Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Seafair Marathon Now the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon

Apparently, the much maligned Seafair Marathon has been sold and is now the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon. I ran the race in 2006 and found it had many problems. The course was very challenging, the temperature was way too warm and there were major traffic issues as the full and half marathon converged on one another. It was after this marathon I promised to never run another summer marathon, even in Seattle.

This year was a disaster. Not only did they change the course for the third time in four years, they didn't have enough buses to transport people to the start line, leaving 400 runners, who had trained for this race for many months, stranded with no race to run.

So I don't know what the transition of "ownership" will mean. They undoubtedly will keep it at the same time of year. Hopefully they will start the race earlier. More importantly, maybe they can find a course that won't change every year. It's no wonder they had so much logistical trouble this year...they don't keep a course long enough to perfect the logistics around it.

What's most interesting is it is run by the same people who put on what I believe to be the best road race in Seattle: Seafair Torchlight.

This past weekend I became a first time race director so I caught a glimpse of how ridiculously hard it is to put together a running event so I'm a bit hesitant to be too harsh. Maybe the Seafair folks realized their expertise was in shorter events. Marathons are infinitely more challenging to host than a 10k or 5k. While I will still never run this marathon, I hope Rock and Rolling it will provide the alternative to the Seattle Marathon that Seafair has been.

Someday, someone will organize a marathon in King County that isn't in the crappy weather of Thanksgiving weekend nor in the heat of summer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Race Report -- Seafair Torchlight 8k

I was nervous going into tonight's race. It's only the second time I recall being nervous before a race. Torchlight is probably the biggest race in Seattle in terms of the number of top guys in the area who run it. Last year when I ran this race, I was still a bit of an unknown in the area. But after several good races over the last year, including a trip to the Trials, there's an expectation that I have of myself that I have to do really well, especially in a race with all of my peers. As I toed the starting line this evening, sure enough, virtually all of Seattle's finest were right there too. Last year I was edged out by a good running friend of mine, Ben Mangrum, in the final half mile and there he was right next to me this year. So I was indeed nervous.

This race is notoriously a hot one in terms of temperatures. We're going into the hottest four-week period of the year and it's not uncommon to have 90 degree temps for this race. Luckily, the temp was about 70 with some cloud cover. It was a bit humid for our area which I noticed pretty quickly after the start of the race.

The race starts at Qwest Field (home of the Seahawks) and quickly turns west then south heading over the Alaskan Way Viaduct. There's a pretty good hill going up the Viaduct and you don't crest it until right at Mile 1. Going into the race I wanted to average 5:01 miles in an attempt to break 25:00. Mile 1 came in at 5:03. Not bad considering the uphill and gusty winds. I figured the winds would dissipate once we got off the Viaduct which is an elevated structure exposed to the elements.

Mile 2 is almost all on the viaduct and mostly flat until the end when it drops down into a bus tunnel. I felt like I had picked up the pace a bit and expected a 5:00 or better for the mile split. Oops. 5:09. Ugh. So I was almost half way through the race and already 11 seconds off the pace. I'm not sure how I got a 5:09. I was running pretty much alone at this point in third place and the main pack falling behind me. But I was really diheartened by the slow split especially knowing that a tough third mile lie ahead.

Mile 3 is a net uphill and had a couple challenging stretches. I didn't look back but could tell that my lead over the chase pack was widening. I was not losing any distance to Mike Sayenko in 2nd place but I also wasn't gaining. He was probably 20-25 seconds ahead of me. Mile 3 came in at 4:59. I was surprised because I felt like I had slowed down. Regardless of the good split time, this was the point in the race where I was really hurting. Right after the Mile 3 marker there's a short hill and then you turn on to 4th Ave. The good news about the 4th mile is that it's along the Torchlight Parade route which attracts nearly 100,000 people who line 4th street to watch the ensuing parade. The bad news is that it's a gentle uphill that seems to last forever. And it's a straight stretch so you are constantly looking at the hill. There was no Mile 4 marker so I didn't know what my split was and my GPS watch got screwed up on the distance while going through the tunnel so I had no idea. When you crest 4th ave, I think there is about a mile to go. And it's downhill hill the rest of the way.

The reason I love this race is not because it's fast, because it's not. I love it because its the only race of any kind in Seattle that reminds me of the Trials and Boston in that thousands of people are screaming and blowing horns and cheering you on and it comes at a very critical part of the race. Kids venture away from the curb and stick out their hands to give you a high five. It's an exhilerating experience that really helps take my mind off of the pain and fatigue that was setting in.

