If you’re going to print up t-shirts… Edmonton Marathon race report #runreal

My neighbor, John, and I  both ran the Boston Marathon this spring. He surprised me with some cool t-shirts for me and my family. Of course, I had nothing for him. Sigh. So, when we decided to take one last shot at a BQ before the window closed (with registration opening September 8th) by heading up to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for their marathon, I thought I would return the favor:

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Yep. “Kohler-Kardis International BQ Project.” If you’re going to print up t-shirts, you’d better deliver. It’s not going to make a top ten list of victory guarantees … but for comparison, here’s a few famous ones, both successful and unsuccessful.

  • “We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it.” – Joe Namath (FTW)
  • “One hundred-percent, sterling silver victory. The Lombardi Trophy” – Ryan Kalil (FAIL)
  • “We want the ball, and we’re going to score!” – Matt Hasselbeck (FAIL)
  •  “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round.” – Muhammad Ali (FTW)

So, I wore my shirt on the plane to remind myself what I was going there for. My training had been going well and I felt like I had been progressing as Coach Kyle helped me to push harder during my hard workouts. Knowing someone is looking over your shoulder at your stats after you’re done with a workout is very motivating. Also, props to John and Nelson for doing several of my hard workouts with me – it’s easier to go fast when you have someone else pushing you. It was great having the RHSW along for support (all kinds!) and photography. When we got off the plane in Edmonton and made it through customs (I declared my foodstuffs – energy gel) there were two baggage carousels in the international part of the terminal – one decorated with life-size Edmonton Oilers (NHL, duh) mannequins, the other with an Edmonton Eskimos theme (CFL, a bit more obscure – fun fact, their uniforms are pretty much the same as the Green Bay Packers).

I went for a nice shakeout run through downtown as soon as we got to our hotel, since I’d been up since 4am. Four easy miles, with occasional nice views of the Saskatchewan River. Edmonton reminded both me and the RHSW of Kansas City a bit – river town, similar population and geography. Mosquitos.

We ate at a great restaurant that evening with John & his wife, Katie. “Woodwork.” John and I have similar “tastes” and we had both picked it out independently before travelling up there after reading reviews of Edmonton restaurants. Ok, it was also RIGHT across the street from our hotel. Unfortunately, we neglected to get a shot of us walking out the front door so I could caption it “coming out of the Woodwork.” Use your imagination. Perhaps I was harboring some latent resentment for a little GI distress that I was attributing to my meal there. It happens. Signs point to whatever John and I both ate and the ladies didn’t.

The day before the race I did my carb-loading workout and started loading right after. I felt great on the run. Slight modification to the magic elixir – I purchased sucrose in Edmonton (table sugar) because I didn’t want to put dextrose in my checked bag (it’s more powdery than sucrose, if you know what I mean). I also mixed it with grape juice instead of lime juice. The result was extremely sweet. I felt pretty blah most of the day thanks to the GI distress the night before.

We did have a wonderful breakfast at De Dutch. I was almost tempted to try the Pannekoeken but stuck to my Paleo guns. There was a GF version, but sometimes that stuff bothers me almost as much as wheat. I had a nice omelette with Edam (think swiss) and DeBakon (Dutch bacon, a pork product). Then we took a bus to the West Edmonton Mall – which really gives the Mall of the America a run for its money – if not surpassing it.

Here’s a description from their website:

The Mall’s stores, attractions, and services combine to form the most comprehensive retail, hospitality and entertainment complex on Earth. … West Edmonton Mall’s concept is inspired by the traditional urban bazaars of Persia, where shopping and entertainment were plentiful and operated in tandem, fulfilling a variety of consumer needs all in one place.

Man, I wish I could write copy like that.

A quick snapshot for comparison:

Stores:

  • WEM 800
  • MOA 400

Attractions (all indoor, of course):

  • WEM (amusement park “world’s largest”; water park with wave pool “world’s largest”; bowling; aquarium with amphitheater for sea-lion and penguin performances; full size hockey ice rink (duh, Canada); two 18 hole miniature golf courses; life-size replica of the Santa Maria)
  • MOA (nickelodeon-themed amusement park; aquarium; American Girl; Lego store; flight simulator; miniature golf; mirror maze; Barbie Dreamhouse; Star Trek and Beatles exhibits)

You be the judge. So of course, with all that set out before us, all we actually went there for was the Roots store. Seriously. The only store we walked into. Mission accomplished. From WEM, we decided to check out the “Fringe Festival,” billed as “an 11-day event … showcasing a variety of independent theatre performances from more than 1,200 local, national and international artists.” It was a bit underwhelming. I did see some jugglers, and we didn’t stay long enough for our bus transfer to expire, so there was that.

I was still a bit green and watched everyone else eat dinner. After we got back to the hotel I got my courage up and headed downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant for an omelette and some ice cream. I tolerated it. Our friendly British (!) waiter chatted us up about my race. Like several other people we had talked to around town, when I told them I was in town for the marathon, they all assumed I was in town for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, since teams had started to arrive for that. Apparently several were staying at our hotel – there were posters. It’s a good thing I wasn’t full of hubris. “No, I’m just doing the marathon.” I’ve never been a “just a half” or “just a 5K” guy, and it’s a good thing because I would have been put in my place several times! There are people who excel at some distance or event but not others.

On race morning I awoke feeling MUCH better. Whew. Do I look relieved? New blue/silver Skora FITs are ready to roll!

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The race setup was really convenient. Huge conference center right at the start/finish line, so I ditched my sweats and we waited inside before the start. Here’s John and I right before we headed out:

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At the start line, they asked us to raise our hands if there was anyone from outside of Canada. That’s us! (and 10 more from the US – mostly Texas, for some reason)

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Then they asked, is there anybody that came farther than Bangalore, Indonesia?

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Nope, can’t top that.

 

This was my first race where “O, Canada” was played before the start:

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That lady is not honoring Canada like I am.

 

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Do I look nervous?

 

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And we’re off! Perfect conditions for most of the race. Temp at start was 52F and was supposed to drop before heading up. Nice and cool, overcast skies (good!) for most of the race with only a peek of sun for a few minutes. Virtually no wind at the start, a bit of a breeze by the end.

The course is an out and back and out and back. First we headed northeast out of downtown past some apartment high rises, then into a residential neighborhood with kind of a Brookside feel. I knew I wasn’t going to be keeping pace with John (running about 25s a mile faster than me) so I settled in with several runners who seemed like they were competent enough to keep a steady pace. Mind you, there were no pace groups, and I wasn’t pacing off them in the truest sense of the word. However, after you get several miles into the race you’ve weeded out anyone who has absolutely no idea what they’ve gotten into. Actually, there were two of those guys – one of which I have my doubts as to whether he was a legitimate finisher. *cough* Rosie Ruiz *cough*

The course is marked in kilometers, of course. It was funny hearing everyone’s watches beeping off the kms. Hardly any milers out there. I was tempted to switch my Garmin over, but resisted since I think in miles and it’s important to me to know how far above or below mile pace I am. I could have easily figured my km pace, but since a km is shorter than a mile, I was concerned I’d deviate too much by thinking I was closer to on pace than I really was. My Garmin had the last laugh – when I pulled up my data at home, all my lap and pace data was in km. Weird. It’s back to normal now.

The course was nice and flat. The first half featured a dip (barely noticeable) and an actual hill down into and then coming back out of the residential area. There was a checkpoint and a turnaround at the 1/4 mark (halfway through the out and back half). That was the last time I saw John until he was waiting for me at the finish! Flat is really nice for hitting a pace. This is by far the flattest course I’ve ever run. My splits for the first half were all within a few seconds of goal pace, 7:15. I went out a little hot, but not sub-7 or anything. I was 44 seconds ahead of pace at the halfway mark (well, not exactly – at the 13 mile mark). I still felt great at this point coming through the start/finish line headed west for another out and back:

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I love educated race fans, and Edmonton had them! Not that I don’t enjoy “yay” and “way to go” or “you can do it” but it’s nice to hear something a bit more specific. Now I didn’t for a minute think that these compliments were carefully crafted just for me, but they are the kind of thing a runner loves to hear:

  • “You look strong!”
  • “Great pace!”
  • “Here comes a marathoner!” and “Way to go marathoner!” (as you are passing the slower pace half-marathoners at the end)
  • “Nice form!”
  • “He makes it look easy!”
  • “Your flow is awesome!” (not exactly sure what that mean, but I enjoyed it.

There was definitely a mental hurdle to jump coming through that start/finish line at the halfway point. It was momentarily thrilling to see the RHSW and hear the crowd, but the course definitely had a “back to work” feel after getting through the downtown area. It was cool to see some blazing 5K or 10K elites come at me through this section.

I waited until halfway to start hitting my extra calories. If I had it to do over again, I think I’d start that sooner, maybe at mile 6. I have done this differently at different races. It’s hard to say what works best for me. I didn’t feel nauseous at the start like I have sometimes.  I don’t think I even made it halfway through my 400 calorie flask. I like the stuff and had tried it out before a couple of times, but it’s really hard to put anything in my gut at that point in the race.

There was a nice crowd gathered at a pinch point about 3 miles after halfway – I think it was at a college campus – we were ever so briefly on kind of a trail/sidewalk before coming back out onto the road. Not quite Wellesley but pretty good volume! The first 3 miles after halfway were pretty good, but I noticed I was starting to slow a bit around mile 17. I was about 5-10 second off pace until mile 23 – and that’s where the suffering began. I don’t want to overstate it, but it’s something you go through at the end of a race. Thanks to the cool weather, I had done pretty well, but I did have a pretty good sweat going. I didn’t really feel like I was taking in enough fluid. I wouldn’t say there weren’t enough aid stations, but the cups were tiny – and I don’t take time to stop and take several. As a result I was probably only getting a swallow of fluid every other mile. I was running for a while with a guy who had a CamelBak – maybe that was a clue. I can’t say this is a legitimate criticism as opposed to personal preference. Not everything on course is going to be tailored to your needs.

Back to the suffering. I had a really painful stitch in my side for the last 3 miles – easing up a little in the final half mile. I gritted my teeth and just tried not to let the wheels fall off. I’m not great at running math, but I know that I had enough of a buffer against 3:15 that I’d be ok for a secure BQ as long as I didn’t start letting it creep up over 8. I was 30s slow on miles 23 and 24, then my worst split was mile 25 at a 7:56. I got a boost from the mile 25 completed beep on my Garmin, and an even bigger one from 26. I then found I had a kick for the last several hundred yards. There is nothing like seeing that clock and knowing you’re going to bring it in on time! Here’s the joyful expression on John’s face as he meets his goal:

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I didn’t put up his “angry face” picture. It’s pure adrenaline. I’ll show you mine in a minute. Here’s the kick, such as it is:

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…and the finish:

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I acted a little goofy at the finish, but the lady handing out medals was the catalyst. I run through the finish line, not to the finish line. She was only a few steps beyond trying to put a medal round my neck, and I certainly wasn’t going to put the engines in full reverse to stop for her so I ducked my head and ran into it. We both had a laugh about that, but I hope she backed up a bit after me.

It was great to have the RHSW as well as John and Katie at the finish line. I’m still in the moment here:

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But then I started to get (1) cold; (2) nauseous. I thought I was going to barf, but managed to keep it in.

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I’m not holding up two fingers for “two” or “peace out” – I was about to put them up to my mouth to feign the puffed cheeks of someone about to blow. I guess the worst was past. Then we went inside the convention center for a full breakfast. I was shivering at this point and got my sweats back on and drank two cups of herbal tea, which got me back to normal. Then some fruit, ham, juice, coffee and I was back to normal. We stayed for the awards after seeing that John placed second in his age group!

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John’s in the ORFB hoodie. “Indiana Football” guy is not from Indiana – John and I were the second and third Americans, and this is his age group podium, all faster than me. The race winner hailed from Chicago, although he’s Latvian. Does anything about this quote make you want to root for him? Not me:

“(Sunday) was sort of a training run for me, I’m getting ready for the Frankfurt marathon,” [he] said. “It was a good effort to practice and run close to – about five minutes off – of what I’m trying to do in Frankfurt, so it was OK. I think it was right about 22K. We were all running together, and then I felt like the pace was slowing down a little bit, so I picked it up a little and I just kind of cruised the whole way. I was in full control. If somebody was to come up, I could respond if I had to, but there was no need, I just wanted to enjoy the training run.”

Humility is a way better PR move.

Here are my final stats and splits. I don’t see a 21.1 (km) split, which is the one I would have liked to see the most. That was the start/finish line – maybe they didn’t have it set up because of the other races coming back from the other direction. Who knows.

My average pace was 7:20.5 min/mile (or 4:33.7 min/km to continue the metric theme). Just another 5.5s per mile and I’m at 3:10! I was thrilled with the time – a pretty safe BQ-2:39. Not as much buffer as I had for last year, but well above the BQ-1:38 last year that was the toughest cutoff in Boston history.

If you’re going to print up t-shirts… that talk about a BQ you’d better hit it! So glad John and I both did.

A final note on gear before the numbers. I can’t say enough good things about the Skora FIT. Just my favorite road distance shoe. Light, zero drop, and just enough cushioning to take the edge off of the crummy uneven pavement that’s inevitable on any road course.

Thanks Edmonton! On to Chicago!

Place Name Residence Bib # Time Chip Pace Category Cat. Place Gender Place 10 km 21.1 km 35 km
36
Theodore Kardis Olathe, KA, USA
323
3:12:24
3:12:21
4:34
Male 40-49
7/66
34/322
44:23 2:37:49

What (Not) To Eat Before A Marathon

I’m running the Edmonton Marathon this weekend (August, 2014). As the day approaches, I find myself going to the usual multiple locations to review my pre-race regimen. Then I thought to myself, “Self, you have a blog! Why not post it all in one place?” Unsurprisingly, I think that’s a great idea, so here it is.

I’ve used the so-called “Western Australian” carb-loading regimen for all but one of my eight marathons (the lone exception was my ketogenic marathon – check out my blog posts from last fall if you’re curious). Having never tried the traditional pasta-binge method, I don’t have a baseline, but I believe it accomplishes the two purposes which I consider the whole point of doing something different: (1) feeling fueled for the race; and (2) zero porta-potty stops during the race.

So first, what is it? It’s a method of carb-loading that aims to max out your glycogen stores in the minimum amount of time. Why? Well, when you’re tapering, if you up your carb intake for several days, your body is just going to turn those unburned carbs into fat. How do you do it? Basically, you do a short, near-max effort workout 24 hours before your race. This primes your body to start producing glycogen when you feed it carbs. So, then you cram down a bunch of carbs beginning right after you finish the workout. Here’s a link to an abstract of the study:

Fairchild et al.

I’m not a cyclist (that’s not out of context if you clicked the link) but many have applied this to marathon carb-loading. So here’s what I do:

The workout:

Ideally, 24 hours pre-race. Start with a brief warmup (I usually do about a ½ mile); then 2 ½ minutes at hard effort (roughly your 1-mile pace); then a 30 second all out sprint. That’s it. Commence carb loading. Coach Kyle  suggested a slightly longer warmup of 1-2 easy miles; and a 1-2 mile cooldown. I’ll probably look to stay on the 1 mile side of both of those.

