Posts Tagged ‘Steve Speirs’

Sunday morning with the sun still below the horizon in downtown Houston the gun will fire and the sound of 30,000 feet striking the ground will start as runners fire out across the mat at the Chevron Houston marathon.

Or 29,998 feet anyway.

Our two feet will be just starting to mill around the house in Austin, TX.

The bad news is we are still on the shelf from a strained Achilles tendon as our training for the Houston marathon was just entering its final stage and into the taper.

The good news is we are close to being back to running.  Very close.

I have regained the flexibility and a great deal of the strength on my left side.

I can now stand on my left foot only and balance with my right knee pulled up high to my chest like a runner would in a toe-off sprint position.

A week ago I could not balance on my left foot for more than a second.

I can now raise my entire body weight up onto my toes standing just on my left foot.

A week ago I could not.

There is no more “pain” in the Achilles or left foot area – I am close.  Very close.

What remains now is the fear that I am not 100% and the residual doubt about how those first strides are going to feel.  What taking on an incline is going to do to the area, am I going to aggravate the situation further or will I continue to move forward and back to full recovery without setbacks.  The unknown is what is ahead of us.

Runners can’t stand the unknown.

As a group, I think we would rather try and fail then simply never find out – and that is what fuels runners on race day to test their limits.

On Sunday without me there, a 45-year-old runner from Virginia Beach is going to cross that start line and run the race of his life.  His text to me said:

“I’m going for it.  If I blow up, I blow up.  Nothing to lose”.

Typically when I put a training plan together, in the footer of the document I will put an inspirational quote for me to look at every morning when I cross off my run, swim, bike ride, strength training session or rest day.  I read the words and think about them for a moment, helping them build my confidence and focus day after day until race day.

For Run for Dom I had a quote from Steve Prefontaine, for Austin it was a quote from Dom, for Boston last year, Bill Bowerman.

As I put my training plan together for the Pocono Marathon on May 19th in Pennsylvania – I added a new author to the bottom of the page from Virginia Beach.

Steve Speirs – “I‘m going for it.  If I blow up, I blow up.  Nothing to lose.”

Exactly right Steve, my sentiments exactly.  You do your thing on Sunday.  I’ll follow suit on May 19th.

Knock ’em dead my friend, I would give just about anything to be there with you.

It seems that every time we toe the line on race day there is at least one lesson out there to learn.

Just because things during race week don’t necessarily go your way – it doesn’t mean that when the gun fires you can’t just set all of that aside and lay down something special.

Sure getting a cold a few days before race day, taking a cross-country trip after losing your wallet the day before and spending time at the Department of Transportation, calling around to credit card companies and tearing apart your home and truck is not an ideal, calm way to prepare for a tough race.

But as I woke up on Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. and shuffled to the bathroom I was determined to try to set all that “stuff” aside and do what we came here to do. Run our race, put in our last “tough” effort of this training cycle and post one final indicator as to our fitness and training for Boston in four weeks.

I could tell that my cold had broken up a bit more overnight, my nose wasn’t as stuffed up as it had been, and my voice was coming back to me. After a great Italian Dinner with my friends Steve and Ally Speirs the night before, I felt fueled up and ready to race.

I took a hot shower to loosen up the muscles, ate my pre-race bagel, chased it down with grape Gatorade and decided on my race gear. The temperature was just a bit above 50 degrees, with a East/Northeast wind gusting between 12-14 mph.

Not picture perfect race conditions, but coupled with an extremely flat course, I felt like the day would be “neutral”. Not helping runners to quick times, but definitely not restricting them either. It was a fair day on a fair course.

Effort would equal results on a day like today I thought.

Time to go to work.

I threw on a fleece top I bought locally the day before that I would drop at the starting line just before the gun fired and made my way to check my dry bag with warm clothes at the race start.

Being my first experience in VA Beach running a Shamrock event I was very impressed with the job J&A Racing did organizing the event. Great bag-check service. Plenty of porta-potties for the 10,000+ half-marathoners and a very organized coral system for the athletes.

King Neptune overlooking the boardwalk in Virginia Beach

There was the usual mess of runners forecasting faster times that they are capable of running during the registration process to get a spot “up-front” – but that happens at virtually all events where previous race times are not a requirement for seeding.

I decided to start about 25-30runners from the front, thinking that I would more than likely run in the top 60 runners at the end of the day +/-. There was a “dual starting chute” on both sides of the divided road on Atlantic Avenue. 30 deep on my side seemed about right.

Just before it was time to get ready to roll my friend Steve shouted to me and gave me the thumbs up. I returned the gesture and thought to myself, man – this really is what it is all about. I had been listening to some Springsteen in the hotel the night before the race, specifically Jungleland from the Born to Run album.

There is a passage that says – “The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all, they just stand back and let it all be.”

A calmness came over me in the start area and I told myself to just relax, run an even, easy opening mile, sit back and let it all be ….. let the race come to you. Don’t force anything.

The Start: On a countdown from 10, the starters horn blasted and out we went. I had to navigate around a few runners over the opening 400 meters, but quickly I found an even cadence and locked in. My legs felt strong, the air was a bit humid, but racing at sea-level provides some oxygen advantages. I just let the race come to me and ran three very smooth, very even miles:

6:22, 6:24, 6:24.

