Monday, October 13, 2014

2014 Prairie Fire Marathon and Half Marathon

The new Kansas record holder in the marathon, Raquel Stucky, and myself.
     Sunday was another good day of running. No. Sunday was a GREAT day of running. Sunday morning in downtown Wichita the 2014 Prairie Fire Marathon and Half Marathon took place.
     Conditions were great and the buzzing energy of runners made for a great start to the race. I was running a bit late to the starting line, so I had to jump the corral fence and dance my way to the front of the starting line as the national anthem was being sung. It was in the 40's with minimal wind. The sun was just cresting the eastern horizon as the race director said, "Runners on your mark..."
     Since I decided not to take on a full marathon this fall, this was my main race for the second half of the year. My training was descent in terms of mileage (averaging 85-95 mpw), but workouts were few and far between. Needless to say I felt much more fit going into Boston last April when I was doing 2-3 workouts a week. That is one of the things that I feel is a big difference between myself, a non-high school or collegiate runner, and someone who did run in high school or college. Doing workouts is what they are used to, I am not. But I have been doing this for long enough now to see the importance of doing fast repeats, tempo runs, fartleks, etc. I digress...
     I ran the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 10k two weeks ago as a gauge of my fitness. I ran a 36:40 (5:54 pace) and was a little disappointed. I expected to run a bit faster, but I reminded myself I had not done any speed work for a while. My goal for the Prairie Fire Half Marathon was to try and run 6:00 pace, but after this 10k I was thinking that might be asking too much.
     My legs did not feel "poppy" before the race and I did not taper down too much. I did 72-miles the week before the race (which is less than an average week, but more than I would do the week before a marathon). However, by Friday night and Saturday I was getting excited and I felt my energy start to increase.
     The alarm went off at 4:40 a.m. Sunday, and after a nine minute snooze cycle, I was up and getting prepared to race. After parking near the start/finish line around 6:45 a.m., I did some dynamic stretching and warmed up for 20-minutes, very easily. I then did a few more stretches, a few quick drills, took off my tights and put on my singlet, changed into my racing flats and made my way to the starting line. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, conditions were quite great for racing/running. I brought gloves and arm warmers with me, but after warming up I decided to leave them in my truck.
     The air horn sounded and away we went. More than 4,000 runners partaking in the marathon, half marathon, 5k, and kid's marathon were on hand.
     After saying a few brief words to a few runners I knew within the first 200 meters ("how are you feeling?" "what kind of time are you shooting for?" "good luck!") I was looking to settle in. At the half-mile mark I checked my watch, low 5:50's. "Take is easy," I though to myself, "stay in control." I went through the first mile at 5:53. I was thinking, "I'm feeling good." But then I kind of chuckled and thought to myself, "Of course you feel good, you're only one mile in!"
     I slowed down a bit the next two miles going just over 6:00 pace. After mile 3, I was ALL ALONE for the rest of the race. This is exactly how the 10k was two weeks prior. It is much easier to run a steady pace and, in my opinion, a faster pace when you are working/running with someone. But there was no one around. I kept trying to listen to spectators cheer for whoever was behind me but I never heard anything, so I knew I was going to have no help. (Of course, it is worth mentioning I was not running fast enough to run with the people in front of me, either)
     My stomach and legs felt good the entire race. I threw down a Hammer Espresso gel at the eight mile mark and that was enough. I went through 10-miles at 59:50. At that point I turned up the pace a bit for the final 5k and whatever I had in the tank was going to be used. I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:17:43 (5:56 pace). I was pleasantly surprised with how I ran, and, of course happy to run a new PR. Below is an image of my splits from Garmin.
     *My Garmin read more than 13.1 miles, so these splits and overall pace are different than the official finish.
Splits from my Garmin for the 2014 Prairie Fire Half Marathon.

