Morgan Hill Half Marathon 2013 – Gotta go potty edition.

The Morgan Hill half marathon was an accidental race. Uncertain if I would be able to compete in the Athens Marathon, I signed up for the Morgan Hill full marathon as a backup plan.

Events occurred that made it possible for me to do the full marathon in Athens, so I quickly dropped to a half.

The half marathon is a different beast than the full marathon. Or I am just fitter.

The full marathon’s I have done in the past are these existential crises. At some point in time the body and the brain are at war with the will. The full marathon is just beyond the limits of what I am truly able to accomplish.

The half marathon takes about as much time as a long run.

So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Arriving at the Morgan Hill starting line, I was pleasantly surprised at the demographic makeup. Turns out the local Indian population is into running.

One of the nicer parts of this Marathon was that they have folks who run at specific paces. So if you want to arrive at a specific time, all you have to do is keep up…

A gentleman who was standing next to me had volunteered to be the pacer for the 5 hour marathon. His buddies were confused because he would typically run a much faster marathon. Apparently the 5 hour slot was all that was available. I was feeling sorry for him because running at a much slower pace than you are comfortable with is brutal!

While waiting another gentleman remarked that this was the hardest half marathon in the area, and I was thinking – how hard could it possibly be… I would learn, yes I would learn.

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Here’s the image that shows all my vitals during the race. Notice the ever increasing elevation followed by a sharp drop. I referred to this elevation profile as the one fingered salute. Also notice the various stops along the way. We’ll get to that later.

As is traditional I took a selfie waiting for the race to start:

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And here’s the starting line:

Like every good athlete I ran to the port-a-potty before the race started. Felt good about myself and caught the beginning of the race:

So the plan my coach and I had was to run the first 3 miles at 12 minutes, and then the next 9 at 11 minutes so I could hit a sub-2:30 marathon. Sounds like a good plan.

The first three miles were difficult. Mostly because trying to run at a 12 minute pace at the start of the race is very very difficult. Your body is feeling good, you have all these people running around you that are running faster, you have the nervous energy of the race start …

But I reminded myself of what happened at Napa when I chose to ignore my coach and just followed the instructions…

So every 20 or 30 seconds I would check my pace and slow down. I had this weird hand gesture where I was pretending to step on the break of a car as a reminder to slow down, slow down.

After three miles, I decided to pick up the pace … except I then ran into the pee problem.

Okay look… they never discuss this in running books and blogs and running articles, but man drinking the right amount of liquid so you don’t pee every five minutes is not obvious. They tell you hydrate, etc… but then they don’t tell you what happens when you over hydrate and have this stupid belt pressing on your bladder and you have to go pee..

I felt like a character in urinetown looking for a place to pee.

I was expecting Morgan Hill to be hot. They told me it was going to be hot. So I drank a lot of liquids.

It wasn’t hot. It was cold. And so I needed to go pee. And then I, foolishly, drank some water at the first station and had to go pee again. And again. And again. The whole need to pee was borderline ridiculous.

After the first three miles, I was able to get a pace of 11:16 and 11:48, not quite the 11 minute pace I was aiming for. Although the 11:48 mile did involve TWO pee breaks! Seriously. Dudes. Bladder issues!

Frustrated and annoyed and at the 5 mile marker, I realized I needed to start moving a lot faster if I wanted to break my 2:30 minute barrier. So the next three miles I pushed really hard. well, what I did was instead of running against a pace, run against a heart rate. Figuring that if I ran against the heart rate, I would pick up my speed significantly. And I did.

A small note on the race. The race was pretty. I mean really, really pretty.

The next three miles were done at a 10:16, 10:48 and 10:26 pace. What I didn’t realize was that I had decided to push hard right through the finger. At least that is what I called the nasty peak in the middle of this race. And it was a nasty peak. I mean nasty. Like every good climb in the bay area, you’d make a right turn and think there … I am reaching the end only to see the road climb further and further up. Only when you officially give up all hope do you cross the top of the mountain.

