Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Off Track

(, on which I track my miles, asked users to upload their
least flattering running photo. Here's mine, from the finish of a 5K at
my old high school in August 2008. In my defense, I ran a 24:43, a PR at the time)

I've ran twice now in the two weeks since the marathon, and I've got to get my groove back. I did run another pretty quick 7 miles today, but it's just not the same without a huge terrifying race looming over me. I would have gone out yesterday, but I skipped it with a mild ankle sprain that I almost certainly would have toughed out during my training.

Wanting to apply all my lessons learned from Shamrock, I'd been leaning toward signing for the Bob Potts Marathon in York, PA on May 15. I talked to my training group's coach at our celebratory happy hour last night, and she quickly put the lid on that idea -- in her opinion I was just asking for injury by signing up for another Spring marathon.

I know people do it...and it's probably not the best of ideas for them, either, but I guess for a noob like me there's some added risk.

If you're reading this and looking for a race, the Bob Potts Marathon does sound like a really excellent marathon, unless a huge crowd is part of the appeal. It's supposed to be flat and fast and a good Boston Qualifier...which I'm an hour and half away from even worrying about.

I'll probably be at the 5K.

So, my dumb idea is down the drain. Don't worry, though, I have another dumb idea to replace it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Back on the Roads

After taking 5 days off where I didn't run farther than 10 feet (in pursuit of cats), today was my first day back on the roads. I could tell at first that my legs were still a bit tired from the marathon or disuse, but it felt good to be running again.

I put in 7 miles in just under 1:05, which is a very nice pace for me. It was an enjoyable run, with a brisk wind, and on some streets I would freeze, and then on others where I was out of the wind it felt very sunny and warm. It was strange, for the first time, to be running without being in training for something. If I wanted to go 5 miles, I could stop at 5. If I wanted go 18, I could go 18...except I probably need to take it a bit easy a few more weeks before I try a run that long.

But the point stands, there's no pressure to run a certain amount of miles.

Except, I have a stupid idea.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

That Was Scary...

I just want to say thank you to everyone who has stopped by or commented in the past few days. I've had over 100 page views this week, by far the best ever here at EYD. It's probably because people are looking for legitimate sites about the Shamrock Marathon or the Kelly Shamrock 5K and they find this blog by mistake.

Even so, I really appreciate the readership. This was not a number I wanted to be stuck on.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, Part 3: Performance Reviews

I decided to do one final* installment of my race report, in which I'll review the 2011 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon as an event in and of itself, and then shift gears to grade my own performance and talk about my lessons learned.

2011 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon
In short, there's nary a bad word to be said about the event. Communication prior to the trip was clear and instructive, the expo was well-organized, packet pickup was fast and easy, a good selection of merchandise was available, and Virginia Beach is a fun destination.

On race day, other than the race being pushed back 15 minutes (terrifying at the time but really not a big deal), everything about the event seemed to go well. The starting area was well organized despite the absence of official corrals, announcements were easy to hear, and the waves went off smoothly.

The course itself mostly lived up to its billing of being flat, although like I said in my review most of the last third of the race was a gradual uphill. Volunteers with water and Gatorade were cheerful and abundant, support from the crowd was great, and J&A racing and/or volunteers tried to make even the more desolate parts of the course less so through joke signs, DJs, and even a band. The boardwalk provided some great scenery in the middle of the race and then served as a terrific finishing spot.

The post-race party was great, by far the best I've ever been to. (At least at Baltimore you get free beer, too!) Great music, great food, and FREE BEER.

In summary, the marathon turned out to be a lot more fun that I thought it would be, and I credit a lot of that to having this one as my first one.

Grade: Significantly Exceeds Expectations

I laid out my goals for the race: To finish, to run the whole thing, and hopefully to finish around 4:30. Don't get me wrong -- I'm thrilled with the race and happy with my performance, but I didn't meet all of my objectives.

I didn't run the whole thing, which was important to me, which led to not finishing when I thought I'd finish, which wasn't as important to me in and of itself. Like I said, I'm not kicking myself and I'm happy with my effort. I just think there are some things I can do differently if there is a next time:

