Saturday, November 29, 2008

11/27/08: Turkey Trot

They’ve been running the Turkey Trot in Dallas for 41 years now; I’ve run it for two. The first eleven years it was held at White Rock Lake, from the Bath House “to the big oak tree and back”; apparently the big oak tree was about four miles away and so the eight-mile distance was established, although supposedly it was actually 8.2 miles. How they figured that out in those pre-Garmin days, I have no idea. At any rate it’s now the largest running event in Dallas, which I scoffed when I heard that because I thought the Race for the Cure was bigger but apparently they only had 25,000 participants this year while the Turkey Trot had about 34,000 between the two races.

In 1979 they moved the race to downtown Dallas; in 1984 they added a three-mile fun run. New this year was the Chrono Track D disposable timing tag which came attached to the bib number, from which it was easily detached and then attached to the laces of the running shoe of your choice, preferably one of your own that you would actually be wearing for the race. The advantage of this over the usual Champion Chip was that every race that uses the Champion Chip requires that the chip be picked up the morning of the race. The Turkey Trot (eight mile) started at 9:00; I could have had someone drop me off at Wood and Ervay at 8:55, squeezed my way into the starting hordes and been ready to go. The disadvantage is that it’s a one-time use item but, as the Turkey Trot website points out, “You may keep the chip as a souvenir.” Perhaps someday they’ll become family heirlooms.

I saw what I thought was a gaggle of young Amish women before the race; eventually I realized that they were running the race constumed as Pilgrims and the Dallas Morning News reported that they were members of the Plano West High School cross country team, which happens to be the alma mater of the race winner, Scott MacPherson, who currently runs for the University of Arkansas. Costumes are not unusual at the Turkey Trot although turkeys and native Americans are more commonly seen than Pilgrims.

As for me, the race had one embarrassing feature: about a half-mile into it, my bladder was urgently requesting relief. As we entered Deep Ellum, I ducked down a side street, up an alley and behind a dumpster to attend to some personal business. Almost immediately, a truck came into the same alley and stopped on the other side of the dumpster; luckily they were too busy doing whatever the hell they were doing to bother ragging on me for public urination. What with the crowded start and the unscheduled pit stop my first mile was 10:59 but after that the race went pretty well, considering I was sick Tuesday and Wednesday with a cold. I finished in 1:08:57, 2064th out of 7174 overall, 1593rd out of 4086 men, and 175th out of 481 in my age group. In other words, just one small part of the huddled masses yearning to be done.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

11/23/08: Ole Man River Half Marathon

I woke up at some ungodly hour Sunday morning and drove from the Vieux Carre Holiday Inn to Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park, which for a city as lyrical as New Orleans you’d think they’d come up with a better name for a park than that. I registered for the Ole Man River Half Marathon, a race, put on by the New Orleans Track Club, whose name made more sense in previous years when they ran it on Ole Man River’s levee but this year they moved it to this new location, took a few pictures, stretched, drank some Gatorade, visited the restroom, and made my way to the starting line. The race started, I ran for a while, walked some, ran some more and walked some more in various proportions, and eventually finished in 2:10:40 or so. I ate a couple of pancakes, drank some water, walked around for a few minutes, and then took off. Since then I’ve been trying to think of something to say about this race but the truth is, I got nothing. It happens.

This is in no way a knock on the race; I probably could have been running Bay to Breakers this particular morning and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I did think the course was bland when we were running on Marconi Drive along the west side of the park and on Wismer Drive on the east side of the park, but I also think the first few miles when we were running through the interior of the park north of the stadium might have been interesting had I actually been awake. I think it’s a good deal that this was mostly just a training run for the, and I’m also glad that my previous experience racing in New Orleans (Jackson Day 9K, 1996 - I flew in the morning of the race which is one way to keep this city from wearing you out) was more interesting because I spent too much time Saturday touristing it up in the French Quarter - me and about a jillion Packer fans - to do this race any kind of justice. Although I did manage to get to sleep before Oklahoma was done crushing Texas Tech’s BCS dreams (or maybe not!).

I managed about an 8:30 pace for six miles, fading to an 8:50 for the seventh mile and then walking some; my 2:10:42 (according to the official results; I'm sure my Garmin has me faster than that. My Garmin is my friend.) placed me 354th out of 505 overall, 245th out of 300 men, and 37th out of the 46 dudes in my age group. My proudest moment came when I walked the entire eleventh mile in 14:55; my happiest moment was either immediately after crossing the finish line or when starting to chow down on the postrace pancakes. Although they weren’t quite as good as the half slab of dry-rub ribs I got at Corky’s in Metairie later in the afternoon, just in time to watch the end of the Jets-Titans game.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

11/01/08: Conference USA Cross-Country Championships

You wouldn't know it by Sunday's Dallas Morning News, but SMU won a Conference USA championship on November 1st, in women's cross-country. Watching the finish, I thought they won in a rout; their red uniforms stood out in a sea of blues and whites as they placed five women in the top twelve. It turned out that a lot of the whites - particularly the runners in third, fourth, and fifth - were worn by athletes from Rice, who made things closer than I thought, scoring 50 points to SMU's 40. Silje Fjortoft of SMU was the overall winner in a course-record time of 16:46 for 5K, which maybe I could have done in college (with training) but then again, probably not.

