Monday, October 9, 2017

September Half: Mill Race, Columbus, IN


September races are supposed to be more temperate, right? Even cool... crisp perhaps? They're supposed to be the reward for surviving the heat and humidity and general misery of summer running.

The the Mill Race Half in Columbus Indiana, a lovely mid-sized race in a wonderful city brimming with architectural masterpieces (I'm serious) and #9 on my half a month for 2017, was a scorcher. Warm, humid, nary a puff of wind, and a sun that I'm pretty sure chose this day to get back at us for the mocking it took during eclipse-mania.

I knew before I'd left home at 4 (f'in!) 30 in the morning that it was going to be too warm to try anything, so I knew going in that this was a well appointed training run. So, I took it nice and easy and smart.

The first 4 miles were not only the best of the course, touring the downtown, many of the aforementioned architectural works, and Mill Race park, which couldn't be lovelier. And because the sun had yet to peek over the trees, the pace was smooth and easy.

The second 8 miles were not as scenic, but thanks to a mostly sun-at-your-back course that looped around an enormous Cummins Engine plant ("They're the title sponsor Bob, if they want us to run around the perimeter of their parking lot, we're gonna do it."), my pace only dropped a little as the air got hotter.

Exiting a covered bridge in Mill Race Park

Then... 8.5.

I know it was 8.5 because I looked at my GPS watch when I turned to corner.

I looked at my watch because I was wondering just exactly how far I had left.

I was wondering how much was left because I didn't want to end up like the guy I'd just passed.

The guy I'd just passed was walking, but not well... he was drunk walking.. at mile 8.5. He was NOT doing well. His long sleeve shirt (event shirt, so you know he was a newbie) was soaked through and his eyes weren't sharp.

I pulled up next to him and asked if he was ok. He clearly wasn't, but insisted he was good and started running again.

He ran out ahead of me. Maybe he was ok.

A  couple minutes later I came up on him again. Drunk walking, again.

This time I wasn't going to take no for an answer. I stopped to walk with him and started to tell him that I was going to walk with him to the next water stop. Before I'd finished my sentence another guy came along side...

Me: "Are you with him."
Dude: "No. He's just my friend."  (ok, I didn't mean "with him".. yeesh, relax)
Me:"He's in bad shape man."

The friend dude grabbed our drunk-walking guy's phone from his hand. "What's your password!"

We were almost at the rest stop. I knew he was in good hands.

So it was time for me to get to running again... but I didn't.

Something in my head said "Nope, I think we're done here."

Maybe it was seeing drunk waling guy. Maybe it was a flashback to my June half in Zionsville when I let the heat get the best of me.

Or maybe it was me listening to my body...

The blue is a trace from my GPS watch of my pace. The red is my heart rate. Look at those spikes just before I slowed down. Those spikes were the start of what could have been a very bad day. That was my body over-heating.

I didn't "feel" it, not really, but I did feel something... something not right.

It was that quiet, almost silent "ahem" that your body gives you when something is starting to tilt, the signal too often we ignore, or worse don't even hear or feel.

[Note: To be clear, I didn't see that heart rate trace, not until 2 days later when I pulled it off of my watch.]

But at that moment I felt something, something had changed.

As I walked through the rest of the water stop, I literally told myself "I don't want to end up like drunk-walking guy."

I decided I was going to end the long run portion of this workout and do 3x 1-mile intervals with recovery walks in between, that would feature copious amounts of fluids, and get me to the finish.

And it actually worked out great. I got in a good workout and felt great. My time sucked, but I didn't care.

I poured water on my head in my finish photo*, walked to my car, changed from wet to dry clothes in the parking garage (!!) and drove home safely in time to take lunch to my son.

Part of running is pushing ourselves, extending our limits, and sometimes competing against others. But above all, running is about tuning in, connecting to our bodies in the most intimate way.

Our bodies are smart.

Listen to what your body is telling you.

Good running,
Doug

PS. I think Dwight Schrute may have moved from Scranton PA to Columbus IN...


Race packet swag...
from Schrute Farms?

If you'd like to catch up on the year in halfs so far, here are links:
  1. Jan: runDisney StarWars half at Disneyland
  2. Feb: Gasparilla Half in Tampa FL
  3. Mar: Sam Costa Half in Carmel IN
  4. Apr: Carmel Half in Carmel IN
  5. May: Geist Half in Fishers IN
  6. Jun: Zionsville Half in Zionsville, IN
  7. Jul: Rock 'n' Roll in Chicago, IL
  8. Aug: Viking Dash Trail Half in Muncie, IN
Next up, Boilermaker Half on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN (my alma mater, thank you very much).

