Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Race the Base

Those of us in the cycling community have a saying, "We don't run unless something is chasing us." I suppose I deviated from the norm by running in the LR Marathon earlier this year, but since then, I've run very little.  Okay, even less than that - how about not at all?  Sure I did Warrior Dash back in May, but that was more like a bit of jogging interrupted by some climbing and some wading. 

So what led me to get off the bike temporarily and decide to race in a trail run?  First and foremost, it was the first race that my good friends Joe and Lisa from Arkansas Outside decided to run and direct.  I told them I would be out there to fully support their endeavor and hard work!  Second, as much as I dislike running, a trail run in the woods is slightly more enjoyable than a root canal.  The race would be taking place on the Base Trail at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, a trail that I know fairly well having trained on it many times for previous Raid the Rock Adventure Races.  If I had to run and nothing was chasing me, there are worse places to run than Pinnacle Mountain.

I had no goals for the day, other than to have fun, not injure myself, and try not to come in dead last among my friends.  Like I said, the main reason I was out there was to help out ArkansasOutside.com.  But once a cyclist, always a cyclist.  I took the opportunity of the race to make it an unofficial duathlon for myself, which I won, in my own solo division.  Instead of driving to the park where the race was being held, I ended up parking at the Two Rivers Bridge, loaded my running gear into a backpack, and then biked the 9 or so miles out to the park.  After I was finished, I rode the 9 or so miles back to my truck for the 2nd cycling leg of the duathlon.  Yeah, I'm always looking for ways to make things more challenging and/or interesting.

Anyway, the ride out to the park was a great warmup, and I arrived in plenty of time to get ready for the running portion.  Several of my other cycling friends, many of whom are mountain bike teammates from Team Spokes, also showed up to support ArkansasOutside.com.  We may not be experienced runners, but we sure know how to look good while racing and we sure brought a lot of excitement and energy to the race.  I think some of the other runners thought we were doped up by our cheering during the awards ceremony.

My cycling friends out to enjoy a run through the woods!
The run itself was no easy cookie, which showed in the fact that I hadn't run at all in 8 months.  I ran at a pretty steady pace but I admit there were a few sections/moments were I walked/hiked briefly to catch my breath.  I was the 38th overall male finisher, maybe 9th or so in my age group in 33:54, averaging a 11:18/mile pace.  Not great, but not bad either.  It was still a lot of fun and the perfect weather and fall scenery made it even better.  I unofficially nicknamed the run "The Natural Color Run" after The Color Run which was taking place in Little Rock the very same morning.

I think Lisa did a superb job as her first time as race director - with over a hundred competitors, this will shape up to be one of the areas most popular trail runs in the future!  Even though I walked away without a trophy, I was lucky enough to win a pair of Smartwool PhD socks as part of their post-race giveaway. And I was extremely proud of several of my cycling friends made the podium as well!  Who knew cyclists could run so fast?

I don't always run, but when I do, I leap off of rocks like a crazed flying squirrel.

While I didn't break any PRs or land speed records, I took pride in the fact that I was still faster than the guy on the couch.  Thanks to Joe & Lisa and all the volunteers for making this a great race!  Hope to see it return next year!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

2012 Slaughter Pen Jam

The 2012 Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series picked back up in September after a month hiatus with the Slaughter Pen Jam in Bentonville, AR.  This would be my 4th cross-country (XC) mountain bike race this year and I was definitely excited for it, having not ridden up at Slaughter Pen before.  I was especially looking forward to the cooler weather after the brutal, hot summer we had been having.  I definitely ride much better/stronger when the temperatures are cooler.

Seeing as how the race started later in the day, I planned for an up-and-back day trip with some of the members from the Spokes team.  This was even more enjoyable being a passenger in the plush Spokes team van driven by fellow teammate Matt Runge.  We arrived in Bentonville just after 11am, just in time for my 12 o'clock noon start.  I got signed in, got my gear ready, and got a quick warm-up in riding around the parking area.

As I had never ridden the course before, I talked to fellow teammate Chris Randle to try & learn about the important parts of the course.  I was told that there was a significant climb just after the start, a couple of tricky technical sections, some short but steep climbs in the middle, a fun downhill, and then a couple of climbs in the last couple of miles.  I decided that I wasn't going to kill myself at the beginning like I often do, and I was going to pace myself up the first climb, and then attack the rest of the course.

At the start of the race for my age/division (CAT3/40-49), there were 15 of us, a pretty good-sized field in my opinion.  They shouted "GO!" and about half the group took off like a bat out of hell.  I was not in that particular group.  I was about mid-pack riding through the grassy section before we hit the singletrack in the woods, spinning easy and not going too hard.  Someone behind me told me that the directors wanted us to stop but seeing as how the lead group was gone, I didn't think that was going to happen so I just kept riding.

I managed to catch up to another competitor and rode his wheel all the way up the first major climb.  There was a tricky technical section with several rock ledges at one point and the leading rider in my group got hung up & stuck, causing the rest of us to come to a grinding halt.  I immediately hopped off my bike, pushed it through the crowd & over the rocks, and mounted it cyclocross (cx) style without hardly loosing any momentum or speed.  Instantly, I had improved my position by 3 places which was awesome!  Glad to know my cx skills can be applied to mtn biking as well!

I spent the next part of the race going as fast as I could on the downhill sections (while maintaining control), and riding hard on the short climbs.  I remembering passing several people and only getting passed maybe twice.  There was a fun part of the course where we got to ride on the DH section, which had a bunch of ramps.  I kept my wheels on the ground the whole time, but it sure was fun.  There was another part where there was a huge banked turn made out of wooden planks that was fun to ride around.

We came down to the finish area, but we still had to pass through it first and then ride another 3 or so miles before actually finishing.  I passed a few more people here and then rode the last section pretty much solo without seeing anyone ahead or behind me.  Just before the finish, we got to ride on part of the paved trail.  I saw a couple of riders ahead of me at this point and I attacked hard.  I didn't know exactly how much further we had but I knew we were close.  I managed to chase them down and passed them before we got back into the woods for the final time.  I kept the gas on and finished in a respectable 55 minutes & change in 7th place.

Later on, I found out that the reason they wanted us to stop after the start of the race was because there were 3 people who missed the roll call and they wanted us to restart with them.  They ended up ranking them based on their race time, instead of their finish order.  IMO, they should have placed wherever they finished, but whatever.  It wasn't quite fair to the rest of us who were racing against each other, while they were literally racing against the clock. 

Anyway, I still had a fantastic race and did about as well as I could have, especially since I was riding the course unseen.  No mechanicals, no flats, no crashes or injuries makes for a successful race!  It was an awesome course too, with lots of variety, that I would look forward to riding again.  Out of the races I've done this year, that course was probably my favorite. I'll be skipping Devil's Den this weekend, and resuming with the Spring Hill Classic in October. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

100 Miles of Nowhere: Modified Burns Park Crit Loop Edition

Ever since Fatcyclist came up with the idea of riding 100 miles practically "nowhere" 5 years ago to benefit charity, I've always wanted to do one.  Call me crazy, insane, wacko, whatever, but I'm always up for a unique challenge.  In the past, his 100 Miles of Nowhere (100 MoN) has sent its donations to LiveStrong, but this year, the donations were going to benefit Camp Kesem - a camp run for kids whose parents have been fighting cancer.  The objective of the 100 Miles of Nowhere is basically to ride 100 miles in the smallest area possible.  Some people ride 100 miles on trainers, others do it around their driveway (!!!), the route is whatever you make it.

