Posts Tagged 'Marathon'

San Luis Obispo Marathon 2013

I went to New York, but so did Sandy…

It was six am, and still dark. The only audible sounds were our footsteps and easy breathing as we ran easily, almost stealthily, down Monterey street in downtown San Luis Obispo. The only evidence that there was anything “official” about this collection of people dashing through the gloom were the flashing lights on a police motorcycle leading the way. After the music and rah-rahs back at the start area, we were on our way. Fear not, that’s all the poetry you’ll get out of me today.

My training for this race had been a little uneven, since I had been battling Plantar Fasciitis in my left foot for some months. By dint of rolling, stretching, compressing, resting, and simply waiting, it at last seemed to have retreated. This was my first goal marathon since, when was it, CIM 2011? Yikes. I went to New York, but so did Sandy, so there was no fall marathon for me.

Feeling optimistic, I created two pace bands. One for 3:15 and another for 3:20. In retrospect, a 3:25 might have been a good idea. We drove most of the course on the Saturday and I was alarmed at how hilly it was, more than it had appeared on the elevation profile. Lots of steepish little rollers. Forget that 3:15 band!
I also tried a geeky little experiment. When doing track workouts, I always check my 200 meter split to permit an early pace correction in each bout. Wouldn’t it be great if marathon courses had a 200 meter marker? Yes, I could pace by Garmin, but I really don’t like racing with it. It takes a while to settle down after the start anyway. I visited the start area and a volunteer helped find the course measurer’s mark where the start line would be. The distance to the first corner by Garmin: 171 meters. A little light math predicted that it should be reached in 47 seconds at goal pace.

… and then the inflatable start arch blew over.

Another looming problem was the weather forecast. No rain. and the temperatures should be comfortable, but a 25mph wind? Oh dear! It should be a tailwind for much of the first half, then a headwind for the return leg. Hopefully it would not reach full force in the morning whilst the race was in progress. It would be tempting to run fast with that tailwind, but I resolved to restrain myself and leave plenty of energy in the tank for that return trip.

The start was at 6 a.m. The corrals were self-policed and everything went smoothly as we walked up to the line, Dean Karnazes gave a little speech, and then the inflatable start arch blew over. Well not completely over, some volunteers righted it and held it in place, and we started.

Would I be able to get that pace check in the dark? Yes, thanks to a street lamp on the corner. 42 seconds. Wow, five seconds fast over less than 200m meters, that’s ridiculous. And I’ve probably been doing that for most of my races, this is just the first time I’ve measured that starting burst. I dialled it back and let a few runners ooze past. Here’s the lead woman, I really shouldn’t be in front of her! There’s visor guy, who had exchanged a few words in the start corral. I asked him what his goals were. “Oh, 3:20 to 3:30, I’ll see how it goes.” “Me too”.

We did a little loop around downtown, which was sheltered from the wind. I still had the motorbike in sight at mile one but lost it thereafter. We commenced the first uphill on the road out of town. Visor guy pulled ahead. Either I suck at hills today or he’s overdoing it. Probably both. We’ll see how that works out!
I was still ahead of the 3:20 pace band at this point, but was concentrating on conserving energy. No hard uphill running for me, not in the first half anyway.

I really do suck at hills today!

Even with the wind from behind, the rollers soon put me behind schedule, but this was not shaping up to be a by-the-numbers day. It was light now, and the vineyards looked pretty nice in the morning glow. A teenager up ahead kept me entertained. He had been running with the lead group, then stopped to tie his shoelace. I ran by, then he whizzed past on the next uphill. I passed him again at the next aid station, as he slowed to wrestle with a gel packet. Then he passed again. I eventually reeled him in on the straight and level, and he meekly let me go by, but was then stirred into fresh exertions on being passed by the third placed woman who was just behind me at that point. His surge was soon over, and we saw no more of him.

A little after mile 12 the course doubled back for about a mile and we could see who was ahead and behind. I was pretty sure there was no one in my age group in front of me, so that was OK. Dean Karnazes seemed to be having a fun time of it with the 3:40 pace group. The third placed woman was now ahead of me, perhaps I should try to catch her for something to do? The headwind was strong enough to be bothersome, so I tucked in behind a tall young runner for a while, then took my turn in front. Our two-man peloton soon caught up with 3W, who had fallen behind the group she was drafting behind. She ran behind me for a while until we came to an uphill that was sheltered from the wind, and away she went. So did tall guy. I really do suck at hills today!

We got into some flatter country where the headwind was quite strong. 3W had rejoined the group up ahead and I tried to do the same, but could not quite manage it. I had to endure the full blast for about two miles until we changed direction. At least it was not as strong as forecast. I was still feeling quite good, but a little sad about how slow I was going.

At mile 22 we reached the half-marathon turn-around point, and from here on would be passing slower half marathoners. Many of them were walking. This made it still relatively easy to pick out my fellow full marathoners. Here I had a lucky break, on being caught by two young guys, one tall the other wide. I drafted both of these two for a while, which felt like being on rollerskates after the previous stretch. The wind reduced as we approached town, which is in the lee of a large hill.