*Note: A bottle of water feels considerably colder on your head and neck than it does in your hand.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

August Half: Viking Dash in Muncie, IN


If there is an exact opposite of the Chicago Rock 'n' Roll Half I did last month, it is probably the Viking Dash Trail Half I did this month. Other than the distance, and the planet on which the races took place, and I suppose my name in the results, they have nothing else in common.

It's hard to look cool with a headlamp, but I'm pretty sure I pulled it off.
The Viking Dash is a trail race.

Run at night. In the dark.

With 19 finishers. The winner barely broke 2 hours.

There were no bands. No spectators aside from the brave few at the start/finish.

Jen and Chloe were two of those brave spectators.
Not a single Elvis spotted in Muncie, but there were about 15 Viking LARPers.




In Chicago we crossed the river, on a bridge, like babies. In Muncie, we crossed part of a lake... no bridge.

About 30 feet across, maybe 40, knee deep, not too cold
Chicago had peppy millennial MCs getting us "pumped" at the start. The Viking had Eric warning us of horse droppings on the course. He also suggested that the best time to turn on our headlamps was when we couldn't see anything. 

Eric - Race director and "MC"
I fell twice. Once hard. Once really, really hard.

I was off course once for about 0.2 miles.

I let/made a guy pass me at the 11 mile mark, knowing I was probably giving up an age group award (I was) just to have the trail to myself.

I finished 9th, 2:23:18.


Chicago was a good race for me, right when I needed it. Big race, big city, big crowd.

Muncie was a harder race, and a longer race, but it was also just exactly what I needed.

I was super anxious about this race. Before this month I hadn't run trails in years, and even then, my training runs hadn't gone particularly well, and bonus, since it started at 8pm, I had all day to think about how unprepared I was for the race.

Trail running is so unlike running on roads.  

Trails are hard. You can't keep any momentum... it's up and down, left and right... all broken rhythm.

You really don't know what the course will throw at you. Even a trail you've run a hundred times is different every time. 

It's a challenge. It's primal. It's real. It makes you feel alive, aware, connected to the Earth.

It's slow. It's hard. It's peaceful. It's quiet. It's alone. It's natural. It's scary if you think about it too much. It's addictive. It's pure.

It's the best way I know to learn how to be truly present, to achieve that state of here and now and nothing fucking else.

If your mind wanders too far from the trail for too long, it'll be brought right back... right at that moment when you fall on your face.

Those 2 falls of mine? I fell the first time looked at my watch, third mile... I looked for half a second... just a peek... and wham, rock grabbed my toe, heels of my hands collected bits of gravel. Too far, for too long. Second fall, mile 12, I wished a fellow runner well as we passed... didn't quite catch what she said... tried to process it... didn't get my foot fall right... wham! hard to the ground on my shoulder. Too far, too long...

But I needed this... I wanted it... to be reminded of, reminded how to focus... to find that level of hyper-presence again.

Crossing water up to your knees, or trudging up a steep, gravely hill, or darting left and right as the trail twitches this way and that... your mind is beautifully consumed with the present. Time doesn't mean anything. Pace isn't in your mind at all. How far you have to go doesn't even occur to you. Your brain is busy, focused on where to place your next foot fall among the ruts and rocks and roots... there's no capacity for anything else.

Now... add darkness, and a headlamp... your entire world is tree trunks that border a thin line of dirt that bisects an ellipse of light that extends maybe 15 feet ahead. That is all you see, all you know, all that matters.

5 1/2 days before this race I drove 562 miles round trip to see 2 minutes and 28 seconds of a total eclipse of the sun. I've never felt as aware of my place in the cosmos. This race, though, helped me feel more aware of my connection to my time, and place, and planet.

...

While I was training for this race, after a rough, hot, long but not as long as planned trail run, I sat with a stranger at a picnic table.

He ate his lunch. I changed my shoes.

He was retired, I'm guessing late 60s early 70s, training with a heavy pack for a long walk, the Camino Trail in Spain. I told him how poorly my run had gone that day, how I was obsessing about the heat, how hard the trail was, and how far I had to go. He reminded me "It's all about being where you are... step by step... 'I'm here... I'm running here... no where else matters.'"

I was in that zone in Muncie. And I look forward to finding "here" again, out on some other trail, very soon.

