Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New York? Again? Just my luck.

I'm probably not the luckiest man on the planet, but as the New York City Marathon lottery goes, I've got a pretty good batting average.

First year I applied, boom. In. Ran NYC 2009 as my first 26.2. Second year I applied, no dice. Was just trying to rack up the rejections, anyway, so I could do it again in 2013. But I applied again this past year, and -- boom -- my number came up again.

So I'm standing there Sunday on the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Staten Island side, surrounded by thousands of other runners from all over the world. There's an NYPD helicopter circling above, and a TV news chopper, and a couple of single-engine planes dragging banners, and another helicopter, and I get this lump in my throat and I think to myself: I can't believe I'm fortunate enough to be able to do this race. Again.

Then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed the masses over the P.A. system, a woman sang "The Star Spangled Banner," the cannons fired, and Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" rang out as we started heading up the two-mile-long bridge.

Going into the race, I wasn't completely sure what was realistic. In 2009, I ran Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon just five weeks after NYC, and last year, I did Thunder Road six weeks after the Ridge to Bridge Marathon in western North Carolina. This time, though, I had booked a date with the Big Apple just 15 days after the 2011 Ridge to Bridge race, in which I ran as hard as I could and posted a 3:13.

I did tell many people that I was doing this one for "fun," that it wasn't a race but an experience to soak up. So I figured somewhere in the neighborhood of 3:30-3:40 was a nice, safe goal for the notoriously challenging course in New York. But as many of you competitive types probably know, the temptation to "go for it" can sometimes be overwhelming.

The week of the race, I had successfully convinced myself and my coach that my legs were feeling great, and we agreed that I could try to run 7:45s, which would get me in under 3:25 -- a great time for a runner like me on a course like this. The day before the race, though, as she and I were walking in midtown on the way to catch the shuttle to the expo, she suddenly said, "So I was thinking that maybe you should run 8s for the first half, and then if your legs feel good at that point, you can start to turn it up a little bit and see what happens." This sounded like a good idea ... until I got to the starting line, and greed started seeping into my psyche.

I ignored the cardinal rule of marathoning: You don't ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER take the distance for granted. Things can turn in an instant. One moment you feel like you're in complete control, the next moment your race is spinning out of it. (Just ask Mary Keitany.)

My fastest mile of the race was the second, a 7:38 coming down the mile-long, 225-foot plunge on the far side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. My fastest mile of the second half was the 18th, a 7:52 along First Avenue in Manhattan, which typically draws the biggest and loudest crowds of the entire race -- at times 6 to 8 people deep for more than a mile on the west side of the street.

This is ironic because I had spent weeks, months even, warning friends of mine who also were running that those were the two spots where they most needed to keep themselves in check.

My race was by no means a disaster. My slowest mile was No. 24, a 9:01 coming up the long incline on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, alongside Central Park, where two-thirds of the runners around me seemed to also be running in slow motion. I soldiered through, without walking, on not-fully-recovered legs, on a course that does everything it can to chew you up and spit you out. (Those bridges were steeper and longer than I remember them, and the climb up Fifth Avenue is agonizing.)

After I ran New York two years ago, I wrote a recap that started slowly and was WAY too long -- but I also really feel it captured the experience of running the race about as well as I could have captured it.

That blog entry provided a lot of specifics about the unique qualities of the various areas that the course runs through. This time, I'll just make a blanket statement: To me, Marathon Day in New York is a day that's full of so much hope. Runners hope to get a PR. They hope to spot someone they know in the crowd. Friends and family members hope their runners see the sign they've made for them. Children hope they can get a runner to give them a high five.

Race officials estimate that 2 million spectators line the course every year. Maybe that's a wildly inaccurate guess. And, sure, tons the fans have a vested interest in the event (i.e. are out there to support someone running). But I think there are lots of people, especially in Brooklyn and Queens and the Bronx, who just come out because it's fun to cheer. It's fun to gawk. It's fun if you're, say, Italian, or Japanese, or Ethiopian, to go bananas when you see someone running past flying the country's colors on his or her clothing.

Seeing people who might not otherwise give a hoot about running take time out of their day to be a part of the event in some small way is so awesome, so inspiring, so awe-inspiring.

Purely from a numbers standpoint, I did OK on Sunday. I ran a 3:35:54 -- 1:44:07 for the first half, 1:51:47 for the second half. Not great, not a complete meltdown. These are numbers, though, and as much as I love numbers, this weekend was about the power and the pleasure of bonding experiences.

One of the many unique aspects of this event is that unless you have remarkably fast or charitable friends, you can't just say to your spouse or your brother or your neighbor or your college roommate, "Hey, let's go run the New York City Marathon." Your number comes up, you do the detective work to find out who else's number has come up, then social plans begin to formulate. After spending a night with a couple who lives in New York but wasn't running the race, I shared a room Saturday and Sunday with a guy I barely knew before the trip and now would consider a good friend. I had a great dinner with some Charlotte Running Club members on Friday night, a fun lunch with my coach and her sister on Saturday, and a delicious feast with friends from the University City Road Runners group I belong to on Saturday night. Each crew was a motley one, many of us thrown together by chance -- but I couldn't have asked for better companions.

Now, as fantastic as the entire experience was ... this time around, the inconveniences stood out a little bit more. New York is, of course, expensive; my hotel room was -- after taxes -- more than $900 for two nights. Manhattan is a city geared toward walking and standing around waiting in lines, and one of the worst things a marathoner can do the day before a marathon is a lot of walking and standing around waiting in lines.

Race morning is a long ordeal that involves walking, then a subway ride, more walking, then a ferry ride, more walking, then a bus ride, more walking, then a whole lot of standing around. You could get a ride from someone across the bridge, but the Staten Island Expressway must be cleared by 6:45 a.m., so if you go that route, you're in for three-plus hours of waiting around in the start village.

The course is very crowded. There were 42,000+ runners when I did it in 2009, and 47,000+ this past Sunday. They're sent off in three waves so it's really kind of like three races with 15,000-16,000 runners in each, but it's still a ginormous number of runners. Worse, occasionally fans, locals, or cops will try to cross the street.

After finishing, it's a long, cold march to the baggage trucks containing your warm clothes and your cellphone. It's a virtual certainty that you won't see a friend or loved one for at least 20 to 30 minutes after you cross the finish line, at a time when a hug would feel like the greatest thing in the world.

The whole thing sounds pretty awful, doesn't it? Well, go ahead and be scared. If you don't enter the lottery next year, the chances of my number coming up again only get better.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nope, I'm not disappointed with a 3:13!

I didn't really come very close to qualifying for the Boston Marathon today.

I mean, I wasn't way off. Missing by 3.5 minutes is much closer than missing by 35 minutes ... but it's still 3.5 minutes. It's not 3.5 seconds.

You might ask me (and some have): "Are you disappointed?" And the answer is: Maybe a little bit. Mostly, in truth, because I wanted so badly to hit the mark to honor my coach, who has been molding me and pushing me and prodding me as an athlete for the past several months.

But don't ask me whether I'm disappointed. Ask me whether I am totally and utterly psyched. And the answer is: absolutely. Positively.

Almost exactly two years ago, I ran a 3:49 in my first marathon. My progression since has been 3:42, 3:49, 3:43, 3:26, 3:28, 3:20, 3:46. So this is a huge, earth-shattering breakthrough for me -- a 7-minute marathon PR and a full 13 minutes faster than my time on the same course one year ago.

