Saturday, March 26, 2011

Centerpoint Half Marathon Recap

A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the kids I coach at the local YMCA, and how they'd formed the relay team "Drew's Crew" to enter into the Centerpoint Half Marathon. Well, today was the day I got to run it alongside them, and they surpassed all my expectations.

Before I get to the relay I want to quickly touch on the race itself. As I've come to expect from races directed by Karen Barnard, it went off without a hitch. Everything from packet pick-up to the awards ceremony was well organized, and I didn't hear a complaint from a single participant. The start was timely, the water stops were well run and the course was well-marked and seemingly accurate. My compliments to Centerpoint Fellowship Church, the Prattville YMCA and all the volunteers that came together to make this happen.

"Drew's Crew" - Check Out Those T-Shirts!!!
The Setup

Now, let me state up front I was hoping The Crew could break 1:50. This was based on times turned in at recent 5k races in town, all of which fell into the 25-27 minute range. Knowing it was going to be a little warm and humid (It averaged 62°, 89%), I figured this was a goal within their reach. Anything beyond that would be icing on the cake.

Leg 1 - Madison B. (2.95 miles, 7:43/mi average pace)

Leg 1 - Madison
The oldest of The Crew, Madison took the first leg with me and set the bar extremely high for the others. We managed to keep the adrenaline in check the first mile and completed it in a solid 7:57. The second mile started out with a trip down and up the Greystone Gully, a short but steep hill by the post office. I thought this might slow her down some, but I was wrong. She attacked it, cruised over the top and kept on going strong. We wound up through Jasmine and finished mile two in 7:41. She started to wear down on her last mile, but your wouldn't know it by the 7:27 pace she turned in. An outstanding leg all around!

Leg 2 - Lauren C. (3.00 miles, 8:17/mi average pace)

Leg 2 - Lauren
Lauren must have sensed how fast Madison was running, because she picked up right where she left off. We took off around the corner and she, too, attacked the same hill Madison had decimated a few minutes earlier. She stayed with me stride for stride all the way to the top, and then we cruised for a minute to catch our breath. Mile one for her was a blazing 7:42 pace! We continued down Silver Hills Drive and around Silver Creek Circle, where our pace started to even out a little. The sun was rising and it was warming up quick, but that didn't stop her from finishing the second mile in 8:21. With the heat and the hills starting to take their toll, Lauren demonstrated a lot of mental toughness her last mile. When I reminded her that she could do anything for 8 minutes she responded with "that's what my mother always says!" Well, it must be true, because she persevered and kept her team well ahead of the goal with an 8:48 final mile.

Leg 3 - Matt O. (2.93 miles, 8:16/mi average pace)

Leg 3 - Matt
Lauren handed off the baton to Matt and we started his leg running past the start/finish line and a lot of crowd support. It was immediately clear to me that he was feeling strong, and he proved that with an 8:13 first mile. We chatted quite a bit at first, but by the midpoint of his leg we had to tackle the Greystone Gully and things got a little quieter. He pushed up it like it wasn't even there and finished mile two in 8:10! The last mile had a slight, uphill grade to it, and Matt did a great job maintaining focus. He informed me at about his 2.5-mile mark that he wouldn't be able to kick at the end, but I knew better. As we turned onto High Point Ridge there was a short downhill section that gave him just enough of a breather for a sprint to our last relay station. Final mile, 8:25.

Leg 4 - Mackenzie B. (4.07 miles, 8:23/mi average pace)

Leg 4 - Mackenzie
Entrusted by her team to tackle the longest leg of the race, Mackenzie delivered the goods. She was determined to catch the fire fighter relay team ahead of us, and that goal pushed her through to an 8:03 first mile. Just like her teammates, she did a great job climbing the steep side of the Greystone Gully and barely skipped a beat after we crested it. Mile 2, 8:24. By this point it had warmed up to 65° and 91% humidity, and that made for a really tough third mile. We rounded Silver Creek Circle and she finished it in 8:45. For her fourth and final mile was almost a straight shot to the finish. Just as I expected, the cheers of her awaiting teammates provided that extra bit of energy to dig deep and post an 8:18 negative split!

The Finish

Does It Get Any Better Than This?
At the corner of Autumn Road and Tara Drive Drew's Crew came together to run the last third of a mile to the finish line. Watching the four of them laugh, cheer each other on and finish the relay as a team was the highlight of my day, and I couldn't be prouder of their effort. They all ran great individual races, pulled for each other in a way I've only seen swimmers do, and didn't lose sight of what they were there for - to have fun. In the end they ran almost 5 minutes faster than I'd expected, finishing in 1:45:50 (unofficial). Not surprisingly, this earned them first place in the youth relay division!