The carbs:

The general formula for how many carbs you need for your body weight is “Consume 12 grams of carbs for every kilo of lean body mass spread over the next 24 hours.” That’s actually more complicated than it sounds. “Lean body mass” isn’t just your mass (what most of us call “weight”) it’s your mass  that isn’t fat. So… what you need to do is figure out your percent body fat and subtract that percentage from your total mass to get your lean body mass. For example, if you have 10% body fat, your lean body mass is 90% of your total body mass. Figuring out your body fat % is beyond the scope of this blog post, but there are ways to estimate it (pinching yourself, calipers, electrical currents) as well as accurately measure it (submersion in water is involved). Using myself as a simple example, if I weigh 165 pounds with 10% body fat, I weigh 75 kilos, of which 67.5 kilos is lean body mass. So, I need 810 g of carbs in the 24 hours before the race. It’s actually pretty hard to cram that many carbs down. Here’s how I do it.

Marathon carb-loading drink recipe

This recipe is based on Gatorade G Series Pro 01 Prime Carb Energy Drink; 82g carbs, 330 cal. per 12 oz.   However, the G doesn’t supply potassium. I added that. Their newer Endurance formula does, but it’s an on course formulation, not a pre-load. I have my own recipe for that in a previous post (here: MEFF72) but in order to achieve the higher concentration of sugar, you’d have to use the powdered formula and add more scoops than it calls for. Sounds salty, which you don’t really need when you’re pre-loading. Anyhow, for the same level of carbs/calories as the Carb Energy Drink, you need 20.5 tsp of dextrose or sucrose for each 12 oz. serving. Feel free to check my math. I’m not a chemistry teacher but my dad is. No, we never had a meth lab in the basement.

Example for 8 servings (96 total oz. of fluid) – supplies 672 carbs

  • 3 ½ cups dextrose (aka corn sugar)
  • 2 cups lime juice
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 tsp. sea salt (sodium chloride)
  • 1/2 tsp. NuSalt or NoSalt (potassium chloride)

Tip: Sugar goes into solution easier if you use hot water from the tap. Then chill. Unless you like things that are warm and sickly sweet.

Dextrose (sold as corn sugar) and sucrose are very similar chemically. Dextrose is as simple as it gets. One sugar molecule, it’s the same as glucose – blood sugar. Don’t let that gross you out though, it’s plant-based, usually made from corn. However, it’s not simply extracted, it has to be produced from a starch, usually corn – by an enzymatic process. Sucrose (what you get when you buy table sugar at the store) is a glucose molecule connected to a fructose molecule, but still considered a simple sugar. It’s also plant-based, usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets, via a more natural process.

I’ve still got some dextrose left over from the last time I did this:

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As you can see, homebrew folks are the main consumers for this. I bought it at a local homebrew store. Of course you can easily find it on the interwebs as well, but typically you’re not going to find it in your local grocery store.

It takes the body a bit longer to metabolize sucrose, which I suppose is why I settled on dextrose. However, this time around I think I am going to experiment with sucrose, to try to slightly even out the blood sugar spikes. I’m also going to try to drink smaller amounts more frequently instead of pounding 12 oz. every hour or hour and a half or so. For future reference though, I think the use of dextrose on course is probably the way to go. By the way, Smarties candies are almost 100% dextrose, ok, a little food coloring and citric acid. Probably the fastest sugar hit you can get.

[September 2016 EDIT: Recently, my thinking on sucrose and especially its fructose molecule has continued to evolve. While I have settled for sucrose a few times when I didn’t have dextrose, or enough of it handy, I think I will stay away from it while carb loading given the slower liver metabolism. I’ll be doing some additional research on this, but I am concerned that the liver metabolism pathway that leads to fat production may not be getting as much to glycogen stores as dextrose/glucose. So, I’ll deal with the blood sugar spike of the dextrose in favor of more glycogen – at least that is my hypothesis right now.]

As to salt, as I said I toss in some potassium chloride. You can buy this stuff anywhere – it’s marketed as a salt substitute for people on a low or no sodium diet.

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Bananas sold separately. I think “No Salt” is a stupid name, since potassium chloride is “a” salt. It’s just not “the” salt – sodium chloride.

Finally, there’s really no performance reason to throw in lime juice, I just do it for taste. It makes it taste a little better. You could use lemon juice. If you decide to leave it out, just remember to replace the fluid with water, or your solution will be even more concentrated. You could add in some of those water flavoring packets I suppose, but that stuff is nasty. I prefer the more natural taste of lime juice, specifically key lime juice – this is the best:

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Photobomb courtesy of my son, Cole.

I know this recipe isn’t going to be featured on the Food Network any time soon, but it gets the job done. As you know realize, this is 8 servings worth and it still doesn’t get me all the way to my target of 810 grams of carbs, so you’re drinking a lot during the day.

What else do I eat during the 24 hours prior?

I follow a low-residue aka low-fiber diet during the last 24 hours. The purpose of that is to make sure my GI tract is as empty as possible when the gun goes off. If you haven’t run across the pictures of people who don’t do this, I don’t recommend you go looking for them. Eww. I think this is the way to go. Don’t even think about an enema, I don’t speak from personal experience but I’ve read they are dehydrating, which is not really the direction you want to go a couple of hours before your race.

My typical race day minus one diet is 3 eggs at each meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner. Usually with cheese, for a little fat. Meat is pretty low-residue but not totally devoid of fiber, so I stay away. Full fat Greek yogurt if available, with honey. Some ice cream for dessert at dinner, topped with maple syrup. Certainly no fruits, vegetables, grains.

The morning of a race I will eat three more eggs just to have something on my stomach. Then I’ll put down one more serving of the carb-loading drink, about 300 calories worth, two hours before the gun, if possible, to avoid the blood sugar spike. If you can’t do that, just really nurse it. Once you get into the ten minute window before the gun, you can do a gel if you can stomach it. I’m going to use a product Coach Kyle recommended for my on course fueling – again, I’m going to nurse it instead of trying to gag it all down at once. I practiced this on a long run recently and it’s pretty tasty as far as I’m concerned. going slow is also a good reason because the really high sugar concentration in gels and the like is a little hard to get down without coughing unless you take it easy.

Here’s the magic potion for this race, in a nice little bottle that fits your palm pretty well:

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Mmm! Kona Coffee!

Here goes! Off to the Great White North in less than 24 hours!

 

 

 

 

Running away from home

I love a good double entendre. I spent much of the last few weeks running (away from home), not running away (from home). Running (away from home) is the subject of this post, and it presents both challenges and opportunities for a runner on a marathon training schedule.

The first departure from my usual stomping grounds came in the form of a family trip out west. Over a week and a half, we tent-camped (mostly) our way through the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, to Seattle and back. While I would have loved to do some trail running while on this trip, there were two factors that kept me pounding the pavement: (1) elevation; (2) bears. Elevation was the primary issue – in two ways. First, I was above 5000 feet most of our trip, and I live at 1000 feet, so I was working harder even if I picked level routes. Second, finding a trail without much elevation gain on my trip would have been difficult although not impossible. For instance, one fantastic hike we did as a family (Beaver Pond trail at Mammoth, Yellowstone) involved about 1 mile up a mountainside to get to a 5 mile loop. I love hills, but footing was tricky even at a walking pace. Conversely, another hike (Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons) lakeside loop led to a hike up a rocky cliff. It was a “don’t look down” trail.

rocky trail

At the time of that trip, I was 7-8 weeks out from the Edmonton Marathon. My quads thanked me for staying on the level. Also, because bears.

