Monday, September 19, 2011

Monster Half Marathon, September 4, 2011

"I'm never coming back for this," were my last words as I left the Monster Marathon in 2010. The race takes place outside Virgil, NY and consists of a double out-and-back on single track trails up and down Virgil Mountain. The half marathon course has 2780 feet of climb and a corresponding amount of descent.

The view of the starting line from my car.
But it is now a year later and I'm explaining to the race officials that my previous statement is only a half lie.  "I'm not running the marathon," I say, "but I'll run the half."

The weather is warm and humid, unlike the pleasant cool temperatures of a year ago. Subsequently, the  race results will describe the weather as, "Partly cloudy, 80s, very humid."  I put a small container with Succeed! tablets in one pocket, put a couple of gels in another and my phone (to take pictures in a third).  Driver's license (for ID) and car keys go in another.  I've lost a few pounds this year and my shorts feel a bit loose.  I try to untie the drawstring to tighten them up, but there is a knot in them and I can't get it undone.  I've run with the shorts before and figure it won't be much of a problem.

One feature of the race is that it is age- and sex-graded, so I get to start 21 minutes before the official starting time of 9 a.m.  At 8:39 I'm off - alone.  Of the 84 starters, I'm the ninth to begin and the second male, with only 67-year old Joe R. starting before me.

Looking for white blazes in the piney woods.
The course starts with about a three quarter mile stretch down a gravel road before turning onto the Finger Lakes Trail.  Even though the race directions are simple - "follow the white blazes" - and I've been on the course last year, I come to the same spot where I got off course last year and still have to stop to search for the path. But I find it without actually going astray and begin the long climb up the mountain.  It isn't long before runners start to pass me. I'm used to it so I step aside to let them go and wish them good running.

But my shorts are becoming a problem.  The combination of things I'm carrying, the lost pounds and the sweat are allowing gravity to have a downward effect on my shorts. I'm quite clearly exhibiting "plumbers crack" to the runners coming up behind me.

I try a variety of things to address the problem.  First I tuck my shirt into the shorts.  But running simply pulls it out as the shorts sag southward.  I try rearranging the phone and gels, thinking that different pockets might change their influence on the sag.  Finally I stop and remove a safety pin from my bib and put a tuck in the shorts.  That fails.

Humidity and sweat lead to blurry pics.
The heat and humidity is oppressive, even in the shaded woods, but that gives me an idea of how to solve two problems at once.  I remove my shirt and tuck it in the back of my shorts.  Unfortunately, the sweat-soaked shirt, even after I ring it out, is too heavy and instead of taking up slack in the waistband, pulls the shorts down further.  I roll up the shirt and drape it around my neck where it remains for the rest of the race.  Then, I tuck my water bottle in the back of the shorts with the same drooping results.  Finally, tucking the bottle in the front of the shorts has positive results, but the bottle does tend to work its way down to regions not intended to share space with water bottles.  With all options exhausted I revert to simply tugging the shorts up when then get too low.  And as the day goes on, I worry less and less about it as it becomes clear that they are not going to drop to my ankles - and there are fewer and fewer runners around to see the low riding shorts.

Last year I ran the first half of the Monster Marathon in 3:05.  My aim today is to finish under three hours.  The plan is simple - 45 minutes between each aid station.  There is a bit of challenge there in the second part, as I should be a bit tired particularly given the heat and humidity, but I figure that since it is net downhill, that will cancel out any weariness.  I get to the first aid station in 46 minutes, a very acceptable result given the climbing in that section of the course.  Despite almost getting off course - a runner calls me back as I miss a turn - I reach the turn-around in 43 minutes, with an elapsed time of 1:30:38, almost exactly on schedule. But even as I keep expecting the midway aid station to be just around the next turn or at the top of the next short climb, it isn't there.  It takes 48 minutes to reach the aid station, more than four minutes slower than I had just run the section in the opposite direction.  I'm disappointed, but retain a glimmer of hope that the trail down Virgil Mountain will enable me to make up the time.

No sooner have I left the aid station than an animal howls from my right.  I swivel in that direction and see, in the crook of a tree, the black and white dappled fronds of the Virgil Monster.  I yell at the six foot tall creature, "Are you the Monster?"

The Monster responds in perfect English, "I am the Monster."

Ignoring the fact that the Monster is wearing athletic shoes, I say, "Wait a minute. Monsters can't speak English."

I'm answered with loud monster-like noises as I run on.

My hopes to make up time on the down slopes of Virgil Mountain are dashed by the steepness and technical nature of the trail.  I put discretion and avoiding injury ahead of competitiveness, and even when a runner catches up and passes me, I let him go.

Monster Half Marathon swag.
On the gravel road headed to the finish I spot a crooked stick.  But as I approach the stick wiggles and a small snake, maybe a foot long, slithers off into the grass by the side of the road..