I came up with a guy who had passed me earlier. He wore a headband withe “For Keith” written on it. “Who is Keith?” I asked. “He was my good buddy who passed away six months ago.” “Oh, I’m sorry. For Keith then!” I punched the air and left him.

“You can die in about three miles”

The course went along a bike path, and as we reached the faster half marathoners, most of them were now running. This made it harder to spot the people I was racing against, and I was surprised to suddenly be running alongside W3 again. She gave a smile of recognition and announced “I want to die!”. I tried the pep-talk. “You can die in about three miles. There’s no wind now, and it’s downhill from there.” This was not entirely accurate, but she rallied for a while before abruptly falling behind. Next up was visor guy, who remarked “Looks like you were stronger than me after all” as I passed. Then W2, who had passed me at at mile 2 and gone out of sight. She was also fading, but perked up on learning that her second place was looking safe. Out on the streets again, amongst kids holding up signs, we passed a (buddhist?) monk beating a gong.

Oh no! I had seen this in the course video, then blotted it out of my mind. A tall bike/pedestrian bridge over the railway, with switchback ramps involving a series of 180 degree turns. I charged up this, my ragged breath giving the half marathoners plenty of warning of my approach. I only had to gasp out “On your left!” once. My legs felt like they might give way when I reached the top, but everything held up as I switchbacked down the other side.

All over bar the shouting. A few more blocks, then another bike path. A sharp little uphill, and the Madonna Inn finish line came into sight down a nice quarter mile downhill. There was Cathi hanging over the fence and yelling at me. Across the line and it’s done.

My time was 3:29:02. I was 37th overall (out of 600-odd) and won my age group by over 13 minutes. Not a bad result, but could I have run it faster? Probably. Even though I was passing people at the end I was fading myself. I had gone from low-to-mid 7-minute miles at the beginning to some 8-plus minute miles into the wind on the return leg.  My policy of conservative pacing in the first half paid off, but I could perhaps have done it even more. Also I was not all that fit. The Plantar Faciitis made for an uneven training cycle. The next one will be a lot better. I always say that.

As a footnote, that time is a 10-minute Boston Qualifier. I thought nothing of that at the time, but after the events in Boston, I would really like to run it next year. So would a lot of other people, and I think that margin will come in handy.


Oakland Marathon 2012

This was the second time I paced this race, again leading the 3:40 group. The first time was two years ago, and after carefully following the official terrain-corrected pace band, the group lost all its members anyway. This is not unusual, particularly on a hilly course. I have been marking the long runs for the LMJS marathon training group this year and so have had a marathon cycle of sorts, with not as many miles as I would run for a goal race.
I signed up to pace 3:40 again, but with two weeks to go I pulled an adductor muscle while at the furthest extremity of a 15 mile group run. Fortunately my marking duties were complete. I walked to the aid station and got a ride back to my car (Thanks Susan). After three days off and a very cautious return I was able to mark the 10 miler the following week. Phew!
We had the luxury of two other pacers in this group. Colin and Justinia were a young boyfriend/girlfriend team from the ultra-running world, and they showed up without pace bands. I was somewhat relieved by this, since I had created a custom band that differed from the “official” terrain-corrected bands. I would not now have to justify it since the alternative was a loosey-goosey Garmin average pace approach. Here is the course profile, courtesy of

Only one hill...

We tell our trainees “The good news is that there is only one hill. The bad news is that it’s 600 feet high.” But that is only half true. The profile above is smoothed, and conceals quite a few short rollers. My pace band had us reaching halfway in 1:51:05, a 2:10 negative split, twice as much as the official band.

Off we went, crossing the start line just a few seconds after the horn. Thanks to the tall buildings here, our Garmins gave some wild readings, so we just winged it for the time being. in the event, our pacing in the early miles was about right. As we started to go uphill, we gauged our pace to how hard our pacees seemed to be working. This may have been a mistake, as we started to fall behind the pace band. as we got to Lake Temescal about mile 6, a runner asked me: “Is this the top?”

“If I was evil I would say yes, but it isn’t. It does get more gentle for a while.”

So on we went. Colin took an amazingly quick pit stop and was back with us. The group seemed to have thinned out somewhat, and we were not even to 10 miles yet. My co-pacers were unfamiliar with the course, so I was briefing them too. Soon after a couple of miles of rolling hills we were  going up another steepish one. “OK, theres a sharp turn to the right,and a little steep bit, then that’s the top”. This was duly accomplished, and we briefly admired the view across the flatlands to the bay as we started downhill. I had two things to worry about now. The group was looking beat already, and we were now more than two minutes behind my pace schedule. The coddling would now have to cease, and we needed to get within striking distance of the schedule before we merged with the half marathoners at mile 17. We ran four consecutive sub-8 miles on the downhill. My friend Suzette who was with the group later commented that she realized at this point that she was not going to finish with us. We passed through reached halfway in 1:52:59. Oh dear, this was going to be a deep negative split, about six minutes. Time to boogie. We mostly ran low 8’s from then on. Justinia took a pit stop and did not catch up again.