The men’s race was dominated by Tulsa and UTEP; they combined to fill all the spots in the top ten, led by Tulsa’s John Beattie who won the 8K race in 23:30, one second ahead of Japheth Ngo’joy from UTEP. UTEP took third and fourth also but Tulsa filled fifth through eighth, which gave them 27 points to UTEP’s 30. UTEP only entered five runners; all five finished in the top twelve.

Cross-country is a weird stew of competition and camaraderie. Two East Carolina girls were standing along the straightaway before the final turn to the finish and one of their runners passed by, hard on the heels of a Tulane dude. "Catch him!" "Pass him - every point counts!" The next runner to pass was another Tulane guy. "Go Tulane!" "Run hard!" There is empathy in cross-country but no mercy.

The races were hosted by the University of Memphis and run at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex in southeast Memphis; they consisted of multiple loops around the various fields before finishing in the main stadium. The fields are on different levels so the hills consisted of running up and down between fields and there's not much shade - it was a cloudless morning and a little on the warm side for running three or five miles. In general, if the spectators are comfortable, the runners probably aren't. I was spectating and I had no complaints. I was happy to be spectating – had I been in the women’s race I probably would have finished 87th out of 92 and had I been in the men’s race I probably would have finished dead last by about six minutes. Tim Cullen of Tulane probably wishes I was in the men’s race.

Running is like golf - you don't win so much as you just lose least. It's got to suck to be running at the heels of an opponent, feeling like you're going to puke and hearing your coach and teammates yelling at you to catch him, pass him, beat him. And then you finally enter the stadium, maybe a quarter-mile to go and you know you're finishing way out of the scoring and you feel like you're holding up the show, you and the stragglers around you; for the race you're in your time sucks but you could enter any local 5k or 8k and beat 90% of the field. But where's the challenge in that?

The Morning News did show the Conference USA Championships some love on Monday. On page 14C, in agate type, they did publish the team results from the meet. Women's race only.

10/31/08: Running Scared 5K

I was not happy.

I was not clinically depressed or volcanically pissed-off, either; mostly I was just dissatisfied, dissatisfied with a 22:44 in the Running Scared 5K on Halloween. Which being dissatisfied is potentially a good thing if it pushes me to train harder and expect more from myself. Right now, though, I feel like for as hard as I ran - and I'd put this effort up there as one of my top three efforts this fall - I should have done better. Although I'm also entertaining fantasies of the course being short despite a lack of corroborating evidence.

The Running Scared 5K is put on by Memphis Heritage which means it's staged from an elegant house on the corner of Madison and Edgewood in Midtown Memphis. It's on Halloween every year (well, both years seeing as this was only the second annual. But they plan on having more and they plan on keeping it on Halloween.) so it's directed by the Tooth Fairy and other runners included a guy riding an ostrich, Dorothy from Kansas by way of Oz (and her little dog Toto, too) complete with ruby-red running shoes ("There's no place like the finish line!"), Wall Street Greed (complete with tutu made out of fake money which made me think she was an exotic dancer at first - which may have been the point), a ninja turtle, a hot witch, a harlot or a French maid or at least somebody sleazy in a short skirt and fishnet stockings, a clown, a NASCAR chick, and assorted ghouls and zombies. I was dressed as a Serious Runner but I was wearing a UT-Arlington UnderArmor shirt featuring the school's nickname (Mavericks) so if anybody asked I suppose I could say I was a Republican. I wonder how that joke will play in, say, two weeks.

The course is fair, moderately hilly but the toughest hill, early in the second mile, earns its degree of difficulty more for length than steepness. The first two miles seemed accurate enough but the third was way off unless I really did run it in 6:20, which I didn't. That's fine - I'd hate to think I ran the last tenth in 2:15 because I'm pretty sure I could walk faster than that. I finished seventh overall and I thought I may have been top master, but some old guy ran 22:13 so I guess I wasn't, but I was first in my age group. Which is rare enough that it's still noteworthy, at least to me. I did beat the top woman, the aforementioned ninja turtle who ran 23:04 and probably would have kicked my butt if she wasn't carrying her house on her back. I passed her at about 1.5 miles; I though about pacing off her some but I didn't want to freak her in out in such a small race along dark streets.