One thing that did help was all of the biking I have done around here. Used to these climbs, I know that the trick is to find a rhythm and focus on the rhythm not on the pain and effort. And so I did. I focused on my cadence, and I focused on beating the 11 minute mile pace.

Once I reached the top, I realized that the easy part was over, now I had to go down.

Foolish me didn’t realize that the descent on the backside was nastier than the climb. The road was steep. At times I felt like those dudes in the tour-de-france who finish a climb and are blasting down the hill as fast as they can. I somehow expected to see bodies in the ditch from runners that took the turns too fast …

And yes I had to go pee again. Seriously. What the hell… Not fun.

Once I reached the bottom of the hill, I realized that this was the moment to go all out and I did.

My goal was to keep pushing until the very end while ensuring that my heart rate never got above 159.

My other goal was to catch the 2:30 minute pacer.

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And so I ran, and ran and ran. And it was a joyous moment when I passed the 2:30 pacer. Seriously I was like ready to fist-pump and be happy except I had learned from my triathlon races that the proper etiquette is to say “good job”.

And yes I had to go pee at some point and there was a line to the port-a-potty that cost me my 2:19 finish. Okay, there.

By the time I reached the 12 mile marker, I let it all hang out, clocking in a very impressive for me last mile of 8:48.

As I huffed and puffed and pushed hard, a charming group of people had this sign:

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Which almost caused me to stop and bend over laughing. Not cool people. Being super funny during a race is not cool!

What was interesting about this experience was how this run was completely different from my other runs. In the past I never got this experience of racing, it was more of an experience of enduring. This time I really felt like I was racing.

Perhaps the difference was the purposefulness of the running. I wasn’t just running at some random pace or trying to survive but instead had a plan and was executing against the plan. The run felt controlled and I felt under control.  Except for the bladder, the bladder was not under my control.

And here’s a picture of me at the finish line:

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After crossing the finish line, I was delighted to discover that the full marathon had not yet finished! Whee! I grabbed a burrito, crashed on the ground and waited for my brain to reboot.

So my time is still in the bottom 20%. I realized that to really improve my time I am going to have to lose some weight. Like 60 pounds of weight.

Not a problem.

I am so game …

Morgan Hill Half Marathon Quick Report

There will, hopefully, be a longer version of this in a week.

The morgan hill half marathon can be visually described in the following manner. Take your left hand and and open it with the knuckles facing towards you. Fold all of your fingers such that only the first finger bone is showing. Now extend the index finger and stare at the visual.

The visual is worth a 1000 words or one spoken a 1000 times…

The half marathon has a long nasty climb from about 350 ish feet to 650 ish feet over 6 miles that then ends with a brutal knee destroying descent back to 350 in less than 2 miles.

My race plan was to go slow for the first half and then push hard for the second half. Not true to form I was able to to do exactly that. In fact, the first 3 miles were done at a 12 minute mile pace and the last three at a 9:38 mile pace. The last mile was done at an 8:48 mile pace… Not a bad negative split.

There were the usual set of amusing moments and funny stories to tell… I look forward to writing about them when there is more blood sugar in my brain. Right now all I can feel is the excruciating muscle fatigue …

The 30km and I have unfinished business

Last year at the Athens Marathon, I hit the 30km at about 4 hours and then just fell apart.

Here’s what I wrote in my race report:

This was the part that was supposed to be easy. I was supposed to go flying down this.

Nope.

Nada.

Never.

Instead it took a superhuman effort to run. My legs were like: NOOOOO. I couldn’t move them.

Part of me thinks that I tried to shift gears and the gear shifting fried the transmission. Part of me thinks I was just tired. 4 km from the end my body started to function again, so I am thinking it was the gear shift I attempted.

Oh well lesson learned. Don’t shift gears. And don’t assume you went too slow in the first 30km… Or more to the point get a damn Garmin watch so you can more accurately measure your progress!