We still had a group of sorts when we got to mile 17 and merged with the half marathoners. Their race had been going for around half an hour at that point, so the people we merged with were going quite a bit slower than us. We did not have much trouble running past them, but it was crowded enough that we could not keep track of the people following us.   I was keeping an eye on the pace band and it looked like we were going to just catch up with it by the finish. The half marathoners were getting faster as we moved up their field, and received us warmly, saying things like “Wow, go 3:40!”. The marathoners we passed would  greet up with something like “Oh crap, 3:40”. Nice to see you, too. We did pick up one woman who was targeting 3:40 but had been running ahead of us. She confessed she was now dying, but we chatted to her and she hung with us most of the way, managing a 3:40:xx finish time.

We didn’t match the pace band until mile 25, and by 26 we were 10 seconds ahead of it. There is a pronounced uphill the last two blocks, and we figured that would slow us down. Um, not really. Mt finish time was 3:39:42, so 18 seconds ahead. Well within the bounds of accuracy. I’m wishing I had gone a little faster up the big hill though. Amusingly, I finished second in my age group, just 17 seconds back from the age group winner.

California International Marathon 2011


This has been my fourth year in a row running CIM. The previous three have all produced PRs, so I was definitely returning to the trough for more. I had seemed to be slowing down in the spring, having run a 1:36 half marathon, and the Napa Marathon in 3:24.
So a I took a two week break, then worked up to lots of volume, 70-80 mile weeks, while also doing weekly track workouts. Another half would have been a good pointer to how things were going, but I never got around to it.
The arrows started to point up. I got a small PR in a tricky 10K at Lake Merritt. The two cross country races where I ran the same courses as last year were also course PRs.
So what would be a good goal, assuming conditions were suitable? Well Duh. I had been aiming for 3:15 last year and missed, so it was time to knock that down before it became an insuperable barrier in my mind. What else?

The New York Marathon is changing it’s rules for guaranteed entry times. They used to be just a little harder than Boston qualifications, but too many people were qualifying so they are toughening it up for 2013.  So for instance a man under 40 would need to run under 2:45, and I would need to get under 3:14. I have sometimes felt envious of those who have struggle to qualify for Boston. Not for the struggle part, but for the huge sense of achievement when they get it. My BQ time is 3:40, which um, lacks excitement. But 3:14 could be my reachable Holy Grail.

Last year I followed the 3:15 pace group, but eventually fell off it after some non-ideal pacing. The CIM course is easy to foul up on. The early downhills tempt a runner into going too fast, while the rolling hills are short enough to invite attacking at constant pace. This approach, while satisfying, burns precious fuel that needs to be conserved for the fast final miles.

My training was extemporized around a weekly framework. A track workout on Tuesday and something else challenging at the weekend, either a race, long run, or combination run with faster miles. Weekly mileage was in the 70s with the biggest week at 83.


Early in the program a suggestion had cropped up in the Runner’s World Online forum that I frequent, which I described to Cathi:
“CIM is on the morning of the 4th, the Las Vegas marathon is in the evening of the same day, and there’s a flight…”
“Hahahahaha!, I’ll go straight to Vegas and scrape up what’s left of you, then.”
“I’m not going to do it.”
But others would, and we had a get-together at the Spaghetti Factory on the Saturday evening. Some familiar faces were there, including James, who has run three or four marathons with me. “With” in this case means “Some considerable distance on front of”, but we seem to have a knack for bumping into one another at expos. He was doing the double, and was planning to run CIM at about 3:20 to leave something in the tank for Las Vegas. 3:20 was considered the cutoff for making the plane. At the dinner he was talked into trying for a PR (sub-2:58), then risking total flameout in the evening. Excellent advice as it turned out. Steve, who was doing his own version of the double, arrived to applause. He had run the North Face 50-miler in Marin that morning, cutting nearly two hours off his previous year’s time, and would be running Las Vegas the next day. In the company of these people, the prospect of attempting to PR at 26.2 the next day lost all it’s gravitas. It was as if I were about to run a 10K turkey trot. There were some new faces present, including Joel, about whom more later.

The Race

It was clear, chilly and windless in Folsom that morning. Predictably I ran into James at the bag drop. He showed me his well-stuffed CIM drop bag. “Everything is in there, street clothes, phone, everything.” Wow, talk about traveling light. He headed forward while I lined up near the 3:15 pace group. I asked the leader if he was the same guy that had led this group last year. No. I considered this excellent news.
I hung back a little as we surged to the line, wanting to take care of my own pacing until the pace leader proved himself. Even at a runners race like CIM there are a few rubes who start too close to the front, and once I’d weaved though them I was about 30yards back from the pace leader’s stick. Perfect. Nothing to do but relax, think about good form on the downgrade, and keep an eye on that stick. I was not wearing my Garmin, having reverted to the old-school method of stopwatch and pace-band (7:25 per mile, 3:14:27 finish). Nothing to obsess over until that first mile marker came into view. This pace felt more like casual group run than a race. What a lovely morning!
The leader was scoring points with me. There was an abrupt little rise just before the first mile marker, and he slowed quite a bit. First mile 7:35, so far so good. now for the real test. I missed the mile 2 marker, but mile 3 (22:30) revealed he had given up a little bit more and was in no big hurry to claw back those seconds. Excellent! I moved up level with him, complimented him on a good job, and looked around to see if I recognized anyone. Ther was Joel. He was a very fast runner at shorter distances who had yet to run a satifactory marathon. On top of that he had had a dose of strep throat that week. “Hi. How are you feeling?” “”Pretty good at the moment, but I always hit the wall at 23 miles.” “Don’t say always, say up till now.” I advised. The only other runner whose name I knew was because she had felt-tipped it down the sides of her legs. “Go Brittany!” “Ha! Apparently they don’t do that here.” She was from Detroit.