I’m not really an over-cautious person when it comes to hiking or running (although I am when it comes to amusement parks, long story). I trail run and day hike solo. Sometimes in places without cell service! Sometimes without a cell phone! Standard advice for bear country is hike in groups of 3 or more, carry bear spray, and make lots of noise. We had bear spray with us, and I can make a lot of noise, but I didn’t have 2 friends of similar fitness level and training goals along with me. You don’t want to be gliding along the trail solo and find this guy taking his afternoon nap:

bear

So I stuck to the roads. Still with a bear bell. In the Tetons and Yellowstone, the roads still meant a pretty good degree of solitude. When you’re out there in the early morning, there’s not a lot of competition. Just me and a bald eagle one time. In fact, the only time I saw other runners was coming in and out of our campsite at the Tetons. At Yellowstone, I got some friendly honks and waves from folks in cars (at least I am pretty sure the gestures were friendly).

So that’s the where. Another challenge is the when: finding the time to run in the midst of all the other activities you’ve got planned for the day – and the energy to do all of it! My solution for this was the same as at home: get up so early that no one protests the fact that you’re going on a run. I’m only kidding – I am really fortunate to have a wife and family that support me in this! On one day, I got up and did a short 3 mile regen run at Mammoth – up the big hill from the campsite to the lodge. The morning activity was horseback riding:

horseback

(note the off-label use of my Skora Forms, which, as long as we’re talking about off-label use, make an excellent hiking shoe. No boots for me!)

Then, in the afternoon, it was down the Yellowstone:

rafting

(No Skoras here. Neoprene booties. Snowmelt = cold!)

I couldn’t have planned that better. I was glad I didn’t have a “hard” day on my training schedule, and for the most part my runs fit well into the day. I got lucky for a Saturday long run in Spokane – although my luck was at the expense of my wife and daughter, who had gotten a virus along the way and were sleeping it off while I ran a beautiful rail-to-trail route south of downtown.

After we got back from our trip west, I had a few days home, and then it was off again to back-to-back camps. Webelos with my son Cole – which was local. Fortunately the Cub Scouts don’t set too aggressive of a schedule and with lights out at 10, I was able to get up and get my miles in well before breakfast. Then it was straight to a summer camp my wife and I volunteered at as counselors. That was a little more grueling – but only because we were staying up late with as bunch of energetic and enthusiastic kids. I found a nice core of brave souls who also wanted to get up early and run at camp. As always, the accountability of group runs is one of the best ways to get out of bed when you might have hit the snooze.

I’m now less than 4 weeks out from Edmonton and starting to get excited. My training schedule is peaking with higher miles and more speed. I hit the track yesterday with an old friend – the Skora PHASE. I’ve been running in FIT so much I’d almost forgotten what the lighter and more responsive PHASE has to offer. Just a great track or race shoe, although some prefer it for general training. For me, that’s the FIT – click through the banner to the right of this post to learn more about the FIT and the rest of the lineup, or read my reviews on this blog!

 

Does anyone love runners more than Boston? #runreal

It’s practically a rhetorical question. This year’s Boston Marathon was my first – but I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get any better than this for the amateur runner. I ran on the same course on the same day, at the same time (and in the same “wave”!) as the world’s best marathoners. I wore bib 8362, which meant that roughly 100 elite males and females, as well as bibs 100-8361 were all in front of me. Despite the fact that 8000 runners had already gone by before me, I was still treated to the same cheering crowds that urged on Meb, Ryan, Rita, and Shalane. Scores of people – race volunteers, spectators, and people about town personally thanked me for coming to the marathon. Patriots’ Day is a holiday in Massachusetts, commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War. It’s also Marathon Monday in Boston and the surrounding communities. Some estimates predicted that a million people would line the race course for this year’s race. I wouldn’t disagree. Boston loves this race. Boston loves the people who run it. You feel it! The best way I can describe it was a purely physical response I had three times during the race. I found myself getting so excited and pumped up by the crowd that I realized I was about to hyperventilate. It wasn’t my pace – I was just forgetting to breathe properly. All I had to do was move over into the middle of the road and take some deep breaths to recover.

I felt great the whole race. I can’t ever remember finishing so strong and feeling so good. You can see it:

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The RHSW accompanied me to Boston. It was great having her there. I can get a bit wiggy before a race, and far beyond her bib-pinning skills she is a calming influence. We decided to leave our kids behind with Grandma and Grandpa, rather than trying to keep track of all four of them in the crowds. My neighbor and friend, John, brought his family along. He had a very personal reason for doing so, as he, his wife, 2 children, and his in-laws were all gathered in the Forum Restaurant last year post-race when the second bomb went off right in front, blowing out the glass windows in the restaurant, and wreaking havoc on the innocent crowd gathered along the route.

We arrived in Boston late Friday night. We had already picked up a few marathoners on the flight from Kansas City – a couple from Topeka running together. Since I was wearing my fluorescent orange Boston jacket, I got my first of many “good lucks” from a Bostonian within moments of getting off the plane.

The RHSW and I slept in a Saturday, then went on a nice shakedown run together along the Harborwalk. That afternoon, we walked down to Boston Common, the finish line, and various other marathon-related sights with John as our tour guide. I wore my Blue Camo Skora Forms around town – the color scheme was perfect this year – blue and orange. They got lots of admiration and questions, which I happily answered. That evening, we feasted at Mooo with my childhood friend Dan and his girlfriend. I didn’t have the chicken.

Sunday was a pretty busy day. I do the Western Australian carb load method, so I did my speed workout early, then started in on the sugar. I do allow myself eggs and yogurt, but no fiber. Breakfast with John & his entourage, followed by a worship service with a wonderful group that met downtown in a nearby hotel. After that, we headed over the race expo. I’ve never been impressed by a race expo. This one was bigger, but no more impressive. I did see Bart Yasso.

After that it was on to the Red Sox game. Much to my dismay, my friend Dan informed me as we arrived just in time for the first pitch that there had been a moving tribute to the marathon victims, with on-field appearances prior to the game. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t turn on the television for a few days. We hung around for about 5 innings, before the cold and my need to get in bed drove us out. Fortunately, everyone else was more than happy to oblige. Mandatory Green Monster shot:

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Finally, Marathon Monday was here! I got up at 5:30 for the 10:00 start. I had a simple omelette, more carbs, and dressed for the walk to Boston Common. Just outside my hotel, I made fast friends with Max, an entrepreneur from London. We walked together and rode the bus to Hopkinton. I might have convinced him to give my Skora FITs a try. As it turns out, we were about the same age and had qualified with roughly the same time (ok, he was 2 minutes faster). He injured his Achilles over the winter doing speedwork for a sub 3:00 attempt. As a result, I passed him on the race course – and amazingly I spotted him and encouraged him. We exchanged emails after the race and I’m happy to report he finished quite well under the circumstances.

After you get off the bus in Hopkinton, you’re herded into Athlete’s Village (did somebody say “athlete”?) where a cornucopia of carbs, caffeine and plenty of porta-potties await. I had several Gatorade carb energy drinks – 100+ calories each, minimal fluid; plus some coffee. The morning started off chilly, so it’s a good idea to bring some sweats to wear until you’re called to load into the corrals. Here’s my ensemble:

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My orange Illinois sweatpants fit the year’s colors, but were simply too awful to display publicly. Also, high-waters. You have to show your bib to the photog if you want to see the pic later. My Cub Scout sweatshirt with “Olathe, KS” on it got me noticed by a guy who had emigrated to the East Coast from Olathe. His adult children were going to be there to cheer him on in the race. We also talked about my Skora FITs – he had on the Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris – a shoe I liked quite a bit as a trainer before discovering Skoras. They are discontinued – and also a bit too much shoe for a race, in my opinion.

