Tag Archives: half marathon

DXA2 and Me: Five Years and Still an Item!

Recently I celebrated a special anniversary. Five years ago I ran my first half marathon – the 2010 Dexter-Ann Arbor Run. I’ve run many more since then, on roads and trails, but that first one will always be memorable to me.

Dark, heavy clouds were overhead that day and a storm had knocked a tree down onto the road, delaying the start. But then we were off through downtown Dexter and a crowd of spectators, followed by ten scenic miles along the Huron River and onto Main Street in Ann Arbor, with a soul-sucking uphill climb to the finish line. And I found out what happens to nipples that don’t get taped. (It’s not pretty.)

I was hooked, and I’ve run it every year since. Who says men can’t commit?

Yep, last year was hot.

Yep, last year was hot.

Last year’s race was particularly nasty. It was hot, and the long hard winter meant many people hadn’t acclimated yet. I heard later that several runners passed out. The heat along with a poor hydration strategy caught up with me at mile 8 and ended my streak of faster finish times.

This year I vowed to be better prepared. I hydrated early and brought a handheld water bottle so I wouldn’t be dependent on the aid stations. And with my training runs in Costa Rica this spring, I felt acclimated. Bring on the 85 degrees and broiling sun. I wuz ready!

DXA2 2015 - Starting Line

Obviously, Nature had other plans.

Weather Underground had originally forecast rain on Saturday, with race day fairly clear and warmer. Then it changed its mind and moved the rain to Sunday, with temps around 50. I got an email from the race director – lightning might delay the start, but the race was on!

I wore my triathlon outfit, which is proving more and more versatile. As it’s designed to shed water and dry quickly, it was perfect for the rain. I was wringing water out of my shirt, but the singlet and shorts kept me reasonably dry and warm. For shoes I wore my Kinvara RunShields, which are designed for inclement weather. My feet got wet, of course, but there was no squishing or waterlogged feeling.

Another great boost - the PR Fitness aid station at mile 6. Thanks again!

Another great boost – the PR Fitness aid station at mile 6. Gatorade and friendly faces – what more could you ask for?

I left the handheld behind. With the rain and cool temps I would have no hydration issues. And I ditched the poncho at mile 4, deciding it was better to embrace the rain than fight it. As I’ve said before, one can only get so wet.

My strategy was to stick with the 1:35 pacer, my goal being any time better than that. All went well until mile 8 when despite a double knot, my right shoe came untied. With five miles to go at a strong pace, there was nothing for it but to stop and tie it, my target group disappearing down the road.

I tried but failed to channel my inner Denard.

I tried but failed to channel my inner Denard.

Not again, I thought. And I decided right then that it would not be “not again”. I stepped it up and ran through the next aid station instead of grabbing a drink. Thanks to the rain, I could afford it. Within a half mile I spotted the 1:35 sign again and in another half mile I’d caught up. Around mile 10 I went ahead of them, this time for good.

DXA2 2015 - Finish Area with PacerThe final climb on Main Street was still rough, and I came the closest I’ve ever come to tossing my cookies. But seeing “1:34” on the finish line clock gave me a boost, and I finished in 1:34:39. A new best time for me on that course. Hard to be annoyed at the rain when it does that for you!

Hard to believe it’s been five years since that first half marathon. And next year will be five years since my first full marathon! Like they say, you never forget that first one. And – oops, gotta go. My wife is walking toward me holding a rolling pin. She must want to make me cookies!

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Martian Recap: The Little Athlete and the Little Monster

Last Saturday was the Martian Invasion of Races, and man, was it a beautiful day. Temperatures started in the forties but warmed up quickly to the sixties, and the sun was out the whole time – a complete contrast from the wet and cold race days the past two years.

As for my race . . . did I mention it was a beautiful day?

Wow. Enough energy at the finish to do a somersault? That's just wrong.

Wow. Enough energy at the finish to do a somersault? That’s just wrong.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad; only 17 seconds off my best half marathon time. But I’d been hoping for better. I started off at an aggressive pace, and held it successfully for the first six miles. The second half was different – six miles of continuous struggle to keep going. I’ve never felt a stronger urge to quit a race before. I didn’t – but it was close. And that worried me.

