Tuesday, October 18, 2011

10/9/2011 Chicago Marathon, 3:20 Pacer

Chicago Marathon "in my opinion" is the best big marathon in the United States.  Why Chicago you ask?  The seeded corrals, the Nike Pacers, super wide road, flat course, 20 aid stations, spectators, it just doesn't get any better!  This was my 3rd time running Chicago and it will not be my last.

Now you might ask how the heck can you stand running a marathon with 45,000 people after running a 100 mile ultramarathon with only 100 people, there is huge difference in the two types of races, they are completely different types of events?  To tell you the truth ultramarathons on trails are my forte, but I really like running road marathons every now and then.  When I pace marathons I don't feel the need to race, I can practice holding pace for 3 to 4 hours, it’s great ultrarunning training, and I can give back to the sport that has given me so much.  It is fun to run a consistent pace, BS with other runners, and every once and a while give a little advise.

I wanted to run with the Nike Pace Team, at the Chicago Marathon, since the 1st time I saw them in action during the 2009 Chicago Marathon.  I finally got my chance this year.  In May a friend of mine gave me the email address of the Nike Pacing Team leader.  I sent him an email listing of all the marathons I have paced.  He told me sometime later in the year he would contact me if an opening arose.  I finally received an email from him on August 28th as I was driving home from Cascade Crest 100.  He told me the slowest time he had available was 3:20, OUCH,…. bad timing, as I am trying to get comfortable in the back seat of my wife’s car!   I thought; how am I supposed to train for that fast of a marathon when all the training I've done this year was for slow-long-distance-endurance running!!!   Besides I need a well deserved rest from running right now; looks like that wasn't going to happen!

So I devised a plan:
- Take 1 week off, run very easy recovery runs to break up the lactic acid in my muscles.
- After that week, run tempo runs "at least" 3 days a week, with my goal to average 6:45-7:00 pace, 1 week prior to Chicago.
- Try to get in 2 - 20 mile long runs!

Well it turns out the longest run I could get in before Chicago was a 15 mile run and a few 10 mile runs.  I was able to run 3 or 4 tempo runs every week averaging 6:45-7:00 minute miles the 3 weeks prior to the race.  I wish I could have ran a few long runs, but with my RD duties at Skagit Flats Marathon, volunteering at numerous races, moving my wife's friend Bobbie to Phoenix, and all three of my kids entering college, I just couldn’t fit any run long runs into my busy schedule. 

The week leading up to the Chicago Marathon I was a little nervous since I really didn't do the proper training regiment to "Pace" a fast marathon.  I knew a 3:30 or 3:40 would be a piece of cake, but would running a 3:20 be taxing?  I was very thankful to know that I would not be the lead dog pacing in this marathon, we had 3 other Nike Pace Setters in the 3:20 group, all three of them have faster PR's than I, and they are all also young enough to be my kids, Perfect!!!

Race day came and the weather couldn't be better.  It was warm enough that I didn't need an extra shirt at the start, and we would be done before the temperatures reached the 80's.  For all the Nike Pacers they provided a Nike Pacer Tent near the start, port-a-johns, food, refreshments, and a place to store stuff during the race. What a great way to start the day.  It was also nice to see some of my old friends pacing, Chuck Engle, Steve Vargas, and Marie Bartoletti.  After much talking, getting ready for the race, and the normal day-of-race stuff that we all do, all the Nike Pacers went to the outside of the tent and took a group shot, kind of cool seeing 100 pacers all together, then we paraded together to our respective starting corrals. 

Our group started in Corral B.  The two times I‘ve ran Chicago I started in Corral A, right behind the elite runners, there was never a time I felt like other runners were a hindrance like in Boston, New York Marathon, or ALL ROCK N’ ROLL Marathons.   The way they monitor their starting corrals makes a huge difference on the efficiency of the start and I feel it really does help participants finish times. One of the downfalls about having so many people in a marathon is how long we have to wait in the starting corral before the race starts.  Of course I had to take a leak before the race and the last thing I wanted to do was stop at a port-a-john.  I won’t say how I relieved myself before the race, but let’s just say it is a common way during a long road trip!  I am grateful that was the last time I needed to until after the race. 