There was a moment of silence for the victims of last year’s bombing while we were in the village. About 9:15, they called us out of the village and into the parking lot where we were sorted into our corrals for the first wave. I made another friend in Bob, a runner from the U.P. of Michigan. When you’re in your corral, everybody’s compatible pace-wise, so we decided to run together at the beginning for a while. Once in order, we walked up to the start line (well, the 1/4 mile behind the start line). You’re practically bursting at this point. It’s like horses in the starting gate. Before the gun, there was the National Anthem, introduction of the elites, and a fly-over by 4 air ambulance helicopters that assisted in the emergency response.

My friend John (who has a much faster PR than I) was running on a charity bib, so he decided to linger at the very end of the last wave before beginning his race. A photojournalist (Stephan Savoia/AP) documented this moment, as he knelt to kiss the start line at his return to this great race:

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What a great picture! Better than any of mine!

Once the gun goes off, first you stand, then you walk, then you shuffle, and finally a couple hundred feet from the start line you break into a full run. Actually quite a nice warmup, although when you’re doing it you’re thinking “I hope I don’t need those hundred feet back at the end….” Because you’re all so well-sorted by qualifying pace, there’s not a lot a weaving in and out at first, since in theory everyone in front of you is faster. Of course, since you could have qualified as much as 18 months before, a lot can happen in that time – injury, a lower level of conditioning, etc. Bob and I warmed up for the first couple of miles on the long downhill – everyone says don’t waste energy going out too fast. I think I hit it about right – about 10-15 seconds above my goal pace. Then I started cranking it up and ran the next several miles through mile 13 mostly below goal pace (7:15). I lost Bob to a porta-potty, and after seeing Max fairly early on, the rest of the race was on my own – just a few familiar strangers passing me back and forth. I passed more people than I was passed by during the race – my overall finish of 5577 (lower than my bib number of 8362) bears this out. Even in the early miles, the crowd support is still better than anything I have seen in my previous 6 marathons. There was a very enthusiastic pocket at Ashland, and larger crowds at Framingham and Natick. Every once in a while you’ve got to head over to the side of the road and gently high-five one of the little kids that are out there cheering for you.

Wellesley lives up to its reputation. Around mile 13 or so, first comes a tunnel of evergreens, followed by a tunnel of screaming college girls. It’s deafening. Seriously. I moved to the middle of the road – although I heard one guy around me remark that he could go for another 13 miles of that.

The Newton Hills begin just before mile 16. My pace had slowed a bit in mile 14, but I was still within 10s of goal pace miles 14-16. Miles 16-21 are most certainly the 4-5 (depending on who’s counting) Newton Hills. I ran these strong, about 30s under goal pace. I love hills! There were a lot of walkers. By this point in the race it was getting pretty close to noon – a 10:00 start is something I knew would be difficult – and the temperature was really starting to rise. Not a cloud in the sky, and I’m sure it was upper 60s by my race end.

The second of the Newton Hills is marked by the Newton Fire Station at the bottom. For some reason I look a bit pensive here:

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The final Newton Hill has a name, as you probably realize. Heartbreak Hill. Ain’t so bad. A few walkers around me as I wave to the crowd – not the camera (there was a camera?):

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Once you get to the top (and there is a false top) soon after is a downhill followed by another unnamed hill. I can’t remember if that’s before BC, but here’s St. Ignatius on campus:

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I am clearly in the middle of one of several emotional moments here. Right around this point in the race, I saw Juli Windsor, the dwarf featured in last month’s Runner’s World. She was stopped by the bombs last year in her bid to finish Boston (although not her first marathon). She was looking strong – I’m sure she must have finished.

Mile 23 was one of my favorites. Thanks to a long downhill before a left turn, I cranked it back up to 7:23. I felt like I was flying downhill. I had to move to the far left to overtake, and there was a huge crowd along the barriers here. One guy saw me, made eye contact, pointed right at me and let out a huge yell followed by a high-five. It was exhilarating.

After that, some tough work began. I fell off my pace again – although I didn’t run a single mile out of the 7’s. The last “hill” is a man-made one; the Mass Pike overpass:

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I’m chuggin’ – but I’m not walkin’.

There was a lot of attrition in those final miles. I saw several collapsed runners – which is kind of new to me, although probably because most of the races I have been in are so small compared to Boston. As you can see from these pictures, there is ALWAYS someone around you. You never have a clear path. The only thing I can compare it to are some 5Ks where I didn’t get up close enough to the start line and had to pick my way through.

Mile 26 was the toughest of course. My partial split from the last 0.4 miles (you always run a little bit farther than 26.2 – it’s harder to take the perfect race line at Boston than anywhere else) was my fastest of the day though: 7:08. I could smell it. Here I am on Boylston, working for the finish:

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At the finish line, it’s all sunshine and bunnies. I’m pretty sure the broader photo-op line is before the actual finish line – otherwise who would keep running at this point:

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That last one’s my favorite. Unless I’m mistaken, the “real” finish line is the last race pic:

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After that, it’s on to the finish chute – which is so long it feels like a marathon in itself. First: the medal. I’m not sure what possessed me to see if it was gold or not. It wasn’t:

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You can see the evaporated salts on my shirt. After that, it’s water, a space blanket, Gatorade, protein shakes, bananas and a bag of assorted other foodstuffs. Yes, please. I think I put down at least 50 oz. of fluids in the 5-10 minutes post race – and that’s with trying to take a couple gulps of the Gatorade Endurance formula they had at each aid station every mile (I did skip the first few as I was VERY topped off pre-race).

Here’s my final stats from the BAA:

Net Time 3:16:28
Overall 5577/31931
In Gender 4902/17575 (Male)
In Division 966/2628 (M40-44 Age Group)

And my splits from my Garmin:

1 7:25.7 1.00 7:26
2 7:20.4 1.00 7:20
3 7:18.0 1.00 7:18
4 7:11.6 1.00 7:12
5 7:10.5 1.00 7:10
6 7:11.6 1.00 7:12
7 7:05.3 1.00 7:05
8 7:17.8 1.00 7:18
9 7:16.0 1.00 7:16
10 7:17.0 1.00 7:17
11 7:16.0 1.00 7:16
12 7:19.8 1.00 7:20
13 7:16.4 1.00 7:16
14 7:22.8 1.00 7:23
15 7:25.0 1.00 7:25
16 7:20.8 1.00 7:21
17 7:42.9 1.00 7:43
18 7:44.5 1.00 7:44
19 7:42.3 1.00 7:42
20 7:47.9 1.00 7:48
21 7:56.8 1.00 7:57
22 7:29.9 1.00 7:30
23 7:22.7 1.00 7:23
24 7:41.9 1.00 7:42
25 7:46.5 1.00 7:47
26 7:52.0 1.00 7:52
27 2:50.2 0.40 7:08

I want to explicitly thank Skora for the pre-release FITs they provided me with. See my full review in a previous post. I don’t rave about shoes I don’t love because they’re free. I rave about great shoes. Despite warmer than ideal conditions and a punishing net downhill course I once again had zero shoe/foot issues during the race. The FITs just stayed out of the way and let me run joyfully. I paired the FITs with some Icebreaker Run Ultra Light Micro socks and a light coating of Alba Unpetroleum jelly. No blisters or hot spots.