I ran a 3:13:26 at the Ridge to Bridge Marathon this morning, and here -- in lieu of a more traditional race report -- are the things that stand out to me about after this experience.

1. 26.2 miles is a loooong #$&@ing way. I usually manage to forget this fact about 24-48 hours after I run a marathon; there's no other way to explain why I keep signing up for these things. I got to Mile 18 today and my head almost fell off of my body when a quick check of the math revealed that I still was going to have to run for another hour at my then-current pace. The early miles fly by like they're nothing, but I would describe the perceived distance between Miles 22 and 23 to be about six miles. It's just a long race.

2. A downhill marathon does not mean an "easy" marathon. I picked this race -- which starts in the tiny town of Jonas Ridge and drops down into the Pisgah National Forest before winding its way to Brown Mountain Beach Resort -- because as many of you know it features almost 3,000 feet of descent. Here's the thing: The bulk of the downhill is set between Miles 6 and 13.5. There are two significant uphills within that stretch. The five-plus miles that precede the downhill are wildly rolling. The final 12 or 13 miles are often flat, but have several gradual inclines. The truth of the matter is, the first half of Ridge to Bridge is quite easy. I think my 13.1 split was 1:34-something, and I could have gone faster. On its own, the second half can best be described as easy to moderate. The challenge, though, is managing the three parts of the course so that they all balance each other out and produce a solid time. It's all about tactics. If you hit the first section too hard, you'll pay for it later. If you hit the downhill too hard, you'll pay for it later. If you are too conservative in either spot ... you might pay for it later. People who've never done Ridge to Bridge can easily look at the elevation chart and go, "Well, I could run a huge PR there, too." And they might. They might also crash every bit as hard as I saw many runners crashing out there today. It's fast if you run it correctly. But ask any R2B vet, and I guarantee you they'll say the course is far tougher than it appears to be on paper.

3. I had a game plan, I went for it, I just came up a little short. So my strategy was to go out slowly, warm up through the rolling hills without getting down to goal pace, then hit the downhill section hard -- without killing it. At the bottom, I planned to try to maintain at or just below goal pace through 23, then I had built a gradual slowdown through the last 3.2 that would still get me to 3:09:30. Everything went according to plan until late in the game. Rolling section up top: 7:46, 7:34, 7:23, 7:27, 7:25, 7:28. Downhill section: 6:58, 6:59, 7:01, 7:12, 6:57, 7:05, 7:10, 7:01. Bottom section: 7:24, 7:15, 7:13, 7:14... Between 18 and 19, I felt a ripple through my right calf muscle that had me backing off just slightly. At this point, I felt like I was still in good shape. 7:23 for Mile 19. And then things started to slowly unravel. The pounding from the downhill was taking its toll, although aerobically I felt good and I still had energy (i.e. I wasn't feeling a bonk coming on). 7:46 for Mile 20. I tried to push through and managed one more halfway-decent mile -- 7:28 for No. 21 -- but then my calf seized up in Mile 22, so I had to back off and clicked an 8:04. The rest is history, or, if you need numbers, 7:53, 8:14, 8:11. About 50 yards from the finish, my hamstring locked up completely and I had to stop to rub it out, but I pulled it together enough to run it in without looking wobbly.

4. When the margin for error is small, one false move can cost you. I knew I'd be cutting it close. I was in shape for a sub-3:10 attempt. I was not in shape for a sub-3:05 attempt. So it wasn't a case where I could shoot for the moon and then just land among the stars if I missed. Everything had to go perfectly. And one thing didn't. For some reason I can't explain, I took only water at aid stations through 18 miles. When I got the first hints of cramping, I knew immediately that I should have been taking some Gatorade throughout the morning. I'm no sports medicine doctor, but I do know that the most common belief is that we will experience muscle cramps if we run low on electrolytes. I was low on electrolytes. I think I was suffering enough in the late-going that I still likely would have missed my mark; by my unscientific estimates, the cramps cost me a minute or two tops. We'll never know.

5. I toughed it out, though, and I got my toughness from Kelly Fillnow. I think a year ago, I would have bagged the race at Mile 22 and figured out a way to salvage a 3:20 by taking some walk breaks and coming up with excuses in my head. Instead, I busted my rear end to try to stay on task as much as possible because my coach said to me the day before: "You can endure so much more pain than you think you can." I wanted to test the theory. She also told me to use mantras to focus myself, and I did, and they worked. On the downhill, it was "Lean into it; don't brake. Lean into it; don't brake." In the final miles, it was "Stay within yourself. Stay within yourself." I am proud that I was able to manage the cramps as best I could by slightly changing my cadence and leg lift, applying just enough gas to keep me moving at an OK clip without rising into the red zone and locking up a muscle. I knew I was not going to hit my goal by Mile 23, which in the past would provided me with an excuse to give up. Instead, I kept hammering as hard as I could hammer. It hurt. But I discovered that Kelly is right: I can take a lot more than I thought I could.

6. It's great to have a goal, but it's even more gratifying to have great people to help you work toward it. I mentioned this on Facebook, but I am just so thankful to have had the love and support of my wife and daughter through an intense training period, and to have had Kelly there to push me. I self-"coached" myself to a 3:20 in March 2011, just 16 months after my 3:49 debut. But I knew going from 3:20 to 3:10 -- a mark that fewer than 1 in 12 marathoners will ever get to -- was going to take more motivation and effort than I was used to. It's kind of like what they say about losing weight: "The last 10 pounds are the hardest." Anyway, as many of you know, Kelly kicked my butt this summer. I ran more quality miles than ever, did more workouts and speedwork than ever, more core, more strength, more swimming. I got through the training plan without a single injury, without a single injury scare. So this run was for her, and for my wife and daughter.

7. You've gotta celebrate the small victories. A Boston qualifying time, of course, was the big goal (sub-3:10 for me). But there are still plenty of positive takeaways, not the least of which is the substantial PR. Perhaps the statistic that makes me smile the most: Nineteen of my mile split times today were faster than my fastest split in the same marathon last year. Oh, and I finished 24th overall out of more than 300 runners. Also, if you look at my result another way, it shows that I missed a BQ by just six seconds per mile -- which makes it sound like I came a lot closer than I actually did!

8. Ridge to Bridge is an amazing event. Mind-blowingly good. This is a small race that gets all the big things right. Exceptional organization. A beautiful and challenging course, one that can bring you a big PR if you play your cards right. Pristine weather both times I've run it, with amazing fall colors and breathtaking vistas. The best post-race food spread I've ever tasted. Halloween candy and throwaway gloves in your welcome bag. Heated luxury coach buses to take you to the start (you can sit in them right up till a few minutes before the gun goes off). It attracts the friendliest runners you can possibly imagine. There's acold river to soak your legs in at the finish. A race director who knows you by name. A truck that brings discarded clothing to the finish area so you can get it back if you wanted it. Great volunteers. Nice medals. Marathon experiences do not get any better.

So that's it. No. 9 is in the books. Marathon No. 10 is two weeks from Sunday. I'll write again, after New York...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chat live with a sports medicine expert

Just a quick heads-up about something cool Presbyterian Healthcare is offering from 5-6 p.m. TODAY. Dr. Keith Anderson, sports medicine expert, will chat live with folks on the Presbyterian Healthcare Facebook page.

