Monday, November 29, 2010

2500th Anniversary Athens Marathon Race Report - Mary

It's over a month since I got back from Greece and reality has certainly set in.

I ran Twin Cities marathon on Oct. 3rd and then the couple who Dave and I have travelled with many times left on Oct. 4th for Greece. I spent 4 days with them on Crete, then we joined up with a tour group of 40 people (way too many) to tour the mainland of Greece and two of the Greek isles.

We went to almost every archaeological sight there is to see, like Delphi, Olympia, Meteora, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, etc. The islands we went to were Mykonons and Santorini. Then I spent a week on my own in Athens and finally hooked up with the marathon tour group on the Thursday before the race. The group I went with is called Apostollos and the owner has been going there for more than 10 years and has family there. That seemed to be an advantage. After being in Greece for that length of time I think I finally have a bit of an idea of the history and how all the different important civilizations that are part of the Hellenic tradition fit in with the rest of that part of the world. 

I was getting a little concerned about the race the week I spent in Athens on my own. Nobody who I spoke with seemed to  know about the race, including staff at hotels and restaurants. Finally the weekend before the race some Greek flags went up but they were actually for the Greek holiday which is on Oct 28th. They all seemed kind of impressed that I had come from America to run it though.

By Thursday, after the parade for "No Day", things changed on the streets and you could tell that the city was gearing up for a marathon. More t-shirts in the kiosks, which are everywhere, that had marathon info. on them, flags about the marathon and probably lots of stuff on local TV which I couldn't understand. Keep in mind that they had an election on the 7th for all municipal leaders, so there were lots of posters out on poles, etc and the TV and newspapers were covering that.

By Friday things looked ready. The Expo was in this fabulous building, which is a convention center/exhibition hall, but really more another museum with lots of history about the marathon. They also had a symposium about "the environmental profile of the marathon movement" which the Greek minister of Environment attended. I had read about this in the program and kind of wondered who else attended that symposium when we were running on race day and they were handing us all water in regular sized plastic bottles and we were all tossing them on the ground after a couple sips. I hope they had some way of recycling all that plastic.

Jeff Galloway was the celebrity runner with our tour group and I was very surprised at the make-up of the 200 plus runners in the group. There were many Canadians,  Australians and other countries represented. It almost seemed Americans were least represented. I think perhaps most of the US folks went with Marathon Tours group out of Boston. Anyway, I was befriended by two Canadian women on the first day and we became a foursome-one of the women had her boyfriend. It was fun to finally have someone to talk running and English with, since I had been on my own that previous week and didn't find too many folks to carry on a full conversation with.

Jeff has been to the Athens marathon at least 5 times and during the orientation meeting he really played down how well he thought the race might turn out. In the past I guess it has been marginal in its race management. So we were all told to carry our own water, gels, etc. We got to tour the race start sight and the course two days before the race, so that managed to "put the fear of God" into most of us. This course is what the Boston marathon is patterned on, so there are significant hills. However the last 10K are truly a gradual downhill and the finish was in the marble Olympic stadium which was built for the first modern Olympics and was modeled after the original stadium in Olympia. It's beautiful-all marble.
Race day was a beautiful cool morning and we boarded the buses by 6:00 AM so that we would have plenty of time to get to the porta-potties and to our assigned "blocks" aka "wave" or corral. I've never seen so many port potties at the start of a marathon. There were about 12,000 runners for the marathon and the start area was very adequate for lining up for the start. The waves were abused a bit because runners wanted to run with their friends. They tried to control it, but it was fairly easy to step over the barriers. My two Canadian friends and I took the warning seriously that you could be disqualified, and we were all in different blocks, so we never saw each other after we went to our block.

The race started exactly at 9:00AM and each block started two minutes apart. I was in block 4 out of 7, and got to start @ 9:08 and I was very surprised that I was almost immediately able to get into a running pace. I had decided to do the walk/method which I normally do. Since the marathon markers were in km. I ended up taking a 30 sec. walk break at every K, which ended up being about every 6 min. It worked OK since I wasn't sure how my legs would feel after not doing too much running during the month of Oct., but lots of walking the week before the marathon, including the day before the race.

