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:

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 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 had another race to get to. 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.