Friday, November 27, 2009

11/26: Turkey Trot

So last year at the Dallas Turkey Trot they introduced the disposable (or collectible) timing chip; this year they charged five bucks over and above the registration fee if you wanted a bib number that would include one. Essentially, five bucks to be timed and included in the results. Which I wanted, although I’m not exactly sure why - my watch time was going to be reasonably close to my chip time (it looks like they differ by .12 seconds, so I paid five bucks for .12 seconds - if only I could get paid at that rate) and I wasn’t going to be competing for any age-group awards. If I wanted to know where I finished in my age group or overall, I could mentally insert myself into the results easily enough.

The five bucks bothers me more than it should, probably because it identifies the Turkey Trot more as an event - an apolitical run-in - than a race, which is what it was when it began back in 1968. Now, the race duties are an onerous task for which the race officials require additional compensation. Of course, what really bothers me is that by next year I’ll have forgotten all about this until I go to register (unless I do remember, in which case I may do some other race) at which point it’ll be too much hassle not to pay. And the grumbling will begin again.

I should point out that for all I know this isn’t actually a change - that they charged the extra $5 last year and I just didn’t think it was that big a deal. I’m not always as consistent about these things as I’d like to be.

This was my third Turkey Trot which means half of the eight-mile races I’ve run have been Turkey Trots. I don’t remember feeling as hemmed in and bothered by the press of humanity at the start before which may mean I was in a pissy mood for this race, or may be because I wasn’t in good enough shape in the previous races to care if the crowds slowed me down. This year’s race broke down into three stages - a claustrophobic first mile that took about 8;25, four strong miles that I covered in about 29 minutes, and three miles where I was hanging on that took about 23:30. Overall I ran 1:00:55, good enough for 62nd out 299 in my age group, 649 out of 2595 among all men, and 542 out of 4439 overall. I failed to break one hour, which was my high-end goal going in, but I did get my eight-mile PR, which was my more realistic goal. My previous best was 1:02:30, in or around Memphis, Tennessee, in 1996. Or maybe 1997.

It looks like about 7000, out of nearly 35,000, people paid for the timing chips. I’d be interested in knowing how many untimed people finished ahead of me but I guess there’s no way of knowing. Well, there’s probably a video you could watch and count but that would be painful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

11/21: Lake Leatherwood Trail Run

I was looking at postcards in a college bookstore in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I saw one that featured a picture of an Arkansas black bear, not that I’m aware of any differences between that creature and your basic black bear. The card said that the black bear population in Arkansas once numbered 50,000 but it didn’t say what the current population was. Which was just as well, actually; I had spent two hours running a trail race up in Eureka Springs and the thought that I was running through the back yard of, say, 3000 bears would still have been unsettling.

This race - the Lake Leatherwood Trail Run, I guess - was the trailiest trail race I’ve done this year, which means it contained a few unpleasant surprises. Like a near faceplant towards the end of the fifth mile; I got my hands out in front of me to avoid smashing my head against the rock that slipped me up. Which didn’t do much to prevent me from scraping up my knee. On the bright side, I did get that fall in before I came to the stream we had to ford; running twenty feet or so through water that came up to about mid-thigh did a good job of washing the blood, mud, and leaves from my knee and shin. The water was cold, which helped wake me up, too.

Half the fun of running trails is complaining about the hardships afterwards. Actually, in some races that ratio may run as high as 90%. Pain is temporary but the bitching goes on forever. This race is part of the Northwest Arkansas Fall 2009 Trail Running Series, put on by Liart (or maybe that should be liarT) Sports and apparently the previous race, October 24th at Lake Fort Smith featured a much tougher course. So after the race everybody else was acting like they had just run an easy road 5K while I was wondering who I should see about getting my Mountain Man merit badge. Nobody, as it turns put, although I did get a little plaque - actually a little whatchamacallit to put in a plaque - that said sixth place. That’s age group sixth place and, yes, there was a seventh place.

The course was ten miles long, give or take, and hilly and rocky but not outrageously so. The rocks were more trouble than the hills, although the hills were tough enough that I walked several of them. I finished in 1:48:45, or about thirty minutes longer than I’d expect to take for a ten-mile road race, but I have no reference to tell me if that’s good or bad or mediocre or indifferent. So I just don’t worry about it, grab some animal crackers and sports drink, and chill out, waiting for the awards and raffle. Because for a small race - and if I thought the Big D races were small, this event was miniscule - they gave away a lot of neat stuff. Compasses, lights, compass/lights, Frisbees, fleece jackets, duffel bags - a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t mind winning even if it did mean having to haul it back to Dallas. Which wasn’t an issue because I didn’t win anything which means I’ll probably have to do another one of these races and try, try again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

11/15: Big D 30K

The Big D races - a 5K and a 30K with a common start and finish - were about to start and I was wondering where the hell all the people were. And how many times I might wander off course if I couldn’t see the person in front of me - there was very little chance of actually getting lost since the course was essentially two laps of White Rock Lake, one counterclockwise and one clockwise, but there were a lot of places where you could take one path or another, and I’d like to take the correct one. Especially if the correct one was the shorter one.

