Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Comrades II The Down Year

After completing the Comrades Marathon (Ultra Marathon) last year.  I was undecided whether I wanted to do this race again.  While I enjoyed the experience, it is both difficult and expensive to make the journey to Durban South Africa to participate.  Since the cost of entering is the least expensive part, I entered before the November 30, 2011 deadline.
My motivation to do it again was threefold, 1. I enjoyed the experience and time in South Africa 2.they give a back to back medal in addition to a finisher's medal 3. to again challenge myself in this difficult ultra marathon.
While I entered the race, I didn't decide definitively to do the race until February 2012.  The race was June 3, 2012.
I made my flight reservations, but still didn't have a hotel two weeks before the race.  I was less than pleased with last years hotel, the Hilton was too expensive for my taste, and it's more difficult to find rates for hotels in South Africa than in the US.  Most of them required that you request the rates rather than providing them online.  In the end I found a hotel on the beach that was previously a Holiday Inn and had a good rate.  Plus it was within two blocks of the bus pickup to the start, and I felt like I could walk back from the finish.
As I said in my title, this was a "down year."  This race runs between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.  Last year, the "up year," the race started in Durban and finished in Pietermaritzburg.  A net gain in altitude of 2300 feet.  So this year that was the net drop.  I had a hard time last year and finished in 11 hours and 11 minutes.  Comrades has a strict cutoff of 12 hours gun time.  You wear a chip but that is only to automate the process.  Once the gun is fired, you have 12 hours regardless of how long it takes to cross the start mat.  In my mind I thought that since this was a down year, I'd be able to finish in less time.  One thing to note, while the up year is 54 miles, the down year is 56.  The reason is that you start at City Hall and finish in a Cricket Stadium.  So while I finished in the Pietermaritzburg Cricket Stadium last year, the start was at Pietermaritzburg City Hall.  Same thing in Durban.
My travels took me from Oklahoma City to Atlanta, then a 14 1/2 hour non-stop flight to Johannesburg.  From Johannesburg to Durban was a little over an hour flight.  I had no travel problems, and made it to my hotel around 11 p.m., around 28 hours after leaving Oklahoma City.
My hotel was all that I hoped, and I had no problems there.
Then next day Friday, June 1, 2012, I went to the expo.  International runners have a separate area to check in, which makes things much easier.  One small snafu, runners are seeded in corrals A-H.  Last year I was seeded D, this year based on last year's finish I was seeded G.  But my finish time at the Oklahoma City Marathon qualified me for D again and was within the qualifying period.  I sent this in before the deadline, but when I checked in, they still had me in G, and told me I could not change it.  Oh well.
Because I stayed in Durban, this meant I had to take a bus to Pietermaritzburg for the 5:30 a.m. start.  And due to road construction, it was decided that the buses would leave at 3:00 a.m.  I arrived at the start and it was chilly there.  It was warm in Durban, and I had decided not to take anything but what I was wearing in the race and a poncho included in our "swag bag."  Even with the poncho on, I was cold.  Others were also cold and so several of us got together to share the warmth.
Before the start the runners sing "Shosholoza." an old Zulu mining song, and its title means, roughly, "Keep going. Move faster on those mountains." It's followed by the Chariots of Fire theme. But all ears eagerly await the next sound, a rooster's crow.  Then the gun for the start.  Last year it took me less than 3 minutes to cross the start, this year it was over 10.  And even after the start I could tell the difference in the runners.  These were the "less seasoned" runners.  The weather was cool for the first 20-25 miles with cloud cover and a cool breeze.  But it started to clear and the temperature was rapidly rising.  I felt ok but never great.  I had hoped to finish under 11 hours, and caught the 11 hour pacer around mile 30.  I hung with them for a while but finally had to let them go.  While this is a "down" race, the first half is still very hilly with steep ups and downs.  When I did get to the downhill part, my legs were tired and hurting and I was unable to take advantage.  Even though my time goal was out the window I still had to concentrate on finishing in less than 12 hours.  Around mile 50 I did start to feel a little better, and was able to run more than walk.  With 5k to go, I knew I had it made, but was still hurting.  I finished in 11 hours 34 minutes.  I got both my medals, and thought about going to the International tent for something to eat.  Instead I decided to start my walk back to my hotel.  I enjoyed the finish line, but knew that more people finish in the last 30 minutes than any other block of time.  And I didn't want to get caught in that crowd trying to leave.  I got back to my hotel, and every local tv channel had the race on.  I watched both the last person finish, and the first person not to finish.  When the Race Director fires the gun for the finish, they put a barrier across the finish line and you cannot cross.  The first non-finisher is almost as big a celebrity as the first place finisher.