The postrace party was back at the elegant house and featured lots of food - bananas, cookies, doughnuts, Halloween candy, and beer of the Bud and Bud Light variety, in cans. I had a can of Bud Light; it was reminiscent of drinking in high school. The awards ceremony featured each medal recipient getting their picture taken with the Tooth Fairy, then another Memphis Heritage dignitary judged the costume contest, in which I appropriately did not place. Dorothy won, followed by the guy riding an ostrich, with Wall Street Greed third.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

10/04/08: Vineyard Run 5K

I finished second in my age group at the Vineyard Run 5K in Grapevine, which was surprising on the one hand and embarrassing on the other. I thought I could sniff out hardware possibilities pretty well and my trophydar was decidedly inactive for this event; in fact, I thought third place in my age group would require a sub-twenty. Turned out it was 24:15 and my 23:44 (okay, 23:47 by their clock) was good enough for silver.

If I was going to cherry-pick a race, I’d start with a day that had a full schedule of races to choose from and then I’d look for a smaller race that hadn’t been around very long. The word ‘inaugural’ carries some weight here. If the race had multiple events, like a 5K and a 10K, then it moves up on the scale and I’d plan on doing the shorter race because the more serious runners will gravitate towards the longer run, but if they encourage doubling up in the races or if it’s put on by a running club then it moves back down the scale. The Saturday Dallas Morning News had six races listed for this day; the Sickle Cell Walk / Runathon in River Legacy Park (Arlington) would have been my choice if I was primarily interested in winning a trinket. The main caveat with this race is that events that emphasize walk over run don’t always do age-group awards. The SFI 5K in the Trinity Commons Shopping Center (Ft. Worth) or the Trinity Bright Halloween 5K in Trinity Park (Ft. Worth) would have been my second choice; on the one hand I haven’t heard of either of these races before but on the other they were being held in high-profile locales. The Fall Breakaway 5K (TCU) or the Vineyard Run 5K are a toss-up after those two races; I ran the Fall Breakaway last year and didn’t place then but I think the Vineyard Run is bigger. The least likely candidate was The Loop 15K and 5K put on by the Dallas Running Club at White Rock Lake. I don’t think I’ve ever placed in a DRC (or its precursor, the Cross Country Club of Dallas) race even when I’ve run well.

Viewing the results, turns out I could have run virtually anywhere and placed except for The Loop 15K, where I would have had to break 1:02 when I figure I'd be struggling to break 1:20. But my 23:47 would have gotten me third at the 5K there, second at the Trinity Bright 5K, and second (actually, probably third - second was 23:51 and that's the one course that I think was probably more difficult than the Vineyard course) at the Fall Breakaway 5K. I couldn't find results for the Sickle Cell Runathon or the SCI 5K; the first probably because it was untimed and the second because it may not have actually existed. A race with that name was run on August 2nd (I would have won my age group) and I'm wondering if maybe somebody was misinformed about the date.

The embarrassment was because I dogged it some in the third mile. In a just world, you’d have to put out an honest effort to place but in reality, all you have to do is run faster than whoever shows up. At about 2.5 miles I came through a connector path between back-to-back cul-de-sacs and there was a short, pain-in-the-ass hill in front of me. I was tired of running hills and I wasn’t going to break 23 minutes, and I was feeling a little warm, so I walked it. No big deal, I’ve walked in races before; I just don’t know that I’ve ever won an award despite walking. Actually, I take that back - I’m pretty sure I did one time before but I ran 20:30 in that race. I probably needed to walk then; today I didn’t. I was just lazy and now I’ve got a fancy-schmancy wine glass to show for it. Yes, I recovered from my embarrassment long enough to claim it.

The race was entirely on the road, unlike the Run Through The Vines down near Bryan where part of the course actually does go through the vineyards.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

09/26/08: Race Judicata 5K

The Race Judicata 5K, put on by the Dedman School of Law at SMU and run through neighborhoods north and east of the campus, is an obscure yet pricey race that feels almost like crashing a private (but not snobby private) party, only without any alcohol. Most of the runners, and sponsors, too, for that matter, had some connection to the legal profession, which I haven't had since 1993. And that's not a pleasant memory, not counting the dismissal.

Since the race was near the aorta of the Park Cities, it behooved me to ascertain that my car's registration and inspection were up to date, particularly since I drive an older (2002) vehicle that isn't of upscale lineage. My Honda just came out of the shop Friday; I'd have kept the rental car (a Chevy Aveo - but a registered and inspected Aveo) for the race if my car hadn't passed inspection. I think I've received two tickets for expirations in Highland Park, in about ten minutes of driving time spread out over many years. Now if something's out of date I avoid those towns completely.

This race was much smaller, with fewer than 100 runners, than last week's Oktoberfest run and the weather, although numerically similar, felt more comfortable, probably because most of the streets were shaded. There was a better opportunity to run fast; I just didn't feel like I was the person to do it.

I ran 21:41, which for me would be very fast now that I'm old, maybe one of my top three times for the past seven years. I think the course may have been short.