PR Pace for me in the half-marathon is 6:23 (1:23:55). I was right where I needed to be.

Shore Drive: Just after the start of mile 4 the course turns to the West/Northwest and takes runners up along shore drive. Oddly, moving away from the beach. This was a very lonely stretch of the course where we had caught and passed a dozen runners or so and were now running in a very small group of 2-3 runners.

There is a very slight false-flat through this section – but for the most part a very beautiful and serene part of the race course. The road had a definite camber to it however and I found myself trying to find the “flattest” part of the road to run. After experimenting with the middle of the road and the center of each lane, I settled on the right shoulder. It seemed to be the flattest area.

It would not let me tangent the curves, but it would take pressure off of the lower of my two knees as well as my hips fighting to stay upright. I was willing to sacrifice some added distance for a better footstrike.

I hit the water stop in the middle of this stretch for a quick sip of water. So far my sore throat was not a factor at all, nor was my stuffy nose. All systems were full go.

Splits here were: 6:28, 6:17, 6:22.

Fort Story: We made a right turn to head through the West gate of Fort Story and gradually make the wide arc back towards the finish. The wind from the East was blowing slightly into the face of the runners until the exit of the base at mile 9. I decided to stay as even as possible as we ran through the base – nothing faster, nothing slower – just lock in.

Splits over the next three miles were: 6:21, 6:22, 6:20.

Back on Atlantic: We exited the base back onto Atlantic Avenue and for the first time could see half-marathoners heading towards us coming from the opposite direction, 6 miles behind.

I was able to stay steady through mile 9, but as mile 10 began I was having a hard time keeping my cadence steady. The lack of hills on the course which is a positive in some ways can be a detriment in others. With no changes to your stride length or cadence your legs start to “fall asleep”. I tried to mix up my stride, add a surge every two minutes or so for :15 seconds, but I could feel my pace starting to fall off a bit.

I was still right on PR pace, if I could stay around 6:25 on the way in, I would have a great shot at pulling it out along the boardwalk.

Splits for the next three miles were: 6:21, 6:26, 6:30.

Closing Stretch: As my watch sounded at the mile 12 marker I glanced down and saw a mile above 6:20’s for the first time of the day – I knew it was time to snap out of it and gradually start putting the pedal back down. As we approached the turn off of Atlantic through the loudspeakers that were placed along the curve I heard the familiar drum kick from Max Weinberg and the Fender Stratocaster of the Boss belting out Born to Run.

I smiled.

We made an arching turn at 45th street and entered the boardwalk at 37th. With 1/2 mile to go I started to force the issue just a bit.

On the right I caught a glimpse of Ally, Steve, Shannon and Caroline and saw a big smile come across Steve’s face. “Finish this thing off strong”he said, and I knew I must be looking at a PR with a strong kick.

Closing Kick captured by Ally Speirs

Mile 13 was my fastest mile of the day at 6:16.

I kicked over the mat with a final 1/10 at 5:39 pace.

1:23:46 official time. A new PR by :09.

PR’s don’t come around very often, especially in the middle of a tough marathon cycle. I am proud of this one more than most as it finally knocked down my 3M Half-Marathon time from 2010 set on a notoriously fast, downhill course to second best.

My 10K, Half-Marathon and Marathon PR’s have all been set within the last 6 months, all with that 45th birthday creeping closer and closer.

By the looks of things, that marathon PR stands a good chance of being erased and replaced with a shiny new number in Boston. One lesson I am taking with me next month is that in a long race, forcing the issue and pushing the limits early is NOT the way to go.

April 16th we’re going to do just what we did during the Austin Half in February and the Shamrock Half on Sunday.

Stand back and let it all be.

With New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday this year, the local Resolution Run 5K at St. Phillips Methodist Church was moved to 2:00 p.m. so it would not interfere with Sunday services. The late start time and the need for me to log a long run of 18-20 miles on Sunday conspired to make me unable to participate in this year’s race. We will be back in 2013 for sure as I hated to miss such a great event and one that sets the tone so well for the coming year of training and racing – but I won’t have long to wait to lace up my shoes and race in the new year.

In just a few minutes, I leave for Miami, Florida to race again with my “Where’s the Damn Van?!” teammates in the Ragnar Team Relay Race. This is the same group of crazies that I raced with last February from Wickenburg, AZ to Tempe as part of a 12-person, 2 Van, 200 mile race.

A video recap of last year’s oddessy is here vimeo.com/21041736

This year we are entered as an “ultra” team, meaning that there will only be 6 runners on our team, each running 6 legs instead of 3 as we cover the 199 mile course from Miami, FL to the Florida Keys. The format for the race is the same as one runner puts on the slap band bracelet and heads out onto the course for their leg, while the remaining 5 teammates climb into the van and drive ahead to the next exchange area.

The next runner gets ready and as his/her teammate approaches, the team number is called out by a race volunteer. The slap band is exchanged and the next runner is off. After a short cool down, the runner who just completed their leg hops into the team van and the process is repeated all over again. Over and over and over. There are a total of 36 legs to the race – all of various distances which allow runners of different endurance levels and different abilities to compete with a team. In our case, as an ultra-team of six runners, we will run essentially two legs instead of one every time we take to the course.