The race was put on by Thruston Racing, who used to be a major player in the Dallas racing scene but have cut back on their schedule in recent years. I’ve run maybe twenty Thruston races over the years but around the time race day registraion for their 5Ks rose to $30, I decided it wasn’t a good value. Which isn’t totally fair on my part - $30 for a no-frills, well-run 5K is overpriced but $50 for a 30K, which is what I paid by registering the day before, is reasonable. For fifty bucks I got an organized event with an accurate course and prompt results, a t-shirt, and postrace refreshments that included soft drinks and beer. In cans, but still. So thirty bucks for a 5K when I most likely have other, less expensive options? I think not. But $50 for a 30K when the number of events longer than a half marathon but shorter than a full is limited, and where what events there are all tend to be priced in the same neighborhood? I can live with that.

I hadn’t run a Thruston race since 2005, and I have never run this one before, but they haven’t changed much although they might have gotten smaller. Or maybe it’s just this one - looking at the results since 2006, this year’s number of finishers (186, 5K and 30K combined) didn’t seem out of line with the previous years’ totals. At any rate, I never had to worry about going off-course - there was always somebody in sight in front of me.

I wound up running my worst race of the fall, partially because I wasn’t trained for the distance and partially because the weather, most notably the humidity, was uncooperative. I planned on running eight-minute miles for as long as I could; I wound up running one eight-minute mile (mile seven, probably because it has some downhill) total. I averaged 8:10s through seven and knew I was basically done. I wound up doing the first 15K in 1:19 and the second in 1:57, with a good amount of walking mixed in after mile eleven. Which doesn’t mean the race was a total waste; I plan on noting the three positives from this experience and then moving on: it’s good to be humbled every once in a while, I did get in about fourteen miles of actual, if not continuous, running, and I spent 3:16 on my feet, which is a good experience for long runs going forward.

Of course, that presumes that I actually do more long runs going forward. I tend to get lazy(-ier) around the holidays.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

11/07: Salute America's Heroes 10K

Two lessons learned: The Colony is a hell of a long way from Euless and the American Heroes 10K isn’t worth the drive.

Before the bitchfest begins, I should probably note the two pleasing aspects of this race: the lady who sang the National Anthem, a woman whose husband is serving in Afghanistan, did a really nice job and the trail we ran on down by Lake Lewisville was pleasant. So it’s not like the morning totally sucked.

On the other hand, my problems with the race began virtually from the moment I stepped out of the car. While no single problem was that calamitous in itself, the sum total indicated a decision-making process with an unerring instinct for erring.

There were no race forms available out in front of the registration table so I took one from the registration table and filled it out while I stood in line. Which I had plenty of time to do, along with writing the check, and figuring my taxes, and computing pi to 10,000 places, because despite being fourth or fifth in line, it took fifteen minutes before I got to the front. At which point it took maybe forty seconds to get registered so I’m not sure what the hold-up was with the other people. Once I did get registered, I didn’t get a bib number because the had run out of 10K bibs which I’m not sure how that happened given that the race only had 78 finishers.

I did get a timing chip, of a variety I had never seen before - it looked more like a timing badge and we were told it had to be pinned to the right hip. Now this is something I don’t get - the original chip system worked well so you would think that a newcomer would have to work equally well and offer some advantage - be disposable, cost less, whatever. Maybe this badge thing is cheaper and just as reliable but based on what the organizers were saying, I’m thinking it’s less effective than the other systems. They told us that if we wanted our start times recorded, we should line up on the right side of the road, near the chip reader. Which isn’t something I haven’t had to worry about with any of the other systems.

The brochure said the 5K and 10K were supposed to start together at 8:05; somewhere along the line that plan changed and the 10K started ten minutes after the 5K. Which isn’t that big a deal, but doesn’t look good when everything else seems screwed up, plus I was actually pressed for time. The real kicker was the mile markers, which made no sense. According to what they had out there, my splits were one mile in 9:38, one mile in 6:42, 1.1 miles in 6:10, .9 miles in 8:54, one mile in 7:15, and 1.2 miles in 9:45. The upshot is I have no idea how far I ran, but I’m guessing the course was a fifth to a quarter of a mile long and if any of the mile markers were placed correctly, credit random chance.

I was bummed to have to take off immediately after the race because it looked like they had beer. On second, though, if their instincts held true, it was probably sans alcohol.

Monday, November 9, 2009

11/01: Marshall University Half Marathon

I run faster carrying a football - that was my takeaway from the Marshall University Half Marathon, where I made sure to tell them that I still have four years of eligibility left. Cutting across the end zone, I took a short pitch from a dude who really wanted to execute a straight hand-off, turned up field, and dashed - well, as much of a dash as I could muster after thirteen miles - towards the opposing goalline, which was also the finish line of the race. I thought about diving across the finish line with the ball stretched out in front of me but thought better of it - the chip was recorded by my foot hitting the mat, not the ball breaking the plane of the end zone. It would be a bitch not to have my finishing time recorded because I dove over the mat.

The timing chip was one of two things I didn’t love about the race; in fact, the timing chip I actively disliked, although it was partially my fault. The chip was on a Velcro strap and wearing it felt like a mild form of house arrest - I would have preferred the more traditional set-up of a chip attached to the laces with a plastic tie. Of course, the Velcro strap may not have bothered me so much if I hadn’t put it on too loosely originally, and then overdid it when I tightened it just before the start. By the end of the race my ankle was hurting, probably because the strap was cutting off circulation - after the race I saw that it was cutting into the skin.