Fresh off a trip to Kona, Hawaii, where he served on the medical team for the Ironman World Championship, Dr. Anderson will answer questions about distance running, including topics such as nutrition, hydration, mileage progression and injury prevention/treatment.

It’s free to participate, though Presbyterian is asking people to register in advance by clicking on this link.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Area finishers at the Chicago Marathon

One hundred seventy-two Charlotte-area residents are probably a little sore this evening. OK, maybe a lot sore. But they all can say they finished the Chicago Marathon on a day when abundant sunshine and temperatures that climbed into the upper 70s took their toll on runners.

The fastest Charlottean was David Przybyla, 29, who recently moved here from Lafayette, Ind.; if the warm weather got to him, it didn't show -- he ran a steady pace of just over 9 mph (6:35-6:40 pace) for most of the race. The top area woman was Leslie Gentile of Huntersville; the 27-year-old ran a 3:16:20 and slowed only slightly in the final few miles.

Here's a complete list of finishers. If I missed someone, please let me know and I'll add them. Congratulations to all who ran.


David Przybyla, Charlotte: 2:53:55
Scott Kennedy, Rock Hill, SC: 2:59:43
Josh Lemke, Charlotte: 3:02:45
Jason Martin, Charlotte: 3:09:13
Tim Friederichs, Charlotte: 3:12:10
Paul Shamansky, Midland: 3:15:10
Leslie Gentile, Huntersville: 3:16:20
Julie Przybyla, Charlotte: 3:19:58
Karin Nentwig, Charlotte: 3:20:04
Mark Ulrich, Charlotte: 3:23:11
Mark McGeough, Huntersville: 3:24:31
David Templeton, Fort Mill, SC: 3:26:14
Stefan Fencl, Fort Mill, SC: 3:27:03
Koine Kinyua, Charlotte: 3:30:31
Sarah McGeough, Huntersville: 3:33:51
Brian Moroz, Charlotte: 3:34:56
Kay Bruegmann, Charlotte: 3:35:30
Sean Anderson, Charlotte: 3:35:49
Margot Brinley, Charlotte: 3:36:43
Westley Webber, Charlotte: 3:36:46
Steven Brown, Indian Trail: 3:38:18
Laura Oberbauer, Charlotte: 3:41:06
Siobhan Grant, Charlotte: 3:43:11
Rhett Benner, Huntersville: 3:44:07
Nicole Smith, Charlotte: 3:45:26
Robert Steere, Waxhaw: 3:47:24
Zoe Brennan, Charlotte: 3:48:01
Kerry Peterson, Charlotte: 3:48:06
Anand Ekambaram, Charlotte: 3:48:21
Mike Sullivan, Charlotte: 3:48:26
Manuel Pimentel, Charlotte: 3:48:50
Shannon Emery, Weddington: 3:52:10
Melissa Johnson, Charlotte: 3:53:29
Joseph Anastasi, Matthews: 3:54:52
Jodi Batista, Stallings: 3:55:23
Daniela Wilburn, Huntersville: 3:56:08
Timothy Vest, Huntersville: 3:56:33
Keri Crews, Charlotte: 3:56:38
Gary Chesson, Charlotte: 3:57:40
Jonathan Rosen, Charlotte: 3:57:58
Jean Hargett, Mooresville: 3:59:12
Erica Joefreda, Rock Hill, SC: 3:59:14
Katherine Earle, Waxhaw: 4:01:00
Katie Harbold, Charlotte: 4:01:50
Christi Cranford, Charlotte: 4:03:57
Marty Albrecht, Concord: 4:03:59
Hazel Tapp, Charlotte: 4:04:07
Scott Sharp, Cornelius: 4:05:00
Anne Ratcliffe, Charlotte: 4:05:35
Diane Derkowski, Charlotte: 4:07:26
Michael Ham, Concord: 4:07:32
Brooke Smith, Charlotte: 4:07:38
Mike Tamberella, Gastonia: 4:08:06
Sarah Ryan, Charlotte: 4:08:29
Mike Schank, Huntersville: 4:09:20
Wade Miller, Charlotte: 4:10:16
Darryl Strack, Harrisburg: 4:10:33
Kristen Backeberg, Lake Wylie, SC: 4:11:18
Pamela Almeida, Charlotte: 4:12:31
Greg Scharff, Matthews: 4:12:40
Michael Adams, Mooresville: 4:12:59
Jason Bria, Charlotte: 4:13:17
Jennifer Challis, Fort Mill, SC: 4:13:17
Joseph Roche, Concord: 4:13:18
Kyle Coates, Charlotte: 4:14:16
Jason Silverstein, Charlotte: 4:14:23
Gautam Oza, Charlotte: 4:14:46
Cliff Jarrett, Charlotte: 4:15:15
Sivakrishna Uppalamethi, Charlotte: 4:16:02
John Bennett, Clover, SC: 4:16:55
Marcia Risi, Davidson: 4:16:56
Peter Wysong, Charlotte: 4:17:16
Craig Novick, Gastonia: 4:18:12
Sara Dumond, Charlotte: 4:19:29
Philamee Bennett, Charlotte: 4:19:49
Daniel Strong, Charlotte: 4:19:55
Andrew Coffey, Charlotte: 4:20:45
Scott Snyder, Charlotte: 4:21:11
Mark Guenther, Charlotte: 4:24:28
John Hasner, Charlotte: 4:25:11
Michael Barilla, Charlotte: 4:25:52
Jay Johnston, Charlotte: 4:26:34
Mary Ann Kennedy, Rock Hill, SC: 4:28:03
Ryan Anthony, Gastonia: 4:28:29
Nikunj Damani, Charlotte: 4:28:29
Toby Holloway, Matthews: 4:28:34
Katy Brown, Charlotte: 4:29:32
Niki Koesel, Charlotte: 4:30:13
Christopher Zagar, Concord: 4:31:33
John Allen, Charlotte: 4:32:48
Elizabeth Westerberg, Charlotte: 4:32:53
Jason Brett, Charlotte: 4:34:43
Heather Enlow Novitsky, Charlotte: 4:34:51
Elsie Briley, Huntersville: 4:35:11
Dominic Salomone, Charlotte: 4:36:38
Shelley Dugas Thomas, Davidson: 4:36:53
Amy Pittenger, Charlotte: 4:37:34
Alex Dolphin, Charlotte: 4:38:12
Alexander Gunn, Davidson: 4:38:42
Emily Knudson, Concord: 4:43:15
Steven Bugica, Charlotte: 4:44:47
David Hulbert, Charlotte: 4:45:13
Jonathan Czarnecki, Charlotte: 4:46:14
Tom Becker, Waxhaw: 4:47:28
Eugenia Sosa, Charlotte: 4:47:56
Hylton Early, Charlotte: 4:47:57
Sara Vest, Huntersville: 4:48:06
Charles Waikwa, Charlotte: 4:48:43
Christopher Maffucci, Waxhaw: 4:51:44
Andrew Markners, Fort Mill, SC: 4:52:50
Anne Koester, Huntersville: 4:53:38
Matthew Deiger, Charlotte: 4:53:44
Emily Harris, Charlotte: 4:53:55
Brian Adams, Cornelius: 4:55:46
Michael Fink, Cornelius: 4:56:32
Praveen Rathee, Charlotte: 4:56:44
William Linnane, Indian Trail: 4:57:02
Jessica Cohen, Charlotte: 4:57:16
Shawne Carew, Charlotte: 4:58:28
Amanda Vander Haar, Denver: 4:58:36
Hal Keener, Charlotte: 4:58:46
Brendan Beirne, Cornelius: 4:59:40
Gigi McNinch, Charlotte: 4:59:42
Andy Market, Charlotte: 5:00:08
Sandy Campuzano, Mooresville: 5:00:12
Kevin Hofer, Charlotte: 5:00:39
Amheric Hall, Charlotte: 5:01:35
Jennifer Brown, Charlotte: 5:02:24
Evan Wolkofsky, Charlotte: 5:03:39
Stacey Hien, Concord: 5:04:12
Scott Jackson, Charlotte: 5:05:22
Heidi Giffin, Charlotte: 5:06:18
Meredith McCormick, Charlotte: 5:06:18
Jeffrey Frelitz, Charlotte: 5:06:37
Alecia Taylor, Charlotte: 5:07:04
Alison Stanford, Waxhaw: 5:08:43
Lesley Williams, Huntersville: 5:09:12
Bill Miller, Concord: 5:13:29
Mark Burnham, Gastonia: 5:14:34
Gatewood Campbell, Huntersville: 5:14:47
David Smoots, Charlotte: 5:15:12
Kyle Rippey, Charlotte: 5:18:15
Stephanie Poludniak, Charlotte: 5:18:26
Pani Maddi, Charlotte: 5:21:00
William Robinson, Charlotte: 5:21:12
Tracey Scheid, Huntersville: 5:23:34
Dawn Maschhaupt, Charlotte: 5:23:36
Thomas Hornick, Indian Trail: 5:24:56
Quyen Tran, Charlotte: 5:27:03
Stephen Price, Charlotte: 5:27:52
Dana Slagle, Huntersville: 5:28:00
Betsy Myers, Charlotte: 5:28:29
Robert Prestininzi, Fort Mill, SC: 5:30:04
Christopher Otte, Fort Mill, SC: 5:34:45
Laura Reed, Charlotte: 5:38:44
Allen Wyatt, Charlotte: 5:39:56
Melyssa Fleming, Charlotte: 5:42:35
Heather Gerhart, Charlotte: 5:42:58
Sharon McGowan, Cornelius: 5:44:28
Larry Hunt, Charlotte: 5:47:33
Vivek Kumar, Charlotte: 5:52:38
Charles Ellerbe, Charlotte: 5:54:42
Courtney Market, Charlotte: 5:54:58
Michael Shade, Charlotte: 5:57:01
Nathaniel Romance, Charlotte: 5:57:37
Cheryl Emmerich, Charlotte: 6:06:23
Joseph Rinaldi, Matthews: 6:07:49
Martine Kusiak, Huntersville: 6:10:16
Stephanie Yewcic, Huntersville: 6:10:16
Anna Pasterz, Charlotte: 6:20:04
Michelle Wyatt, Charlotte: 6:20:18
Jodie Strong, Charlotte: 6:30:45