The race organizers handed out course maps before the race. They said the course was clearly marked by flour on the ground but they were just as clearly worried that people would go off course. They had reason to be concerned - we went off course. We took a wrong turn maybe 2.5 miles into the race and returned to the finish by a different route than intended. Perhaps they forgot to give a map to the operator to the lead vehicle, not that I actually remember there being a lead vehicle. At any rate any distance lost by this deviation was probably minimal; we missed out on a slight jog to the north and picked up one to the south instead.

A Map My Run of the planned route showed a distance of 3.06 miles; if that was the distance I ran then my time would extrapolate to 22:02 or so, which is still better than I'd expect right now. Of course I'd have a better idea if my Garmin's batteries hadn't died early in the second mile.

Nobody was collecting race tags or compiling results afterwards although the first male and first female each won a $50 gift certificate to Luke's Locker. Unless they contracted out the tabulations to a psychic, I wouldn't expect to see any results on line. Certainly not accurate ones, in any case.

For any perceived bitching and moaning that my have come across, I should say that it was a fun race and I'm glad I showed up, except for maybe squandering a 21:40 in a lesser race. Small races can have some appeal and this one did; a fun run through pleasant neighborhoods in a non-competitive environment. People I talked to before and after the event were unfamiliar with the racing scene and here they got an introduction without being overwhelmed.

Thirty bucks for race-day registration is a little steep, though.

Monday, September 22, 2008

09/20/08: Oktoberfest 5K

If you travel north on Midway Road from Beltline Road in Dallas, you’ll go under a modestly cool-looking bridge that wasn’t designed by Santiago Calatrava. I used to be ignorant of which road took you over that bridge but now I know – it’s Arapahoe Road and I ran over that bridge, both going out and coming back, while running Addison’s Oktoberfest 5K. Some – me, for instance – would say that the bridge is the only interesting thing about this race while others might make a case for the free beer afterwards. To my mind free beer is more good than interesting.

I don’t want to slag this race; it’s a fun, well-organized event and the bib number gets you into the more traditional Oktoberfestivities later in the day. I wouldn’t choose to run here if I was looking to run fast, though – it’s too large (900 chippie finishers plus however many who couldn’t be bothered to pick up their chip) and there’s no effort made to give the more competitive, or at least time-conscious, runners room to maneuver. I didn’t see much in the way of mile markers, either, just a chalk mark scrawled on the ground at mile one. For all of that, though, I wasn’t dodging many walkers early on. Despite starting slow (first mile at nine-minute pace), I was weaving in and out of traffic a lot but the vast majority of that traffic was at least jogging.

We started facing west on the side street to the north of Addison Circle Park, turned south on Addison Road and then back west on Arapahoe. There’s a hairpin turn maybe a half-mile past the bridge, which is the only hill on the course except you have to go over it going out and coming back so I guess it’s the only two hills on the course; after the hairpin turn the course doubles back on itself – the start is also the finish, and doesn’t that sound zen. They had people handing out water bottles just before the finish which I thought was strange, but I took one anyway because I thought maybe there wouldn’t be any available on the other side of the timing mat. There were.

Besides the beer and more usual postrace food like bagels and bread, they had soft pretzels. So I guess that would be another unique feature of this race, and another one of which I approve. I like soft pretzels.

It had been slightly cooler than usual for this time of year but today the temperature was closer to normal. I felt uncomfortably warm over the last half of the race although that was probably also due to having picked up the pace: according to my Garmin, which I believe when it’s in my favor, I ran the last two miles and change at 7:30 pace. I finished in 25:34, which was acceptable given my conservative strategy and current condition; if I’m still running this slow in about a month, then I’ve got a problem. I finished 13 out of 44 in my age group, 152 out of 463 in my gender, and 190 or 191 out of 891 overall. The age group listings and the overall listing give different results.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

09/07/08: South Nyack Ten Mile Race

At 7:30 in the morning, or thereabouts, I was standing on a side street of a side village in New York, down the cliff from 9W, waiting for the start of the South Nyack Ten Mile Race. I ran four miles the day before but it didn’t go well. Fortuitously, Tropical Depression Hannah, which was depressed because it had suffered through two major demotions, came through over night and cleared out all the humidity that had dragged me down during that run.

I was happy to drive down from 9W to get to the village of South Nyack; I knew the course was an out-and-back with the turnaround on a pier and I was afraid we would start off down a humungous hill that we’d be struggling back up at the end. As it turned out we would face a daunting climb towards the finish but first-time entrants, at least, were blissfully ignorant and wouldn’t spend the first eight or nine miles dreading it.

