Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rock and Roll Vancouver half marathon 2015 Race Report

RNR Vancouver was to be the second race of three, that I planned to run using my RNR 3 race pass. I ran the RNR Denver marathon last week and planned to run the RNR Vegas marathon in November. I really had no idea what to expect for this race given that I had run marathons in the previous two weeks (the Chicago marathon was the first one). On a positive note I recovered much more quickly from Denver than Chicago and was able to get in some longer easy runs in the preceding days.

I had been feeling quite sick since Wednesday, the week of. It probably was due to the change in temperature we experienced in Seattle coupled with the weakened immunity from running two back to back marathons. Also, work had not allowed me the rest I needed. I came back home on Friday night and crashed sleeping for 12 hours. Thankfully, when I woke up on Saturday morning, I felt a lot better!

I had never visited Vancouver in Fall. This is typically a rainy period. We were lucky that the race weekend had great weather. I have to say, I fell in love with Vancouver once again - the energy and the beauty of the city enhanced by the Fall colors. Then in the night, I had a plethora of cuisine options within a block of where we were staying (close to the race start at BC place).

The expo was a typical RNR style expo except that the vendors made it a point to ensure that folks from the US knew that our dollar was now significantly stronger than the Canadian $ :) I was wearing my RNR Denver jacket. It proved to be quite a conversation starter and appeared to be a badge of honor...

In the evening, I got in a 6 miler starting at the waterfront (around BC place). Interestingly, I covered the first 3 miles of the half-marathon course. My legs felt pretty decent which was a good sign for the race.

Race
Temperature: 50F
Humidity: 76%
Sunny

I had a corral 1 assignment and lined up conservatively in the corral... The pre-race announcer was from the US and was mildly insulting the "polite" Canadians and telling them to liven up :p That's what happens when a US company buys out a Canadian race... The rendition of "Oh Canada" and the race started. 
mile 1: 6:18
I could not believe how fast I was running to start off. It was a downhill mile but still ?!?!

mile 2: 6:51
An out-and back on a bridge. I saw another SGLRG runner and Nelson on the other side (I later learned the other runner was Richard).

mile 3: 6:55
5 km - 20:31 @ 6:36
mile 4: 7:08
My shoe laces came undone! I hoped it would not be a repeat of Denver where I had to tie my shoe laces 4 times!!

As we looped by downtown we were blowing past the walkers who had started earlier. Some of them were a bit shocked to see objects moving by them at such a torrid pace.

mile 5: 6:52
Running by the marina trail. The course was so beautiful and the weather was just perfect. It was such a stark contrast to the ugly course in Denver and sub-optimal weather of the past two weeks! This was a happy run and I found myself smiling at times.

mile 6: 7:00
10 km - 42:33 @ 6:51
mile 7: 7:09
mile 8: 7:00
The course continued along the water - Sunset Beach Park and English Bay Park. The sun had just made an appearance as we passed. Just beautiful!

mile 9: 7:11
15 km - 1:03:11 @ 6:47
mile 10: 7:19
mile 11: 7:20
We made our way into Stanley park. The topography was rolling and there were some decent climbs. A guy remarked to me - "I keep trying to shake you off and you keep coming back :)"



mile 12: 7:08
mile 13: 6:52
The final miles by the water with vistas decorated by Fall colors! There were some fast women around me who were kicking it in.




















mile .11/.23: 1:38
In RNR style the course was over but I didn't really care.

RNR provided us with an extra medal for running an "international" race and a race in the US - the world rocker medal. I stopped for a pic at the CTV photo-booth. They were fascinated for some reason. They made me pose with a picture of their Canucks calendar and their staff, and the took a picture with their phone :)







Results:
Chip Time - 01:32:35 @ 7:04 
Clock Time - 01:32:42
Overall: 118 out of 5001
Division: 22 out of 326
Gender: 99 out of 1963


All in all I loved this experience - the race, the city and the weekend! I've got to come back again!!





Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rock and Roll Denver Marathon 2015 Race Report


Backstory

It all started when I tried to use $81 in Southwest credits which would be expiring shortly... I was trying to book a ticket for December. I couldn't! On calling customer service I learnt that I needed to use the credits by Oct 23th... Which practically meant the weekend of the 18th.

What could I use it for and where could I go?

I scoured the race calendar for the weekend of the 18th and the closest and cheapest match turned out to be the Denver Rock and Roll marathon.