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You? A cross-country coach? Why not?

Do you get a lot out of running? Would you like to give something back?

Here's an opportunity: It's called Cross-Country for Youth, a 10-week after-school running program designed to combat childhood obesity and promote character-building among middle schoolers. More than 325 students participate in the five-year-old program run by Reggie McAfee, the first African American to break the four-minute mile barrier.

What does this have to do with you, and with "giving back"? Well, the program -- which is in about 22 Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary and middle schools and three Mecklenburg Parks -- needs coaches and character presenters.

In addition to practices, held on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m., student participants will be competing in a series of cross-country meets. The estimated weekly time commitment for coaches is two hours over the 10-week period; all materials and training will be provided, and it's OK to buddy up and coach with a friend.

For details on Cross-Country for Youth, click here. If you are interested, contact McAfee via e-mail (reggie.mcafee1@gmail.com) or phone (704-634-4688) this week -- the program's fifth season is just about to begin.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Inaugural 5K to support Let Me Run

Fix 4 the Day -- a local "network of people inspiring each other to live a healthier lifestyle by exercising their bodies, minds, and spirits" -- has announced it will sponsor and coordinate a 5K run/walk that will benefit Let Me Run of Charlotte.

The Fix 4 the Day 5K will be held at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, at McAlpine Creek Park. The out-and-back course is on a gravel footpath that is 10 to 15 feet wide; there'll be a water station at the 1.7 mile mark. Former Carolina Panthers safety Leonard Wheeler will speak before the race, and plans to hang out afterward. Post-race food and refreshments will be available.

Let Me Run is a non-profit "aimed at strengthening boys in body and spirit," which "use(s) the power of running and lively group activities to equip boys with tools to lead a balanced and fulfilling life.

For more info and to register, click here.

Also: Volunteers are needed to assist boys, and to cheer them on as they run. Anyone interested in helping out can contact volunteer coordinator Kirsten Wrinkle at kwrink@bellsouth.net.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Want to race on Sept. 10? Take your pick

Lots of Charlotte's fastest runners will be out of town next weekend for the Blue Ridge Relay, so consider one of several races happening next Saturday -- each offers a chance to snag that elusive age-group award before summer ends. Read on for details.

Hog Jog
The Time Warner Cable BBQ & Blues Festival has moved locations to the NC Music Factory for the event’s ninth year. The Charlotte Sports Commission’s Hog Jog has" piggy-backed" that move and will also begin and end at the NC Music Factory. In addition to the change in location, numerous new components will be included this year. The Hog Jog will extend in length to a 10K while partnering with a 5K, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run. The overall male, female, and "squealchair" winners of the Hog Jog will receive a prize pack worth $450, including $300 cash, a pair of Adidas sneakers, and a gift certificate from Dick’s Sporting Goods. Once again, the first 200 runners who sign up for the Hog Jog 10K and Finlandia Bloody Mary contest will participate in a tasting competition between five local bars and restaurants. The post-race Piglet Fun Run will take place at approximately 9:30 a.m. and include mascot appearances from Chubby, Norm the 49er, Lug Nut, Monkey Joe, Rex and Bruggie. The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers began in New York City in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, to honor firefighter Stephen Siller -- who ran eight miles in full gear from the Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers that morning. For the 10th anniversary of the tragedy, race managers and the Stephen Siller Foundation decided to extend the race to take place in several U.S. cities, including Charlotte. To register for the Hog Jog 10K ($30 in advance, $35 day-of), the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run ($25) or the Piglet Fun Run (free), visit www.hogjog.org.

Piedmont HealthCare Historic Mooresville 5K
In addition to the 5K, organizers are hosting a one-mile event. The One Mile Challenge starts at 8 a.m. and offers prize money for the first- ($150), second- ($100) and third-place ($50) men and women. The cost of this race is $10 (no T-shirts for this one). The 5K will start at approximately 8:20 a.m. There are awards and prizes for top overall and masters finishers, plus age-group awards. Male and female winners receive a free pair of running shoes from Fleet Feet Huntersville; masters winners get shoes from McLelland Family Shoes in Statesville. Cost for the 5K is $20 (includes T-shirt). Runners can enter both races for $25. There is registration and packet pickup on race day at the race site: Mooresville Public Library, 304 S. Main St. in Mooresville. Prices for registration increase on race day. There will be door prizes, including a free mattress from Sweet Dreams Mattress Company. All proceeds from the race are going to help children learn to read who are struggling in school; the YMCA and the Mooresville Library are the beneficiaries in this effort. Details: www.historicmooresville5k.com. Register: www.queencitytiming.com.