     So, after I warmed down and changed back into my tights and jacket, I made my way back to the finish line to watch my boss at First Gear Running Company, Raquel Stucky, finish the full marathon. Raquel is a great runner with many accomplishments, including a spot at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. I am not going to speak for her, but I will say, in my opinion, she seemed very fit and positive about her running and capabilities heading into this race. There was also a personal goal she set for herself: break the Kansas Women's Marathon Record. Several women from Kansas have run faster times than the record, including Raquel, but none of them have run a faster time IN Kansas. So, if she wanted to break the state record she needed to cross the finish line in 2:48:36 or faster. (Raquel has a 2:42 marathon PR)

     *click here for Kansas Road Running Records
     When the race announcer said, "Our leading female marathoner is now at Douglas (street)," (about a half a mile from the finish) and the clock read 2:4x:xx, everyone knew the record was going down. When Raquel ran down the east slope of the Lewis Street bridge, 100 meters from the finish line, the crowd was screaming for her. You could see the emotions overcome Raquel as she reached the finish line and knew what she had accomplished. 2:44:57. New. State. Record.
     *I posted a video I recorded of the finish on the First Gear Facebook page here
     What made the finish even better (again, I cannot speak for Raquel but I am sure she would agree) is that her family was there to cheer for her and congratulate her at the finish. Her brother, Hector, ran up to her with a big hug and lifted her in the air. It was incredible, powerful. I could not help but to run up and hug her myself. I personally thought it was REALLY cool that her two daughters were present and are old enough to realize what she accomplished. Great job, Raquel!!!
     *click here for an article from the Wichita Eagle on Raquel's record breaking run

     There are a few races I would like to do in November, but I won't put as much emphasis on them as I did this race or Boston last April. I also want to get back on my bike, so I'll substitute a few runs for some time in the saddle for the rest of the year.
     Thank you for taking time to read my blog! Happy running!


Monday, August 18, 2014

2014 Pikes Peak Ascent, A New Respect, and Missing Mountains

     My iPhone started ringing at 5 a.m. on Thursday to wake me up, but I had been lying awake for several minutes anticipating its annoying digital bells sound. Three hours of sleep is all my mind would allow. Getting up and out of bed was no trouble, though, because I had a running date with a mountain to get ready for. It was still two days away, but the 2014 Pikes Peak Ascent had all of my attention.  
     A debilitating case of sciatica had me unable to run much, and then not at all, for 3-4 weeks prior to the race. I saw two different chiropractors to see if they could work some magic, but it became obvious it was an ailment that would have to run its course. Cycling didn't hurt, so instead of running I rode my bike to keep some type of fitness. With my leg not getting any better with a week to go I began to worry I wouldn't be able to complete the race. Since I had already invested time and money I decided to go anyway (I actually never really contemplated NOT going).
     The situation would improve, though. Before leaving on Thursday morning I was able to run relatively pain free for an hour. After stopping for a coffee and gas I was off toward Salina and then a left turn to the Rockies.
     After arriving in Colorado Springs I walked around downtown for a bit before getting dinner and going to the hotel. Friday morning I went to Garden of the Gods for a run. It was beautiful weather, and needless to say beautiful scenery, but the elevation gain from Wichita was evident in my breathing. I completed my planned 50-minute run, but just as I was finishing a man stopped me and told me there was a rattlesnake in the middle of the trail just a few feet ahead. He had two smaller dogs with him and said, "It almost got one of my dogs." I looked just ahead and saw it AND heard it rattling and abruptly made a U-turn to find another way back to my vehicle. I grabbed my camera and walked back toward the danger zone to take a picture, but as I got closer to where it was I didn't see it and started to get nervous so I turned around and got the hell out of there.
     At 3:55 a.m. on Saturday I woke up and started preparing for the days adventure up the 14,109 ft. mountain. By 6:00 a.m. I was parked in downtown Manitou Springs and walking toward the starting line. Wave 1 had a 7:00 a.m. starting time.
     One very cool bonus about this years Ascent is that it was also the host for the 2014 World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge. There were 30 countries (that's the number I heard) represented. It was really, really cool to see elite mountain runners from South Africa, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, and many more wearing their countries uniforms and intermingled with the other Wave 1 racers. Team USA did a fantastic job, but more about that later.
     Two girls sang "America the Beautiful" (a tradition at the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon because Katharine Lee Bates wrote the words atop Pikes Peak) and a few seconds later we were off. I positioned myself about 10 rows of runners back because (1) I didn't know how my body was going to hold up, but (2) mainly because I didn't know what the next few hours had in store. I have backpacked and hiked up Mount Harvard before, but I wasn't racing up it.
     The first mile to mile and a half takes runners through downtown Manitou Springs on a paved road that leads directly to the trail up Pikes. The road was a steady uphill but once the pavement meets the trail the incline gets serious. I knew I was going to do be doing some walking/hiking at some point during the race, but I didn't know when or how much because I just didn't know exactly how intense the inclines were going to be. The first four to six miles are tough, but definitely an appetizer for the later stages. I made it through the first hour and came to an aid station and decided that should be my first walking portion. Since I've never participated in a trail or mountain race I wasn't accustomed to the aid station fare of M&M's, pretzels, cookies, grapes, bananas, and some other goodies. While the M&M's were looking tasty, I went with grapes when I came across the aid stations. I had some gels with me, as well.
     The terrain gets progressively rockier and more technical as it elevates. The soft dirt trail becomes a boulder field by the time you end. Every so often there would be a sign stating "8 miles to the summit," "4 miles to the summit," etc. Pace is almost irrelevant in an event like this. It couldn't say, "I want to x-minute miles" because each mile is different and more difficult than the last.
     The last four to five miles are brutal. After climbing above treeline 20-minute miles are quite respectable amongst non-elites. The last two miles took me around 40-minutes, I think. The last kilometer is literally climbing over boulders and rocks. You can hear and see the finish line well before you reach it. But at least it gives you hope (it did for me, anyway).
     I crossed the finish line in, 3:12:55. It was such an amazing finish line with a beautiful view of Colorado and spectators scattered on boulders and around the summit cheering on the runners. 
     During some of the toughest parts of the race I was debating if running up Pikes Peak is more challenging than running a road marathon. I've decided it's too hard to compare, but the Pikes Peak Ascent was quite possibly the most challenging endurance event I've ever done. My legs weren't trashed at the end of the climb like they are after a marathon, but I'm never gasping for air or required to be so physical in a road marathon. I'll let other people debate that one.