Pretty cool medal - a Ulfberht sward
Good running,
Doug

PS - The beer was gone when I finished... damn 5k LARPers drank it all... fuckers.

PSS - Beer supply aside, I highly recommend the Viking Dash series. Well run, good "trail runner" vibe. Check it out. If there's one in your area give it a try.

If you'd like to catch up on the year in halfs so far, here are links:
  1. Jan: runDisney StarWars half at Disneyland
  2. Feb: Gasparilla Half in Tampa FL
  3. Mar: Sam Costa Half in Carmel IN
  4. Apr: Carmel Half in Carmel IN
  5. May: Geist Half in Fishers IN
  6. Jun: Zionsville Half in Zionsville, IN
  7. Jul: Rock 'n' Roll in Chicago, IL
Next month Mill Race Half in Columbus, IN.

Monday, July 24, 2017

July Half: Rock 'n' Roll Chicago


July's Half-Marathon... Chicago's Rock 'n' Roll Half.

After a string on races close to home, I wanted to hit the road.

The idea was to drag my youngest along, head up Saturday, hit the expo, play in the city a bit, have a nice dinner, run early Sunday, brunch it up, and get home. Good plan!

Yeah, not so much.

The boy had a thing pop-up that ate up Saturday, so we got to the city about 9pm... just in time for a movie and bed.

I woke to a humid, but remarkably temperate, and not-so-windy city.

And, to a shit-ton of people. I had no idea this was such a big race.

Luckily, it was insanely well run.

For example... let's consider about the start:
  • Super helpful and cheerful people to help runners who arrive too late for the expo and have to pick up their number at the start.
  • Plenty of well marked corals
  • Lots of room to get to your coral - too many races neglect that detail and get traffic jams on sidewalks between shrubs and fencing as people try to get to their spot
  • Extra space in the corals so you don't spend those last few minutes crotch to butt
  • Wave starts just a minute a part - runDisney space the waves 10 minutes apart, so the last wave stood around for an hour... I know, because I was in that last wave.
  • Decent sound system with not-really-annoying-at-all MC keeping us entertained
All of this produced a relaxed, easy, uncrowded, and timely start.

Once running, my GPS warned me that my pace over the first few miles was a kinda quick, too quick for a guy trying to take things easy, so I made a point to pull in the reins and slow down.

Hold that thought...

Some may remember from my February post, that I don't generally trust mile markers in races. These markers were way-the-hell off... by a tenth or more. WTF RnR?!?

Well... umm... Turns out, in the big city, where you can barely see the sky and the satellite signals bounce around the tall buildings, you can't really trust your GPS, either.

Yeah... GPS was, in fact the one that was way-the-hell off. Sorry about the outburst RnR.

So, I wasn't going nearly as fast as I'd thought in those early miles. That means that when I'd "backed off so I don't set some kind of record by accident", I was actually going from kinda slow to really slow...some might call it pokey.

But, as it turned out, may have been for the best anyway.

The miles clicked off, and I felt really good. Especially considering the disaster of last month. So I just kept poking along.

Me, poking along.

I saw two Elvises... Elvi... running with each other. One was barefoot, and carried a blow-up guitar.

We also crossed the river, once via one of the draw bridges that is just steel grate... so you could see through it... to the river... why the fuck down there. Some people freaked out and jumped to the sidewalk. I freaked out too, but decided to lean into it.

The race was just crowded enough that I always had lots of people around me, but roomy enough that I never felt crowded. It was like going to a movie and having just enough people to make it feel like a big deal, but not so many that you couldn't have an empty buffer-seat next to you for your jacket.


At mile 8.5 came the only knock I have on the whole race... the half-mile up, half-mile back U-turn. As someone who as designed a course or two, I know they are sometimes a necessary evil to get the distant right in a world of actual streets and neighborhoods and physics, but... for fuck's sake... a 1-mile U-turn is just not cool.

I forgot and forgave pretty quick because just after the end of that shitty mile was the 10-mile mark, and the turn north, toward the finish, along the Lakeshore.

Three lightly rolling miles over overpasses and on on-ramps, and the apparently obligatory trip under McCormick Place, we were in sight of the finish.

Eventually, I crossed it.

I say eventually because I was slow. Really slow... second slowest half ever for me.

But... I did finish. And not only did I finish, but I enjoyed the tiniest sweet redemption from last month's debacle... I didn't walk a single damn step.

