Posts Tagged ‘Holland TX Cornfest’

Yesterday was our last day of training this week with back to back races looming now less than 24 hours away. After an up-tempo run on Monday, a swim and 35 mile ride on Tuesday, 10 mile run on Wednesday and finally a swim and 20-mile ride on Thursday the hay is in the barn.

Today will be a complete rest day, aside from a trip to the grocery store we will be laying low all day.  We will set-up the TRI bike with a good cleaning, adjust the brakes and pads, switch out to our race wheels and pack our transition bag for Sunday with everything except a few last minute items.

Then it will be time to focus on Saturday’s 5k up in Holland. I will look back over my last three races on the course, analyze my splits as they have changed over the years and come up with my gameplan for the first four half-mile splits of the race.

The final mile of a 5k is really about pain management if you have covered the opening two miles with a well executed plan.  At that point, fast or slow – it hurts just the same.  I just try to gradually empty what little reserves are remaining until the final 1/4 mile, run as hard as I can until the last 1/10 and then kick to the finish with whatever is left.

Heading into this weekend I thought about playing it safe and smart up in Holland to conserve some energy for the Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday – but if there is one thing I know about racing – especially when I look down at my flats on Saturday morning and see Dom’s initials on my left instep. Playing it safe just isn’t our style.

He deserves better. So on Saturday and Sunday we are going to let it all hang out. If we run out of gas at some point, we’ll simply look for a reason to keep pushing and do the best that we can. Sometimes trying your best means a whole lot more than a few digits on a race clock.

Tomorrow morning – Boom goes the dynamite.

I learned something about myself on Friday night as I was trying to fall asleep.  The Holland, TX 5K was 10 hours away and I was having a hard time falling asleep.  Mind you that the night before the Boston Marathon in April – just a small race you may have heard of – and the Pittsburgh Marathon just 13 days later I slept like a baby.  But the Holland, 5K – whoa buddy – I just couldn’t seem to relax and fall asleep. 

Ever since I came through the chute at Pittburgh this year I had been thinking about this race.  

One year ago I ran Holland for the first time.  I was fresh off of my personal best at the marathon distance at Pittsburgh on May 3, 2009.  I was in top condition last year at this time, 100% healthy and had just qualified for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:17:43.  I felt strong heading into the Holland, TX 5K and ran a very smart, technical race finishing first in my age group with a time of 19:43. 

One year later after a challenging training cycle for Boston and Pittsburgh and more bumps and bruises than I really told anyone about, I really wanted to race this weekend.  No excuses about the weather, injuries, being a year older – I was going out to compete against … well … me. 

Running two marathons in 13 days this spring for Dom was something that I will always remember and will forever be an accomplishment that I am proud of.  We had a lot of people pulling for us and a lot of commitments were made to Dom and his family.  I had promised to do the work necessary to complete two major marathons within two weeks to raise money and awareness in honor of Dom’s battle against cancer.  It was an incredible journey, one that I will never, ever forget. 

The truth of the matter is that because of that commitment I really did not come clean with anyone – even myself – with respect to my health.  I didn’t want anyone worrying about me or questioning whether or not we were going to go get those two finisher’s medals for Dom. 

The shin splint issue that I had in December as I began my Boston training was never completely remedied.  I dropped my run days down from 5 per week to 4 so that I could actually rest on Saturday each week before my Sunday long run.  I simply could not run on consecutive days at that intensity and hope to make it through both marathons.  If I did not exit Boston relatively “healthy”, I knew I would have a hard time completing Pittsburgh just 13 days later. 

Dawn would see me with a bag of frozen peas on my shin after every run along with two ice bags on both outer feet as “favoring” my shin caused me some inflammation and soreness in both feet.   It was a battle, but considering what my good friend Dom was going through and continues to go through battling cancer – it truly was nothing.  I just kept my head down, pushed through and “went to work” on my training days.  I didn’t share how I was feeling because hey, I’m not the only one training for a marathon with bumps and bruises.  “Get over it” I would tell myself as I worked to recover before my next training session, all the while knowing that we weren’t “quite right”

But deep down inside, I knew that I was not completely healthy and I would have to tread lightly while preparing for perhaps the largest international marathon in the world. 

