Monday, January 31, 2011

In-Depth Review of Miami

As I stated in previous posts, this race was meant to be a test: a test to see where I was aerobically, a test to see how much pain I could endure, and also a test to see if my opinions hadn't changed about road racing. And if you're looking for the abbreviated version here it is. I think I'm in pretty good shape to do well at the mad city 100k as long as I put in some longer runs, I didn't push as hard as I could have during the race but the difference in time would have been insignificant, and no.... not so much a fan of road races still. For those looking for a more detailed explanation, please read on.

The last time I've actually had a marathon timed was at the split of the 2010 American River 50 Mile in Sacramento, CA. My time was 2:46:?? and I was elated to find that I had cut 6 minutes off of my previous PR (which was during another ultra). However, at the end of that race I had a nagging feeling that if I could run such a time with a hefty amount of fuel left in the tank, I might be able to put a solid time down on a paved surface.

Things came together when I was planning this year's schedule with a focus on making the 100k world team. I had made that a goal last year, only to come up short by 6 minutes. This year I wanted to be prepared to go the distance and reserve myself a spot for international racing. And as I began to formulate my schedule to build up for the big race in April, my coach suggested I try a marathon for time to see how fit I was. Eventually we set our sights on the Miami Marathon. There would be some good competition and it was a warm area in January, nuff said.

So, getting back to the actual race. I woke up at 4:45 to my watch alarm and slowly began my usual routine: forcing down some sort of "food" with a large portion of water or sports drink. This is always a difficult routine regardless of how nervous I am. I just can't seem to eat in the morning. Then, on to the race bib preparation. Next up, shoes and socks. Lastly, listening to some music that would be delightfully stuck in my head for the race (Ratatat has a great selection of music if you're interested). And then we were out the door.

I often wonder what a person might think if they were to wake up in their hotel room and look out their window at 5 am. It really is quite a spectacle seeing 21000 pedestrians congregate in a central location. I wonder if the noise woke anyone up?

Anyway, with about 30 minutes until the race started, I began wading my way (mother in tow) through masses of befuddled strangers; people wondering how to find their designated section, where to find a stick of body glide, talking race strategy, etc. Finally, after forcing my way through the crowd I made it to the front and began my warmup. A short 5 minute jog with a couple leg lifts was all I could manage. Any more than that and my heart would have exploded out of my chest. I was really nervous.

Making my way back to the crowd, I tried to pry myself into a good position to start at least somewhat close to the elites. However, it seems everyone has the same idea at these races and I soon found myself stuck behind a man that, at first glance, appeared to be wearing a sweater. Upon further inspection, I realized he was just extremely hairy, and thus spent the remainder of the time in the tent avoiding bumping into him.

When the gun went off everyone shot forward. Immediately I saw the front pack surge forward. My coach had advised me to start the first mile slow and then pick it up from there. This served a dual purpose as I would be able to make my own race once the urge to run up front left me, and also to warm up a bit since it takes me quite a long time to do. At the first mile I clocked in at 6:13. Yikes. Way off pace but I felt really good. I began to slowly pick up the pace, and in the process, picked off several people along the way. This was fun!

Going through downtown Miami was a bit strange, mostly due to the smell. I notice this in a lot of big cities, but there was an overwhelming smell of old cigars and trash and it really threw my stomach off balance. Another oddity was their bridges. It was very difficult to run a consistent pace since your mechanics are thrown off by the metal grating. Back to the race.....

Every 30 seconds or so I was able to pass someone and keep them behind me. This became the norm for the race. At around mile 8 I passed the three leading women and continued my journey to find the front-running men. At mile 10.5 I was able to see my mom and the rest of the cheer station. It was really exciting getting through that section. I felt renewed after leaving that area and put in a good surge to catch the next person. Another thing I noticed, every person I passed during the entire race was entirely gassed. It took absolutely no effort to pass them. At the full/half marathon course split, I was informed I was 21st place. Not too shabby, but I thought I could do better.