Heat? Humidity? Woefully underwhelming training? Not a problem... as long as you don't mind this taking a while...

There was free (crappy) beer...
They gave out what seemed to be
water in these clever Michelob Ultra cans.
The medal is great.

The medal has the "Bean" on it. Pretty cool!

There was even a festival with a funk band, but I opted for the short walk to the hotel, to wake up my son, and head to a lovely brunch.

I've come to accept that these summer halfs are gonna be slow. Hopefully they'll make me faster in the fall.

Real quick... I have to comment on the Rock 'n' Roll series. I remember their first event 20 years ago, in San Diego I think. As I recall, it didn't go great. Since then, I'd always considered them as "Facebook events" - overpriced, underwhelming, big medal, no class.

I was dead wrong. These guys put on a fantastic event. I've run many big races and I've never seen one more smoothly and professionally run. And the staff was probably the best I've ever seen... friendly, well-trained, enthusiastic, genuine. RnR is as good as runDisney at about half the price. I'm a convert, and a fan.

If you'd like to catch up on the year in halfs so far, here are links:
  1. Jan: runDisney StarWars half at Disneyland
  2. Feb: Gasparilla Half in Tampa FL
  3. Mar: Sam Costa Half in Carmel IN
  4. Apr: Carmel Half in Carmel IN
  5. May: Geist Half in Fishers IN
  6. Jun: Zionsville Half in Zionsville, IN
Next month I hit the trails in Muncie, IN.

Good running!
Doug


Monday, June 19, 2017

June Half: The Punishments of Zionsville

June's edition of my 2017 Half Marathon a month quest was a small race in Zionsville, IN.


It's an old school race with nice low key vibe. It starts and ends on Main Street, the bricked street in the insanely quite downtown. Normally, Zionsville is relaxing and pleasant. But not so much this day...

And the word for this day was "punishment".

I was punished for a number of running sins on this otherwise lovely Sunday.

Sin #1, Sloth - Since the May half (write-up link below if you're curious), I'd run exactly one day...June 7th,  Global Running Day. Yep, it took a global proclamation to get me out for a run... a 4 miler. Had it not been for that holiday, I might not have run at all.

I can blame work, or the weekend lost to the Indianapolis 500 (a day bigger than Christmas in our family), but in reality, I've been lazy. Slothy.

Turns out, to run a half a month you need to train a little. In the back of my head I think I was counting on the races to keep me in shape. Didn't exactly go down that way.

So on race day I was lethargic. The legs had no pop. I knew right away it was going to be a slow day.

Sin #2, Disrespect for Ra - Not only had I not trained, but that lack of training meant I hadn't acclimated even a tiny bit to the warmer temperatures or bright, warm sun.

Sometime, when you're out running on a sunny day with a heart-rate monitor, check your heart rate in the sun versus in the shade. In the sun, it'll jump right up, without picking up the pace or any perceived additional excursion.

What happens is you're circulatory system kicks into double duty, not only feeding your muscles, but cooling your body. Your heart starts beating more to send extra blood to the capillaries in your skin to help cool it. That's blood that's NOT feeding your muscles. You can quickly start to feel fatigued.

The only way to avoid that feeling is to slow down, or to acclimate. Given a 2-4 weeks of training in the warmer temps and sun, your body will adapt. More capillaries are built near the surface of your skin to make cooling more efficient, your sweat glads expand to hold more water, which also helps with cooling, and your legs will develop more capillaries, too, so they can get their fuel more efficiently.

So, after a few weeks, you'll be more or less adapted to the heat. And the real bonus comes in the fall, when your body is all geared up for heat, and the temps fall. It's like having a jet engine in your butt!

Sin #3, Hubris - I spent most of Saturday, the day before the race, resting and drinking lots of water.

Just kidding! I spent Saturday representing my company and many friends in the Pride parade in Indianapolis, and then hanging out at the festival after. It was super fun, but it left me dehydrated and leg weary.

The course for this race was well configured to punish me for all of these sins. The two-loop course was demoralizing...  coming through a hard section on the first loop, you knew you'd have to face it again with another 6 miles on your legs.

About a third of the loop was in bright sunshine. That same third had the toughest hills. That's a one-two punch that is bad enough to face once. Twice is just no fun at all.

Another third of the loop was flat rail-trail with shade. That came as a welcome respite... just enough to make me think that the second loop wouldn't kill me.

The rest was a little rolly, a little sunny, somewhere between the extremes of the other thirds.