So when several other friends of mine decided to participate in the 100 MoN this year, I was in.  It was going to be difficult enough to do the 100 MoN solo, but the possibility of doing it with others made it an easier decision.  We had talked about having a group of us ride in circles while one of us would ride a trainer setup on the bed of a pickup truck next to the popular Arkansas River Trail in North Little Rock, AR.  We figured that way, we may even get some publicity for the event, and generate additional donations for Camp Kesem.  We would switch out people on the trainer so no one was left doing that for very long.

However, as the date came closer, our schedules conflicted, and I was looking at the possibility of doing it on my own.  I did want a challenge, right?  I ended up choosing a 1 mile loop of the soccer complex in Burns Park in North Little Rock, AR.  My criteria were simple & few:  1) Since it's been a while since I've ridden a century, it had to be relatively flat.  2) It had to be somewhere relatively scenic, and accessible for others to join me.  And 3) it had to be relatively free from traffic and having to slow/stop to maximize my efficiency.  For bragging rights, I truly wanted a course that went "nowhere".  This loop forms a portion of the criterium course used in the annual Ronde van Burns Summer Criterium Series, hence the title of my 100MoN Edition.

My chosen course
The night before the ride, I stocked up on my nutrition for the ride.  I planned bagels, muffins, and juice for breakfast, and roast beef sandwiches with chips for lunch.  Since I was going to be supporting myself, I had to have everything ready to go.  I had thought about leaving the course and riding somewhere for breakfast and lunch, but then I wouldn't be keeping with the spirit of the ride, so I decided to stay on course as much as possible.  The benefit of riding a 1 mile loop is that I would never be far from my staging/support vehicle and I could essentially ride unencumbered by a Camelbak or additional gear.

I had also printed up flyers for Camp Kesem to hand out in case people were wondering why a crazy person was riding in circles for apparently no reason at all.  I had also printed up some signs for the 100 MoN that I would display from my truck.

While I didn't look forward to riding in circles for hours on end, I prepared an iPod with upbeat music and decided that if I got really bored, I would ride 10 laps in one direction, and then 10 laps in the other direction.  I had also extended an invitation to my cycling friends to come out and ride with me for any or all of my ride to keep me company.  I had no idea how valuable that simple request would prove to be.

The weather forecast called for mostly cloudy skies with a chance of scattered thunderstorms throughout the day, and a high of 88 degrees.  I planned for a 7:30am start and made it out to the park by 7:15am. It was pretty humid, but at least it was overcast with a slight breeze.  Not my ideal conditions, but not bad considering.  I got my signs taped to my truck, set out a couple of camp chairs with the flyers, and then pondered what to do with the 100 MoN race plate.  I tried attaching it to my bike with some zip ties but that really limited where I could put my hands on the handlebars.  Plus the sign was REALLY freaking big!  I decided instead that I would wear it on the back of my jersey like a race number.  I managed to cut myself cutting the zip ties off of my handlebars, and then it took a couple of tries to get it right on my jersey (nothing like pinning the back of the jersey to the front).  It was now creeping past 7:40am and my start was getting later and later. 

Finally, I was ready to go.  I grabbed one of my water bottles, dumped everything else off my bike (wedge pack & lights), aired up my tires one last time, locked my truck, and set off promptly at 7:45am.  I also remembered to start the Strava app on my phone which would be recording the entire ride.  The first several laps were pretty fun as I warmed up and got used to the layout of the route.  I slowly checked off the laps, and discovered that each lap was actually 1.1 miles long.  Mentally doing the calculations, I figured that meant I only needed to do 91 laps to reach 100 miles, not the 100 laps as I originally planned.  Great!!  I had only barely started and I was already ahead.

The ride itself turned out to be not as tough as I imagined, mostly because I have awesome friends and teammates who came out to accompany me.  In fact, I think I only rode about 20 miles solo because I had different people show up at different times throughout the day to ride with me.  It wasn't even planned out that way, my friends just happened to be doing their own rides and remembered that I was going to be out there and stopped by to help and visit.

I have to give credit where credit is due.  Thanks goes out to Chris "Starfish" Randle & Micah Patterson, fellow Team Spokes teammates who came out early in the morning to ride with me.  They did about 25 miles with me and both pulled for me for a portion of that which I'm thankful for.  It definitely helped save my legs that early on in the ride.  My wife Jen showed up shortly before they left, having done her own ride (unbeknownst to me) that morning, surprising me!  I knew she was coming out but I didn't expect her to be out that early in the day.

Joe & Lisa from ArkansasOutside.com
We did a few laps together, and then we were joined by friends Joe Jacobs and Lisa Mullis (who run the Arkansas Outside website) who were out doing their very own 100 Miles to Everywhere.  Their write-up is worth a read as they did in fact ride everywhere all over Little Rock and North Little Rock & took some awesome photos!  Remember how I mentioned earlier about my friends who had signed up for the 100 MoN and we were going to ride on a trainer?  Well, they had decided earlier that they were going to do some trailwork, but at the last minute, changed their mind and was going to do their own 100 MoN.  They decided they were going to try and ride 100 miles all over Central Arkansas and take photos of major landmarks around the city.  I told them had I known that that's what they were doing, I would have joined them! Still, it was good to see them, ride with them, and know that they would be attempting the same thing I was doing that day. 

While we were riding, we were sprinkled down by a passing rain shower which was very welcome!  It cooled the temperature down slightly and cooled us off too!  We just had to be careful on the corners that we didn't slide out on the slick pavement.  After Joe & Lisa departed for their 100 MoN, I was joined by James "Power Ranger" Gaston, another one of my Team Spokes teammates.  He wins the prize for being the most enthusiastic!  And he brought me fresh peaches as a delicious snack!  We chatted about his Leadville 100 training as we rode, and then he challenged me to a record Strava lap where we pushed hard for a single lap.  We shared a peach before he departed for the rest of his own training ride.

Me & Power Ranger with peaches!
By that point, I had completed about 45 miles or so, so it was time for some breakfast.  I finally partook of some bagels & muffins and rested my legs.  So far so good!  My spirits were still high and I had yet to be bored.  The thing is while riding and chatting with friends, the route/course/landscape doesn't matter as much because you're really not paying too much attention to it.  I was averaging about 17-18 mph which was a good steady pace for me.  After a short break & refueling, I started back up with my wife and soon after that, I was joined by Matt Runge, another fellow Team Spokes teammate.  He gets the gold star of the day as he rode the entire last 45 miles by my side.  He had just gotten his road bike frame replaced so he was eager to get out & put it through its paces.  Riding & chatting with him caused the miles/laps to fly by quickly and easily. I forgot to mention that Lisa & Joe showed back up again when I was around the 80 mile mark, and rode another few laps with me before continuing their 100 Miles to Everywhere. 

