Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TCM Race Report Pt II

TCM Race Report Pt II

Pt II is less about the race and more about the experience. TCM was not on the radar as summer rolled around. A number of friends were already signed up but I had my sights set instead on a couple of trail ultras for the fall. Those being the Bass Pro Dogwood Canyon 50k in Lampe, MO and the Rock Creek Lookout Mt 50 Miler in Tennessee. Things changed. I spent some time in Joplin, our former hometown, following the devastating May tornado. A humbling experience. My first day back in NWA my buddy Brian and I went for a run. He suggested TCM again for the umpteenth time. After the run we stopped at Rush Running for a visit and Mike Rush was in the house. He got on me about joining the group headed North to Minnesota. I decided to jump in with them. A couple of hours later Mike sent a message that the marathon was full and registration was closed. I thought I was off the hook. No deal. Mike suggested I contact the RD and give some sob story. I didn't need a story. I had been in Joplin cleaning up after the F5 tornado and missed my chance to register. But I did email the race admin and quickly got a reply from a staffer named Lindsey. She explained that every staff member is given a guaranteed entry for each of the events Twin Cities in Motion organizes throughout the year for personal use or to give to a family member or friend. For the marathon she wanted to give me her spot. Back on the hook I go. 
This once normal American neighborhood was wiped off the earth by the tornado but pride still pulsed through these resilient Joplin residents. 

The Boomtown Half scheduled for 6/11/11 was cancelled due to the tornado. Starting in 2012 it will be named the Joplin Memorial Run. So instead of running the race hundreds of runners and volunteers showed up for a Day of Service on race day. That's me in the area just East of the Joplin High School in front of what was once a house. The effort was harder than any two hour run but so much more rewarding. 

The impromptu duct tape job at Joplin High School still stands. Eagle Pride. 

A training plan was hatched and we began the grind of pounding the pavement in what turned out to be a record setting heat wave and drought through the summer. The long runs were not fun. Monday nights at the track for weeks working on speed and strength. Tempo runs and hill work at Crystal Bridges and Slaughter Pen. Needless to say I went through a load of nuun tablets and developed a love of S! Caps (electrolytes on the go) and Slather (to prevent blisters and chaffing). I logged my first 60 mile week (twice) and completed some pretty good back to back long runs and discovered the joy of foam rolling. I took part in some great tune up races in the area and felt confident about my conditioning as the Summer came to a close. But the best part was being able to spend plenty of time with some fantastic NWA runners out on the roads. 

As departure for Twin Cities approached my knee began to rebel and my travel partner, Jason Knight (sub 3 hour marathoner), came down with a wicked case of PF in one foot. Jason nursed it for a while but decided the best course of action for him would be to sit this one out. My knee (torn lateral meniscus) was uber swollen and stiff. I considered doing the same as Jason. With two weeks left to go I settled on just chillin' and seeing what happened with the knee. Dr. Roeder at Maximum Performance did his best to help things along and the foam roller was put into overdrive. I managed five runs and 32 miles the last 14 days and that was it. But with each day the knee felt better. But I needed a new travel partner. Robert Standridge and I ended up stuck with one another. Room, check. Vehicle, check. Map, check. 

We met out at our farm at 5 AM, packed the Mazda and set off. The plan was to meet up with Brian and his family on the road and caravan up together. Somewhere in the dark between Bella Vista and Joplin we passed Brian and never saw him again but we stayed in contact via calls and texts. We stopped every couple of hours to stretch the legs. Made it to KC pretty quickly and rolled on towards Des Moines. Stopped for lunch in West Des Moines looking for the Quizno's but couldn't find it. We decided on Fuddrucker's and paid $12 for crappy burgers (mine was a veggie burger). Next a stop a Trader Joe's across the road for snacks and back in the car. Iowa is damn boring to drive through. Lots of corn. And more corn. Long story short, we get to St. Paul and unload into the hotel about 5:30 that evening. While checking in Robert is told that the room he reserved is a king with a pull out bed. Wrong answer. The reservation was for a double. No dice. That is the only room available. I volunteer to take the pull out and we head up to the room. But not before I plead my case with the clerk. I explained how we had just driven 12 hours from Arkansas for the marathon. While I was OK with sleeping on a pull out bed tonight, it sure would be nice to sleep in a real bed the night before the race. She said she would see what she could do for us. Quickly drop our crap and head over to the expo for packet pick up. 