I crossed the finish line in third place in a time of 25:03. I really wanted to break 25 minutes but in the end I was happy. It was a PR by 29 seconds and considering the strong winds, which weren't at all part of last year's race and the fact I again ran almost the entire race alone (unlike last year) I am very happy with the results.

Next stop: 2008 USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Spokane in two weeks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Twin Cities Marathon Course Preview

I had the pleasure of taking my wife and kids to visit my parents who live about 40 minutes south of Minneapolis. Since I'm planning to run the Twin Cities Marathon in October, I thought it would be a good idea to preview the course. I was particularly interested in checking out the final couple of miles which appear on the course map to be fairly significant inclines.

Link to course map: http://www.mtcmarathon.org/PDFs/MarathonCourseMap08.pdf

The Start
The race starts right outside the Metrodome. If you haven't been to Minneapolis then you are missing out. It's a beautiful city. The first few miles take you through the core downtown area which is pancake flat. The skyline is small enough that I don't think the winds that are often exagerated when among tall buildings will be an issue.

Miles 3-8
At the three-mile mark, you turn south out of the downtown area and enter an amazingly beautiful 5-mile stretch that takes you through some of the most beautiful if not luxurious neighborhoods of any metro area I've ever scene. When you're finished looking at the homes on your right, you look to your left and realize you are running along side three of the 10,000 lakes in Minnesota. The best part is the much of this section is heavily shaded with big trees protecting runners from much of the direct sunlight. This stretch is also dead flat.

Miles 9-11
This stretch is also quite protected from the direct sunlight giving runners a breather from temperatures that can be quite warm even in October. This stretch struck me as particularly narrow but by Mile 11, things will have thinned out sufficiently such that it shouldn't be a congestion problem.

Miles 12-13
Due to some road construction, we actually had to skip this part that goes around Lake Nokomis. According to the map it is also flat. I don't know what the shading is like.

Miles 14-16
We rejoined the course at Mile 14 which rejoins this narrow street called Minehaha Parkway. It again is pretty well shaded.

Miles 17-21
We were running low on time so we skipped this part that follow the Mississippi River back up to St. Paul. According to the map it is flat.

Miles 21-23
The elevation maps would have you believe this is a pretty substantial slope but if I hadn't looked at the map ahead of time, I'm not sure I would have noticed any uphill at all. Over the two-mile stretch, it rises just 120 feet. I know by this time in a marathon the slightest incline feels like Heartbreak Hill, but seriously, this stretch is no problem at all. You lose all of the shade on this stretch as the street widens dramatically and you enter some of the most upscale and gorgeous neighborhoods of St. Paul. The worst part about this stretch will be a lack of protection from sun and wind if either are present on race day.

The Homestretch
The last three miles are an almost unoticeable downhill slope to the capital building in St. Paul. I'm really looking forward to this stretch of the race because if there is anything left in the tank, it will be a perfect stretch to run. The finish area looks awesome.

I can't say enough about how great this course looks. The biggest x factor, as last year proved, will be the weather. It could be 40 and breezy or 85 and humid. Of then 10 days I just spent in Minneapolis, 8 of them were very pleasant with low humidity. But the day we left (Sunday) was miserable. It was 85 degrees with 70% humidity. If it's like that on race day in October, I won't bother running. But if the weather coooperates, I think this will be a very fun and memorable race.

Friday, July 4, 2008

My 5k Debut

Well...today was my 5k debut. I didn't do myself any favors the last two days, eating like a cow at my parent's house. When I woke up I felt heavy and bloated but oh well.

It took about 40 minutes to get from my parents house to St. Paul where the race was. We were greeted with the implosion of an old coal chimney across the river 15 minutes before the race.

Fortunately, most of the toxic cloud blew just to the south of the starting line. Kind of cool to watch. Most implosions I've seen have the building falling in on itself. This one they tipped over.

I hope that was the plan.

The main reason I ran this race was because the prize for the winner was two round trip tickets anywhere in the US on Northwest Airlines. This was the fifth year they had run the race and I was surprised to see that the course record was only 16:09. Given the course is pretty flat and the fact that there is a very strong core of good runner in the Minneapolis area, I was just surprised that not more of the better runners here hadn't given this race a shot, particularly with two airline tickets at stake.