Since I still felt strong as I approached the finish to 100 miles, I decided that I would continue to ride until I had reached 100 laps even.  Matt said he would finish the 100 miles with me but I would be on my own for the last 9 laps.  I had to do some of the "work" on my own, after all.  Steve Erickson and his wife Heather Ladd (fellow mtn bikers & cyclocrossers) also joined us for a couple of laps before the very end.  It was so neat to see my friends and teammates out there supporting me!  It certainly would have been much much more difficult if I had to do it on my own. THANKS to EVERYONE who came out to support me!

Matt left and I was left on my own - I rode a lap with my 7 yo son Connor, and then my 12 yo son Braden joined me on my very last lap.  I ended up with an even 100 laps for 110.2 miles (a PR for distance) with a moving time of 6:34 and an avg speed of 16.8 mph.  Probably the "easiest" century I've ever done and the first time I felt strong even after riding all those miles.  I'm sure I could have done another 10 or 20 miles more!  My Strava track if anyone is interested. 

110 miles & still feeling strong!
What did I take away from this experience?  1) I developed a healthy respect for NASCAR drivers, seeing as how I had ridden the equivalent of doing a NASCAR race, minus the group of drivers.  2) If you make 360 some odd RH turns over & over again, the outside foot is going to start to hurt.  And 3) I have some awesome friends & family and supportive teammates from Team Spokes!  Next 100 MoN will most likely involve more difficulty with hills or trainers!  

Me with the kiddos after 110 miles!

Addendum:  I didn't really get any interest from anyone out riding on the River Trail to see what I was doing.  However, one gentleman did stop to chat with my wife while she was waiting on me.  He asked her what I was doing and she told him I was riding 100 miles.  He asked her if I had started the weekend before, and how long it was going to take me.  She told him I started that morning and that I would be done sometime in the afternoon.  He just stared back dumbfounded and was speechless.  I guess he couldn't comprehend how anyone could ride 100 miles in just a matter of hours, rather than days.

Monday, April 30, 2012

2012 Slobberknocker Lite Race Report

On the morning of Saturday, April 21st, 2012, I found myself surrounded by friends and wedged in a big pack of mountain bikers, awaiting the start of the 2nd annual Slobberknocker marathon mountain bike race.   I had raced in many mountain bike races in the past, but this was the first "marathon" length race I had ever attempted.  The race was to be held on mostly forest service roads out in the Ouachita National Forest in the vicinity of Lake Sylvia and Lake Winona with the start and finish in Perryville, AR.  I was registered for the "Lite" race, a mere 57-miles in total distance with approximately 5,700 ft of elevation gain.  Most of the people were registered for the long course, 75 miles with 7,800 ft of elevation gain.  Having not ridden anything of this length or climbed anything of this elevation, I decided the lite race would be more than enough of a challenge.

The first and last 6 miles of the race would be on pavement, but the rest was on gravel/dirt forest service roads, with a very slight stretch of pavement in the middle portion of the race.  Having dedicated last fall and winter to training for the marathon, I hadn't been on my mountain bike as much as I would have liked.  But I was glad to be racing on my fairly newly purchased Trek Cobia 29er hardtail.  And I was especially glad to have pre-ridden 34 miles of the course the week previous, so I had a good idea of what to expect.

The theme of the day was to spend anywhere between 10-20 minutes climbing, followed by a fast descent that was over in a matter of minutes, wash, rinse, repeat.  There were a few sections of flat-ish terrain but they were far & few between.  The pre-ride had convinced me of one thing: this was going to be no picnic.  The 34 miles we had ridden covered the middle portion of the race, but I had yet to ride the first and last 14 miles.  It had also taken me 3 hrs & 40 minutes to ride the 34 miles, including stops to rest, figure out where we were, etc.  I was going to be happy to finish this race in 5 hrs.

My plan was to pace myself, not blow myself up on the climbs, ride the downhills somewhat conservatively and not crash, eat and eat often, and to finish the damn thing.  The weather forecast for the day had a high temp of 70 degrees, moderate winds, and low humidity.  It was a cool 50 degrees at the start which suited me perfectly.  I definitely don't function as well in heat & humidity, so the cooler it was the better.

After the usual pre-race announcements, we lined up 100 strong behind the CARVE leadout car who would lead us out of town in a neutral rolling start for the first 3 miles or so.  It was a good start, and I was firmly in the middle of the pack, spinning easily at 20mph while trying to hold my line and not cause a wreck.  Unfortunately, I was so busy focusing on the riders around me that I failed to pay attention to what the road was doing and note the necessary landmarks for the ride back to the finish.  Riding in the pack on pavement was just what everyone needed to get warmed up.  My friend Brahm & I decided that we would try to ride together as much as we could from the start and just see how things developed.

As the group approached the base of the hill that lead up to Thornburg, the pace car turned off and the race was afoot!  The peloton surged and the strongest, superhuman riders went off the front like a bat out of hell.  I was amazed by just how far up the road & hill they went before I really even had a chance to get going.  It wasn't long before they were completely out of sight.  The rest of us mortals ended up getting strung out along the road on the 2 mile climb.  I found Brahm's wheel and we took turns pulling for each other as we steadily made our way up the blasted hill.  My only consolation was that we would get to go back down the hill on the way to the finish.  We made it up the climb without any incidents and I was feeling good.  Brahm looked to be struggling just a tiny bit but he would soon recover. 

By the time we turned off the pavement onto the gravel Forest Road 210 in Thornburg, there were only a few other riders around us.  This section was relatively flat, with a few minor climbs/descents so I took the opportunity to get some nutrition in my system while I had the chance.  We rode along at a constant pace, not trying too hard to put the gas down as we still had a long way to go.  We eventually hit another paved section (Blue Jay Hollow Rd) and I started to surge a bit.  I noticed Brahm dropping behind so I slowed up to wait for him.  Eventually, we made our way onto Browns Creek Road, which is the start of the section we rode the previous week.  It was here that the grueling climbs would really begin.  The first part of Browns Creek Road is a gradual to moderate hill about 7 miles long that gains 700 ft in elevation.  After that was a series of relatively short, but very steep climbs up and over Flattop Pinnacle. 

The night before, I had laminated a picture of the race profile and mounted it to my handlebars with a couple of cue clips.  I had indicated the mileage of all the major climbs on the profile sheet and it proved to be invaluable during the race.  I could keep track of where I was mileage wise with my cyclocomputer and know exactly when the climbs were coming up and how many were left.

As we made our way up the first long climb, I was feeling good, and not pushing too hard.  I kept pulling for Brahm but he still couldn't quite maintain the pace I had set.  Eventually, a nicely sized group of people caught up to us, and I jumped aboard this "train."  I managed to stick with this group all the way until CP1 - we rode at a pretty equal pace and it was motivating having others around as we struggled up the steep climbs.  Because I had ridden it the week before, I remembered exactly how these climbs were, and managed to ride ALL of them (whereas the week before I had to stop & rest on some of them & even walk some).  After reaching CP1, there was only one more big climb before getting rewarded with a nice downhill/flat section as we made our way down to Lake Winona.

At CP1, I stopped briefly to fill up one of my water bottles & say hi to some friends of mine that were manning the aid station.  Brahm blasted by on the downhill asking if it was a mandatory stop.  I yelled out "no, you don't have to!" and quickly hopped on my bike hoping to catch back up to him.  I was happy to see him and was impressed he had caught back up to us.  He is quite a good descender so I'm sure he made up time on the descents we had gone down.

