Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Akron Marathon Race Report

I went into the Akron Road Runner Marathon with high hopes. I had more time to recover prior to this race than any other this year since Boston in April. I was averaging less than a month between marathons and ultras since then, but I had 7 weeks after the Burning River 100 miler to get ready for Akron. I felt like my body had recovered well, and I got some good training done. I knew I had not been able to do as many long runs and tempo run as I would have liked, but that's knit-picking...I felt good overall.

I had not run Akron before, and I did not know much about the course except that there are hills. I made it a point of asking everyone who had run both Cleveland and Akron how much slower their times were in Akron. The answers ranged from 2 to 7 minutes. Tossing the outliers left me with a rough 4 minutes slower. In retrospect, what happened next was more the result of optimism than mathematics, but I calculated that I could go for a 2:55:30 finish in Akron. Now, I ran Cleveland in 2:56:55, and adding 3 minutes for the tougher Akron course, should have yielded a 3:00 time. BUT...I though I was so much improved since the end of May that I could not only make up that three minutes, but take another minute and a half or so off. I think I chose that target because the course record for Grand Masters is 2:56:34, set by Tony Harbert last year. I knew Tony was running the course again this year, so I thought I had better try to beat his time by at least a minute.

The morning of the race, I picked up my friend Coach Glen at 5:15 AM, and made it to Akron with about an hour to warm up and get ready for the race. I met up with the super-fast SERC women Barb, Laura, Nicole, and Elizabeth, and we all chatted about the race while we warmed-up and stretched. I did some slow running, and some stride-outs, but could not seem to get loose at all. When I heard the 5 minute warning over the PA. I made my way to the start. I wished good luck to Kurt M., Rich O., Lloyd T., Vince R., and a few other familiar faces, then found a spot in front of the 3:00 hour pace group.

As I awaited the start, I continued to try to get loose. It just wasn't happening. The horn sounded and we began running. Not far from the start, I encountered Nicole, and we ran together for a while. I was hoping that having someone to talk to might help me settle in and find my stride, but no such thing happened. I was very conscious of being uncomfortable and struggling, even though we were holding a reasonable pace, averaging 6:18 and 6:21 for miles 1 and 2. Faster than my goal pace of 6:42, but not unexpected with the adrenaline of the start, and the fact that the major hills were later in the race. Somewhere around 3 miles or so, Nicole and I got separated, and I did not see her again. She went on take first place among the women in the half-marathon. I told you about those fast SERC women.

Judging by my times for miles 3 through 13, you'd think I was in a nice groove for the first half of the race. I was slightly under my target pace, averaging 6:38 for that stretch. The numbers don't tell enough of the story. I was forcing the pace, trying to shake off whatever funk I was in. I was convinced that it was in my head, and if I just pushed the pace to where I needed to be, I would settle in. In one regard this worked, that is, I did maintain the pace, but at a cost that I wouldn't understand until much later. My breathing was uneven, and I even felt slightly dizzy at times. Not unheard of but usually reserved for much later in the race. The second half was looming and I was not feeling good about it.

In miles 14 through 17, I stated to slow noticeably, averaged 6:49 pace. It did not help that the first few miles of this section were on the towpath, which is made of a soft, crushed limestone surface, not the ideal surface for running fast. I was relieved to get off of the towpath surface, but unfortunately that led into the hills.
As you can see on the elevation profile above, miles 18 through 24 are basically uphill. I averaged 6:54 through this part of the course, and I was struggling to hold on to that pace. The hills seemed endless. I was losing speed on my turn-over and shrinking my stride. No doubt I was paying for my efforts to push an uncomfortable pace through the first half of the race. By the time I got to the top of Heart Rate Hill, I was well aware that I had fallen too far off the pace. I tried to regain my stride as we went through the Stan Hywet grounds, but the hills continued for another couple of miles.