The 10k course record is a much faster 30:37 but it hadn't been run under 33:00 since 2005. So I debated which race to run but settled on the 5k mostly because I had never run one before.
The race runs along the Mississippi River just across from downtown St. Paul. Other than a small roller at the start of the race, it was virtually flat. However, there was a pretty strong headwind for the first two miles as a thunderstorm was moving in. Some tall dude was the only one who joined me from the start and he let me know he was only running a mile and offered to help pace me. With the headwind, I was happy to take him up on his offer to be a wind shield. The only problem was he wasn't going fast enough so I made the difficult decision to go out on my own. There was no question I was working harder by myself but I couldn't afford to go his pace and let the chase pack think I was in reach.

Mile 1 came in at 5:04, about 9 seconds slower than I had wanted to go out in but with the headwind the way it was, I felt like my effort was in line with the time I wanted so I kept plugging away. 9/10 of mile 2 was also into headwind and by now I was way out in front. There would be no rabbit to pace me this time.

The turnaround came at 1.9 miles. I skipped the water they offered there. My feeling is that far more can go wrong by taking water in a 5k than can go right. It's just too short for hydration to be an issue -- in terms of negatively impacting performance -- particularly in the near-ideal temperature and cloud cover.

I crossed mile 2 in 10:07 so a 5:03 on that one. Also slower than I had hoped for but probably about as good as I could of expected under the windy conditions. The return route was near the outbound route but it was sheltered in trees which was great for keeping things cool but it completely blocked the tailwind which I was hoping would give me a boost on the home stretch. Oh well.

Mile 3 came in at 4:56. I was pushing harder and it was a slight net downhill. It's the mile time I was hoping for on all the miles but what can you do. I covered the final tenth in 31 seconds which is about 4:50 pace. So I finished strong which was nice.

Finish time was 15:35 and a first place finish in my 5k debut. I haven't seen the final results, but I think the second place guy was more than a minute behind.

The course was great and the support staff was awesome. I've really learned to appreciate a well executed race and this was one of them. I briefly thought about running the 10k also, since it started 15 minutes after I finished the 10k but when I got to the starting line, I decided it would be more prudent to do a nice cool down...plus...I had another race to get to.

Yes...one 5k was not enough. I'm a distance guy after all so I felt a bit under worked. So we traveled back another 30 minutes toward my parent's house to a little town called Elko. They had a 1k kids race which my youngest son ran in and then a 5k race which me, my dad and my older son all ran in. I ran this because the race director is a dear friend of my father's and he had asked me to run. Plus, it was for a very good cause. So 90 minutes after finishing my race in St. Paul, I started 5k Part Deux. This race was also plagued with the same wind problems but even worse, it was fairly hilly. No brutal hills, but constant rollers which is pretty common for the suburbs of the Twin Cities. My legs actually felt pretty good. The course wasn't certified and my watch had it .05 miles long, but who knows. Incidentally, my watch had the earlier race pegged exactly at 3.11 miles. Take that for what it's worth.

Anyway, finished the second race in 15:58. I was completely happy with that. It was easily good enough for a victory as the second place guy was 19 minutes and high change. My son took second in his age group for the 5k despite a time well off of his PR. I reminded him that the wind was tough as was the course. Unclear whether he found that to be any consolation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fatherhood and Running

With Father's Day 2008 now in the rearview mirror, I stumbled upon this story about Alan and Shayne Culpepper who are not only two of the most accomplished American runners in recent memory, but the proud parents of three children.

Being a parent is difficult work and sometimes it's very, very difficult to be a good father and still have the time and focus required to be a good athlete. I'm fortunate to have married the greatest woman on earth who has been supportive of me through the thick and thin of my brief running career.

I'm even more amazed when you look at the Culpeppers and realize they are both world class athletes who have made family THE priority above all else. It's so gratifying in these days of big money in sports, gigantic attitudes and dangerous and immoral lifestyles, that a couple as accomplished in their sport as they, are down to earth enough and focused enough to put their family before themselves. It's a breath of fresh air.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Race Report -- Fall City 10k

What a glorious morning for a run. The sun was out and the temperature was in the mid 50s. The only downer was a fairly strong breeze out of the north.

My goal going in was to break 32:00. It was somewhat random in that this was only my 3rd 10k and I didn't know how recovered I would be from my marathon two weeks ago. Winning the race was secondary although a time under 32:00 would usually be sufficient to win this race.

