Friday, May 29, 2009

There were two more half marathons, and nearly a trip to the DL

May 10, another Sunday, another half marathon. This time it was the Pacers Running Festival in Arlington. It was a challenging race on a lot of concrete, highlighted by a friend who brought a half dozen donuts and ate them during the race. I don't think I've ever eaten six donuts in my life but I'm not tough like my friend is. In a nutshell, the downhill at the start rocked, running up an incline towards Crystal City twice would have been okay if not for the crosswinds....and the hill to the Air Force Memorial around Mile 8 was a bitch. All things considered, a 1:43:38 time made me quite happy.

The following Sunday I paid my first ever visit to Fredericksburg for the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon. Nice little Old Town District, Basil's Bistro is a great little restaurant on Caroline Street with wonderful service. The race is great too. But, note to Jeff, don't pull onto I-95 for the drive in at 6:15, leave earlier so you don't get stuck in traffic and give yourself not enough time for a proper warmup.

The limited warmup and not having enough time to scope out the expected time corrals contributed to me starting in the 2:30-2:45 corral when I expected to finish around 1:45 or so. I get internally competitive so I spent the first mile or two bobbing in and out of lines to break free of the pack and into a solid, (at least at the beginning sub-8 minute miles) pace. I got under 8s around mile 4 for a bit, which made me happy even though I knew my final pace would be more than 8 per mile.

What I didn't anticipate was jamming my left knee and hip just around the time a good sized rain shower hit while I was near mile 8. That turned evern running on flat ground a challenge. The hill on the backside of the Mary Washington Hospital Grounds later on? For a bit I didn't think I was going to make it. That hill left like a lot more than 250 feet or so that the course measured it as. By the time I reached the top, an 8 minute final pace of 1:44:48 was a pipe dream.

I did suck it up and finish strong, arriving in 1:46:03. Considering my leg was messed up for 5 plus miles, and I started in the wrong corral, this was my second most pleasing half marathon out of the six I've finished so far. It was great to see all the Marines and other military members on the course and handing out the finishing medals. A big thank you goes out to them for sure.

The jammed leg almost sent me to the DL, but luckily three nights in a row of icing it kept me off of it. Even after stretching enough and a session in the hot tub at Gold's Gym, I could barely walk when I got to the Alexandria Gold's to pick up my Diet to Go food after an hour drive. I felt like there was a 40 pound set of pliers pinching and pulling the side of my knee. The desk attendant asked me if I was okay. I was able to get home and do very little the rest of the day. Ice at night, DL trip averted. For at least 8 days until Mount Washington. That's my next entry.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pittsburgh Half Marathon was a great experience

Sunday night, more to come later this week.

Okay, as I sit here with my left knee elevated, I am grateful to have a laptop as my home PC. Portability, baby! I can update my blog while elevating and icing my knee! My stretch of 6 races in 7 Sundays, with the last 4 of 5 and 3 of 3 being half marathons, is finally over. I love running but am glad to be taking a break, more on my sore leg later.

Now that I finally learned how to use the laptop keyboard (I use an USB Logitech keyboard most of the time) I can write about my latest three half marathons. On May 3, I went to a new city, or at least new to me. The long name of the race was the Philips Respironics Half Marathon (part of the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon weekend). I call it one of the best races I’ve ever been a part of in a great city. A good-sized, great contingent of people from the Pacers Alexandria Fun Run group headed out to Pittsburgh the morning before the race. Good conversation, good coffee at Dunkin Donuts even after a unique customer service line management situation, and no issues on the PA Turnpike, we were on our way to Steel City.

Once we drove through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel after getting through the backup on the way, we were in Pittsburgh! I was immediately impressed with all the hills and bridges. While an older industrial city for sure, there’s lots of impressive architecture and engineering to be seen. And did I mention lots of hills? No shortage of courses for hill repeats that’s for sure.

The Saturday night highlight was a trip to Buca di Beppo in the revitalized Station Square area. $8 / person for tons of family-style Italian food? Yeah! I didn’t go on the tram up the Monongahela Incline since I wanted to get back to the hotel and rest, but that’s something to do next time I go out there. I highly recommend staying downtown and splitting the cost like we did, especially when you are in an unfamiliar city and/or want to be able to walk to the starting line the next morning. If I had to drive into the downtown area and find parking that morning I would have had an ulcer. One drawback to the city of Pittsburgh is that it’s very tricky to navigate with all the two or three lane freeways and bridges. Nothing that can’t be overcome by folks who live in the clusterf__k of DC / VA / MD but a challenge nonetheless.

Race morning, same as always, ate breakfast, hydrated, drank just enough coffee to wake me up, jogged a bit to warm up, got into my corral and off I go. I was on my own since I was the only half marathoner in the group, and I think I ended up in a “faster” estimated pace corral only because with the shorter distance I could run more aggressively.

As we crossed the 16th Street Bridge and proceeded into the North Shore Section of town, I saw three runners from the group. One of them mentioned to me he was expecting to see me at any point before we saw each other. I ran with a couple of friends for a bit before I broke ahead. I normally wouldn't be able to "out-run" them but since I was running the half I could run more aggressively, having less distance to save my strength for.

Next came a couple of inclines and, yeah, bridges, we approached theLiberty Tunnel (middle picture on the right)". Here, at mile 8 or so, is when I first realized that I was on my way to a very special race, one which would see me beat my PR by quite a bit. Perfect day for it, mid 50s, cloudy, I decided to focus on maintaining a consistent pace.

Station Square was next, where we saw a ton of cheering fans. I enjoyed every minute of it and waved to as many people as I could. And made sure to thank the volunteers for handing out water and Powerade. The National Marathon in DC was an eye-opener for me. While not as hard as running the race, volunteering is hard work. I'm going to volunteer at at least one race this summer.

Just as the half marathon split from the full marathon, Joe caught up to me, which was really cool. The half marathon turned back west towards the bridge near Smithfield Street at the end of Station Square, and over the bridge that we took to get to dinner the night before. During the last mile I did my best to pick up the pace and make a final push for......1:40:00! I couldn't believe that I was close to doing this! Only 29 months after my first 5 mile organized Fun Run that I was just glad to finish, I'm doing half marathons in sub 8 mile paces? Yeah!

I pushed hard and finished strong, heard my name called as I approached the finish line, and while I didn't beat 1:40:00, my chip time was 1:40:21!!!! PR by SEVEN MINUTES!!!!!!! This was the best race for me since I started taking part in them. Not just because of my amazing time, but the whole experience spent with many friends. I was able to get towards the mile 24.5-26 areas and cheer on and run besides my friends as they finished running through the Strip District.

Pittsburgh: Very Well Done! I was interviewed by the Race Director in the food/hospitality area after the race, and I told her how great of an experience I had with everything. Course, water stops, you name it! I can't wait to go back next year! If Marine Corps goes well, I do the full marathon. If not, I try to beat my 1:40:21. Either way, I am looking forward to great things on May 2, 2010. Date's already booked. Hotel will be soon. Heck, I may be back there before then. More half marathon descriptions to come as I have time.