I reach the finish in 3:08:05, for an age-adjusted time of 2:47:05, good enough for 46th of 80.  In the spirit of the low key nature of the race, and the modest $30 entry fee for day-of-race registration, I am awarded the finishers thin cord necklace of a red plastic leaf with 13.1 inscribed on the reverse.

After changing out of my sweat-soaked clothes I enjoy the iced tea, lemonade, a variety of wraps, salads and chips provided for the runners' enjoyment before heading back to our house in Watkins Glen.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Riley's Rumble Half Marathon, August 7, 2011

The website for Riley's Rumble warns, "If you want the 3 H's (hills, heat, and humidity), this is the race for you." Rather ominously it continues, "It . . . may not be advisable for your first half marathon."  In 2010 the weather conditions were so adverse that the race was changed to a fun run, meaning that the race was not timed and no results recorded.

I am not fond of half marathons.  They are on roads rather than trails and the distance is too short to run slowly and too long to run fast. And Riley's has the 3 H's. Maybe the combination of all those is why I don't run other half marathons. Riley's is the only half marathon that I run; as an MCRRC member, I don't have to pay for it.   Maybe if I ran a flat course on a cool fall day I wouldn't dislike the distance so much.  But I'm not inclined to find out.

I get up at 4:50 a.m. to drive out to the Germantown SoccerPlex where there race begins and ends as I've volunteered to help at registration prior to the race.  Registration work beginning at 5:30 a.m. at Riley's is easy and well organized in that club members who have run previously only need to remember to bring their bib and chip and run and nonmembers who registered online need only to pick up their bibs.  Lines for members who forgot their chips and for nonmembers registering the day of the race never get more than two or three deep due to the organizational skills of registration captain Christina C.  The biggest challenge is illuminating the board with nonmembers bib numbers before the sun rises at 6:14.

I start off with Mark McK. and Barry S.  Mark tells me about the West Virginia Trilogy of a 50K, a 50 miler and a half marathon over three days in October.  Doing the 50K and the half have some appeal and I tell him I'll take it under advisement.

The temperature is not too bad, but the dew point is high and the relative humidity makes it feel like running in a sauna.  Sweat has little evaporative cooling effect as the air is not dry enough to permit the sweat to evaporate. My glasses cloud up and even taking them off does not clear the fog from them.  My ability to see during the entire race comes down to two fuzzy choices: muted fuzzy shapes and colors through clouded lenses or brighter out-of-focus shapes and colors through uncorrected eyes.  I try both.  Neither is superior to the other.

Mark and I gradually pull away from Barry and then I pull away from Mark. The first few miles go by at about a ten minutes per mile pace. Around mile four the poor vision contributes to me missing a broken piece of pavement and I roll my right ankle. I walk and hobble for a bit, but I've rolled that ankle so many times that after about a quarter mile it feels OK and I can resume running.

I've prepared for the weather and brought Succeed electrolyte tables along.  I take three throughout the course of the run and they help fend off any dehydration.

Just past mile 8, the course runs along a country road to a turnaround at mile 8.42 (yes, it is marked that way on the course) where Don L. runs an aid station handing out Freezee pops.  "What flavor are the green ones," I yell to Don as I approach the turn around.  As I get to him, he hands me a green one and says, "It's jalapeƱo."

Getting to the next aid station Rebecca R. is offering runners the choice of Gatorade with and without ice.  This is extraordinary serve for an aid station and I select "with."

I feel that I'm fading a bit, but then fellow trail runner Liz and several of her friends catch up with me and I work off their energy to pick up my pace.  After a short time I feel something wacking my left ankle.  I look down, figuring it is my shoelace, but the lace is securely fastened.  The wacking continues.  I look again and realize that it my right lace hitting the opposite ankle.  I stop and retie it as the group runs off.  The last portion of the course contains some significant uphills and I walk them.  At the last aid station I take the proffered water and splash it into my face.

While I have averaged just under 10 minutes per mile the first 11 miles, the next two miles the pace falls to 11:25 per mile.  In the last stretch before the finish, a women catches up to me and urges me to keep up with her.  I try, but as soon as she gets a bit ahead, I stop running and resume walking.

But in the last 80 yards I spot a runner a little ahead.  Somewhere I find a bit of energy and sprint, passing him
just before the finish line.  It leaves me gasping for breath, but it is worth it.

I find Mark Z. and he offers to pour water over my head.  I gladly accept the offer and I can feel the cool water that hits my head turn warm in the brief time that it takes to run off my neck.

I finish in 2:13:36, good for 3/13 in my age group, 162/265 males and 241/475 overall.  All in all, not a bad day under the conditions.  And a result that does not justify the frowning visage captured by the course photographers.