The start was late due to either an unexpectedly high number of people registering the day of or poor planning on the part of the race for not getting through the line quicker. We were almost 15 minutes late which pretty much makes an effective warmup impossible. Oh well.

When the gun finally went off, I and three other guys jumped out to an early lead. I crossed mile 1 in 4:58. A good start especially into a non-trivial wind. Our pack was still four at the one mile mark.

By mile 2, we had said goodbye to the 5k runners and our pack was down to three runners: me, Leif Kohler and Eric Garner, a former University of Washington standout. http://gohuskies.cstv.com/sports/c-track/mtt/garner_eric00.html

Mile 2 was a bit slower as we crossed in 5:06. The wind was far more noticeable on this stretch.
There was no mile 3 marker. I HATE this. How hard is it to freaking put a mile marker at every mile. So my lap split came at the turnaround spot. It was 5:38 for the 1.1 miles which equates to a 5:09 mile pace. I was excited to head back the other direction to get out of the headwind. The 1/2 way split was 15:42.

Since I've never run a 5k, I guess that is my new PR.

I was leading at the turnaround by a few seconds. This is when things got interesting. Leif began dropping off and Eric jumped out to the lead. It was clear he was making an effort to surge and see what I would do in response. For the first minute I tried to stick with him but I was concerned that the increased pace wasn't something i could maintain and I didn't want to blow up at the end. This was mistake #2.

I crossed mile 4 in 5:02 and was about 10 seconds back of back now and Leif was way back. This is when I started to realize I may have made a tactical mistake by not going with Eric when he made his surge at the halfway point. Barring a major injury or blowup, second was mine and so was a decent time. But, catching Eric, who is tall, long-legged and had great footspeed, was going to be infinitely harder now than if I had gone with him when he tried to surge.

With one mile to go, I was still about 10-15 seconds back and Leif was nowhere to be seen. There was a short window here where I thought I might be able to catch Eric but he is a short distance specialist and I would have never been able to take him if it came down to a sprint to the finish.
My last mile was in 5:02. So I finished strong but lost the race.

Race mistakes:
  1. Leif and I made things a lot easier for Eric by creating a great wall blocking the wind for him on the outbound half of the race. Eric was smart to stick behind us and let us do all the work.
  2. Not going with Eric at the halfway point. My inexperience at this distance gave me some hesitation as to what to do. I gave up too soon on trying to stay with him. Had I stayed with him, I may still not have won, but I would have known how much he really had left.

It's hard to focus too much on the mistakes when I PR'd by 1:35 and ran what would have been a course record if I had been the winner. Racing should always teach you something and make you a better and smarter runner the next time around. I need to be more confident in the strength that marathon training gives me and use that to my advantage.

I felt no residual soreness or fatigue from my marathon. That was a pleasant surprise.
As a side note, my 10-year-old son finished in 25:28, a PR by almost four minutes. I was very proud of him especially since he never trains.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Enough already!!! It's June and even by Seattle standards, this weather is awful. Every morning this week so far I have run in rain with temps in the mid- to lower 40s. At least my house isn't floating away...yet.

At least I am feeling good. Almost two weeks have passed since the Newport Marathon and I've definitely recovered much faster this time than ever before. I was able to run 55 or so miles last week and will hit mid 60s this week on my way back to the low to mid 80s. I would hit 18 this week if it weren't for the 10k I'm doing on Saturday in Fall City instead of the 18-mile long run I would otherwise do. It will be interesting to see if I have my race legs back yet. It's one thing to log a bunch of miles post marathon It's entirely different to run them fast.

But I am very anxious. My shortest race this year was my half marathon in Tacoma about six weeks ago. I crossed the 10k mark in that race at 33:00 flat which, sadly, was a PR. I would love to go sub-32:00 on Saturday. It looks like the weather will cooperate.

I've been asked by a few people to post some more detail into my non-running training regimen, meaning my core exercises, stretching and weight lifting. More to come on that soon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I'm Back

For the three and one-half readers (Mara, my Dad, my Mom and anyone else who accidentally stumbles onto the site) of my blog, I'm sorry for the almost six months of silence on my blog. I'm still running but slacked. I'm recommited to making regular entries from here on out.

Newport Marathon -- Race Report

Race: Newport Marathon (Oregon)
Start Time: 7:01am
Weather: 47 degrees, heavy overcast, no wind. PERFECT.

Marathons are a funny thing.

