Archive for the ‘Pace and Racing’ Category

Saturday morning my phone woke me up at 4:10 a.m. to the theme song of Friday Night Lights.  I grabbed it off of the night stand, slid the switch over to off and took a deep breath.

Ironman was less than 3 hours away.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do before I left for the parking lot to meet up with a couple of fellow competitors to car-pool over to the transition area as most of the pre-race preparation took place over the 72 hours leading up to race morning.

I had arrived to the Woodlands on Wednesday, taking my time driving down from Austin.  I was remarkably calm during the trip, did not let traffic frustrate me, just tried to stay relaxed and conserve physical and mental energy.  I was going to need all of it on Saturday.  Instead of going to the hotel on Wednesday, I went directly to Athlete check-in, signed my waivers, picked up my Ironman Texas bag, my bib, timing chip, transition bags and did a little shopping in the Ironman Store.  I returned to the hotel, got my bags packed, numbered, put the stickers on my bike, my helmet and got my shopping done at the local grocery store.

Thursday was a bike ride through the National Forest to scope out the most technical part of the bike course (Miles 40-57) and then on Friday, a short 500 meter practice swim to get used to the water temperature, sighting lines for the buoys and the clarity of the water – or lack thereof.

No surprises on Race Day.  That is always a good philosophy.  But with a race with as many moving parts as this one, and one covering 140.6 miles across three disciplines, you don’t want to be making it up as you go along out there.  I was determined to stick to my plan as close as possible, and then be confident and secure enough in my ability to improvise when necessary never losing sight of the ultimate goal.  Just finish this damn thing no matter what it takes.  Get the medal.  Earn your spot in the club.

Ironman.

I glanced down at my 10 item checklist that I made the day before and started crossing things off of my race morning list:

1.  Apply your Race Numbers (Done Friday Night).

2.  Apply Body Glide anywhere that skin contacts skin or clothing.

3.  Apply sunscreen (don’t forget the backs of your ears or top of your head).

4.  Get your frozen Bottles out of the freezer.

5.  Place one frozen bottle in the cooler and put in your bike special needs bag.

6.  Put on your timing chip.

7.  Bring your cap, goggles, wetsuit.

8.  Grab bike special needs bag and run special needs bag.

9.  Put your phone in your goggles case and inside your morning clothes bag.

10. Have Fun.  Do Not Quit.

So after crossing off all of the items with the exception of #10, I calmly forced down a bagel, bottle of EFS (Electrolyte Drink), A water and a small jolt of Coke Zero for the Caffeine it was time to go.  I said my goodbye to Dawn who was kind enough to wake up early and get my sunblock in all the right spots on my bake, said goodbye to a sleeping tow-headed girl still dreaming away and walked down to the parking lot.  Cannon in less than two hours.

TRANSITION AREA – PRE-RACE – 5:35 a.m.

I walked into the transition area, showed my Ironman wrist band and headed over to my Quintana Roo CD.01 that I had racked on Friday.  I did not have a lot to accomplish, just put my bottles on the bike, clip on my bike computer and inflate my tires to 120 lbs. psi.  I did not bring my own pump down, but I did remember my headlamp to help make things a bit easier.  The line to have the bike technicians fill up tires already had more than 20 nervous athletes in it, so I decided to make a friend at my rack and ask if I could borrow his pump.

I supplied the light, he supplied the pumping power and in less than 10 minutes I was walking out of transition, headed to the swim start.  The last thing I wanted to do was spend anymore time around the energy that was going on in Transition.  People thinking too much, making adjustments to their set-ups.  Tweaking their bikes.  There was a time for all of that, but it was several weeks ago.  At this point, you have to be committed.  I was sticking with my plan and going to just simply do my best to hang in there.

Swim Start – 6:30 a.m.

I made the walk over to the swim start with two friends, Sean Shaikun who I worked with at my last company for more than a decade, and Tim Tait, who I met just this past weekend.  Both in town from Atlanta, GA – we were coincidentally and rather amazingly staying at the same hotel.  We were able to hang out quite a bit before the race, rode our practice ride and swam the practice session together.  The walk distracted me from what was in store and as we got to the Swim start I still was feeling in control and calm.

Then the bathroom line was backed way up and it looked like we would not have enough time to get everything done and get a good spot in the water at 6:45 a.m.

We made the decision to abort the bathroom line, change into our wetsuits, drop off our morning clothes and special needs bags and head over to the water.

At 6:45 a.m. I zipped up, pulled down my goggles and slid into the lake.  My nerves were really starting to build now and as I said goodbye to Sean I was all alone swimming over to one of the kayaks.  My plan was to hang on to the kayak up until the last minute before the cannon fired so I would not have to tread water and waste precious energy.  I had a good spot, only 3-4 rows of swimmers off of the starting line, but as 7:00 a.m. approached the number of swimmers around me more than quadrupled.  I was going to be right in the middle of the swim start – bodies were going to be flying everywhere around me – there was no doubt about it now.  I was about to start Ironman Texas.

Entering the Water at Ironman Texas

Entering the Water at Ironman Texas

The Swim – 7:00 a.m.

At 6:59:30 I switched my watch off of time of day and into swim mode.  I pushed off of the kayak, took three breathes of water, dunking my head and waited for the sound.

BOOM!

Chaos.  I could write paragraph after paragraph at this point and I do not think that I could possibly due justice what ensued.  This was going to be the most violent, physical, aggressive swim that I’ve ever been a part of.  There were a few factors that made it a challenge.

Swim Start

Swim Start

1.  Visibility.  There is none in Lake Woodlands.  this is a shallow body of water with a silt bottom.  The rain from the week leading up to the race washed a ton of dirt etc. into the lake and with the swimmers kicking and pulling the silty bottom gets stratified in the water and it is a dark brown.  I could not see past my elbow under water during my catch, so there was no way to avoid another athlete before you made contact.  No adjustments could be made in advance of hitting another swimmer.  It was entirely backed up and we were swimming on top of each other.

2.  The Course.  Most Ironman Courses start with a straight shot to allow the swimmers to spread out.  This lake had a subtle turn to the left, then a turn to the right before you reached the first turn buoys approximately 1.500 meters away.  All of the swimmers were basically funneled from the widest part of the race (the start) to a narrow point at the first red turn buoy, so the contact actually increased as you went along instead of decreased.  I never swam more than 15 strokes at any point without making contact with another body.

3.  The Canal.  After making the turn around and heading back North on the swim course, the route then made a right hand turn into a narrow canal for the last 800 meters.  The Canal was 30 meters wide at the widest point, about 22 meters wide at its most narrow, again.  Full contact, no relief all the way to the steps.

First 500 Meters

First 500 Meters

Reading the above and knowing that I am not a swimmer, having taken my first lessons only 3 summers ago, I’m sure you are thinking that I was freaking out.

The funny thing is I have never been more calm and in control during a triathlon than I was at Ironman Texas.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that I knew that the “freak-out” factor was going to be very likely going in, the fact that I was not surprised at all by the chaos, or that I knew that the only way I was going to hear Mike Reilly call me an Ironman was getting through to the end of that swim, but I remained relaxed throughout and simply hung in there to the end.

Canal Portion of Swim

Canal Portion of Swim

Swim time:  1:25:17

1,352 place – dead middle of the pack.