     I respect all runners. Everyone has their own path and journey. However, after completing this race I have a much bigger appreciation and respect for the top mountain runners. The winner of the race was, Sage Canaday. He was running for Team USA and finished in, 2:10:03. That is equally as mind-boggling to me as someone who runs a 2:05 road marathon. It's just absolutely incredible to me that someone can run up a mountain that fast. I know I am a "flatlander" and it's probably more impressive to me because of that, but I think that's jaw-dropping regardless of where someone is from.
     The men for Team USA took first and third overall, and the women for Team USA swept the podium.


     Some people like to get home after a getaway or vacation and "get things back to normal." I'm not like that. Especially when I come back to Wichita from Colorado. As I drove east on I-70 out of Denver on Sunday I watched the mountains slowly fade away in the rear view mirror. I was sad to see the horizon go back to a straight line with no mountainous undulations. I don't "hate" Kansas or Wichita, but when I come back from destinations like this weekend and feel the way I do I know I'd be much more happy in a different location. I woke up this morning and went to my first day of my last year at Wichita State University and kept thinking about how I wish I wasn't back. I know it sounds like a typical "back to reality" period, but I don't really feel that way. I see it as another sign that I should go somewhere where I'd be more happy. People are riding their bikes, hiking, running, walking the streets, being active, being outside in places like Colorado. I understand that's not the case with everyone, everywhere in that state, or that nobody does that in Wichita. But I don't see it. I don't feel it like I did this weekend. I am excited to think about where I might be in a year when I am done at Wichita State. Maybe it's nothing more than I just miss looking at the mountains?


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

2014 Boston Marathon

     It was all worth it. The 15 and a half weeks of training. The 1,500 miles. The money to get here. It was all worth it for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

     My mom and I flew into Boston Saturday morning/afternoon. After checking into the hotel we took out for the Hynes Convention Center which hosted the marathon expo. Seeing Boylston street for the first time was pretty cool. I stood there and imagined myself running down the final 600 meters to the finish line two days later. The expo was as hectic as I thought it would be. Picking up my bib and shirt was smooth, but then we walked through all of the vendor stations and that was too much for me. Since I work at a running store, 85% of what was being displayed I was familiar with (there was some cool special edition Boston Marathon shoes, though), but my mom wanted to check it all out so I ended up finding a place to sit down amongst the masses. Eventually, we left the expo and we found a Panera for dinner.