To keep the race entry fees down I purchased a 3-pack, which effectively let me run RNR Las Vegas, and then 2 other races for $29 (I intended to run RNR Denver and RNR Vancouver).

Of course an important detail was that I was racing the Chicago marathon on the 11th. I had never tried to run another marathon a week after racing a marathon. It would however be a good test for me to proceed with the registration for the Boston2BigSur challenge where I would have just 6 days between marathons.

The course

After registering, I learnt that the course for the marathon was changed in the last month because the race could not get permits for the city course because a lot of people complained about being inconvenienced the previous year. I guess for an active city, the folks in Denver are not too supportive of athletic events. The marathon would not be held again after this year. From the comments on the event page, I learnt that the new course would not be too inspiring. Essentially, RNR was cutting their losses with the marathon and focusing their energy on the half. This would end up resulting in the half being a great event and the marathon being more of a side show (a crap-shoot).

The new course was going to start away from Denver in a place called Henderson (effectively the middle of no-where). It was going to start at 5000ft and gradually climb all the way to the finish for a net uphill course (finishing at about 5300ft)!!

Goals

My expectations needed to be tempered because of the following:

- Tired legs: Week after racing Chicago
- Altitude: Starting at 5000ft and I would not be acclimatized
- Net uphill: Gradual incline all the way through
- Sub-optimal temperatures: Highs in the lower 70s and sunny

Therefore my objectives were as follows:
- Finish
- Avoid a personal worst
- Sub-3:25

Pre-race

Temperature: 51F- 73F, 26% - Sunny
Humidity: 52%-26%
Sunny

I took a 9:40am flight from Seattle which got me to Denver airport at 1pm. I got into Denver city at 2pm and immediately headed for the expo... The expo had the usual RNR feel. I checked out the medals display as did a lot of others. The motivation to run more RNR events to gain extra medals is palpable - great marketing!

I also spent some time watching the course video for the marathon. It set my expectations for a race on a boring bike path. I'd say any bike path in the Pacific Northwest would have offered more scenery - yet here I was travelling to another city to run on this!

I normally do pretty well with altitude but in the night I had a horrid headache. I guess my body was also recouping from a race effort less than a week back.

On race day morning I was out of the door by 5:45am... I walked down to the Denver Civic Center where we were to board the shuttles to the marathon start. On the bus I chatted with someone who was using this as a training run for a 100 miler (which he really had not trained properly for). As we rode the bus, we were greeted to a spectacular sunrise. That was the most beautiful sight I saw during the trip.

The race start in the Adams County Fairgrounds (in Henderson) had a pastoral feel to it. Getting off the bus you could inhale the odor you'd expect in a farm-land. I could not have expected anything more from the start - short porta-potty lines and gatorade/water/food... The temperature at the start was just perfect. I actually shivered as I waited in the corrals. Unfortunately, the 8am race start would result in horrid conditions at the finish. If only we could have started at the same time or earlier than the half (which started at 7:15am). My "expected" time of 3:15 got me a corral 1 assignment. The corral starts were staggered by a minute so if nothing else this meant that I did not have to wait to start.

Race

mile 1: 7:43
mile 2: 7:18
mile 3: 7:32
mile 4: 7:36
The first few miles were a loop along a golf course. It would end up being as scenic as things got on this course! In the beginning I was feeling a tad light headed (from the altitude?) but I felt fine after a few minutes...

mile 5: 7:39
mile 6: 7:54
10k: 46:13
The course entered the bike path. We would be on this path for most of the race. Oh the irony - to come all this distance to run on a bike path!

I ran in the vicinity of the same few folks for a few miles - a guy pacing his girlfriend, a lady with a Packers shirt,... There were actually more Packers support/signage on course than for the Broncos! They weren't even playing in town this weekend... Just goes to show how passionate their fans are (as I discovered/learnt when I ran the Green Bay marathon :) ).

mile 7: 7:47
mile 8: 7:33
I was very impressed that there were spectators at every opening on bike path, with signs, cheering. There were little kids high-fiving runners. I remember a kid counting, as runners high-fived him. I was number 29...

mile 9: 7:38

I was running on a pair of Nike test shoes. For the life of me I could not get the shoe laces to stayed tied today. I had to stop four times to tie them before it finally stayed tied! I had to keep playing "leap-frog" with runners. It's a good thing this was not a PR attempt!

mile 10: 7:43
mile 11: 7:47
mile 12: 7:47
mile 13: 7:50
The half way point was very unceremonious indeed. I don't think there was even a sign marking it.