The first loop was reasonable, but slow. The second loop started pretty positively, but that didn't last long.

I managed 9.5 miles before the wheels fell off.

This wasn't a mental break, or lack of toughness. Oh, for sure, I've had plenty of those. But this was a problem of physiology. My body wasn't ready for this race, these conditions, and it was throwing in the towel.

So, against every command from my brain, my body decided we were going to walk.

We were in the bright sun, past the worst  of the hills, but my systems were all in the red zone. I knew that if I didn't listen to my body, I was going to turn a slow day into a very bad day. So, walk I did.

To my great surprise and relief, a good friend was along the course spectating with his family. (Apparently there isn't much to do in Zionsville on a Sunday morning.) He gave me a bottle of water, a bottle of water that I desperately needed. Did I mention that the water stops were handing out water in those tiny Dixie cups that could pass as thimbles?

I drank the water, made it to the shade, and after about 2 miles of walk-jog that was mostly walk, I recovered enough to cruise it in.

Slowest. Half. Ever... at least for me.

At the finish, I was a mess. Hand on knees, sweating but cold, not thinking or talking very well.

Thankfully, Jeni, my GF, was there at the finish. She tended to me, fetched me water, held my banana (hey now... I mean an actual banana). She knew when not to ask me questions... let me stop mid-babble without asking if I was ok... found me some salt... and generally kept me company. Without here I probably would have found a shady corner to cry in.

After maybe 45 minutes, I was ok enough to head home.

So, lessons learned... re-learned, like we so often have to do.

  • You need to stay hydrated, so if they are giving you water an ounce at a time, stop and drink a few.
  • Acclimate to the conditions you live in. Be patient and let your body adjust.
  • You should probably run a few training runs before a half-marathon.
  • Find yourself someone awesome to keep you safe if/when you forget these lessons.
Half way through the year. I hope these get easier, like the miles seem a little easier after you're past halfway in a race... unless you bonk.

Next up for July, Rock-n-Roll Half in Chicago. I promise I will get some runs in, runs in the sun.



One good thing, if I'd fallen over upside-down,
my number would have been the same.

If you'd like to catch up on the year in halfs so far, here are links:
  1. Jan: runDisney StarWars half at Disneyland
  2. Feb: Gasparilla Half in Tampa FL
  3. Mar: Sam Costa Half in Carmel IN
  4. Apr: Carmel Half in Carmel IN
  5. May: Geist Half in Fishers IN
Good Running!
Doug

Monday, May 29, 2017

May Half: Geist Half-marathon

For number 5 in my half-marathon-a-month quest, I selected the 10th Geist Half-Marathon in Noblesville, IN, completing the Hamilton Country Trifecta that I just made up (Sam Costa, Carmel, Geist).

"Why Geist?" you may ask. "Why not the Mini*?"

I've done the mini... so many times. I'd never done Geist.

Besides, Geist was on my birthday!

So began a series of poor decisions that led to my second slowest half so far this year.

Running a half on my birthday really did seem like a good idea, a great way to celebrate a life well lived, and to kick-off yet another great year.

Problem was, I didn't think it through.

Had I thought it through I would have realized that to run this particular half on my birthday, I would have to get up up at 5:30am... on my birthday.

So I signed up. And I got up. At 5:30. That was after staying up, playing Mario Cart, waiting for my son to get off work... you know, the usual way to kick off a birthday weekend.

Once up, though seriously too soon, I slipped into my race duds, pulled on my shoes, and lumbered out the door for the 30 minute drive to the race.

Parking for Geist is, uhm... how can I put this delicately?... a pain in the ass.

There's zero parking near the start. As I got into the area, with cars darting all over the place looking for a spot, I dove into the first open place I saw.

As I got out, and pinned on my number, I looked around for some sign of the start. There wasn't one, nothing, other than a thin stream of people in shorts all walking in the same direction, like ants to some unseen discarded apple core.

Turned out to be just under a mile, a chilly, overcast, windy mile, from the start. Great conditions for running, not so great for walking, especially when dressed for, you know, a run.

Having joined the parade, trekking to where I had to assume the start was, I saw dozens of parking spots WAY closer than a mile from the start. I didn't so much mind the walk, that walk, but it filled me with a bit of dread thinking about walking all this way back after the race, sweaty, cold, and tired.

With the start finally in sight, I thought it'd be good to jog a bit, get the blood flowing.

The first step of that jog made it was clear I'd made yet another poor decision, this one 2 days earlier.