After a year of training and improving my running technique, I know what happened

  1. Pushed too hard on the uphill.
  2. When I moved to the downhill didn’t have enough experience to realize my legs would feel like jelly just because of the switch to a steep downhill. My body wasn’t exhausted, instead my body was experiencing a natural change, but my brain freaked out costing me precious time ..

This year, there will be no collapse.

Mr. 30k you and I have some unfinished business, see you on November 10th.

 

Week 28 – A summary

On Sunday I am doing my first Olympic Triathlon, and my first triathlon period. And I thought this a good moment to stop and take stock of what I have done over the last year.

I’ve biked for 72 hours, swam for 36, and run for 87. In other words, I have exercised non-stop for more than one week.

Or put differently:

  • I’ve covered more than half the distance to Chicago from San Francisco (1040 of the 1857 miles)
  • I’ve swam a quarter of the distance from Athens to Santorini
  • And I’ve ran to tahoe and back.

In terms of improvements in fitness

  • I’ve gone from being able to barely bike for an hour at 11 miles an hour to biking for 2+ hours at 15+ miles an hour
  • I’ve gone from being barely able to bike with my son in his carrier at 11 miles an hour for an hour, to biking at 12+ miles an hour a much larger child for an hour and 15 minutes…
  • And in terms of swimming I’ve gone from doing 500 yards in 10:30 seconds, in a full on sprint to being able to do 1500 yards, where each 500 yards was less than 10:30…

And in terms of body size, I’ve dropped 20 pounds of fat and put on five pounds of lean muscle mass.

And all of that visually got me from here:

To here… 225410_10151585873235337_1529140840_n

Pretty Crazy Transformation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 20 – An ugly week

Things at work got really ugly last week. It happens. Companies go through tough times.

The 9+ hours of exercise I was tasked with helped.

Monday night’s swim was about as cathartic as it gets. My bike ride on Saturday helped.

Looking forward to another 9+ hours to make the next week bearable.

Only two more months until my Olympic. I am starting to get very excited.

Also signed up for the Morgan Hill Marathon, because the Athens Marathon is looking iffy. Real life intruding and all that sort-a-thing.

 

 

 

Week 17 – Why is there no cyclist high?

 

cycling_highRunners High is this thing that runners talk about all the time. This perfect moment where running feels as natural as breathing.

You never hear about cyclists high. In fact if you do a Google search the number one hit for “cycling high” is an article about a different kind of high while cycling…

Cycling is this brutal, painful and annoying activity. Unlike running, cycling makes this promise that you’ll never injure yourself unless, you know, you hit a car or fall off.

After a week in Hawaii where I ran and swam, cycling was a pain in the ass. Literally. And my muscles felt horrible while cycling. And yet I was able to move faster and stronger than I had in a while. Which was confusing. Here I am making real progress in my ability and performance and simultaneously it feels worse.

What is going on?

Well the Scientific American has an awesome blog post on the topic. And if you read through the comments, you’ll find this theory:

Dulling the pain is only part of the evolutionary rationale, Scicurious. The main reason for runners’ high was to amply reward ancient long distance running hunters for engaging in this vital yet highly taxing pursuit. (Sex is so gratifying for precisely the same reason.) Many athletes who are both runners and cyclers/ swimmers (like myself) insist that while all sports can provide equally strenuous workout, nothing compares with the euphoria induced by running. If cycling and swimming had played similar role in our evolutionary history, they’d also produce comparable highs…

I like that. The reason is there is no such thing as cyclist’s high is that our ancestors believed in running not cycling.

So there you have it, runner’s high is an evolutionary response. Which means the reason Pheidippides ran the Marathon was because he was in a drug induced haze. And explains why the Ironman finishes with a run… we need that drug induced high to make it through the pain…

 

 

 

Some Pictures From Napa

Finally got my hand on the official photos from Napa.

