Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Equinox Detox!

Enough already! Time for some detox and rehab from the Equinox obsession. This event and its "spirit" are alluring but addicting. But it's time to move on. Before we close out on 2006, however, here are some thoughts.

Although I don't think it was personal, I was not happy to see that the local paper, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, published the photo of me splayed on the ground half-conscious after collapsing at the finish. I'm sure that some of my rivals will have good time with that, but it's a bit like taking a picture of some celeb's butt as they head to the bathroom. They gotta do what they gotta do, and it does tell a story (yeah, I was at the end of my cable there, dangling between abject exhaustion and oblivion) but I wish't they could have taken a pic during the previous 3 hours and 11 minutes when I was ambulatory, indeed cursorial. However, I won't hold any grudges.

Former US Ski Team and UAF coach John Estle sent out the database of splits of the top 20, which is always very interesting to peruse. My pace was right on through 21.5, but I gotten eaten alive by the others in 3rd - 8th over the last 4.7 miles. Those INOV8 Flyroc shoes were fantastic through the trail and dirt-road sections, but they were trouble on the pavement. No cushioning, and my legs quickly took a beating. I think the slow down over the last 4 was due to a combination of dehydration and glycogen depletion, combined with too much trauma to my quads. Probably could have run faster if the last 9 were on flat gravel or trail, not a 1700 foot descent over 4.5 miles followed by rolling terrain, mostly on pavement.

The 2nd place in the 40+ age group was my first defeat in nearly 30 local races in that division since moving here in 2004. It had to happen at some point, but after I started winning the masters division here, I made a goal of making it all the way through age 49 without a loss to a local or within the state. It took a moderate cold and Wayde ran a great race, but that's part of the game--you line up even when things aren't perfect and you give it your best effort. On wobbly feet I congratulated Wayde on his fine race, and I also appreciate the cheerleading from his wife. I'm okay with it, but will resolve to re-ignite the streak next year for one last hurrah in the 40s.

Actually it was much much harder to lose the sprint for 5th place, because that might just be my last chance for one of those brass plates. Little did I know that Brook Kinze from Anchorage was a 29: 16 10k runner http://newsminer.com/2006/09/20/2130/. Had I known that...well I hope that I gave him a tough go of it over the last mile and a quarter. I harbor no ill-will toward him for the kick at the end. That's competition.

This race is picking up in popularity (only once in the past decade has a 3:10 not netted a top 5), and I'm not getting younger but the competitors are. To challenge for a top 5 once again may be a long shot, especially since I doubt that I will run the full marathon here next year. By July this year I had already decided to focus on track running (1500 m to 10000 m) next summer and maybe some road racing in Anchorage. After that I'll just do 10 to 20 km trail runs--such as the Equinox Relay--to enhance ski training, and for the aerobic thrill. Or maybe I'll just take a break in August when the kids are still out of school.

So 2008 will be the next time to consider doing the Equinox, and by then who knows? A top 5 at 50 would be pretty awesome. However, my next marathons are going to be more cautious and more fun. I'd really like to run NYC or Chicago someday and do not want to make the Equinox the center of my summer existence. This time the race itself was hard to enjoy because I was so close to the edge for so long; I could tell from the first hill that things would not be easy. Nevertheless, I had a great time from 16 through 22 miles, well except for The Chute and some ensuing cramps.

So for now, and maybe the next couple years, I bid thee adieu, Equinox!

[Postscript Sept 20, 2006: I was still feeling a little raw and disappointed yesterday, so changed the wording regarding the picture in the paper. No hard feelings.]

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Agony of the Equinox

I had a tough day at the Equinox, but in the end it was the best I could do. Came down with an ill-timed cold mid-week, which kind of hit the low on Friday night when I could barely sleep. Saturday's weather was near perfect, if not a little warm with 50s and 60s and overcast. With the cold I knew that goal pace on this tough course would be a warrant for a DNF, so I backed off and kept it easy on the hill sections while trying to keep it steady and strong on the flats and downhills.

The first 9 miles (1:00:55) went by quickly as I settled into a very solo effort in 7th place about a minute behind the 2nd pack. The Ester Dome Climb is usually strong a suit, but I had to just keep it going. Crested the 1,700 foot climb at 12.4 in 1:32:15, and the half in about 1:37, and moved in to 4th place, which I held for the next 11 miles. Felt decent/good through most of that, but there were 4-5 runners not far behind. By 20 (2:26:50), which had mostly been on trails and dirt roads, I was feeling confident that I could hold the pace for a 3:08 or 3:09 and 4th.

I struggle sometimes on the downhills (especially on pavement), and sure enough, got passed at 23.5 by a masters runner whom I've always been able to beat, but he's very solid marathon runner. It was just his day, and he hit the 24th mile in 6:15, compared to my 7. Responding to that was an impossibility. So I held 5th all the way to 25, when another runner came from behind. I ran as hard as I could to drop him. It was like running the last mile of a cross country 5k all out, but at 7:00/mile pace. With 200 to go I put on on final burst and maybe got a stride or two, but he mounted a counter attack at 100 to go and I could not respond.