While in Palo Alto for work, I got to cover one of the classic Silicon Valley running routes, the Stanford Radio Telescope loop, and by loop, I mean steep, punishing, long climb and brutal descent. My quads, and my glutes, were fried after the run, and not much better this race morning.

Stanford Radio Telescope, and me. I'm on the right
Immediately, seriously... at that very moment, I knew that running under 2 hours on this hilly (for Central Indiana) course, was not gonna happen. I did not have the legs for it. Those legs were back in Palo Alto.

And I was ok with that... I would easily trade a meaningless goal for an epic, gorgeous run, any time.

View of Palo Alto from the tippy top.
So it was clear... this race was not gonna be a race, it was gonna be a training run. Cool by me.

One thing I did get right was fluids. I drank a good amount of water on the way to the race, so I was topped off. Actually a bit overflowing. So I had to hit the "Blue Brigade"... the row of porta-potties. A short line, quick whiz, and I was set.

I found my corral, tried to stretched my quads. They laughed at me. Before I knew it the race was on.

About a mile in, I realized the last, and perhaps my biggest mistake in preparing for this race.

Those paying very close attention may know what that mistake was. Here are a couple hints:
- I woke up at 5:30a, threw on my clothes and left...
- I popped into the porta-john for a quick whiz...

See anything missing?...

It was very apparent at mile uno that I should have taken time for a "numero dos".

I had 12.1 miles head of me with lots of rolling hills, and just as much cheek clinching. "At least it would be a good glute workout", I thought.

The course was lovely... rolling, scenic, with 4 crossings of the Geist Reservoir. And so many beautiful homes.

Trudging up one hill there was a gorgeous stone house, big without looking huge, perfect lawn and landscaping. "I wonder what kind of people live in a house like this", I thought to myself. And then, there they were... the family, who lives there, in their driveway, cheering us on. Turns out, the kind of people who live there are portly and not terribly attractive, but very supportive. Damn nice house, too.

Throughout the race, my fellow runners were quiet. Like really quiet. Back in the old days when I was fast, it was quiet, panting not chatting. But now that I'm further back in the pack, I've grown accustomed to a little small talk. Not today. Maybe it was the hills.

Despite my poor training, ridiculous run just 2 days before, and extra ballast on board, I was running smooth and consistent. My splits: 5K 9:22 pace, 10K 9:22, 10-mile 9:24

With the last hills behind me, stepping onto the last bridge, the finish in sight - not super close, but in sight - I cruised in, feeling pretty damn good. I smiled for a photographer, flashing him a 5 on one hand a 2 on the other... 52 and running (reasonably) strong!

Flashing 52 at the finish.
Turns out, I thought, it was a great way to start my birthday.

Finishing in 2:02:44, average pace 9:23, it wasn't a great race. But it was a pretty damn good training run, so I'll take it.

But, there was one last poor decision about to become apparent... after getting my medal, banana, and water. My biggest mistake was leaving my ID and cash in my car, a good mile walk from the beer tent.

Next up, Zionsville Half... a 2-lapper. Should be interesting. Hopefully I'll get up a couple minutes earlier to accommodate my "system".

Nice medal, sailboats on the ribbon.
If you'd like to catch up on the year in halfs so far, here are links:
  1. Jan: runDisney StarWars half at Disneyland
  2. Feb: Gasparilla Half in Tampa FL
  3. Mar: Sam Costa Half in Carmel IN
  4. Apr: Carmel Half in Carmel IN
Good running,
Doug

* The Mini, for those not from Central Indiana, is the 500 Festival Mini-marathon, at one time the largest half in the country.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Half: Carmel Half-marathon

You: Why on earth did you pick a half marathon in Carmel Indiana of all places for the April slot in your nutty 2017 Half-a-Month quest?

Me: Didn't you hear? Carmel Indiana was just declared the Best place to live in America.

You: Bullshit.

Me: No seriously... click that link up there. Or this one.

You: Niche.com? What the hell is Niche.com? And how much did Carmel pay Niche.com?

Me: Wow... you're cranky today.

Besides, Carmel Half Marathon (run in conjunction with the equally great Carmel Marathon) is a fantastic event. It has a big-time race experience but in a small town.

And not just any town... my town. The course wraps around my neighborhood.

And even better, I walked to the start... in 7 minutes. How often do you get to have a start and finish a race just a short walk from your front door? Some people walked farther that I did just to get to their car, and still had to drive home.