The course was the other thing I didn’t love but I certainly liked it okay, mostly because it was flat and fast. I think it’s the second-fastest half marathon I’ve ever run, behind the old Las Vegas course - which they don’t use any more, and I’ve never run the new one there. On the down side there are a few stretches, totally probably somewhere between a third and a half of the race, that aren’t too scenic; it’s not a half course that I’d want to be strolling through. I think that’s at least partially a function of Huntington - you have a choice between fast and scenic; if you want some lovely views, you’re going to have to climb for them.

The weather- lower forties, a light breeze - was also conducive to running and I ran my fastest half in ten years, despite maybe also running my dumbest race in ten years. I covered the first three miles at 7:23 pace, the next eight at 7:40 pace, and averaged 8:17 from there through the finish. Despite speeding up at the end because I do, remember, run faster carrying a football. Actually, looking at those splits, they’re not that bad - I’ve run much dumber races many times over the past ten years. At any rate, it didn’t matter - the important thing was that I made it to the stadium while they were still grilling hamburgers. They were already out of cheese, though.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

10/24: D.O. Dash 5K

“I don’t think this girl should be starting this close to the front of the pack - yep, I’m passing her and we’re barely to the timing mat. I hope that kid doesn’t cut me off going around the corner. Screw it, I’ll just cut to the outside and HILL! Why do they always look so much steeper when you’re actually running them? Oh well, try to maintain effort, at least - maybe I should pace off these two girls? Nah, I’d look like Stalker Dude, besides they’re going to slow unless I’m going too fast too early. Okay, turn the corner and no more HILL, this is more manageable. Should I pace off THESE two girls? Guess not. Another corner, another hill. This one isn’t too steep but God, it looks like it goes on forever. I feel like I’m passing too many people but a lot of these guys sped past me in the first quarter-mile; I think they’re toast already. Suckers. Been there, done that, and I’ll probably do it again. I just hope I‘m not doing it right now.. I think I can catch that girl up there, maybe I should pace off her for the rest of this mile. Pace, pace, pass. Then again, maybe not. God, I hope I’m not using up three miles’ worth of energy before the first water stop. Which is right here - I think it’s also the mile marker. 7:24 - I guess that’s okay, what with all the uphill.

“I bet we get some downhill once we turn that corner. Oh yeah - this is living. I wonder if I’ve ever run through here before? I think maybe that Arlington Heights 5K I did a few years back, and probably when I ran the first leg of the Cowtown relay. I wonder what that golf course is. Oh, back to uphill. I think we’ll be going back down once we turn that corner. Yep, called that one. Don’t even think about walking, not yet - I felt worse than this running eight on Monday. I can slow down if I start hurting bad. Water stop already? 6:47 - maybe they set it up in the wrong spot.

“Okay, look at that guy up ahead. Pace off him. Pace, pace - if I’m pacing off him, should he be getting closer? Okay, this dude in the SUV is waiting for you to pass before he pulls out of his driveway. Do him a favor and pick it up some - good God that hurt - and he’s still sitting there. I guess the guy behind me is still pretty close. Or maybe SUV Guy is just spectating in which case he needs to get a life, or cable. I have no idea where I am right now. Damn, I think we come out on 7th downhill from where we started. This is Arch Adams? That’ll take me to 7th and - yep, uphill finish, pretty much. What a bitch. I wonder if I can catch that kid in front of me. My advantage is that my hair is more aerodynamic than his ‘fro. His advantages are that he’s accelerating and I’m decelerating. Probably not going to happen. Damn kid. Damn hill. Okay, turn the corner, back on level ground, push through the finish. 22:25 - best time this year, I think. Nope, forgot about Kentucky. I wonder who’s ass a guy has to kiss to get some Gatorade around here.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

10/03: Bird on the Run Trail Race

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it wasn’t night yet - it was a little past three in the afternoon - and it wasn’t that dark, just kind of gray and sporadically drizzling. Suddenly, a shot - or airhorn, more accurately - rang out. Once it did, and this I can say without qualification, we were off running in the inaugural Bird On The Run Approximately But Unfortunately On The Heavy Side Of Four-Mile Trail Race, starting from Bob Jones Park in Southlake and finishing in the Bob Jones Nature Center, which is on Bob Jones Road. I have no idea who Bob Jones is but if I lived in Southlake, I suppose I might. I don’t think it’s the same guy with the university in Greenville, South Carolina.

Not to spoil the suspense or beat my own drum or anything, but I took third in my age group, not that I can say with any certainty that there was a fourth in my age group. Which earned me a clear lucite Christmas ornament, with the race logo and date etched on it. Which was nice, and different. The ornament came in a small bubblewrap sleeve. Which was awesome. I mean, really awesome. I could stay while the rest of the awards were being handed out because hey, I had bubbles to pop. Every time I sat down to write this report, I’d pick up the award and pop some bubbles instead. Now I have no more bubbles to pop, so I guess I’ll finally write a report. Too bad I don’t actually remember anything about the race, except that it rained some but mostly before and after the race - my bubblewrap got wet - but not so much during. Or maybe I was running too hard to notice but that seems unlikely.

I do remember that we finished at the top of a hill. A kind of nasty hill, actually. A nasty hill that we could easily have avoided if the course designer had made it closer to a 5K race. I mentioned that to him and he said, “Where’s the fun in that?”

“Fun for who?”

“Me. I liked watching you idiots struggle up that hill.” Oh well, they say it builds character or something.