The race had 386 runners and it was semi-chiptimed, meaning that we wore chips but they only had timing mats at the finish. If I had to guess – and since I don’t know, I either have to guess or ignore the question totally – I’d say that they didn’t have mats at the start because it was on a road still open to traffic. Most of the course, except for a trail section at the end and maybe the pier, was open to traffic but that was probably more of a pain in the ass to motorists than a significant hassle for runners. One lady leaned out the window of her Dreadnought to tell me I was going five miles per hour; she threw me a frowny face when I was passing her at the time. If it makes her feel any better, I was probably going close to, but not quite, seven miles per hour.

The main road we ran on, which was the main road through South Nyack and Piermont, was crowded and narrow with shops and restaurants. The street would not have looked out of place on Cape Cod except for the lack of souvenir stores. At any rate we ran along there for a couple of miles until we got to the Piermont Pier, which was not the rickety wooden structure I was expecting but rather a paved road surrounded by foliage extending out into the Hudson River. We passed the five-mile mark after the turnaround, closer to the mainland end of the pier, which meant we were going to have to deviate from the outbound course if we were going to make the ten-mile total. I didn’t dwell on this thought which is why I was surprised when, late in the ninth mile, we turned left away from the start and had to climb a moderately monster hill – steep, but not too long. I walked it but in a shorter race I could have run it.

Climbing up the hill took us up almost to 9W which meant we were now uphill from the start; the race finished on a soft dirt trail that was well-shaded and sloped gently down to the finish less than a mile away. Ignore these results – there was no timing mat at the start and I don’t insist on being in the front – I finished in the middle of the pack in 1:31:54 (according to my Garmin! Ask Spareribs - page 24!), running the first seven miles or so reasonably well and staggering through the last three.

Monday, August 18, 2008

08/18/08: Bat Cave 8K

Every summer in recent memory, I’ve hit a point where I’ve despaired of ever running fast, by my standards, again, and every year there’s been a race that reassures me I haven’t totally lost it. The Midnight Chase would have been that race except I hadn’t hit my nadir of confidence yet – that came a couple of weeks later when temperatures regularly went into the triple digits around here. Instead it was the Bat Cave 8K, a mostly trail race in the Lakewood Forest Preserve off Route 176 in Wauconda, Illinois, that restored my confidence in my mediocrity.

I ran 40:46 - which isn’t that great – but I was happy with it because the course was moderately difficult (rolling hills, soft surface) and because I was able to run faster for longer intervals than I’ve been managing during the recent Dallas heat wave. Which ended about a week ago, by the way, although I bet we see at least one encore before fall moves in. I finished 8th of 13 in my age group; 38-flat, which would be an accomplishment for me on this course but not totally out of the question, would have gotten me fourth but I would have had to beat 33:57 to medal. Given that my 8K PR is 34:10 and came in 1996 on a flat road course in cooler weather, I think it’s safe to say that 33:xx likely isn’t in my future. I haven’t given up hope of running a five-mile race at sub-7:00 pace, though.

Despite the name, we saw no bats and no caves during the running of this race. This came as no surprise as the race website said we wouldn’t; the race was named after a bat sanctuary located inside the park. The race information was a model of accuracy – in addition to predicting the absence of bats and cave, its description of the course as rolling and challenging was spot on. “Rolling and challenging” are usually considered code words for ‘supplemental oxygen may be required’ but these hills weren’t too bad except for one just before the turnaround that we got to run down (didn’t seem like such a big deal then) before having to make the ascent. Mostly it was just a constant up and down that made the course difficult but given that trail races aren’t the best choices for PRs and summer races aren’t the best choices for PRs, it wasn’t that big a deal, at least not to me.

When I’m running well, a race for me tends to be a game of leapfrog as I pace off one person for a while, then move up and pace off someone else and so on, for as long as I can. I was behind some dude at the halfway point and planned on pacing off him until the three-mile mark, but he got a drink at the aid station and slowed to a walk so I moved up to the next person, a cute twentyish girl. I was right behind here when her dad passed by running out towards the aid station; I was very self-conscious that he thought maybe I was leering lewdly (or maybe luridly or lasciviously – I’m not sure where the differences lie either) at his daughter. I passed her soon afterwards. She struggled mightily going up the big hill while I only struggled moderately.

Incidentally, according to the results I’m the same age as her dad but several minutes faster.

Monday, July 21, 2008

7/19/08: Too Hot To Handle 15K

I blame myself. I believe that one of the keys to happiness is avoiding unnecessary frustrations and yet I ran Run On's Too Hot To Handle 15K this year anyway. It's the sixth time I've run this race (1997, 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006 being the other years) so I guess I can't claim to have learned from experience and I guess I shouldn't count out doing it again next year. If I do, expect another bitchy post.

The main problem with this race is that it's huge (2500 runners, so I heard, although only 1700 or so show up in the results) and yet they still insist on holding it at Winfrey Point. I didn't even try to park at Winfrey Point; as I was approaching Garland Road coming south on Buckner Boulevard, it looked like traffic turning onto Garland Road was backed up to Poppy Lane. My prefered parking location already being full, I wound up parking at the Stone Tables.