The day was perfect... 40s at the start (and finish), overcast, light winds. I just doesn't get any better.

And the course is a nice one... rolling, flowing. The kind of course that, unlike last month's course, let's you find a groove and cruise. When that happens, when things are feeling better, just generally going better, when you aren't full of dread of the hundred tight turns to come, your mind can wonder. And that can be entertaining.

In the first couple miles, I invented toss-a-way long sleeve shirts for those races, like this one, when it's a little chilly standing around the start, and for the first mile or two. You'd pick one up at the expo for $3, wear it until you got warm enough, and then toss it to the side of the course. Later, the vendor could sweep the course, retrieve the shirts, and donate them.

By mile four I realized that that is what old race shirts are for... but still, the gears were turning!

A little later I came up behind a guy wearing a shirt he got from the expo, one that has every runner who entered the race printed on the back.

I asked him if he'd mind holding still for a minute so I could find my name.

He didn't think that was nearly as funny as I did. Like not at all. I guess he wasn't having as good of a day as I was.

When I got to the 8-mile mark, I was on very familiar ground. I'd run this part of the course, the last 5 miles of the half, a few times already this season for training. The last time, just 2 weeks before the race, it didn't go so well. In fact, it was pretty much a disaster.

That day, for the first time since September, I aborted a training run. And for no good reason. I just quit. I wasn't feeling particularly bad, nothing hurt, and I wasn't sick. I just failed mentally.

My brain, actually my mind, not my brain, just shut the whole thing down.

It wasn't a good day.

But race day was.

I felt way better at mile 8 than I did at any time during that aborted training run. In fact, I was having fun!

Looking pretty happy on the
trail between miles 8 and 9


A short time after, as I was scaling the longest hill* on the course, a quote, from a corporate wellness program of all things, came to mind:
Exercise should be a celebration of what your body can do, not punishment for what you ate.
That started a new train of thoughts...

No shit! Look what my body can do! Sure, I'm not as fast as I used to be, but this bag of water and protein has been kicking around this rock for half a century, and it can still cruise a half marathon... a half marathon every damn month. Pretty remarkable!

Then I thought how ironic it would be if I'd dropped dead right then.

And how sad it would be that only I'd get the joke.

Up that last "hill", just passed 11 miles, I passed a woman. Her phone rang, or sang, some pop tune. As she fumbled for it in her little gear pouch, I semi-scolded her, "Don't you dare answer that, you're kinda busy."

"It might be a cheerer-onner", she said.

After a few more seconds of probing her pouch, slowing, but not breaking stride, she found the wailing little thing, "Nope. Uhg! I don't even recognize the number... and I broke a damn nail."

Just past the Fountain Round-a-Bout

We passed 12 miles on Main street. I don't if I subconsciously read it on a sign board or if it simply popped into my oxygen-deprived brain, but I started to wonder why "Quesadilla" wasn't spanish for "What's the deal?"

Then, the last turn, and the finish. 1:56:15

I've been faster, way faster, back in the day, but it's been a while. And, I haven't had that much fun in a half for a long time.


The finish area was filled with, and I promise I am not making this up, teen beauty contests. With sashes!

They were cold, but they were cheery, and smiling, and genuinely nice. Only in Carmel, IN... best place to live in America!

I got a really nice medal from one pageant teen, a space blanket from another, and from another a serious bounty in an easy to carry, pre-packed goodie bag. Perfect for a fumble-free, short walk home.


Nice haul from the goodie bag

But, before I walked home, I hung out at the finish line for a bit to watch other finishers. My favorite was Janice. It was Janice's 100th half-marathon. She had a support crew, some on the sidelines and some running by her side as she trotted in, arms raised, fists pumping, with a smile that warmed the whole finish shoot.

"Look what her body can do!", I thought, "Celebrate that shit, Janice!"

You: Good for her! That's pretty awesome. Are you gonna do 100 halfs?

Me: Easy cowboy... one quest at a time. Next month, Geist Half-marathon.

If you'd like to catch up on the year in halfs so far, here are links:



  1. Jan: runDisney StarWars half at Disneyland
  2. Feb: Gasparilla Half in Tampa FL
  3. Mar: Sam Costa Half in Carmel IN
Good running,
Doug



*Carmel Indiana doesn't have any real hills. We flat-landers call any incline more than a degree or two a "hill".

Friday, March 31, 2017

March Half: Sam Costa

If you like the twists and turns of running on suburban neighborhood streets, you'd love the Sam Costa Half... and, there is something seriously wrong with you.