For me the most exciting time in a race is the 30 seconds prior to the gun going off.  As I am waiting nervously I look around and introduce myself to many of the people running in our pace group.  I was amazed at the amount of people following the 4 of us.  While talking to one of the runners from the Dominician Republic the gun goes off and the race begins,….. We start jogging to the start mats, then as soon as we hit the mats (1 minute and 20 seconds later) we are able to start running.  Usually the 1st few miles in a large race it is tough to get up to pace because of the mobs of people, but we hit the 1 mile mark at EXACTLY 7:37 pace (chip time), nice….   The next few miles we were not so lucky, each mile we found ourselves 5 or 6 seconds behind, moving through the crowds was proving to be a bit cumbersome.  Finally around mile 6 we were back on pace and had made up all the time lost due to congestion.  It was at this point I looked behind us and noticed the amount of people in our pace group.  I’ll bet it was close to 500 people, it looked like a swarm of locusts following us, how cool is that? 

Somewhere in the 1st 6 miles we worked out what our duties were in the race.  Matt Flaherty (2:22 PR) was in charge of the group, as a 2:22 marathon runner he was the perfect guy for this job.  He kept all four of us on a flat steady pace and provided us an anchor point.  Rich Calvario (2:48 PR) did an excellent job maintaining pace as well, to me he seemed like Matt’s right hand man, always looking out for him and the rest of us, making sure everyone was able to get water, Gatorade, or a sponge and asking me how far ahead or behind we were at every mile split.  My job was to yell out how we were doing at every mile.  towards the end of the race.  Every team needs a guy like Jackson just to keep the race exciting.Jackson Johnson’s (2:45 PR) was a ton of fun to watch during the race, he was like the running comedian, he was the “Get the Crowd Pumped” guy.  He was all over the place in front, behind, taking care of the runners on the other side of the road when a median split us up.  I was amazed how much energy he still had
The Nike 3:20 Pace Team was a huge success because of the 4 of us, we each brought a little something different to the team, and we meshed well together.  At the ½ way point we were 30 seconds ahead, at the finish we were 3:19:45, 15 seconds ahead.  We couldn’t have ran the race any better.  Thanks Matt, Rich, and Jackson for doing such a great job for all the runners following us.  I am looking forward to running with the 3 of you again next year.

8/27/2011 Cascade Crest Endurance Run

This happens to be my favorite 100 mile race because of a lot of reasons:
- The RD (Charlie Crissman) does an AMAZING job with the race.  Perfect course marking, perfect aid stations, etc!  Any ultramarathon put on by a SERIOUS ultrarunner is always going to be good, besides he is a helluva nice guy!  Charlie outdoes himself every year!
- Since I am an Alaskan I love the outdoors, and Washington outdoors reminds me of the forests in my hometown Valdez Alaska.  I just can't get enough of the beauty of this area!
- Friends, friends, and more friends, it is amazing to see people you know at every aid station and along the course.
- The degree of difficulty in Cascade Crest is such that you are forced to walk much of the race.  This race has mountains forcing you to walk when you really should walk.  The course has down hills and flats when you should run, it has the perfect combination. 

I had a super time this year because I really took it easy.  It is amazing how much more you see on a course when you take time to actually look around.  I remember thinking many times "wow look at that view".  I never noticed that the last two times I ran this.  

My BIG goal this year was running Badwater, once that was over I really went into melt down and couldn’t
Convince myself to train like I should for Cascade Crest.  I went into Cascade Crest with only 1 long run since Badwater (34 miles on God's Country Course) and an average of 40-45 miles a week running.  Of course I was so oblivious to this I didn't realize this fact until I was 15 miles into Cascade Crest.  I remember stopping and saying to myself WTF are you doing out here. Up until that point I was running with Shawna Tompkins (the eventual winner), stupid, stupid, stupid. 