I will be running out of the number 1 slot, meaning my assigned legs are:

Leg 1: 5.7 Miles, Leg 2: 4.4 Miles = 10.1 Miles Total

Leg 13: 8.8 Miles, Leg 14: 4.7 Miles = 13.5 Miles Total

Leg 25: 3.0 Miles, Leg 26: 9.1 Miles = 12.1 Miles

Total Total Mileage: 35.7 Miles

Based on the predicted pace of my teammates I should be running at 1:00 p.m., 11:30 p.m. on Friday starting my final leg at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. Our team should complete the 199 mile course in 24-25 hours putting us at the finish line sometime shortly after lunchtime on Saturday.

I heard that down in the keys, every hour is happy hour – I expect our post-race carbohydrate recovery to start shortly after we come through the chute. This is indeed a race, but it is falling in the middle of Boston Training – something that I for one moment am not losing sight of.

The difference between running relaxed and smooth at 7:30-7:35 min./mile pace and pushing it to 7:00’s is about 15 minutes total in a 25 hour race. Simply put, it’s not smart for me to go out there and really try to hammer double-digit length runs every 6-7 hours. I am going to lock in to a comfortable pace and just cruise – using this Ragnar event as an endurance and stamina workout on the way to Boston. After easy running on Monday and Tuesday – I will be taking off completely from running this week on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday – letting my 35.7 miles in Florida push our weekly mileage to just 54 miles – a 10-12 mile reduction from the previous two weeks of training.

Then it will be back to “normal” – whatever that means nowadays as we prepare for The Texas Half Marathon on January 28th – our first in a series of three half-marathons, one each month, on the way to Boston. I am going to let it all hang out on January 28th, just as I will at the Austin Half Marathon in February and the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach in March.

Those three races are going to go a long way in predicting our abilities in Boston this April and whether or not we will be setting our sights on a sub 3 hour attempt or just continuing to move the needle closer to that mark and settle in around 3:05-3:06 after our 3:08:09 effort in New York this November. Big gains at this point are challenging – dropping 7-8 minutes off of a marathon time, which is what I did from Austin to New York was one thing.

Doing it again 6 months later is something else entirely. That would mean I would have shaved off 15 minutes from my marathon PR in 14 months. Starting from a 3:15:01, that is a tall order, but one that I feel we have a legitimate shot at should the remainder of this training cycle go the way it has been going to this point.

Last Tuesday night’s second run of the day was an 8.3 mile tempo run that I completed at 6:25 pace. That run came just 11 hours after 7 miles in the morning at 7:11 pace. We are certainly running strong and fast right now – something that I know I will need to continue to improve on to hold on to that 6:52 pace that we need to break three hours late in the race at Boston. We were able to do so in New York through mile 20 until the last of the bridges took their toll on us.

Boston sets up very differently with the tough climbing between miles 16 and 21, then it is a downhill 5 miles to the finish on Boyleston Street. If we make it up and over heartbreak hill on pace with just 5 miles remaining – we have a real shot in Boston. The next 15 weeks will all be about preparing for those 5 miles.

This week? It comes as a perfect time as training for a marathon is hard. It is physically demanding, which everyone knows – but it is also mentally draining. 109 workouts make up my Boston Training plan. It is tough to “get up” for 109 runs. This opportunity to run with my good friends Thomas, Sean, Jenny, Ally and Steve in sunny Florida to the Keys and take in some amazing sights (One of my legs will take me across the 7-mile bridge) will be as restorative mentally as it will be physically exhausting.

Running over 35 miles in less than 18 hours is not supposed to be easy – add in the van, little to no sleep, poor nutrition – I’m not sure Twizzler and Gatorade is going to cut it this year – and you have a pretty tough physical test. But spending time with the team that I haven’t seen in more than 10 months is going to make it all worth it. Make sure you come back on Monday for a race report – it will certainly be epic.

You can also follow us on Twitter throughout the race at: @TheDamnVan @Joe_RunforDom Below are the various legs that I will be running and the accompanying maps courtesy of the RAGNAR Relay Site. The start times are estimates based on the pace that my teammates and I will be running.

Leg Number One – Start Time 1:00 p.m. Friday

Leg Number Two – Start Time 1:50 p.m. Friday

Leg Number Thirteen – Start Time 11:30 p.m. Friday

Leg Number Fourteen – Start Time 12:45 a.m. Saturday

Leg Number Twenty-Five – Start Time 7:00 a.m. Saturday

Final Leg – Start Time 7:25 a.m. Saturday

Next year Steve Speirs and I are talking about running this as a two-man team – 100 miles each.

Just kidding Dawn.

Wanted to make sure you were still out there reading and paying attention … Seriously, it’s three-man team.

Just kidding.

The last two days have been rest days and after picking up my packet at the expo this afternoon all that stands between me and the starting line here in Denver is Saturday morning’s 2-mile shakeout.

My sister in-law Kim and I are going to take a ride in the morning to run the part of the course that will take us to the highest point of the race at mile 11.5 and then start the descent down to the finish line.

After driving the majority of the course yesterday all I can say is that I think it sets up as a very fair race course.

When you think of racing in Denver, CO most would expect large hills and a lot of topographical challenges.   That does not seem to be the case as the course is much, MUCH flatter than the Decker Challenge half-marathon course back home in Austin.