Judging from various t-shirts and tank tops, many Team in Training initiates and running class newbies were running one of the races. They lined up much more appropriately than usual as I wasted much less time, and energy, dodging walkers in the early stages of the race than I'm accustomed to. In fact, they did better than a couple of experienced runners I noticed who didn't let the fact that they were walking alter where they lined up.

A personal note to the girl in the blue tank top - it's not a good idea to come to a complete stop ten seconds into the race because an iPod earbud has come unmoored, lest you inadvertently engage in inappropriate relations with the older gentleman running behind you.

Y'all still need to work on your water stop etiquette. Don't come to a complete stop as soon as someone hands you a cup of water - there's a better than even chance that someone's coming up behind you. Wait until you're clear of the station and move to the side and then you can walk or stop or lie under a tree and drink without impeding other runners.

By the time I got to the water stop near the four-mile mark, they had run out of cups and were encouraging people to reuse the cups that littered the ground. I passed but I was also irritated - it doesn't seem like it's too difficult to identify a cup-shortage problem before the race and to correct it by hauling ass to the nearest convenience store and buying more. Running stores get involved with races partially for the marketing opportunities but that strategy can backfire when people come away from the event thinking it was poorly run.

I eventually finished (1:40:ish, there was a good amount of walking after the first five miles), drank some liquids, and took off. As I cruised down Garland Road, I saw that departures from Winfrey Point were going much more smoothly than they had in the past. The Dallas Police were directing traffic from Emerald Isle to turn right onto Garland Road where they had two lanes blocked off. Of course you still had the random driver who insisted on getting left as quickly as possible so he could make a u-turn, but it was still a vast improvement over having a vast line of cars back up into Winfrey Point while one stylin' dude in a Chevy Behemoth waits for a break in traffic so he can turn left onto Garland Road.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

07/12/08: Moonlight Chase Four Mile

The Moonlight Chase is a four-mile race in Eldridge, Iowa, that starts at 9:00pm on the second Saturday in July. The nine o’clock start has its good points and its bad points: on this particular second Saturday in July, running conditions were downright reasonable by the time the starting gun was fired. On the other hand, if you’re casual about details – and some of us are! – and you show up at 6:45ish thinking the race starts at 8:00 because you don’t want to be rushed while registering, stretching, and otherwise checking out the scene, the extra hour of waiting can be excruciatingly painful. It’s a nice race and town and all, but it doesn’t warrant that much checking out.

A manic young dude started talking to me before the race. Eventually I realized that he was partially scoping out the competition - which meant that he was wasting his time on me, given that he’s fourteen years younger and maybe five minutes or so faster over four miles. I don’t know how he actually did (although I’m guessing 26:53); he said he was shooting for 25 minutes but I got the feeling he was more concerned with placing than time. He also expressed concern that there might be more cheating in a night race – people slipping off course and back on later so as to run a shorter distance – but I don’t think it’s too likely. For one thing, the course is lined with spectators so it would be difficult to avoid being seen.

I ran 30:06 which was good enough to be slightly disappointing in that I would have liked to be seven seconds faster. The course was lined with luminaries (except for one stretch where they had tiki torches instead) as well as spectators and the race organizers considered that a major selling point but as a runner I don’t think I’m in a position to fully appreciate them. When I’m running hard, or at least attempting to run hard, I’m not as aware of my surroundings as I might otherwise be. I did look up and see the moon at one point ; it was maybe three-quarters full. I wondered if they timed the race to match a fuller phase of the moon or if they held it the second Saturday in July even if the new moon fell on that day. I guess my mind wanders more than my gaze does.

Iowans being the chatty people they are, I talked to a couple of people after the race – the usual how did you do, isn’t this weather whatever type stuff. One common element, mention sometimes in passing and sometimes with laserlike focus, was the Bix. “I’m training for the Bix.” “I’ve got to be ready for the Bix.” The Bix may be the most prestigious non-marathon road race in the Midwest; I don’t think there’s anything comparable in Dallas. The Turkey Trot is large but I don’t think it’s a must-do for many of the more competitive area runners; the Dallas Half Marathon would like to be that race and is closer than the Trot to getting there but I don’t think it has nearly the same cachet. The Bix is run over a bitch of a course in the middle of the summer and people are beside themselves eager to run it. It’s a real measuring stick of a race.

Maybe I should check this Bix thing out some time. I missed it by a week this year.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

07/05/08: Independence Day 5K

The Dallas Running Club’s Independence Day 5K does not start at Winfrey Point. It starts at Sunset Bay which is just north of Winfrey Point and which I had read in the Dallas Morning News on Friday, only it didn’t register. I parked at Winfrey Point, I strolled up to the building at Winfrey Point, and despite the obvious lack of activity, I tried the handle of the door(to the building at Winfrey Point). It was locked.