  • Get in more, and longer long runs. My best runs were a 17.5 at the end of January and an 18 at the end of February, right before my taper. If I could have gotten in a few more of that distance and 1 or 2 20 milers in, I think I would have had a better chance. Not to make an excuse, but I missed on these because of my knee -- before my IT band flared up I was right where I was supposed to be on my long runs. Hopefully, with better stretching and PT exercises I can keep it from acting up again.
  • More speed training -- this is the one thing I really can say that I didn't work hard enough -- or at all -- on. I just didn't make it down to the track workouts with the group or make them up on my own. Maybe that would have made me faster, and more importantly maybe it would have helped build up leg strength for when I really needed it on those last several miles.
  • Better nutrition -- Sport Beans have been my standard in-race nutrition, but it seems like they didn't really help me on Sunday. I'm not sure if I should have eaten more of them (I brought 3 packs and ate only 1), started eating them much earlier in the race (I don't think I started eating them until mile 8 or 9 -- since on a run of less than 10 miles I don't usually even bother with them), both, or if I should try GU or Clif Bars or some other food while I run. Maybe I can fill my running pouch with penne ala vodka.
  • Strength training -- As running has taken up more of my time, I've neglected other exercising, such as the lifting I've done on and off since college and pretty consistently for the last six years. Even then, there wasn't a lot of leg work -- that's what's running is for, after all. I'm doing the exercises I learned in PT to strengthen the knee and add core strength, but I wonder if more strength training for the legs would made the difference.
  • Better pacing -- Based on watching Garmin, I think I probably was going too fast from miles 6-15 when I was running with my new friend Ralph, but then I pulled ahead when he started to get into the zone a bit more. I felt great at this point, was super confident, and I think I neglected to notice that maybe things felt so easy because the course was subtly downhill, not because I'm awesome. I think I need to do a better job watching my pace and reminding myself to go slower during the middle part of the race when I'm deep enough into my run to be warmed up and loose, but not so far yet to be exhausted yet. Ralph caught and passed me later in the race, probably due to due to the combination of better endurance and better pacing.
  • Strategic walk breaks -- I don't want to walk at all. To clarify, if I walk my water breaks or while I'm filling my bottle or if I have to use the port-o-potty or even stop to stretch, that's ok. But, I walked more than I wanted to. However, I wonder if once I decided that a walking break was unavoidable, if I could have avoided the excruciating 3.5ish mile run/walk and gotten back some strength in my legs if I'd just walked for 10 minutes, or 1 mile. I'd have made that trade if it would have allowed me to run the rest of the way. I ended up walking most of 24, but it was too late at that point.
  • Technology -- I debated between my beloved watch and my not-so-beloved Garmin, and in the end chose Garmin, since I could watch my pace. Really, I'm not so sure it helped, and it's always infuriating when Garmin is out of sync with the official distance. Perhaps I should have just worn my watch, which has brought me luck in two half marathons.

    More clearly, though, I should have brought my Shuffle. I'm used to running without it, since visibility is a concern in my usual running spots, and I elected not to bring it in my pouch so that I could carry all the extra Sport Beans that I didn't eat. On one hand, I wanted to be able to chat with other runners if they're so inclined, hear and interact with the crowd and entertainers, and experience the atmosphere of my first marathon. But on the other, when I was running through Fort Story, out of gas and far from the crowds, it would have been nice to be able to crank up Blink-182.

In summary, I think through better management of the IT Band (and assuming good luck w/other injuries), better long runs, speed training, and better pacing I can do better in a future marathon. I'm happy with how I did at Shamrock; I gave everything I had and shattered my personal best, but I'm just not quite satisfied.

I don't think there's a Boston Qualifier in my future, and I'm very ok with that, but I think I can take what I've learned and get myself down around 4:30 and keep in an approximation of running for the whole race.

Meets some expectations.

*Though this the last intended part of my race report, I do reserve the right to post pictures from Virginia Beach or of post race swag if I run out of things to blog about now that my marathon is over -- "Earn Your Donuts" gets pretty boring when it's just "I ran x miles in Manchester" over and over.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, Part 2: Race Day

Click here for Part 1: Pre Race Adventures

Race Day always begins early for me. I fell asleep quickly after a day featuring much walking and a great carb-loaded dinner. Wanting nutrition for what would be my longest run ever, I set the alarm for 3:00 am, ate a peanut butter sandwich and drank some delicious orange Gatorade, and went back to bed. From that point, I followed the routine I'd set for the Philly Half, where I like to get to the starting line about an hour early, and I typically get up about two hours before that. The marathon start time was set at 8:00.

In this case, I had more to do to prepare since I needed to try to manage my knee issues. I'd set the alarm at 5:00, got up, did my physical therapy stretches and foam rolling, liberally applied SPF 80 sunscreen, and then psyched myself with my traditional punk rock concert via the Shuffle. I didn't want to try anything that I hadn't before, so I wore my white Brooks sleeveless running shirt and a pair of Nike running shorts that I'd worn many times before. No fun green running clothes for me.

Chris and I left the hotel room just a few minutes after 7:00. It truly seemed like a miserable, with gusty winds and temperatures in the 30s. I love running in the cold, and the 30s are right where I was hoping for, but the wind really seemed like it would be a challenge. There was not a cloud in the sky, and we walked along the boardwalk to see the beautiful sunrise and the statue of Neptune, the Roman god of Dumb Ideas, that adorns the boardwalk at a point very close to the finish line.

I dress for the end of the race, not the beginning. I like to be cold at the start in hopes that I won't be too hot as the race goes on. The weather played havoc with my plans. The temperature was right where I wanted, but a sunny, cloudless day would increase my chances of feeling overheated, but with the winds as strong as they were, I was just too cold to go without my jacket at the start of the race.

