Sunday, October 17, 2010

Baltimore 1/2 Marathon = Two Seconds

Yesterday marked the end of a crazy 5 weeks which saw 3 half marathons and my longest marathon training runs - 18 and 20 miles respectively. I never thought I'd survive it either mentally or physically, and did question at times whether or not all of this was really a good idea or not. I think it was a demanding schedule for even the most seasoned runners.

Not knowing what I would have left in my legs after weeks of use and abuse, I went into Baltimore with no expectations. One of the main reasons this was on my schedule for this fall was to finish the second half of the Maryland Double - a special medal given to those who finish both Frederick and Baltimore. Kim and I were going to run together, and I promised to help get her a nice PR, as this was only her second half. My main focus was to keep her moving and motivated.

This was a huge event for my Looper group, with 9 of us doing the half marathon alone. Other family and friends participated in the 5K and full marathon and others came from near and far to cheer everyone on. It was a wonderful day to spend with friends, and as the race grew closer I was more and more excited about running such a big race in my hometown.

The timing of the race was very odd compared to what I'm used to. The start time for the half was 9:45am. The full marathon and relay started at 8am, and the 5K went off at 8:30. With nearly 10,000 registered runners, the half was the largest event. Since I had to visit the race expo on Friday afternoon, I decided to spend the night just outside of the city with my parents. With over 22,000 registered runners for the Baltimore Running Festival, organizers urged everyone to take mass transit if at all possible. I decided to drive though, knowing I would not be able to stay for very long after the race due to other commitments. So, even though my race started so late, I left the house before 7am to get into the City and find decent parking in the stadium lots.

After we all got to the stadium complex and met up to cheer on the 5K runners, we headed to our corrals. The trick with them is that the half runners actually had to cross the path of the full runners in order to reach the start line for the half. Very odd. I felt bad for the full runners, as I know how much I hate having random people crossing in my path while in a race. I cannot imagine how it felt with that volume of people. Kim and I planned to start in the 4th wave, but as we were dropping some of our friends off in the 3rd, it was apparent from the crush of people that we might as well stay put rather than try and immitate salmon swimming upstream.

I had seen the elevation charts and knew this was a race known for nasty hills. I was prepared, or at least, thought I was, to take them on. The plan was for Kim and I to do 3:1 intervals and finish under 3 hours, if possible. Our wave started, we turned a corner and were greeted by our first major uphill. This had to be the worst, right? But, we made it through intact and kept plugging along, staying true to our intervals, even if it included walking downhills, much against my grain.

We were cruising along, every now and then doing some extra walks on the really steep hills. Sometimes you reach a point where the energy you're expending while trying to run them isn't really worth it and power walking will accomplish as much, if not more. We felt good and were joined by our friend Jen, and Tracy, someone Kim knew through the Howard County Striders. Our merry little band kept chugging along, feeling good and keeping a good pace. The weather was fantastic. While there were some pretty big wind gusts, overall it really helped keep you comfortable. One of the things that helped keep us going was knowing there was a pleasantly flat 1.3 mile loop around Lake Montebello awaiting us around mile 7, as well as our wonderful friend and cheerleader, Margaret.

Throughout the entire race, residents were out in the streets, whether it be cheering on the sidewalk and handing out high 5's, or waving from their porch stoops. In a couple of areas it was as if we entered a block party. This helped keep us so pumped up. After coming out of the lake area and making up out 33rd street, which had more hills for us to tame, we all looked at our watches and started doing the math. We were at mile 9 and began to think that 2:45 was possible. While we knew going into it that Kim would have a PR (just a matter of by how much), I had not expected to have a possiblity of one myself! Jen left us to see how hard she could push it those last 4 miles, and the 3 of us picked it up a bit, too. Fortunately, the worst of the hills were behind us, and we had a great downhill portion of the race left.

We passed mile 12 and I looked at my watch. Could I push it hard that last mile and actually manage a PR??? I handed Kim my watch we were doing intervals with and told her I had to see if I could do this. She and Tracy looked great and I knew would be able to make it in together. I would never had considered leaving her had it just been her and I.

There was a great downhill going down Eutaw Street and heading into Camden Yards and I was determined to make the best of it, and charged almost full steam ahead. In all honesty, I was having a blast at this point, but was also a little too focused on my GPS watch. Every second counted.

I allowed myself to take a minute or so walk break just before exiting the baseball stadium. I took a couple of deep breaths and charged towards the finish. Could I do it??? Then, I saw my watch hit 2:45 and knew I wasn't going to finish under 2:46. Crud. I kept charging ahead, crossed the finish line, and stopped by watch. I knew my time from Frederick was 2:46, but couldn't remember exactly what it was.

While standing in a very long food line (after being handed my finisher's medal in a plastic baggie!), I pulled out my phone and started looking it up. In the meantime, my ROTE friend Gina had already gone on the Baltimore website and looked up my chip time, 2:46:50. My Frederick time? 2:46:52. I had PR' two seconds. The smile on my face was ridiculous. This good of a time was so not expected. Frederick had been one of the best races fo my life, and it was quickly apparent that this was, too.