Honorable Mentions

Caleb's First Half Mary!
As if I this race wasn't already exciting enough, there were some other performances by my swimmers runners that I have to mention. First and foremost, Caleb M. ran and completed his first half marathon. I'm not sure what his finishing time was, but it's beside the point. A 13-year-old completing a half mary because he wants to is very impressive in my book. Way to go, Caleb!

Another shout out goes to Harrison A., who took second place for his age division in the 5k! Woot!

And Savannah M. and Madison C. both looked great in the one-mile event! Nice job, girls!

Thank You

Finally, I want to thank all the parents and coaches that made this relay possible. I really appreciate the all the support they've give both to me and their kids. If it weren't for them none of this could have happened.

Edit: A huge thanks also to all the volunteers along the course that generously shared thousands of photos they took. All of their action shots and many more can be found here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Snickers Marathon Recap

"This circumstance is simply a fact and must
be accepted or dealt with as it exists."

                                                          -- Unknown

Today I tackled my second marathon. Like the first, the intent was to qualify for Boston. And like the first, I didn't.

The days leading up to the race I felt physically ok. I tapered as I was supposed to and was feeling rested. I drove to Albany, GA, and after hitting the expo and checking into my hotel I found a nearby neighborhood for an easy 2-miler to wake things up. Instead it was like a bad dream. The pain in my adductor, which has been with me for months now in one form or another, was pronounced. It screamed at me the first mile and groaned the second. I tried not to get too concerned about it.

Mentally I was about 50/50. Personal issues throughout the week weighed on my mind. I had a difficult time concentrating no matter the task, up to and including the race. Aside from that though, I was confident I'd trained as best I could and confident in my plan. After going out a little too fast and experiencing servere cramps at my first marathon I decided to scale back my 3:15 goal and stick with the 3:20 pacer, Chris from Sara's Pacers.

I got maybe 3-4 hours sleep the night before the race and arrived about an hour before the start. I ran into Duane, and we did a very short jog to loosen up. The cannon blast was fast approaching, so I met up with Chris the pacer and then used the few minutes remaining to wish Duane and Kym well. I was also able to meet Sarita and talk to her very briefly before we got started.

The race itself? Well, it went pretty much according to plan at first. I was determined not to get dehydrated this time, so I made extra certain to hit every water stop. I drank water at most and sometimes took a chance on the Gatorade. I was not going to experience the same cramps that forced me to walk six miles at Chickamauga. The predictable side effect of this was feeling bloated and having to push through occasional stomach cramps. If that's the price, I figured, I can deal with that.

The first half went very well. The adductor was even behaving itself. Our first two miles were a little faster than the 7:45/mi. pace Chris committed us to before the race, but not enough to bother me. By mile 3 we settled into the 7:38/mi. groove and everyone was chatty. I ran a lot of the miles with Catie from Nashville and Duncan from Albany, and things were looking pretty good. As a group we hit the 13.1 mark in exact 1:40:01, which was about as perfect as you could hope for.

At the 14-mile mark I noticed that running all of a sudden felt like work. Still, I stayed with the group and continued to hydrate and suck down PowerBar Gels. At mile 16, however, I felt the familiar twinge of an oncoming cramp in my foot. I was still feeling hydrated (no cotton mouth) so I decided to pull back temporarily in hopes it would pass. It did, and I hung on about 100m behind the pack for another couple miles. By mile 18 the twinges were coming back, this time in my hamstrings. They were my downfall at Chickamauga and I cursed under my breath. I slowed more, finished off my gel and drank as much as I could at the aide stations. How could this be happening again? I'm hydrated and have been replenishing electrolytes!

The rest of the race I focused on not stopping to walk. That's all I wanted to do. I knew 3:20 was gone, and decided to make the best of it. I slowed when I felt a twinge and picked it back up again when it subsided. I had to stop for 5-10 seconds a couple of times to stretch some, but managed to run the rest of the way in.

Duane was waiting for me at the finish and kindly guided me towards water and food. I downed a bottle of water, a banana and a Snickers Marathon bar. I was hurting much more than I did at Chick, and couldn't wait to leave. It took a few tries to get into my car because of cramping, but finally I was on my way. About halfway back to my hotel though I had to pull over, get out and stand. Everything was locking up on me. Even worse, I started shivering uncontrollably, a sign of dehydration. WTF? I guzzled another bottle of water and a liter of Gatorade. It took about 15 minutes for the rigor to let up.

What to say about this race? Well, the average temp was 59° and humidity 94%. Maybe that was my demise? I really don't know at this point. I'll reflect on it over the next few days and see if I can come up with something more helpful to learn from.

Friends have told me to revel in my marathon and be proud of my race. I guess I'm happy with a 13-minute PR, but honestly I don't care right now one way or the other. It just wasn't much fun. And the BQ? Don't care about that either. Maybe one day I'll make another go of it, but it's moved way down on my list of priorities. Right now I'm looking forward to running for me for me instead of following a training plan. Structure be damned. I just want to have some fun again.