     Sunday morning I got up and did a shake out run around the hotel, and then we went back downtown to walk around a bit. A "bit" turned into more than I wanted. Part of the extra time walking around was due to a Chipotle search. When we finally found one, they were closed. It was then that I learned the burrito fast-casual chain is closed on Easter. I am quite picky when it comes to my diet (especially when training) and even more so the final days before a race. So, I was kind of upset that my usual pre-race burrito was going to have to be changed (kind of). I found a Qdoba... inside a shopping center food court. I was very hesitant to get my dinner from a mall food court, but when I saw a few runners get in line I decided it would have to do (everything turned out fine, food poisoning scare was for nothing).

     I didn't get too much sleep Sunday night/Monday morning, but that was expected. I got out of bed at 2:56 a.m., four minutes before my iPhone was scheduled to break my slumber. I kept my usual routine of morning calisthenics, sipped a cup of coffee, ate a couple packets of oatmeal with honey, took a quick shower to warm up, got dressed, and headed for Boston Common at 5:00 a.m. After a 30-minute ride on the Blue, Orange, Red, and Green T lines, I made it to the bag drop-off and bus loading.

     While standing in line to get onto one of the school buses bound for Hopkinton, I looked over and saw one of the two people I actually knew out of the 36,000 runners. It was, Tom Fagin, an (brief) ex-colleague from when I interned at the Gillette (WY) News Record. Tom is a year older than I and ran at Union College (Schenectady, NY). We ended up sitting next to one another on the ride to Hopkinton. We discussed the journalism industry, traveling, our vegetarian (me)/vegan (Tom) lifestyles, our training leading up to the race, and other small talk that made the approximately 30 minute ride more interesting.

     We arrived in Hopkinton two hours before the start of the race. The runners' village was beyond crowded. It was hard to walk around with runners laying down everywhere resting before the race. Tom and I found a piece of grassy real estate that was just big enough for us to sit down. It was chilly, but a mylar sheet was enough to stay comfortable. Finally it was time to make our way to the starting line. We were both in the first wave of runners so we walked the .7-miles from the runners' village to the starting line together. After a final stop at a bathroom station, we wished each other a kickass race and parted. Tom ended up running an awesome PR of, 2:38.

     Just before the gun sounded to start the race, after the national anthem, four National Guard helicopters flew over the the starting line. That was awesome. Then it was time to go. Time to do the damn thing.

     My plan was to put a little time in the bank during the first 5k and then settle in. That is not what happened. Unless you are an elite and at the front of the pack, the first 5k-10k is a log jam. It was hard for me to get into a groove. I wanted my first mile to be around 6:10, but half a mile in I was at 6:40 pace with nowhere to go to speed up. My Garmin beeped for Mile 1 and displayed a 6:24. Shit, so much for time in the bank. I made it up the next two miles with a 6:07 and 6:09. But it was still so congested that I was running on gravel off the side of the road to try and maneuver around people. Eventually, I settled in.

     I was feeling good and running in control through the halfway point, but I didn't know exactly how grueling the approaching Newton hills were going to be. The whole time I kept telling myself to maintain control so I can feel good after mile 21, after cresting Heartbreak Hill. The Boston course is DOWNHILL. From studying the course map and talking to past Boston Marathon participants I knew the first portion was downhill, but I feel like the whole course was downhill except for four climbs in Newton.

     After popping my second GU at mile 16, I was ready to see what the Newton hills had to offer. Now, this is obviously just my opinion from my own experience and I know everyone will have their own viewpoint, but the hills were not as debilitating as I thought they would be. Only one of the four hills, the third one, took me below race pace. The hills are not long distance-wise, and once you get to the top there is a downhill stretch leading to the next incline that allows you to regain some time. Heartbreak definitely took some victims, though. I past several runners that were slowed to a walk or hunched over and stopped completely. With Heartbreak behind me I was ready for a strong finish.

     Stomach problems were nowhere to be found for me during the race, and I didn't have to stop for any "relieving." However, with four miles to go I began to feel my hamstrings AND quads starting to cramp. I began to worry. I was feeling so good and running 6:00 pace at the time, but I knew the cramps weren't going to let me finish without a fight. I took two GU's chased by water and Gatorade within two miles to hopefully help fend off the cramps. I was taking in water every two miles throughout the race, and I didn't feel dehydrated, but something was going wrong (it could have just been that I was 22-miles into a marathon). At mile 25 I had to stop for about 10-15 seconds to stretch and do a few leg swings to try and stop the cramping. That mile ended up being 6:12, but should have been faster. I was pissed. I yelled and hit my legs and told them to get me through just one more mile. Luckily, the cramping lessened and I finished with a 6:06 and 5:53. When I made it to Hereford street and turned left onto Boylston, I was full blast. Boylston to the finish is line is amazing. I cannot put into words how amazing it is, so I won't even try.