The ride from CP1 to CP2 (Camp Ouachita) was pretty uneventful.  Uneventful makes for good riding but not very exciting stories.  It had 3 long climbs and one somewhat sketchy descent.  I managed to catch up to & pass Brahm on the first of these climbs.  But on the descent, he totally bombed by me like I was standing still.  All I heard was a "on your right!" as he flew by me.  I was impressed.  Call it old age, or self-preservation, but I had a healthy respect for descending on the mtn bike.  I tend to be a bit more conservative than most, but I figured nothing would end a race faster than a bad crash.  No sense in saving a few seconds over something that could put me in the hospital.

Now we were down along the shore of Lake Winona.  We had a nice flat stretch for a few miles before a moderate climb on some really rough road.  I managed to keep Brahm in sight (although barely) and caught up to him on the climb.  We rode together slowly up this one, carefully picking our lines through the big rocks and gullies.  And as he had done all day, he left me in the dust on the descent.  We had one more LONG, steady climb which would be the last "big one" for the day.

Again, I caught up to Brahm on the climb when he had to stop to get his circulation going again in his legs.  I wished him well and continued climbing at a constant pace.  This was where I had cramped up BAD during Raid the Rock a couple of years ago.  I vowed to conquer it without stopping this time.  The salt tablets I had been taking all day long seemed to be keeping the cramps at bay, so I was glad for that.  I found another climbing partner as we spun easily up the climb, and for our efforts, we were rewarded with a nice 3-mile long downhill run to Camp Ouachita.

This was the part of the ride I enjoyed the most - bombing downhill at 25mph on a fairly smooth gravel road, with the trees whizzing by.  I saw several of the long course riders making their way up the hill back the direction we had come and was very glad that I wasn't doing that course.  This was the only stretch where the long course riders would see how far ahead or behind they were with respect to the other racers.  I pulled into Camp Ouachita where they tied a ziptie to my handlebars to indicate I had made it to the 40 mile mark.  I had no idea what time it was (nor did I want to know) but I felt I was riding strong and riding well.

I had another respite of several miles on a paved road until I turned back onto Blue Jay Hollow Road back the way I came.  Seeing as how I still had 1 1/2 bottles left, I was in & out of Camp Ouachita in a matter of seconds.  I was expecting to see Brahm at anytime but I didn't see him for the rest of the race.  In fact, I barely saw anyone for the remainder of the race.

The last 15 miles were pretty difficult - I was sore, tired, and my energy level was dropping steadily.  It didn't help that I was riding solo at this point, and even the smaller hills seemed monumental.  I kept looking back, thinking I was going to be chased down & passed but that never happened either.  I was pretty much giving it all I got anyway, so even if someone caught me, there was probably little I could do.  The downhill on the paved road from Thornburg back to Perryville was fun - I put it in the large chainring and cranked it out, speeding down the hill.  Now all I had to do was finish, but the town of Perryville eluded me.  I kept looking for the bridge which would indicate the final homestrech, but around every bend was another bend.  My wife Jen passed me in the car on her way into town to see me finish.  In my deluded state, I actually wondered if she would get there in time. 

Remember how I said earlier that I should have paid better attention to the road at the start?  Well, now I had no idea how much further I had.  I was doubting the mileage on my cyclocomputer, thinking that maybe it was wrong or I had remembered the distance incorrectly.  It was also somewhat windy and that made it more difficult riding solo.  Eventually, after what seemed to be ages, I finally saw the bridge in the distance, and I also caught sight of another rider, maybe 1/4 of a mile ahead of me.  We would cross the bridge, take a right, come back under the bridge, cross a field, and then go through several neighborhood streets which would take us to the finish.  As soon as I crossed the bridge, I saw the rider ahead of me making the turn heading back towards where he would cross under the bridge.

I now knew that I was gaining on him but I didn't know if I had enough to catch him before the finish.  I had delusions of grandeur that I was in the top 10 or maybe top 5.  I crossed the field and lost sight of him, but saw that he was only about a block ahead of me when I hit the neighborhood.  I cranked harder, thinking just maybe I could catch him on the last turn leading to the finish.  I also knew that there was 2 riders behind me so I hoped they didn't have anything left to catch me.

I took the final turn wide, just a wheel behind, as we both sprinted to the finish.  I surged and got alongside him, maybe half a wheel behind.  We both sprinted to the finish while the crowd cheered.  The announcer said something but I couldn't hear what it was being completely focused on the sprint.  Unfortunately, the finish area was narrow and I sat up not wanting to cause a wreck in such close quarters and came in a wheel behind the CARVE rider.  At least I had made it a little exciting.

As soon as I got off my bike, all my muscles screamed in agony, and I walked back to check my time.  I ended up finishing in 12th place overall, in 4 hrs & 22 minutes, a good 40 minutes ahead of my goal.  I was extremely pleased and felt like I had ridden about as well as I could have.  I learned that my friend Nick had finished in 4:03, beating his PR by about 15 minutes.  And Brahm came in shortly after I did, finishing in 4:33.  What a day.  What a race!  My buddy Drew finished the long course in 5:09, a *very* respectable time but I learned he had a really bad day on the bike.  Still, it was an amazing race, a great day, and I was surrounded by friends and Team Spokes teammates sharing stories and commiserating in pain.

Even better yet, as part of the Slobberknocker Bike Tech Contest, (in which I submitted a rather creative entry that you can read in the link), I won a pair of Schwalbe Racing Ralph 29er tires.  Chainwheel provided a bunch of free swag too so I ended up with a couple of pairs of Swiftwick socks, a hoodie for Braden, and a nice bike multitool for Jen.  Not a bad haul for an event only in its 2nd year.  And of course I got what I hope will be one of the coveted belt buckles as this race may be a Leadville 100 qualifier in the future. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Classic case of self-entitlement

"There's too many self-Indulgent wieners in this city with too much bloody money!" - Memphis Raines, Gone in Sixty Seconds

So now that Daylight Savings is in effect officially, I can once again start my irregularly scheduled bike commutes to work.  I say irregular because my after-work obligations are constantly changing and because of that, I don't have a set schedule of when I can bike commute to/from work.  I tend not to do any bike commuting prior to Daylight Savings taking effect because that usually entails riding part of the way home in the dark.  And seeing as how I need to be mindful of inattentive drivers in the light of day, I trust them even less in the dark.

The bike to work this morning was very nice.  I rode at a relatively leisurely pace (at least for myself) and just tried to enjoy the beautiful spring morning.  There are times when I try to set a new PR for time but this morning wasn't one of those days.  Door-to-door, I've only made it to work in under an hour just once, doing it in something like 58 minutes.  But I usually average anywhere between 1:05 and 1:10.  The times vary because of how many times I have to stop due to traffic/traffic lights, and also depending on how fast it takes me to ride up River Mountain Road.  There are days I struggle and there are days I struggle less.  Today seemed like a mighty struggle.

I made it this morning in 1:05; however, I ended up having to wait through 2 *very long* traffic light cycles at the River Mountain Road/Cantrell intersection, despite having pressed the pedestrian walk signal several times.  In fact, if there weren't any cars behind me, I doubt I would have gotten the green light when I did and probably would have waited through yet another cycle.  If not for that very long stop waiting for the light to change, I probably could have contested my PR time.