Transition 1:

I pulled off the goggles and cap, unzipped and plopped down on the mat for the wetsuit strippers to do there thing.  I gave the volunteer a quick hug/thank you and started making my run up the hill to the bags.  Just before reaching the rows of Bike Gear Bags off to the left I saw Dawn and Landry cheering for Dad as he went by.  Seeing there smiling faces, and I’m sure relief to some degree for Dawn that I made it out of the water got me excited to get changed and start on the bike.  This was going to be the longest and in some ways most difficult part of the race for me.  Winds were blowing hard from the SSW, not the SSE that would provide a tailwind on the way out.  The bike was going to be a battle.

I grabbed a seat in the T1 with the goal of being completely dry and into a fresh triathlon kit for the bike.  I wanted to start with dry feet and a dry seat.

Off came my jammers – yep, full on nudity in the Ironman Tent – and started with the bodyglide everywhere.  Toes, bum, inner arms, waist, nipples, all the bad spots.  Got into my gear and bike shoes, strapped on my helmet, filled up my T1 bag with all my swim stuff and handed it to a volunteer.  I ran to the rack, pulled down my bike and made it to the bike mount line.

T1:  12:00

Bike – 8:37 a.m.

I started the bike computer, clipped in as a cyclist was having problems right in front of me and headed out onto the course very controlled.  I wanted to keep my heart rate low and ride the first 30 miles under control.  This was the only part of the course where I really could have ridden in the 22-25 mph range the way the wind was blowing, but that would come at a huge cost on the back half of the bike.  I had originally hoped to ride something around 5:45/5:50, but quickly focused on a 6 hour bike.  If I could ride 18.7 mph average, I’d have plenty of time on the marathon course to come in under 13 hours.

I immediately dropped down into the aero position and started to tick off the miles.  I found a nice pack to ride with and due to my somewhat slow swim time, a lot of the faster athletes were already out in front of me.  I was able to just stick to the left hand “lane” on the bike course, and constantly stay out of drafting trouble while passing the competitors in front of me.

My nutrition plan was to take in a package of sport beans every :30 minutes past the hour on the bike, 2 salt tabs every :45 minutes, 1 stinger waffle every hour and drink my electrolyte replacement drink every 10 minutes.

As we rode through the Woodlands and entered the National Forest at mile 30, everything went according to plan from a nutrition perspective and a degree of effort.  I had averaged 18.93 mph through the first 30 mile check-point of the race, but at this point things were going to change pretty significantly as we turned West and headed right into the SSW wind.

The next 26 miles were tough.  Rolling hills and a lot of headwind/crosswind.  My average speed through this section was only 16.34 mph, but the effort actually increased quite a bit.  I was able to stay on my nutrition plan until we reached the 4 hour and 30 minute mark.  When I pulled my sport beans out of my bento box on top of my frame, the thought of eating a single one of them made my stomach churn.  I tucked them back in, decided to stay on plan with my hydration and salt tab regimen, but I would skip that feeding and see how I felt at the 5 hour mark.

At the midway point of the ride, 56 miles in I thought to myself that I had never raced further than the half-ironman distance on the bike (56 mi).  In a lot of ways I was heading into uncharted waters and once we eclipsed mile 100 on the bike, I was really in no-man’s land, as I had never ridden further than 100 miles at any point.  I tried to hold back on the first half, so I could push harder on the way back and it was time to start that pursuit.

I continued to pass riders and finally we reached the Woodlands again for the final 12 miles of the bike course.  My legs still felt strong, but mentally I was ready to get out of the saddle.  I was not able to at the 5 hour mark or the 5:30 mark, just relying on Ironman Perform for my calories, salt and water for my hydration.  I was able to pee twice on the bike, but the second time, I could tell that I was behind the hydration schedule as very little emptied from my bladder.  I washed things off with cold water as I pedaled for home.  But the wind had really beaten us up on the way in.

I averaged 19.90 mph over the 2nd 56 miles of the bike course.

I hit the dismount line, clipped out of my pedals and kicked off my bike shoes for the run back into transition.  Ironman Bike was in the books.

Bike:  5:59:41

911 place – we had passed 441 riders on the bike course.

Transition 2:

I had a hard time finding my run legs coming off the bike.  I ran a few strides, walked a bit, tried to run again, walked a bit.  It was pretty clear that I needed to take some time in T2 to get my legs back under me, so I took my time as the volunteers called out my number 2330, 2330, 2330.  By the time I reached my bag a volunteer handed it to me and I made my way back into the tent.

I sat down, pulled open my bag and saw running shoes that did not belong to me.  The volunteer had handed me bag #2230 not 2330.

I had to wait for them to change the bags out, which ended up costing me a couple of minutes.  Once they returned, I started the second costume change of the day and got into my compression underwear and compression run shorts so that I would be able to place and hold ice in my pants during the marathon to stay cool.  Fresh socks, fresh tri top and visor.  I stopped at the suntan lotion volunteers on the way out and hit the run course at a comfortable, but slow jog.

T1:  12:59

Marathon – 2:49 p.m.

I entered the run course, crossed the timing mat and made a mental note that all I had to do was keep moving and I was going to finish.  With 9 hours left in the race before they started DNF’ing athletes at Midnight – I could walk the entire marathon and finish.  I came into the event with the goal of running the whole marathon, only walking the aid stations for nutrition and hydration.  I started off with that plan in mind and took my first strides down the course.  Keep in mind this felt very hard to me at this point, but my pace was closer to 10 min/mile than the 9 min/mile I had envisioned during training.  When you mixed in the walking of the 26 aid stations I was going to be averaging 11 min./miles – but I very steadily started picking my way through the field with each mile.

The course was a 3 loop, 8.8 mile route.  So again, just break it down into bite-size chunks I thought.  Run this thing one loop at a time and before you know it you’ll be on the final lap and just 90 minutes or so away from the finish.

Dawn and Landry would be at the hotel pool for the entire first loop, so I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for them.  Instead I met up with a runner, George from Washington State and we decided we would run together, keep each other company and motivated and just keep ticking off each mile before we reached the next aid station.

I was trying to make up for my lack of nutrition over the final 90 minutes on the bike, but my stomach was feeling a little queasy from all of the liquid sloshing around in there.  The aid stations had the same set-up mile after mile.

Plain Water, Perform, flat Coke, Ice Water, fruit, potato chips, Gu, Gu Chomps, Cookies, Cups of Ice.

My routine consisted of:

1.  Grab two cups of water and drink them down.  Grab a third cup and pour it over my head.

2.  Try to take sip of perform.  I got a gulp down once or twice, but most aid stations I had to throw it out.

3.  Flat coke, drink one down.

4.  Grab a cup of ice water, pour it over my head.

5. Grab red grapes and watermelon when they had it.

6.  Put an orange slice in my mouth, suck it dry and throw it away.

7.  Grab two cups of ice, pouring one into my shorts, the other down the front and back of my tri top.

8.  Grab two more cups of ice, combine it into one and exit transition.

I would drink the melted water from the cup of ice over the first 1/2 mile of the run on the way to the next transition stop.  Then I would get a mouthful of ice and pour the remaining ice down the front of my shorts.

Don’t judge me.  It was 85 degrees, We are running a marathon coming off a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike.  Comfort above all else.

They say that there are no atheists during the ironman marathon.  I can attest that this is 100% gospel truth.