We get our essentials and walk through checking the booths. All the typical fare. Lots of running gear, upcoming races, training programs. I did get a cup of coffee and a Chobani yogurt. Then I saw the RockTape booth. I decided to inquire about taping for my knee. Before long I had a new, bright red tape job on. It must have looked good because next thing I know Robert is standing in line for one. Leave the expo, find supper at a local pizzeria and back to the hotel. As we are walking past the front desk we're told that we have a new room for the next night. A double. Nice. And good thing too because that pull out SUCKED! However, breakfast rocked (fresh waffle, cereal, hard boiled egg, banana, oatmeal, orange juice and a coffee). For most of the day we chilled, watching football, a nap and then changed rooms. 

That evening we met the entire group for a pre-race meal at The Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown Minneapolis. The food was good and the company better. Thanks to Mike & Ali for taking care of the arrangements. And yes, I did drive on the rail tracks and down a one way road. Back to the hotel, prep all the race day gear, watch a little baseball (Go Rangers!) and catch some sleep. Morning broke about 5:30 for the 8 AM start. Chilly, about 41 degrees. A little breakfast (banana and some nuun) and we head out to the pick up point for the bus ride over to the start at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. We arrived about 6:45 and found a spot inside along the lower level walkway to stay warm and relax. I just walked around taking in the sights and sounds of first timers and grizzled veterans as I enjoyed my Rockstar Espresso energy drink. At 7:15 I down my Vespa and at 7:45 finish off my Access shake. I found Brian and Jesse, my running partners for the start, and headed out. On the way Brian had to pee, always does. The line to the Port-o-Pots was long so he found a white truck and stood from view behind it. Looked like he urinated two quarts. Like lemmings, we followed the crowd to the line and our corral. We stand and listen to some pre-race chatter on the PA. Brian has to pee, again. He sees a dumpster next to the start and heads that way. Must be contagious because Jesse heads behind him and then I have to go. We worked our way towards the front of corral #2 and I watched in amusement as an assortment of clothing (jackets, shirts, gloves, hats...) were being pulled off and thrown to the side over the fence. I consumed a Power Gel (tangerine flavor) and nearly gagged. First time trying that flavor and the last. My gear consisted of my Rush Racing singlet, Brooks Racer ST shoes, Pearl Izumi shorts, Asics compression briefs, Balaga socks, Zensah calf sleeves, my Inca Runners hat (thank you Hugo!), shades, Garmin 305, 4 GU gels (plain), a Vespa Ultra and a few S! Caps. 

The gun sounds for corral #1 and we move forward finalizing our pace strategy. The decision was made to stick together for the first 2-3 miles, going easy to warm up. No sense in fighting the crowd and wasting energy trying to run around folks. Handshakes and words of encouragement are exchanged. The music is blaring, we toe the line and BANG! we are off. Only took maybe a minute, if that, to cross the mat and start the journey. Quickly people are losing things: gels and energy bars, here and there someone is stopped dead adjusting an iPod or fiddling with that. We pick a line and roll out. As expected there are numerous folks blasting past us but we hold our pace. Within a half mile though Brian looks froggy and begins to pull away. Jesse and I hold fast. My hands are getting cold. I hate cold hands. I search the ground and sure enough find a pair of discarded gloves in short order. Grab 'em up and pull them on. These were truly a throw away pair as they were a mismatch. No worries, they filled the bill and my hands were happy. By now we have lost sight of Brian. By the time we hit the neighborhood about mile 2 we're both warmed up and feeling pretty good. My knee seems OK and Jesse's hamstrings (which had been an issue for a few weeks) were doing fine as well. We kept a rock steady pace at 8:50 per mile through the first several miles and were making serious efforts to run the tangents on the course. Along the way we picked up Dave and Amy, both runners from NWA. I had done a number of training runs with Amy and knew she would be a good fit into our group. 