Now, if you’ve run Decker you are probably saying, “Big deal, everything is flatter than Decker …”

O.K., maybe that is true, but the hills the elevation profile of the Denver half-marathon course shows some areas where climbing is required, but there are also some nice long gradual descents that will allow the runners to pick up time, but not worry about “braking” to slow themselves down, and in turn, stress those quad muscles.

It remains to be seen just how much the altitude affects my ability to hold half-marathon pace on Sunday, but right now, with very cool race temperatures forecasted (38-40 at the start) and very little wind, I think it is shaping up to be a fast day for the runners on Sunday.

I will be running on Saturday morning at 6:55 a.m. locally, the same time as the race start on Sunday to dial-in and “dress rehearse” for race day.  The top of the park tomorrow is going to be the point in the race where I start to click the turnover just a bit faster and really try to let it all hang out over the final 1.5 miles.

After reviewing the course map again this afternoon and replaying the mental pictures I took yesterday I have arrived at my race plan.

Miles 1-3 – Relaxed/Controlled ~6:35

Miles 4-7 – Lock it in ~6:30

Miles 8-11.5 – Hang tough ~6:25

Miles 11.5 – Finish – Let it all hang out ~6:20?

So, we’re going to go for the negative split, hard charging strategy and see just how much we can push it down the stretch.

Regardless of my overall time, finishing this race with my hair on fire is what I am looking for in Denver.  It will be the perfect way to wrap up these last three weeks of racing and move into the final 4 weeks of preparations for New York.

I want to feel the wind in my face and my legs churning as my friend Steve Speirs likes to say, “closing like a freight train”.

If you’re on the side of the road over the final mile, be on the lookout for a bright yellow brooks singlet flashing by – it’s going to be quite a final mile on Sunday.

There are race reports and then there are race reports.

They say that a picture paints a thousand words – and that may very well be the way to go on this one.

How exactly do you capture what transpires over a race covering 200 miles through the Arizona Desert over 25 hours and 47 minutes?  I could write for hours and hours and never fully capture what the Ragnar Del Sol Team Ultra-Marathon was “truly like”.

Looking back at photos from the Friday to Saturday race, I see a lot of smiles, good friends helping and encouraging each other and celebrating finishing what was truly a grueling race.

I see the van that I spent 25 hours living in with my teammates, running leg after leg of a race, hour after hour with very little in the way of real food, virtually no rest and absolutely no sleep.

But when it was time to get back out there and “do my thing”, my legs somehow answered the bell every time I asked them to.  It was a truly wonderful experience and one that I hope I get a chance to do again next year.

I remember after my first marathon that I thought that I might not ever run another one.  That was how beat up and hurt I was after Philadelphia in 2006.  I needed to rehab my IT Band injury, train much harder and smarter and returned to the marathon 18 months later.

This being my first “ultra” experience, our team was talking about a return to another relay event while this race was still unfolding.  That is how much fun we were having and how much we were enjoying the challenge. 

Not just through the 20-20 vision of post-race rose colored glasses.  But we were actually talking about another race like this during the heat of the battle.  That is how I knew that I was a part of something that was truly special as it was unfolding. 

Maybe we would run the next one from Miami to the Florida Keys or a race on the East Coast.  Who really knows, but I won’t be forgetting this experience for a long, long time.

Arrival in Arizona:

Team members flew in to Arizona on Thursday from Baltimore, VA Beach, Austin, Houston, Dallas and Cincinnati to meet up with our teammates from the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.

After settling in at our host family’s home – Kimberly and Michael Miller a few of us went for an easy run to loosen up a bit after traveling.  I had not run since the Austin Marathon on Sunday, but I did ride 9 miles on Tuesday and 15 miles on Wednesday on the tri-bike to keep my legs moving a bit.

I was not sure how my legs would respond only 4 days after the marathon, but the chance to run with my good friend Steve Speirs was too good to pass up.  Steve has helped me so much this last year improve as a runner – it would be a great opportunity to turn in some easy miles and chat a bit in person.

Thomas and Michael settled in behind us, Kimberly, Nina and Eddie in a group behind them.

We ran a relaxed pace 7.8 miles through the desert area behind the Millers home.  A great trail with some uphill and downhill stretches which allowed me to go easy through all of my “gears”.  My legs actually felt refreshed and we clicked along around 8:20 min./mile pace.

Friday night was spent with the team at the Millers who were gracious enough to feed and house the team.   Pre-race dinner consisted of pasta, bread, salad and a few adult beverages to make sure our carbohydrate tank was full and it was time to get a little sleep.  This would be the last bit of sleep I would get until Saturday night.

Remember, this is THURSDAY.

Race Day:

Friday morning we packed up our belongings and got ready for the drive of about 1 ½ hours up to the start in Wickenburg, AZ.

Packing up on race morning

Before we got going we had to decorate the Van that we would be spending the next day and a half in.

Van Decorating - Sean, Thomas, Joe, Steve and Brian

Team Where’s The Damn Van?! Actually consisted of two “Vans”.  Half of our team was in van 1 (actually 7 runners) and the remaining teammates would race out of van 2.

There were a total of 36 legs to be run from start to finish covering 200 miles of the race course.  Being the 1st runner, I had the honor of running the first leg of the race out of the start area and then would hand off to the second runner on our team Jenny Jowdy.  Jenny would run leg two, pass the slap-wrist baton to Steve Speirs and he would head out onto the course.