The run course took us through a quiet area along a wooded path for a couple of miles and then through a beautiful neighborhood of huge homes in the Woodlands.  At the 6 mile mark of the course, we then landed on the waterway, scene of the ironman swim and ran along the path with huge crowds of spectators.  All hooting, hollering, encouraging the athletes.  They were providing a hug boost to the competitors with high-fives, motivational signs, shouts of encouragement and calling each of us out by name telling us how great we were doing.Run

The first loop was sort of a recon mission.  I quickly learned where the wind was helping, where it was hurting, where the aid stations were and were there were potential for tight spaces, turned ankles and danger.

George and I continued to click off the miles at 10:00 min./mile run pace, 11:00-11:15 total pace including the water stops and never looked further ahead than that mile on that loop.

We spoke about how we ended up at Ironman Texas.  Our families, what finishing meant to us and laughed quite a lot at the spectacle that was unfolding.

Every mile we ran became one more mile that we weren’t going to walk and that became the #1 goal.  Let’s run this whole thing.  No walking, no giving up, just keep going and get that medal.

At the midway point of lap 2 I was able to see Dawn and Landry, pick up Ironbaby and give her a big kiss and hug.  Dawn told me she would catch me at the finish line and as we passed the turn off that separated lap 2/3 and FINISH we started the final loop.

To this point things were going fairly well, but the aid stations started becoming more and more welcomed for that :60 seconds worth of walking.  Like clockwork, we would pick out a trash can, a sign or a flag and determine that as the starting point to begin running again.  We ran through the trail section, back over the bridge that went over Lake Woodlands and past the swim start where our day had begun close to 12 hours earlier.  We ran back past the Mansions, and finally the waterway.  3 miles to go.  Just a 5K to Ironman.

George and I never separated, never broke cadence and simply ticked them off.

As we got to the turn off we decided we would split up to create some separation between us so we could enjoy our moment at the finish line.

As I started to hear the crowd my legs finally woke up from their slumber.  In what I’m sure surprised George a bit, out marathoner’s legs sprung back to life and I dropped pace down to 7:00/mile flat for the final 400 meters.  At the first turn of the corral, Dawn and Landry were on the front row, hanging over the barrier with huge smiles on their faces.  At that point I never felt my feet hit the ground again until I hit the mat.

As I approached the finish, arms up, I heard Mike Reilly – voice of Ironman, say the words I had played over and over in my mind throughout all of the long rides, long runs, swims in the quarry.

“Joe Marruchella, You. Are. An. Ironman.”

For good measure as I clapped my hands in the chute he added, “You’re an Ironman Joe”.

Marathon:  4:51:59

Total Time:  12:41:39

830th place – we had passed another 81 athletes on the run course.

Post Race:

The volunteers at Ironman truly make the event.  I had my own volunteer Chris who helped me through the chute, checked to make sure I was o.k. while another volunteer took off my timing chip, grabbed my finisher’s hat and shirt.

Another volunteer put an ice towel around my neck, while another held my gear for post-race pictures.  First class all the way around.

I made it to the end of the chute and caught up with Dawn and Landry – which was the perfect end to a long, long but amazing day.

The complexities of a race like this are truly mind-numbing if you have not experienced it firsthand as I still had to get my morning clothes bag, try to get some food and water in me.  Make my way back to the Transition area about a mile away, pick up my transition bags, the Quintana Roo, load everything up, grab some dinner with my girls and then head back to the hotel.

I returned to the hotel room exactly 17 hours after I had left it.  A long day by any definition.

But as I got out of the shower, changed into dry clothes and tried to wind down enough to get some much needed sleep over and over in my mind I kept hearing the same thing over and over again.

“You’re an Ironman Joe.”

Damn skippy I am.Finish Area

 

 

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Friday night will be the last chance for us to lace up our flats and do a little racing in 2013.  In fact, it may be the last time we really try to “go fast” before Ironman Texas.  Immediately after Friday night’s event the focus will shift to volume, volume and more volume.

Long steady runs, long, cold, windy bike rides and early morning long swims in the pool.  80-120 laps long.

But one more time this year we’ll push the limits at the Ronald McDonald House Lights of Love 5K.  This is an annual event that the whole family has gotten involved with since our good friends the Smith’s here in Austin had their little boy Caleb a couple of years ago.  Little Caleb had a ton of challenges when he was born.  Most to do with his digestive system and ability to go potty.  He struggles getting nutrition, going to the bathroom still even after numerous procedures and surgeries.

He and his family traveled to Cincinnatti a little more than two years ago for the first time to consult with the best Doctors in the country for Caleb’s ailments and for his surgeries.  The cost of flights, meals, time away from work and finding a place to stay became a huge struggle for our friends and as the stress of the situation became harder and harder to deal with – Ronald McDonald House stepped up to do what they do best.

Provide a welcoming environment for the Family to stay together.  A safe place to stay, do laundry, cook meals, play together and be a family.  All for less than $20 a day.  Truly amazing.  Ronald McDonald House Charities has been doing this since it was founded in 1974. 

That year the first Ronald McDonald House opened its doors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  At the time Kim Hill, the daughter of Philadelphia Eagles football player Fred Hill, was undergoing treatment for leukemia.  Throughout Kim’s treatment, her father recognized the need for a supportive environment away from the hospital for families of seriously ill children.  He enlisted the aid of his teammates and local McDonald’s restaurant owners to raise funds that would help purchase and renovate the first Ronald McDonald House.

The first Ronald McDonald House was named, not only because of McDonald’s fund-raising support but also for the positive, hopeful, and fun-loving feeling Ronald McDonald was able to instill into the minds of so many children.

Today there are over 300 Ronald McDonald Houses located in 30 countries and regions world-wide. 

Growing up in suburban Philadelphia at the age of 7 in 1974 and having lost a sister to Leukemia the mission of the Ronald McDonald House has always had a special place for me and after seeing how much they helped our friends the Smith’s with their son Caleb’s needs we have tried to do all that we can to help.

This year Landry is again raising money for Ronald McDonald House as part of Caleb’s Army.  To help her out her Mother and Father have committed to match every donation that she secures dollar for dollar up to $1,000.  Come Friday night we hope to be donating at least $2,000 to Caleb’s Army and then Dad is going to go out there and see if he can’t chase down one more PR this year.

Fast or slow won’t really matter at the end of the day, this one is all about helping those less fortunate.

(I’m still going to try to run pretty fast though ….)

Today is Giving Tuesday – so please make the most of it and visit Landry’s fundraising page located HERE and make your gift today – any amount will help her reach her goal and it will be doubled by Dawn and I.

You can also visit:  https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1069880&supId=396480510

Landry & Ronald 2012Thanks everyone!  Hope to see you on Friday!

 

Two weeks ago after a solid effort at the IBM Uptown Classic 5K I started to feel like I was getting close.  I wasn’t all the way back to where I was before our bout with Achilles/ankle issues, but I was starting to resemble that runner.  I had lost that tentative feeling every time I dropped my hips a bit and tried to push pace down towards 6:00 flat.

My stride was feeling very even and when I tried to lengthen things out just a bit, the snap had returned to my turnover.  I still don’t have the volume that I typically do at this time of year, which is holding me back from jumping into the Run for the Water 10-miler next weekend, but I feel like with a few more weeks of quality workouts with the group I can build out my long runs back to 15-16 miles and be half-marathon ready by Christmas.

I had mentally circled the Thanksgiving Day Thundercloud Turkey Trot as my next “A” race – trying to go for my 5-mile PR of 30:50, but there was another 5-miler in October that seemed to line up really well for us.  The Cedar Park 5-miler which was celebrating the 18th running of the event.