The aid stations were all extremely well supplied with water and volunteers, gels, bananas, etc at the proper locations. The people in the small villages as we progressed from the town of Marathon, past the mound where 192 soldiers were buried after the battle with the Persians, then past one of the major ports where ferries take folks to the many islands and then on into Athens were amazing. They all shouted Bravo, Bravo and children and adults were handing us small olive branches ( I brought one of mine home with me). As I said the course was quite hilly and the highest point was at the 32K point. Actually from 17K to 32 there was a gradual climb. But at 32K we started on a gradual downhill into the center of Athens. The road was closed to traffic in one direction and we ran past many of the Embassies and museums and then took a turn off the main thoroughfare, ran past the Presidential palace and garden-reminded me just a little bit of running by Central park- then turned into the stadium. At this point the spectators were really cheering us on. Finishing in that historic stadium was an experience like none I have ever had. We ran almost a lap around the stadium and then received our medal.

After we left the stadium it became a slightly different story from the rest of the race. The area was a bit small to handle all the runners and spectators. But I was still able to gradually get rid of my chip, get some food and drink and find my drop bag and get to the buses waiting to take us back to our hotel.

The Apostolos tour group had a very special post run dinner for all of us, with Greek dancers and singers. We were all presented with a replica of an ancient Greek vase painted for us especially by a member of the owner's family. Jeff Galloway and his wife hosted this party and it was a very nice culmination to a very special race.

Friday, November 12, 2010

2010 ING New York City Marathon--Candy

The size, spectators and logistics of this event lived up to the hype. It was a one-time event for me. Now I have a new perspective for when I watch future NY marathons on TV. From the top…

It took my daughter Amy and I about three hours to get to the start via subway, shuttle bus, ferry and a second shuttle bus. The weather was sunny, near freezing and a little windy. When we arrived at Fort Wadsworth, the staging area, we quickly put on all of our extra clothes, garbage bags and broke out the hand warmers. Amy and I were in Wave 3 with a 10:40 am start time (there were three waves plus wheelers with three different starting points in each wave and about 12 or so corrals in each starting point). We found a discarded blanket and piece of cardboard to sit on that had been left by someone.

The race itself was hard, mainly due to the number of runners and walkers to maneuver through. Plus the aid stations started at mile 3 and continued for every mile. There were almost solid cups and debris along the road at every aid station—sometimes it was a bit sticky from the GU wrappers and Gatorade, not to mention the banana peels at a few miles.

My brush with fame came near the end. As I saw the finish line, I heard the announcer say that the Chilean miner was ½ mile out. Edison Pena had started an hour ahead of me so I must have passed him along Central Park. I heard that he was running with ice packs on his knees. What a story. My time was 4:43 (about 30 minutes slower than TCM). My daughter Amy did a 4:06 for her first marathon and my son-in-law Hallvard a 3:28.

A few comments/encounters along the way: someone in our corral ate a “special” meal the night before and we quickly moved from his downwind side, Sinatra's "New York" playing during the start, “welcome to Brooklyn” from a spectator after we came off the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, almost taking out a lady pedestrian who walked across the street in the middle of the race in Brooklyn, shouts of “go Minnesota” along the route (I was wearing a Minnesota singlet) with one guy adding “South St. Paul baby,” and the many people on the street who offered their congrats afterwards.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Finally!! The Gateway Bridge over Manning Ave. is nearing completion

Posted by Tom.
The Manning Ave crossing has been one of the more treacherous hazards on the Gateway Trail.  You MUST be alert at the crossing since, with a 55 mph speed limit, traffic zips by in a flash.  So it was a wonderful announcement a couple of years ago that the State of Minnesota would erect a bridge for the Gateway over Manning.
Not only would it be a bridge, but it is a historic bridge, 130 years old.  It began its life in Sauk Centre, MN, was moved in 1937 to Silverdale, MN (somewhere south of International Falls) where it was recently replaced by a new structure.  Since it was designated in 1998 as a historical structure, there was a desire to move the bridge once again to a suitable location.