If traffic is moving quickly on Maumelle Blvd, I usually end up taking Crystal Hill Road instead for safety reasons.  I figure less traffic means less chance of me getting hit.  However, this morning traffic was deadlocked so I stayed on the Blvd all the way (riding on the shoulder, of course).  That allowed me to witness the classic case of self-entitlement.  Picture if you will, both lanes of traffic stopped bumper-to-bumper as far as the eye can see.  Just as I get to the Shell gas station at the intersection of Maumelle Blvd & Counts Massie, a very new-looking white Mercedes pulls out onto the shoulder, puts on it's blinkers (hazard lights) and proceeds to drive on the shoulder for as long as I could keep it in sight.  They probably made it almost all the way to I-430 before merging into the right lane.  Call it what you will, but that is definitely someone who thought they were very important indeed, that they didn't need to wait in line like everyone else.

I only wished I had been a little faster riding - that I could have gotten in front of them before they turned onto the shoulder.  I would have held them back for sure.  But then again, my friend said they may have tried to run me off the road.  Probably better that they went ahead, on second thought.

Upon arriving at work, I was told that the power was out for part of the building so our computer network was down.  It's too bad I wasn't told sooner - I could have ridden more!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Participation vs. competition

Saw this ad mentioned on /r/running on reddit and the discussion comments on there have really bugged me for the past day or so.

Pearl Izumi running ad

Here's another article from NYT from 2009:

NYT article about Marathon "plodders"

There seems to be a large number of runners on there who have this "elitist" attitude that people shouldn't be doing marathon races unless they intend to race/run the entire thing.  They have a problem with people "moseying" (as the ad indicates) along either walking or jogging and taking more than 5 hours to finish.  They claim that then it really isn't a test of endurance or will, but it's more a test of patience.  They claim that anyone can "do" a marathon given enough time.  They seem to think that it really diminishes the achievement of competing in a marathon, when just about anybody can do it given enough time.

They claim that the achievement of someone who runs the entire marathon in 3:05 vs someone who runs/jogs/walks it in 6:10 are on two completely different levels.  They claim that you can't compare the two, and that the guy who ran the whole thing has a more impressive achievement.

Some runners feel like it doesn't really "count" if you train for a couple of months, show up at the race, do a 6 hour marathon, and then claim you're a marathoner and slap that 26.2 sticker on your car.  They seem to feel like you need to pay your dues (e.g. train for months if not years) first before you can claim that achievement.  It seems to me that their bottom line is that you're not a real "marathoner" if you walk any part of the race.  They feel that if you actually trained enough, you wouldn't have to walk any part of the race.

There's also quite a big debate about people participating (basically just to finish and claim they did a marathon) vs. people actually racing (competing).  They don't feel like people should be out there unless they are truly competing.  They feel if you want to claim you did a marathon (vs. racing in one), just go out any weekend and walk/jog/run the 26.2 miles on your own.  That the marathon races should only be reserved for those actually "racing".

These attitudes all bug me on different levels.  I think completing the marathon is a very personal thing.  While I don't run year round, I did train for many months, and I went as hard as I could given the conditions & how my body was feeling that day.  You can't say that my effort was sub-par or that I worked any less hard than someone who was in better shape who ran the whole thing.  Yet I finished in over 5 hrs and walked parts of it.  According to these people, I didn't belong out there, I didn't really "race" the marathon b/c I walked parts of it, I didn't really "run" or race a marathon, only participated in it, etc, etc. 

When I was running in it, I definitely felt like I was competing.  I knew I wasn't going to podium by any means, but I felt like I was competing with those around me.  In the final homestretch, I felt like I had to "beat" all these people to the finish line.  I was competing against myself as well.  Just because someone ran the whole thing in a short amount of time vs someone who walked parts doesn't mean it wasn't any easier for the person who walked parts of it.  It doesn't mean the person who did it slower required less effort.

Are there people who are doing it leisurely without pushing their limits or maximizing their effort?  Sure.  But there are also those who are giving it their all and then some.  So what if it's a single one time thing for a bucket list or brag book?  That doesn't diminish the accomplishment of anyone else. 

The problem I have with exclusivity is that where do you draw the line?  How many races or how much training do you have to have done before you are considered to have "paid your dues"?  If you have a cutoff time or minimum set pace, where do you establish that?  There are fast runners and slow runners.  I don't think you can say anyone who finishes in 4:30 or less is a marathoner but someone who finishes in 4:30:05 isn't.

Someone brought up Ironmans or ultra-distance runs in the discussion and pointed out that some of those competitors do end up walking parts of those races.  The elitists claim that those are on a completely different level and they're expected to do so b/c the courses are more difficult, longer, etc.  Again, I ask, where do you draw the line?  When is it "okay" or acceptable to walk?  50k?  50-miler? 

I generally have a problem with elitist a-holes anyway, but this just really bugged me so soon after I did the Little Rock marathon.  What do you think?

Monday, March 12, 2012

2011 Bikes vs Zombies Alleycat Race

So out of all the different types of races that I've competed in, nothing was quite as unique as the alleycat race I raced in on the night of Friday, October 21st, 2011. An alleycat race is supposed to simulate what a bike messenger would do as part of their day. We were to be given a list of addresses and the person who finished the race first after making it to all the addresses was the winner. In addition to finding the address, at each address we were either given something to take with us in the form of a package or item, or we would have to perform some sort of challenge or task. Because the theme of the race was bikes vs. zombies, all the checkpoints were manned or womanned by volunteers dressed up as zombies.

Holding with the Halloween theme, racers were also encouraged to dress up in costume, and the person who was voted to have the best costume automatically earned a 4th place finish, in addition to whatever place they actually finished.

What could I dress up as to go with the whole "fighting zombies" theme? I thought about dressing up as a character from the Left 4 Dead videogame, or maybe someone from a zombie survival movie. But the best idea presented itself when I was watching Connor play the Plants vs Zombies videogame. What could be better than dressing up as one of the plants from the videogame? I ended up deciding on the puff-shroom, a purple mushroom that shot spores at zombies, and was used during the "night stages" of the game. The alleycat was going to be at night, we were going up against zombies, what could be more perfect?

I ended up designing the mushroom head using a spare bike helmet, a piece of cardboard, some purple cloth & felt, and polyfill for the stuffing. It turned out really nice but wasn't at all suitable for doing a bike race. To top it off, the initial design was WAY too big and WAY too heavy, even to wear for a few minutes. I ended up having to modify the design by making it a lot smaller in the few hours before the race. Even so, I did not factor in the fact that polyfill is very scratchy and itchy, and while I wore my costume at the start of the race, the polyfill started poking through the vents in my helmet and I ended up having to ditch it in my car for the race. People were still impressed with it though!

I talked a co-worker and friend (Brahm) into doing the race with me. He had never done any sort of scavenger hunt or adventure race so this was new territory for him. I was hoping my adventure racing experience would be of some use. However, he was much more familiar with downtown Little Rock which would prove to be extremely useful when route planning. I was going to be riding my Kona Jake the Snake cyclocross bike, and he was riding his brand-new Specialized 29er mtn bike. We decided that we would do the entire race together. This was going to be the first of 3 races I would be doing in a 40-hour span that weekend.