Here I am relaxing in Boston Common before meeting up with the RHSW et al.:

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I relaxed (briefly) at a restaurant one street off Boylston before heading to the curb to watch John finish:

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RHSW to my right, John’s entourage including his adorable kids fill out the frame.

Here’s John and me after meeting up with him at Boston Common:

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And a celebratory kiss with the RHSW:

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Not only did I feel great after the race in the FIT, I decided to sign up for my hometown marathon that Saturday: the “Garmin Marathon in the Land of OZ, Olathe, KS.” (Kind of a mouthful). I ran it just under 2:00 slower than Boston. A less comprehensive race report on that one, coming soon! Spoiler alert – love those FITs – couldn’t have done 2 in 6 days without them. Spoiler alert #2: flying monkeys.

A Cold Run on the Beach – Psycho Wyco 50K 2014 @skorarunning @skratchlabs

I ran the aptly named Psycho Wyco 50K this weekend at Wyandotte County Lake Park in Kansas City, Kansas. “Aptly named?” I offer this comment from a friend to a picture I posted to Facebook: “You are crazy.” No exclamation point, just a declaration. Hard to argue.

This was my first ultramarathon and my first Psycho Wyco. While I’d previously paced a 26.2+ distance, this was my first timed race entry for an ultra. I probably would have apologized more for calling this 50k an ultra (it is) having not run a 50m or 100m yet, but this was one tough 50k. I had some lofty goals for this race that were crushed by the weather. I can run this 10 mile trail loop in about 1:30 in decent conditions. I ran it in 1:37 in December’s Alternate Chili run, and that was with a slight amount of snow/ice on the ground. For the 50K, that’s three laps. I had aspirations of breaking the 5:00 mark. Spoiler alert: not even close. I was pleased with my overall place, 12th.

We had an ice storm the weekend before the race, followed by close to a foot of snow on the Tuesday before. The temps stayed arctic after that too. Very little melting. Yesterday, a local weatherman observed that we had gone 252 hours since we were last above freezing!

I did my typical low-residue diet the Friday before the race. That is, no fiber. Eggs, meat, carbs (I usually try to avoid refined sugars, but not pre-race), cheese, cream, etc. Worked like a charm. No porta-potty stops! My son had a soccer academy skills clinic on Friday night, and as I was messing around on Twitter during his practice, I saw Dr. Jordan Metzel @drjordanmetzl tweet that he was coming into town for Psycho Wyco with @RWGearGuy (Runner’s World Editor Jeff Dengate) and @JamieMetzl. I let Dr. Metzel know I appreciated his advice (he’s a triathlete and MD who regularly contributes to Runner’s World) and especially his excellent Iron Strength workout. I didn’t get a chance to meet Dr. Metzel at the race, but Jeff and I finished within 30 seconds of each other and traded congratulations at the finish line.

The night before, I re-screwed my Skora Forms (the screw heads were looking a bit worn after heavy use in recent weeks), assembled my gear, and hit the sack. I woke up around six and had some eggs, a double espresso with cream, and about 20 oz of this:

http://www.skratchlabs.com/collections/drinks/products/apple-cinnamon-exercise-hydration-mix-limited-edition-holiday-flavor

Hot hydration? You bet. If it’s hot out, you want a cold sports drink right? It’s delicious – actually flavored with apples and cinnamon!

Then it was off to the race. Great logistics. Close-in parking at start/finish line is limited, so a shuttle runs from a remote lot. It gave me a chance to do some final gearing up. I changed out of my Skora Cores and into my screwed Forms. The Form is my go-to trail shoe. Minimalist with just enough sole to keep you from getting beat to death on the rocks. I also slathered my face and hands with Alba Unpetroleum jelly (I had already covered my feet with it). Temperatures were just under 20F at race start, and only warmed into the mid-20s during the race, so I decided on a light-weight headband, a cold weather compression shirt, lightweight windbreaker running jacket, running tights, shorts, and toe-socks. I went with some glommits on my hands – rag wool – just picked them up the night before. I figured wool would stay warm better if I got them wet from putting a hand down in the snow, and they worked great.

Conditions were daunting as we waded out into the snow in the starting field. I had already mentally prepared myself for a slower and longer day than I had previously hoped for. Justin, a fellow runner I had met at my kids’ school a few months back (I introduced myself after noticing his Boston Marathon jacket) diffused any tension by coming up and saying hi before the start. We ran together for quite a bit of the first lap.

The trail wasn’t as chewed up during the first lap as it was on the second two. To put a finer point on it, the snow never packed. Ok, there was a stretch on a ridge where I thought I heard snow packing under my feet for a few seconds. Since it was so cold, the snow pretty much remained the consistency of sand the whole time. Hence, the title of this post. During the second and third loops, it really looked like sand for long stretches where the dirt had mixed in a bit.  The trail did clear a little bit in some places with all the traffic moving through, but I thought other spots actually become more difficult from getting all churned up.

Here’s a picture fairly soon after the start. I was moving as fast as possible, but I can’t disagree if you think I look like I’m walking (or if I have an “are we there yet” look on my face):

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The next set of photos come from a really fun part of the trail – the “Triangle” – a single-track section with lots of switchbacks (other parts of the course are on a slightly wider “bridle trail” – btw the horses were smart enough to stay home). I actually enjoyed it the most the first time through when there was more snow:

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The first loop was also the most fun because there were still so many people running together. Most trail racers are pretty cool about yielding the trail if you want to pass, especially under these conditions. I passed and was passed, all without any hurt feelings.

The first time through, the biggest shock was how difficult it was to get up to the top of Dam Hill and onto the road up to the aid station. I slid back down twice before crawling onto the road. By the way, the course had excellent aid stations throughout – stocked with plenty of necessities and staffed by super-friendly and enthusiastic people, including my friend Darin Schneidewind – who I paced for the last 35 of the OT100 last November! For my part, I pretty much stuck to the sports drink and the gels. The Dam aid station had hot broth the last time through – that was GREAT! I had started asking for “something hot” as I finished the first loop, and people would give me coffee out of their thermos without hesitation. Just great.

Here’s a few shots from the Fester’s Wander section and coming down a big hill. This was probably the most treacherous hill on the course that day, which is why I again look like I am walking. I could see the skid marks of those who had gone before me. And maybe some blood. On the second lap I was running with a guy named Kevin, and we joked that we kept leapfrogging each other. He would fly down the hills and pass me, and I would crank up them and pass him back. So here’s that section:

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Easy does it!

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I didn’t ask the photographer to focus on my Skora Forms, but this is a nice pic of the shoes.

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Chasing up a hill!

Now for my two favorite pictures. It can be really hard to describe to people the pure joy I feel when running. I’m so thankful that I have the ability to do what I love. These two are worth at least a thousand words each:

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I finished the first loop in 2:00:40.7, hoping as I came through the start/finish line that the course had gotten packed down a bit for the second loop. I didn’t find it to be any easier the second time through, and I couldn’t manage to pick up my pace any, falling off to 2:10:24.4. Perhaps if I had set a fallback goal ahead of time atm6 hours and figured out that pace I might have pushed harder, but as it was I was just enjoying the day as much as possible and not really looking at my watch. I knew I was going to be slower than I hoped. It was tough going, but I wasn’t really able to move quickly and productively enough that I was ever challenging my cardio except on the ups.