Here is the bridge in Silverdale
 On the Manning/Gateway site the preparations began over a year ago. 
·         Fencing went up to divert the Gateway Trail around the construction site.
·         Huge mounds of earth were piled up on either side of Manning for the approaches. 
·         Earlier this year big concrete pilings went up to support the ends of the bridge.  Here’s a Wikipedia link showing construction photos:
Then is sat – for months, and we speculated that the project had stalled due to funding issues related to the economy… Finally last month the steel showed up, neatly stacked in a big pile off to the side.  Each piece of iron appeared brand new in a fresh coat of paint.  Like an erector set, the pieces went together, and today the nearly completed bridge sits off to the side of the trail awaiting the final effort to lift it into place.
Here is the bridge partially assembled a couple of weeks ago on Manning Ave:

I have shifted my daily runs to this portion of the Gateway in order to watch the progress.  It appears that the major tasks remaining are lifting the bridge in place, installing a bridge deck, and fencing along the sides.  Realistically it is probably still several months until we will be jogging across, but it is fascinating to watch the progress in the meantime.
Here is a link to the Gateway Trail Association’s site with more construction photos:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tom's Reflections on the Whistlestop Marathon

Everybody told me that the Whistlestop Marathon is a great race (including my buddy Dave who ran a PR there in 2007).  The course is flat and fast, and the scenery is beautiful.  Add to that that this is a major event for the town of Ashland and you have the recipe for a very good time.
My wife, Mary Ann and I traveled to Ashland on Friday and stayed at a nice B&B between Washburn and Bayfield.  (Note to self:  the B&B was nice, but we’ll stay in or very close to Ashland next time.)
The weekend weather report was for highs in the 60s to mid-70s, depending on which forecast you read.
The race starts 25 miles west of Ashland, 1 mile north of US-2 on a road leading to several resorts.  You are out in the woods, and lining up for the race in the front yards of some very classic lodges and campgrounds.
The race began at precisely 9:00am as advertised.  The runners were a bit crowded at first, but dispersed somewhat over the first miles.  By mile 10 the race was becoming a relatively lonely event.
My goals were multi-tiered (that way you aren’t disappointed if you at least achieve a couple of them).  First, to qualify for Boston (BQ) which is 3:45 for my age group.
Second, to better my “modern PR” of 3:42 from Grandma’s 2006 (my second marathon)
Third, to break 3:30 (this is getting pretty ambitious)
Fourth, to better my lifetime PR of 3:27 from TwinCities 93 (my first marathon)
The miles clicked off and I felt pretty comfortable running in the 7:45 to 7:55 per mile range.  I worried, however, that I’d run out of gas at that pace.  Even so, the pace felt good, and I kept at it pretty consistently.  At mile 9 I noted (approx. 1/3 of the race) my time was 1:09 – on pace for a 3:27 if I could keep it up.  At mile 18 the watch said 2:18, still on track, but I wondered even more so when the gas would run out.  Finally it did around mile 22.  8:32 for mile 22, and slower yet after that.  Fortunately the wind picked up from the northeast, off Lake Superior, and the temperature seemed to cool down.  I noted it was 56 degrees in Ashland after the race.  I ran/walked for awhile, and realized that the energy part of the race was over.  Now I had to find a way to get to drag myself to and over the finish line fast enough to salvage some respectable time.  I think the coolness helped somewhat.  To my relief, the clock read 3:35:18 at the finish! 
To my further relief Mary Ann was there at the finish line with some cash and the beer tent was only steps away.  There is nothing that can compare with a cold beer at the finish line!
Another note to self:  Stay for the Blues and Brews Festival Saturday night. 
I now can echo the praises of the Whistlestop.  If you want to run a fast race, this one has the right stuff!
Dave adds...
I'll second Tom's nod toward this race, if you don't mind running alone for a while.  This one is scenic, fast and very basic, with a nice festival at the end.  Just watch your footing and that PR can be your's!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Alternative to Barefoot