About mile 10 I need to pee so I start doing recon on the port-o-pots along the course. All of them have lines. I don't want to lose my group and time this early so I soldier on. It quickly becomes a pressing matter. So I begin to scope the trees and bushes along the route. Unfortunately this part of the course runs through a large park area and there are spectators everywhere. I consider peeing in my shorts. No big deal. However, the thought occurs to me that it would probably run down my leg and into my shoes. Then there I'd be running with squishy shoes that smelled of urine for 15 miles. Approaching the halfway point I see my chance at the aid station ahead of us. I declare my intentions and pick up the pace to get ahead of the group. Just as I approach the port-o-pot and of course it is already occupied. So I step over to the table for some water and return. The pit stop maybe cost me two minutes in total. Back on the road I drop my pace for a mile or so before I catch sight of my group ahead of me and backed off the pace a bit. It took about 2.5 miles to hook back up with Jesse, Dave and Amy. When I did I realized that the slightly faster pace I had been running felt pretty good. By now I'm beginning to wonder if I should pull away and if so how soon? It didn't take long to get my answer but not in the way I expected. 

By now I was on GU #3 (used two of mine and one from an aid station) and I had hit every aid station with one cup of Powerade and two cups of water. I normally train with nuun tablets for fluids and have sworn off commercial sports drinks due to the refined sugars so I wanted to limit my intake of the Powerade. Good thing too as it was starting to warm up fairly quickly. The forecast was was warmer than usual temps as the day progressed. I was feeling good with one exception, a wicked ache in my abdomen from a sports hernia. It happens ever since the injury and surgery. Otherwise, physically, all systems were go. Good news as I was skeptical going in about my knee and calf.  I began to sense that I was pulling away from my group despite holding a steady pace. I was right. I looked behind and saw the gap. I kept going. In a few minutes I noticed someone in front of me, it was Brian, my main running buddy. He looked, well, bad. Holding his side and just shuffling along. As I passed I asked what was going on and he said he was cramping up, all over. I gave him a slap on the butt and kept going. Which was troubling to me. I know how much work he put into the race. I consider Brian a stronger runner than myself. If he can get tweaked what about me? There was no panic but it did make me think. I wanted to do more to help him but what? Do I sacrifice my race to all but stop and help my buddy 8 miles from the finish? While I am considering this question I notice another Rush jersey in front of me. It's Robert and he looks beat down. Another slap on the backside, a word of encouragement and I keep going. Within minutes the scene is repeated with me passing Donna about mile 20. By now I realize that I keep motoring along and do my race. With 10k to go I was facing my own issue. It was obvious that breaking the 3h45m mark was out the window. I had known that for a few miles now. Really once I stopped to pee that one was gone. I felt breaking the 4h mark for the first time was in the bag short of a complete meltdown. And on that note I felt covering the final 10k was all but a done deal based on how I felt at the time. So I could cruise in easy and meet my goal of breaking 4h or I could commit to work and see how close to 3h50m I could get. I looked at the runners around me and thought of my buddies I had just passed. I knew the answer. I was willing to work harder than these strangers around me. I was willing to hurt more than anyone of them. That's what I told myself. 

At this point I was just beginning what the locals call Little Heartbreak Hill. As the final turn is made toward the finish in St. Paul and you cross the bridge between miles 19 and 20 a drawn out climb begins that lasts about 5 miles. Not a steep "Oh Hell no!" climb but more of a slow, soul sucking ascent. On this course The Wall is somewhere on that hill. I knew I would have to use my arms and let my feet loose to keep the pace. I began to notice a lot of runners slowing down. The lines at aid stations (every mile now) growing longer with more people walking. I hold a line in the center of the road still focused on running tangents as much as possible. Forms and strides breaking down around me. The grimaced faces and looks of despair. It was getting downright warm by now too. I refused to allow myself to become on of "them". My mantra became "I'm willing to work. I'm willing to hurt." Finally about mile 25 along Summit Ave the crown of the hill passes and I saw the other side. A gentle downward slope to the finish. I can hear the PA and the large crowd cheering on the runners. A quick check of the watch and I see that breaking 3h55m is possible but I gotta go. Some guy pulls up on my left at a strong pace and I decide to follow him. We are maybe a mile from the finish so I figure maybe 8 minutes of work left. It felt great to finally have something left in the tank at the end of a marathon. So much better than blowing up and hobbling in. The pair of us are passing runners right and left. About 200 yards from the finish this guy takes off sprinting and I just held my pace, even remembering to take my shades off for the photo, crossing the finish line and nearly rear ending a group of five runners that had all stopped, side by side, under the banner. 