Rock & Read 5K
The Friends of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library once again will host the event, which supports the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system. Last year, at the inaugural race, more than $13,000 was raised for the library as more 500 runners participated. The race again will feature bands and music at every mile, and a festival atmosphere following the event in front of one of the city's finest library branches: Scaleybark Library Branch (101 Scaleybark Road). The Friends of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is a non-profit organization established to champion the efforts of the Public Library System. Details: Click here.

Tyler’s Treehouse 5K
The sixth annual race will be held in Charlotte at the Olde Georgetowne Swim Club (located off Sharon Road near the Harris YMCA). This event is being organized in memory of Tyler Scott. Tyler’s parents (Howard and Dana) and brothers (Chase, Bryce, and Aidan) live in Charlotte. Tyler was just 5½ years old when he was diagnosed with brainstem glioma on Jan. 30, 2006. He did not show any symptoms of this deadly disease until a week before his devastating diagnosis. Tyler died 9 days later on February 8, 2006. The goal of Tyler’s Treehouse Inc. is to find a cure for brainstem glioma with the help of researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Info on the foundation: www.tylerstreehouse.org. Registration: www.sportoften.com. Runners and walkers of all ages are welcome; there's also a 1 Mile Fun Run/Walk. A family-friendly post-race party will be held at the OG pool until 1 p.m.

Big Red Shoe 5K
The Cornwell Center at Meyers Park Baptist Church (2001 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte) is host for this eighth annual event, which supports the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. The carefully mapped road race will appeal to runners of all levels; kids are able to compete in their own fun 1k run/walk as well. This year, the family-friendly festival tied to the race includes a pancake breakfast, a rock climbing wall, a moon bounce, a petting zoo and sport massages.
All proceeds benefit the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. 5K run begins at 8:05 a.m.; 5K walk and 1K event both begin at 9. Festival and celebration begin at 9:20. Parking is available behind the Cornwell Center on Roswell Avenue and adjacent streets; restrooms and locker rooms are available in the Cornwell Center. Registration: Click here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Charlotte marathon seeks noisy neighbors

Charlotte's 7th Annual Thunder Road Marathon is calling on area neighborhoods to take part in its “Neighborhood Association Challenge” to support the thousands of runners who will take to the streets of Charlotte on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011.

Geared toward neighborhoods along the course – Eastover, Foxcroft, Myers Park, Dilworth, South End, Wilmore, Gateway/Third Ward, NoDa and Plaza Midwood – Thunder Road Marathon will award two $500 checks to two neighborhoods that put on the best event and showed the most support for the marathon. The winning neighborhood associations are free to utilize the cash as they please.

Participants in the “Neighborhood Association Challenge” are encouraged to be as creative as possible to get the runners pumped up. Requirements for the challenge include: making it public and open to all residents of the neighborhood; promoting it to all neighborhood residents; keeping it outside and along the marathon course; incorporate a racing theme; cheering on the runners; and taking photos. Residents are encouraged to lead the charge with their respective neighborhoods if they would like to be involved in this opportunity.

“Thunder Road Marathon is a community event that draws in runners from all over the country and Canada so we have a great opportunity to show off the spirit and camaraderie of Charlotte,” said Tim Rhodes, race director of the Thunder Road Marathon. “We encourage all neighborhoods, residents and businesses along the course to come out and cheer the runners. Powerful crowd support is incredibly motivating during all stages of the race.”

To register for the “Neighborhood Association Challenge” or for any questions, contact Ashleigh Lawrence at Ashleigh@runforyourlife.com.

Registration for the 2011 Marathon is open and is available online at www.runcharlotte.com. Both the 7th Annual Thunder Road Marathon (a Boston Marathon Qualifier) and Amica Insurance Half-Marathon will take place on certified courses starting at 7:45 a.m. The Presbyterian Hospital 5K will begin at 8:15 a.m. Entry fees are as follows: Now thru Nov. 4: Marathon - $95, Half-Marathon - $65 and 5K - $35; and at the pre-event Expo (Nov. 10-11): Marathon - $125, Half-Marathon - $90 and 5K - $45. There is also a double medal opportunity for those who run the Dowd YMCA Run Half-Marathon (Oct. 22, 2011) and the Thunder Road Marathon or Amica Insurance Half-Marathon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Attention Blue Ridge Relay participants

Reposting this announcement from TrySports' website:

Blue Ridge Relay Information Meeting and Discussion Forum, plus BRR Team Gear Deals
9-10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 13

Whether you are brand-new to the crazy sport of running or you’re a seasoned veteran with thousands of miles of pavement, concrete, and dirt in your wake, you will probably want to go ahead and put this race on your “to-do” list.

The 208-mile Blue Ridge Relay (BRR208), which is one of the longest running relay races in the United States, takes place in the picturesque Blue Ridge and Black Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina and has been named the second-best road race (behind the Susan G. Komen Race Series) in the Best of 2010 edition of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine. Here’s the best part: There are still a few spots left for this September’s race.

Due to the fact that an exceptional number of this year’s participants hail from the Charlotte area, the kind folks directing this year’s race will be visiting TrySports to hold an information meeting just for you. Believe us when we say coordinating 12 people (among 120 teams of 12 people) to move across 208 miles of the scenic North Carolina High Country -- on foot, sometimes in the dark -- is no easy task. Knowledge is equal to safety and speed in this fantastic adventure. So come join us at TrySports on Aug. 13 to learn more about this great event as well as to ask questions, share experience, or swap stories with the people who know all about this race. TrySports will also offer one-day-only specials to participants in this year’s race to outfit your team ... . Please email justinbreland@trysports.com with questions or to RSVP for this event.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Odds + ends for my running friends

Here's a rundown of several upcoming local races and events that might interest you:
  • The sixth race of the 2011 Run For Your Life Grand Prix Series is the Summer Breeze 5K, which is set for this Saturday, June 18, at Freedom Park (1900 East Blvd.). Women's start is set for 7:30 a.m., with the men going off at 8. The staggered start allows men to cheer for the women as they finish, and vice versa. Cost is $25 in advance or $35 or race day. The event will double as the Carolina's Club Championship. See the race website for all the details.
  • On Saturday, June 18, the Home Run 5K Run/Walk will be held on the McAlpine Creek Greenway 5k Cross Country Course at 8711 Monroe Road in Charlotte. If you're unfamiliar with the trail, "there's a challenging hill in the middle, a beautiful lake at the end, and both straight shots and curvy parts." The 5k run will start at 9 a.m. and the 5K walk will start at 9:10. Register for $20 in advance or $30 on race day (walkers pay $15). Proceeds benefit the Carolinas CARE Partnership, which provides comprehensive AIDS resources and education for people living with and at risk for HIV and AIDS in the Greater Charlotte region. More race details: Click here.
  • The new Run For Your Life Summer Track Series (formerly the Charlotte Track & Triathlon Club's Trenton Guy Sr. Summer Track Series) continues Tuesday, June 21, at the Myers Park High School track. Registration begins at 5 p.m., with the first event at 6 p.m. All ages and abilities are welcome. The entry fee is $8 for adults for a single-night pass, or $25 for a season pass (series runs every Tuesday through June). The events in order are: 50m, 100m, 1 mile, 4 x 100m relay, 400m, 800m, 200m, and 2 mile. For details, click here.
  • If you're looking for a fun smaller race this month, consider the Upgrade 5K & Kids Fun Run at Birkdale on Saturday, June 25. The 5K is at 8 a.m., and the Kids Fun Run follows at 8:45 a.m. It's being put on by UpGrade Lifestyle Inc. of Huntersville, and will start at the Birkdale Resident's Club, 8915 Devonshire Drive (also in Huntersville). Cost is $20 in advance or $25 on race day (kids' race is $5). Proceeds will benefit the Rheumatoid Arthritis Foundation. UpGrade employs a couple friends of mine as trainers -- professional triathlete Kelly Fillnow and two-time Olympic Trials marathon qualifier Megan Hovis; both of them will be there supporting runners on race day. Details: Click here.
  • Charlotte Running Co. and Carolina Sports Clinic are launching a new evening race for Independence Day weekend: the first annual Charlotte Firecracker 5K, set for 7 p.m. Sunday, July 3, on a fast loop course through Charlotte's Olde Providence neighborhood. This family-friendly race will be followed by a pool party featuring music, food and drinks. Cost is $20 through June 26. Race website: Click here.
  • 10Ks are rare in Charlotte, so it's nice to see that the OrthoCarolina Classic is back for its second summer after a successful inaugural event last August. The race's 2011 date is Saturday, Aug. 20, and the official starting area again on the corner of Randolph Road and North Colonial Avenue. The 10K starts at 7:45 a.m., plus there's a 5K that goes off 15 minutes earlier. The events are designed "to promote and encourage active families and healthy lifestyles ... while raising awareness for the OrthoCarolina Research Institute." Cost for the 10K is just $25 through July 31. Last year, 186 runners completed the 10K (170 ran the 5K). Race website: Click here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