Is there such thing as a shoeaholic?  My spell-check doesn’t think so.  I was a traditional, mega-industry, evil empire, running shoe wearer.  I became an expert on the differences between motion control and stability shoes; Asics and Mizuno were my favorite flavors.  I fell for every marketing ploy and new color; gads, I preferred my shoes gel-enhanced.  What guy doesn’t?
What a load of hogwash.  How did people run before Nike?  I am such a sucker for marketing.
So why then was I a perpetual gimp?  Not the season-ending, writhing in pain type, but the endless shin splints, IT band pain and arch barking gimp that I thought just came with running and getting older.  After taking to the trails, the issues just got worse.  I thought trails were supposed to be easier on my poor body?
What was it that Sherlock Holmes posited?  If you eliminate all other possibilities, the one that remains, no matter how unlikely, is the answer?  He used this to prove a gorilla was murdering people or something.  Elementary I guess.  So I started suspecting my shoes.  I did some research, and read Born to Run by Chris McDougall.  If you haven’t already, read this book.  Like right now.  Lots of great information covered in a book that reads like a novel.  Loved it.  I read about people doing 50 miles in tire treads.  Evidently people did run before Nike.
So I determined to get some minimalist shoes.  Without silly toes (those toes will take me a while to get used to).  Maybe a cool color.  I think I hit the jackpot on my first try.  I went over to Revel Sports near Wausau, WI and tried on a pair of Inov8 F-lite 230’s.  Halleluiah!  They fit amazingly.  I felt like I was wearing my bedroom slippers, only with kick-butt, summer racing tread soles and patented Aqua-tread grooves.  I almost ripped my back pocket getting to my wallet.  I plunked down my $100 and dreamt of cutting my 50k time in half!  I wonder if windburn will start being a problem?
Ha!  My first trail run killed everything from my kneecap muscle (I didn’t know I had one of these) on down.  My theory is that I was so “protected” by my stability gussets and gel cushioning, that my leg stabilizer muscles and tendons had atrophied.  But the pain somehow seemed right.  Does that make sense?  I really should have done this slowly.  It took me a month to be able to run on trails pain-free.  And now I’m doing it injury-free.  I’ve run two 50-milers and two 50k trail races in my Inov8s and love them.  Time to replace them, I know.  Sentimentality I guess.
The difference for me was the elimination of that ridiculous sole.  Now when I look at soles from Asics, I snicker.  They look silly.  How many swooshy foam whoopdidoos can they fit on there?  Without the mega-sole my body fell into a running form that felt more natural.  I was landing on my forefoot and was using my God-given muscles and tendons for stability.  My arch was doing what it had evolved to do: absorb and distribute the impact loading caused by running.  All I needed is something to protect the bottom of my feet from rocks and stuff.  Some might not even need that.  I have really wimpy feet, my kids laugh at me when I wince while walking over gravel.
So I declare myself free from traditional running shoes and their marketing wiles.  Hope to see you on the trails!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Twin Cities Marathon Race Reports