When I was building speed back in 2010 and making the fastest and largest gains in my performance I was racing hard and racing frequently.  There is just no substitute for that kind of intensity and effort when you are trying to force adaptation.  As the weather forecast came out for Sunday’s race about 5 days in advance showing cool temperatures, I decided to jump in and see just how far away we were from our previous effort at the 5-mile.  A distance that is not very common here in Austin.  Only a handful of opportunities each year locally to tee it up.

I treated this past week as an “A” race week.  10 miles on Monday with an afternoon Swim, Tuesday – complete rest.  Wednesday a short but intense speed session of 300 meter repeats with 100 meter recoveries in the 5:40-5:45 range.  A Thursday 30 mile bike and swim followed by an off day on Friday and just a 2-mile shakeout on Saturday.

A lot of short, intense workouts, with plenty of rest and very little volume that would leave my legs feeling fatigued.  On Sunday morning for the first time since December of 2012.  I would show up on race morning looking to go low and with any luck, have a chance to take down an 11-month old PR in the 5-mile.  My first legitimate PR attempt in 2013.

On Saturday morning I drove the course to measure the inclines along the route which features gentle climbing up to the turnaround point, with that same gentle decline on the way back home.  A course that set-up for negative split miles, where going out under control would produce the fastest overall time, as opposed to running out fast to start and hanging on to the end.  I thought that I needed to be very disciplined early, so that when the course tilted in my favor late in the race, I could actually do something about it.

6:20, 6:15, 6:10, 6:05, 6:00 would produce a time equal to our 30:50 PR.

If I could hang tough through mile 4, perhaps I would have enough left to kick over the final 400 and eek out a new PR.  That was the plan as I played those splits over in my head as I dozed off to sleep on Saturday night.  It was the first race in a long time that I had planned out each mile along the course.  A formula that had served me very well in the past.  All I would have to do on the course is go out and execute.

Pre-Race:  We stuck to the program with a 6:00 a.m. alarm clock, shave and a shower to loosen up the muscles.  A bagel and Gatorade breakfast and after changing into our race gear I left the house at 7:15 a.m. to get to the race site.  I parked, retrieved my timing chip from the timing tent (ankle strap) and went back to the car to get ready.

I decided on a slow 2-mile warm-up to get the muscles ready to go on a very chilly, but beautiful 45 degree morning.  I ran the first mile of the course, measuring the incline of the opening mile, spun around and trotted back to the start.  2 miles, 14:50.  Everything to this point was perfect.  I changed into my New Balance Race flats, took off my sweats and headed over to the start area to run a few strides.  With approximately 375 runners in the event, I was able to get in my last few reps, and then duck into the start area about 10-12 runners from the front.  A lot of the usual suspects in attendance.  Looked like if I ran well, I would have a shot at a top-10 finish – but all I was really hunting was that 30:49.  Placement was irrelevant.

The announcer counted us down, “Runners to your Mark – Go!”

Mile 1:  We ran uphill leaving the shopping center and turned left onto Buttercup Creek Road.  We would run the first 1.25 miles on a gradual incline until we would make a right turn onto Nelson Ranch.  The race course was coned off into the bike-lane, which was enough room for 2-3 runners to run next to each other.  This would not be an issue later in the race, but for the first mile we were running 4-5 to a group and it was congested.  I glanced down at my watch repeatedly over this mile, making sure that I never dipped below 6:20.  The pace felt relaxed and at a few moments I felt myself wanting to increase my stride.

The first 1/2 mile was spot on in 3:10.  Finally I was locked in and ticking things off smoothly.  I was running somewhere around 10th or 11th place and had found a group to run with.  I tried to disassociate a bit and not focus on the incline, just stay smooth and tall – no faster, no slower.  At the mile 1 marker I glanced down at my watch.  The course measurement was exact.  Opening mile – 6:20.  Perfect.

Mile 2:  As mile 2 started the course again started to climb just a bit.  About 50 feet over this section of the course.  No big climbs, just a gentle slope that you can barely see.  A “False-Flat” as runners call it.  The kind of slope that tricks you into thinking you are running your goal pace effort, but you are actually working just a bit harder than usual to hit that mark.  At the end of the race, those :05-:07 seconds that you pushed for imperceptibly cost you twice as many when you go to your kick.

I was hoping to run this mile at 6:15, but at the halfway mark I was right around 6:18-6:19.  I felt myself get slightly discouraged.  I decided to stay even through the end of the mile and see if I could wake things up a bit over mile number 3.  At the mile 2 marker the watch beeped at me – 6:16.  I was :01 behind after 2 miles.

Mile 3:  I decided to stick to the plan and press just slightly to drop pace down to 6:10.  I had a good group to work with and we took turns leading the pack.  Nobody was going much faster than 6:10-6:11 at any point, but it was nice to share that responsibility.  I kept monitoring my watch every 400 meters or so, this would be the last mile that I would look at my watch as when we hit the 2-mile to go mark I would just run as hard as I could to close it out.

We hit the 180 degree turnaround that required us to come to a near-stop at 2.5 miles.  The slow-down cost us about :05 seconds.  I pressed just a bit to get back on pace and locked in the harder effort.  The course was finally tilting ever so slightly in our favor and I was able to make up those :05 seconds without expending too much precious energy.  We hit the mile 3 marker with a 3rd mile in 6:08.  We were :01 seconds ahead of goal after 18:45 of racing.

Mile 4:  At the start of mile 4 I moved to the front of our small pack.  I would use the footfalls behind me to keep me honest and from this point on I was going to run my race.  If somebody was able to drop me, good for them, but I felt like I had run a very smart opening 3 miles.  Now it was just a matter of seeing how much we had left.

I snuck a glance down at my watch at some point over the mile and saw my pace below 6:00 flat.  I thought about dialing things back ever so slightly to load up for the final mile, but it was time to run by feel at this point of the race.  If 6:00 effort was producing sub 6:00 results, I chalked it up to the slight decline and went with it.

At the beep I looked down and saw a 5:56 mile.  Time to go.

Mile 5:  The final mile would roll up and down ever so slightly for the first 7/10 of a mile before a nice 3/10 of a mile descent to the finish line.  I decided to press ever so slightly on the accelerator to keep the pace under 6:00 flat and then start to empty the tank at the start of the downhill.

We were comfortably locked in at 5:55 pace at the start of the descent, and I could see the right-hand turn ahead that would lead to the finishing chute.  The pace was starting to hurt quite a bit, but I could tell that I was holding strong, not losing any speed as I struggled to keep my form in place.

We made the final turn and kicked to the finish.

Final mile – 5:45.

30:25 official time, 1st place Age Group, 7th place overall.

Post-Race:  Dawn and Landry decided to skip the race on Sunday and grab some extra sleep (I don’t blame them) – so I had some time to myself waiting around for the awards ceremony to begin.  I replayed the race over in my mind a couple of times and tried to find a time where I executed my pre-race plan as well from start to finish.  IBM Uptown in 2011 perhaps?  Possibly the first 20 miles of the NYC Marathon.  But never had I closed a race so strong before.

It was the first time in 2013 that I exited an event completely satisfied in the result.  Not a single thing I would change about my race on Sunday and with a :25 second PR in our pocket, we finally are off the shneid in 2013.