I saw the second set of race pacers waiting to take over. It reminded me of Seattle RNR where it would be us doing the waiting/pacing :)

mile 14: 7:51
mile 15: 7:51 
mile 16: 7:57
It was getting pretty hot and I was gradually fading in the bright sunshine. It was around this point that the course passed a sewage refining plant. How motivating! The bike path was paved with concrete - ideal for biking but not running. My legs weren't too happy with the surface either.

mile 17: 7:54
mile 18: 8:04
I saw a lady with the elite bib F2 stopping with her friend friend with bib F3. One of them seemed to have run into an issue and was struggling... Looking at the results later, I noticed that they spent over an hour in the last 10k. An elite from the men's side spent 75 minutes on the last 10k. This was not an easy race, course or day. I would encounter several runners walking.

mile 19: 8:17
mile 20: 8:18
mile 20: 2:35:59
It is at this point that I needed the water stations most. A previous one didn't have anyone manning it and was effectively self-service. This one had Gatorade with such a strong concentrate that I almost puked on having a sip. Aside, I had not done a very good job in fueling with gels during the run...

I was able to see the city skyline from the distance. However that did not seem to be of much consolation.

mile 21: 8:34
mile 22: 8:59
mile 23: 9:13
In the marathon when you give up and start walking it's game over. I started walking and the game was over. The numerous white lines in the pace chart for the final miles shows the instances where I walked. It was most definitely a mental thing because in-between the walk breaks, when I did run, I ran at a decent clip.  

mile 24: 9:19
I saw a couple wearing last week's Chicago shirt. I felt like telling them - "Hey! I ran that too...". We were now in the city... Running on the empty streets devoid of people. What a contrast from Chicago last week!

mile 25: 8:36
I found some will to run more continuously without walking.

mile 26: 8:48
The 3:30 pacer passed me in the last .4 miles. He started later than me in corral 2 so I'd be over 3:30 :( Him passing me was an occasion to start another walk break :p

mile .22: 1:30
I looked like death in the race pics. I think they were a fair reflection of how I was feeling at that point in the race :)

The ONLY thing marathoners had over the half marathoners in this race was that we got a finisher jacket. I therefore, made it a point to pick-up mine. Except that it looked exactly like the Seattle RNR finisher jacket. I guess they just mass produced a whole bunch of jackets for all their races and changed the labels :)












Results:
Chip: 3:30:57 @ 8:03
Gun: 3:31:07
OA: 74/1595
Div: 13/158
Male: 66/915

Reflections:

Marathon #38. Finished and completed. A marathon a week after Chicago and a good sanity check for Boston2BigSur.

Even with all my walking no-one but the pacer (who only ran half) passed me in the last 10k. I ended up 74th of 1600 finishers. Most of these people were from Colorado and acclimatized to the altitude. This was a tough cookie all things considered. Challenges are good - uphill course in altitude.

Part of me wishes I had run Detroit, which was happening on the same day. It would have been a richer experience and would have given me another state.

Onward and ahead!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chicago Marathon 2015 Race Report

The Backstory

I had two previous odysseys with the Chicago Marathon in 2010 and 2012. I didn't run in 2010 with an injury. In 2012, I finished with a 3:22 with sub-optimal training (averaging about 25 mpw with just one 50 mile week and two 40 mile weeks). I was surprised by how fast the course felt. It was perhaps the flattest course I had ever run on. I would rate it faster than Berlin.

I signed up for the marathon in 2015 with the goal of getting in a faster time. There is something about redeeming yourself in the marathon majors. I felt I had redeemed myself in Berlin. Now, I wanted to do the same at Chicago.  I was cognizant of the fact that the Chicago marathon has had sub-optimal weather in the most recent editions. Weather in Chicago in early October is fickle. Therefore, I decided to sign-up for the race while keeping CIM as a backup.

I trained diligently, following the Pfitzinger 18/87 program with a few deviations. I added some track workouts and ran a few extra miles. I went into Chicago with the most miles I had ever run during a training period. I had run 2711 miles for the year, with 13 straight 80 mile+ weeks (two of them being 91 mile weeks). I however I think I was at a better fitness level last year... On reflection the key reason was my diet and therefore my weight. I was under the fallacy that if I ran so much I could eat anything I wanted to. My body let me know that things don't work this way! I was about ten pounds over my weight last year.