After a summer of hard work, long runs, and various sore body parts, several members of the St. Croix Valley Runners Group took part in the 2010 Twin Cities Marathon on October 3rd.  This race seems to become an annual pilgrimage for many in the group.  Though we all shared the race course, and experienced the fantastic, made-for-marathons weather, we all had some very different experiences.
Candy says…
The weather did not disappoint with perfect running conditions—about 40 degrees at the start, sunny skies and very little wind. This was my 6th Twin Cities and 15th marathon. My goal for the race was to do a training run for New York and keep my pace at an average of 9:50 minute miles. I finally got it right. Mary and I started in corral #1 together and then went our separate ways, checking in with each other periodically as we traded places. I felt good at the halfway point and just figured I would keep on doing what I was doing. I continued to feel very comfortable with my pace and the weather, concentrating on my leg turnover. Some familiar faces in the crowd also helped. The net result was a marathon PR by nine minutes at a 9:40 minute average. The best part was for the first time I did not die over the last six miles. Maybe I should run every marathon as a training run? Next stop—New York on Nov. 7.
Scott added…
Well, I felt my training was about 80 percent and with some health issues leading up to the race with my son I backed off my goal a little.  7:25 pace was my previous best so I was thinking I'll try 7:20 and a PR.  I know the weather was nice but not quite as cool as I was hoping for.  The first few miles were ok.  My shoe came untied around mile four ( I did double knot them).  My legs were feeling heavy and I had negative thoughts running through my head.  I said a little prayer for a better attitude.  The miles were clicking off between 6:50 and 7:10.  I kept telling myself to slow down.  It felt like I was but the times said otherwise.  I got to mile 11 and thought well you’re committed now.  My parents met me at mile 13 and I threw them some clothes and gave them the so so sign.  At mile 14 I had to hit the restroom.  Mile 16 came and my usual marathon side stitch started coming.  This is way earlier than normal.  With some light pressure from my fingers I was able to ward it off.  I can usually tell how the race will pan out around 18. I started thinking doubling my half time of 1:33 would be nice. Mentally I was breaking it down 18 to 22 and 22 to 26. I punched the wall at 20 and said not this time. I started thinking at 21 that I felt better than I did at 11.  At mile 23 the side stitch got real bad. Extreme sharp pain.  It hurt more when I pushed on it.  I pulled over and it felt better immediately.  Starting up it came back but with less pain.  I would have to do this three more times.  I ran mile 25 to 26 in 6:53 so I felt awesome other than my side.  A good kick down the hill to the finish left me with a 7 minute PR and around 30 seconds off a negative split. Never thought that would happen in a marathon.  It gave me a lot of confidence in the way I ran and trained.
Lisa added…
It was the perfect day for running the Twin Cities Marathon.  My identical twin sister and brother-in-law had flown in Friday so my sister and I could run it together.  This was our 5th marathon and my sister said it was the most beautiful marathon she has ever run.  My goal was to finish strong and I achieved that but, with a lot left at the end, I was disappointed that I hadn't pushed myself harder.  I finished in a 3:25 but was short of a PR by 2+ minutes which I think I could have achieved if I hadn't let myself slow down during the run up Summit.  I also could have done without the hills at the end!  I was surprised to see members of the Stillwater Running Club cheering me on and it helped so much to see familiar faces (especially at mile 21!).  I loved the course and will definitely return to run it again.  The next two marathons on the list are Chicago and Boston.
Kent added…
After checking the weather app for the 10 days prior to Twin Cities, I had promised myself that I would aim for a Boston qualifying time (3:20:59) but would be happy with 3:30 or better. My goal was to start slowish, race the middle 15 miles, and use the built up time cushion to ease my way to the finish. Through the halfway point I was about a minute ahead of schedule and feeling good. 
The dreaded run up the river road and across the river to mile 20 did me in again this year. At the 20 mile mark I realized I was a minute behind schedule and didn't feel that I had the gas to make it up. As I was adjusting my goal to 3:30 the 3:20 pace group passed me by. I decided to give my original 3:20 goal another shot and I jumped on with the pace group. Having never run with a pace group, I was amazed how nice it was to only focus on the back of the group leader's shirt. I didn't look at the hill to St. Thomas or the rolling hills of Summit Avenue. A good friend of mine was in the pace group but I ran quietly behind her, not wanting to break my concentration. 
After feeling like we raced up Summit, I had to pull off at mile 25 due to general exhaustion. I wobbled a bit and gave myself 30 seconds to sit on the curb, giving up the 3:20 goal again. I peeled myself from the curb and allowed myself to run easy to the finish. At the top of the hill into the finish I realized that an all out sprint could still result in a 3:20:59 finishing time. I barreled down the hill, passing many runners who would eventually beat me to the finish.  At 10 feet before the finish, my legs numb from the effort, I could only walk to the finish line, knowing that I had made my time.  As I slowed up my legs collapsed and I hit the pavement 8 feet from the finish.  Two volunteers from the finish line tried to help me stand but I couldn't support my weight.  As another volunteer came toward me with the wheelchair I decided that that was not how this was going to end.  I managed to crawl on hands and knees across the line to finish at 3:20:47.
Needless to say, they tend to get the collapsing runners into the medical tent quickly and hold them there for quite a while.  An ice bath and leg massage revived me enough to walk the 3/4 mile to the car. Overcoming the regret of not being able to run or even walk across the line took a bit longer.