After exiting the finisher's area, I found Kim. Somehow she had managed to get past me while I was wandering around there. Her time? 2:48. She had PR'd by nearly an HOUR. So so so proud of her.

I didn't realize until afterward how much I mentally needed Baltimore to go well. The confidence gained from having a good 20 mile training run and then a fantastic race right after is immeasurable. I am now so pumped for MCM in two weeks, I can't even describe. And, if all goes according to plan, I will PR by well over 2 seconds.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Goodbye training, I feel like I hardly knew ya

Saturday I did my 20 mile training run, thus essentially closing the book on my MCM training. Even better, I managed a sub 14 minute/mile pace on a very hill route. My hopes of doing a sub 6 hour time are well within reach.

I was more than slightly intimidated by the combo of races and training runs this fall, but I do have to say that the advantage was keeping busy and never really being able to focus on more than what that week's goal was rather than get overwhelmed by the whole endeavour...not that I necessarily want to do a schedule like this again.

So, time to focus on the handful of quality (not quantity) runs left, and let the body rest a bit in prep for the big day. Of course, there's still one more race to get through, the Baltimore Half Marathon this weekend. I'm really starting to look forward to it, moreso than I did Philly or Wine & Dine. I think this is in large part to the fact I know the big training runs are behind me. This will be my first time running such a big race in my hometown, and I will be pacing Kim through it. Should be a fun time!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Disney Wine & Dine Half

I've kind of been putting off writing my Wine & Dine Half Marathon race report. Most of this was due to the craziness of life after returning for a whirlwind trip to Florida, but the rest was just because I wasn't sure what to write.

Wine & Dine is an inaugural race for Disney. While this was a first time race, it is certainly not Disney's first race or even their first nighttime race. It combined some of my favorite things - wine, food, and running. How could I not do it???

Katie, her dad (aka The Godfather), and I made it out of Maryland on Thursday evening, despite some fairly nasty weather. Remants of a tropical storm brought heavy rain and flooding to the area and had been moving up the coast for most of the previous 24 hours. This meant a pretty bumpy flight.

Friday morning was some park time at Hollywood Studios before heading over to the opening of the race expo. The expo was decent and on par with Princess. The Disney merchandise was disappointing though. The women's shirts were "junior" cut. I really wanted an "Eat, Drink, Run" shirt, but even the largest size was unplesantly tight. I considered a couple of other items, but by that point was frustrated and decided to move on.

Packet pick up went smoothly. I was picking up my packet, as well as at that of a friend who was arriving on Saturday afternoon. The packets themselves were disappointment #2. I learned from the marathon to be cautious of the shirt sizes, so was sure to order a M since they were unisex. It's still a bit large, but I can probably live with it. It is a rather thick shirt though. In January and March, we received mesh goody bags with an assortment of items. For this race, we got a plastic bag filled primarily with just flyers.

After the expo we headed to Epcot and did some rides there before dinner at Via Napoli (the new pizzeria) in the Italian Pavilion with our friends from Running of the Ears (ROTE). I had a delicious spaghetti and meatballs, but unfortunately, think the sauce played havoc with my system, as I was very ill once we got back to the house later in the evening. Hmmm, I hope this isn't a sign of how the rest of the weekend is going to go. Fortunately, I went to bed early and woke up feeling MUCH better.

Up early on Saturday to head towards the Magic Kingdom to cheer on Katie, her mom (the Fairy Godmother), and other ROTE friends at the 5K. It was a beautiful morning, quite the change from the chilly weather in March and downright frigid temps in January. After the crew was done, we headed into the Magic Kingdom to play for awhile before our lunch reservations at Liberty Tree Tavern.

As I mentioned, this was a night race, so it really made for challenge as far as meal planning went. We decided early on that lunch would have to be our biggest meal on Saturday. Given my experience after dinner the night before, I knew this would also have to be a bland meal in order to avoid any GERD issues later. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing made for a good and filling lunch. Afterward, we all went our separate ways, and the group of us returned to Mickey Manor to get off our feet and rest a bit. I slept on and off for about a hour and a half. Around 5pm, it was time to get moving. I had a small turkey sandwich, hoping the protein and carbs would help hold me through the evening. I also took a Luna bar with me to eat around 8.

Since this is a point to point race, they had everyone park at Epcot and then board buses to shuttle us over to Wide World of Sports where the start line and staging area were. The staging area for this race was far better than for the marathon or Princess. Unlike those, we were in a large field as opposed to standing around in a parking lot for hours. We had a couple of hours to kills, so I checked my bag with a dry tshirt and some comfy shoes, and plopped in the grass with the ROTE crew. I was glad I had turned my bag in early, because later on the line weaved what seemed like half way around the field. Thousands of runners were standing in ONE line to check bags. Why did Disney think this would be a good idea?