New River had ups and downs. Mostly ups.

Just over a mile into the New River Marathon on Saturday, I hit a wall.

Then I hit another one at Mile 5, and another one at Mile 13, and another at Mile 16, and another at Mile 17.

I guess this is what I get for signing up for a marathon that runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

To give you some sense of the hills that confronted me and the approximately 200 other brave souls that tackled the course this past weekend...

...OK, so you've heard of (or run up) the Boston Marathon's legendary Heartbreak Hill before, right? Set between the 20 and 21 mile marks, it is the last and most difficult of the four famed "Newton hills." Heartbreak rises 88 feet over four-tenths of a mile.

The first of the climbs at New River comes 1.3 miles in. The ascent lasts a mile and is 308 feet. The second of the hills starts at Mile 5 and goes up 122 feet over seven-tenths of a mile. Hill No. 3 is 12.9 miles in and climbs 187 feet over seven-tenths of a mile.

But it's the final two hills -- mountains, actually -- that are the real doozies. The first starts just after Mile 16 and features a 174-foot ascent (more than twice as much elevation gain as Heartbreak) over about 320 meters (less than half the length of Heartbreak). The second climb, at Mile 17, is virtually identical. In one section, there is a 16.1 percent grade.

Boston has Heartbreak Hill, but this was Bodybreak Hill. Mindbreak Hill. Soulbreak Hill.

Of course, all of this is information I could have pulled right off the NRM website months before I actually ran the race. And I mean, it's not like I didn't look at the elevation profile before signing up, or after signing up, or the day before the race. But looking at spikes and dips on a graph and turning a corner to find a strip of road that seems to disappear up into the clouds are two very different experiences.

Anyway, I'll spare you the typical details about the ride up, what I had to eat the night before, packet pickup, pre-race prep, etc., except to say that the place my buddy Shawn Matthews and I stayed in was adjacent to a complex that could have stood in for Camp Crystal Lake from the "Friday the 13th" movies. And our room? It had no TV, no phone, no fridge, and no indoor plumbing. (OK, I'm joking about that last part.)

The only thing worth noting about the 35-minute drive to the start Saturday morning is that I tried and failed several times to get my Garmin to power up. But to make a long story short, my friend Emily Knudson came up to me right before the start and offered me hers. I set it up to pace me to a 3:30. I'm laughing thinking about that now (spoiler alert: I ran a 3:46).

So if you're reading this, you're almost certainly a runner, and if you're a runner, you're almost certainly competitive.

Not competitive in the sense that you are fast and you train with Jordan Kinley or Caitlin Chrisman or any of the other local elite runners whose names you routinely see at the top of the results after a big Charlotte race.

What I mean, rather, is that you have a competitive streak. Whether you run 4-1/2-minute miles or 14-1/2-minute miles, you have a strong desire to be more successful (i.e. faster) than others. You enter races, and more often than not, you are trying to set PRs.

Run enough races and you will tend to see the same faces -- or the same backsides, at least -- during them. Similarly able runners who you'll run by, or who will run by you, or who will run next to you. Runners who you use as targets. Runners who you want to beat.

For me, one of those runners is a young woman named Jinnie Austin.

The first time we met, at the Corporate Cup Half Marathon in 2010, we actually ran together and chatted for awhile, but she faded in the late going and finished in 1:40 to my 1:36. A couple months later I beat her by 9 seconds in a 5K. Then the tide started turning. She beat me by more than half a minute at a 5K in August, and by 12 seconds during a 15K in the fall.

So when we bumped into each other at the starting line on Saturday, I added another goal to the list for the race: Don't let Jinnie beat me. It's funny -- it wasn't so much "I have to beat her," it really was, "I don't want her to beat me." Does that make sense?

It was nothing personal; it's just, she's a very good runner, and beating her would feel like an accomplishment.

She said she was sort of shooting for 3:40... I told her I was sort of shooting for 3:30. Then the gun went off. She was about 15 or 20 meters ahead of me for the first few minutes, then I caught her and we made small talk until we hit the first hill.

This was no small hill, as I mentioned. Before the race, most of the focus was on the big elevation spikes in the second half of the course. No one had mentioned this one -- and they should have. It included several switchbacks and blind curves, so one of the worst things about not being ready for it was I had no idea it was A MILE LONG.

I left Jinnie behind maybe halfway up it, and wouldn't see her again for 2-1/2 hours.

Every time the next section came into view, after rounding a corner or cresting a steep rise, I'd mutter a "Are you kidding me??" (with maybe an obscenity or two added in there for effect).

Then we hit the top and plunged straight back down, 246 feet down over just seven-tenths of a mile according to the elevation map. So three miles in and already my calves, hamstrings and quads were complaining mightily.

I knew this was not going to be a 3:30 kind of a day.

Still, with the exception of the brief but aggressive climb at Mile 5, most of the first half really was amazingly flat. For me, though, it had become a psychological battle of sorts. That first mountain had sapped my legs a bit, but because it also had surprised me so much, it had me constantly fearing what might be around the next corner.

The course was designed, loosely, as a figure-eight. It traverses some beautiful sections of the Blue Ridge, the New River Valley, and winds through a picturesque landscape of farms and forests. As you might imagine, it's in the middle of nowhere. At Mile 11, we looped back past the start/finish (hosted by the family-owned Riverside Restaurant), and the size of the crowd here -- maybe 100 people cheered as we ran through -- was about 25 times the size of the second-largest crowd I saw along the course that day.

This being a small race, I was pretty much passing no one and pretty much no one was passing me. Every half-hour or so I'd glance back fully expecting to see Jinnie not far back; but if she was there, she was in a blind spot.

