Monday, November 26, 2012

Fall Races Review

The 2012 race season officially ended for me in August--at least my "A race" season.  My final goal for the year was a PR in the 5k which I achieved.  Following that, my primary focus has been on the 2013 Illinois Marathon, my first.  So, I've increased my mileage, completed some marathon-paced workouts, and worked on strengthening and cross-training.  However, to replace some of my monotonous training runs on the road, I substituted a few long races.

I already wrote about the FLATS Trail Half Marathon, but I will share my top reasons for other runners to participate.
1.  It is close to Quincy.  It is a pleasant autumn drive, taking about ninety minutes to two hours.  Of course, it was more scenic on the return trip after the sun was up.
2.  Nice trails.  The surface was mostly firm-packed soil with minimal rock.  The race planners had done an excellent job clearing the trails of debris, even going so far as to take a leaf blower to them the day before the race.  The undulating terrain was surrounded by fall colors and offered frequent views of the lake.  The course was marked every mile and there were no confusing intersections or turns.
3.  Frequent and well-stocked aid stations--water, sport drink, gels, M&Ms, salty snacks, and smiling faces.
4.  Swag: water bottle, cotton short-sleeve t-shirt, reusable back pack.  I was initially disappointed by the shirt being cotton and short-sleeved.  However, the first time I wore it, I was very pleased.  The texture is very soft and it fits me better than any other medium, cotton t-shirt I have.  The back pack has an outer zip pocket with an outlet for an earphone cord; I've used it often since the race.
5.  As with many races, a photographer was present at several points during the race taking action photos as we ran past.  The difference this time was that after the race, the digital photos were available online for free!
6.  Pizza and beer afterward.  Do I need to explain?

I also ran the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in San Antonio on November 11.  My best friend, Tony had run it last year, so I thought joining him this year would be a good excuse for a Texas visit.  He lives in New Braunfels just to the east of SA.  Having not seen him in two years, the entire weekend was a good time, but I will stick to the RnR specifics.  This is by far the largest event in which I have participated.  There were something like 25-30,000 participants.  The magnitude of the event became apparent when we visited the expo on Friday afternoon immediately after my arrival in SA.  I found that we were assigned to the twenty-third corral!  (We were registered with a finishing time of 2:30.)  The expo itself was massive; it was like a big trade show.  The selection of vendors was impressive--I could have spent a lot of money on things like shoes, bottles, Garmins, gels, jackets, singlets, etc.  We passed through the maze of booths, picking up a few things and tasting free samples.  I shared my experiences with some of the products with Tony--he's relatively new to running, only completing three races at this point, usually training solo.

We arose quite early on race day to drive into SA and park at the AT&T Center (where the Spurs play.) There we hopped on a shuttle to the starting line downtown by HemisFair Park.  The last one was at 6:30; the race started at 8:00.  The bus dropped us off, we stood in line for the porta-potty, and we waited...  We chatted with those around us in our corral and people watched.  A friend of Tony's found us in the corral and we wished each other luck.  Then, the race started, and we waited...  It took about thirty minutes for us to reach the start line.  There, it finally started to thin out a bit, but just a bit.  We were weaving in and out of people the entire race.  My plan for the race was just to hang out with Tony.  I had no goal time; I just wanted to hang out with my friend and support him as needed.  So, all I did was keep him in sight so we would not get separated.

The course was nearly all flat, just a few over/underpasses.  I enjoyed seeing parts of SA that I had not seen on my many previous visits--big old houses, various residential areas, off-the-beaten-path commercial areas.  Of course, we passed the Alamo at one point.  The crowds were lively and encouraging throughout the course.  I enjoyed reading their signs:  "Your feet are hurting because you're kicking so much ass."  "If it were easy, it would be called your sister."  "Run faster, I just farted."  Tony and I had a few of our own laughs along the way too.  I'm not sure they are appropriate for this blog though.  We saw another pair of his friends running along the route at one point too--surprising, considering the size of the crowd.

As I said, I did not have a time goal.  Tony did, but he didn't achieve it; his training was insufficient.  In fact, he struggled toward the end, cramping up during the final mile.  Regardless, we both enjoyed ourselves.  It was a novel experience for me: running a race for fun instead of being competitive.  I got a good, long training run in, possibly longer than I would have on the road solo because of our pace (we finished in 2:20.)  So, from a training perspective it was good.  It was also enjoyable because of the grandness of the event...and running with my best friend.

Finally, on November 17, I ran Abe's Trail Trek 15k at Lincoln's New Salem State Park near Petersburg, Illinois.  5k and 10k options were also available at this first-time event.  As it was affiliated with the Abraham Lincoln Triathlon Series and I had been impressed with their Pioneer Sprint Triathlon in April, I had high expectations for the event.  They did not disappoint.

I was first impressed by the race details on the website--very thorough.  All my questions were answered before I left my house.  I was a bit concerned about finding my way to the start, but it was perfectly obvious as we approached New Salem.  I was next impressed when I received my race bib and packet--nice shirt.  It was a long sleeve technical tee--looked good and felt nice.  I wore it home after the race; another perfect fit too.

The race started on time after we received our final instructions. The course started with a jog around the parking lot before we entered the trails to spread us out a bit.  The first section was wide and mostly grassy.  Then we ran up the road a bit before entering the mountain bike trail which they had warned was very technical.  It was.  I was happy to follow another runner, so I could watch her figure out our path.  It was obvious at a walk, but while running, it was easy to nearly go the wrong way.  I believe we exited that section at around the three-mile marker.  Next, we ran on pavement again for a while in between trails.  This happened  a few times during the race which was a bit rough for me in my minimalist Merrell trail shoes.

The remainder of the course was mostly more of the same, but no trail as technical as the mountain bike trail.  There were two sections that were very slick.  I still cannot believe I didn't wipe out on them.  One was very steep and we had to go up it and later down it, but I kept my feet under me.  Another section, I actually came to a complete stop in the process of trying to keep my balance and remain upright.  As a bonus, there were a few sections of stairs too.  One section was a bridge over the highway.  The other consisted of more rustic stairs, unevenly spaced railroad ties.

But, I conquered it all.  It was a very challenging course at times.  If I were to do it again, I would probably wear road shoes, considering all the pavement and the steps.  It was a beautiful day too, by the way--sunny and cool; great for racing.  However, not good for standing around.  Fortunately, at the post-race 'do, they had several fires burning and served hot vegetable soup and chili (very tasty.)

The overall awards were created by a local artist; I didn't get one.  However, I did earn a mug for being third in my age group.  They also had raffle prizes: some sport drink powder, Road ID vouchers, and running water bottles.  I didn't get any of those either.  Anyway, it was a great event and the response was probably good enough for the second annual event next year.  It was also another goal achieved for me--a fun, long training run.

Unfortunately, the race helped aggravate a case of plantar fasciitis which had been annoying me for a few weeks.  It became more than an annoyance--I limped around for the remainder of the weekend.  I plan to share more details about this adventure in an upcoming post, hopefully soon, and hopefully after I have conquered this challenge.