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.