So I finished this rugged trail-road marathon in 3:10:48, for 6th, only to clutch my knees for a moment before collapsing in a heaving heap. Not a pretty sight. After a minute or two someone finally came over an helped me up, and my now worried wife took over from there. Felt pretty woozy for the next hour, but they kept plying me with food and drink and eventually I bounced back. In hindsight what can I say? Somewhat disappointed in the time, because I've been running at that level all year. But on this day I ran as hard as I could for as long as I could. You can't ask for more.

Oh, and next year? I'm doing a 9 mile segment on the relay!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Equinox Marathon 2 days to go

I had this grandiose plan of taking a bunch of pictures of the course to show indeed how tough it is, but simply ran out of time and gumption, not to mention getting my 11 year old photographer out the door to take some pictures. Instead I've scoured a few pictures off of the Running Club North website for posterity.

With two days to go, I'm pretty set but also resigned to not being 100%. Other than missing maybe two or three workouts due to vacation travel, training could not have gone better this summer. I got in the requisite long runs and marathon pace workouts, and logged in about 580 miles during July and August. At 48 just getting to the marathon starting line in one piece is half the battle. Nevertheless, my hip flexors started acting up during taper--things seem to happen during cutbacks--and this Tuesday I started experiencing a bit of a sore throat with ensuing cold symptoms. Neither of these are show stoppers, but may slightly compromise the outcome. I think that a sub 3:05 is still possible, but going for 3:00 would be tough. The plan is to get out on the course, find a flow, and run smart. It's going to be a challenging day, but at this stage in my running career I've got the mental game down.

Below is a bit of a photo-essay describing the course (photos borrowed from Running Club North).

The Equinox starts on a soccer field at about 500 feet elevation, but within seconds you realize that this will be no ordinary marathon. The first climb starting at 150 yards is a slap in the face, as you must surmount a 200 foot climb over the next quarter mile.

For the next 4 miles the course winds up and down on ski trails and paths, with a little road work, and climbs to about 850 feet at mile 4 before continuing with a net downhill until you reach Sheep Creek Road at about 600 feet, between mile 7 and 8. At this point you've already run a challenging course, with a level of difficulty comparable, if not tougher, to the famed Van Cortland Park in New York City. Yet at 8 miles the fun hasn't even begun! The next mile is a steady climb on pavement.

Just after mile 9, at the first relay exchange, runners start their climb to the top of Ester Dome, where the course climbs from 700 to 2,300 feet in 3.4 miles.

[9.5 miles, heading to the steepest 1/2 mile of the course]

[12 miles, still climbing]

At 12.4 the grueling climb subsides, but there are miles to go. Firs they follow the ridge on the "out and back," which heads about 2.4 miles west, droping 400 feet, and then back up on the same trail. It's mostly a rutted gravel 4WD trail but some is on a path. On a clear day you can see Mount McKinley.

[12.7 miles, after a short respite, runners climb onto the tundra for one last climb to the 2nd Ester Dome summit]

[15 miles, the out and back, the loneliest stretch of the course]

At 17 if you haven't been fatigued for a while already, you'll be there soon. A nice gradual downhill back into Fairbanks would be the right way to wrap up this race, but it's founders were cruel. First you must navigate "The Chute," which plummets down a power line for about 400' feet over maybe 600 meters. Treacherous is an understatement. The Chute is covered with loose gravel and jagged soft-ball sized rocks. At best it's about 4 or 5 feet wide, with 10 inch ruts on either side. What were they thinking!?

If you can make it through The Chute then you can enjoy best part of the course, which flows from mile 17.5 to 20, most of it descending steadily through aspen and birch groves.

By 20 you'd want a nice gentle trail or gravel road to take you home, but no, nothing is easy on the Equinox. You have 2 miles of moderately steep downhill...on pavement. There is a bit of respite on the 23rd mile where the course turns onto a gently rolling power line trail. At 23 it's back to pavement, with an easy 2-4% downhill grade on Gold Mine Road. The road is straight but boring.

Just before mile 25 you cross Sheep Creek Road onto the UAF ski trails, where you must make a few more steep climbs over the next half mile. What would have been easy a few hours ago is simply more torture. Only over the last 3/4 mile do you get an easy shot into campus and back to the finish.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Happy Birthday Dad

Although I lost my dad 25 years ago this fall I still feel his influence. Running was one of his passions and it was through his example that I learned about running. Dad was not a natually built runner. As an adult he was a little over 6 feet tall and a solid 190 pounds. He played on the line for JV football while at college in Princeton and was on the crew for a year. However, he did run the mile as a prep at George School in Pennsylvania. The story is that he he came on to the team as a chunky kid and some of the others teased him about being heavy and slow. But his coach saw something, a determination, and told the other boys not to razz Bill too much because some day he might turn around and beat them. He trained all season, and sure enough at the end he bested the very boys who had teased him.