I cleaned up, went to bed and got some much needed rest.  I was heading back to the U S the next day, not a wise decision, so I got up the next morning packed and headed to the airport.  While the flight between Atlanta and Johannesburg was 14 1/2 hours, the return was over 16 hours because of headwinds.  Again the travel was uneventful, but I got sick on the return.  Probably a combination of my long race, and then being in confined quarters with so many people.
Despite all this I returned home with no injuries, no problems, and the satisfaction of knowing that I've completed both the Up and Down years of the oldest and largest Ultra Marathon in the world, Comrades.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Memorial Marathon - Oklahoma City

On April 29th I ran the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.  This is my third time running, and the weather was pretty good.  It was overcast and around 60 degrees.  I got into the corral, and waited for the start.  This run is to remember the 168 people who died during the 1995 Murrah Building bombing.  And the survivors as well.
I had thought about trying to run a BQ during this race, but the humidity was high and I just didn't think I had a sub 3:40 in me this day.  So I decided to try and run smart, and within myself.  I also needed to run sub 4 hours to get a better seeding at Comrades, so that was my main goal.  I started at a nice easy pace, just barely sub 9.  It felt very easy but I knew that easy always changed in the second part of a marathon.  I hit the half marathon mark around 1:57 and was still cruising very well.  It started raining and since it was a cool gentle rain, it was welcomed.  The second half got a bit difficult, but I was pretty much able to maintain a sub 4 hour pace.  As I raced down Classen I began to pass the walking wounded.  I'm not gloating as that has been me many times, but it did make me feel as though I had run a smart race.  Since I knew I had about a 2 minute gun/chip difference, I then made it my goal to beat 4 hours by the clock.  I made the last turn and started toward the finish.  I could see the clock change to 3:59 and I pushed on in just under 4 hours clock, and a 3:57.08 chip finish.  that meant I had a 3 minute positive split, and while I'm still looking for a negative marathon split, I was satisfied with my effort.
Last weekend (May 6), I had decided to run a trail race.  It was an unofficial 50/25/10k trail run.  I was trying to get more miles in training for Comrades, which I really haven't said anything about, but I'm returning to South Africa to run the "down" year there.  It will actually be a longer race (56 miles) but a net downhill.  Back to the trail race, it's run at Thunderbird lake, and is to raise money for a good cause (which means I don't remember what the cause was).  I had planned to do 50k, and took that start.  This was a much tougher course than I thought it would be.  I ran 25k here last year, but it wasn't the same course.  This one had some very steep ups and downs, such that if it had been muddy, the only way down would have been to slide, and I'm not sure you could have gone up in the mud.  Anyway it wasn't muddy and I pushed on.  I ran almost all of the race with a guy I met that day.  He had also run the Marathon the week before, and was training for his first 50 mile race.  Less than halfway through the 25k, I had already decided I wasn't going back out for 50k.  This was too technical a course, and my training is for a road ultramarathon.  It took us over 3 hours to cover the 25k (15.5 miles) and I knew the 2nd loop would be slower.  I finished feeling pretty good, but rested a bit, got myself together and went home to a nice shower and clean clothes.
Next up, I'll probably run a 5k next weekend (May 19th) then on to Durban South Africa.  I leave May 31st, and the race is June 3rd.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A2A Half & LMTR 50k

Sunday, April 1st, the OKC Landrunners took two buses to Ardmore for the A2A Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5k.  This was my 3rd time running the half marathon.  I chose the half because I was thinking of running a 50k (31 miles) the next weekend.  Also because while this is a well run race, I just have no desire to run the full here.