Starting and finishing at different locations was kind of a pain in the ass but they had parking at both locations and shuttle buses available. I parked at the start and walked back after the race; it was maybe a half-mile on the trail we had just raced over, and it was drizzling again. Which these days isn’t much of a rarity around here. An added bonus to this race was I learned a new access point to some of the Army Corps of Engineer trails on the south side of Lake Grapevine, since the city of Grapevine has started charging admission to the trails on the north side. Which I don’t mind paying five bucks unless I pay my five bucks and find the parking lot is full and the trails are crowded, which was frequently the case when I’ve run there in the past.

Monday, October 5, 2009

10/03: The Loop 15K

Run for enough years and you'll probably become a weather connoisseur, especially if you race on a regular (i.e., every weekend, at least during the spring and fall) basis. So when a dude whose running career stretches back to when my only running was from the law because of youthful shenanigans told me today was a perfect day for running, I could count on him to know what he was talking about. Because here's the thing - when the announcer dude's wearing shorts and a t-shirt and saying it's a great day to run, he's probably tragically mistaken. It's probably a great day to spectate and the runners are most likely screwed.

The DRC took a step back in terms of crowd control; we were all over the trail a good ten to fifteen minutes before the race began. I feel kind of bad about it now but to be honest, I didn’t even think about it until a day and a half after the race. When we finally did start, we ran north on East Lawther Drive and crossed on Mockingbird over to West Lawther where we ran down the trail. I think we run mostly on the road on the east side partially because it’s flatter and partially because the road has enough sections closed to cars that it’s not like it’s a through street anyway. West Lawther has no closed sections and the trail is probably flatter than the road, and we’re pretty well spread out by that point, so running on the trail is probably better for everyone.

A concrete wall between the spillway and Garland road collapsed in the Great Flood of 2007, so they currently have an extended area around there closed off while they do repairs and enhancements. Because of this, I think, they sent us down the newer trail they built a few years ago rather than sending us up the ramp by the Pump House and across the dam, the way they used to. The construction also altered the tough hill on Garland Road; the sidewalk is closed so we ran in the street there and it seemed easier. It didn’t seem to rise as steeply at the top. I’d like to think that when they redo the sidewalk there, they’ll be able to have it more closely match the rise along the street but I’m not holding my breath.

After that last hill I’m usually gassed and reduced to walking at some point between there and the finish, which from the top of the hill I still have maybe a mile and a half to go. I did feel gassed but I never walked, probably due to the favorable weather, and didn’t even slow down very much. I finished in 1:11:11, a 15K PR by 1:34, which was surprising on the one hand but maybe shouldn’t have been on the other. My longer distance PRs, except for the half, are soft, mostly because when I was almost fast, I’d always jump in the 5K any time the weather was conducive to running fast. This is probably the best weather I’ve ever had for running a 15K.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

09/27: State to State Half Marathon

I really need to stop trusting these motel clock-radios; I woke up at 6:40, 40 minutes away from the parking lot for the State to State Half Marathon, said parking lot being itself maybe a ten-minute walk to the staging area / starting line. I had to forgo my traditional prerace shower but I made it to the race with time to spare for picking up my timing chip. Barely.

The race starts in the middle of Oxford, Ohio, (home of the Miami University RedHawks) and runs into Indiana, although not really to, or even through, any specific town so far as I could tell, then returns to Ohio and Oxford. A banner was stretched across the state line; it said "Welcome To Indiana" and "Welcome To Ohio" on the appropriate sides but I don't actually remember seeing any permanent welcome signs in either direction. Which doesn't mean they weren't there; coming back, at least, they could have had an elephant on the side of the road and I might not have seen it.

The course is fairly simple - we followed High Street west out of town because Indiana is west of Ohio and although the name of the road changed, we pretty much stayed on it the entire time, except for two detours into subdivisions on the west side of Oxford while we were running towards Indiana. The course could be accurately described as rolling; going out I thought we were running mostly gentle uphills for a few miles. When I looked for a corresponding stretch of gentle downhills on the way back in, though, I was tragically disappointed because I really could have used them. Especially since I had already burned through my I-just-want-to-be-done sprint - at mile eight, which is a little early for a half marathon.

Storms came through overnight and we started under dark gray skies that, for whatever reason, turned noticeably darker once we crossed into Indiana, I mean, immediately, like the moment I passed under the banner. It reminded me of "The Stand," the way the weather turned sour on one of the good guys when he entered the Walkin Dude's domain. Not that I'm suggesting Indiana is under Randall Flagg's sway. I'm just saying - the sky was darker and more threatening there. Draw your own conclusions.

Eventually I got back to Ohio, Oxford, and the staging area, in that order. Chugging down High Street, I got passed by some guy who was finishing with too much energy. The announcer got excited and said, "We've got a real race to the finish here," but in fact we didn't - he blew my doors off. Which is fine since I've been meaning to have those doors replaced for years anyway. After finishing I checked out the postrace chow and was pleasantly surprised - not only was it well-stocked with traditional foodstuffs (bagels, bananas, granola bars) but it was also resplendent with one-offs - Tootsie Rolls and donuts. People were scarfing up snacks like they were provisioning for a trip to the North Pole - a carton of granola bars here, fistfuls of Tootsie Rolls there - but my mom raised me to be not quite so greedy; I just grabbed two donuts, three Tootsie Rolls, and a bottle of Gatorade. Then I took off to bankrupt a breakfast buffet.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