Steve would pass to Kimberly, Kimberly to her husband Michael, Michael to Sean Brown and then Sean would pass to Thomas Neuberger.

That would wrap up our Van’s legs and we would then drive on ahead and allow Van #2 to run their legs of the race.

At the end of leg 12 it would be time for me to jump back in and lead our van back out through the same process.

We would do this through three complete cycles – every runner on team Where’s the Dan Van?! Would run three times for a total of 36 legs covering the 200 mile course.

Team "Where's The Damn Van?!"

Being my first experience of a race of this kind, I really went into it not knowing at all what to expect.

Running the event only 5 days after the Austin Marathon also had me a bit “anxious” regarding how I would hold up over 3 legs totaling about 19 miles through the mountainous desert of Arizona in the span of only 18 hours.

Shout out to Dom

We got the van decorated, loaded up and made our way to Wickenburg.  Upon arriving on-site, my nervousness was quick to leave as I pinned our race team bib to my shorts and went for a short ½ mile warm-up.  The rhythm of “race day” took over and I started to feel strong and powerful once again.

This was my first opportunity to log a little bit of time in our team “Singlet” and bright orange calf sleeves that were graciously donated to our team members from the folks at Zensah.  You might recall my review of their compression sleeves from last year when I was coming back from my shin splint pain – found here.Once again, their product worked like a charm and kept my legs feeling fresh throughout the Ragnar Del Sol race.  The optic orange color also played well through the desert as we were able to spot our teamates as they approached each exchange area. 

My first leg was 8.6 miles out of Wickenburg.  1.5 miles slightly downhill, then 7 miles of climbing up 574 feet.  I like to climb on race day, I feel like it helps me gain an advantage over runners who may be a little bit “faster” than I am on the flats.  Sure they might be able to run 6:30 pace on flat ground, but can they run 6:50 pace through the hills? 

Time to find out.

Sean and Joe Pre Race

The Start – 1:00 p.m. MST

As I entered the starting area I milled around a bit with the other runners and got to chatting with two in particular.  One was very gracious and friendly, the other very standoffish and perhaps even a tad arrogant.  Interesting I thought, but I did not pay much mind to him.  He was quick to tell me that he planned on locking in at 6:30 pace throughout the leg.  “Nothing too strenuous” as he put it.

I thought that he was either an incredible runner or had not looked very closely at the course map.

I replied, “wow, 6:30 up the incline would be a tremendous effort.”

To which he replied, “not really, I’m not too worried about it.”

I filed that away for later and figured I would see him on the hills.

Ever since the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2010 I’ve shared with you here that I’ve felt the need to crouch down out of the eye-line of the other runners to just “take a moment” to remember Dom.  It helps settle me a bit and focus in on doing my very best, no matter what that means on that particular day.

The shot below was taken just before the start of the race.

At the horn we took off out of the starting area.

Time to do this thing.

I had thought about just cruising at 7:15 pace over the first leg, but after my discussion pre-race in the chute with our fellow competitor I wanted to stay in contact with him through the opening 1.5 miles.  If I could hang in until the hills started I liked my chances of passing him by.

Runner up front was my target to keep close

The leg took us 8.66 miles featuring a pretty serious climb for 4 miles from an elevation of about 2,300 feet to just over 2,700.  I tried not to get too caught up in the moment and remember that:

  1. You just ran a marathon 5 days ago.
  2. You have to run two more legs after this one in the next 18 hours.

Mile 1:  6:23 – Not my smartest moment.

I settled back down pretty quickly and turned in a second mile at 6:41 pace before the climb.

Heading uphill I focused on staying smooth and consistent with my effort and started to reel in the runners ahead of me.

Notice our friend falling back behind

Mile 3:  7:02

Mile 4:  7:09

At the mid-point of the climb heading to the top I saw “The Damn Van” parked on the right shoulder of the road and my teammates on the shoulder that I was running along.  They were there to shout encouragement and to ring our cow-bell.  Even our Gnome, who we brought along for the ride, Jean Claude Damn Van was with them.

Seeing the Team on the left

It was so great to see them cheering me on as I passed by.  When I pulled even I asked for a sip of water and being the first runner of the day, we clearly had not thought that part of the process out.  No water on the side of the road.

Our driver Brian, who had just run his first marathon in Austin on Sunday himself ran over to the Damn Van, grabbed his water bottle from the cup holder and was good enough to give me a couple of quick squirts.  Just enough to wet my lips and keep on climbing.

Mile 5:  7:06

Mile 6:  7:02

Mile 7:  7:16

I finally reached the top of the route at 2,741 feet, which would be the highest point along the 200 mile race.  It felt great to kick over the top and let my speed match my effort on the way down.

Mile 8:  6:41

Last .66 Miles – 6:41 pace.

My time over the opening leg was 59:48, 6:54 min./mile, the third runner to reach the exchange area.  Solid opening leg I thought as  slapped the timing baton around Jenny’s wrist she ran off into the desert.

Team Support:

The next few hours would be spent repeating the same routine.

Drive to the exchange area and ready our next runner for their leg.

Cheer in our teammate and watch the exchange.

Speed ahead half-way through the route to encourage the runner on the course and offer water to them.

