasn’t really a problem when I was at the peak of my running “career” (HA!).  I felt good enough that it didn’t matter so much.  I’m not there now, and I need to get over it.

Also, for the record, I’m incredibly torn about posting that picture from the Virginia Beach Half up there.  The one with my belly hanging out.  I really hate that picture.