Finally at mile 24, we turned onto Market Street and headed back into town on a downhill grade. I ran the next two miles in 6:40 and 6:55 respectively, not fast enough to make up for all the lost time through the hills. Just before the 40k marker, the first of a series of calf cramps hit. I stopped and stretched until it ended, then started running again, but from that point on, if I tried to run any faster than about a 7:00 pace, my calf would immediately cramp. My choices were to slow down enough to eliminate the cramps, or pick up the pace and stop every hundred yards for a cramp. I chose C. Try to hold a reasonable pace, run through the milder cramps, stop and stretch when a bad one hit.

It was at this point that I saw Tony Harbert for the first time since the start. He passed me at a pace I thought I might be able to hold. I started to pick it up reel him in, but almost immediately a cramp grabbed my calf and I had to stop and stretch it out. Not to much farther, Steve H. was waiting for me, cheering me on and running beside me for a while. I was completely frustrated that I could not pick up the pace. I don't remember much of what I said, but thanks for being there and listening, Steve.

The finish couldn't come soon enough, and when I finally entered Canal Park, I was surprised to see the stands full of people. I saw the finish line and the clock said 2:58:15. By the time I crossed the field to the finish, it was 2:58:29. As soon as I crossed, I heard Sue calling my name. She was in the stands near not too far away, but they would not let her on the field. I walked over and gave her a kiss. Then, I saw Tony with a couple of guys helping him stay on his feet. I went over to see if he was alright, and he immediately recognized me. We hugged, and I told him he ran one hell of a race. He is one very tough man. He ran that last mile with everything he had.

I hung out in the dugout for a while, got a light massage, some food and drink, then left to go find Sue. We saw some of the other SERC runners finish, including Barb B. and Rich O., who both came in under 3:30. We hung out with the SERC crew for a while, then headed home where I had my first beer in more than a week.

This was the most frustrating marathon I have run. I never felt like my running was smooth. I never settled into a groove. I felt a step slow, and like I was not getting enough oxygen. On the positive side, I struggled through it all and managed a 2:58 on a hilly course. My task now: dive into the research and try to find the answer to this cramping problem. I loaded up with potassium, magnesium, and calcium for days before the race. I took Endurolytes and S-caps regularly throughout the race. I was very careful to stay hydrated. None of that prevented the cramps. I am convinced it has nothing little or maybe nothing at all to do with loss of salts, or minerals, maybe not even hydration.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Just a few days until...

The Akron Road Runner Marathon is just few days away as I write, and I have already started to taper. Down to just 60 mile last week, and nothing too challenging. No racing or pacing. About the most aggressive running I did was the Tuesday speed work at the track. After the mandatory 2.5 mile warm-up and 6 x 100 stride-outs, I did my 3 x 1 mile repeats at 5:28, 5:34, and 5:31. Pleased but not satisfied. I could have run the second mile faster, but let myself follow the pace of another runner instead of paying attention to my own pace. Saturday's 13.5 mile run through the woods was good. Steve G took us on section of trail which I have not run before. Always good to see some new scenery. See the map below.

Here is a high-speed video of the Akron Marathon course. There is a brief commercial at the beginning, but the rest of the video is commercial free.

If you want to track my progress as I run the Akron Marathon, here is a link where you can register for automatic updates to be sent as e-mail or text.

Akron Marathon Runner Updates

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Last Full Week of Training for Akron Marathon

The is my second consecutive 80 mile week. First time I've done that since pre-Boston. Seems from April until now I have been either recovering or tapering, with little time between races. The next two weeks will have lower mileage as I begin to taper.

The week started with a complete change of pace from my routine Monday recovery runs. Since it was a holiday, I ran a really pleasant 12 miler with my SERC buddies on the trails. That is an ideal way to start the week. (I need to take more Mondays off.) Tuesday's track workout was an abbreviated version, mostly because I was still feeling the effects of the race on Saturday. I did my usual warm-up miles and 6 x 100 stride-outs, but then decided to go with 800 repeats rather than 1600's. Although they were 1/2 miles, did not mean I ran them 1/2 as hard. The times were 2:33, 2:29, and a very painful and desperate 2:42.