Here are my favorites…

Looking like a real runner:

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Before things went bad:

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Here’s where Jeremy Roenick and I were having a pep talk

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Here’s me sprinting to the finishing line waving my hat!

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Look at those muscles…Or that pain…

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Crossing the finish line

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And done

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How Jeremy Roenick saved my marathon

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On Sunday, I finished my second marathon, the Napa Valley Marathon. On the one hand, finishing a marathon, any marathon is pretty frigging cool. Not many people finish them, and to finish two puts in you this rare group of lunatics… On the other hand…

In software, we have this concept: second system syndrome. The theory being that second systems fail because of over confidence created by the first system.

When I finished the Athens marathon, I was pissed off. Pissed because I had just finished it in 5h42 minutes and knew I could have gone faster. Knew I had completely botched the last 12 km. It was infuriating, exasperating and annoying.

So I had a better plan this time, one put together by my coach. The problem with the plan, is like every plan, the day of the run you forget your plan and just go….

Enough with prologue…

The Napa Valley Marathon is an amazingly beautiful race through some of the prettiest wine country in the world. You get to run down Silverado Creek Trail starting in Callistoga and ending in Napa.

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This race is so pretty that I routinely saw people stopping to take pictures.

But I didn’t take any, because I didn’t bring my phone because, well, the USATF has this brilliant thought that headphones make athletes dangerous. The theory being that the brain addled athletes with headphones are unable to hear anything while they go through rest stations and are therefore dangerous.

Really. It’s not the massive calorie deprivation and exhaustion of the event, it’s the headphones.

The race start was kind of abrupt. The bus brings you to the starting line, you run to the toilets, then run back to the buses to give your sweat bag, and then run.

While waiting in line I overheard two folks discuss whether they wanted to pay double for an entry or try to break 3h. Everyone’s got a problem.

So the race begins. The first two miles were a mess. I didn’t get a chance to warm up effectively and my right leg was feeling wonky which was affecting my pace. My first two miles were 11:38 and 11:28… which in retrospect was exactly what I wanted them to be…

Minor aside.

Elevation profiles lie. You read the Napa Valley Marathon website materials and you look at the profile and you think: Sweet 42 km of downhill… And your untrained eyes gloss over all of those jagged edges because, honestly, what’s a few minor up hills compared to this glorious endless downhill.

Well it turns out that there is something worse than the Athens Marathon, it’s called rollers. The Napa Valley Marathon had a series of minor hills that were pace destroying and life shattering. The up hill sections were steep and the downhill sections steep and they were back to back to back.

You can’t get into a comfortable pace either up or down. You’re fighting your cadence, your heart rate and your brain every step of the way.

Back to my story.

After the legs warmed up the next 12 miles were sweet.

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I did 12 miles in 2h18 minutes. Which was awesome. I was feeling so great. So great that I didn’t bother walking long enough through those rest stations. I mean I walked, but I didn’t take a breather. Instead of 1 minute, like the plan called for it was more like 30-40seconds…

And yeah that pace was a little bit fast… But I really thought I had a chance to get under 5 hours. And at the 1/2 way point I actually was just at the 5hour pace.

In fact, I was thinking, DAMN, I can so totally do this!

Characters along the way

One of the fun things about running a marathon is that you get to meet all sorts of people.

One person was this 70-year-old woman who smoked by me… She looked like a physical wreck running, but man could she go fast. I felt even slower when she blew past this other lady who discussed how last week’s marathon was nowhere near as nice as this weeks.

Another was this gentleman from Chicago who was doing a 50 states marathon. There is this club that’s been around for a while that is devoted to people who run a marathon in fifty states. Pretty cool! Except his buddy had injured his back and so could not finish the Napa Marathon! D’oh! Hopefully it wasn’t his tenth.

Then there was the dude who was whining about the Tequila Party from last night. As he ran past me. Okay, like I am cool with you being faster than me, but not after you drink Tequila shots, that’s just not fair. Really, c’mon. Honestly I think he was flirting with the young lady running next to him.