09/19: Oktoberfest 5K

Turning north on Addison Circle Drive or whatever (okay, Addison Road, it looks like) from Arapaho Road, I must have looked like hell. I felt pretty good considering I had spent the last ten minutes or so running east into the sun on unshaded, baked concrete, but I was running Addison's Oktoberfest 5K and I knew going in what to expect - a mundane course, free postrace beer, and free admission to Oktoberfest (a five-dollar value!) that evening. Which, given that a cadre of friends were running the 5K as well as returning to Oktoberfest at night, was an acceptable trade-off. As I made the turn north, some kid - maybe fourteen years old - said to me, "Almost there, sir; you can make it!" In a very concerned voice. Good to know, although personally I had no doubts that I could make it. I was more than willing for the race to be over by that point but it wasn't yet a necessity. I said, "Or, I could hand my chip to you and you could finish for both of us." He laughed and introduced himself so I ran maybe a half-dozen steps while shaking hand with the unknown teenager. He should be the known teenager given that he introduced himself but to be honest, I wasn't paying attention.

I left my Garmin in an Albuquerque hotel room back in whatever month I ran the Albuquerque Zoo 10K and this is the first time since then that I genuinely missed not having it. The mile markers were at least modestly inaccurate; I thought I ran the first mile faster than 7:39, but then again, I'm still surprised every June when the Yankees pass on me in the MLB draft. I usually project myself to go in the first five rounds; since I've never been drafted in any round in any sport (professionally) ever, I'm guessing there must be some confusion over my college eligibility. But the point - remember the point? - is that while I have my doubts about that 7:39, it's at least within the realm of possibility. The 6:30 second mile and the 8:27 third mile, not so much although that discrepancy could be the result of just one misplaced marker. If the second mile had been 7:20 and the third 7:37, I'd be a little bummed but also a lot less skeptical. Make one glaring screw-up, though, and you cast doubt even on the stuff you may have done correctly.

Eventually the race - whatever distance it may have actually been - ended and eventually we got to the beer tent and eventually we got a beer. And a pretzel. Which is another upside to this event - if you want that traditional runner's grub, they've got it but they also have big, soft pretzels. And a guy dancing on a stage with a bunch of little kids to some weird polka/rap hybrid but we were far enough away to be mostly out of range of that spectacle. If it even existed - it could have been just the beer talking.

Monday, September 14, 2009

09/12: Suncrest Mountain Half Marathon

Late in the Suncrest Mountain Half Marathon, or whatever this chamber of horrors officially calls itself, I was running on pavement beside a woman I had been running near for maybe five miles when we turned a corner and saw yet another daunting climb in front of us. "I swear, if I see one more more freaking hill in this freaking race, I'm gonna freak," she said in a voice that suggested she might be overestimating her tolerance by one hill. Actually, although we still had a hill or two in front of us - not counting the one in front of us - she didn't freak. She picked up the pace, instead, leaving me and several others eating her dust.

Earlier I was afraid I was leading this same woman astray. I passed her, along with a few other people, on a wide trail section, just before we hit a questionable junction with one definite trail and one possible alternative. Being in the lead, except for the many people in front of us but out of sight, I got to make the decision so I went with the more obvious trail and people behind me followed, which I wasn't sure if they were following me or if they made their own decisions. At any rate, I ran for about fifteen minutes or so without a sign that I was actually on course; I was very concerned, and probably would have said something to the woman behind me if she hadn't been wearing headphones, when I finally came to a T intersection with orange arrows pointing to the left. Either we never left the course or the marshals anticipated this particular bit of foolishness and left helpful hints to guide errant runners back on track. In either case, I avoided the embarrassment of getting my ass kicked by a feisty Utahan wench moments before we were both devoured by bears.

Talking to a couple of guys after the race, they said they were surprised by how tough the course was. I looked at the profile beforehand so I had a good idea what to expect in general, but I was surprised by how much uphill there was in the predominantly downhill first half of the race, and the downhill in the mostly uphill second half. The course was a mixture of trail and pavement, with the first trail section - a foliage-lined single-track - coming a little less than a mile into the race. Since we hadn't sorted ourselves out by pace yet and still had a random mix of half-marathoners and 5k people to deal with, this wasn't optimal but I don't know the area so I don't know what other options they had. If they could reroute the course so we run the more open trail sections early, that would probably help - I might have run 2:17 rather than 2:18.

After the race they immediately printed up individual results on what are basically business cards, so I know I was officially the 26th finisher in the men's half marathon and 7th in my (40 - 49) age group, with a time of 2:18:38 (10:34 pace). I actually received two cards - the first one had my name as Michael X and the card dude insisted on correcting it. Still, I'm counting this as my first race run as a member of the Nation of Islam.

09/07: FWRC Labor Day 15K

I got to the Ft. Worth Running Club's Labor Day 15K a little before seven in the morning, which worked out well given that the race started at 7:30 - a half hour earlier than I was expecting. I should have known something was up when parking was already backed up, although that was partially due to the Bedfordites stopping in the middle of the road to - well, I don't know what exactly, but I'm sure they had a reason. I'm equally sure that as soon as they tried to articulate that reason, they'd realize they were pretty much just babbling.

The FWRC Labor Day races (they have a 5K and a 1K in addition to the 15K) are a tradition but this year they were a tradition on the move, from the old Luke's location on University to the new Luke's location on 7th. Since the majority of the race is run on the Trinity Trails this is isn't as much of a departure as it might seem, the main differences being how you get on the trail, how far up the trail you run, and how you exit the trail to return to the staging area. And in one regard, the differences translate to a major win - by running further up the trail (towards Oklahoma, although when it veers northwest it's more like towards the Panhandles), you get to run a decent section of the trail that's actually shaded, which I never knew such a thing existed before.