There was no PR at Boston (3:22:07) or at Pittsburgh 13 days later (3:42:21) – but I am still very proud of those two efforts and all that they did to help Dom, Val, Sierra and Nico. 

In the past few weeks I have started to feel more like myself.  No more favoring my shin or icing my feet.  I have been getting back to full health and able to push pace without feeling self-conscious about it.  Not worried that I might push too hard and have a set-back, winding up injured. 

I tell you this now, and frankly admit it to myself, to place the small town TX 5K race in the proper context.  For me on Saturday I was racing the 2009 version of me.  And for the first time in several months, I finally felt like I had a shot to win

Pre-Race Dinner

I took a rest day on Friday, although I did break down and cut the grass.  I even prepared my “favorite” pre-training run or pre-race meal of pasta and shrimp tossed in Cajun seasoning and olive oil for dinner the night before.  I hydrated throughout the day on Friday.  I kept my feet up in the evening and turned in early.  If only I could have slept a bit better I thought as I got out of bed at 5:15 a.m. 

So as I woke up on Saturday morning and picked up my friend Neil on the way to the race, I had scribbled down my race plan and played it over and over in my head:  6:18, 6:20, 6:24, :36 over the final .10 which would bring me in at 19:38 and top my PR set 365 days ago by :05 seconds.  Solid plan, very much within my reach if my legs showed up at the starting line. 

We picked up our race packets from the tent about 7:10 a.m. and as I pulled my bib from my bag I saw it. 

Bulls Eye

Number 2. 

Now I like a low number as much as anyone, but not this low.  It’s not as if the Holland, 5K is a seeded race or anything.  But I would have been much more comfortable racing in my #59 from last year, or my #559 from the Congress Avenue Mile.  Number 2 says, “I’m taking this seriously today guys, come and get me.” 

I glanced at my friend Neil’s #94, shook my head and thought to myself, “you know what?  Screw it.” 

You wanted to race this morning Joe – so let’s race. 

I ran a few strides in my trainers and my legs felt great.  I had a lot of spring in my step and ran two quarter-mile “warm-ups” just to get the blood moving in my legs.  I ran on my toes a bit to get my calves and hamstrings stretched and went back to the truck to change into my Brooks T6 Racing flats.  As I slipped on my racers I felt like it was going to be a good day out there.  I just needed to post a fast first mile and put myself in position to post that PR. 

The Holland course is a loop course with a hilly second mile.  If you don’t run a fast first mile it will be hard to make up time at the end of the race when you are fatigued.  I decided to run with music this morning as I had done one year ago and slid close to the starting line as the runners prepared to race. 

Holland, TX 5K Start/Finish Line

I clicked on Steve Earl’s “Hardcore Troubadour” and got ready to roll.  There were a few High-School runners in the starting area and one College runner from the Pac 10 who won the overall title last year with a time of just under 17 minutes.  I knew that they would head out at a pace well under 6:00 minutes/mile – if I could just stay near them through the first mile, I would be well on my way. 

Mile 1:  At the start of the race I found open road and actually led the group out over the first 2/10 of a mile.  I was able to get my leg turnover exactly where I wanted it over the opening distance and fell into my pace.  The faster runners, about 8 of them or so closed on me at the 4/10 of a mile mark and I let them go.  I felt really strong coming up the opening hill and the first mile was going just as I had planned.  It was a hot start to the race, approximately 82 degrees – so managing the heat would be the key for me as the race wore on.  As we got to the first mile marker I glanced down at my GPS on the beep and had turned in a 6:04 opening mile. 