We walked up Atlantic Avenue to the starting area, and tried to find a spot out of the wind to wait, but there was none -- it whipped around the buildings and there was no escape. We soon learned that the start was delayed by 15 minutes to avoid congestion with the half marathon, the course for which was the second of the marathon course. I was super-nervous and just wanted to get started (in order to get it over with, one way or another!) and those 15 minutes seemed like an eternity when they were announced. However, it passed more quickly than I thought and I headed into the starting area, waiting around the 4:30 pace group.

There were not officially corrals, but there was a waved start, and I started with wave 4. As my group walked up to the starting line (I never waste energy by running before the race has even started!), the sun seemed to really begin shining brightly, and I looked for Chris to hand my jacket off to. In hindsight, though, I was glad to have had it for the first few miles.

The race started southbound on Atlantic Avenue, so I was running by familiar sights from the day before. A weird combination of euphoria and terror had set in: "Holy crap, I'm running a marathon!"

I continued southbound for the first five miles before a turnaround point at about 5.5. I'd taken off the jacket at about mile 3, shortly after running up the bridge that is race's only steep hill, and still felt great -- as I should have, being still well within my comfort zone. The terrifying, unknown miles were still miles away themselves at this point.

At about mile 6 I started running with and talking with another first-time marathoner, who I chatted with for most of the next 7 miles. He'd started running just 6 months ago, and although he's already got his sights on Boston and even ultra distances, he had very similar goals to me for this one: finish, hopefully come in around 4:30, and run the whole thing.

During miles 8 and 9 we passed through Camp Pendleton, a military facility which appears upon further reading to be primarily used by the Virginia National Guard. This part of the course was amazing, and I couldn't believe how many military personnel came out to cheer the runners. I cheered back for them and thanked them for their service. They're the heroes, I'm just some jerk running a race.

We passed back over the bridge after mile 9, and were back in the oceanfront area of Virginia Beach. Most of miles 10 and 11 were on the boardwalk, which was very enjoyable. The weather was terrific at this point -- the wind that I'd hated so much kept me cool, but it was a gorgeous sunny day and I was at the beach. Even if I was running, how could I not enjoy that? Frustratingly, this part of the course approached the Neptune statue -- and finish line, but from the wrong direction. You could see the god of the sea's statue looming in the distance, but had to turn away as the bulk of the race was still ahead. At this point I was right where I wanted to be in terms of pace, and I felt better than I usually feel at this distance. At this point, I knew I was going to finish. This wasn't as hard as I thought!

We continued up Atlantic Avenue to the halfway point, where Chris waited and shouted encouragement, and beyond. I still felt great as the miles rolled by. Somewhere just past mile 15, spectators offered runners small cups of beer. Not wanting to ruin a good thing, I declined.

Soon after this point, the route diverged from Atlantic Avenue and turned onto Shore drive, which contrary to its name ran through the woods. This portion of the course ran from about miles 16 through mile 19, and for me it was the beginning of the end. It was very remote with no crowds and it seemed like it was mostly uphill (not steep, but just never-ending), and though I still felt pretty good, my pace began to slip a little. I'd left the guy I'd been chatting with behind at about mile 15 when he fell back a little and I still felt great, and so this part of the race was very lonely. The 4:30 pace group, which I'd gone ahead of pretty early in the race because it felt slower than my most comfortable pace, passed me by. Confidence began to slip, but I still felt ok. This was farther than I'd ever run before.

I'd hoped to avoid the wall. Instead, I hit it dead-on past mile 21, inside Fort Story, and never really recovered. I wasn't really in pain consistently -- I just couldn't make my legs go anymore. Weird feeling. I took a three minute walking break, and started running again. Miles 21 through 25 still seemed like they were all slightly uphill -- I'm not sure if it was in my head or if it really was a long, gradual incline (which would explain why the northbound journey on Atlantic seemed so easy). When the course turned back onto Atlantic within mile 22, I hoped I'd get a boost from the crowd, but I was cooked. This was the worst idea ever. I would never run a marathon again. I wasn't going to finish this one, and my corpse would be swept off the course and dumped into the sea.

I ran as much as I could the next 3.5 (estimating miles), but more often I was alternating running and walking. I tried everything I could think of: more sports beans, more Gatorade, more water, stopping to stretch, even the beer I'd passed up at mile 15; my friend Ralph from miles 6-14 passed by and offered words of encouragement -- but nothing put the juice back in my legs. I walked most of mile 24 in hopes that I could run the last mile, and that did help me get through most of the last mile in the approximation of running.

The last half mile of the course turns back onto the boardwalk southbound toward the Neptune statue. The finish line is in sight and I was determined to run this stretch to preserve what dignity I had left. I'd been warned by my group's coach not to start sprinting at first sight of the statue -- it's farther than it looked -- but I didn't have a "sprint" gear at this point, there was just "walk" and "run". My legs had been complete jell-o for the last 4 miles and whether it was the walking breaks or the fact that "getting it over with" was finally in sight, I ran up the boardwalk, waved to Chris, and crossed the finish line.

The feeling I had at crossing the finish line was incredible, and I screamed some incomprehensible primal scream of relief/joy/exhaustion. In that moment, the misery of the last 4 miles was forgotten and all the training was worth it.