The race was set to start at MacArthur Park at 8:00pm and I arrived early around 7:15pm to give me time to prepare for the race. One thing I've learned is that you always do better at these races when you're prepared and ready to go at the start, rather than stressing out and rushing around like a madman trying to get things ready. I had prepared for the race by bringing my Timbuk 2 messenger bag, a headlamp, my Stella 120 bike light, and the piece de resistance, a seatpost mounted rack & bag. I figured that might come in handy if I had anything really heavy to carry!

After checking-in and mingling with the other racers and having a photo shoot done, Vinny (the race director) gave out some last minute instructions. He handed out a crayon to everyone. He made sure everyone had water. Because in his words, if you didn't have either, you were pretty much f***ed. He instructed everyone to move their bikes to the road just across from the Bowen School of Law, and then we returned to the bike polo courts to receive the Manifest - the list of addresses and instructions. It would also serve as our race "passport", proof that we had made it to each address or checkpoint.

With a toss of the manifests in the pile on the ground, the race officially started! Brahm and I each grabbed one and as he scanned the addresses, I got out my city map in case we needed it to locate an address. We each also had our iPhones handy as the GPS/Maps would come in handy. Being more familiar with Little Rock, he quickly figured out where each checkpoint was located. We verified a few questionable ones with our phones and he came up with an initial routing.

There were two in the vicinity of the start so we would hit those first. The first one was actually located at the Arts Center, just on the other side of the park so we raced toward our bikes and took off across the park grounds. Reaching that checkpoint (CP), we were given a UPS shipping envelope and was told the contents were very fragile. Great. A fragile one from the beginning. I hoped to make it through without breaking whatever was inside! We were also made to do the chicken dance before we could leave. Brahm and I improvised as best we could. We asked if any other teams had been there. Nope, we were the first. Crazy considering how close to the start that was. Other teams were going to have to backtrack to get that one we figured, so we were already ahead. Next stop was the Little Rock National Cemetery to get a rubbing of a tombstone.

We didn't have any problems finding a tombstone to get a rubbing off of. Apparently some teams climbed/hauled their bikes over a huge wall to get into the cemetery and other teams were chased by dogs. Looking at the remaining addresses, we decided to hit the ones by the River Market next.

At the corner of Sherman & President Clinton Ave, we reached another CP manned by zombies. We were told that we had to pick up a FedEx cardboard tube there and carry it the rest of the way. Definitely an awkwardly shaped package! We were given the choice of assembling our own box, or we could save time and down a jello shot in return for a pre-assembled box. We chose the jello shot and gulped those down. Yummy! Brahm and I helped each other wedge the boxes behind us and we were of towards the Junction Bridge. The long, narrow boxes sticking up behind us definitely made for some awkward cycling until we got used to riding with them.

Reaching the Junction Bridge, I yelled out, "any zombies up on the bridge?" I was greeting with some moans from high above. Great! Zombies! Having Brahm watch my bike, I ran up the steps two at a time and found two very lovely zombies waiting for me. They signed my manifest and told me I couldn't leave until I found a banana. At first I thought the bananas were on the zombies themselves but they said they had been hidden all over the bridge. I spied one on the steel beams and grabbed it and headed back down. As I descended, I yelled to Brahm to come up and we quickly switched places. We encountered some pedestrians while leaving and they inquired as to what we were doing. We told them we were doing a scavenger hunt on bikes they wished us luck as we sped off!

The next CP we decided to hit was in Brahm's neighborhood, south of I-630. We truly felt like bike messengers now, racing against the clock as we raced through the lit city streets and intersections. I will admit that we probably we didn't follow every *single* traffic law out there as we raced that night, but we WERE careful. The ride to the next CP was definitely rather long, so we chatted with each other as we pedaled.

Soon enough, we reached our destination, a small neighborhood park dimly lit by a single streetlight. The zombies here informed us that we needed to spin the....(da da da dum...) Wheel of Misfortune (Oooo..) to determine what we needed to do. I was amused that the wheel of misfortune was actually a bicycle wheel with a wheel cover, and it had different spots on it with different instructions. I spun and was told I needed to carry an inflatable inner tube the rest of the way. I slung it on the FedEx tube while Brahm spun. He ended up having to eat two packets of condiments for his misfortune. He informed me the Taco Bell packets were quite salty. We thanked the zombies for their effort and headed off to Hillcrest.

Our next checkpoint was an address in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock. It would require a slow grind up Kavanaugh to get there. As we passed Spokes Bike Shop, I secretly wished they were open so I could stop for some coffee. We managed to find the street in the heart of Hillcrest, but we couldn't find the house number. The only other thing on this street was Kroger...

Suddenly, something jogged my memory and I remembered one of the instructions saying something about getting a receipt. Surely the address wasn't referring to Kroger, was it? I dug out the manifest and checked. The evidence for this checkpoint was a receipt. I left Brahm watching our bikes as I dashed into the store. "Is the address for Kroger 614 Beechwood?" I asked the cashier. She looked quite surprised at my appearance, me decked out in cycling gear, with a messenger bag slung around my shoulder, a huge FedEx tube poking up behind me, and a deflated inner tube. "Yes, you have the right place." While she rang up the two Snickers bars I grabbed (requesting two separate transactions), I explained to her that we were doing a bike scavenger hunt race and that she should expect more riders any minute. Her colleagues watched from across the store with curious looks. "I'm doing a bike race," I yelled out as a ran out the store. As I gave a receipt to Brahm, several of our competitors pulled into the Kroger parking lot. "Is this 614 Beechwood?", one of them asked me. I shrugged my shoulders and said, "I dunno, is it?" The race was afoot now for sure!

Satisfied that we were leading some racers, Brahm and I headed back the way we came, shooting for Cedar Hill which would take us down to Allsopp Park, where the next checkpoint was located. We speculated that we were definitely in the top-10 and that motivated us to go a bit faster. Cedar Hill was dark and twisty, and I rode the brakes all the way down to maintain a safe speed. Nearing the bottom, we spied a couple of zombies in the parking lot at Allsopp Park and joined them. They signed off our manifest and gave us each a brick to carry. Nice. As Brahm worked on putting his in his backpack, I was glad I had the forethought to bring the seatpost rack on my bike and that it finally paid off. No heavy brick for my messenger bag, nosiree! I stuffed it into the bag mounted on my rack and was good to go.

We had gotten all but 3 of the checkpoints now, with the remaining 3 the easiest, but furthest away. We conferred and decided to get the one at the top of River Mtn Road first, then the Big Dam Bridge, and last at Pfieffer Loop. Just as we were pulling out, the racers we saw at Kroger came flying down the hill. We crossed over Cantrell and got onto Riverfront Drive. I pulled Brahm as much as I could, him being slowed on his mtn bike. We had a long ride ahead of us, it was a good 6 miles to River Mtn Road, and I knew we had competitors not far behind.