We ticked off the miles over the rolling terrain, 7:16, 7:28, 7:24, 7:25, gradually homing in on the 7:26 average required for 3:15. The leader knew the course well, and would loudly announce upcoming hills and aid stations. After the first relay handover point I found myself ahead of the group and went on autopilot for a little while, then I discovered I could not see the stick behind. Oops, this was too early to be leaving the group, no matter how comfortable I felt. I wanted to make solid sure of beating 3:15 before trying for anything faster. I tried to relax and pretended I was driving a car on empty. Just enough gas pedal to get up this hill, don’t pass that guy, coast down the other side. Relax, relax… After about two miles of this the group caught me again, and I stayed with them for quite a while. 7:33, 7:27, 7:14, 7:23 to mile 11.

I missed mile 12, but mile 13 was 14:49 (7:25 average), and we reached the half in 1:37:16. Still able to do basic math at this point, I thought Hey, we’re now ahead of 3:15 pace, how’d he do that?  Gradually. We were right on my 3:14-and-a-half pace band.

Things got more purposeful now. While the pace was still comfortable, there would be no inadvertent drifting ahead anymore. My disposable water bottle finally ran out at mile 15. One unexpected problem had come up. My gels were in a small 4 oz. flask so that I could avoid the whole rip, squish, sticky fingers dance. Usually I diluted them a little bit but this time I had wanted to get the maximum gooey goodness into the flask. Big mistake. I had to squeeze really hard to get any out, and ended up only consuming about half of the contents. Oh well.  Joel was running a little ahead of the group, and I joined him. “I seem to have got ahead of the plan” He said. Without really discussing it we dropped the pace slightly and started passing people.

7:19, 7:17, 7:19 to mile 16, speeding up a little now than most of the rollers were behind us. My friend Karen, out to support several LMJS runners in the race, intercepted my headband and gloves as I dropped them in front of her. She later commented “They skidded right past me. I was amazed at how fast you were going”

7:17, 7:17, 7:18, 7:20 (some uphill there) to mile 20. Joel was quite entertained by the ‘wall’ archway that we ran through at mile 20, with the grim reaper capering beside the course.

7:17, 7:17, 7:15 to mile 23. The hill to the bridge was the last uphill of any significance, So we just punched over it. This late phase of a race where you are passing people has been described as “assassin mode”. You pick out a runner, reel them in, pick out the next one, etc. This was not so much assassination as massacre, we were passing dozens and dozens of runners. It was good to have someone to run with to help keep a steady pace amongst all these slower runners. Joel was overjoyed not to have experienced the wall this time. “It’s a modern miracle” he exclaimed, and dropped the pace quite a bit. This was faster than I wanted to go, so he waved goodbye and tore off at sub-7 pace.

On my own now, it was time to do some serious work in the last three-plus miles. The pace band put me in sub 3-14 territory but my brain was now in innumerate mode and I wanted to make sure. At one point I had had to remind myself “Er, number on watch lower than number on band, that’s good, right?” The course did a quick left-right onto Sacramento’s L street. Brittany brushed elbows as she took the inside on the second turn. Assassinated! She must have been chasing us hard for several miles. Having passed me she faded a little and I was soon in front again. I saw from the results she finished a few seconds back, so must have witnessed what happened next.

Back at mile 18 or so Joel had remarked “These bottles are a life saver.” My response: “Er yeah. Wait, what? Bottles?”. Since my hand-held ran out I had been drinking from the little cups held out by the volunteers and had failed to notice a table at each station stacked with 12oz water bottles. Thus alerted, I guzzled two of them in the next five miles which turned out to be too much. After the 24 mile marker the queasiness set in. Uh oh. Please go away, I have a race to finish here. I fought for control but it got worse. That mile was unsurprisingly a bit slower at 7:24. By the 25 mile marker it was obvious I was going to be sick. I thought about Meb Keflezighi, who stopped to spew at mile 18 before running a PR at New York this year. Do I have to stop? let’s find out… After a some preliminary sputters, about half a pint of water/gel mix came out in a neat stream and hit the roadway. None on my shirt, Whoohoo! I was going though the final aid station at the time. My sincere apologies to the volunteers and to Brittany for that grossness. The effort of doing it made my head swim, but I felt better after slowing for a few seconds and started running hard again. That was one of my fastest miles at 7:15.

The remaining .2 was disposed of in 1:35 (7:12 pace). I saw Cathi yelling at me in the last 100 yards. She was startled at my slightly early arrival and failed to get a picture. I saw 3:13:low on the finish clock and felt very much better coming up to the line. Someone was handing out cartons of chocolate milk, and I chugged one right down.