I decided to check the parks building at Sunset Bay because, while there weren’t a lot of people around, there were a lot of cars parked at the bottom of the Winfrey Point hill and I did see a guy wearing a bib number jog by. As soon as I started off in that direction, I remembered that the paper said the race was at Sunset Bay so everything was cool. An added bonus about starting here was that an out-and-back 5K course wouldn’t reach to the shaky bridge.

After a mostly sleepless night, and after running and lifting vigorously the day before, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to approach this race. Before the start I saw a guy I recognized who I knew was slower than me, so I decided to pace off him for the first mile and then see if I could pick it up. The first mile felt too easy, which was how it was supposed to feel, and we ran it in 9:29, but the strategy paid off as I ran the next two miles in 7:49 and 7:43 before finishing with 45 seconds for the last tenth, giving me an overall time of 25:48, 8:19 pace. Which was tons better than last week’s 27:36 dedicated to keeping Austin weird, especially if you don’t factor in that it was closer to eighty at the start than it was to one hundred.

After the race I hung out for a while watching all the people I beat finish (the guy I paced off ran a 27:36 or so which means he picked it up also) while trying to figure out where to breakfast, and I checked out the posted results (which were messed up in places – they had no time for me and one age group where the second place finisher ran faster than the first place dude but slower than the guy in third place) while wondering where to breakfast, and finally I took off and got in my car, hoping it had some Insight on where I should breakfast. Turns out, it did. It beelined for Eatzi’s on Oak Lawn which isn’t very crowded at nine o’clock in the morning, and I got migas, which the only problem with their migas is that they overload you and I was only able to finish half of them, and breakfast sausage, which the only problem with their breakfast sausage is that it’s highly addictive and I know several people who have had to go into sausage rehab. Which if you have to have problems, those are okay problems to have.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

06/28/08: Keep Austin Weird 5K

Three young women, barely old enough to legally suck down their Zeigenbocks, were robbed in broad twilight at the Keep Austin Weird 5K when their clever convict costumes, based on the chain-gang escapees from “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, went unrewarded and unrecognized despite the fact that they ran the race handcuffed together. It is a deep, dark disappointment that I didn’t get to see how they negotiated the water stops.

The costumes were all about keeping the weird in the Keep Austin Weird 5K; costumes that were recognized included a magician and his bunny, two girls sharing one canoe, beer keg guy, baa baa sheeple, and the All American Girls, whose main attractions were the pinwheels attached to their bosoms. Oh, and the guy whose costume made it look like he was riding on the back of an old lady; that one was pretty good actually but it was also distracting as I couldn’t help but try to deconstruct the illusion.

The race itself was the most forgettable part of the evening; the temperature was in the high nineties when I started and it was still in the high nineties when I finished. Starting the race at 6:00 on an early summer evening, they must be as intent on keeping Austin sweaty as they are in keeping Austin weird. I tried to start slow and I sort of succeeded – my time for the first mile wasn’t very fast but I expended a lot of energy working for a mediocre time. The race continued in that vein; I wound up finishing in 27:36 and was just glad to be done.

I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the food in the runner’s area after the race but that may have been due to the heat. I ate half a slice of pizza and picked at a small bowl of salad but I didn’t feel like eating. I also drank a bottle of warm fruit punch and one of cold water; liquids, particularly cold liquids, were much more appealing. I also picked up my race t-shirt; it was cool and came in an ecofriendly shopping bag.

After going off to change into dry clothes, I wandered into the main festival area where various food and drink, including beer, were available for purchase. The beer options were Bud and Bud Light in cans, Zeigenbock on tap, and Independence, a local brew, available in an unknown format because I never saw any. I went for Zeigenbock, which is Anheuser Busch’s attempt to compete with Shiner, and it was tasty and cold. I spilled a little, though, when the Checker Cab guy tossed me one of his promo discs and I had to sky to make the grab. Later I had two more beers and a couple of mini-cheeseburgers while rocking out to What Made Milwaukee Famous, watching the costume contest awards presentation, and folk-rocking out to Alejandro Escovedo.

The race and festival go a mostly thumbs up with one caveat: it’s pricey. I paid forty bucks at late registration; had I signed up in advance (before June 26th) it would have been $35. On an individual basis it may not seem like you’re getting your money’s worth but considering the venue (Auditorium Shores along Town Lake) and the entertainment, it doesn’t seem like they’re just pocketing the money, either. A free beer or two would be nice, though.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

06/07/08: Bloomin' Four Mile

I think I need to find me some P.F. Flyers, the better to run faster and jump higher with; I know I need to find some friendlier weather but it's only June - it's going to get worse before it gets better. For the Dallas Running club's Bloomin' Four Mile race it was 79 degrees and 77% humidity which made for a heat index of about a jillion. Not that it would be any better, but I wonder if they've ever considered having one of their summer runs in the evening.