Mile 2:  After a quick first mile, :14 seconds ahead of my race plan I knew that I would have to slow down the pace a bit over mile number 2.  As we made the turn heading out into the country I saw the first of two hills to climb in this section of the course.  I decided that I would allow the hills to slow my pace and I would simply hold steady with my effort.  I passed two runners on the incline and kept the legs churning.  As we discussed earlier this week on the blog with respect to hill running, this is a strength of mine – and my hill training proved once again to pay off. 

I made the turn at the 1.55 mile point and grabbed a cup of water from one of the race volunteers.  I pinched the cup and took just a couple of ounces of water in as I went back to climbing.  The turnaround point at the Holland race is at the bottom of a small hill, which requires runners to turn and then climb back uphill in the direction they had just come from.  It is the first point where you can see who is “chasing” you – and it looked like I was in good shape for my age division.  I did not see anyone on my heels that I would have to worry about at that point. 

We crested the hill and approached the 2nd mile post.  I glanced down in time to see my 2nd mile split on the screen at 6:23.  Just :03 off of my race plan that called for a 6:20 mile number 2.  With the :14 seconds that we had “banked” over the first mile, I was in good shape :11 seconds ahead of my goal. 

Mile 3:  As mile 3 began I passed my friend Neil who was coming at me from the other direction.  He gave me a solid round of claps that told me what place I was in overall and I began my search.  I was looking for a runner that would push me on pace.  I saw a younger runner up ahead who I would later learn was Andy from South Austin. 

There was one last hill to climb before the downhill final 4/10 of a mile and I closed in on the runner ahead.  I briefly worked ahead of him for a tenth of a mile or so.  I was fully aware that when we hit the top of the hill he would come back with a vengeance and take me over on the downhill stretch to the finish. 

It wasn’t about trying to race him – I know however that “chasing” helps me push through the closing portion of a race when my body wants to slow down and “cruise” to the finish.  I used the same strategy at the 3M half-marathon last January and the Congress Avenue Mile in May.  Just having that “rabbit” up ahead really helps me finish strong.  I glanced down at my time for mile 3 at the beep on my watch and read a 6:15 split. 

Final .10:  As planned Andy had pulled away from me and I was left alone to kick to the finish.  The temperature was really climbing just in the 20 minutes that we had been racing.  Full sun was shining directly in the runners eyes as they pushed to the finish.  I was able to hold on to a 5:44 pace through the final .10 miles and finish with a time of 19:28

A new PR, :15 seconds faster than one year ago at the same race over the same course.  

All at the ripe old age of 42 years, 1o months and 19 days. 

I found Andy after the race and chatted with him for a while about the race as I waited for Neil to finish.  Andy passed on “New Dad” tips, something that I am in desperate need of, as he had his first child – a son – in January.  I passed along “first-timer” Boston Marathon tips as Andy will be running his first Boston this coming April.  I hope I helped Andy as much as he helped me today. 

I ran into Kim who I had met at the race last year who organizes the January Marathon in Waco, TX.  A fellow “Marathon Maniac” – she commented on my singlet and we chatted a bit about this winter’s race. 

Shortly thereafter Neil came through the chute finishing with a time 9:00 minutes faster than last year!  Now talk about a PR – great, great stuff. 

We hung around for the raffle – no luck this year – and the awards ceremony, where with a time of 19:28 I took home first place in the Mens 40-44 age group. 

Two-Time Defending Age Group Champion

I have to admit – that trophy is pretty damn cool.  I’m sure you can make a lot of things out of wood, pipe-cleaners and a corn cob – but I don’t think too many of them would be as awesome as the Holland Cornfest Trophy. 

I will absolutely be back next year to try to make it three age group victories in a row.  But on Saturday there was really only one runner that I had in my sights and that was the 2009 version of myself. 

In the end that is what racing really should be all about.  I quickly snapped the photo below of the final runner of the day as he came through the finishing chute.  Jacob Crosby, Age 5 finishing with a time of 1:01:18. 

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t about to turn over my trophy to him or anything.  Jacob took third place in his age group on Saturday.  The participants, the town of Holland, TX and all of the volunteers and spectators came together for a wonderful event.