So: 3:13:14 chip time with a 1:12 negative split. Mission accomplished. Joel must have really hauled ass after leaving me, since he managed a 3:10. I found him with his friend Rachel (3:05) from Australia, gleefully reading splits from their Garmins. I had failed to notice training buddy Bob quietly tailing the 3:15 group. He got a 3:14 PR.
And the Vegas-bound crew? Gone when I got there. James ran a 2:55, Matt a 3:01, Kevin 3:02, all PRs. Paul, whose crazy idea that had been. missed the flight to Sacramento and only ran Vegas. That was a terrible race, so it it was just as well that they slow-jogged it.

Santa Rosa Marathon 2011

The Santa Rosa Marathon is smaller than most – they only got the course certified this year – and is run in attractive surroundings along the banks of Santa Rosa Creek, with around 500 runners each for the full and half marathons. I wanted to try a smaller marathon, and also see what results my current self-designed training program was producing. This mostly consists of high mileage, some track work, and short marathon-pace runs up to 10 miles. My peak week was 90 miles.

We stayed in the Marriott, which is a few minutes walk from the start area. This was a good move since I had no need to join the long potty lines in the park.

I met up with Carrie, an online running friend who lives in the area who had first suggested this race to me. She had recently lost her Garmin and was missing it, so we agreed to run together for the first part of the race.

The organizers were attempting to line up the faster runners (with the women ahead of the men for some reason), but were hampered by the sound system which kept cutting out. In the confusion Carrie ended up two rows in front of me, then we were off. I went out fairly fast in order to catch her up, and could see her looking around for me. “I asked a guy what pace we were going, and he said 6:50, so I thought I’d better slow down a bit.” she explained.

A word on paces. Carrie’s everything-goes-perfectly goal of sub-3:10 would be 7:15 minutes:seconds per mile pace, mine of sub-3:15 would be around 7:26. I was not particularly wedded to that goal though, as the real goal marathon is CIM in December. I really wanted to get some feedback on my training in a full-length race. I had set the Garmin to auto-split at 1.01 miles to compensate for running imperfect tangents, and that came out about right. Those are the mile times I use here, which are somewhat slower than the paces displayed at the time.

After a few hundred yards on the streets we turned onto the trail alongside Santa Rosa Creek. This is a multi-use path, concrete for the early part, which dips under each of the bridges that cross the creek. That first mile came out about right: 7:21 including a little bit of acceleration at the start.Then we got faster: 7:18, 7:06, 7:11, with little surges when we were passing other runners. The Garmin was actually displaying a sub-7 number for a minute or two during this, of which we were both skeptical. Carrie: “It must be the trees. I’m still talking and I don’t think I would be at that pace.”  I was having a good time at this speed, However it was guaranteed that I would be in difficulties if I stayed at this pace much longer. Carrie was looking strong, though, running with impeccable form.

Soon we crossed over the creek for the first time – under the bridge, 180% turn, up the ramp, 90% turn, over the bridge, 90% turn, down the ramp onto the first unpaved section. “Here you go Jim!” Carrie knew I had been apprehensive of the unpaved parts. This softer going did indeed increase the effort level a bit and after a few minutes I decided it was time to dial it back and gradually dropped behind. Carrie seemed to have found her pacing groove now. I let a small cluster of about five runners pass me and then followed them. This was a little lazy of me as they turned out to be poor pacers. They were slowing down already at mile 6, and I fell into a slower groove: 7:20, 7:36, 7:42. They were probably half-marathoners who had gone out too fast. That was stupid of me. I tried to speed up again, picking off the stragglers from the group which was now coming apart. But what with the bridge crossings and gravel, I stayed in the 7:40s all the way to the halfway point. Apart from a few at the aid stations, there had been no spectators out on the trail, so it was nice to be among people again in the start-finish area. A volunteer pointed to a prominent bump in the trail, calling out “Be careful!” Carrie told me later that she had fallen at this spot on her way through. Aha!

 People shake their heads about double-loop marathon courses on the grounds that it’s soul-destroying to head back out onto the same course again. In fact it was just fine, I was now running a familiar course! It was a thinly populated one now that the half-marathoners had gone. I got into a pattern: See a runner up ahead (sometimes two), reel them in, pass them, look for the next victim. I ran the second half slower than the first, but it felt fast because of all the passing I was doing. There is a proportion of marathoners who start to slow down soon after halfway, providing a plentiful supply of people to pass. Since you do not get to see the runners ahead who are maintaining pace, this creates the illusion that you are speeding up and passing everyone on your way to a glorious come-from-behind win. The Garmin exposed the lie by revealing how slow I was in fact going, still in the 7:30s and 40s, with a couple of 7:5x miles where bridge crossings and aid stations were involved. My legs confirmed that they were quite liking this speed thank you very much. They should have been hurting just a little by this point! I rationalized my lassitude by telling myself that I needed to recover quickly after this race to start training for CIM. My age-group position (whatever it was) seemed secure at this point. I had been studying the other runners at the turnarounds. There was one balding guy who looked about the right age, so I asked him how old he was when I caught him. 50-54 age group, it turned out. My bright response to this information: “I’m 56, so you don’t need to worry about me.” was supposed to be good news, but on reflection was probably a cruel blow. Balding Guy, sorry about that if you are out there reading this. Talking to runners as you pass them is something of a minefield. Even an encouraging remark can seem like irony. Oh well.