I ran what was at the time my fastest half here (1:39:19) the first year and I qualified for the New York Marathon with that time, which was my goal.  But I must add that we had a tail wind and this is a point to point course running almost completely due South.  Those who know Oklahoma know that we have predominantly South winds once we get past February.  So that first year was an anomaly.  This year my goal was just to run within myself, and hopefully sub 1:45.  It was a bit overcast, and it was expected to be a brisk headwind.  We started and I just tried to stay within myself.  It was windy and a bit cool.  After about the halfway point the sun came out and it started to get warmer.  I was still feeling pretty good at 10 miles, and was able to keep running despite starting to run out of energy.  On to the finish and it appears I'm going to beat 1:45, final time 1:44:09.
Regarding the 50k, I wanted to run it as a training run for Comrades.  But since it's a low key race, and you could register up until the day of the race, I was waiting to get a handle on the weather report.  While I wanted to run over 26.2 miles, I didn't want to do it in the rain and mud.  This is a trail race, albeit a fairly tame one, but still run in the woods on dirt trail.  The weather report looked favorable and I signed up the Tuesday before.  A friend had expressed interest in running her first ultra, so we agreed to travel together the 70 or so miles to the race.  As race day got closer we went into a rainy weather pattern.  Not heavy rain, but a slow steady rain and I began to get concerned about the condition of the trails.  Race day morning and it was overcast, lightening in the distance and a forecast of rain.  Oh well, we're committed now.  We make the drive and while it's overcast at the race, it's not raining.  Trail reports say the trails are in almost perfect condition.  We start, and I running fairly well.  This race is two approximately 7.5 mile loops for 25k.  Those of us doing 50k then repeat the course.  The first two loops go very well for me, and I'm feeling pretty good.  I go out to repeat the first loop and I'm starting to lose energy.  Still running well though.  When I finish the 3rd (1st) loop, and I'm in the start/finish area, I see my friend coming in.  She's looking good for over 22 miles and her first ultra.  I take off before her, but then hold back just a bit until she catches me.  We decide to finish the last loop together, with her leading some and I lead some.  This refreshes me some and I'm sure I ran this loop faster than I would have had we not been together.  It did rain hard for a while, and the trail got a bit muddy in spots.  I fell a total of 3 times, but they were all soft landings so no worse for wear.  We finished just over 6 hours and congratulated each other on a job well done.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Attitudes and Emotions

The body of this won't be nearly as deep as the title seems to imply.  It's really about why I haven't posted in several months.  I have tried to stick to running in my blog, and I usually do.  So my running is the reason I haven't posted much. 
I've run two marathons since my last posting, and neither has gone as well as I would have hoped.  The first was the Houston Marathon.  Houston is thought of as a fairly fast course.  It is a good course and probably one that many would be able to run well.  Me, not so good.  It was one of my slowest marathons, but then I did run out of energy just after the halfway point.  Don't know why, other than I was probably undertrained.  I hadn't done any 20 milers, but was thinking that my Oct. ultra, and Nov. marathon would sufice as long runs.  The other part of it is that I seldom run well in January, and this was my first January marathon.
The second marathon was in Little Rock, March 3rd.  Little Rock is known as a hilly course, but many people run it because of the huge medal.  My travel companions and I toured part of the course, and decided that it is hilly.  I ran Little Rock faster than Houston even with the hills.  Probably for two reasons, one I was better trained, and two, I decided to be more conservative in the first half.  I still hit the wall around 21 or 22, but that was better than hitting it at 13.1. 
Because I was dissapointed in my Houston time I didn't blog about it.  Silly really, I know that it's something just to be able to run/walk 26.2 miles.  And I still finished Houston under 4:25, but I had hopes for a much better time.  Actual times Houston 4:24:58, Little Rock 4:04:38.
The picture above is my granddaughter and I at the St. Patrick's Day 8k.  I came in 2nd in my age group, and my granddaughter ran the fastest timed 50meters, at least among the other times we saw.  Just glad she enjoyed herself running with "Paw-Paw."