On Wednesday, I ran an 8.5 mile route from work, through Independence, down the big hill into the valley on Rockside to the two path, south to Pleasant Valley, then up the big hill out of the valley.
On Thursday, I ran 14.5 miles between Alexander Road and Boston Store and back. It was a beautiful night, and I kept a good pace, probably around 7:30, but I did not have my Garmin so there are no stats. I enjoyed the unplanned on-course nutrition provided by swarms of little flying gnats. I swallowed a few dozen or more. That's only one of the benefits of being a mouth-breathing runner. Friday was an easy six miles. I did not even try to push, just running comfortably.

On Saturday, I had planned to do a 10 miler with 5 miles at faster than marathon pace, but an e-mail from a friend changed my plan. He asked if I would be able to pace for the Buckeye Half-Marathon on Sunday. I adjusted my plan and decided 13 miles at a little slower than marathon pace on Sunday would serve as 10 miles with five at faster than marathon pace on Saturday. Probably not actually equivalent, but I was trying to help out. So on Saturday, I ran trails with the Lock 29 group, about 12.5 miles. On Sunday morning, I met up with the Buckeye Half-marathon race director, got my pacing shirt and pretty yellow balloon, put in a few warm-up miles, and then headed to the starting line. I led the 1:35 pace group. It turned out to be a fun day. We had a good group, all of whom finished under 1:35. Here is a photo from around mile 6. Looks like I am about to take flight. And yes, I carried the balloon for the whole race.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Training Week Review - North Coast Challenge Race Report

With three weeks remaining until the Akron Marathon, I managed my best training week since pre-Boston this Spring. I started the week with a double on Monday, 6 miles at lunch and 6 miles in the evening, both at recovery pace. Track Tuesday was very encouraging. Instead of my usual 3 x 1 mile repeats, I alternated miles and half miles. They went like this:
- 1600 @ 5:27
- 800 @ 2:28
- 1600 @ 5:29
- 800 @ 2:39
Wednesday I ran a 9 miler at lunch in Independence. I found a new path, leading from the cemetery at Brecksville and Rockside down into the valley. I ran a 14 mile out and back on Thursday evening, on the tow path between Frazee House and the Boston store. I wasn't feeling quite right but I wasn't sure exactly why. I woke up Friday with a sore throat and no voice. I didn't feel as bad otherwise, so I did a 6 mile run at lunch. Saturday morning still with throat issues, I met-up with Barb and Glenn in Beachwood and we rode together to the North Coast Challenge in Westlake. (Thanks for driving, Barb!) With a couple of miles of warm-up and cool-down, plus the 5.75 after I got home from the race, the total for the day was 12.75. I ran with the SERC group on Sunday, 17.5 miles for a total of a little over 80 for the week.

Race Report

The North Coast Challenge was not a typical local 5 mile race, this one draws a great field of runners, mostly because of the healthy purse for the winners. I checked the website and decided to register when I saw that they even had a nice little sum for the winning Grand Master, the over 50 year old runners category.
I shared a ride to Westlake with Barb and Glenn. We had some difficulty due to a series of detours for road construction, but we got there in time to get our race packs and run our warm-ups. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and mild, with very little wind. Perfect for a race.
The announcer called for us to gather at the start, so I made my way to the area marked for 6 minute pace runners. I was planning to go for sub-6 minute miles, barely. Based on what I had seen of the past Grand Masters times at this race, I thought that would be the minimum requirement to have a shot a winning. I spotted Lloyd from Vertical Runner as we mulled around anxiously in the starting area. He said he was going for a 5:55 pace, and I said I just wanted to be under 6. I noticed another familiar looking over-fifty runner, long brown and gray hair, salt and pepper stubbly beard. He had the obvious look of a very fast runner. I sensed that this was a guy I needed to keep an eye on. The starter counted us down, and we were off.
The race started with a straight, flat mile and a quarter, and the times reflected that. I hit the first marker at 5:50, and the field had not thinned much. I was surrounded by very fast runners. I was not feeling comfortable, but then again, running at that pace shouldn't be comfortable. Turns out I had judged the long-haired man correctly. He was about 10 yards ahead of me, and running strong. In the second mile, we made a 90 degree left turn, but otherwise, it was flat and fast as well. I kept my pace, passing the clock for the second mile at 11:46, a 5:56 mile, still about 10 yards from the long-haired man...and thinking about what to do.
The third mile wound through a park, still on a road, but slightly shady. I took the opportunity to run the tangents, and wondered why some runners seemed oblivious to this. Not long-haired man...he ran it smart. Despite this, I decided to close the gap. I pulled within a yard of him, but did not pass him. Part of this was strategy, and part was that he was keeping a pace close to my limit. I had decided back at the 2 mile mark that as long as he held on to a sub-6 minute mile pace, I would just try to hang with him, until the last half-mile. Then it would be decided by who had the better kick.
When we crossed the three mile marker, the clock said 17:44, a 5:58 pace for that mile. Still under six, so I stayed with the plan. The fourth mile was a complete change of terrain. We left the road, crossed a field, and hit a stretch of meandering trail through the woods. The soft surface and twisty turns were making it harder to keep the pace, but I kept right on you-know-who's shoulder. We came out of the woods and crossed the four mile marker at 23:43, just one second under the 6 minute pace, which was surprising considering the terrain. We turned right and within about a tenth of a mile, turned right again on to the broad five lane road we had run out on in the first mile.