I grabbed my finisher's medal and hung it around my neck, got a banana and a cookie from some volunteers, and then collected my finisher's hat and shirt. I was just happy the ordeal was over.

I set down. Not really in pain, but exhausted and resolved to never run another marathon again. Security asked me to move along, I think so that people finishing now could have that bench closer to the finish line. But I just finished!! I found Chris and we found another bench, and I collected my strength and stumbled toward the post-race party. On the way, we took some pictures on the beach.

The post-race party, which was in a huge tent, was awesome! Amazingly, the Irish Stew sounded better than beer, and it was delicious. After eating, though, beer sounded really, really good. As predicted, no sip of beer has ever tasted better, and it's amazing how much better one feels immediately post-marathon after consuming two cups of Yuengling. The volunteers at the beer table I stopped at weren't my favorite people in Virginia Beach, but they were solidly in the top eight. I was in a great mood at this point -- I finished the marathon!

We returned to the room, where I cleaned up, and then we checked out and went in search of lunch. I broke all my Lenten resolutions (knowing I would this weekend) and got a delicious burger at CP Shucker's, and then we made the long drive back York, where I did enjoy two delicious donuts.

I thought I'd be disappointed with myself for walking. I thought I'd be disappointed in my 4:58. I'm not. I made some mistakes and I think I learned enough lessons on this attempt that a second one would be better, but it was still the best run I've ever had by quite a long margin and I'm satisfied that I did my best. I'll proudly affix the little 26.2 magnet to the back of the Neon and look back fondly at and focus on the 2/3 of the race that were really enjoyable.

Despite the misery of the last 6 miles, right now I think I want another chance...but that's a post for another day.

Thanks again Chris, I couldn't and wouldn't have wanted to do this without you, and thanks everyone for reading.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, Part 1: The Pre-race

When traveling for a race, the race is only part of the total experience. In this case, the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon proved to be an adventure.

The plan was to eat dinner at the nearby Manchester Cafe, and then make the 5 hour and 45 minute trek to Virginia Beach, so as to miss traffic around DC. We hit a snag instantly when I realized I forgot my pre-race snack, so we got on the road around 6:30. The trip was long, but uneventful, and we arrived at Virginia Beach just before midnight.

On Saturday, we got up early, enjoyed a nice breakfast buffet at "Angelo's By the Sea", an oceanfront restaurant, and then headed to packet pickup at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.

Of all the parts of a race, packet pickup is one of the ones I'm best at. I've never failed to get my race bib and goody bag . Although we narrowly avoided getting line for the craft show instead of the race expo, I eventually got my bib, bag, and some nice Shamrock Marathon merchandise. It was a nice expo, with a good selection of vendors, exhibitors, and representatives from other races around the U.S, and we wandered through twice, the first by ourselves and then a second time with a friend and his family. It wasn't quite as big an expo as the one at the Philadelphia Marathon (and Half Marathon), but it was definitely enjoyable.

After a fruitless search for a soft pretzel, the perfect early afternoon snack for pre-race day, we had some snacks on the boardwalk and then played a round of mini-golf at Top Gun Arcade and Mini Golf, which references the region's military presence with mannequins and vintage recruiting posters.

It was one of the tougher mini-golf courses we've ever played, with every hole being set up on a mound. Miss the hole by inches, and the ball would roll several feet away. We did not make par for the course.

Following golf, Chris and I headed for my favorite part of race weekend and the one I most excel at: the carb-loading dinner. We had a 5:00 reservation at Il Giardino, and Italian restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. We enjoyed Peroni, one of our favorite beers from Italy, and had focaccia bread with oil and Parmesan cheese as an appetizer, and then each had Penne a la vodka as our main course. For dessert, I had chocolate gelato and Chris had the Napoleon. We found that by combining them, we could create an even greater dessert.

It was one of the best meals I've ever had, and I've had a lot of great meals!

Although we were tired from all the walking, and I wanted to turn in early since I would be up early for the race, our adventures were not yet over for the day. On Saturday, the moon was at its closest point to Earth in 18 years, and we had an incredible view!

There are many things photography does just not do justice, and this was one of them. It was an amazing end to very enjoyable day: expo, mini golf, carb loading, and supermoon.

How could the next day possibly live up to that?

Coming up in Part 2: The Not-So-Amazing Race and Aftermath.


I finished. 26.2 miles in 4:58. I'm going to put up a two part race review tonight and tomorrow, but in this entry I wanted to check in so people know that I survived and to thank everyone that's put up with me and helped me while I was training for the 2011 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon.

In no particular order:

Thank you Marie, the coach for the Charm City Spring Marathon Training Group, who gave me an organized plan for my training and then helped adjust it when I hurt my knee.

Thank you Nicole and Laura at Wellspan Rehab and Dr. Bucks at Wellspan Orthopedics. There were definitely challenges during the 2nd half of the marathon, but the IT Band was not one of them.

Thanks to all my friends and family who were encouraging me, throwing out prayer requests, or wishing me well. I really appreciate all the support.