Hand off to Steve "British Bulldog" Speirs

Drive to the exchange area for the next hand off.

Our team was able to quickly find our groove in this process with the sun dropping in the West.  The race temperatures were just about perfect as we were able to run with the sun falling behind us showing off a tremendous sunset.

Sunset on Day 1

Once we completed our final van leg we picked up Thomas after he ran leg number 7 and sped ahead toward Surprise, AZ where I would be running leg #13 of the race after Van #2 ran their opening legs.

We were able to find a Pei Wei for dinner and ducked in to enjoy our first real bathroom break in more than 7 hours, wash up and grab dinner.

I opted for some Shrimp Lo Mein which honestly did not really sit too well with me – but nothing as bad as the Mongolian Beef that Jenny J. ordered for dinner.  One smell of her leftovers a couple of hours later and we had to get that take-out box as far away from the “Damn Van” as possible.  That thing was going to be smelly enough in another 18 hours, we didn’t have to help it along with Mongolian Beef.

I had hoped to catch a quick nap before my next leg began, but I simply could not relax enough to doze off.  After changing into clean running cloths, my reflective vest and headlamp we made our way over to the exchange point to take over for Van #2.

Leg #2 – 10:45 p.m. MST

Nina Approached down the sidewalk toward our group and the volunteers called out our team number – “326 approaching!”

Our handoff was not the smoothest and somehow I ran off with one of Nina’s gloves that fell to the ground, but quickly I had the legs moving again into the night. 

I’m not a night runner, and I thought that this would be my most difficult leg.  I knew I would be out of my routine and my body would feel a bit out of sorts.  The other thing I was fighting was a bit of soreness on the inside of my left knee.

It started to bother me a bit on the opening leg, just some inflammation and irritation, but it was there for sure.  I had run a lot of miles over the last few months and just completed a tough Austin Marathon course the previous Sunday.  I expected some soreness and it had arrived.  I just wanted to find a pace that felt “the best” and lock in to that pace.

For the first time in a long time I was running next to another runner.  Being a night leg with a few turns we chatted about the route and whether or not we really knew where we were going.  He told me he wanted to just hang with me as two heads are better than one and I couldn’t disagree.

We hovered right around 7:15 min./mile over the first warm-up mile, but my knee was barking at me.  I told him I was going to search for something more comfortable and unfortunately he wasn’t able to hang with me after the 1.5 mile mark.

I was alone again making the turn onto North Sunrise Boulevard heading off into the night.

Just past mile 3 however I saw my teammates once again on the left.  They had brought along water and Gatorade for me to choose from and a whole lot of wooting as I passed by.  I grabbed a few quick tugs on the water bottle and sped down the road toward our next exchange point.

I had told my friend Lara that I was looking forward to this leg prior to the race which was true.

I knew it would more than likely be a very peaceful part of the night for me and I could reflect on Dom and on the Austin Marathon.  Without really knowing it my pace quickened over the course of this leg and I found myself really pushing hard as I approached Jenny J. at the exchange point.

Mile splits were:  7:14, 7:05, 6:51, 6:56, 6:50, 6:47, 6:27.

My time over the second leg was 48:13, 6:54 min./mile once again, spot on with our opening leg.

Team Support Part Two:

Jenny J. ran off into the night and wrapped up her leg just after Midnight.  We had 5 more runners to go and we hopped right back into our routine.

Due to an accident last year at Ragnar Del Sol on the course the race directors had decided that there would be no “van support” overnight.  This means that we would not be able to pull off on the side of the road and cross back and forth offering water to the runners.

Great move from a safety standpoint, but it definitely made things a bit lonelier out there for the runners.

Steve Ran a tremendous trail section of the course at blistering pace.  Kimberly, Michael, Sean and Thomas turned in wonderful efforts and around 4:00 a.m. or so, Van #1 was back off of the clock.

We drove on toward Cave Creek, AZ and the next exchange area in the wee hours of the morning.  Perhaps this would be the time when I could catch a little sleep.

Leg #3 – 6:45 a.m. MST:

I changed into fresh running clothes and ate one of the bagels that we had in the Damn Van.  To this point since our ill-fated Pei-Wei decision, I had pretty much been going on Twizzler, Girl Scout Cookies and Snyder’s Honey Wheat Pretzels.  Mix in a few bottles of Gatorade and you have the real breakfast of champions.

We stopped at a gas station to fill up the Damn Van prior to my leg and I purchased a devils food doughnut for after my last leg.  I thought it would be just the sugary reward to get me moving over the final miles.

This run would again be an uphill run, but nothing like the first leg of the race.  Only 3.58 miles in total distance, just a bit longer than a 5K.  But I would have to climb 191 feet over the first 2.5 miles before a nice downhill finish for my Ragnar Del Sol miles.

After this leg I chatted with Steve about how I had found my perfect rhythm for the leg almost immediately.  This doesn’t happen very often for runners as it usually takes the better part of a half-mile for your breathing to settle in and the timing to get in sync with your stride and cadence.

For whatever reason, perhaps it was due to the fact I had gone on three runs in less than 18 hours, I found my groove almost immediately.

As I started to climb we at this point had caught up to a lot of teams that had started the Ragnar Del Sol race much earlier than we had.