Luke's new location is in the old Montgomery Ward building that's now home to a plethora of the chains that made America famous, as well as lofts, condo and other fine retailers of the local persuasion. Starbucks has a store there and the race's goody bag - which was really more of a goody coupon book - had a Starbuck's coupon for 10% off (race day only, Montgomery Plaza location only). The associate race director who processed my entry pointed out the coupon and said, "they'll be there, open, at 4:00am"; in my best (i.e., not very good) Claude Rains voice, I said, "I'll be there at seven." She just looked at me weird. I guess she's not much of a "Casablanca" fan.

Nothing against this race, but all I proved by running it is that I do have an addiction. I'm not really trained for the distance or thrilled by the course, and I'm still dragging from last weekend. The weather isn't conducive to fast times. The main reason I ran this race is because I had the desire to run some race today - assuming I woke up in time, of course - and I liked the idea of doing a 15K because it presented an opportunity to get in a half-assed long run. There was also a 15K out at White Rock, but this one cost less and had better amenities, i.e., hot dogs and beer. Besides, I run at White Rock way more often - see, for instance, Saturday - than I do on the Trinity Trails.

Monday, September 7, 2009

09/05: Breakfast Bash Five-Mile

I got to White Rock Lake at about 6:45 for the Breakfast Bash Five-Mile; parking at White Rock in general and Winfrey Point in particular has become a controversial topic in recent months and I wanted to make sure my super secret parking spot, personally endorsed by Dick Cheney, wasn’t taken. Which it wasn’t, although two of the three were and the less-than-competent parking job done by the early arrivals forced me nearer to a handicapped sign than I’d like to be. But I wasn’t actually in the handicapped spot and I didn’t get ticketed or prevent anyone from using the handicapped space so I guess it’s okay. It gave me something to obsess about while running at any rate.

The parking controversy concerns parking, or more accurately not parking, on the grass in the park. In general I support the ban; it seemed like Winfrey Point hosted at least one race every weekend last fall and all that driving and parking on the grass can’t be beneficial. Most of these races were charging $20 to $30 per runner; I don’t know the economics of road races but it seems to me that if you’re charging that much and drawing enough to exceed the parking limitations, you can afford to take your race out on the streets. I would like to see an exception made for the Dallas Running Club, though; they charge a nominal fee (free for members, $10 for non-members) and they only have one race a month, not all of which are at Winfrey Point.

The DRC is also getting better at certain things that always bothered me - most notably, they prevented people from lining up on the trail until just before they were ready to start the race. White Rock Lake gets a lot of use on weekend mornings, from bikers and bladers as well as hordes of runners, and it was always obnoxious to be clogging the trail for fifteen or twenty minutes waiting for the race to start. They left a little room for improvement - they staged us for the start, then they had a moment of silence, then they played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” then they started us on our way. We weren’t standing around on the trail that long but it seems to me we could have heard the moment of silence and the national anthem just as well from alongside the trail. They had a reasonably good sound system. That played “Fadeaway” by the Bo Deans while waiting for the race to start - now there’s a song I don’t hear every day. Or every year, for that matter.

We started to the north. It was a typical Winfrey Point race which means there’s not all that much to say about it - we ran out about 2.5 miles, then we turned around and ran back. Then we went back up the hill to the Mansion at Winfrey Point and ate breakfast burritos of various kinds: egg and potato, egg and bacon, egg and sausage. I had one of the bacon variety and one of sausage; the sausage was better. But given that I’m a DRC member it was all free - and no parking tickets! - so it’s all good.

Monday, August 24, 2009

08/22: Just Cause 5K

I was driving along New Circle Road in Lexington, Kentucky, after running in the Just Cause 5K. I was on an endorphin high, I guess; at any rate I was too relaxed to be driving. I looked to the left and saw a sign with blue neon tubes, looked back to the road, and did a double take. Was that a Zaxby’s? I think that was a Zaxby’s! I looked back and it was! it was! a Zaxby’s! I continued looking for another couple of beats, then looked back at the road and CONSTRUCTION AREA! STOPPED TRAFFIC! PICK-UP TRUCK BRAKE LIGHTS! Rental car - declined insurance - no wrecks allowed! Squealing tires (me - love those anti-lock brakes)! Swerving red Subaru Impreza (me again)! As Maxwell Smart would say, missed it by THAT much - both the collision and the heart attack. I’m probably the only person who needs a designated driver for running.

I think I was in a Zaxby’s once; I don’t remember being too impressed. I like the sign, though I don’t know that I like it enough to justify totaling a rental car.

The Just Cause 5K was put on by the Harmony Christian Church in Georgetown, Kentucky. They referred to it as the first annual which earlier in the week, concerning some other event, I heard was incorrect usage. Either it’s the first (or inaugural) whatever or it’s the (more than one)th annual whatever but you shouldn’t refer to the first instance as an annual event. Then again, I read this on the internet and another rule of thumb is never believe anything you read on the internet. This last bastion of accuracy excepted, of course.

The race started at 8:00 in the evening which meant a lot of walkers were finishing after it got dark, which caught the organizers by surprise - “who knew?” said the announcer dude and I was thinking probably those Farmer’s Almanac people, for one. It’s not like sunsets are random occurrences. But it’s their first annual so I suppose I should cut them some slack. He said they’ll start a half hour earlier next year; I’d recommend they move the start up a full hour, to 7:00.