For my March half, 3rd of twelve planned for the year, I chose one close to home, and dear to my local running community: The 48th Sam Costa Half Marathon.

This race has been around for ever, a staple of Central Indiana running. It's named in memory of a Chicago Police Department detective who used to drive 200 miles to train with his Carmel, IN based running buddies. (You can read a more complete history here.)

The Costa is well run, has a nice local feel, is not too big, and not too small. Big enough that you feel like you're running a half marathon, small enough you can find a parking spot 20 minutes before the start.

Given that the race is traditionally late winter or early spring, the weather can be hit or miss, but this year, it was 50-ish, and the threatened rain never showed.

The only thing not great about the Sam Costa... is the course.

(Click to see the course in a new window.)

The course makes extensive use of nearby (lovely) neighborhoods. The first 3 miles is typical Indiana suburbia with lots of tight turns, some "multi-use trail", which is essentially a double-wide asphalt sidewalk, and some short stretches of decent road. With just 470 finishers, it wasn't crowded, but negotiating the turns and the transitions from trail to street and back kept you on your toes.

Miles 3 through 8 are the only miles not in suburbia. There were some decent stretches where you could get into a groove. Unfortunately, this year, those stretches seemed to always be dead into the wind. The northern most extent of the course was especially brutal... a long, straight, rolling beat into a stiff wind on a road frequented by gravel trucks and the accompanying ultra-fine dust sand-blasting your eyeballs.

From mile 8 to the finish, it was all twisty, turny neighborhood streets.  I felt like I was constantly turning, or preparing to turn.

On tired legs, 5 miles from the finish, you don't want to think about tangents and curbs and manholes and sewer inlets... you want your mind to drift off to a happy place, you want to fall into a groove and let those miles pass.

It might not seem like a big deal, but with every change in direction, you lose forward momentum. I'm not making that up, it's physics. And with every turn you have to work to regain that lost momentum. And there were so... many... turns.


Somewhere between miles 9 and 11, I questioned why on earth I'm running these stupid half marathons. I was not having fun.

Eventually we popped out of one of the anonymous neighborhoods into the street that lead to the church, the church perched high on a hill, the same hill where the finish line was. Finally, the end was imaginable.

Coming toward me, taking the course the wrong way, presumably on a cool down (uhg, I hate it when people trot by on their cool down when I haven't finished yet, especially when they are young, and thin, and have great hair), was a young man who urged me on, "looking good, just 200 meters".

I wished I'd stopped right there, turned around, and officially declared bullshit, right to his face. We were AT LEAST 600 meters out. Probably 800. This young, fast, thin dude with great hair was either being WAY too patronizing to those of us still running, thinking somehow that if we thought we were only 200m out  it was going to keep us from quitting. Or, maybe he was EXCEPTIONALLY bad at judging distance. Or perhaps both. To survive what must have been 23,000 turns and sand-blasted retinas only to be insulted and/or unfathomably misled by all that hair... it was just too much.

Fueled by self-righteous disdain I trudged up the stupid twisty (of course) hill to the stupid church parking lot and crossed the stupid finish line: 1:59:33. Again, inconsequentially under 2 stupid hours.

And then... I started to dry heave.

I was dry heaving as if it were the second phase of some disturbing duathlon, one in which I'd given up A LOT of ground in the 13 mile run leg and was determined to make it all up in the dry heave leg.

I haven't horked up nothing like this is ages. No idea why, but it was happening, and it was happening violently. So much so that twice... in two separate heaving episodes times just a few seconds apart... I was pretty sure I was going to pass out, because, you know, I was vomiting air, not inhaling it. This was some serious heaving.

Eventually, miraculously, it stopped... the tunnel vision cleared... I was ok to walk. I forced down a banana and a cookie, got my medal, and drove just 10 minutes home.


I love the idea of the Sam Costa. It's local running at its best. It's inexpensive, it's close to my home, the people are fantastic, the hosting church is a perfect venue, and hell, they even have actual Gatorade at the water stops. I'm glad I ran it again. But it'll be awhile before I'm back. I'll have to be in the kind of shape where I'm not counting miles-to-go in my head, when I can just run, and flow carelessly around all those stupid corners.

Next up, Carmel Half.

If you'd like to catch up on the year in halfs so far, here are links:



  1. Jan: runDisney StarWars half at Disneyland
  2. Feb: Gasparilla Half in Tampa FL
Good running,
Doug