I had a plan - run the first two miles very conservatively and try to pick it up over the second half of the race - but several things went awry not the least of which was not following the plan very well. I ran the first two miles in about sixteen minutes, which would qualify as very conservative if the temperature was about twenty degrees cooler, but today it was a faster pace than I was expecting for the entire race. Which meant there was much walking and gnashing of teeth over the last two miles but at least there was more teeth-gnashing than there was walking. The second, and third (out-and-back course), miles traversed the dreaded shaky bridge which has been my main source of motion sickness for the past ten years. Maybe I should start taking Dramamine before running at White Rock Lake.

Actually after a long walking break in the third mile - longer than intended as I decided to walk to the mile marker and I was further away than I thought - I decided to forget about the race (except for staying on course and stopping at the finish line) and just run intervals for the last mile. I ran hard, like near-sprint hard, for 100 steps (counting one foot only) and then walked for 60 steps. I did three sets and then jogged the rest of the way in, finishing about 35:06. Which isn't an auspicious start to a new (birth) year but does mean I have lots of room for improvement.

I was expecting to run with some relay club members but I didn't see any of them at the race; there was a happy hour the night before that I guess wound up being happier than anticipated. I did see Grapevine Mike, who actually lives in Dallas County but who I know from running in Grapevine. I hung out with him some before the race and more after the race but not so much during the race as he finished well ahead of me.

While hanging out after the race I tried one of the many free Accelerades they had available. My flavor of choice was fruit punch and I should keep in mind that it was warm but I wasn't too impressed and I'm not in any hurry to fork over cash money to give it another try. For now my carbohydrate-and-protein drink of choice remains Nesquik although I'll pass on that, too, if it's served warm. I drank the dregs of the Accelerade after I got in my car and drove off in search of breakfast. You can tell the racing season's hit a lull when you get back to your car after a race and your windshield doesn't have a single brochure on it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

05/25/08: Mad City Half Marathon

Thirteen.1 Notes on the Mad City Half Marathon

1. The half marathon starts at 7:25 at the state Capitol building - fifteen minutes after the full marathon and twenty minutes before the quarter (and personally I think these subdivisions are getting silly) marathon - and finishes at the Alliant Energy Center maybe three miles away. So I had to get to the finish line a little after six to catch a shuttle to the start, which is why I'm not a big fan of point-to-point courses.

2. I hadn't planned a strategy for this race so when I saw the 1:50 pace guy lining up near me, I decided to stick with him for as long as I could. If I could hang for ten miles, I'd be happy no matter how crappy the last three miles were. Unless my death was literal rather than figurative, of course.

3. I ran this race two years ago in 2:xx:xx on a day when it was 79 degrees and 72% humidity. Today it was more like 63 degrees and 54% humidity, which is one of the reasons I came back. The other is that I like Madison; it's a cool city.

4. The race started promptly and it also started downhill, which is nice on a point-to-point course. It's a moderately hilly route although it does have two long, mostly flat sections: along Lake Mendota around miles six and seven and around Monona Bay and heading towards the back of the Alliant Energy Center, towards the finish. Although they do throw in one last nasty little uphill just before you turn into the parking lot.

5. I wouldn't say the crowd support rivals Boston but I was surprised by how many people were out cheering early in the morning.

6. The first part of the course goes northeast from the Capitol along the isthmus separating Lake Mendota from Lake Monona before turning around and returning to downtown via Johnson and Langdon Streets. So a lot of the downhill in mile one turns into uphill in mile four, I think.

7. The University of Wisconsin section of the course goes along the Temin Lakeshore Path and along some roads on the west side of campus, including past Camp Randall Stadium. Which is fine by me; if they took us through the main part of campus we'd wind up running some hills worth bitching about.

8. I don't remember much about miles eight through eleven but what I do remember is mostly bad - a short out-and-back around Vilas Park, which I hate out-and-backs and wish they'd find a way to eliminate it; running up a pedestrian bridge late in mile nine to get across North Shore Drive; and noticing about halfway through mile nine that I'd already sped up to my "God I want this to be over with!" pace, which isn't a good pace with 4.5 miles still to go.

9. I made it through mile eleven in 1:31:44 (8:20 pace) before cratering and losing contact with the 1:50 people.

10. The last two miles weren't totally horrible, just mostly so. There was some walking but I ran more than I walked.

11. I actually had a quick left after mile thirteen. I guess that was the payoff for dogging it those last two miles.

12. The medals for all the races just say "Mad City Marathon" and are color-coded by race (red for marathon, yellow for half, white for quarter); in addition, the name of the actual race run is printed on the (also color-coded) ribbon. Marathoners sometimes bitch when the shirt or medal doesn't distinguish between the various distances.

13. I grabbed a bottle of water at the finish line, but didn't bother food. I didn't even go all the way through the line - I didn't see anybody carting around anything that looked particularly appealing.

13.1 1:54:31.