Coming up to the turnaround at 19 miles, I was surprised to see a young woman who had passed me very strongly in the first half. She heard me coming and put up a fight, surging for a minute or so. I held pace and simply oozed on by when she faltered.

Nice run in the country.

Nearing the finish. Not a crowded race!

And that was about as dramatic as it got. The only time I was passed in the entire second half was by a pair of young guys at mile 23 who were going pretty fast. I surmised they must have started late and were pacing for 3:10 or thereabouts. I could not find any late-starters ahead of me in the results though, so they must simply have been running a strong negative split.

Mile 25: “Oh, we’re nearly there”

Mile 26: “Dammit, I could do with another half mile to catch that next guy!” (But I beat him on chip time)

So, chip time 3:21:53. Half splits were 1:38:53 and 1:42:59, which is quite a big positive split, even though I moved up 18 places in the second half. I can blame some of that on the zippy first four miles, but it was fun having a Carrie’s-eye view of the race for a little while. But mostly there was no incentive to beat myself up in the second half. About 5 minutes off a PR, but encouraging nonetheless. I took home a bottle of wine for winning my age group. Carrie also won her AG, and was 4th female with a  3:12.

Race: Napa Valley Marathon 2011

Race: Napa Valley Marathon 2011

This is the first time I’ve run the Napa marathon, although I’ve heard good things about it and had it on the list. I’ve had a persistent cold lately and was not feeling very fast, so had trouble deciding on a goal pace for the race. A PR seemed unlikely, but I noticed that a 3:20-ish finish would have been good enough to place in my age group in some previous years. I decided to head out at 7:40 pace (3:20 finish time) and see what developed. I was in an experimental mode, and trying several new things in this marathon. I have had trouble eating gels while running and usually only manage two or three of them. This time I had four diluted gels in a small flask which was much easier and did not make my fingers sticky. This worked really well, and now I can experiment with different mixes.
Experiment number 2 was the Garmin. I’m reluctant to use it in races because it’s a lot more to think about than a simple split timer. I used it this time because I really wanted to record my heartrate for future trining purposes, and to see if the “average pace” display would be a reasonable no-brains way to keep track of pace.

We had dinner the evening before with some of my online buddies. James, who has been running for just two years, was shooting for his first sub-3:00, and Amy was also gunning for a PR in the low 3:0x area. Carrie, who was looking for an improvement on her 3:10 at CIM, had gone and injured herself in the last week playing a computer dance game and seemed a likely DNF. She planned to start anyway in case of a miracle recovery.

James, Amy, Carrie, Me (Lit by someone else's flash)

The buses deposited us on the Silverado Trail – despite the name it is a road – at the edge of Calistoga while it was still dark. Two rows in front of me on the bus were two older guys, one of whom had been talking nonstop the whole trip. I found this a little wearing and filtered it out, but I gathered that this guy had run a whole lot of races. I was glad to get out into the gentle rain. The temperature was comfortable. The drop bags – choice of duffle or backpack, were the best I’ve received from any race. My bus was one of the early ones so I got to the porta-potties while the lines were just forming, so no problems there. Some later arrivals had to get creative in this department, the announcer even suggested the oak tree! There was a vineyard nearby, but at this time of year the vines were bare and provided no cover. A few trees and bushes saw good service I think. It was light by the time we started at seven.

With no pace groups, start corrals or pace guide markers at Napa, lining up is somewhat chancy. I probably put myself too far back, since I had to pass quite a few runners in the first half mile. After a bit of weaving, I found the edge of the road had fewer runners and was easier to navigate. Unusually for a rural road, the Silverado Trail has bike lanes and is thus quite wide. We had the whole width to play with, and it seemed that many runners stayed clear of the bike lanes because of the camber.
Mile 1 is slightly downhill and was slightly fast despite the manoeuvring. We were mostly sorted out by then and I eased up slightly. I heard a familiar droning voice, and the two guys from the bus came past me at a good clip. I was impressed, they appeared to be in their 60s. I hoped they were, anyway. I was already looking out for people who might in my age group. One such was playing cat and mouse with me already. He was studiously avoiding the bike lanes, even crossing over to the outside of the curves on the uphills to reduce the gradient. He passed me on each uphill, but so did everybody. My uphill running was just terrible, which just shows how quickly you can lose something if you don’t keep at it. I was trotting past him on the downhills though. that’s more of a skill than a muscle-strength thing, and I still had that going for me. Miles 2-3 were slower thanks to the hills, then I got back on track with in the next two miles.
This became the pattern for most of the first half. It rained harder for a while which caused me some concern about my choice of shoes. My Brooks Green Silence, new for this race, are lightweight shoes with a lower heel than most, and a novel tongue-less lacing arrangement. These features were just fine, but there’s a very shallow tread pattern which made for some splashing. The roomy toe box had some water squishing around inside too. For a while I was running with the same set of people.
Around mile 12 a tall young guy in a red shirt came by. It had stopped raining, but there was a noticeable headwind. I tucked in behind him and drafted for about two miles. He betrayed no awareness of my presence – my feet were now quietly dry – but I let him go around mile 13. This burst of speed pulled me away from anti-tangent guy and the others I had been running with, and I never saw any of them again. This was good because my speed had been lagging somewhat.