I woke up this morning after getting a pretty decent night's sleep, a bit nervous...for the first time. I've never gone into a marathon with the expectation of winning. On paper, I was the favorite, but as everyone on this blog knows, a lot can happen over 26.2 miles. So I was a bit nervous.

My reason for running this marathon was to win. Period. I picked this one because it is flat and fast and because the course record was a respectable 2:26 so I wasn't picking a backwoods marathon that could be won in anything under three hours.

My second goal was to break the course record. My third goal was to go sub 2:24. Why? Well, I have this problem. My St. George PR is 2:18:57. My non-St. George PR is 2:29. That disparity has bothered me a lot and has made me wonder how fast I really am. So even more than the victory, I was anxious to get this dual-PR monkey off my back.

Mission accomplished on all fronts.

I finished in 2:22:47, winning the race by nearly 20 minutes and shattering the course record, which earned me a $100. (I put $95 of that into my gas tank in Corvallis on the way home). More importantly, I ran a very solid time, narrowed the huge gap between SGM and my "other" PR and did so doing it completely alone wire to wire. Going into the race, I would have said that winning would bring the greatest joy from this race. I would have been wrong. Don't get me wrong. Winning my first marathon is huge and a longstanding goal that has now been accomplished. But running a near-OTQ qualifying (old standard) race all by myself was an enormous boost in confidence that may carry me much farther than the victory itself.

Here are my splits:

I've thought a but about what made this race so much better than my previous PR in Eugene in 2007 especially since Eugene was not any more challenging than Newport and because I had a group of guys to run with the whole race there.

Two early observations: (1) Hydration. For those who have read any of my previous marathon race reports, you know that getting enough fluid in my body has been an enormous challenge for me at the marathon distance. I finally figured it out. The line between too little water and too much is very, very fine. I promised myself this race that if I went down in flames it was going to be because I drank too much fluid not because I drank too little. Today, I was able to manage that very tricky balance perfectly. I had a few stomach cramps and aches along the way, but nothing that slowed me down. Interestingly, the only fluid I took was water with NUUN tablets in it and just plain water. None of that HEED crap. I also took one GU at 17 which was perfect. So no sport drinks, only one GU (100 calories) seemed to do the tricks. I estimate I had 60 or so ounces of fluid during the race. That is a PR by more than double. Sad I know. (2) Strength exercises. I felt fantastic during the whole race. When I crossed the finish line, I didn't really feel all that tired. I kept waiting for the proverbial wall but it never happened. From Mile 18 on I just took it two miles at a time and it worked well. The strength exercises really conditioned me in a way that I have never experienced before. I suspect my post-race recovery will be easier as well. I have more work to do here but my legs have never felt better during a race.

The race course is stunning. It's beautiful and except for a few rollers in miles 1-5 and again on the 26th mile, it's as flat as can be. St. George is a beautiful course in it's own right, but this is classic Northwest beauty.

I should also mention that the race logistics were second to none. Given the new time standards and the elimination of St. George and other aided courses, Newport is a very good candidate for those wanting to try to qualify for the Trials in 2011. All it would take is a pack of 5-10 runners to push each other along.

Miles 1-4 run through a state park with a cool lighthouse and then winds through the neighborhoods of Newport before dropping down to sea level and running through the fishing district. At 4.5, there is a steep uphill that lasts for about .15-.2 miles. I took it pretty conservatively. At the crest you begin a gentle downhill back to sea level to Mile 5. From there all the way to Mile 25, it is as flat as can be.

At the halfway point I felt great crossing in 1:11:15, 45 seconds faster than planned. The turnaround at 15.2 was a welcome sight. I have come to love out and back courses. The runners are always so awesome to cheer those heading back to the finish. It's also nice to know what you have ahead of you.

At Mile 17, all was well but in the back of my mind I was worried about Mile 20 which has been the usual point of my demise. To help me get around that, at Mile 19 I did the "just get yourself to Mile 21 and you will be fine." It worked. I don't even remember Mile 20. At 21 I was well under course record pace and mentally pushed myself to work hard to Mile 23. At 25, I was still running at a solid pace and feeling great. Mile 26 was a gentle uphill and slowed me down a bit. Mile 26 would have greatly benefited from having someone to run with. Breaking 2:23 was the only remaining time goal to shoot for so I wasn't exactly killing myself up the hill. Right at the 26-mile mark you have a steep downhill which my legs did not appreciate.

What a day. It's not very often you run 26 miles and accomplish even the loftiest of goals you set for yourself.