After that I decided to take a different approach and just enjoy the race.  My goal from that point was to get to Hyak where I would pick up my 1st pacer William Worrell and I would be more than ½ way done.  Once I knew ½ of the race was over, and I had someone to talk to, it would suddenly get a lot easier!  William finished Cascade Crest last year as his 1st 100 mile race.  Having an experienced ultrarunner was exactly what I needed to get me through the long road section from Hyak to the “Trail from Hell”.  I think this is the worst part of the course, 15 miles of long boring road, in the middle of the night, the best part about this section is knowing the “Trail from Hell” is next. The “Trail from Hell” is one of my favorite sections, it is so technical, tons of trees down, sharp cliffs, really eerie to run at night, and at the end we get to cross Mineral Creek, good luck keeping your shoes dry!!  Shortly after Mineral Creek is the Mineral Creek Aid Station where my friend Pablo Cabrera was working, it was cool to see him there!  A few miles later William was finished and it was time for my friend Dylan to pace me.

Dylan Owens is an amazing new ultrarunner, he has only been running for a few short months and is able to keep in the front of the pack in most of the races he runs, imagine what he is going to be like when he is seasoned!  Dylan paced me up to “No Name Ridge” where my wife Delores met me with my “secret“ drop bag.  It is always nice to see her at the aid stations especially when I am tired and really just want the race to be over!  The "Needles" section to "French Cabin" is my favorite section of the course because it is truly a B_ _ CH, the needles go on and on and on, but in between there are runable sections, so I just muster up the needles as fast as I can and run the runable sections, then on to the next one, then the next one, then all of a sudden you're at French Cabin.  Once you leave French Cabin there is one more serious climb then it is all downhill and/or flat, Yes Yes Yes!

Dylan did a great job trying to push me to run, except for the fact I didn't care about my finish time.  I was kind of getting a little owly towards him as he suggested we should pick it up because of this reason or that, I don't even remember, all I remember is I really didn't care what time I finished this darn race, I just wanted to finish "whenever", until we finally crested that last hill after French Cabin.  Then I realized all I had to do was run a 9 minute mile for the rest of the race and I would finish under 24 hours.  If he hadn't prodded me to finish under 24 hours I probably wouldn't have done so.  For this I am very thankful "now"!!  All in all it was a great experience for me to have William and Dylan pace me, and I think it was good for them as well. 

My 3rd attempt at this amazing mountain course was a success thanks to my wife Delores, William, and Dylan! Anytime you need a pacer all you have to do is ask!  Next year I will be running an Aid Station (hopefully Mineral Creek) and watching my good friend Joseph Tompkins finish his 5th Cascade Crest.

8/7/2011 God's Country 50k "Fun Run"

Sunday August 7th, I woke up to the sounds of fog horns warning the local ferries and boaters to slow down on the water, it's also a great way to wake local residents out of their sound sleep.  For me it was the perfect sound to hear 1st thing in the morning before my epic 50k here in the ACFL (Anacortes Community Forest Lands).  When there's heavy fog in the Puget Sound there's no wind, and it's going to be a sunny cool day, after the fog lifts, exactly what I was hoping for.

I arrived at Heart Lake parking about at 7:45 to find a group of eagerly awaiting runners ready to embark on a TOUGH and long trail run.  Our plan for the day was to run 3 different loops for a total of 32 miles minimum.  ACFL has over 50 miles of trails within it's 2800 acre park.  The trails are almost all single track with roots, rocks, steep inclines and declines just the perfect type of trails for long distance ultrarunning training. Running these trails are not for the weak or easily intimidated.