An unusual feature of this race is that you can have your own bottles placed on a table at aid stations that you designate. I did not use this but I did glance at the bottle tables. The secret seems to be to have a short stumpy bottle, because those get placed at the front. Some aid stations only had a half-dozen bottles while others had thirty or more, so it helps to pick non-obvious aid stations for your pickups. It generally seemed workable though. I did just fine with the cups, and the volunteers were really good, often jogging a few steps to ease the transfer.

Now that we were into the second half, it was time to push a little, and I started picking off occasional runners. Red shirt passed me again – huh? pit stop? He was going quite fast after his little breather so I did not follow this time. I was passing some other runners though. As the miles advanced I started to push harder. My splits show that I did not really speed up, but it sure seemed like it. I was overhauling runners whom I had not seen since mile 1, including a couple of age-group likelys. Hey, I was even catching Red-shirt! He walked though an aid station and was gone.

There is a very gradual uphill from mile 19 to just past mile 20, and without many runners around I just had to work it myself. At the crest there was a view of the coming downhill and of nearly three miles of road ahead. Hm, cluster of runners a short way ahead, looks like at least two older guys in it, then dribs and drabs, another cluster about a mile away. dont think I’ll be catching them… I set to work catching the group ahead. Any guys with grey in their hair must die! That’s two disposed of, I can see two more, work, work… The other people that got passed were just collateral damage. I was enjoying this. In no time at all we were at mile 23 where the course abruptly left the Silverado Trail and went on a winding gentle uphill. I had been warned that this section really takes the wind out of peoples sails, so I pushed hard. There’s a walker, being passed by a couple of older guys. One of them is taking about something. Hey, it’s those guys from the bus, and they really flew away from me at the start! “Looking strong” I said going by, “Nice work” came the response.
Another straight road with trees either side, more runners, and a couple of walkers, to pass, and here were a knot of supporters. They started whooping at this solitary runner, and I felt like quite a star. With limited road access to the course, we saw these clusters of spectators every few miles. Some looked familiar, since they had been moving from pace to place. One woman was holding a large sign: “NICE LEGS”, and shouting “Marathon runners are sexy!”. On spotting her again, I pointed at my thigh and gave a thumbs up. “Yeaaah, that’s what I mean!” she cried.

Another straight, another corner and we transitioned from rural to suburban streets in the last mile. I overhauled two more runners, then heard footsteps behind. Was one of them coming back? No, it was a twenty-something guy, the first person to pass me in about 14 miles. I was miffed. More corners. Where the heck is the finish? Vintage High school came in to view, and we crossed the road towards it. Time to start kicking. I was plainly not the only one with that thought, as another young guy came flying by. Where did he come from? I managed a sub-7:00 spurt in the last quarter mile, but there was no catching him. At the finish, the volunteers kindly enquired if I was feeling all right, hung a medal on me, and pointed me towards the refreshments.

James got his sub-3 (by 6 seconds), Amy got a big PR at 3:04, and Carrie called it a day after just a quarter mile. No miracle recovery for her. Me? 3:26:06, 3rd in my age group. Nearly 10 minutes slower than CIM just three months prior. I had abandoned the dictates of the timepiece and paced most of the race by feel, arriving at the halfway point in 1:41:16 or so. This would have set me up for a negative-split 3:20 but I was just not that fast. The ingredients are equal parts: Poor health, compromised training, the weather, and the self-fulfilling knowing-I-was-slow bugaboo. Throw in a minute or two for the course, which is a little slower than CIM. Never mind, I still really enjoyed this race.

Coming up: Two weeks rest, and a short-race-appropriate training program, then some shorter races.

Race: California International Marathon 2010

“Go three fifteen! Men’s thirty-five to thirty-nine Boston qualifiers! Yeeahhh!”

This information-laden cry of encouragement was shouted from the side of the road about mile after the start, and prompted a train of thought.

That’s a mouthful. No wonder he’s getting a little hoarse… Yes I’m running with all these younger guys… My BQ time is 3:45, what the **** am I doing here?

What I was doing was taking another crack at sub-3:15. This was the culmination of an 18 week training cycle during which I had felt pretty strong, although the mileage volume was not any larger that I had been doing in previous marathons. Perhaps this was a case of repeating the same actions and hoping for different results, but I was hopeful for a PR, and perhaps sub-3:15 finish. Unlike last year the weather was almost perfect. The threatened rain was holding off, and it was (just) warm enough to wear a singlet. I added some arm-warmers made from long socks with the toes cut off (warmer than expensive ones from running stores) and gloves. The idea was not to try and over-think the pacing over the terrain, but just to run flat splits. And so I decided to run with the 3:15 pace group.

We got across the line a few seconds after the gun or horn or whatever it was, and had to weave past some slowcoaches who had positioned themselves near the front. These folks often seem to have buddies with them, and run two or three abreast. Oh well. I connected with the 3:15 pacer who at this point was only a few yards behind the 3:10 guy. The combined group made for quite a crowd, so I held back a little and got some elbow room. The first mile was mostly downhill.

