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,

Thursday, March 2, 2017

February Half: Gasparilla in Tampa

The take-away from half-marathon 2 of 12 for the year, the Gasparilla Half Marathon in Tampa: Mile markers are big fat liars. Always.

6,482 humans joined me in the dark early morning for the 6am start, wandering the streets of downtown Tampa, toward the starting line. And, is usually the case around a bunch of runners, these were super nice humans… everyone I saw was happy and cheerful and glad to be awake and walking around in the dark.
Sleepy? Maybe a little hungover?
The real question is why were the
photogs taking pictures this early

When the audio for the national anthem failed, the participants, unprompted, totally organically, started singing the anthem a cappella. It was NOT a particularly beautiful rendition, especially at that super high “rocket's red glare” bit, but insanely cool nonetheless. That’s the kind of people I was hanging around with. In the dark.

Once started, I could tell I was going out a bit fast. I was within myself, but it sure felt like I was going out a bit too fast.

Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed that running in the dark feels A LOT faster than it really is? When my GPS blipped the Mile 1 alarm, I was WAY slow. S’ok, I thought, no worries… first mile is always a little wonky. Mile 2 will be better.

But it wasn’t. Still slow.

It was a little crowded. It was dark, really dark, like can’t-see-the-road-under-your-feet dark in some places. I’d flown in just the afternoon before, had a few margarita’s the night before. All or any of those could be slowing me down. Or maybe it just wasn’t my best day.

I saw the GF, who braved chilly* winds to watch for me at the only spot that had any spectators to speak of, just after the 5-mile mark. While collecting my high-five from her, and told her “I’m slow today.”

By then I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to run under 2-hours (my soft-goal for these races this year). Just not my day. I settled into a groove and tried to enjoy the scenery.

With some fuzzy recall of the course map and a little math, I realized that the rest of the race was 4 miles out, 4 miles back. I’m not a fan of out and back, but this one, along Bayshore, which (no surprise) was along the shore, of the bay, was gorgeous, especially at sunrise.

I saw Meb Keflezighi, US distance stud and 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist fly by, heading the other way on the back side of the out-and-back, in 3rd place. I yelled “Go Meb”, but he didn’t seem to notice. He did continue to go, though, so, who knows.

Key revelation: I’d hit every water stop up to 8 miles, and there had been a water stop pretty much every mile. If I kept this up, I was definitely going to pee my pants.

After the U-turn at 9 miles, I started back with the math, counting back from 2-hours, dividing my miles left. And, critically, I started doubting my GPS, which seemed to always think it was at a mile mark before the mile marker.

Ok, I know… mile markers are notoriously inaccurate, but these weren’t just dropped off from a truck that morning. There were lines painted on the street. Real lines, with labels. It REALLY looked like someone had actually measured this time, taken care to be accurate.

Plus, there have been plenty of times when my GPS watch has gone off the rails, seeming to be way long, or way short. (I usually blame it on a satellite signal bounce off a building.)

So, I started discounting the mile-by-mile alerts from the GPS and focusing on the markers. As you'll see, not my smartest move. Maybe it was the margaritas...

This lady did NOT want my photo taken

Those mile markers were telling me consistently that I wasn’t going to beat 2hrs . At 9 miles. And at 10 miles. And 11. I was running a decent pace, but I wasn’t going to make up the time I’d lost in those first few miles without pressing the pace.

And, I just wasn’t going to press. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t, not until I was strong enough to survive a “race” without injury. So, I cruised.

The scenery got even better on the return leg as the city was in view across the bay, and more importantly, was getting closer.

A little more math, because what else did I have to do, and I figured that if I was at mile 12 with 10 minutes to spare, I’d have a chance.

Mile 12 marker came... nope, 30 seconds over. Oh well… now I know for sure.

So, I just kept cruising, feeling just a little superior for not getting sucked into racing to a time.

Mile 13 marker: 1:59:00

Wait, what?!? I had a minute to cover 1/10th of a mile. How can that be?

Easy… Mile markers are big fat liars. Always.

I picked up the pace just a touch. Barely pressing, just a tad, for the last 60 seconds.

Checked the watch about half way… no problem… three quarters… yep, I can even back off a bit…

Don't you hate when they
get you checking your watch?

At the line I stopped my watch…. 1:59:58...

You’d think I’d thrust a fist into the air in triumph, right? After all, I’d just pulled "victory" from the clutches of defeat.

Nope, no fist in the air, not even a fist pump, nor a self-congratulatory "yes"... I started to laugh. I’m not talking a little chuckle to myself, I laughed out loud. People heard me. People looked at me.

I suppose I should have been thrilled, but I just wasn’t. Why?

Because in that exact moment it was clear to me how ridiculous that time was.

I beat 2 hours, my cruise-pace, minimum soft-goal, by 2 seconds.

Big fucking deal.

Don’t get me wrong… there are time barriers that are super important to us, that take us out of our comfort zones, that push us to new levels of fitness and confidence. For many, finishing a half in 2 hours is a huge accomplishment, and I get that.

People train hard and race hard to meet times, and that’s important to them. But let’s be real here… that’s not what this was. This was a cruise, and bad mile markers, and a slight change of pace over 58 seconds. For what? What does 2 seconds, over 2 hrs, finishing in the middle of the pack, mean?

If I’d finished in 2:00:02, would that have been any different? Really? Would it have been easier? Would I be less sore the next day?

If I’d had one less margarita on Saturday night, would I have run 1:59:56? Would that have felt different?

If someone had stumbled and I’d stopped to help, would a 2:00:15 be a bad result?

Race times are interesting, and, when looked at with a firm fuzzy-vision-inducing squint, can give you a rough idea as to how you are progressing, but let’s not obsess. Plus or minus two seconds, ten seconds, 30 seconds, over 13 miles, they’re all pretty much the same thing.

Post race snacks were plentiful. The GF walked me back to the room. We went to the post-race party, scarfed some BBQ. There were maybe 15 people there. I’m sure it filled out, but we had a beach, and more margaritas, to get to.

Next up, an oldie but a goodie, and close to home, the Sam Costa 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
Good running,

*”Chilly” is relative… it was way colder in Indiana

Indy top, Tampa bottom... duh...