Sure enough, eventually we got passed by two groups as we passed the golf course on Rebsamen Park Rd. I watched their red blinky lights get further and further away, getting smaller and dimmer. I hoped that we would be able to make up some time on the climb up River Mtn Road. Starting to get nearer to our destination, but not knowing exactly where it was, I told Brahm I was going to ride ahead and would wait for him at the Two Rivers Bridge. I hoped that extra time would give me a chance to figure exactly where we needed to be at the top of River Mtn Road. I sped off into the night, enjoying the quiet, car-less road, with only the wind sounding in my ears. I managed to gain some on the competitors in front of me, but I couldn't quite muster enough strength to chase them down. Reaching the Two Rivers Bridge, I got my phone out, typed in the address and was shown the location to be on Cantrell on the other side of I-430. It was quite puzzling as I didn't see them making us ride down Cantrell across I-430. I figured we would find it when we got to the top of the hill.

Soon after, Brahm rolled up, breathing heavily. I had timed it perfectly. I asked him if he was ready to tackle that "bastard of a hill" and we set to climbing it slowly but surely. One of the teams in front of us passed us going down, but it wasn't either team I had recognized. I wondered what was taking them so long, perhaps they had gotten lost or couldn't find the checkpoint. I made it to the top and as I waited for Brahm, I looked out west on Cantrell but couldn't see any cyclists out there. It didn't seem like anyone was going or returning from that direction. We rode up towards the intersection of River Mtn Road & Cantrell and finally spied where we were supposed to be. The checkpoint was set up at the driveway to the church and the teams ahead of us were still there.

Rolling in, I recognized my friends Aly & Bryan that were manning this station, and their daughter Mandy was riding around on her unicycle dressed as a ghost. Such an awesome ghost costume! Her riding on her unicycle had the effect that she was really floating above the ground. We were informed that we had to eat 5 mini powdered donuts before they would sign off our manifest. Haha! What a great idea! This proved to be even more difficult because our mouths were already dry from the effort of riding up River Mtn Road. The teams ahead of us left shortly thereafter as Brahm and I munched on donuts. Nom nom nom. It took a while but soon the cup was empty. Good thing I still had a water left in my water bottle. Bryan signed off on our manifests, snapped a couple of photos, and we were off.

I also must mention that my bike light had died as I crested River Mtn Road so I was without a headlight from this point on. I thought the light on high power was supposed to last more than 2 hours but I was mistaken. I guess that's why it kept blinking every few minutes before it died.

A quick detour to the BDB and Pfieffer Loop and we would be done, having only to ride all the way back to Vino's. Since Brahm had the only light, I followed him closely to the BDB (which was un-zombied) and Pfieffer Loop. We passed a couple of more teams heading back across the BDB, hoping they hadn't done River Mtn Rd yet. I tell you what, even though I had ridden Pfieffer Loop dozens of times, it was quite something else riding on the twisty entrance trail without any lights. We met up with another couple at Pfieffer Loop, grabbed a couple of UPS envelopes there and headed back. As we were riding back across the Big Dam Bridge, all the lights went out. Mental note: the lights on the BDB turn off at 11:15pm. We still didn't see a CP or any zombies on the bridge so Brahm and I quickly took camera phone photos of each other (as proof we were there) and then we raced back to Vino's as quickly as we could. I figured now we were racing against the clock and against other teams who may still have needed some of the downtown CPs.

I urged Brahm to draft behind me as much as he could, thinking that every second counted. I had no idea where other teams were relative to us at this point. I knew there were some ahead of us, and guessed that there were some behind. I looked back every few minutes, just knowing one of those times, I would see bike lights in the distance gaining, but the road behind us remained clear. As we rode, I remarked how much fun I was having, and how neat it was riding on the deserted river trail at night, with the stars above us. It was so calm and peaceful.

We managed to make it back to downtown, and on the final turn onto 7th Street, two blocks away from the finish, the FedEx package which I had managed to carry successfully all this time, finally decided to give up the ghost and went flying across the intersection. I made an emergency U-turn, scooped it (and the inner tube) up as best I could and rode the final two blocks to the finish. There was no other cyclists in sight so I figured they must be inside. We were looking for a place to lock up our bikes when one of our fellow competitors came out & told us we could bring our bikes inside. I held the door open for Brahm and followed him into the party room. We were greeted by applause and cheers from those who had finished ahead of us. Brahm was informed he finished in 8th place and I finished in 9th, only because Brahm entered Vino's ahead of me. Apparently, out of the 25 or so racers that started, we were the last ones to finish who managed to get to all the addresses.

Vinny checked us off as we showed him all the things we had collected along the way. Unfortunately for me, at some point I must have lost my manifest as I couldn't find it anywhere. Brahm remarked that he saw something fly off of me on our ride back. While that should have been grounds for a DQ, Vinny was gracious enough to let it slide and awarded me 9th place anyway. We had a blast and I definitely had fun racing as part of a "team". And to finish with all the points and a draw from the prize table was just a bonus!

After picking out some cycling shoe liners, I wasn't done...after all the prizes were given out, Vinny informed everyone that I was the last official finisher, so I received a small trophy for DFL, or dead 'effing last.

All in all, it was one of the most unique, fun, races I've ever done and I look forward to doing another one next year or helping out! Now I had less than 24 hrs until my next race, the Super-Prestige Cyclocross race at Kanis Park.

Monday, March 5, 2012

2012 Little Rock Marathon race report

So my goal for turning 40 last September was to run a marathon. It's something that my dad has done, my sister has done, and plenty of other friends have done. It would definitely be a challenge as I pretty much dislike running. I've always considered myself a cyclist first and foremost and never a runner. Just 2 yrs ago, I had to struggle to run a 5k. I ended up accomplishing something I never expected I could have done.

I can now officially be called a Marathoner and can display proudly one of those 26.2 stickers on my vehicles! With as many endurance type events as I've done (adventure races, century bike rides, etc), I'm sure people thought a marathon for me would be a breeze, but that was far from the case. There were definitely times during the race when I was wondering if I could even finish. But we'll get to that.  My wife Jen had also signed up to run the 1/2 marathon, which was not a small feat for her.  She had only done a 5k several years ago as well, and her longest run to date was an 8-miler several months ago.  13.1 seemed pretty daunting to her and she questioned if she would finish.

I started training back at the end of September, when the "official" training began with the LR Marathon Group.  I probably ran a 5k once or twice a week, mixed in with my usual weekly bike ride, and then followed the prescribed long run mileage on the weekend.  I made it out to half a dozen or so group runs on Saturday morning with the training group.  It was a great feeling increasing my distance PR every couple of weeks. 

I probably could have done better training but I ended up having to take about a month off in December/January due to knee/foot pain after one of the longer training runs. That sort of put me on a "compressed" training schedule for the last month or so before the marathon. I managed to get 12, 16, and 20 mile runs in, while mixing it up with mtn bike rides too. The days leading up to race day found me excited, anxious, and nervous, just like how I feel before any big race. But by that point, I had done everything I could to prepare so there's was nothing more to do except to keep hydrated and eat well. Having done a 20-mile run around the entire River Trail was a huge mental boost too. Just that accomplishment gave me confidence that I could finish a marathon. I was also confident in that I had run almost the entire course during my training runs so I knew the course fairly well. My legs & body both felt great and I did a couple of shorter runs just to stay loose.

A couple of days before the big day, I came down with a cold. I downed Emergen-C like it was going out of style. I didn't feel too great Friday or Saturday, but felt okay race morning. Jen & I hit the health & fitness expo and picked up our packets Friday night. She was nervous but I think going to the expo helped psych her up. I picked up a couple of 26.2 stickers (thinking positively at this point) and a pint glass for a souvenir.