OK. This feels fine. Not super-easy but OK. It’ll be easier when I’m warmed up.

The 3:10 pacer seemed to be taking it easy for the first couple of miles. This is a reasonable approach, but seemed to be cramping 3:15’s style a bit. We stayed right on their tail until the mile 2 marker when they abruptly accelerated. Our average pace should be 7:26. First two miles 7:38, 7:36.

We were now clawing back that time and more: 7:08, 7:03, 7:09. This was not comfortable. After an aid station I found myself next to the leader. “Um, we did a fast couple of miles there.” “Yes, sorry about that. I get a little carried away on the downhills. I’ll pay it back.”

So much for flat pacing. Running three consecutive miles at close to my half-marathon pace may just have dropped my 3:15 goal into the Cuisinart, and we haven’t even reached 10K yet!

I was carrying a small disposable water bottle which was a boon at the early aid stations. I simply ran down the middle while everyone else ducked in and slowed for their cups. It lasted until the first relay handover at mile 6. I would usually come out in front of the group and let the leader gradually come by me. The arm-warmers? A spectator ducked as they flew past his head. I was getting over-warm, if anything. The pace settled down: 7:22, 7:19, 7:25, 7:25. I thanked the leader for these last two, and we promptly ran a 7:19 before dialing it back: 7:26, 7:34, 7:25.

The big experiment of the day were the road flats on my feet. Brooks T6 Racers are only recommended for up to half-marathon distance, but I find running in them so pleasurable that I took the chance. Apart from being lightweight they give tactile feedback of how my feet are landing which helps me to run efficiently. That’s the theory, anyway.

I reached the half in 1:36:41, about 49 seconds ahead of flat pace, so things were not looking too bad in aggregate, The goal was now simple: Stay with the group as long as I could, and to the end if possible. My legs and feet felt fine for now.

A fellow Brooks-ID member in the group, Tony, asked me how I was feeling. “OK, not terrific. You?” “Not too good”. He did seem to be working hard, and I wondered how long he would stay with the now-shrinking pace group. I suppose the faster Boston Qualifying pace groups attract more than their fair share of optimists. Miles 14 through 20: 7:29, 7:23, 7:19, 7:32, 7:21, 7:34. I fell a little behind the group in mile 18, but reeled them back in during the next mile. Tony was gone and we were now down to a half-dozen or so. Next two miles: 7:32, 7:33. He was paying back some time, but this provided little relief. At around mile 22 I fell behind again, my fade was starting in earnest.  The group was now small enough that they were weaving through the slower runners as a unit There were plenty of slower runners to pass. mostly young guys. I kept my attention on the group and tried to ignore the other runners, in order to keep my own speed up. 7:43, 7:50 – losing sight of them now. This really hurts. I’ll give up marathoning, or at least give it a rest for a while (I always say that) – 7:58, 8:03. Ah, the blessed 26 mile marker and turn to the finish. I managed a slight kick, covering the last .2 at 7:39 pace.  Chip time 3:16:35

50 yards to go

50 yards to go

So I missed my 3:15 goal, but I’m not upset about it. Most of the shortfall was due to the pacing which was less than ideal for me.  I’ll run solo in future, and I need to work on that fade. I’ll up the miles in the next training cycle. The shoes? The firmness was not too welcome in the final miles, so I’d say that the advantage of light shoes is diminished at the marathon distance. My calves are still sore days later, which might well be the shoes. I’ll try going up a notch, to the Brooks Green Silence next time.

CIM is near.

I’ve noticed that some marathoners seem to shed items as they go, like rockets on the way to orbit. Gloves, arm-warmers, drink bottles, food wrappers, and so forth.
After some thought, I’m going to join them. My policy on drinking up to now has been to tank up immediately before the start, so I can skip the first aid station. I would use a disposable water bottle, and get rid of it when entering the start area.  Now I’m going to take that bottle with me for the first few miles. I’m unused to handhelds, So I’ve been practicing this week, putting on gloves while running without dropping it My bottle has a duct-tape handle, which makes life a lot easier.

So I have a pacing plan that involves starting out at 7:35/mile and accelerating. I’ll reach the half in 1:38.xx and blow past the 7:15 pace group at about mile 22. If I fall behind the plan, catching them by the finish will be the challenge du jour.
This would get me there in 3:14:xx, but it’s a rather large 2:3x negative split. I probably wont stick to it exactly, It’s more of a reminder to take it easy and not weave through the runners in the first few miles. That part will hopefully come at the end.

Or I could just run with the 3:15 pace group. 😉

CIM has tracking for the first time, And they seem to have been testing it today. Imagine my surprise to discover that I’ve already run it, and finished in 2:59:46! That data is gone now. If you’re interested, there’s a prominent link on the home page at Last name: Eckford.

Race PRs

5K20:43 (LMJS 6/28/09
12K54:36 (Across Bay 3/21/10)
15K1:09:51 (LMJS 19/27/09)
Half1:31:28 (Kaiser 2012
Marathon 3;13:14 (CIM '11)


July 2018
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