Perhaps the most exhilarating moment of the race was coming through the start/finish line at the end of the second lap. There were still a lot of people hanging around at that point waiting for people to come in from the 10 mile and 20 mile distances. I got some nice crowd support once they realized I was headed out for a third and final lap! That lap was pretty lonely, although I did come across a few racers. One guy was chatting with his significant other on a cell phone while keeping up a pretty good pace. Impressive! He described the snow as having the consistency of sugar. Agree. Another, Will, caught me in the last few miles. Making excuses for myself, I had developed one of those mysterious side stitches and just couldn’t knead it out. Will and I ran together for a while, but I knew he had me to the finish. Several of us finished pretty close to each other, and I did manage to gut it out and stay ahead of a few guys on my tail.

Not surprisingly, my last lap was the slowest, at 2:17:45.1. My total time was 6:28:50.2. At least I set the bar low for my first timed 50k ultra! Nowhere to go but up.

I’ll be back. Psycho Wyco was a blast, and I sure don’t like a course to get the better of me. Here’s the finish, with apologies to Ryan Hall:

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Skora Phase shoe review & Kansas City Marathon race report #runreal

This past weekend’s Kansas City Marathon was my first race in the Skora Phase. I didn’t have the Phase in time for Heart of America in September, or I would have worn it then. It’s lighter, and I prefer the laces.

This was my sixth marathon. I’ve run all of them in minimal shoes. This is the first shoe I have run in that did not produce any blisters whatsoever over the marathon distance. I rarely have blistering problems during training runs, but it was not unusual to have a blister or two at this distance and pace. But no blisters is way better. I had worn the Phase on a 16 mile long run, and couldn’t wait to put them on for the marathon.

The Phase is so light I’d say it’s nearly in the realm of a racing flat. 7.2 oz. to be exact. It’s similar to the Core, but with a synthetic mesh upper. The sole is injection blown rubber. Zero drop. Also, mine have an awesome color scheme – red, black, yellow, white. My son Cole calls them my “Chiefs” shoes. I might have worn them to a game.

A snug heel, asymmetric lacing, and an ample toe box combine for a fit that allows your foot to be itself. You never feel like you are moving around in the shoe in a way you don’t want to. The Phase disappears – my definition of the ideal shoe.

Here’s a shot of the Phase (with me in them) on the course:

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I have to admit I wasn’t peaking for this race. Some diet experimentation in August and September, coupled with a week of gluttony at Disney World the week before race week didn’t make for ideal preparation. I did not have a hard time goal for this race because of these factors. In my experience, going into a race without a specific goal you are striving to achieve is a recipe for mediocrity. I always perform better when I am reaching.

My plan was to go out with Nelson and try to encourage him to a BQ. We started with the 3:15 pace group, but he took off and ran his own race from about mile 2 on. I had him in sight for a while, but then settled into the 3:15 pace group. Pace groups can be a double-edged sword. At times, it’s great to tuck in and just follow the herd without having to think too much. However, there are lots of factors that might draw you off from the group. For me, there always seems to be some point where the pacer is pushing too hard to make up a particular time goal on a stretch. That might be just my imagination though!

I stuck with the 3:15 pace group through the halfway point and most of the way down Ward Parkway. They picked up a second pacer, and the first one dropped back to try to bring me up with the group. Very cool. I could feel that it just wasn’t my day though, and I cut him loose. After a mile or two, I noticed I had my friend John in sight. It took me a while to catch him – since I didn’t want him to feel like he had to drop back to me I didn’t call out. His family was waiting for him just before the turn onto 75th street. I caught him just as he stopped with them, then he caught back up to me. We ran together for several miles, then he made a “pit stop.” I was amazed that he caught back up to me and then told me he was going to try to go out and catch up to the 3:15 group. Not only did he do that, he passed them, caught and encouraged Nelson, and beat both of us to the finish! Way to go John!

I ran a good portion of the race by myself. However, when I got to the top of the hill at the Armour/Paseo turn, I felt a surge of energy. I had slowed in the past few miles, but I didn’t feel like I had hit “the wall” as I have in some past marathons. From mile 23 on, I really picked up the pace. There was a guy that I had been passing back and forth with the whole race, and he was flagging. I tried to pay it forward and encourage him to come with him. We ran together for about two miles, until the final mile. Then I dropped him with a kick since I was feeling so good. The kick made me think I had left some minutes on the table.

There were some changes to the course this year, and my favorite was a straightening out of the last 1/3 – 1/2 mile of the race on Grand. It used to make a couple of turns from 18th to the finish. Now it blazes on over to Grand, and you can see your target off in the distance as you head down a nice downhill stretch before the final “bump” (overpass) leading into the flat finish. The new course really helped me crank it up a notch in the last mile. I even passed a couple of runners on my way to a respectable but not great time – pretty far off my PR but not my slowest effort either.

Nelson held on to his lead on the pace group for a time of 3:14:21. A BQ! Way to go!

The Phase will be my go-to racing shoe from now on. It checks all the boxes – great fit, light, zero drop, enough cushioning to cut down on the road noise but not so much to drown it out, and it doesn’t hurt that it looks cool. Never underestimate that psychological boost!

By the numbers:

3:18:52

78th overall

5th in M40-44

overall pace 7:34

Here’s a few more pictures:

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Disney World at marathon minus one week = #tapermadness

One way to make sure you’re tapering enough before your fall marathon is to take a vacation right before it!

Yes, I know taper madness properly refers to that stir crazy feeling I’m supposed to be getting by reducing my mileage in the 2-3 weeks leading up to a marathon. Of course I’m not seriously advocating this vacation over-tapering as a strategy for running your best, but there are times when something has got to give. I try to place family before running.

I’m running the Kansas City marathon 10/19. We left for Disney World 10/4 and returned 10/13 (we drove). 10/6 began 6 days of gluttony. Disney has some great food, and I ate my fair share of it. In addition to walking all over the place while at the parks, I did get in 4 runs over that stretch. Not exactly according to my training schedule, but not entirely off the wagon either.

So, while I don’t think I am at peak fitness for this race, I feel good about going out with Nelson and the 3:15 pace group. He is going to pull away at the halfway point. I will try to go with him. I don’t think that will be a problem – like most people I am feeling my best at that time. It’s the final 6.2 that will determine the price I will pay for overindulging last week! I am just going to try to enjoy the race and encourage Nelson to a sub 3:15. He’s had some great training runs and he’s healthy – he should crush that time! John, my other running buddy 10 years my junior, is dealing with a foot issue, but is capable of a 3:00 marathon or better. I don’t think I’ll be trying to stick with him this time around, although it would be great to have someone pacing to a sub 3:00 – one of my “doable” goals. Maybe next year!

I boosted my confidence a bit with a “dress rehearsal” run tonight – just 6 miles, with 2 at “race pace.” I suppose that is going to be 7:14, but I actually felt really good tonight and I went under 7:00 for both of those miles. I love the cooler weather – cool means speed!

#ketogenic diet: the experiment concludes

As I tweeted last Thursday, I called it quits after 6 weeks on a ketogenic diet. Basically, I decided to go back to carbs because I just didn’t feel like tolerating the valleys anymore, along with a near-constant feeling like I was at 80%. Being on carbs means feeling 100% most of the time, with the occasional low spot, easily cured by a quick hit of sugar. Being on fat means 80% most of the time, with an expected evening dip. The only time I didn’t feel at 80% was when I was exercising, or for several hours afterwards, presumably because that’s when my ketone production was cranked up.

I terminated the experiment just 3 weeks out from the KC Marathon. I would have liked to assess performance there while fully keto-adapted, but I just couldn’t stomach (pun intended) the thought of going to Disney with my family and saying no to all the stuff I am going to want to eat there. Disney has some excellent restaurants, and we have long since had reservations set up for them. Plus, I just wasn’t sure I’d have the energy level necessary to go 18 hours a day there like we usually do. Even with those excuses aside, I really didn’t feel like 3 more weeks of it regardless, even in an easier setting.