Awesome guys and gals!  Time to start trailing for next year!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dave's North Face Endurance Challenge (Madison) Race Report

Had a great time in the Southern Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin running the North Face Endurance Challenge.  I finished with a time of 9:19, way slower than my 8:42 from last year.  A disappointment yes, but the race was way different (read on), and quite an adventure.  I need to learn to forget comparing times and setting goals in ultras; there are just too many variables.  I need to train hills harder, that’s for sure.  Good thing I live close to Afton.  Awesome shwag at this race: for the entry fee I scored a NF tech shirt, a running water bottle, 2 stainless liter bottles, and NF running socks.  I think I broke even!
Thanks to my parents living 10 minutes from the start, I was able to set my alarm for 4:00 am for a 5:00 am start (ouch) to the sounds of distant (ominous) thunder.  After eating  some oatmeal (need to come up with a better morning-of-race meal), Beth & I were out the door by 4:30 to the sounds of approaching thunder.  Gads, I was still tired.  Why do I sign up for these things?
Just out of the driveway we see a headlamp bobbing along the side of the road.  My goodness, running to the start of a 50M race; Wisconsin runners are hardcore!  As we got closer we saw an enthusiastic and extended thumb in the light of the lamp.  Hmmm, more like a victim of a faulty starter.  Eventually three desperate stragglers from Pekin, IL were in the back of my minivan, one sitting (un)comfortably on my son’s car seat.  Turns out, the car seat guy was Andrew Bloom, a local speedster who ended up taking third.  Way to go Andrew!  I get partial credit for saving his legs.
By the time we reached the starting area we did not need our headlamps; the lightning was pretty fierce and getting closer.  Pretty exciting actually.  My nerves were up since I was prepared for an awesome race.  A few minutes after I pinned on my race number (the timing chip was glued to the back of the number, cool) the gun went off.  And the heavens opened.  I mean really opened.  Holy crap that was a lot of water.  The temperature was around 60° so I didn’t get too cold.  But I got drenched.  It was actually kind of fun running in a God-awful downpour at 5:00 in the morning, with the course lit by lightening.  I’m sure I was breaking some kind of rule.  Sorry mom.
The torrents lasted for about an hour and a half.  Due to the rain, my headlamp was only good for about 10 ft of visibility.  You know how a snow storm looks with your brights on?  My wicking shirt was not very effective today.  Good thing the trail was well marked with ribbons, signs and glow sticks.  Well done to the marking crew.  The trail, at this point, was still in pretty good condition, so I thought I was able to keep a decent pace.  So I thought.  As I pulled into the first checkpoint at mile 7, Beth was there to pass me my goodie bag and to let tell me I was 8 minutes behind my pace goal.  Crap, it was going to be one of those days.  Screw the time, just try to have fun.
As the run continued, I started to experience a general theme that would keep me company throughout the day: mud.  Mud blocking the entire trail.  Mud trying to suck my shoes off.  Mud soaking my shoes and socks.  Why do I sign up for these things?  It was laughable.  My perceived pace was way faster than actual.  The mud did nothing to dampen the spirits of the runners though.  We were having a lot of fun in the muck and rain.  By aid station 2, I was still with a group of runners, though shortly after I was running alone.  The Kettle Moraine trails are a blast to run on.  Rolling hills and quiet forests.  Sunrise was most welcome, helping me to see the trail and to get into a rhythm.  The mud and water did not evaporate though, just too humid.
I felt really strong throughout the middle of the race.  Unlike last year, I was able to push through the hill section without going to a bad place.  Unfortunately, unlike last year, I was not able to push past a 9:30 pace for the final 10 miles.  My legs were trashed.  Why do I sign up for these things?  I thought I was better prepared this year, but the conditions seemed to take a toll I think.  The rain returned at about 10:00, with some really close sky-ground strikes along the course.  What fun.  Sunny and 60 do not provide for good stories.
Beth was able to meet me at most aid stations.  I really looked forward to seeing a smiling face at those stations.  Thanks Beth.
I was glad when I saw the finishing gate.  Duh.  I was ready to be done.  The sun did finally come out at about around 2:00 pm, just in time to warm me up.  I ate two pork sandwiches, two soups, and 2 big cookies, and I was hungry for more.  The highlight of the day was watching my sister finish her first marathon.  Way to go Laurie!  Your Lapham group did pretty well too.  What a cool group of runners.
I did get my picture taken with Dean Karnazes.  Cool guy.  He spent a few minutes asking about my experience and gave me his complete attention.  I know he gets a bad rap, but I didn't see it.
It takes a few days, but I'm ready for new challenges now.  Working towards that 100-miler.  Maybe a 100k next year?  Why do I only remember the good stuff a week after the race?