     My official finishing time: 2:43:33.

     After crossing the finish line I took a seat on the ground and tried to stretch out my legs a bit more. Then I decided I didn't care if I cramped because it was over. I kept walking with my running brothers and sisters to receive a medal, a heat sheet (which was not needed because it was quite warm, although they are high quality Adidas heat sheets with the marathon logo on it, so a good keepsake, i suppose), hydration, food, and onward to bag pickup at Boston Common.

     Just after receiving my medal I saw a board that listed the male and female winners, and that's when I learned Meb won! That took me to a whole new level of excitement. I was so pumped to see that Meb won the Boston Marathon that I also ran. I read this article today that is incredible, if it is true like they say it is.

     About ten minutes after finishing I reunited with my mom at Boston Common. When I saw my mom I became overwhelmed with emotion. It was a really amazing feeling.

     My phone was filled with text messages from all of the wonderful people that were following the race and congratulating me. My mom and I made our way back towards the finish line to watch some of the race, but it was so crowded I decided I wanted to head back to the hotel and recover a bit.

     The first thing I did this morning, Tuesday, was a phone interview with a Wichita radio station during their morning sports show. It was another cool experience to add to the list.

     My mom and I then made our way to Cambridge, MA and I did a shakeout run around Harvard University. Maybe I ran by a future president? Anyway, it was a fun change of scenery. And it was also my last run for about 14 days. The sedentary life will be a big part of my life for the next two weeks, allowing my body to recover.

     I want to thank everyone that has supported me during this chapter in my life. Too many people fall into this category for me to name individually. I will say it has been an experience and trip my mom and I will forever remember and cherish.

     Once again, thank you for supporting me and following me on this adventure. I've had a lot of people ask me if I would run a marathon again. My reaction is always to smile and laugh. While my goal was to run the Boston Marathon, and now I have achieved that goal, it was never meant to be the finality of my running. So, yes, I will do another marathon. When? Which one? I don't know. All I know right now is that there is a box of Dunkin' Donuts sitting next to me that needs tending to. 




Monday, April 14, 2014

One Week Until Boston 2014

     It has certainly been a while since I have posted anything to this blog, but that does not mean there has not been a lot going on in my running life. Today is the "one week away" point before the 2014 Boston Marathon.
     After Rock 'n' Roll Denver I took two weeks off and then fought an IT Band injury for the entire month of November. Finally, in December I was able to start running again and build a bit of a base. On January 1, I began my training cycle for Boston. It will be a 15 and a half week training block by the time next Monday rolls around. I have logged a good amount of miles, had some good workouts and long runs, had some bad runs, and some "minor" injuries/ailments along the way.
     The heavy part of this cycle happened from week 8 to week 3. That was six weeks of 100+ miles to build my strength and get my body ready (once again) for the pounding of 26.2 miles. The mileage totals for those weeks were:

     Week 8 - 109.23
     Week 7 - 109.81
     Week 6 - 112.59
     Week 5 - 126.75 (highest mileage week)
     Week 4 - 112.49
     Week 3 - 114.13

     Most of my training (I would say 85%) is done alone. My friend and co-worker at First Gear Running Company, Javier Ceja, has definitely been the closest thing to a training partner as I have had, though. We have ran together several times, sporadically, but his biggest help was when he ran with me for 18 of the 25 miles during my peak long run. 
     I am really starting to taper down this week. I put in just over 10-miles today and will do the same tomorrow. I will double up on Wednesday with 8-miles with a 4-mile tempo in the morning (my last workout), and 4 easy miles at the First Gear track night, giving me a little over 12-miles for the day. Thursday and Friday will be 8-mile days, and Saturday and Sunday will be easy 6-6.5-mile days. I started feeling some rejuvenation in my legs last week, so I hope that continues.
     Early Saturday morning my mom and I will leave Wichita for Boston. I hope to get to packet pickup Saturday afternoon so I don't have to deal with it Sunday, the day before the race.
     I cannot wait to feel the magic in the air next Monday!