I’d like to run well at KC. It’s hard to say what the diet has done to the 4 weeks after Heart of America from a training perspective. I don’t know that I have either gained or lost any fitness during that period. There hasn’t been as much speed work as I would like during the last month. It feels like I have been doing a lot of medium intensity, medium length runs. I can comfortably say that I feel like I have enough time to switch back over to carbs before 10/19. I’ll be trying to toss in a lot of fartleks during the taper, which began this week.

Yes, there has been some sugar binging in the last few days. (mmm, donuts). I think I’m ready to move on now. I’m going back to semi-Paleo (meaning plus dairy, with one cheat day per week).

HOA #marathon in @skorarunning Base #ketogenic race report

I ran the Heart of America Marathon on Labor Day in Columbia, MO. The HOA is considered “one of the most difficult nonmountain marathon courses in the nation,” going from downtown Columbia down to the Missouri River and back up. I placed 3rd in my age group and ran the course almost 3 minutes faster than last year. The field had a ton of talent up at the top – despite running faster I came in 23rd – I was 11th last year! Sometimes, whether or not you pick up any hardware depends on who else shows up – even if you have a great day. I ran a 3:19:51.8 – a 7:37 pace. Lucky for me, only two faster guys my age showed up, so I got this:

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I wore the Skora Base shoe. I put over 100 miles on this shoe pre-race and was very comfortable with it going in. I’m really happy with how it functioned during the race. I used an Iniji toe sock which kept me from having any blistering or rubbing between the toes. The Base held up great on what is primarily a pavement course. There is a three-mile section of gravel just before midway – although this is actually my favorite surface to run on in the Base. I love how this shoe just disappears – if I’m not thinking about my shoes during a marathon, that’s ideal. You need something on this course with the gravel section and a significantly long newly paved section that is rough, not smooth (I’m sure there is a highway construction term for this). Some guy ran it barefoot last year, but I didn’t hear about anyone trying this year. You would have to go in the ditch on that new section – nobody’s callouses could hold up to it. The Base was just enough without being too much.

Here’s a shot of the shoes at the finish line:

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This was my first race on the ketogenic diet. I switched over on 8/15, so I may not even be fully keto-adapted. I cut out fiber the day before, eating primarily fat with some protein. Unfortunately, I either went to bed too soon after eating the night before the race, or had some food poisoning. I woke up just over an hour before my alarm was going to go off, and seriously thought I was not going to be able to toe the starting line. Either way, I don’t believe this had anything to do with my dietary switch. I haven’t had any such issues before long runs. Fortunately, when the alarm went off at 4:45, I felt better, so I decided to give it a go. I had two cups of coffee with heavy whipping cream for a bit of fat. I was slightly concerned that I might be low on potassium after eating zero veggies the day before, so I added a 1/4 tsp of No Salt (potassium chloride) to my second cup of coffee. It was one of those spur of the moment decisions. I need to research this more to see how long potassium stays in the system. Too much or too little can be dangerous, so don’t try this at home. I liberally salted food the day before, so no worries on the sodium front – I also had a 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds the day before for some magnesium. I drank about a liter of water – half when I got up, the other half right before the gun. I ran the whole race on nothing but water. No Gatorade, no gels, etc. Just the fat in my body. The proof is in the pudding – I was a little distracted after the race – lots of friends and family around – but I checked my ketone levels 40 minutes after I stopped running, and they were 5.4 mmol. Definitely “in the zone” and then some, without getting too high.

So, on to the race itself. My plan was to go out at a 3:10 pace and see what developed. I didn’t have any trouble whatsoever keeping that up on the first half of the course, easily hitting my target pace of 7:14 with the exception of mile 2 (a 7:25 thanks to the Providence hill) and mile 8 (a 7:53 on a tough uphill stretch on Old Plank road). I cruised down through the gravel stretch to mile 12.5, an aid station just before Easley Hill. At this point I was on target, but knowing a negative split was unlikely. I jokingly asked the high school kids manning the aid station at Easley if it was all downhill from there, and they corrected me with some horror before I let them know I was joking. I got a good laugh out of them. Easley Hill, just ahead, is the worst of the hills – there is a stretch of about 1/3 mile that is over an 11% grade. Beat that, Heartbreak Hill!

My HOA “mentor” – the amazing Tom May (just a few years my senior, he ran a personal course PR just over 3:01 this year) advises running Easley Hill until you reach the guard rail and your heart rate redlines, then walk briskly while your HR goes down until you can start running again. I did this, and looked back to see some runners catching up to me as I walked. However, when I hit the top and started running again, after a few minutes I had opened up a sizeable gap on everyone who gassed themselves running the 11% grade. Thanks Tom!

Once you top Easley Hill, there’s a feeling that the worst is over – for a while. I had several great miles in this middle section – buoyed my awesome race-chasing cheering section! I was overtaken by one guy I never saw again, and also passed back and forth with the women’s winner and another guy through Rock Bridge State Park.

Mile 20 is completed at the top of another big hill – I again alternated some brisk walking and running near the top of this one, and was rewarded with overtaking another runner shortly after. I never felt a “bonk” per se thanks to the fat-burning – and my next couple miles were back down in the sevens. However, this course has one last trick up its sleeve – the long uphill on Providence to Faurot Field ending at the 24 mile mark. I slowed a bit on this hill and took a quick walk break – my third – about 10 seconds – to get my pulse back. I was the passer and passee on this tough final stretch. There were only a few people in view at this point in the race, but there is nothing that motivates you to keep moving like hearing footsteps. Again, no bonk, although I did notice some generalized tightness developing in my leg muscles in mile 25. Thankfully, no calf cramps, as I have occasionally experienced in the final 6 miles. I managed to kick it back up to target pace for the final 0.6 as I came onto Broadway. I love how you can see the finishing chute from a fairly long way off at HOA. Simon Rose – a local media personality – was announcing finishers. I played soccer against him when I was in law school – I should say football though as he’s from Manchester! The crowd was really loud and enthusiastic at the finish – what a great reward, topped off by having my immediate and extended family there for hugs and photos. I also reconnected with Tom May and Andy Emerson, another local runner (tops in my age group – I believe he had run Leadville 2 weeks prior!).

The sense of community at this race is capped off by the pizza party and awards ceremony at Shakespeare’s after the race. I abstained from the carbs – barely…

HOA – I’ll be back!

“Dress Rehearsal” for #HOA in @skorarunning Base; #ketogenic testing; #BostonMarathon

I had a great “dress rehearsal” run in my Skora Bases this morning (brain cramp – just bought my wife the Cores). I did 7 miles with Jeremy and John, 2 at race pace. Pre-dawn makes for some interesting proprioception training! I am ready to roll for the Heart of America Marathon in Columbia, MO, Labor Day.

My ketogenic experiment is going well. I seem to feel a bit sluggish starting out on runs, but once I get going, I am not having any problems. I am experiencing a little more thirst than usual upon waking. The 2 week mark is today, and I am going to test my fasting ketone levels tomorrow morning. I am going to be encouraged if I break 0.5. That is the threshold for nutritional ketosis.

Boston Marathon registration procedures were announced today. The big news is that the field will be significantly expanded, as expected. I hope this means that the secret unpublished qualifying standard (allegedly roughly 1:30 faster than BQ last year) won’t move all that much as a function of both increased supply and increased demand. I hope I will be ok – I’m 3:57 faster than the standard.