The course was also problematic, although they did a reasonable job given their geographic limitations. They had major roads to the north and west, so limited opportunity in those directions, nothing they can use to the south, and a small, isolated subdivision to the east. So we started in the church parking lot and ran west, down a hill and around the parking lot of a small shopping center, then back up the hill and around the back of the church, going cross-country as we came around the other side and returned to the parking lot in front of the church. We ran through the parking lot to the minor road in front of the church, where we turned east and ran down into and around the isolated subdivision. We came back up on the road in front of the church and turned back into the parking lot; we continued our circuit in a counter-clockwise direction and finished up back at the starting line. I didn’t like the course - it was too haphazard and not very interesting - but I don’t really see what else they could do. I wouldn’t recommend adding a 10K next year, though.

Monday, August 17, 2009

08/15: Life Without Limits 5K

I ran this race, I don’t even know what it’s called - Larger than Life 5K, Lust for Life 5K, something like that. Okay - it’s the Life Without Limits 5K (so that's where the Elvis Run went!); I may not have the name of the race sitting on the tip of my tongue but I do know where to look it up. It’s a pretty large race which makes its anonymity strange (until you find out it used to be the Elvis Run), but then again it is the middle of summer and we are in Texas; it’s not like it’s strangled by competition. It is essentially the Katy Trail 5K only in August instead of May, on Saturday instead of Thursday, in the morning instead of the evening, and with much less postrace food. In other words, they basically just have the course in common.

Which isn’t all that surprising as it’s becoming one of the most popular courses in Dallas. It’s the third race I think I’ve run on it and the Butterfly Boogie, which I’ve registered for two or three times but never actually run, also uses it. What with the city of Dallas discouraging use of Winfrey Point for running events, I could see it getting even more use.

I lined up early, right about the time they started pumping the live band, whoever the hell they were, through the speakers near the start, which didn’t initially please me since I had already turned on my mp3 player. Then I realized they were covering “Is Anybody Going To San Antone” by Doug Sahm, and doing a credible job, so I conceded their tunes were at least momentarily better than mine and turned off my player. They played another song after that and then deejayed music returned; the only song I remember hearing before the race started was “I Ran” by A Flock of Haircuts. I mean, Seagulls.

The race started and I turned my tunes back on. Early on, like before we hit Turtle Creek Boulevard proper, I heard Liz Phair start singing “South Dakota” which reminded me of racing in South Dakota a couple of months ago; my Pavlovian response in this race was to run faster than prudence dictated. The first mile is pretty flat anyway, and possibly a slight net downhill; my first split was 7:12 which was good in that I didn’t feel like I was pushing that hard but bad because it’s still August in Dallas and I’m just getting over a cold. There’s probably going to be a bill to be paid.

The second mile has most of the uphill, mostly running up Blackburn to Cole and then again on the anonymous side street up to the Katy Trail. I ran it in 7:49, which I was also pleasantly surprised by, even though I knew it was going to be a struggle to hold that pace to the finish. A struggle I lost - about three-quarters through the third mile a coughing spell hit that slowed me to a walk. My split for that mile was 8:57 and I ran the last tenth in 44 seconds; my total time was 24:43. Which I think is faster than I ran the Katy Trail 5K back in May, so I have that going for me. Which is nice.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

07/25: New Milford Eight-Mile Road Race

I screwed up the goddamn alarm again. (Digression: Bruce Springsteen used to say that his dad was always bitching about his goddamn guitar, his goddamn stereo, his goddamn records. He said that his dad apparently thought everything in his room came from the same company.) The sad thing is, it made no difference - I am now a person capable of waking up his ownself at 6:13 in the morning. I think they call those people adults.

The silver lining in this cloud of burgeoning maturity was that I did not oversleep the New Milford Eight-Mile Road Race, which the organizers claim is the third-oldest, or maybe it was the third longest-running, race in Connecticut. I'm guessing the Manchester Thanksgiving day race (good guess!) and the Tarzan Brown Road Race (bad guess!) are older. Since this race is 42 years old, so am I. Older, that is. Not 42.

New Milford is in far west Connecticut, maybe seven miles from New York, and maybe twenty miles north of Danbury and while I don't know much about the topography of Connecticut, I know enough to expect hills in this neighborhood. In that, I was correct. I also know that the southern border of the state is at sea level - "an almost entirely notional concept," according to Bill Bryson - but that's hardly relevant. Talking to some dudes before the race, they said the hills start halfway through the second mile with a killer, then give way to rolling hills until about halfway through mile seven, when we'd have to run up the meanest, ugliest, toughest, cussingest hill in the western hemisphere or turn around and go back the way we came. In which case we wouldn't be included in the results. The last mile was all downhill, maybe a little too downhill, to the finish. One guy said he ran the course earlier in the week and that's why he opted for to run the 5K. I found their course description more accurate the further into the race we got - they neglected to mention how much downhill there was in the first mile and a half and when the uphill did start, it was with a little half-mile roller coaster. The tough hill was basically mile three and it was disturbingly reminiscent of the tough early hill at Pictured Rocks, except I didn't feel totally spent at the top and I ran that mile in 8:33, so I guess it wasn't that bad. Or I was unusually pathetic in Michigan, either way. After that we got back on the roller coaster, at least until mile six.