Long-haired man was showing no signs of fading, so I knew it was up to me to find more speed. Before I realized what I was doing, I had increased the pace and passed him, right at the 3/4 mile to go marker. I knew immediately I had made a mistake. The plan was to wait until a half mile to go , but I had already made my move. Now, I had given him the advantage of tailing me in, and possibly making his move near the finish, where I would not have time to react. Within just a few seconds, I decided the only thing to do was to pick it up even further, to try to drop him back far enough that he had not chance to hang on. My legs were telling me they were down with this plan, but my lungs were raising objections. Still, I did take it up another notch.
The only other runner close to us was a fortyish looking guy who was about 30 yards ahead. Another thought. Catch and pass that guy, and put a body between me and long-hair man. There was a psychological edge to this, and the added benefit was the young guy would give me a target to help me keep pressing the pace.
I passed the younger guy near the half-mile to go marker. Unlike long-hair, this guy reacted immediately, and he had a kick. I heard his footfalls right on my heels. I was really struggling to hold on to this pace, and he was giving no room to falter. The familiar nausea was there, reminding me of what I was doing, reminding me of what was going to happen if I continued for much longer. I was trying hard to block it out, and I finally got some help. The 100 yards to go sign. I went into full sprint mode (or whatever I could find of that elusive top gear by this point), and focused on the finish. I saw the clock say 29:30 as I ran beneath it. Younger guy was three seconds behind me. Long-haired guy was 30 seconds back. I didn't see him cross. I was obeying the commands to double over and dry heave. After a minute, I got my breath back, straightened up, and walked it off. It is amazing how bad you can feel at the end of one of these short races, and how quickly you can recover. Within just a few minutes, I was talking and congratulating long-haired man, who I found out was Terry McCluskey. Oh yeah, the guy who was in the Running Times Masters of the Year article. That long-haired guy. I lost track of the younger guy, but eventually came across him and congratulated him on a great race, and a great finish. By the way, he was younger, but only by a couple of years. I completely missed my estimate. He was 50, a Grand Master. Rich Oldrieve. A well know local runner with a long and impressive resume that includes, per my friend Glen, a 2:26 marathon. Lucky for me I decided he was a guy I needed to kick-down in the last half-mile.
I ran a cool-down mile or so with Kam, then we hung around the park waiting for the awards presentation. Kam ran a great race, just missing the Masters prize money, finishing 20 seconds behind one of the Ethopian runners. (Ethopians took first through third in the Mens open division as well. And the first place woman was also Ethopian.) My friend Barb was second Grand Masters first in her age group*. I won the men's Grand Master award, $200, and got a nice little trophy as well. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning. Nope.

*Sorry Barb...I had it wrong. You definitely got 1st AG. I think it was a PR as well, right?