I talked with Coach Marie about it, and she wasn’t too concerned. “Thirteen miles is a long time to be running hard,” she said. She also noted that the Martian course has a long stretch up one road and back, which I agree is not the most scenic.  “Sometimes the monotony of a race can get to you,” she said.

As it happened, the latest newsletter from TrainingPeaks has an article – The Psychology of Suffering – which addresses the very thing I’d been fighting. Here’s a small excerpt (edited for brevity):

Q: How do I effectively control the voice in my head that’s telling me to slow down? Do I try to turn this off or control it?

A: There are a few things to consider. [It] may be telling you to slow down because your body needs something…Instead of “fighting” the voice, you want to recognize that it’s there and figure out what it’s trying to tell you. [We] all have a little monster on one shoulder and a little athlete on the other and whichever one you feed is the one that’s going to get stronger and grow. Sometimes trying to “turn off” the monster voice takes more energy than it does to accept it and then counter it with your “inner athlete”.

Little Athlete vs. Little Monster

This pretty well describes what was going on with me. Fortunately, the “inner athlete” was a little stronger on Saturday. But the little monster may have been trying to tell me something. For one thing, I’d brought a Gu with me, but never used it. I’d even passed up a free Gu at an aid station. Why hadn’t I fueled myself properly? Pride? Annoyance at my slipping pace? Something to think about – and apply to my next race – which, by the way, is coming up pretty fast. More about that coming up.

I'm not sure roller skis were race legal, but they're way cool.

I’m not sure roller skis were race legal, but they’re way cool.

Why I’m Not Giving up Goals

Last month at my favorite writers retreat, I was talking with a friend about my running, and that I’d just run my first 50-miler (hey, she asked). She shook her head. “How did you ever do something like that?” she wondered.

I told her about my “year of being 50” activities and the stuff I’d accomplished, including a 50K, and this had been the next challenge. “You are so goal oriented!” she said. And it’s true: I got where I am by setting goals all along the way. And I intend to keep doing so.

Now wait a minute! In your last post, you argued against setting goals!

Now wait a minute! In your last post, you argued why you shouldn’t set goals!

True. Lemme ‘splain.

Have you learned yet, grasshopper?

Have you learned yet, grasshopper?

I’m fine with the idea that you can pursue something for its own sake, and you don’t need a goal to grow and improve. My Aikido instructors have been trying to beat this into my head for eight years – that I should focus on the training, and not on what rank I am. So I didn’t set an arbitrary date for achieving black belt, although I have set goal dates for tests. (But not this year: my injured shoulder has made testing impossible for the time being, so I am forced to focus on the training itself. Karma?)

But with running, setting goals has helped motivate me. It’s how this infrequent runner who did the occasional 5K race became a 1,000+ mile per year runner who can run 50 at a time. I didn’t really get serious as a runner until I signed up for a Running 101 class at a local running store. The instructor handed a questionnaire to all of us, asking what we wanted to get out of the class, and – significantly – to choose a running goal and a timeframe for achieving it. I’d never run more than 5-6 miles at one time, but I committed to a half marathon later that year.

Crossing the finish line at Run Woodstock.

Crossing the 50-mile finish line. Never woulda happened without that first commitment to a distance I’d never run before.

Now, I wasn’t going to “fail” Running 101 if I hadn’t set a goal, and no one would have been disappointed (except me), but putting it in writing, and handing it in, made it real – something I felt obligated to carry out. Every milestone since then has been the result of setting a goal, then putting in the training needed. If I were just running to stay fit, or for the social aspects, then I wouldn’t feel the need to keep setting them. But there are still some personal limits I’d like to test.

And then there’s this quote from Bill Copeland:

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”

Is it possible to do well at something without goals? Sure. But will you? Without that first half marathon, would I have run a full one the next year, or my first ultra the year after that? Maybe, but likely not. The simple act of committing to the half was that rare event – a genuine life changer.