The race is designed so all teams regardless of their pace finish about the same time in the end.  The first teams started as early as 7:00 a.m. on Friday.  “Where’s the Damn Van?!” started at 1:00 p.m. with 16 other teams.  The last teams started at 3:00 p.m.

As we reached the later exchange areas we came upon runners and teams we had yet to see, I passed 13 runners to the top of the hill at 2.5 miles, then pressed on to finish off the run.

7:16, 7:01, 6:26 and 6:06 pace over the final .58 miles.

My time over my final leg was 24:17, 6:46 min./mile pace.  I had saved my best running for last.

Last Leg in the Books

Being the first runner on our team it also meant I was the first runner to finish.  I climbed into the van with a big smile on my face and devoured my doughnut reward, chased by what must have been my 7th or 8th bottle of Gatorade.

Runner after runner clicked off their final legs and after Thomas wrapped things up for our group around 10:45 a.m. we drove in to Tempe where van number two would wrap things up for team “Where’s the Damn Van?!”.

The Finish – 2:47 p.m. MST

We had just enough time to check into our hotel in Tempe, drop bags, change back into our team uniforms and head over to the finish.

A walk around the grounds, a Cheeseburger, a brief relaxing stretch on a hill and more laughs about the miles we had covered over the past 24 hours.

At just before 3:00 p.m. we saw Nina chugging down the homestretch to the finish.

Our team hopped out onto the last 1/10 of a mile of the course and we all ran in together as the theme from the TV show Batman was blaring over the speakers.  Normally I would be curious about the choice of music, but after no sleep for close to 33 hours at this point – I didn’t have the energy to ask anyone.

Like the end of any race, finisher’s medals were distributed, photos taken and a lot of smiles and hugs exchanged.

Joe, Steve and Jean Claude

Team “Where’s the Damn Van?!” finished in 19th place overall out of the 306 teams to start and finish the event.  24 teams never made it to the start, 5 did not finish.  Pretty darn good showing for our first effort at such a race.  I have the feeling that “Where’s the Damn Van?!” will be reassembling in the future for another Ragnar Race in 2012.

Team Photo

Post Race:

Steve, Thomas, Jenny and Sean stayed in Tempe for the night as we had early flights out in the morning.  Eddie from Van #2 made the trip with us to the Car Wash to have “The Damn Van” washed and all the paint removed.

I could write another blog post about just this episode as I’m not sure the workers at the car wash knew what exactly to make of this paint covered smelly van that they needed to clean …. Pretty classic.

We hit downtown Tempe for drinks, dinner and a little frozen yogurt and finally climbed into bed around 11 p.m.  The first opportunity for sleep I had in the last 42 hours.

For those of you who remember the movie My Cousin Vinnie – at 2:30 a.m. a freight train roared past our hotel blowing its air horn at maximum volume and we all were jarred out of our deep sleep.  All I could muster was the word, “Seriously?” – which was met with tired chuckles from my roommates Sean, Steve and Thomas.

A few hours later we were on airplanes flying back toward our hometowns, wives and kids.

This week I am taking a full week away from running.

I can’t remember the last time I had 7 days off consecutively.  I think it will be good for me physically as I allow this knee issue to calm down a bit, but even more importantly I need a little break from training from a mental standpoint.

We are only 2 months into 2011 and already I’ve run a half-marathon, full marathon and a relay ultra marathon with two large 10K races on the schedule at the end of March.

It’s time.  I need a chance to reload a bit, recover some and get my mind back into training.

I am going to enjoy my downtime, reflect on some great running and racing and start evaluating what I need to do to improve.

I had a great opportunity to chat with some great runners this week, download a lot of information and chat with my good friend Steve about his approach to running.  I have some ideas about what my spring and summer workouts will be like leading up to training for the NYC Marathon in November.

I am going to ratchet things up a notch once again just as I did last year at this time and get ready to run my best ever marathon.  I know I have a great race in me.  One that once and for all will show me exactly the type of marathoner that I can be.

I caught a tough break with the weather at Austin last Sunday.  That’s just the way it goes sometimes.  But there will be another race day for me, another crack at that 3 hour marathon. 

So start spreading the news – NY, NY. – Maybe that will be the day on November 6th.

Read more about Ragnar Del Sol from my teammates:

Steve Speirs – by clicking HERE.

Sean Brown – by clicking HERE.

 

With New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday this year, the local Resolution Run 5K at St. Phillips Methodist Church was moved to 2:00 p.m. so it would not interfere with Sunday services.  The late start time and the need for me to log a long run of 18-20 miles on Sunday conspired to make me unable to participate in this year’s race.

We will be back in 2013 for sure as I hated to miss such a great event and one that sets the tone so well for the coming year of training and racing – but I won’t have long to wait to lace up my shoes and race in the new year.

Next Wednesday I leave for Miami, Florida to race again with my “Where’s the Damn Van?!” teammates in the Ragnar Team Relay Race.  This is the same group of crazies that I raced with last February from Wickenburg, AZ to Tempe as part of a 12-person, 2 Van, 200 mile race.

This year we are entered as an “ultra” team, meaning that there will only be 6 runners on our team, each running 6 legs instead of 3 as we cover the 199 mile course from Miami, FL to the Florida Keys.

The format for the race is the same as one runner puts on the slap band bracelet and heads out onto the course for their leg, while the remaining 5 teammates climb into the van and drive ahead to the next exchange area.