After marrying my mom in Finland in the early 1950s, dad moved west to pursue a career in hydrology. He kept an active lifestyle with hiking, fishing, and tennis, but he also smoked cigarettes and a pipe. After the Surgeon General came out with warnings in the early 60s, dad quit the cigarettes but continued with the pipe. Nevertheless, he jumped right into the "jogging" movement in the mid-60s, after publication of Kenneth Cooper's "Aerobics." For the next 15 years he was downright religious about his running.

As an engineer he was very precise, if not regimented. Through most of that time he would run three miles on the same route, three times a week. He wore an old cotton t-shirt and sweatshirt and tennis shorts and the trusty Converse All Star high top basketball shoes. Even though he was a "jogger" his pace would be considered these days closer to a tempo run or progression run. He didn't plod, he wanted to work up a sweat on his runs so he was pushing and huffing almost the entire way, and he always finished with a sprint, grunting with each breath, his head flushed red and thrown back as if he were age-group compatriot Roger Bannister running the first sub 4 mile in history.

His running routine sometimes brought my mother to a rage. He would come home from work at 5:30 or 6. Glance at the paper for a few minutes and proceed with his prepatory routine. Meanwhile, we'd be watching cartoons (Warner's Brothers), Gilligan's Island, or the news while she would make dinner. As dysfunctional as our family was, dinner was the one time where we actually sat down together and attempted intelligent conversation. But on dad's running night (usually Tuesday and Thursday--he'd also run on Saturday morning), dinner would be ready at 6:30 when dad was no more than half way through his three mile run. Sometimes we'd wait, but if it was getting too late and we began clamoring, we'd start eating by the time he came churning down the road on his final sprint, and he would end up eating on his own and on occasion without his favored salad, because my brother had helped himself to seconds and thirds. I also remember chewing on many a leathery ham or minute steaks augmented with wrinkled peas and dried rice because we had waited for 45 minutes for his return. And a few times dinner ended up on the wall after my mom threw it in disgust before heading off into the night in the VW to her art studio. On those nights we'd pop in a TV dinner for the four of us remaining and eat without much talk.

My favorite running story about dad was on his visit to China in 1974. By then he was a leading hydraulic engineer and professor at the University of Iowa. His mentor and former colleagues from Colorado State University had arranged for a delegation of scientists to visit the vast communist country, which had been closed off from almost all western visitors for 25 years. They asked dad to particpate on the delegation, and of course he accepted the offer, and he brought his jogging clothes! In Bejing one evening, while his colleagues were preparing for dinner, dad headed out for a 20 or 25 minute jog through the city. His plan was to just run out for 10 or 15 minutes and return on the same route. The streets were nothing like he was used to, because there was no grid system and the intersections included a multitude of roads, sometimes six or seven. After a turning around, he realized that he was not on the same streets from which he had embarked. So he kept trying to find his way back, only to become more disoriented. Finally after an hour or so of futility, he walked to an intersection kiosk where there was a traffic policeman. Of course no one spoke English and dad knew only the basic greetings in Chinese. Fortunately he had torn off a piece of hotel stationery and stuck it in his shoe. He pulled out the paper and through sign language communicated that he belonged at the hotel but had lost his way. They called a taxi and he returned back to the hotel for a late dinner. For the rest of his life his friends enjoyed the retelling of that story.

Dad never pushed me to run, and rarely mentioned it as I was growing up. But I know he was pleased when I started running casually during my last semester of high school, and he was proud when I started training for competition in college by the beginning of the next year. Once, after logging 10 miles in the dark and snow while on Thanksgiving break he said, "You've discovered the loneliness of the long distance runner, I see."

He was not a racer, but after I started competing he did run a few races. My mom still has a certificate and trophy of his, from a small race in Iowa City. He ran 28:05 for 4 miles at age 50, which was fast enough to win his age group!

Meanwhile, he was being taken by heart disease. After one race, on a particularly hot and humid day, he collapsed momentarily after crossing the finish line. The medics attended to him, but he seemed okay. But after a few weeks of lingering tiredness, he went to the doctor for a checkup and tests indicated that he had suffered a heart attack. He was in such good shape that they called it a mild myocardial infarction. After a few months of rehab, he improved his diet, quit smoking the pipe after 25 or 30 years, and was back on the roads.

In 1980 he and my mom moved back to Colorado, where he upped his training: he now wanted to run the Denver marathon, and hopefully someday Boston. He'd send me results from Denver races, and when I was in the city for a race he'd watch. In early October 1981 he ran 14 miles on Saturday and climbed a 14,000 foot peak on Sunday. On Monday he went to bed tired, and within minutes his heart just stopped.

I remember my dad for his determination and for his humility. He was quite a man, and indeed quite a runner. The first runner in my life.