NaNoWriMo Web BadgeGoing back to the writers retreat – I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade school, attended many retreats, and even managed to “win” the 2012 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge by writing a novel of 50,000 words in one month. With NaNoWriMo 2013 fast approaching, I’ve had to ask myself why I didn’t finish that novel, revise it, and look to publish it. Yes, I have a rather busy rest of my life. But is the real reason because I didn’t set a goal to finish what I’d started?

I think I’m going to make myself find out. Stay tuned.

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P.S. My thanks to the Personal Excellence website for introducing me to the Bill Copeland quote with their article on why you should set goals. Read the article here.

Improving by “Halves”: Lessons Learned from Dexter-Ann Arbor 2013

ASK ME TO DESCRIBE MY OUTLOOK ON LIFE IN ONE WORD, and I would answer, “Improvement”. New and/or better stuff is fascinating to me, and helping improve things is what I do for a living. Improving myself is certainly part of that. Something didn’t go well? Sure, I get bummed out. But next time will be better.

With that spirit in mind, I had a chat with coach Marie about my performance at the Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon on June 2. My time of 1:35:48 was over a minute faster than last year’s time, but it was two minutes slower than April’s Martian half marathon time, which I’d hoped to beat. In particular I was worried about my falloff of energy in the second half of the race, making the final few miles a real struggle that included stopping at the water stations to catch my breath.

DXA2 2013 finish lineWe began with a review of the things I did well. My form is good, I’d put in the mileage needed, and my other races this year have been great. But things hadn’t gone according to plan. So was I just not up to the plan for this race, or was the plan itself not the best? We went over everything to find out. Here’s what I learned.

1. Get More Sleep, Get up Earlier

Looks like someone else needed more sleep, too.

Kudos to Team RWB, who raise money to support veterans returning from combat. (But it looks like someone else needed more sleep, too.)

I’d actually planned to go bed around 10 p.m. the night before. But for various reasons I don’t remember now (in other words: avoidable) I didn’t actually get to bed until after 11, and as always before a race, it took a while to wind down enough to sleep. Then I didn’t get out of bed until after 7 a.m. for an 8:30 race. This isn’t necessarily bad, unless it interferes with getting a good breakfast (see below). But why risk it? At Martian I was up at 6:00 so I had enough time to drive to Dearborn. I could have done it here, too.

2. Don’t Skimp on Fuel

It’s not easy for me to eat breakfast until I’ve been awake awhile, and even then I’m not usually hungry. So I often hold off. Not good on race day. By getting up only 90 minutes before the race, I shortened my breakfast window, which I reduced further by deciding to do my warmup run before I ate breakfast. And after all that, I had only a Cliff Bar. By contrast, I was up over two hours before Martian, and had more to eat beforehand. Small wonder I had more sustained energy for that race.

Run's over - back to the important stuff.

Run’s over – back to the important stuff.

I compounded the problem by not fueling enough during the run. The standard rule for race fueling is, “45 and 15” – consume something 45 minutes in, and every 15 minutes after that. This is adjustable to each particular runner, of course, but the basic idea is to keep blood sugar up. This meant I should have fueled with a Gu at about the halfway mark (which I did), then every two miles after that (which I didn’t). Combined with so little to eat before the start, plus a very ambitious pace (see below), a late-race crash was pretty inevitable.

3. Pace: Too Ambitious?

Michael (left) has just come off an injury and was happy to finish. There's another lesson learned.

Michael (left) has just come off an injury and was happy to finish. There’s another lesson learned.

Based on my Martian pace (7:09 average), and that for the past two years I’ve run faster at Dexter-Ann Arbor than at Martian, it seemed reasonable for me to try for a faster cruising pace (around 7:00) and another personal record (PR). This may have been expecting too much. Perhaps with more rest and better fueling I would have done better, but unless things went absolutely perfectly, I was setting myself up for disappointment. It may have been better to start with the Martian plan, then run harder at the end if I had the energy.

So there we have it – three areas to improve on for next time, which looks like the Crim 10 mile race in August. It’s close enough to a half marathon that the strategy will be basically the same. You can be sure I will improve my preparation. We’ll see how it translates into performance.

If I improve enough, maybe someday *I* can be up there next to the aardvark!

If I improve enough, maybe someday *I* can be up there next to the aardvark!