Nick, thanks for making the group runs a lot more fun. I hope to run with you again soon.

Thanks to all the volunteers at the race and the staff of J&A Racing for putting on a great event. Great expo, excellent finisher's gear, and an amazing post race party. Everything about this event except the last six miles of the race was really enjoyable!

Thanks most of all to Chris, who always believed in me when I didn't believe in myself; put up with me complaining about my knee for the last month and a half; was always understanding when I needed to mess up the schedule to find times to squeeze runs in when I needed to make up miles; allowed herself to be dragged six hours each way to Virginia Beach to watch me run; and cheerfully waited for me on the course and took pictures and encouraged me during a cold, windy morning yesterday. The next adventure is hers and I can't wait to be photographer, bag check, and cheerleader.

The band is playing, so that's my cue to stop. Thanks again!

Race reports and pictures coming soon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ready or Not...

So this is pretty much it. After three months of officially training for it, race day is all but here. I took my last 3-mile taper run at lunch today and I'll go for a walk tomorrow to keep the legs moving, but really there's nothing left to do but wait. And the wait is agonizing -- I'm looking forward to the air horn going off at 8:00am on Sunday morning, but even more I'm looking forward to getting it over with.

Now that I'm pretty much out of time, it's easy to ask myself "Did I do enough?" I'm not sure. I would have liked to get my 20 miles runs in, but rehabbing my knee cut out a month's worth of long runs. I should have gone to more of the track workouts, but work and weather constantly interfered. It doesn't matter, I should have found a place to do them locally. Now all the worry and all the listening to "Eye of the Tiger" won't change a thing.

In terms of training, I had a great January, a rough most of February, a great last weekend of February and a good March. I've done well at coming back and getting my weekday miles in. I've worked hard and the knee is holding up. It's been a nice little comeback. But still, before beginning the training program, my longest run was 16 miles. Currently, my longest run is 18, three weeks ago in Florida. Did I do enough? Not sure. Did I do the best I could under the circumstances? Yes, I think I did.

However, the reality is that this just didn't go as well as I'd hoped. I'd overestimated myself and underestimated the ten miles that I had three months to add. The excuses, legitimate and not, are many. The odds now are as long as the race.

I'm not as ready for this as I wanted to be. My knee will hurt. Other parts of my legs will probably be in complete agony. I'll probably run out of delicious, refreshing orange Gatorade and have to switch to the disgusting lime Gatorade that they'll have on the course. I'll probably have to take some stops to stretch my IT bands out. I'm just not conditioned for 26.2 miles. And I think I have a cold

I don't care. It doesn't matter. I'm finishing this race. I'm 8 miles short in my training. 8 miles? 8 miles is what I do at lunch. I eat 8 miles for lunch. The time for kicking myself is over, and the time for kicking ass has arrived. I'll take what I've learned and do a better job next time, if there is a next time, but I'm finishing this race.

I'm going to get my finisher's hat. I'm going to get my medal. I'm going to get the (allegedly very good) Irish Stew that they serve at the finish line (and then I'll probably get sick, but that's ok). I'm going to get some Yuengling (and it will be better than any sip of delicious, frosty beer that I've ever tasted) and then on the way home I'm going to get donuts (which I'd given up for Lent with the exception of race day). 26.2 donuts if that's what I want.

The road leading up to 8:00am on Sunday morning has been long. It has stretched over the last four years and thousands miles.

For most of the last four years of running, I didn't know where it was going and I don't know where it goes from here. I didn't think training for that first 5K would lead to this. I insisted that it wouldn't, in fact.

There were plenty of times during which I felt like running was a necessary evil, something I had to do to justify that extra donut, or Rhino Fries, or Cookie Dough ice cream. There have been times when my run has been the most relaxing part of my day and times when it's been the most unpleasant. It's my stress-relieving activity that I turned into another stressor the moment I started contemplating this race. I've taken it too seriously. I haven't taken it seriously enough. There were many times when I was out on a run at lunch or before work, and I just didn't want to come back to the office, and there were times when I just wanted to get it over with.

I think Sunday will be one of those last kind of runs. It's going to be terrifying, it's going to painful, and it's going to be exhilarating. It's going to be an adventure.


Now all that's left to do is get started.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Kelly Shamrock 5K

I ran my first race of the year, the Kelly Shamrock 5K in Baltimore, today. I took it a little easy since I'm in taper mode, which makes for a weird race experience, and came in with a 30:15.

This is the second year we've run this race and there are a lot of things I love about it, and a few things that are frustrating. It's much bigger than any other 5K I've ever run; there were almost 4000 finishers this year and that is both part of the appeal and part of the frustration.

The race begins at the corner of Charles & Franklin in downtown Baltimore, and begins with a pretty steep downhill. Not only is this a nice, easy start to the race, seeing the green-clad crowd racing down Charles Street ahead of me is one of the neatest things I've ever seen as a runner. And since it's a St. Patrick's day race, there are lots of funny t-shirts and costumes.