I was pleased to see the following runners, Rusty Bachman, Miranda Bachman, Kevin Douglas, Tim Stroh, Jason Hynd, Matt Hagen, & Betsy Rogers.  Perfect we had 8 starters, with me included.  Rusty was nursing achy knees, Matt twisted his ankle during White River 50 mile the weekend prior, and Betsy was sore from White River, her 1st 50 mile run.  Their plan was to just run the 1st and possible the 2nd loop depending on how they felt.  Matt had to drop out of White River last weekend due to an ankle sprain, this run was a perfect mental boost in his training plan for Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run, his 1st 100 mile run on 8/27/2011. I was pleased he stayed with us for the 1st 2 loops, a total of 20 miles.  Rusty ran the 1st loop, close to 13 miles, then stayed back and waited for his wife to finish.  Betsy ran the 1st loop and decided it was much better to sun bathe and drink beer (Lush) while the rest of us continued.

We returned after our 2nd loop around 2pm and my good friend Eric Barnes joined us for the 3rd and final loop.  I 1st met Eric in Boston while riding the bus taking us to Hopkinton Massachusetts for the start of the 2004 Boston Marathon.  Since that date we have ran numerous races together, the most memorable was the 2008 Canadian Death Race.  He's the one that taught me how to pace myself in ultras.  One of the hardest things for a marathon runner to do when entering their 1st long race is "slow" down.  My 1st 50 mile race and 1st 100 mile race were both a disaster due to this problem.  He paced me the 1st 30-40 miles of the Canadian Death Race, we were going so slow I thought I was going to lose it.  After all the reason for running a race is to get to the finish line as fast as possible, right!  That works fine when you are running 26 miles on the road for a mere 3 -4 hours, but when you add another 74 miles and 18 hours the dynamics change.  It is all about preserving so you can still run late in the race without feeling like you'de rather have a backhoe run you over and cover you up.  You want to still feel alive at the end of a long race.  It sucks to do a death walk for miles and miles, it's much better to run!

Our journey started off running around the north end of the Heart Lake Trails, then south next to Heart Lake, crossing the Heart Lake Road to run a STEEP hill up the side of Sugarloaf Mountain between the saddle of Sugarloaf and Mount Erie, then to Whistle Lake.  By the time we arrived at Whistle Lake the fog had lifted and everyone in the group was warmed up and having a great time.  I asked the group if they wanted to jump in for a quick swim, it was just too cold.  We continued around the lake to the south side of Mount Erie, to the Campbell Lake Overlook, and then across Heart Lake Road to the far south end of Heart Lake Trail to Lake Erie Overlook.  This loop ended back at our cars in the Heart Lake Parking Lot. 

We paused, ate, drank fluids, and replenished our stores for the shortest and hardest loop in the 50k, up and over Sugar Cube, around the north end of Whistle Lake, up to Sharpes Corner Overlook, to Whistle Lake Parking area, back up a couple of tough hills, and return to our cars.  This loop is really tough, the uphill climbs, and downhill descends are either straight up or straight down.  This section is where we find out who the REAL trail runners are!

Of course we save the best loop for last!  We take off from Heart lake again and traverse the northwest Heart Lake Trails, cross “A” ave to the Cranberry Lake Trail system.  This trail system is fairly small with very nice hills that never seem too long, the descends are just the right grade to get your wind back.  Our loop around Cranberry Lake takes us around the outside perimeter trail system, so we run all the toughest trails.  We finished back at Heart Lake with a makeshift barbeque, fruits, an assortment of salads, a smorgasbord of fine tailgate food and fun.

The trails are very well groomed thanks to all the hikers and mountain bikers that recreate this area daily, the City of Anacortes maintaining trails, Ranger Dave maintaining trails and organizing trail work parties, Friends of the Forest dedication to maintaining open spaces, and trail workers constant upkeep of the trails. Thanks to all this hard work and dedication we are able to play year around on excellent single track and double track trails. 

If you are interested in running with us, my running group Skagit Runners, holds a run every Thursday night at 6pm.  We meet at Heart lake Parking Lot.  When Fall arrives we don headlights and continue our weekly runs, light or dark we are running!

Finish time 9:06:05

Here are a few links for maps in the ACFL;
Heart Lake
Whistle Lake
Cranberry Lake

Thanks to everyone that joined us for part or all of 2nd Annual God's Country 50k, it was a BLAST!