Pre-race eve meal consisted of fettuccine alfredo, a quinoa spinach salad, and tortellini salad from Whole Foods. Pre-race breakfast consisted of a banana, powerbar, and PB&J sandwich. I brought along Honey Stinger waffles, Shot Blocks, and Gu to consume during the race. My goal was to try and eat something every 3 miles or so.

The morning of the race was chilly but not too cold. We managed to get up and out of the house at a decent time and found parking not too far from the race start at the Clinton Library. We took Hobbit's (one of the leaders of the marathon training group) advice and put on trash bags to keep us warm while waiting for the start. The sheer number of people at the start was staggering, both runners and spectators. It took a little bit to find a spot in the open corral but we did so with about 10 minutes to spare.

We heard the announcement for the start of the wheelchair racers and then a few minutes later, we were off too! I felt great for the first 4-5 miles, running at a comfortable pace. I eventually caught up with the 4:40 pace group and kept up with them for quite a while. I quickly warmed up and took off my gloves. I figured it wouldn't be too much longer until I took off my arm warmers too. As I ran, I kept looking for people I knew, enjoying the fans and reading the variety of signs. My favorite one said something like, "keep running! The zombies are coming!" The bands scattered along the course definitely provided some motivational music as I ran past them.

Everything was going great until after we came back over the Broadway bridge around mile 6 or so. My left knee started hurting. It wasn't an ache, but a definite sharp pain. I wondered if it was due to me bruising that knee while playing bike polo a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately for me, the pain never went away after that, and in fact, got worse and worse as the race went on. It definitely proved to be an additional challenge to an already very difficult race. The problem with the pain was that it was persistent and was always there in my head. It was difficult to ignore and I just had to endure it as best as I could.

I managed to keep running for another several miles (until mile 9 or so?) before I started taking walking/stretching breaks. The 4:40 pace group slowly faded from sight as I was unable to keep up with them. I felt like a human yo-yo for a lot of the race. I would pass a bunch of people when I ran, and then they would pass me when I stopped to stretch or walk.

Miles 11-14 sort of passed by in a haze - I would say I was probably running/walking 80/20 at this point. And then came the dreaded climb up Kavanaugh Blvd. Going up Kavanaugh and then down N. Lookout was probably the most physically challenging part of the race. My running/walking was probably closer to 50/50 during the stretch. Lots of others were doing the same. Going down N Lookout with the knee pain was extremely tough. While the downhill was a godsend to most runners, it was my bane. I lost track of the number of people that passed me as I hobbled down that hill. Going back and looking at my splits, you can see a huge difference in my pre-mile 15 splits and post-mile 15 splits. Before mile 15, I was doing probably 11-12 min miles. After mile 15, it had dropped to 13-14 min miles.

After coming down N Lookout, I ended up passing the 8:00 hr early-start walking group, who started at 6am and who would finish the race at the cutoff time of 2:00pm. The lifted my spirits a little as I knew that as long as my body didn't completely conk out, that I would finish somehow. But now I had to deal with the most mentally challenging part of the race - the run down and back along Riverfront Drive. The problem with Riverfront is that it is flat and straight, and you had run 2 1/2 miles down to the turnaround point and then re-trace your steps back. So for every step you took during this portion of the course (mile 18-20.5), you had to do the same on the way back. My only goal right now was to make it to the turnaround and then I figured I would be in the homestretch. Easier said than done, I know.

It was somewhat disheartening seeing the people on the other side of the road on the leg back. I saw the 3:40 pacers go by which basically signified that it was going to take me at least an hour to get to where they were. Ugh.

At this point in the race, I had to mentally toughen up. I had to set little small goals just to get myself running again. I started by running the entire length of the Rebsamen Park golf course. Then I walked. Then I ran for the distance of 3 powerline poles. Then I walked. It was so difficult getting my body to run. My inner voice kept yelling, "Come on Cliff, stop walking. Come on, run." I remember thinking of Jan Ulrich as some point, but instead of "shut up, legs", it was "shut up, knees!" After having ridden Rebsamen Park road on my bike who knows how many times, you'd think I'd know exactly how far I had to go until the turnaround, right? In my fogged, pain-ridden state, that wasn't the case. I saw a checkpoint up ahead and was convinced it was the turnaround. My spirits lifted and I told myself I could run to that. As I approached, I realized it was the 20-mile checkpoint and the actual turnaround was still another 2/3 of a mile away. Argh.

I had done pretty well keeping my body fueled up until now but at this point, nothing I brought sounded even remotely appealing. Eventually I reached the turnaround and continued my run/walk as best I could. I could feel my hamstrings tightening up too and I forced myself to take smaller steps to keep them from cramping. Somehow I managed to make it back down and back along Rebsamen Park Road and was now convinced I could finish this stupid race. I was stuck with a small group of people now, yo-yo-ing back and forth with them. I would run as long as I could until I felt my legs about to cramp and then walk a spell. Wash, lather, rinse, repeat.

The first hill going up Cantrell was a huge PITA so I managed to run to the base of the hill and then walked to the top. The 2nd hill was pretty tough too but it wasn't nearly as long. Reaching the top of that just after mile 25 was an amazing feeling. I knew that I only had a mile left and I was going to finish a marathon! So close to the finish, I took one of my friend's advice to heart. I was in pretty good pain, but the sooner I finished, the sooner the pain would stop. I managed to force myself to run a 1/4 mile at a time with only brief walk breaks in between. I can't tell you how many people I passed during that last mile who were down to walking. Through the Medical Mile my legs were flying now (at least they felt like they were) and I could hear the finish line announcer. I was pretty sure I was over 5 hrs by this point but I didn't know how much over. Plus I wanted to finish strong. I came around the bend and the finish line was glorious. Pumping my legs, I saw my wife on the sidelines, waved to her as I passed by and strode strongly across the finish.

It was an unbelievable feeling. Indescribable. As they hung the massive finishers medal around my neck, I was holding back tears. I fucking did it, that's all I was thinking. I fucking did it and I'm now a marathoner. I made my way through the finish tents and found Jen waiting for me. I asked her if she finished, she nodded yes, and we hugged each other as the tears flowed. "We fucking did it," I whispered to her as we held each other. It was quite an emotional moment. The sense of accomplishment. The struggle. Success. By far, that was the most physically demanding thing I've ever done. Nothing else even compares.

I'm so proud of Jen as well - she definitely had her own set of challenges too, but this was her toughest, most physically challenging event to-date.  Going from the Couch-to-5k program to doing a half-marathon in less than half a year is admirable and something to be proud of.  She's already considering upping her goals and doing a full-marathon within the next year.

My official finishing time ended up being 5:13:21. I'm a teensy bit disappointed that I didn't run a sub 5-hr race, but considering I had knee pain in my left knee starting at mile 6 which only got worse as the race went on, I was extremely glad to have finished.

It was such an inspiration seeing all the other participants in the race. Everyone has their own story. Everyone had their own personal goals. My hat is off to everyone who was out there, no matter what distance they were doing or what place they finished. And the volunteers, race organizers and crowds deserve recognition too. So amazing to have complete strangers yelling my name, encouraging me all throughout the race.

Now it's time to consider getting a tat that I promised myself would be a reward for my effort.