The course, through downtown Baltimore and around the Inner Harbor, is very scenic and it has the obligatory u-turn on Key Highway that almost every Baltimore race seems to include.

It's a great, fun atmosphere, the crowd for the race is great since the race is the prelude to the St. Patrick's Day Parade, the t-shirt is nice, and in theory there's free beer.

That said, there are a few things that frustrate me about this race. Because of its huge size, it's very crowded on the course and there are a lot of people who aren't prepared to run the whole thing. And let me be very, very clear -- THAT'S OK! But, I wish that more run/walkers would be careful to not suddenly slow to a walk right in the middle of the road. I had to make a highlight reel's worth of Brian Westbrook type cutback moves to avoid a collision.

Similarly, there's never been a race that needs pace signs at the start as badly as this one does, there's no order at all to who starts where, which contributes to the crowding as faster people get caught behind less fast runners or walkers. To be fair, I probably should have started a bit further up in the pack since I usually finish right in the middle of the pack at most races, rather than as close to the back as I did.

Lastly, although "Free Beer" is a rare gift that must be appreciated and treasured, the post-race party has outgrown its venue (Power Plant Live) in my opinion. This year, we couldn't even get in because it was so packed. I'm not sure what can be done about that, it's the price an event pays for success.

Despite my gripes, this is probably a race that I'll run every year as long as I can. It was a beautiful day, and Chris and I met up with a friend from collage and some of her teammates in the Baltimore Dragon Boat Club (they're looking for team members if you like to row and live in the Baltimore area! Don't think of the little dragon-shaped paddleboats at Inner Harbor, this is more like crew) and had an excellent post-race party of our own at the James Joyce Irish Pub -- that's right, everyone's favorite incomprehensible Irish author is now a bar.

Overall, it was a fun first race of 2011, and hopefully helps set the stage for a good race next week in Virginia Beach.

(Don't freak out...don't freak out...don't freak out....)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mardi Gras in Manchester, PA

I love Mardi Gras, even here in Manchester, where there's no parades or beads or excessive revelry. Any holiday that encourages donut-eating is alright in my book. On the left is the "Manager's Special". I don't know why they call it that and maybe I don't want to, but it's a delicious cream-filled chocolate frosted donut. On the right is "Chocolate Boston Cream". Its name is what it is. It's not to be confused with the "Reverse Boston Cream", which is a chocolate donut with chocolate cream and vanilla frosting.

Before I had the donuts, I had McDonald's for dinner. Awesome.

In my defense, I did have a great run this evening. 10 miles in 1:38, the first time I've been under a 10minute mile pace for a 10 mile run since last Spring. Not too shabby.

Oddly, this excellent run comes on the heels of one of my worst. Last night, I set out on what was supposed to be a five miler, but my stomach hurt, my knees hurt, and my feet hurt. It was not happy situation, and I quit after just 3 miles in 32 minutes.

I'm at the beginning of tapering, as I explained in my last post, but after last night's debacle run, I wanted to get a longer run in tonight. This will probably be the last time I hit double digits until the marathon.

How did I have such a good run today when just yesterday I felt like I was falling apart? It must have been the Big & Toasty I had for lunch.

(I picked up the donuts at lunch to make sure I got the best possible is a very busy day at the donut shop and it requires strategic thinking to make sure one does not get stuck with plain old fasnachts.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Taper

(No, it's "taper", not "tapir.")

Tapering is the process of resting in the weeks leading up to an event, apparently in order to restore glycogen stores in muscles.

I'd originally thought that if my knee was feeling better, that this past weekend was my last chance to try to get a 20-mile run in before the marathon, which would have made me feel a lot better about my chances.

Instead, both the trainer for my marathon training group and my orthopedist told me that tapering was a better idea. I'm not sure it counts, though, when the taper is a hilly, 15 mile run that felt much more painful than the 18 miles on Monday in flat, tropical Orlando.

My knee felt ok, not as good as it did in Florida, but I stretched at the running store and by the time I got home I wasn't having any knee pain.

Race day is less than two weeks away, and I've got mixed feelings about my chances. On one hand, I think on a flat course I can do more than the 18 miles I finished in Florida, where it was probably warmer and more humid than it will be on race day. I usually run with no iPod these days, but I'll take the Shuffle to distract myself for the last third of race. If it does get warmer than I hope during the race, I know that I finished long distances in the warmth & humidity of Florida. And, lastly, I'm always better on race day.

On the other hand, my longest run is 8 miles below marathon distance, and 8 miles nothing to sneeze at. I've seldom made it all the way to race distance in my training, but this is the farthest away I've ever been in terms of mileage, and I haven't fallen this short in terms of percentage since I ran a 5K after having only previously made it to two miles.

It's frustrating to have been doing well and being on track or even a little bit ahead on my distances all through January, only to end up with a longest run of only two miles better than what I'd started with in December. I've worked in my rehab, and the knee is fine, or close enough to it to be the least of my worries, but it was a big setback and there's just no way around that.

On the other hand, if I finish, I get a free* hat. I love hats.

*included in registration fee, not exactly free.

