Sunday, March 11, 2012

What Happens in Vegas...

Two words. "Vegas, baby!"

I got totally hammered this weekend in Las Vegas. But before you get the wrong idea, I'm not talking about binge drinking, pill popping, or staying up all night with Elvis impersonators. No, I am referring to the Red Rock Canyon 1/2 marathon race that I ran this Saturday just outside of Las Vegas in Red Rock National Park.

The course was brutal, at least as far as road races go. The course had about 1,500 ft of elevation gain, including some nasty climbs in the first few miles. The race started out at 3,700 and gradually climbed to over 4,770 by mile 5.

I hadn't planned on running hard. I assumed that it was just going to be a casual local event with a small field -- perfect for a comfortable Saturday morning tempo run. Imagine my surprise when a pack of about 10 runners took off from the gun at sub 6:00 pace.

I let the lead pack go, hoping I would be able to reel some of them in later after the hills and elevation took their toll. And things did take their toll -- on me. Somewhere around mile 5 as I struggled up a nasty hill at 9:00 per mile pace, I started seriously thinking about walking.

Thankfully everyone else seemed to be suffering as well. Finally we reached the turnaround point and finally got some nice downhill running. Somewhere just after mile 10 my mother drove by in her car and waved, giving me just enough of a mental boost to pass the lead woman and her male pacer who I had been slowly reeling in. Luckily my two brothers, Marcus and Erik, were stuck on a slow-moving scenic bus tour and never got a chance to witness just how badly I was suffering.

I ended up finishing 10th overall, and second in my age group. Here are the official results. The times listed on the website appear to be a couple of minutes faster than what I recorded on my Garmin. I think I actually ran 1:35:47, which is about 7:15 pace. Not as fast as I would have liked, but hopefully I can run faster next month at the much flatter Santa Cruz 1/2 marathon -- which will thankfully be at sea level rather than the high desert.

Anyway, here are the Garmin stats:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wow, I Finally Ran a Decent Race Without (Completely) Falling Apart

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength." -- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Well, when I was studying English literature at the University of Michigan I would have never guessed that I would one day be quoting "The Terminator" in a blog. But what the hell, it works. Let me explain (eventually, a bit later in the blog).

But to get us started... This past Saturday I had the pleasure of running 31 miles in the mountains of Pacifica, California on a beautiful sunny day. The weather was perfect. The ocean-cliff views were breath taking (or maybe it was the 7,000 feet of uphill running that took my breath away). And the camaraderie was surprising, and quite enjoyable.

Usually in this type of small, local 50K trail race I find myself running alone for most, if not all of the race. However this weekend was unique in that I ran the first 20-something miles in a pack of four runners including The North Face sponsored runner Leigh Schmitt as well as Dan Rhodes from Half Moon Bay and Jason Perez from Brentwood. It was a lot of fun running together and chatting. It definitely helped pass the time. And it definitely helped me run faster than I would have otherwise run on my own.

My previous personal best on this particular course was 4:48:22 (4th place finish), but I'd also run a 5:08 (1st place) last year on a very cold, windy, rainy, muddy day. My goal going into today was to win the race, and if possible to improve on my previous time.

I didn't win.

But I exceeded my most ambitious "best case scenario". I held on to finish 2nd, just 3 or 4 minutes behind Leigh Schmitt -- a guy who has a 98.1% ranking on, and who finished 7th at Western States in 2009 and who has won dozens of races including Vermont 100. And I took over 21 minutes off my personal best on this course, finishing in 4:27:10. That's an 8:37 per mile pace over a tough course that has over 7,000 feet of elevation gain.

Granted it was a perfect day for running. And I had some great company out on the course. And my wife Amy was there cheering me on! But what I am really proud of is that: a) I ran hard the whole race, 2) I didn't do anything stupid, and 3) I didn't ever "quit" on the race, even after Leigh opened up a nice lead and had things pretty well wrapped up.

In the past I would have likely just shut things down and coasted to the finish, content to hang on to second place. But I didn't quit, and I didn't coast. I kept running (OK, it was probably more "shuffling" than running as I lumbered up the last 2 miles of mountain switchbacks) and I didn't stop fighting until I crossed the finish line. Sure, I felt like I was going to vomit. And yes, I collapsed at the finish and had to be revived with a cold beer. But hey, I raced like I meant it.

And that brings me back to the above quotation about strength not coming from victory, but from struggle. Say what you will about his acting skills, or his fiscal policy as California Governor. But clearly the guy knows what he is talking about when it comes to strength. So hopefully the next time a race isn't going the way I hoped, I will resist the urge to DNF and remember that strength comes from resisting the urge to surrender.

Here's a link to the race results. And here is the Garmin GPS data and stats: