Tuesday, March 29, 2016

2016 Sam Costa Half-Marathon: Race Report

Saturday, March 19th, 2016 I ran the Sam Costa half-marathon. This was 1 week after running the 2016 Land Between the Lakes Trail Marathon. My quads were shredded from the descents and the trails and felt bad through Thursday. Also, at some point on Monday I noticed a flare up of my peroneal tendon that resulted in my right foot becoming very painful.

I started loading up on Ibuprofen on the Thursday prior. I know this isn't probably the smartest thing in the world but right now it is worth it to me to get some consistent running back in my training. My oldest daughter Kasey was running the quarter marathon so she rode down with me. There is a lot to like about this race and 1 of the best things is a very efficient race morning check in so there is no need for a separate trip to "packet pickup and expo", no need to get there super early either as there is ample close parking in the Northview Church parking lot.

Saturday morning came and my foot was a little tender but I was sure it would be manageable for the race. With the general inconsistent training over the winter, just coming off a pretty tough trail marathon a week before, and the threat of bad weather, I had absolutely no plan for Sam Costa this year other than that I knew anything over 90 minutes was unacceptable.

Out of fear of aggravating my foot and the treat of nasty (cold rain) weather, I skipped any kind of warm up. We hung out until about 8:50 AM and I walked to the start line and kind of jogged around mostly to try to stay warm. It was about 35* so just standing for 10 minutes didn't seem like much fun. The race stated right on time and I went out at about a 6:10 pace and held this until my shoe came untied around 2 miles in. I made note of the first people to pass me so I could focus on regaining position. I lost about 30 seconds to the shoe and spent the next mile or so catching up.

I think this is not to far after the shoe lace incidence
It was easy to know who I needed to catch up to because he was wearing the exact same shoes as I was. Pearl Izumi Road N2s in purple and black. You don't see much PI gear at road races in central Indiana and It's a shame that the running community isn't more aware of the PI brand. They make good, comfortable, high quality products.  I caught up to him around mile 3 and settled into his pace. Over the next couple of miles we formed a small pack with another guy and a woman.

Miles 3,4 and 5 each I still had no real plan. As each mile ticked off I would say to myself, "1 more mile and we'll count this as a solid tempo run and relax the rest of the race." But I was glad the pack had formed because it made me work a little harder than I planned and I just kept ticking off the miles and hanging on to the pack.

We hung together through about 10 miles and then the rest of the pack started separating. Having gone into the race with no plan and it being late in a race where I had worked harder than I intended, I couldn't muster the mental power to answer so I let them go. Even with my pace beginning to slip I was able to pick off 4 runners over the last couple of miles.

About a mile left to go. I like arm sleeves, they make you look fast...

In the final 1/2 mile, I was passed by a runner who was obviously finishing very strong because I hadn't seen him the entire race. The very end of this race features a nice uphill and makes for a gut wrenching finish. I have run this race 3 times now and this uphill makes me want to puke every time.

I finished with an official time 1:25:01 a little more that 6:00 minutes slow of my PR. During a normal training cycle I would have used this race as a tune up and I would have been gunning for a PR but this isn't a normal training cycle and I'm nowhere close to half-marathon PR shape. So, I am pleased with the result and will chalk it up to a good hard run in my quest to rebuild lost fitness. This run also gives me confidence that I will be able to eek out a sub three hour marathon at Carmel in April.

Another race in the books

Monday, March 14, 2016

Land Between the Lakes Trail Marathon

The weekend, March 12, 2016 I ran the Land Between the Lakes Trail Marathon. This marathon is run along with options for 50 miles, 60k, and 24k (a little over a half marathon) at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky which is a little over a 5 hour drive from my house.

I ran, and won, this marathon last year but due to heavy snow and rain in the weeks proceeding it last year it was moved to the roads. So, while I ran it last year, this year was truly my first "trail' marathon and I had no idea what I was in for.

As with last year, the purpose of this race was "marathon-as-a-training-run" for Carmel Marathon in April. The goal was to finish the distance and need as little recovery as possible after. Meaning I wasn't planning on going into this and trying to win. I knew I wanted to run slow enough to keep the damage to a minimum.

So my plan was maybe 7:30 for the first half and 7:15 for the second if I felt good. That is a minute slower than my marathon PR and about 25 seconds slower than I have been doing long runs in this cycle. This goes to show my inexperience with trails.

We started right on time and in fact it caught me a little off guard. I was just kind of hanging out chatting with Hannah, who was running the 24k, and all of a sudden I see the front of the pack start to organize and we are off. I'm a Pearl Izumi ambassador, know as a ChamPIon. As part of the deal we get some gear to wear at races. One of the shirts we got is super visible and very recognizable and I spot 1 near the front of the pack. I make it my goal to catch up with this guy and find out who it is.

The first and last 2 miles of the race are on the road getting to the trail from the start and getting back to the town of Grand Rivers for the finish. The rest of the course is an 11 mile trail called "Canal Loop." While I am no trail runner, I would expect that this trail would be considered "technical" since switchbacks, tree roots, rocks, creek crossings, and dead fall were in no short supply.