Friday, March 4, 2011

I Finished Physical Therapy and all I got was this Lousy T-Shirt

Well...and much less pain in my knee, better range of motion, and lots of stretches and exercises that I should have been doing all along to loosen up my IT Bands and leg muscles and build core strength.

Overall, I think my PT helped a lot. I'm not sure what the secret weapon was, but in the last two weeks my knee has improved tremendously. While my knee held up and was strong for my windy Inner Harbor run two weeks ago, as I mentioned yesterday I was in considerable pain afterward.

Since then, after every run either here or in Florida (even less discomfort on flat ground) I've basically been ok despite trying to run farther, more frequently, and occasionally faster.

I've gotten in some good miles since getting back from Florida: 8 on Wednesday and 5 last night, and will run 15 tomorrow. So far, the knee is doing great and I feel like I'm getting my conditioning back.

In summary, thank you Nicole and Laura at Wellspan Rehab. I'm on the comeback trail, and I have a free
(until the bill comes for the co-pay, anyway) awesome t-shirt to prove it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Running Disney: 18 and Life

I'm running out of time. That's just the reality. I can talk about my knee all I want, and it won't matter. On March 20 at 8:00, the gun will go off and I'll have 26.2 miles that I can either run or not, and all the excuses about my knee hurting or work taking up too much time or having bronchitis won't mean a thing.

My knee was quite sore after my Inner Harbor Wind Advisory Adventure run two weeks ago, but it held up ok, and I've been determined to catch myself up as much as possible with more frequent runs to re-build my stamina. This meant taking the running gear to Florida and trying to sneak some miles in during the early morning hours.

We stayed at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort, and it allegedly had a jogging trail. Perfect! Not quite, but not entirely worthless, either. The jogging trail was one mile long and it ran from the All-Star Sports Resort, past the All-Star Music Resort, and terminated at the All-Star Movies Resort (all three are virtually identical, they just feature the differing themes). This would make for a very boring run indeed.

However, on my first run on Saturday morning, I found that going in the other direction the sidewalk crossed under the highway (which may have just been an access road to the parks) and continued past Disney's Blizzard Beach water park (closed for refurbishment) to the Coronado Springs Resort, another one of the lesser-known Disney properties.

This turned out to be very fortunate for me, as the Southwestern-themed Coronado Springs proved to be a great place to run, with a roughly one-mile loop around its central lake and several other paths weaving through its buildings and around the edge of the resort.

Starting at our hotel and running toward "Movies", around the Movies resort, and then to and around the Coronado Spring, back to Movies and then back to Sports, I was able to get to 10 miles in 1:39.

Running in Florida is markedly different from running in Manchester, PA. At the beginning, before the sun came up it was pleasantly cool, but extremely humid. When the sun came up, it burned some humidity off, but felt oppressively hot. Each day turned out to be warm, but not unpleasantly so for visiting the parks, but it felt extremely hot to someone who had been training in PA. The best thing about this course was its flatness -- there was nary a hill to be found between the resorts, and my IT Band certainly appreciated it.

This weekend was scheduled to be the last real long run before a two-week "taper", in which long runs were shortened to rest for the marathon. Since I hadn't been able to get the distances I needed in, I decided to try to get a real long run in on Monday morning, the last day of our trip, rather than just another 10 or so miles.

I left our room before 5:30, wanting to give myself plenty of time.

(I was the only idiot up at this hour)
I varied the course a bit this time. I headed down toward All-Star Movies and ran around that resort a bit longer this time, encountering everyone's favorite giant toy spaceman.

(To infinity and beyond! Or at least down to the next resort.)
I then added some boring miles on the access road between the Music and Sports Resorts, and headed back to Buena Vista Drive toward Blizzard Beach, where I circled the empty parking lot to add more distance. It was still very dark out at this point, as I turned back down the sidewalk path it did occur to me that the swamps just to the right of the path were probably loaded with alligators. Friendly, singing, animatronic gators, but gators nonetheless.

I had about 7 miles in the bag by the time I got to Coronado Springs this time, and ran enough laps around its two lakes and the outside of the resort to be at about 13 by the time I left. It really is a beautiful place to run.

There was a convention or sales meeting at the resort, and so as the sun came up there was increasing foot traffic on the paths, along with little golf-cart buses that were picking people up who didn't want to walk to breakfast or to their meetings. It seemed to be a convention for people who wanted to stand in the paths and smoke, so that was somewhat inconvenient, but I shouldn't complain since I was the intruder in this situation.

I headed back to the All-Star resorts and realized I'd made a slight miscalculation. By omitting the Blizzard Beach parking lot and a Disney employee parking lot I'd ran through on the way out, I got to Sports resort at 15 miles. I wanted to do more than that, so I pushed myself down the path toward the Music resort, up the access road that ran between Music and Sports, and then back to the jogging path for Movies.

I was moving v e r y s l o w l y at this point, but I dragged myself back to the entrance to Sports as my Garmin showed 18 miles: my longest ever by half a mile and my longest by over 3 miles since my knee injury.