Mile six started out nondescript, then we started going uphill just past the 10K marker, which incidentally I don't recall seeing a 5K marker. I thought if this is the Mongo hill they were talking about, they set a world record for exaggeration - a bit of hubris that caught up to me and bit me in the ass when, at about 6.5 miles, we turned a corner and shifted from running to mountain-climbing. I took one look at Little K2 and folded my hand. It was a nice day for a stroll by then, after all. I still had enough energy to run downhill the last mile, into the final results.

Immediately after the race, I sprinted - using the term loosely - back to my car. I was parked in a three-hour zone and what with climbing the Connecticut Himalayas, I was worried I wouldn't get back in time. No sweat - I made it with seconds to spare.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

07/04: Four on the Fourth

I pulled into the parking lot of Ada Hayden Park a little before seven in the morning on a rainy Independence Day, listening to "Achtung Baby" and thinking about failed relationships and fractured hearts. I was in Ames, Iowa, for the Four on the Fourth race and I was mired in melancholy, probably brought on by dreary skies, too little sleep, and geriatric drivers, all of whom looked like the American Gothic dude. They were European geriatrics, apparently - they seemed to think the speed limit signs were in kilometers.

When "Love Is Blindness" ended I got out of the car and went to register. which I guess meant I was actually going to do run this race. I had had my doubts; I'm not a huge fan of running in the rain but this wasn't much of a rain. It was more like a light drizzle or heavy mist and the temperature - low to mid-sixties - was better than anything I'd seen in Dallas in a couple of months. I blew off running the previous afternoon because of rain even though I found an awesome place to run (the Iowa St. cross-country course) so I needed to do this race if for no other reason than to get some miles in.

After registering I went back to my rented Suzuki SX4, which is a dumpy crossover and not the elite racing machine its name might suggest, to listen to some more tunes and check out the schwag. Which wasn't much - a t-shirt and the bag it came in - but was of above-average quality. The bag was a green, reusable cloth bag and the shirt was Gildan Ultra Cotton, which means 50% cotton, 50% polyester. It has a good feel and it's pinkish, but a deep, dark pink, not, um, emasculating. I also changed the shirt I was currently wearing, from a sleeveless black to a short-sleeve gray, to better match the weather. I was wearing gray shorts and I don't like my shirt and shorts to be similar colors - I'm not into that whole monochromatic thing - but I value comfort over aesthetics. I think I've proved that on multiple occasions in my life.

I ejected the U2 CD and popped in "The Neon Bible." I listened to seven songs: "Keep The Car Running," "The Neon Bible," "Intervention," "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations," "Antichrist Television Blues," "No Cars Go," and "Keep The Car Running" again. With the exception of the title track these are all propulsive tunes - they make me want to move and my preferred form of movement is running. I sat in the car with the rain falling gently on the windshield, watching more people show up for the race, listening to Arcade Fire (and U2) and getting excited about running. Not racing, necessarily, but running and trying to run fast. It was an unorthodox warm-up but it was effective - it got me to the starting line feeling good and ready to go. They started us off and I went. The rain had nearly stopped.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

06/28: Pictured Rocks Road Race

I thought I was registering for a trail 15K and somehow wound up in a mostly road half marathon - the Pictured Rocks Road Race, in and around Munising, Michigan. I suppose my attention to detail could use a little attention itself but sometimes these little glitches are fate's way of getting us in the right place at the right time. Though mostly, like in this instance, they're just random screw-ups.

The organizers oversell the toughness of this course, which features two major hills and a bunch of reasonable ones, but not by much. Bad Idea Hill, so called because the longer you spend running up it the more time you have to consider other, more profitable, ways you could be spending your time, starts maybe a half-mile into the race and finally crests maybe a quarter-mile past the first mile marker, although it teases you with intermittent plateaus along the way. It reminded me of the little brother of the killer 29th Street hill in Wheeling's Ogden Newspapers 20K, only with more shade. The second hill, on a trail late in the race, is like running up a sand dune. A twisty-turny sand dune, with foliage.

The organizers also seem very intent on ferreting out potential cheaters, perhaps because of issues in the past. Two or three times I passed curmudgeonly people checking bib numbers as runners went by. We wore chips - really uncomfortable ankle-bracelet chips like we were all under arrest or in the Witless Protection Program, perhaps because the race started next to the Alger County Jail - so I'd think they could just put down additional timing mats at those locations. The chips were also unavailable the night before the race so everybody had to pick them up in the morning, which caused the start to be delayed ten or fifteen minutes. I wasn't a big fan of the chip in this race partially because it wasn't large enough to make it a necessity and partially because with no starting mat, from a runner's perspective I don't see the point. For me the chip's main advantage is to accurately track me from start to finish, not from where I happen to be standing when the race starts to the finish.

I least I think I'm probably in the clear of any accusations of cheating in this race, which I 'ran' in 2:14:10. I was okay through seven miles - about 8:45 pace - but I was also toast, with one major sand dune left to climb. It was a long, slow crawl to the finish.

I ran with an mp3 player, which is probably the first time I've done that in a race this year. While it definitely helped distract me from how horridly I was running, it also may have slowed me down on the trails where strolling along while tuning out was kind of nice. The tunage got off to a weird start; a priest said a prayer and then they started the race and I started my player. Which started up where it ended off the last time I used it, at the end of a Belle and Sebastian song: "But if you are feeling sinister / Go off and see a minister / Chances are you'll probably feel better / If you stayed and played with yourself."