Man, this sport never gets old.  Now it is time to stop feeling sorry for myself and see how strong we can close out the rest of the year.  We have 2 months and two events left to go.  Perhaps we may have a shot at our 5K PR at Lights of Love in December.  With 6 weeks to get ready – I’m starting to like our chances.race

2013 has been the strangest year of racing I have ever had since starting to train, run and race back in 2006. For the last few years, 2009-2012 I have been able to put together a race calendar, train hard, make it to the starting line of just about all of the races I had circled on the calendar and on the race days that mattered most, race relatively well.

But at a time when I was at my absolute best, December 2012 things started to unravel very quickly. After consecutive PR’s at the 5K and Half-Marathon distance I suffered an injury at the Shiner Half and ended up missing the Houston Marathon. After clawing my way back, regaining all of my fitness the same injury flared again and I missed Big Cottonwood this September. In between I had trained in fits and starts, hopped in a few races when I could, but never this year have I felt like I was really “ready” to do anything special.

Not even an outside chance at a PR, never did I even give myself a chance by running an opening mile at PR pace, full well knowing that I did not have the fitness or the volume to pull it off.

But there is still a huge benefit in racing, even when you are not at the top of your game. It is good to put yourself in the race environment to gather as much experience as possible. That way, the next time you are in a position to make something happen – you know that it is not your first rodeo. You can just lock into your routine, run your warm-up, stay relaxed and do your thing.

The other major benefit is the workout itself. Nothing can mimic race-pace better than racing. Even if it is a handful of seconds slower than your talent level when you are completely fit. There is something about pinning on that bib and running in a crowd.

Lastly, there is the process of putting together your pre-race plan and sticking to it …. or not. Straying from your plan and making a big mistake that you pay for is also valuable. It reinforces the need to plan the work and work the plan on race day. Going off half-cocked like a maniac over the opening mile is not sound strategy no matter what the situation. But executing mile after mile, especially when you are fatigued and struggling pays major benefits when you are chasing down that PR on another race day.

So Thursday morning this past week I decided to sign-up last minute for the IBM Uptown Classic 5K. I was not in shape to run the 10K race and come anywhere close to my PR of 37:30 from a couple of years ago. But I did feel like I was capable of running a reasonably strong 5K and I would gain even more confidence in my return from injury if I could come through unscathed. Win-Win.

While I was not going to set any records at IBM or come close to my 18:02 PR set last December, I did want to treat my race routine somewhat seriously. Take it easy on Saturday, eat right, get my rest and go through my morning rituals as per usual. I took a hard look in the mirror and estimated that if I ran the race I wanted to, I could possibly run 6:00 pace (18:40).

What I really wanted to test however was if I could run an even race. Stay as strong through the last 1/2 mile of the race as the opening 1/2 mile. Not fall off and struggle to the finish. So on race morning I set my GPS watch to record 1/2 mile splits and would hope to run as close to 2:58-3:00 per 1/2 mile as possible. Kick hard at the end with whatever we had left and see if we could maybe sneak in at 18:39.

Pre-Race: Sticking to our routine I woke up 1 hour before it was time to drive over to IBM, got in the shower to loosen things up and went with a Bagel and Gatorade for breakfast. I tipped the scale at 135.5 on race morning. 1 lb. heavier than my “A Race” 5K weight of 134.5. Since I didn’t run on Saturday and was very hydrated, we were just about perfect.

I could not go with my Brooks T7 Race Flats as I have a slight toe nail bruise on my right big toe. The toe nail is raised just a centimeter or two, but it is just enough to bang into the toe box on my flats. I would have to run in my Adidas Adios 1/2 marathon shoe. It would cost me about 1 second per mile in weight – but the last thing I needed was another nagging injury to deal with at this point. I would go with the heavier flats.

I drove over to the race site, got a spot in the lot and trotted over to the Rogue Running Tent to meet up with the training group. It had been awhile since I saw everyone including coach, so it was nice to see the gang.

I ran my warm-up alone, did a few strides and kept to myself. I ducked into the start area – said hello to Greg, David and some of the usual suspects. I thought one more time about running an opening 6 minute mile and nothing much faster.

National Anthem, Runners to your mark …. Horn!

Mile 1:  I started just a hair further back in the chute than I normally would, perhaps 20-25 runners in front of me and quickly found some open space on the right-center of the road leading up to the first right turn on the course.  I didn’t look at my watch, just spun out free and easy.  Cool weather had arrived in Austin with very little in the way of breeze.  My single was barely moving in the wind and I felt like I was right where I needed to be.  At the beep I glanced down at my watch at the first 1/2 mile – 2:58.

We were running a slight uphill stretch over the next 1.2 mile – 25 feet +/- of incline, so I dialed back ever so slightly on pace.  We made the turn across Burnet Road onto the Domain Property and hit the 1 mile mark.  My second 1/2 mile came in at 3:02.

I had run 6:00 flat for the first mile of the race.  spot on perfect.

Mile 2:  Mile 2 is almost completely flat on this course for the first 1/2 mile, then a nice long, very gradual descending second 1/2 mile.  I wanted to stay even, not drop off on the effort which is where most 5K races come off the rail.  The first mile is never an issue and the last one, even though it hurts quite a bit, does not allow you to give in as you are so close to the finish.  It is that middle mile where it is very easy to take the foot off the gas ever so slightly.  Imperceptively really, just enough to back off the pain that is starting – but on the watch it translates to :03-:05 seconds of slowing.  Time you never get back in a short race like the 5K.

Our 3rd 1/2 mile split came in at 2:59, followed by a slightly faster 1/2 mile heading down the gentle decline in 2:57.

The second mile was 5:56 on the fastest part of the course.  There was going to be some climbing at the end of the race, it was time to start fighting a little.

Mile 3:  I had been running to this point with the first overall female in the 5K race.  A young runner named Lauren who just moved to Austin from California and joined my running group.  She was running extremely even and she stayed right off of my right shoulder.  My mind started to wander a bit to who was in front of us and if there were any male runners up there who were running the 5K and not the 10K.  It was the first time I found myself getting distracted, thinking about where I was with respect to the field and not running a 3:00 min. flat 1/2 mile split.

I chastised myself for letting my mind wander and snapped back to it.  My watch beeped with the 5th 1/2 mile coming in at 2:53 with a 37 foot decrease in elevation.  We would have to make that back up over the next 1/2 mile – so I focused on even stride and effort to come as close to a final 3:00 flat as possible.

As we made the turn back into the shopping district and the road started to climb ahead I noticed the breeze that was blowing as a bit of a headwind as it was much louder going in this direction.  Not more than a 1-2 second shift, but with only 1/2 mile to go – any change like that feels pretty cruel.

I heard my watch beep a bit before the 3-mile sign, meaning that I did not run perfect tangents on the course with all the new turns this year or the course measured just a touch long.  I glanced down and saw the first split I was unhappy with:  3:04.

Put together however, I had run another solid mile – 5:57.  Nothing left to do but kick.

Finish:  I heard Greg behind me who was running the 10K yelling at me that I had run 6:00 flat – kick to the end!  As I approached the chute the female announcer said, “And we have our first 5K runner approaching the finish line!” – I slowed up ever so slightly as I crossed over the finish line – I’m really not sure why – and glanced at the clock ticking over 18:40.

6:00, 5:56, 5:57.

We were able to hold off Lauren by 5 seconds and win 1st overall at the IBM Uptown Classic on a picture perfect Fall day for racing in Austin.  It is always nice to walk away with an Age Group Win or a spot on the podium, but I was honestly more happy with my effort than how it compared to anyone else on Sunday.  That is usually the case, but it is especially true when you are able to execute a race plan so close to goal.