A word on the road

This race is very pretty. But dang, the roads suck. The problem is that the road has a lot of twists and turns and as a result the road has a lot of pitch in it. Part of the pain in this race is running from one side of the road to the other to deal with the difference in grade from one side of the road to the other.

And now ..

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The second half of this marathon was my personal Waterloo. I was thinking damn, if I can keep this pace up, I am golden.

But I couldn’t. Part of it was the cumulative exhaustion, part of it was that I had just gone too fast in the first twelve.

My first fourteen miles was done at an 11:18 pace, the last twelve were done at a 11:59 pace.

As I look at the elevation profile, it’s pretty obvious what happened. After the 6th mile and up until the 14th mile there is this pretty even gentle descent. So for about 8 miles I was flying. Then you start hitting these rollers. And they are brutal.

It got so bad that at some point in time, I just gave up on the heart rate monitor’s whining about my heart rate and disabled the alerts. So pretty much after the 3h mark my heart rate was at about 150+.

I was so damn determined to keep the pace, that I stopped trying to keep a pace and started to push.

And then at the 18 mile mark, where I was still in the running for a 5 hour marathon, I tried to push even harder. And that was somewhat sustainable, except I had a nasty ass climb from the 16-18th mile. If only I had waited until the 20th mile…

And then it was 6 miles of flat terrain, but at that point in time I was done and baked. I finished the last 6 miles in 1h12 minutes (approximately 12 minute mile pace).

And as the body started to die, visions of Athens danced in my head. And I was determined to finish faster than I did in Athens. And while thoughts of choking danced in my head, I remembered Jeremy Roenick.

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In 2009 the Sharks were the toast of the NHL. At one point in time they had gone undefeated at home. Then Jeremy got injured and the wheels started to fall off. And I remember him saying: The team needs to protect the 0 (0 losses), or even the 1. So while I felt like just dying, I kept having this image of Jeremy Roenick coming to my house and calling me a choker… Or worse bringing it up on national television… I just kept hearing his voice talking about how he thought Marleau was the biggest choker of all time but wanted to apologize because he had met me…

So I kept saying to myself: I need to protect the 0 (5:0X) and when that was no longer possible I kept saying I need to protect the 1 (5:1X)

Okay… When you’re down to your last calorie, your brain goes to many weird places…

And just when all was lost I remembered my coaches instructions.  I walked in every feed station for 1 minute. And after doing that my body felt better and I was able to run a little bit longer and a little bit faster. And then I walked for two minutes and it felt even better. And before you know it my cadence picked up and I was feeling a lot better.

In fact I was feeling so good that I actually sprinted the last 400 or so yards. The folks I sprinted by didn’t look very happy, but I was feeling great….

Which made me wonder, what if I had bothered to listen to him in the first fourteen miles….

Success

In the end I finished in 5h 12min 29sec. Which is an amazing improvement over my Athens time. Yes Athens had that long up hill, but Athens did not have rollers. I would have killed for long gentle up hills instead of the sharp brutal up hills of Napa.

So close and yet so far…

My personal goal for this year is a sub 5 hour marathon. I am feeling good about reaching that objective. And maybe the next time, I’ll spend some time studying the elevation profile and using my brain…. And listening to the good advice of coaches…

Napa Valley Marathon

After finishing my first marathon, The Athens Classic Marathon, or as the cool Greek runners call it: To Klassiko (The Classic), I came home wondering if I would ever run again, period.

When I finished The Death Ride, it became obvious that there was nothing left to do.

A week later I started to run.

A month later, I realized I needed a goal to keep me running. My wife found this article in Forbes magazine enumerating the top 10 marathons to run. And there it was, the Napa Valley Marathon.

So I started training using the Hal Higdon training program. And the miles and hours started to add up.

So here we are, ready to run again…