Slowly but surely I picked off 20, 19, 18, all the way down to 11. About every mile or so I would get these gut-wreching side stitches that would leave me short of breath. But it seemed that every time that happened I would see another runner ahead. Somehow that took the focus off of my stitch and I was able to hunt them down. Finally, around the 20 mile mark, I began to feel sharp. Tired, but sharp. I'm not sure if it was the realization that I would only be running another 35 minutes or some other physiological miracle, but I was able to put in a surge that lasted the rest of the race. In the last 10k I picked off 6 more people. I passed the last guy with 1.2 miles to go and put 3 minutes on him by the finish. Crossing the finish line was surreal. I was genuinely happy at my performance. About 10 steps after the finish line I began throwing up white foam, and this continued in spurts for the next half hour. In my mind I like to think it was just weakness leaving the body, because it hurt like hell.

So there it is, my first race of the season. I think this race is going to be a good indicator of how I perform in the 100k in April. I still like trails better, of course. And I still like running until my legs give out, rather than my lungs.

Hopefully this is a foreshadowing of what the season will bring. For now I've got 2 solid months of training to get in before the race, and one very important pacing job. My good friend Brooks Williams will be running the Brew to Brew 43.2 mile race from Kansas City to Lawrence on April 3rd, 2011. For all of you who would like to know more about Brooks or the race, you can visit his blog (a link is located on the sidebar under "blogs of interest").

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Miami Results

Finished in a time of 2:26:37 and took 5th place overall. Had a good race but I'm glad its behind me, more details to come.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Miami Marathon

I've realized lately that it is very difficult to write or even be creative when it feels like I'm doing the same thing every day. I'm not big on finding the little differences in the day to day events that surround my life... specifically running. I believe that is why I try (and succeed) most times to throw in a new route or to explore a trail I haven't run yet. But lately it seems that my desire for new adventures has taken a backseat to calculated and well-managed training for my race this weekend.

The marathon has been a race I have looked over for the last 3 years as "insignificant" or "boring". In a lot of ways, I still see it as such. Most marathons are on roads, they are almost always crowded, they don't offer the scenery that most ultramarathons do, and they offer little in the way of changing terrain. But in these last few months I have really started to appreciate just what it takes to run one of these races to the extent of your ability.

Ultramarathons have been a safe haven for me mostly because I can avoid completely losing my breath (Leadville excluded) and also can be quite lax with my regulation of pace.... I can always count on catching the next surge of energy. I mean, if you have all day to run, there are going to be highs and lows no matter what you do. The marathon, however, is an elusive monster since it involves toeing the line of complete anaerobic meltdown for what I hope to be two hours and twenty-five minutes.

Three weeks ago I had one last test to see if I could manage this pace with a 30 kilometer progression. For those of you who have never done a progression (I hadn't until 3 weeks ago), the name implies the gradual nature of increasing effort and lowering pace throughout the run. During this run we chose a paved bike trail that travels 15k out, and 15k back.

We began with the pace at around 7 to 7:30 miles, then "progressed" each mile until we reached the 15k mark at just below 6 minute/mile pace. At this point we took a gel and began to hammer the pace until we reached my goal of 5:30. Shockingly, I felt great. We were cruising along for the next 4 miles at this pace and I decided to pick it up a bit. 5:23, 5:21, 5:18... I felt like a machine. Then the last 2 miles came about. 5:14, I felt like I was going to die. I had side stitches, my stride was breaking down, I couldn't breathe correctly, I was in the throws of anaerobic shock. My training partner Dan, a superb marathon runner, kept trying to tell me to breathe easier, focus on my stride, all the of the usual things one might try to say to deflect attention away from the pain. And in some ways it worked, but that last mile was excruciating. We crossed the last mile marker in 5:11. I dry heaved my way back to the car. The pace for the last 15k was 5:23. I couldn't help but smile as I drifted in and out of sleep.

And so this workout, combined with about 3 months of consistent yet redundant training has led me to the starting line of the Miami Marathon. Needless to say, this isn't my ultimate goal for the season. In reality it's a tester to see what I can run for the Mad City 100k in April. But I have a feeling if this race goes well, there won't be much stopping me from a good race in Madison.

One thing is certain. After this weekend, I'll be running a lot more unknown trails and consequently writing more....