I cruised through the first 2 miles to the trail steadily picking up the pace. I ran right around 7:00 for the second mile and felt great. I got to the trail right around 2 miles and the pace dropped as expected. once on the trail it was 95% or more single track. I fell in line behind a couple of other guys that were also running the marathon distance. In the first couple of miles the trail was hard packed and I felt like I could have run faster but it was hard to pass and with my inexperience I wasn't sure if I should so I just sat tight in that position trying to figure things out.

After a few miles I started getting frustrated with the pace and wanted to pick it up some. I found a decent place to pass, called it out and went around off the trail. The trail hadn't been super difficult to this point and I was still feeling good plus I knew I wanted to catch up to Pearl Izumi guy.

The trail seemed to constantly ascend and descend with no real flat sections and after 4 or 5 miles on the trail i realized that 7:30 would not be a conservative pace and I start lowing my expectations and doing math. As I said I think the trail would be considered technical and as such I kept my eyes mostly on where my feet are landing trying to avoid rocks and roots and making sure I clear any dead fall. In the early miles of the race I was trying to keep my shoes dry by being precise with foot strikes near puddles, muddy sections, and creek crossings. I would give up on that entirely in the latter miles.
Around mile 7.5 and still mostly clean

In a road marathon I am cognizant of every mile. I always know were I am. With most of my concentration being on trying to stay upright on the trails though my awareness of the distance was more vague. I think somewhere around mile 10 I finally catch Pearl Izumi guy and we exchange names and talk a little. He is Troy from Louisville. He seems to be a pretty experienced trail and ultra marathoner and I find out he's running the 50 mile race. I comment on the fact that his pace is pretty nice especially for a 50. (Troy ended up winning the 50 mile race in a little over 7 hours)
My wife recognized the shirt and got a picture of Troy, another Pearl Izumi Champion, who went on to win the 50 mile. 

I run behind him for a few miles but notice that I am really getting on his heels on the ascents. My pace just keeps slipping and I again grow frustrated. I find a decent place to pass, call it out and try to slide by without contact. My inexperience shows again though as I bump into him.

We reach the second half of the loop and the trail seems to get more difficult. The footing is not near as good, the inclines seem steeper, the switchbacks more frequent.

Its not long before I realized the pass was selfish and a mistake. While on any thing resembling flat or uphill I am fine, I don't have the skill to bomb the descents and he apparently does as I can hear and feel how much my hesitation on them is messing with his rhythm. He's very cool about it though and doesn't say a word. Finally I ask him to please pass and he does.

We hit the beginning of the second loop and I could tell that the footing had gotten much worse after everyone had been through once. My legs were starting to get pretty fatigued and I knew it was going to be a long second loop. My mind started to look ahead at how far was left. I knew that was a mistake and this is where the trail really helped. It was much easier to refocus my mind on the here and now with the ever changing trail, the challenge of landing my feet on the clear over and over again and whatever scenery I was able to take in.

I was still behind Troy but now when I got close to him on the ascents I was happy to just back off. I didn't want to get upfront again because when we hit a descent he was flying down it while I was taking it very cautiously.

Not much to say about the second half except to emphasize how bad the footing got in some places. Also, my Garmin was really having trouble measuring accurately and as such had my pace much slower than it actually was. I say this because I really was getting mentally beat  up seeing paces as slow as 10:00 and 12:00 minute miles. The prospect of a time greater than 3 hours and 30 minutes just really beat me down. At this point that's where I thought I would wind up.

About mile 20 (according to my Garmin so really more like 21 or 22) we hit a humongous patch of mud. Running was a real struggle and it was all I could do to remain upright. Again my inexperience showed. I couldn't get through this patch running and actually had to stop and walk just to stay on my feet. Troy, on the other hand was able to blast through and that was the last I saw of him.

My metal game was gone at this point and I was feeling pretty defeated. It looked like I was looking at 3:45 if I could even get back into it somehow. Then, all of a sudden I'm back at the road with a sign pointing me back toward town to the finish line. From the course description I should have only had 2 miles to go but my watch is right at 23 miles. So I must have read the course description wrong. Another metal beating.

My mind was shot, my legs were shot, my spirit was nearly defeated. I saw my wife and daughter at this point and it lifts me a little but I was struggling bad and the boost didn't last. All I want to do is walk but I couldn't let them see me walk. They drive past toward the finish and I think "once they are out of sight, I'm walking." My wife pulls over and get some more pictures. My legs die and I walk anyway.
On the roads heading to the finish. I was really struggling here.

Hannah knew what was going on with the Garmin since she had run the 24k and yells out the window that my turn is right up the road. I find the strength to run again and hit the turn. It was about a minute after the turn until I could see the clock. That was the most welcome sight in a long time. I can see enough to know I'll get in under 3:30 and I am happy and pick up the pace as much as I can to try and somehow finish strong.

3:27:26 and 4th overall. My slowest marathon by over 13 minutes but given that it was on a trail with mud and hills and roots and hard passing and given that I am just really getting my marathon strength back after an injury sidelined me for 8 weeks completely and various other issues minor injuries have kept me from training consistently since the end of September, I'll take it.

I learned a lot. Trails ain't roads, descending is harder the ascending (at least for me), a Garmin can't be trusted in the woods on trails with lots of switch backs. I also learned that while I do love running fast on the roads, there is a part of me that loves the trails too and I'll be looking for more trails to run.