I go through the maze of getting the finisher medal, space blankets, drinks, food, and shirts that seemed to go on for a half mile before getting my drop bag. I just wanted to sit down for a minute and drink some water. I look at the massage tent, line way too long for me. I continue on to look for the Rush group and find them. Check on everyone there, handshakes, high fives and finally sit down. I took my shoes off. My feet were sore. First time I have worn a racing flat for a race. I had maybe 20 miles on those shoes before the race. Not the smartest move but I really do like the shoes now. So, feet sore, Achilles both sore, calves OK, knee not bad, hamstrings feel good, quads a bit shaky. More than anything just tired. Duh! I got back up on my bare feet and just slowly walked around in the grass. It felt good. Walk a little, drink a little. Repeat several times for maybe 20 minutes. I checked on my official chip time: 3h54m37s. Update my Twitter and FB status with the race results via my phone. Now, my Garmin shows a time of 3h53m57s and a distance of 26.47 miles. The 40s difference has to come from the pit stop at mile 13, that's a quick pee. And only a 1/4 mile of bonus mileage is more than acceptable to me. My slowest mile was 22, fastest mile 15. 

Post race analysis... Pacing was critical for me. I know I can go faster now. 3h50 minutes for sure and with a little work 3h45m. The fueling strategy worked well for me too. It was my first race to use Vespa. I had used it on only one training run. I have to say I think there might be something to this stuff. Warning: as bad as the regular Vespa taste, the ultra concentrate is foul. Reminded me of Long John Silver's malt vinegar. No issues with my energy level. I used a gel at approximately mile 5, 11, 17, 22 and another I can't remember when, maybe mile 20. Physically the worst I felt before a race but the best during and after. It's a good course, a few pot holes to fill in but that's about it. The most scenic road race course I have been on yet. Aid stations, great. Volunteers, super. Spectators, unreal. Estimated around 300k of them along the course. I believe it. For such a large event it is well organized. I expected that, they have had 30 years to get it down pat. Nice long sleeve tech shirt and uniquely designed medal after the finish. My one complaint was about the finish area. Too congested. I felt the traffic flow of humanity could have been handled a bit better. 

As the rest of the group wandered in plans were made for post race activities. Brian was nowhere to be found. He later told me that he spent some time in the medical tent. At the finish he was picking up a cup of water and fell dizzy into the table. At least he got a ride in a wheel chair to the tent. Then he was hand fed broth, got cold drinks, some food and a massage. He only took in water for the first 18 miles and his body was not happy. Not enough electrolytes my friend. I found Robert and we headed up the hill for the buses. Just as we reached the sidewalk I turned to see Robert bent over at the waist. Then he made his way to the ground. Then he barfed. Shouldn't have had that fruit cup after the finish. Apparently he had been dehydrated during the race and then overloaded on goodies just after the race. Gastric reject. On the bus and back to our car and out to the hotel. I was starving. That White Castle we passed was calling my name but Robert wasn't interested so we just made our way to the Best Western. Back at the room I made a bottle of nuun, grabbed an apple and a banana and turned on the TV. Robert headed to the hot tub. I headed to the bath tub. Filled with cold water. I soaked for about 15 minutes and then took a warm shower.  After that I hit the foam roller. Robert came back after hitting the hot tub, cool kiddie pool and the sauna. Of course we talked about the race, analyzing every little detail. I was bummed that some of the team blew up out on the course but happy that others had strong performances. I know there were at least a few PRs and a few first time finishes. 

As dinner time rolled around we decided to meet up in downtown Minneapolis. Eight of us ended up at the 8th St. Grill. I was going to indulge. Loaded potato skins, quesadillas and a big bowl of pasta. Dave shared his pizza with me too. And of course there were a couple of local micro brews I had to taste test. I even managed to stay off the rail tracks this trip. We walked a couple of miles back and forth from the hotel to the restaurant, probably a good thing. It was kinda slow going tough. Nice to stretch the legs and get some blood flow going. Back to the room for a good nights sleep, well deserved. Woke up about 5:30 the next morning, another big breakfast and back to the Ozarks we drove. 

On the way back Brian called. He wants to do another marathon this fall. Can't waste all that training for a crappy performance. Think about it, he says...

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