Leading into taper I watched in dismay as the weather forecast turned from perfect to warm to warmer... It finally settled to a prediction of a windy and sunny day, starting in the mid-50s and finishing in the upper-60s. My reaction to this forecast went from disappointment to anger to frustration to acceptance...

Also, in the last week of taper, my muscle aches and soreness caused me to question if I could even attempt to run at a semblance of a decent pace. While I had experienced these "phantom" aches before, doubts began to creep in. The wisdom on the Internet assured me that this was normal and my muscles were healing from the pounding of training. It would be ready on race day they reassured!

Onto Chicago

Having partaken in the touristy activities in my previous Chicago marathon trip, this trip was more "business-line". I boarded a red-eye which left Seattle at 1am and reached Chicago at 7am. I took the metro to my accommodation, which was just a couple of blocks from Grant Park (the race start and the finish).

I took the first possible shuttle to the expo from the Hilton at 9am. I didn't want to risk waiting in a long line to pickup my number. I found the packet pickup to be incredibly well-organized - it barely took me 30 seconds to get my stuff! I didn't notice many vendors of interest (or perhaps I did not try hard enough) and made it back as soon as possible.

It was fascinating to watch the runners from so many different countries - many were in a country/club attire... Brazil, Poland, Spain, Mexico... Approximately 10,000 of the 40,000 runners in the race are from overseas I learnt. During my travels over the world I am always gratified to see the ubiquity of running. Norms and cultures may vary but at the purest level, running transcends all.

After napping for a couple of hours, I headed out on my final pre-race run. A 4 miler. Saturday was a beautiful day - cool and perfect for running. How I had wished that the race day forecasts were wrong but they were spot on. I ran along the waterfront and made a note to visit the place again to take pictures after the race.

I had a reservation for a pre-race dinner with fellow SGLRG folks at Sophie's, a nice Italian restaurant. My pasta with jumbo prawns did end up being an interesting eat! That said I seemed to have to work too hard to get my carbs :)



Goals

I had three goals for this race:

Goal C: 3:22 - This would beat my previous Chicago marathon time. Given how much I trained this time around, it would be very disappointing if I did not meet this.

Goal B: 3:07 - This I assume would have been the minimum to make it through to Boston 2017.

Goal A: 3:03 - A personal best.

Race Day Morning


I woke up at 5am and left my place as late at 6:30am! It was a luxury to just be a couple of blocks from the race start. When I was told that I had a late 1pm checkout, I remarked that one way or the other I would be back at 1pm!

I headed to the Buckingham fountain where folks from SGLRG had decided to meet for a group at 6:45am. I didn't see anyone on reaching there. The fountain is huge so I did a couple of loops of it to see if I was at the wrong place. When I was about to head out I saw Melody. The marathonfoto folks took a quick pic and I was ready to head to my corral.

I had signed up for the pre-race Marathonfoto $75 for $50 gift certificate. Therefore, I made it a point to stop for pics from the photographers all over the start area...

I made it into Corral A to take my spot. This year I felt like I belonged and deserved to be there. Three years back I was almost embarrassed to be in the corral.

People watching in the corrals is always intriguing more so in such an international race. There was a lot of jockeying for positioning in the corral - people squeezing and pushing to get to the front. The last thing I wanted was for one of them to stamp my toes!

I really had serious doubts in the last week of taper. I didn't know what pace will come out of my legs. Would it even be 7:30 pace? The previous day, on a list of tips from a local running coach, one was to make the best of optimal conditions in a race on a sub-optimal weather day. That tip would definitely applicable today... I didn't consciously plan to act on it but perhaps would act on it at a sub-conscious level...

Race

Temperature: 54F-68F
Humidity: 69%-49%
12-15 mph winds
Sunny

[At 1 second mark in video]

mile 1: 6:57, 157 (HR)

Starting to run! The adrenaline burst! Legs felt OK. It was a relief that it was sub-7 pace! The conditions were good and the course felt fast...

I saw runners jumping over the road dividers to join their pace group. Quite dangerous if you ask me. All it takes is a sprained ankle to end your race :)

I tried to follow the blue line indicating the shortest route.

mile 2: 6:48, 169
mile 3: 6:53, 170
05Km 43:03 21:30 @ 06:55

mile 4: 6:48, 170
Tree lined LaSalle Drive. I overheard a couple of folks mention as I passed - "Was that Sub?". I wanted to turn back and see who that was but I didn't/couldn't. It surely was not anyone from Seattle. Now I'll be left to wonder for ever :) I've run into folks I haven't seen for years at marathons...

mile 5: 6:57, 170
mile 6: 7:01, 167
10Km 01:05:03 21:33 @ 06:57

While the course is pancake flat ... There are some areas of inclines and some areas of declines. During one of these inclines a guy running next to me exclaims - "I thought this was a flat course!"

mile 7: 6:59, 167
mile 8: 7:06, 168
After the initial exuberance my pace was gradually diminishing. The conditions were becoming less idea.

mile 9: 7:08, 165
15Km 22:00 @ 07:05
mile 10: 7:09, 164
Running through old town. The crowds were electric! It must have been an awesome day to be a spectator. During the run I saw a sign from a lady indicating that she was single with her phone number. Then I was the equivalent of a Wellesley kiss stop but no guy stopped!

mile 11: 6:59, 165
I was still ahead of the 3:05 group. I knew they were creeping up on me from the cheers of the crowds.

mile 12: 7:06, 165
Iris passed me. She had started from corral B and was running very well! Next the pace group caught up with me. I ran with them for a bit.

mile 13: 7:08,  183
20Km 01:27:03 22:00 @ 07:05
HALF 01:31:52 04:49@07:05
The half way mark was noisy and crowded. The ever-inspiring Rocky theme playing.



mile 14: 7:06, 185
mile 15: 7:06, 165

25Km 01:49:09 17:17 @ 07:08
mile 16: 7:17, 174
My shoe laces came undone... As I stopped to tie my laces and the pace group went on without me. I didn't have the strength to catch up with them again.

I was now fighting the strong headwinds alone :( There were portions where I got with a pack. That helped but I didn't stay with them long enough. Also, portions where the shade was protecting us from the sun was such a welcome relief...



When I passed the logo-ed photo-op spots I made sure I had my hands up and tried to smile. After all these are the memories that will linger for the ages. My favorite picture from my first marathon is one of these logo-ed spots. I still go back and look at it :)

mile 17: 7:07, 166
mile 18: 7:16, 166
The aid stations were so incredibly well organized - I could feel a boast whenever I hit them...

30Km 02:11:41 22:32 @ 07:16

mile 19: 7:23, 166
I was quickly beginning to fade. This is a point when the wheels can totally fall off. I told myself that I did not want to walk. Even if I did 8 min miles I would be OK!

mile 20: 7:20, 173

mile 21: 7:43, 176
35K 02:35:02 23:21 @ 07:31
Through the Chinatown gate...

While passing through most of the neighborhoods were a blur for me, I did distinctly register going through chinatown. I had looked like hell in 2012. While not feeling awesome this year I think I fared OK :p


[At 25 second mark in video]


mile 22: 7:31, 175
My primary fuel as in all my goal races is Cliff Shots. I did get a strip of Cliff Bloks. I realized why those were not going to work for me - I did not have the energy to put in the effort to chew at this stage!

mile 23: 7:43, 183
Onto Michigan Ave...

mile 24: 7:40, 173

I probably was not following the blue line anymore but I kept egging myself to go on. I set intermediate goals to meet...

mile 25: 7:39, 181
40K 02:58:51 23:49 @ 07:40
mile 26: 7:24, 179
mile .22: 1:51 @ 7:32, 173
The deafening roar of the crowds. The 800m marker ... 400m ... 200m ... FINISHED.

Finish 03:09:09 10:18 @ 07:34 
Average HR: 170



[At beginning of video]


Contrary to my surprise I did have a few sips of the beer which was being handed out at the finish. They were kind enough to hand it out without ID or the coupon on our bib (I had given away the coupon since I did not want to carry my ID and I did not think I'd care much for beer)...

I ran into Doug in the finish suite and we gradually limped back to our hotel while exchanging battle stories :) I wish I had known about the free massage - it would have been something I'd have wanted to get...

Results

Net time: 3:09:09 @ 7:13 min/mile
Gun time: 3:09:45
Gender: 1388/20163
Age Group: 272/3286 
Overall: 1583/37371
Bib Number: 14034

Reflections:


I didn't get my main time goals for the race. I had a Boston Qualifying time in theory for 2017. However, going by the trends it isn't likely to actually gain me an entry.

That said this race was still very satisfying. I ran my second fastest marathon ever... In a great city marathon like Chicago! Some day I will look back and be proud that I could even run this race and then run it this fast!

What was my reward for this en-devour?  A deep dish pizza with custom toppings - mushrooms, chicken and jalapenos. Delicious but incredibly filling!

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