The next runner gets ready and as his/her teammate approaches, the team number is called out by a race volunteer.  The slap band is exchanged and the next runner is off.  After a short cool down, the runner who just completed their leg hops into the team van and the process is repeated all over again.

Over and over and over.

There are a total of 36 legs to the race – all of various distances which allow runners of different endurance levels and different abilities to compete with a team.

In our case, as an ultra-team of six runners, we will run essentially two legs instead of one every time we take to the course.  I will be running out of the number 1 slot, meaning my assigned legs are:

Leg 1:  5.7 Miles, Leg 2:  4.4 Miles = 10.1 Miles Total

Leg 13:  8.8 Miles, Leg 14:  4.7 Miles = 13.5 Miles Total

Leg 25: 3.0 Miles, Leg 26:  9.1 Miles = 12.1 Miles Total

Total Mileage:   35.7 Miles

Based on the predicted pace of my teammates I should be running at 1:00 p.m., 11:30 p.m. on Friday starting my final leg at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.  Our team should complete the 199 mile course in 24-25 hours putting us at the finish line sometime shortly after lunchtime on Saturday.

I heard that down in the keys, every hour is happy hour – I expect our post-race carbohydrate recovery to start shortly after we come through the chute.

This is indeed a race, but it is falling in the middle of Boston Training – something that I for one moment am not losing sight of.

The difference between running relaxed and smooth at 7:30-7:35 min./mile pace and pushing it to 7:00’s is about 15 minutes total in a 25 hour race.  Simply put, it’s not smart for me to go out there and really try to hammer double-digit length runs every 6-7 hours.

I am going to lock in to a comfortable pace and just cruise – using this Ragnar event as an endurance and stamina workout on the way to Boston.  After easy running on Monday and Tuesday – I will be taking off completely from running this week on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday – letting my 35.7 miles in Florida push our weekly mileage to just 54 miles – a 10-12 mile reduction from the previous two weeks of training.

Then it will be back to “normal” – whatever that means nowadays as we prepare for The Texas Half Marathon on January 28th – our first in a series of three half-marathons, one each month, on the way to Boston.

I am going to let it all hang out on January 28th, just as I will at the Austin Half Marathon in February and the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach in March.  Those three races are going to go a long way in predicting our abilities in Boston this April and whether or not we will be setting our sights on a sub 3 hour attempt or just continuing to move the needle closer to that mark and settle in around 3:05-3:06 after our 3:08:09 effort in New York this November.

Big gains at this point are challenging – dropping 7-8 minutes off of a marathon time, which is what I did from Austin to New York was one thing.  Doing it again 6 months later is something else entirely.  That would mean I would have shaved off 15 minutes from my marathon PR in 14 months.

Starting from a 3:15:01, that is a tall order, but one that I feel we have a legitimate shot at should the remainder of this training cycle go the way it has been going to this point.  Last Tuesday night’s second run of the day was an 8.3 mile tempo run that I completed at 6:25 pace.

That run came just 11 hours after 7 miles in the morning at 7:11 pace.

We are certainly running strong and fast right now – something that I know I will need to continue to improve on to hold on to that 6:52 pace that we need to break three hours late in the race at Boston.

We were able to do so in New York through mile 20 until the last of the bridges took their toll on us.

Boston sets up very differently with the tough climbing between miles 16 and 21, then it is a downhill 5 miles to the finish on Boyleston Street.  If we make it up and over heartbreak hill on pace with just 5 miles remaining – we have a real shot in Boston.

The next 15 weeks will all be about preparing for those 5 miles.

This week?  It comes as a perfect time as training for a marathon is hard.  It is physically demanding, which everyone knows – but it is also mentally draining.  109 workouts make up my Boston Training plan.  It is tough to “get up” for 109 runs.

This opportunity to run with my good friends Thomas, Sean, Jenny, Ally and Steve in sunny Florida to the Keys and take in some amazing sights (One of my legs will take me across the 7-mile bridge) will be as restorative mentally as it will be physically exhausting.

Running over 35 miles in less than 18 hours is not supposed to be easy – add in the van, little to no sleep, poor nutrition – I’m not sure Twizzler and Gatorade is going to cut it this year – and you have a pretty tough physical test.  But spending time with the team that I haven’t seen in more than 10 months is going to make it all worth it.

Make sure you come back on Monday for a race report – it will certainly be epic.

You can also follow us on Twitter throughout the race at:

@TheDamnVan

@Joe_RunforDom

Below are the various legs that I will be running and the accompanying maps courtesy of the RAGNAR Relay Site.  The start times are estimates based on the pace that my teammates and I will be running.

Leg Number One – Start Time 1:00 p.m. Friday

Leg Number Two – Start Time 1:50 p.m. Friday

Leg Number Thirteen – Start Time 11:30 p.m. Friday

Leg Number Fourteen – Start Time 12:45 a.m. Saturday

Leg Number Twenty-Five – Start Time 7:00 a.m. Saturday

Final Leg – Start Time 7:25 a.m. Saturday

Next year Steve Speirs and I are talking about running this as a two-man team – 100 miles each.

Just kidding Dawn.  Wanted to make sure you were still out there reading and paying attention …

Seriously, it’s three-man team.

Just kidding.