See you again on the third Saturday in June, 2011.

It’s race week this week as Run for Dom will be taking to the streets of Holland, TX – population 1,115 – on Saturday morning as part of the 36th annual Holland Corn Festival.  We do a lot of things really well here in Texas – but one of my favorite things that helps make such a large place seem much more intimate is the small town festival. 

There is something about seeing small boys and girls decorating their bicycles for a parade, a Main Street overflowing with families, music and of course the smell of barbeque.  My absolute favorite part of the small town festival are the “old-timers”.  I love chatting up a few of the elderly gentlemen who always seem to be at these events sharing stories about the past and how things have changed since “conditioned air”

I like to hear about how towns like Holland who have been celebrating the local cash crop for almost as long as I have been alive have changed over the years, all the while celebrating how much they have stayed the same.  It is good fun for everyone aged 1-100 – and I enjoy being a part of it.

Of course a small town festival would not be complete without a 5K race to kick-off the festivities – and at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning we will be there with our Brooks T6 Racers on our feet looking to run a fast time and hopefully bring home some hardware.

The course is a loop course, an out and back that takes you from Main Street in “downtown” Holland out into the countryside full of corn fields and back.  There are a couple of hills that I would describe as “moderate” mid-course and a slight decline down to the finish line at the end of 3.1 miles.

In 2009 I ran two very technically sound races back to back in May and June.  The 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon 3:17:43 and the Holland, 5K 19:40.  Both remain my PR’s for those two distances.  At Holland last year I posted splits in the 5K of 6:18, 6:17, 6:24 with a closing :41 over the final .10 miles.  I was pretty torched at the end of the race pushing a fast pace over the opening two miles – but all in all that was just about as fast as my then 41 year-old legs could take me.

This year I am a year-older, a year-wiser and a more experienced racer.  I think that the weather on race morning will have as much to do with my chase for a new PR as my fitness level and training will.  The last couple of weeks here in Austin have been very difficult for running.

High morning temperatures and high humidity which just saps your strength and energy.  This Sunday’s run which covered 10 miles was a pretty brutal test of hills, humidity and heat.

Hills:  228 feet of elevation change.

Humidity:  84%

Heat:  80 degrees.

Those conditions conspired to treat me to a time of 1:18:20 (7:50 pace).  One of my “slowest” runs in more than a year, but at the end of a tough seven days of training that included a 5K race on Wednesday night – it was a good run to “finish off” my legs.

This week we will be traveling to Iowa Monday through Wednesday which will hopefully allow for some training in cooler temperatures and then a two-day rest period on Thursday and Friday leading up to race morning in Holland.

I am hoping that the extra rest will help these 42-year-old legs rebound a bit and we can make a run at a new PR on Saturday.  Last year our time was good enough for a first place age-group trophy and a photo with the Holland Cornfest Queen.  I’m hoping for a repeat performance this year – but if that is not in the cards I won’t be too disappointed.

Participants get a Corn Fest T-shirt, a free ear of corn from the Holland Future Farmers of America, Door Prizes and fruit and drinks at the finish.

Best $15 I will have spent in many, many months.

Later in the day there will be a parade, crowning of the queen and duchess, a horseshoe tournament, live music, crafts, barbeque cook-off and of course …. the chicken fly.

I will be posting about the chicken fly next weekend in a post all of its own – as that is something everyone should see at least once.

For a complete schedule of events click here:

So another busy week ahead at Run for Dom – we have a product review on-tap for Tuesday morning, please stop back by for a visit.

Back in January when I was able to finally kick my shin splint issues and really start training seriously for Boston a friend of mine asked me a question that I knew I would eventually have to answer.

“When you’re done with the two marathons for Dom, what are you going to do next?”

At the time I brushed the question aside with a quick, “Well, I’ve got so many things to concentrate on between now and then, I’m really not thinking that far ahead right now.  When I get to that point, I’m sure it will be clear.”