Yes, I’ve been faster.  A lot faster actually.

That’s o.k., 2012 was a year when all I did was set personal bests.  Running and racing was coming very easy to me.

2013 has been a much different story.  We have been tested quite a bit and have had to scratch and claw for everything that we have gotten this year.  2014 is not too far away.  Just another event or two on our calendar for this year.  Definitely not enough time to get back to full strength and challenge any of our best times.  But we can continue to improve.  Continue to run with great focus and gain valuable fitness and experience.

I placed the Overall Award up on the shelf on Sunday afternoon where all of our medals and awards from previous races reside.  It was one of the more unexpected additions to the collections for sure.  I’m not really sure how I feel about it yet as I know that there were a lot of runners out there today who if they chose to race the 5K instead of the 10K they would have handed me my keister.  But you can only run the race your a capable of running and you can only race those competitors who happen to be there that day.

On Sunday I was fortunate enough to cross the finish line first.  But really, I was lucky to be able to be out there at all.

I’ll take it.

1st Place Overall Male

1st Place Overall Male

Snuck in a September Race

Posted: September 23, 2013 in Pace and Racing

The last week or two I have been feeling pretty solid on the left side, meaning my ankle/Achilles issue was not noticeable and I even pressed the issue over a few miles here and there to see if there would be any flare-ups under pressure.  Fortunately each “test” came back negative.  Or perhaps positive depending on how you look at things.

No discomfort – full return to training and activities.

On Sunday morning the non-profit organization that I work for – Back on My Feet, was partnering with Livestrong at the Car2Go Relay Marathon and Whole Foods Market Race in downtown Austin.  A 6-person 7K Relay Marathon (26.2 miles = 42 Kilometers) was the major event with more than 350 teams registered.

Not having enough trust in my ability to race this month, I opted to jump in the single loop race of 7K for runners without a relay team.  It set up really nicely for me as it was a low-pressure situation, I would not have 5 other teammates race performance hinging on my ability to race well coming off of injury.

I would however benefit from racing in a crowd, locking onto pace and pushing harder than I would on a typical training run.  So with very little prep or fanfare, I registered for the event, snuck in and out of packet pick-up, didn’t share with many folks I would be racing and kept the whole situation very chill.

My good friend Brendon from here in Austin who I did battle with in our age group for a couple of years in 2009 and 2010 was also hopping into the loop race.  He had been dealing with his own injury issues – much more serious than mine – as he is recovering from surgery to correct Morton’s Neuroma.  In layman’s terms, a nerve issue in between two toes on Brendon’s right foot.  An exceptional marathoner (sub 3:00:00) and generally fast through all distances, this would be Brendon’s first timed event since 2011.

We met up in the start area and ran a very easy warm-up mile at 8:30 pace.  Joking and laughing quite a bit as we had very little in the way of expectations for the event.  I was going to try to run something around 6:20 pace for the roughly 4 mile course, Brendon a little bit slower and just test things out a bit.  Get a good barometer as to where we are right now so that as we kick off training this week for Ironman Texas, with stops along the way at the Turkey Trot, Lights of Love 5K, Houston Half-Marathon, Austin Half-Marathon and Republic of Texas Half-Ironman – we would have some sense as to where our run is right now.

Normally for this course I would be looking at 6:03-6:05 pace as a goal if I was completely fit and healthy.  So a 6:20 showing would be a pretty decent effort.  More importantly as I mentioned to Brendon was how I closed the race.  I know I could go bombing out at 5:50 pace and hold that for the first mile, but what would happen after that?

There are a lot of ways to average 6:20 min./mile over 4 miles.  Not all of them are pretty.

I did not want to be struggling to keep the last mile under 7:00 minutes completely finishing on fumes.

I was hoping to run a solid, consistent race where I closed strong and felt like I could have run a little bit faster.  More than anything I just wanted to feel good about my performance and get some of my confidence and mojo back.  It had been awhile since I really felt “whole”.  So this was going to be a good step in that direction.

After our quick warm-up mile I ducked into our event tent, changed into my race flats and hit the portapotty.  I ducked into the starting chute and chatted with Brendon for a moment.  I decided to run a few quick strides as I had not ticked the legs over at 6:00 flat pace since July.  I’m sure that is what I would be leaving the starting line at with the excitement of the crowd of runners and the horn – so it made sense to mentally download what it felt like to go “fast” again.

After 4 strides, I hopped back into the corral and was ready to go.

Countdown from 10 and we were off.

The course starts out very flat with a cone turnaround in the first 4/10 of a mile.  Right after you feel like you are finding a nice cadence, you have to slow down, turn 180 degrees and fall back into pace.  Kind of a P.I.T.A., but with a pancake flat opening 8/10 of a mile before turning left up and over the S. First Street Bridge – it is one of the easiest opening miles of any race course in Austin.

Instead of running 1/2 mile splits, I decided to just leave the watch counting 1-mile intervals and I would run by feel.  I didn’t want to know if my effort was showing up as too fast on the watch, which might scare me off or if it was too slow, which would discourage me.

I ran smooth and easy and at the first beep – 6:10.

As we went down Cesar Chavez I fell in behind a runner as the breeze blew into us a bit and locked in the effort.  The course has a long but gentle uphill final mile before you come thundering down the bridge to the finish over the final 400 meters.  I was trying to set things up where my final mile would be strong with no drop off.

Mile 2 came in at 6:18 pace and mile 3 almost identically at 6:17 which included another cone turnaround which typically takes 2 seconds off of your pace.

Pretty solid to this point.

As we reached the long, slight incline I gradually pushed the effort just a hair as I was hoping to stay steady and run a final mile in that same 6:18 range.

When we reached the bridge and made the right turn I noticed that I had never felt that relaxed and strong at that point of the course before, which was an indicator that I had not been pushing as hard as I usually am at Turkey Trot, Run for the Water or the other races that close with the same final 1/2 mile.

As I came off the bridge I had a runner behind me and dropped him to the back when I started my kick.

Final mile 6:15 pace.

Overall race pace – 6:15.

In the smaller loop course race I finished 1st male overall.  Brendon finished behind me as the 1st Masters Male Finisher.  So it was a very successful return to racing for both of us as afterwards we felt great with no aches or pains from our injuries.  I joked with Brendon that my record against him in races now improved to 1 and 20 as he has/had beaten me at every distance from the 5K to Marathon head to had to this point.

It is a hollow victory of course as neither one of us are anywhere near where we typically are when we are completely fit – but you have to take those wins where you find them on race day, especially as Brendon and I are both a lot closer to 50 right now than we are to 40.  Just sayin’.

So today kicks off our 8-week cycle of PRE-TRAINING for Ironman Texas.  No racing, just getting into the rhythm of running, biking and swimming on the days that call for it during Ironman Training.  Gradual increases in distance to all three disciplines so that when we kick off the BASE PHASE of training for IM Texas, we have all three events starting from a solid point.

Today called for a gentle 6 miles at recovery pace – which we executed at 7:36 pace.  It felt like we didn’t even race on Sunday, so we are in a pretty darn enviable position compared to where we were just one month ago.

Our Base Phase will last 10 weeks with a couple of races thrown into the mix.

Our Build Phase will last 8 weeks with perhaps one event (Austin Half-Marathon) if we are feeling good and the weather cooperates.  That is completely an optional race that really will just serve the purpose of reminding us what it is like to race.