I was exhausted, and my legs felt like they could hardly go another step, but I was absolutely encouraged by the lack of knee pain.

Was it enough? I hope so. The lack of hills was probably a good simulation of the Shamrock Marathon course. The temperature was probably a little cooler at the start and a little warmer at the end, and with a lot higher humidity than the I'll likely see in Virgina Beach in March. It'll probably be painful, and it certainly won't be fast or fun, but right now I think I can grind out those last 8 miles.

I won't have another chance to find out till the Marathon: my trainer for my marathon training group and my orthopedist have both suggested I start tapering, which means 12-15 miles on Saturday and 10 the following Saturday, and since they're all in agreement I'm not going to argue.

It's going to be a challenge, but hope is not yet extinct.

(T-Rex Cafe in Downtown Disney,
where we had a great lunch before heading back to the airport)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hail to the Princess!

My wife, Chris, and I have taken our running shoes on more than one vacation over the last three years, and we'd stayed overnight to run some races that were just outside of a normal morning drive, such as Baltimore or Philly, but we'd never before taken a real vacation in which the primary purpose until my wife signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando, Florida which took place this past weekend.

Our adventure began as more of a misadventure when arrived at BWI to find that our connecting flight from Long Island to Orlando, was canceled due to a high wind advisory that had shut down the Long Island airport all day. We were put on a 2:50 flight that stopped at Norfolk, VA, but we would not have to change planes. An inconvenience, but a relatively minor one: we were stuck at the airport but would arrive at Orlando only two hours later than originally scheduled.

So we thought. We browsed the many shops in Terminals A and B, bought some magazines, and had a nice lunch at the Silver Diner in the concourse. A good time was had by all. Until we got to our gate and our plane kept not landing. Apparently, due to high winds it had circled BWI for 40 minutes before diverting to Dulles. It was not able to return to BWI until after 5:30, and we weren't in the air until approximately 6:30 -- two hours later than we should have been in Orlando.

So there went our plans to visit Downtown Disney that evening; we arrived at our hotel, the All-Star Sports Resort at after 11 and were able to grab a quick dinner at the resort's food court and a drink at the pool bar before going to bed. At least we got enjoy the warm Florida evening for a little while.

On Saturday morning, we ate a tasty breakfast at the hotel and headed to ESPN Wide World of Sports, which was nearby our hotel, for packet pickup and the chance for my wife to grab some Princess Half Marathon gear.

We spent the afternoon at Epcot, mostly in the World Showcase section of the park, where we ate a delicious carb-loading dinner in fake Italy, and found that Disney had invented a new character, allegedly Mickey's teddy bear, which doesn't appear in any movies or stories, that exists solely to be bought and dressed in outfits from every "country" and all over the Disney empire. It gave us something we'd make fun of for the rest of the trip.

Because the Princess Half Marathon takes place on the access roads and grounds of two of the biggest theme parks in the country, if not the world, there are some logistical challenges for runners. We were advised that my wife should be on the bus to the staging area outside Epcot by 3am, and she had to be in her corral by 5:00, even though her wave was to begin at 6:21. This meant we got up at 2:15.

In hindsight, it seemed like this was overkill, as we were left standing around for over an hour before she left for her corral, and I headed out to grab a spectating space near the starting line. Each wave departed to fireworks, which was cool, but I watched 17,000 women -- and a few guys -- run or walk by with no sign of Chris from my not-so-great vantage point. Meanwhile, a cool, humid morning gave way to a warm morning. What was pleasant for spectators must have felt like 100 degrees to the runners who had trained in more northern climates like Pennsylvania.

I took the monorail (MONORAIL...MONORAIL...MONORAIL!) to the Transportation Center stop, a hub where passengers park and can board or switch between the Magic Kingdom line and the Epcot line. While on the monorail, I got my first glimpse of Chris, who was probably at about mile two at that point, because soon after arriving at the Transportation Center I got the runner tracking text that she had reached the 5K point. I had a spot by the fence outside the Transportation Center, and saw her running up. She stopped very briefly to say hi and was then on her way.

I took a short walk across to the Polynesian resort while Chris ran through the Magic Kingdom. I was starting to think I'd missed her in the crowd of runners, and I looked up from my phone and the "Chris Tracker" sheet with her estimated mile times to calculate whether I should move on, and I happened to look up and see her approaching. It was mile 8 and she looked great!

I took the monorail (IS THERE A CHANCE THE TRACK MAY BEND? NOT TO WORRY MY HINDU FRIEND!) back to Epcot, and waited at mile 13. Soon, she approached and ran by to the finish of her first half marathon!

I always knew I had married a Princess, but now she had the big shiny medal to prove it.

(Unfortunately, the coach did not go to the finish line.)

Not only did she run an awesome race under some pretty adverse conditions, between getting up at 2am and running in whether 50 degrees hotter than she trained in, she spent the rest of the day hiking around Disney's Magic Kingdom.

Congratulations, my Princess. You have waited patiently for me at more finish lines than I can count -- I'll cheer you on any time!