About 9:30 we headed to the corrals. I was placed in corral C, but had brought previous race results with me that allowed me to jump to B if I so chose. Katie and I had originally planned on running together, but due to a slight injury, she was planning on taking it easy. So, I went back and forth about which corral I wanted to be in. My post dinner issues from the night before made me slightly fearful to push too hard, and I was worried I would go out too fast in B. Plus, my buddy Kim was doing the first 5 miles of the relay, and was able to get herself moved from D to C, so we decided to hang together. We always have a good time whenever we run together.

The race started at 10pm. It was quickly apparent that this was not going to be a wave start. This caused for a very congested course for pretty much the entire race. I'm not sure why this was not a wave start since Princess is. Now, granted alot of other races this size don't do wave starts either, however, I'm not sure that portions of those courses are necessarily as narrow as parts of this one were. My GPS watch recorded a final distance of 13.41 miles. Yes, I did A LOT of weaving.

The first 3+ miles were all on the highway between WWoS and Animal Kingdom. I knew to expect this from my previous Disney races, and Kim and I kept one another entertained. We even spotted our buddy Greg, on RnR from Iraq, as he was making the return on the other side. We headed into Animal Kingdom. I was looking forward to this, as we spent much more time in the park itself than we did for the marathon course. It was lit well, and lots of cast members were on the course. As we left the park, Kim had to split off for the relay exchange, so I pressed on alone.

The highway between the parks was mostly uneventful. I saw several friendly ROTE faces, sadly not realizing how poor some of their races were going. I chugged along, feeling like I was pushing harder than I should have since in reality this was yet another MCM training run. Just before Hollywood Studios was the "food stop" with energy chews. I carry my own fuel, so I kept moving, but the open packages were littering the course and I found myself doing some fancy footing to avoid getting any stuck in my shoes. The course went up the highway ramp and made the final turn towards the park entrance. Unfortunately, all of the street lights were out and it was pitch black except for the flashing police car lights. It was dizzing, and I found myself looking down to avoid them. Why no one thought to check this or perhaps bring in a generator once it was apparent there was a problem, I don't know.

We spent alot of time in Hollywood Studios, weaving through the park as well as the backstage areas. I stopped for a couple of pictures - one with Buzz Lightyear and another with some of the cast of Up. There were much better character photo ops here than in the first half of the course. I was very surprised that there were little to no lines for photographs, unlike January and March. I ducked into one of the bathrooms for a minute and then continued on my way. Before leaving Studios, the course went through the Osborne lights display. It was breaktaking, and I think the highlight of the race for everyone.

The course took us out of the Studios and then narrowed immensely as we merged onto the walkway that lead to the Boardwalk and nearby resorts. I couldn't believe we were past mile 11 and it was still this crowded. The rest of it was pretty uneventful. I was exhausted, running primarily on the little bit of adrenaline left at this point, and my feet were killing me from running on so much concrete and uneven pavement for so long. I was just ready to be done and couldn't imagine how I had possibly run twice this distance here back in January. I was excited not to be running in the sun for a change, but it was still warm and VERY humid. That began to take it's toll as well. I walked most of the last mile, reminding myself not to overdue it. I did just run 18 miles the weekend before and had 20 on the horizon. I ran up the final hill and crossed the finish.

I crossed the finish line, moved forward to collect my medal, and then pretty much came to a dead stop. There were 5 or so lines feeding into a tent, and none were moving. I saw some folks with mylar blankets and I really wanted one, but they were nowhere to be found. I think they must have been giving them out at the medical area, but I wasn't about to get out of this crazy line and search for one. Plus, I worried if I went to medical and said I had goose bumps that they would insist on examing me to make sure it wasn't a sign of a bigger issue even though I knew it was only because I was damp and cold. I just kept reminding myself of the dry tshirt in my checked bag.

The 5 or so lines into the tent fed into ONE line for baggage pickup. It was hot and people started going down around me. It easily took me 20-25 minutes to get my bag. Pretty ridiculous. I kept trying to shift my weight around a bit while standing in line, hoping to avoid getting stiff since I had had nowhere to really stretch my legs out after coming to screaching halt after crossing the finish line.

After I escaped the tent with my bag, I found some ROTE friends. I joined them and swapped out my shoes and put on my dry shirt. Katie found me and we made the fatal error of sitting down. We kept an eye on our friends until they left and then just sat there, completely wiped. We knew we had to meet up with the rest of our group, so eventually, after mentally and physically gathering ourselves together, we pushed forward into the after party in World Showcase. It was ridicuously crowded. Everywhere I looked there was a line. Having just stood in a long line, that was the last thing I really wanted to do, nor did I really feel like eating or drinking much at this point. It was close to 2am. We meet up with the rest of the ROTErs who were still hanging around and visited with them before finally making the long walk back to the car.

So, I think there were clearly some organizational flaws with this race that Disney needs to address before next year. Yes, they are already advertising next year's race. I won't be there, but not because of my so so experience, but simply because there are other, non-Disney races, I want to do as well.