Our Peak Phase will then take us up to Ironman Texas – 8 weeks of heavy mileage, lots of long rides over 5 hours in length and a tune-up Half-Ironman 4 weeks before race day.

There is always great excitement when you start a new training cycle with an “A” race off in the distance.  We have a long way to go for Ironman, so it is important to just focus on the small steps that are required to get there.  Focusing now on 4,000 meter swims, 20 mile runs or 6 hour bike rides is just not where our mind needs to be right now.

But when those weeks finally arrive, we’ll be ready for them.  Sunday Sept. 22nd will look just like a little blip on the radar at that point, but it was a big day for us yesterday.  When it comes to all of the running and racing, the only thing that is as important as health and fitness is confidence.

If you don’t have that piece, it won’t really matter on race day how fit you are.  You’ll just be the “fittest” guy walking the marathon at the end of Ironman.

Race Pace and Nutrition are the two variables that like in most marathons are going to essentially write our own personal history when it is time to analyze our performance at Big Cottonwood on September 14th in Utah.  Assuming that we maintain our health, avoid nagging injuries and we continue to progress through our training cycle as we have to this point – there should be no doubt that we are in “3-hour shape” when we get off the plane in Salt Lake City.

I know what 3-hour shape feels like.  I know how easily I am able to shift through the gears from easy pace to moderate pace to Marathon Goal Pace to Half-Marathon Pace, 10K Pace and what it feels like to push down around 5:45-5:55 or 5K pace in the summer.

Wednesday’s workout with the training group where after a 3.5 mile warm-up we ran 4X 1-Mile repeats starting with a mile of :30 seconds “on”, followed by :30 seconds “off”.  Mile 2 was :60 second on, followed by :30 seconds off.  Mile 3 was :90 seconds on, followed by :30 seconds off and then finally the last mile back at :30 seconds on, :30 seconds off.

All four miles came in between 6:04 and 6:08.

We’re dangerously close to 3-hour shape right now, and with another 2 months to go, I have no doubt we will be there on race day.  Hopefully and then some.

At that point it comes down to your plan for pacing and nutrition and executing those two plans.  What you are going to drink, when and how much.  What you are going to eat, when and how much and perhaps equally important – how you are going to spend your energy on the course.

In a pancake flat marathon like Chicago or even Houston – even pacing is the most efficient way to run 26.2 miles.  You do not have any hills to deal with, so simply running just a hair under your Marathon Goal Pace (MGP) and keeping the needle right there until the final 10 kilometers is the way to go.

In the case of a 3-hour marathon which requires 26.2 miles at 6:52 pace – you lock in at 6:50 and count them off.  By mile 26 if you are on pace you should have a little under a minute to play with.  If you throw in a few 6:55’s or even a rare 7:00 flat, you are still right on track.

But for most marathon courses that have hills to climb and descend, it is all about running “even effort” and letting the uphill and downhill sections add or subtract time from your pace accordingly.  It can make for a stressful experience wondering if you are going too fast, too slow, losing too much time to the hills and whether or not you will be able to make it back up.

Enter Taz Running.

Mile Splits

Mile Splits

They look at the topography of every certified marathon course, plot pace strategy based on the elevation of each individual mile and then provide you with a pacing guide for every one of them.  This way you know that during that screaming downhill section on your course you should be running 6:36 instead of 6:50 and likewise at the end of the race when you tackle that final ascent, you only need to keep the watch at 7:17 pace – and everything will come out in the wash.

For a race like Big Cottonwood that features a ton of downhill running early in the race, and a gradual descent at the end of the race – running an even second half of the race or “negative splitting” the course is not very realistic.  Nor is it the best approach to conquer Cottonwood.  The first half of the race being much “easier” than the second half – if there is anything “easy” about a marathon.  This is the primary reason I’ve decided on a 1-mile at a time approach to this race – treating every individual mile on it’s own merit.

Not comparing it to the mile before, the mile after or the miles remaining and fixating on running 6:50’s.  Instead I will glance down at the pace-tattoo I have ordered from Taz Running which will be affixed to my forearm that morning, and only think about executing that specific mile, then going on to the next one.

I know that I won’t run them all perfectly, in fact, I may only nail a handful of them spot on, but having a guide that I can check in 5-mile intervals to know if I am slightly ahead or slightly behind the cumulative pace target at that point will help keep me honest and calm.

At the end of 5 miles I should be at:  33:05

At the end of 10 miles:  1:07:20

At the end of 15 miles – 1:40:34

Mile 20 – 2:14:59

If we reach the mile 20 mark right at 2:15:00 all that remains are 6 miles in:  7:07, 7:03, 7:05, 7:13, 7:09, 7:05.

If we are still under 2:58 with 385 yards to go it is in the bag.

Instead of thinking about not running slower than those paces above, I have changed my mindset to run no faster.

There are a lot of people out there who think that a 46-year old runner can’t break 3 hours in the marathon for the first time.  That by that age, you have either done it before or you are never going to do it.

I will just have to respectfully disagree.  Words like those describe just about every great success story ever written.

In a little more than 10 weeks, I’m going to write my own.

Bring it on.

Saturday marked the 39th year that the small town of Holland, TX would be gathering to celebrate bringing in their cash crop on the 3rd Saturday in June.  Fourteen years ago, celebrating the 25th Cornfest, Holland added a 5 kilometer race.

I was talking with a runner who had been to just about all of the races over the years who shared with me that at first the race organizers used to bus the runners out into a cornfield 3.1 miles to the finish line, and run a point to point race back to town.  What sounded at first like a great race to me was then explained a little bit further.

“The worst part was the start when you ran through the field with corn head high on both sides of you.  No breeze, stifling heat – it was pretty steamy.”

In the days leading up to the race I saw on the website that the festival was moved to Holland City Park and would not be taking place on Main Street as it had in years past.  This meant a change to the race course which I had not expected, so even though I would be running my 5th consecutive Holland Cornfest Race – 2013 would be a different race than in years past.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be as hilly I thought as I lay in the driveway stretching waiting for my buddy Neil to pick me up.  What I did know for sure was it was much hotter than the past couple of years.

The temperature was already 77 degrees two hours before race time, and the humidity was in the high 80’s with overcast skies and even a few scattered rain drops hanging around.  I had read an article just the day before that talked about hot-weather racing and that running by perceived effort instead of by “pace” was the way to go.  Just because you can run an opening mile of a 5K in say 6:00 minutes flat in 50 degree temperatures does not mean you can run one in 80 degree heat.

Or let me put it another way.  Yes, you may be able to run ONE mile at 6:00 in 80 degree heat, but you are going to have an awfully hard time running a second and third one.  We’ve covered this before, but your body’s response to higher temperature is to bring more blood to the surface of your skin to cool you off.  More blood traveling to the surface of your skin means less blood going to the muscles that are doing the work.

Less blood to the muscles means slower times.  So you need to adjust accordingly.  What seems to be right for me is 5 seconds per mile for every 5 degrees over 65 degrees.  So on an 80 degree day, I would be looking to run 6:10 pace for the 5K instead of 5:55 pace.  To put that into race time terms – something around 18:55 for the 5K instead of 18:10.  Add in a little extra humidity and I started to think that a time around 19:00 minutes flat would put me in a pretty good position in Holland.  A race where I have been fortunate to run in the top 10 overall over the past two years finishing 8th in 2011 and 6th in 2010.