As I’ve said many times before in this space, I truly believe that the only way that I know to reach a “big goal” is to break it down into bite-sized chunks.  What was it that Confucius said – a journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single step?  I really believe that.  If you fixate too much on the “end of the line” not only will you miss out on some really cool stuff along the way, but for some, they simply won’t even try.

If my Marathon training schedule that I placed on the “magic fridge” back in December had 20 weeks of blanks squares on it and simply had a 26.2 on April 19th and another 26.2 on May 2nd – I seriously doubt I would have had a finisher’s medal to hand over to Dom in Pittsburgh.  It was important to map out each and every day between December 28th and May 29th – so that when times got difficult – I knew exactly what I needed to do that day to stay on course and not lose site of the big picture.

For me the process of chasing a challenge is as simple as spending some time developing the plan and then working that plan until you reach your goal.  My experience is that without hard work and “sticktoitiveness” things don’t normally just “work out”.

The world out there is a cruel place – no doubt about it.  It hits harder than anyone or anything out there.  It will knock you down and keep you down if you let it.  So for me it is about always finding a way and a reason to get back up and keep getting back up that separates those who achieve in life from those who do not.

Deep down I have always known that to be true, but seeing the struggles that Dom has gone through over the past year has really galvinized my thoughts on the subject.  Every time another blow has come his way he has taken a breath, gathered his thoughts and his strength and gotten back up.  His resolve and courage has been truly amazing to witness.  I am so very proud to call him a friend.

Lately the hits have been coming a lot more frequently for Dom and his family.  Those hits have also been hitting harder and harder with more force behind them.  Just last week Dom was back in the hospital to have a stent placed in each kidney to relieve pressure that was building up and causing him debilitating back pain.  Going into surgery quite frankly we were all very afraid for Dom in his weakened condition from all of his previous treatments and surgeries.  Once again, Dom fought the good fight, got back up and is back home with his family.

Dom is gathering strength once again for the next round to take the fight back to his cancer and hopefully this time kick it to the curb once and for all.

Even though we have reached our fundraising goal and “Run for Dom” has crossed its finished line – by no means are we done.  Racing this past weekend in Dom’s honor in Austin and then dragging my tail through a 10-mile training run the next day continues to make me feel like I am on the right path.

Marathoners often talk about a “let down” or “post race depression” that occurs after a goal that you had been chasing for close to half a year abrubtly ends as you cross a finish line.  It’s a real thing, you have to trust me on this.  You fixate for so long on a goal that takes you hundreds and hundreds of training miles and countless hours to prepare for – and in a blink of an eye it is over. 

Just as in life it is important to have something to look forward to, another challenge on the horizon.  For me I always schedule four weeks of training after a race so that I recover properly and get back to my base line of weekly running.  Typically 5 run days per week averaging somewhere between 28 and 35 miles. 

From there I can ramp up if I need to for another half or full marathon or I can dial back if I am nicked up a bit and still maintain my fitness level.

This week it is time for me to take down the 24 week training plan I put up on the refrigerator six months ago as I fill in the final square on Sunday with a 12-mile run.  Those six months will have taken us 1,200 miles of biking and running in 2 countries, 10 states and across four finish lines.  That is all fine and well. 

But the next finish line is the one that both Dom and I are concerned with right now.  For Dom it is his next and hopefully final course of treatment to beat this thing once and for all. 

For me it is the next training cycle, a nursery to paint, a child class to take, a day-care to find, foot rubs for Dawn when the TX summer starts to get to her and of course a little title to defend at the Holland, TX 5K.

Holland, TX - June 19, 2010

So to answer the question that my friend asked many months ago, and many of you have asked since, “What’s next?” 

I am going to continue to “do what I do” which is continue to try to be the best friend, husband, father, son and brother I can be.  I will continue to run, blog, tweet, encourage and counsel those who are interested in our sport – and support my good friend in the fight of his life.

That sounds like a lot, and maybe it is.  But there is one thing I know with great clarity and certainty.  The only way to get there is one step at a time.