My race plan came together for me on the ride up to Holland.  I was going to run my opening mile at 5:50 pace which would put me in a position to break 19:00 minutes given the inevitable drop off in pace as I heated up.  I should also at that point have a solid place among the top 10 runners and would lock-in at that point.  Try to maintain my track position and not let anyone catch me from behind.

Pre Race:  Neils’ daughter Megan was joining us this year for the first time.  New to running, Megan who is 12 had been showing a lot of promise on her school team.  This would be her first 5K and I was interested to see how she enjoyed it.  We made the 50 minute drive up to Holland and found the city park.  As we pulled in to park I noticed a large fair ground this year with rides for the kids and food vendors.

Landry would be coming up with Momma Bear after the race wrapped up for the parade and “candy grabbing” as the people on the floats and the fire trucks throw out candy for the kids.  She had been talking about wanting to go on a Ferris Wheel for the last week or so – I think it must have come up in a book she was reading at school.  So it looked like she was going to get her chance.

I checked in, grabbed Bib #2, and went off to run a 2-mile warm-up which would let me see the first mile or so of the course.

I started out at a smooth pace in my heavier trainers, 7:30 was my opening mile and by the time I reached the course marking for 1 mile in/1 mile to go I was already dripping sweat from my brow and down my shoulders.  At that pace in the winter time, I would not feel a drop of sweat until the start of mile 3.  It was definitely a hot one.

I wrapped up my 2-miles in 14:50.  Legs felt nice and snappy, but the humidity was pretty ugly.

I changed into by Brooks T7 race flats, visited with my friends Erin, Paul and his son Jonathan for a few minutes and it was time to duck into the chute for the start.

Mile 1:  As I have been doing for some time now, I had my watch set to record 1/2 mile intervals – giving me a little bit more feedback for a short distance race than simply looking at my split at the end of the first mile.  By that time in a 5K you are almost 30% of the way through the race.  A little bit late to make adjustments from there.

At the gun we got out smoothly and tucked in behind 2 young runners.  One just out of College, the other was Paul’s son Jonathan who was now 16 and running strong.  He had set a new personal best for the mile this year in 4:42.  I felt like I was in the right place and glanced down at the end of the first 1/2 mile – 2:52.  I was right on target for that opening 5:50 as the second 1/2 mile would be slightly slower having gotten over the adrenaline rush from the start.

On cue our second 1/2 mile came in at 2:58 – a 5:50 first mile.  One thing I noticed was how easy my cadence felt compared to other 5K races.  I could definitely notice a slight change in my running economy due to the track work we had been doing.  The weather however was making me feel like this was pretty much suicide pace on a hot day and I decided to gradually slow things down.  I was thinking that something like a 6:10 second mile and 6:15 third mile would let us run through to the finish, place well and not dig too deep of a hole that it would take us several days to recover from.  As Marathon training was going to be right there staring us in the face on Sunday morning.

As we started mile 2 the last thing I thought to myself was – “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Mile 2:  A young runner came past me at the mile 1 marker and huffed on by.  I compared his breathing to mine – which can tell you a lot about your competitors during a race.  He was breathing like he was in the final 800 meters of the race.  I let him slip past me and knew that I would be returning the favor pretty quickly.  We dropped back into 4th place but I did not try to respond.

Just before getting to the cone turn-around we hit the third 1/2 mile split in 3:01.  I slowed to make the 180 degree turn, grabbed a cup of water to throw over my head and another to take a quick sip.  I would give away a handful of seconds here, but not running for a PR – it really was irrelevant.  I got a chance to take a peak at the runners behind us to see if anyone was looking strong and closing on me as the course would retrace itself back to the finish.

My friend Paul was running in 5th position, 300 meters or so behind me, followed by a handful of runners who I had close to 1/4 lap of a track on.  I wasn’t worried about being caught from behind as we were all going to be slowing a bit in the heat.  I caught up to the runner who had passed me previously and slid by him as he was faltering badly.  We were running back in 3rd place – about :20 seconds off of the leaders.

At the beep we hit the 4th 1/2 mile split in 3:08.  a 6:09 second mile – 6:05 or so pace given the cone turn and water stop.  Just about right.

Mile 3:  One mile to go and it was getting pretty rough.  Always a tough point in the 5K, but I was soaked through my shorts, socks and shoes in sweat and just battling to keep my effort even through to the finish.  We hit the 2.5 mile mark in 3:10 and the 3 mile mark in 3:09.  All that was left was the final kick.

Finish:  I hung in close enough to see the winner cross the finish line ahead of Jonathan by a handful of seconds.  Not risking anything I decided to just gradually press on the accelerator and end at about 90% effort.  Not an all out sprint, but a fast-finish to wrap things up in a strong fashion.

18:56 was our time – 3rd place finish, our highest ever in Holland and we had accomplished what we had set out to do which was take home our 5th consecutive Age Group Award from the Corn Festival.

Post Race:  I was able to see both Neil and Megan finish the race before I went out for an easy 1-mile cool down.  On the way back I ran next to Sandra who was running her first ever 5K race.  She had to stop to walk a couple of times as we chatted over her last 1/2 mile, but I was able to tell her about how I started running, all the places that it had taken me and how much she would be able to gain from the sport if she was just able to stick with it during the period of time (just starting out) when it is the hardest, and the most people quit.

I ran her all the way to the last 200 meters and then dropped her at the cones so she could speed to the finish on her own.  The announcer called out her bib number and name as she ran under the finish arch and I smiled.  Hopefully it marked the start of something great for Sandra.

At the awards ceremony I got a nice surprise as when I was called up to the stage the announcer said, “And in first place in the Male 45-49 age group category …. wow, that is a fast time …. Joe Marruchella.  Joe comes up here every year to race with us, thank you for being here.”

Landry had quite a time at the festival this year.  Not only did she get on the Ferris Wheel with Dad – and I have to be honest, I had my doubts about how great she thought the ride would be once we got to the top.  But she LOVED seeing the park and all the rides, animals at the petting zoo and people down below.  She is such a big girl these days closing in on her third birthday now just a little over 2 months away.

We had some great local barbeque, and Landry played on the playground going toe to toe with some of the big kids before it was time to get going back to Austin.  Moving the festival to the City Park was a great move by the organizers as it seemed like there were close to twice as many people there as last year.

So in our last race before we age yet ANOTHER year at the end of July, we wrapped up a pretty solid age 45 year or racing.

We were blessed enough to start and finish 13 events from the 5K to half-ironman, set new PR’s in the 5K, 5-mile, Half Marathon and Half-Ironman, age group in 11 out of 13 events and miraculously win two of them.  In a year where I focus constantly on the one event we had to miss – the Houston Marathon due to injury – I have to remind myself that we had a pretty successful last 12 months.

It is really easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the negative and poo-poo the positive when you are training and racing.  But it is just as important to look at the positives and not always dwell on the misses.

That said, just two weeks ago I registered for the Houston Marathon in January of 2014.  I know me well enough to know that I cannot see the word Houston, hear anyone mention the city or even see the Astros in the box score and not think about my missed race last year.

For me to say that I have something left to “prove” at this point is pretty silly – Prove what?  To whom?  But when it is all said and done and we are no longer running marathons, I don’t want to have to think about Houston as the race that got away from me.  Fast or slow, PR or not, I am going to cherish just being at that starting line healthy and I am going to run my ass off.

See you in January Houston Marathon.  12 months late, but better than never.