Then around Mile 12, I ran into Jinnie's husband, Stan, a 3:03 marathoner who I figured would be good for a Top 10 and maybe even a Top 5 finish. I was surprised to see him heading in the opposite direction. As we passed each other I asked him, basically, "What's going on?" and that he replied, basically, "I'm done." We didn't get much off other than that, and as I continue on of course now all I can think of is "These hills that are coming up must be killers." I'd later find he dropped out because of stomach issues, but at the time I had scared myself into thinking he had had hill issues.

And then I had hill issues.

Suffice it to say, between the time we started climbing at Mile 13 and the zenith of the course just after 17, I walked several times for several minutes at a stretch. Not because I had hit the wall in the glycogen depletion sense, but more in the these-hills-are-so-steep-I-can-walk--them-as-fast-as-I-could-run-them sense.

I'll never forget this: I was walking up the last quarter of a long stretch of paved road in Mile 15 that seemed to go forever. Near the top, I saw the 16th mile marker on the side of the road, just before the course hung a right. I got to it, made the turn, and immediately was faced with a dirt road that would have benefited from a ladder (or an escalator, at least). I kept walking.

It got so steep in sections that I almost lost my balance. And had I fallen backward, I probably would have rolled all the way back down to the bottom. One guy plodded past me, but -- although I kept expecting Jinnie to pass me -- no one else made a move anywhere in this section.

The quad-pummeling began again after cresting the mountaintop at 17.4 miles in. Gravity did most of the work for the next three miles, although I was still way off my goal pace. By this point, I was just hoping to come in under 3:50 and avoid setting a personal worst.

Shortly after the 19th mile marker, right in the middle of yet another hill, a Jeep came down the road toward me and slowed. It was Stan. He told me I was on the last hill, and it was all flat the rest of the way (I was hopeful but skeptical). I basically replied "Thank GOD," and that I felt like toast. I think I asked if he'd seen Jinnie, thinking that maybe I missed her pass me. He said, "Nope, but here she comes."

It wasn't long after that that Jinnie passed me.

I tried to stay with her. But I was struggling. It was now nearing 11 o'clock, and the sun was feeling warm. Miles 20-26 seemed like they weren't shaded at all. Aid stations had been set up every two miles, on the even numbers. Because of the heat, that wasn't enough. Two miles is a loong way that late in a marathon, a looong way when you're thirsty.

Fortunately, I was able to stay not too far behind Jinnie. And the best part about staying with her was also the best part about Stan dropping out of the race: He had come prepared with bottled water and cups, and parked his Jeep in front of the marker at 21 to hand out water to Jinnie, to me, and to several other runners; he did it again at 23.

The water saved me. After the drink at 23, I ran with Jinnie for a bit; we talked about what hurt and not much else. In hindsight, I wish I could have been more encouraging to her, but I was just trying to hold it together. She got ahead again as I walked through the aid station at 24, but I caught back up to her fairly quickly. I could tell she was fading fast as we neared Mile 25.

And then she was gone.

I pulled in at 3:46:43.

I am really very proud of the fact that I never bonked in the race, that I was able to cling to about a 9-minute pace in the last four miles of a marathon that was both brutally hilly and warmer than I would have preferred down the stretch.

Jinnie came in at 3:47:55, finishing second in her age group and was the fifth woman overall. This seems like a good time to reveal some important information about her that I've been withholding: She has been having a pretty painful hip flexor issue over the past few weeks and hadn't done much running leading up to race day. Oh, and this was her first marathon -- so she doesn't have near the experience I do with marathon pacing and marathon-pain management.

In other words, as gutsy as I think my performance was Saturday, hers was 10 times gutsier.

Frankly, it was the misfortunes of Stan and Jinnie Austin saved me on Saturday. If Stan hadn't been having issues that forced him to drop, I would have completely wilted late in the race, and it would have turned into a death march. If Jinnie had been healthy and fully trained, she would have left me in the first half-mile and gone on to beat me by 5 minutes in this one, maybe more. The mere presence of someone I consider a (friendly) rival helped to push me through the final miles.

In other words, I could have skipped all of this race recap business and gone straight to the punchlines: The New River Marathon is super-hilly, and I owe the Austins dinner.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The splits from my -- er, Emily Knudson's -- Garmin, for those who care about such things:

Mile 1: 7:49
Mile 2: 8:27
Mile 3: 8:09
Mile 4: 7:46
Mile 5: 8:01
Mile 6: 8:38
Mile 7: 8:13
Mile 8: 8:12
Mile 9: 8:03
Mile 10: 8:04
Mile 11: 7:59
Mile 12: 8:00
Mile 13: 8:25
Mile 14: 9:05
Mile 15: 8:58
Mile 16: 9:54
Mile 17: 10:58
Mile 18: 9:53
Mile 19: 8:23
Mile 20: 8:13
Mile 21: 8:41
Mile 22: 8:44
Mile 23: 8:55
Mile 24: 9:05
Mile 25: 8:55
Mile 26: 8:55
Last 0.2: 8:22

Monday, April 18, 2011

125+ area runners finish Boston Marathon

More than 125 Charlotte-area residents ran from Hopkinton, Mass., to downtown Boston Monday as participants in the 115th Boston Marathon, the oldest annual marathon in the world.

About 27,000 runners representing 90 countries were on hand for the race, which featured perfect weather, a generous tailwind, and stiff competition that led to the fastest men's marathon time ever - 2 hours, 3 minutes, 2 seconds.

The Charlotte area's fastest finisher was Nathan Stanford, 32, a Huntersville resident and South Carolina graduate running his first Boston Marathon.

"I thought that the weather was nearly perfect with a strong swirling wind that was never really at your face but at the same time not the constant tailwind that was predicted," Stanford wrote in an e-mail tonight. "The event was, in my opinion, flawless from start to finish, and it's obvious that the people of greater Boston truly embrace this race and all of the runners who toe the line in Hopkinton. This marathon experience is one that will remain permanently etched in my memory."

Danielle Crockford, 30, was the top local woman; she crossed the line in 3:14:49. Area participants ranged in age from 19-year-old college freshman Timothy Marquardt of Denver (3:38:30) to 62-year-old Ken Partel of Troutman (3:45:22).

Area finishers, with age:

Nathan Stanford, 32, Huntersville 2:41:14

Scott Woodbury, 29, Charlotte2:42:11

Bill Shires, 46, Charlotte 2:42:39

Michael Beigay, 32, Concord 2:44:21

Chad Crockford, 29, Charlotte 2:47:07

Michael Kahn, 31, Charlotte 2:50:41

Lance Hutchens, 33, Charlotte 2:55:54

Pete Kaplan, 54, Charlotte 2:56:36

Mike Moran, 35, Denver 2:57:59

Tom Ricks, 37, Charlotte 2:58:44

Adrian Stewart, 40, Charlotte 2:59:15

Daniel Rutter, 36, Charlotte 3:00:52

Clayton Venhuizen, 39, Charlotte 3:01:43

Christopher Bradle, 37, Charlotte 3:02:13

Chris Cummins, 37, Charlotte 3:03:22

David Price, 38, Charlotte 3:03:41

Joseph Korzelius, 42, Albemarle 3:04:19

Stan Austin, 35, Matthews 3:06:14

Rasmus Pedersen, 35, Charlotte 3:06:22

Keith Smith, 43, Charlotte 3:06:36

Bryan Allf, 53, Gastonia 3:06:54

Matthew McGuire, 27, Charlotte 3:07:11

Tony Brown, 50, Davidson 3:07:12

Robert Harbaugh, 32, Waxhaw 3:07:22

Sean Mayo, 42, Charlotte 3:08:51

Andrew Golomb, 31, Charlotte 3:09:02

Terrance Robinson, 30, Huntersville 3:09:28

Joshua Pinyan, 28, Salisbury 3:09:41

Justin McGuinness, 31, Charlotte 3:09:52

Todd Patterson, 34, Charlotte 3:10:07

Mark Cox, 41, Charlotte 3:12:18

Eric Reiner, 38, Charlotte 3:12:43

Todd Joefreda, 35, Rock Hill 3:12:47

Lee Bradley, 40, Charlotte 3:14:10

Robert Mooring, 50, Gastonia 3:14:17

Danielle Crockford, 30, Charlotte 3:14:49

Brian Sammons, 44, Charlotte 3:15:02

Robert Macki, 40, Fort Mill3:15:23

Susan Wallace, 25, Charlotte 3:15:36

Shenna Kevorkian, 28, Charlotte 3:15:44

Aregai Girmay, 51, Gastonia 3:16:31

Richard Heinrich, 48, Mooresville 3:18:55

Derek Blalock, 42, Albemarle 3:19:11

Jackie Savage, 31, Charlotte 3:20:26

Jill Rauso, 39, Concord 3:23:31

Mark McGeough, 41, Huntersville 3:24:14

Kay Brugmann, 48, Charlotte 3:24:40

Mary Dare Mayeux, 34, Charlotte 3:24:57

Lisa Sickman, 23, Fort Mill 3:25:31

Sarah Fox, 35, Charlotte 3:25:51

Joe Schlereth, 61, Pineville 3:27:54

Paul Gonzalez, 40, Pineville 3:28:11

Meredith Byrne, 26, Charlotte 3:29:00

Elizabeth Randolph, 39, Matthews 3:29:00

Andrew Quartapella, 46, Charlotte 3:29:48

Edward Morse, 47, Concord 3:30:31

Tom Patch, 51, Charlotte 3:33:12

Johanna Remes, 43, Charlotte 3:33:21

Colleen Angstadt, 34, Charlotte 3:33:32

Lisa Mire, 31, Charlotte 3:34:00

Michael Morris, 48, Matthews 3:34:39

Lisa Landrum, 39, Charlotte 3:35:56

Adrienne Rosenbloom, 43, Charlotte 3:36:13

Amanda Fleishman, 31, Charlotte 3:37:12

Frederic Levy, 50, Gastonia 3:37:32

Timothy Marquardt, 19, Denver 3:38:30

Henry Ijams, 49, Charlotte 3:39:00

Kathleen Russo, 51, Salisbury 3:39:19

Hunter Purdom, 39, Charlotte 3:39:36

Kimberly Leatherman, 37, Concord 3:39:59

Richard Belcourt, 52, Waxhaw 3:40:02

Meredith Dolhare, 37, Charlotte 3:40:18

Lori Dawson, 45, Waxhaw 3:40:33

Christi Cranford, 42, Charlotte 3:41:07

Sharon Davis, 37, Albemarle 3:41:23

Laura Centofanti, 29, Charlotte 3:41:30

Chad Chambers, 35, Charlotte 3:41:39

Laura Smith, 40, Charlotte 3:42:34

Rhett Benner, 39, Huntersville 3:42:58

Brian Ratte, 47, Davidson 3:43:09

Sarah Hart, 39, Huntersville 3:43:28

Joe Howell, 55, Harrisburg 3:43:43

Henry Peelle, 55, Mooresville 3:43:45

Michele Britt, 45, Charlotte 3:43:50

Naim Bouhussein, 47, Davidson 3:43:56

Vance Beck, 51, Davidson 3:44:08

Kristi Harris, 37, Huntersville 3:44:50

Ken Partel, 62, Troutman 3:45:22

Susan Watts, 41, Charlotte 3:47:48

Jeffery Cloninger, 53, Lincolnton 3:47:54

Robert Jordan, 37, 3:48:40

Bruce Davis, 54, Matthews 3:49:06

Douglas Mays, 46, Charlotte 3:51:12

Beverly Kastel, 41, Huntersville 3:51:45

Kimberly Eagens, 30, Charlotte 3:52:12

Sarah McGeough, 38, Huntersville 3:52:25

Julia Engel, 48, Charlotte 3:54:03

Boriana Bakaltcheva, 25, Charlotte 3:55:19

Melissa Johnson, 47, Charlotte 3:55:44

Denise Derkowski, 45, Charlotte 3:57:41

Justin Andrews, 34, Matthews 3:57:58

Carolyn Hoopes, 51, Charlotte 3:59:13

Elizabeth Maner, 46, Charlotte 4:00:16

Diane Derkowski, 45, Charlotte 4:00:24

Tamyra Meletiou, 43, Huntersville 4:00:56

Charlton Armstrong, 34, Charlotte 4:01:25

Dianne Allen, 55, Charlotte 4:01:42

Frances Bendert, 40, Mooresville 4:02:05

Terry Farmer, 62, Charlotte 4:04:59

Sarah Schweppe, 23, Charlotte 4:05:20

Sharon Cleveland, 55, Waxhaw 4:06:18

Lisa Vogel, 40, Charlotte 4:08:30

Holly Townsend, 41, Charlotte 4:08:49

Gregory Foxx, 46, Charlotte 4:12:56

Lana Torkildsen, 45, Matthews 4:14:03

Talia DeGennaro, 30, Charlotte 4:19:27

Tom Torkildsen, 55, Matthews 4:20:16

Jeffrey Valerio, 49, Fort Mill4:24:18

Robert Frazer, 30, Charlotte 4:28:21

Arthur Scott, 51, Mount Holly 4:29:31

John Crombez, 45, Charlotte 4:29:39

Catherine Hunter, 37, Charlotte 4:33:39

Karen Lamb, 48, Charlotte 4:35:28

Diana Hoxie, 56, Salisbury 4:45:22

Brian Foote, 50, Charlotte 4:53:32

Darryl Taylor, 33, Charlotte 4:55:33

Eileen O'Flaherty, 48, Davidson 5:13:55

Brandon Russo, 28, Salisbury 5:20:13

Vinny Yakoobian, 43, Huntersville 5:34:48

Monday, March 21, 2011

For me, a smoking time at Tobacco Road

Ask running pundits how often you should run a marathon, and you'll get a response along the lines of this one (from Runner's World contributor Jenny Hadfield):

"Runners who want to race a strong marathon and improve performance and speed should focus on no more than two marathons a year. Running many more than that is pretty hard on the body and mind, increases your risk for injury and slower times are usually the end result. Two per year allows for a full training and recovery cycle to optimize performance and reduce injuries. This is why you don't see the elite runners racing more than two marathons in a year."

I can only surmise that her advice is good and sound. She's got a master's in exercise science, is a certified personal trainer and coach, and has authored books on running. I'm a moron who three years ago probably couldn't have run a 9-minute mile without collapsing onto the asphalt.

This isn't a "So THERE!" moment, but for those keeping score at home: On Sunday morning I ran my eighth marathon (Tobacco Road in Cary, N.C.) in less than a year and a half; since running a 3:43 in San Diego last June, I have lopped about 22 minutes off my best time; I've had no injuries to speak of; I don't feel like I'm suffering from burnout.

Well, OK -- I guess it is a So THERE! moment.

Again, though, I have no leg to stand on. I'm no expert. I just a doofus who signs up for stuff and then goes out and runs. Maybe I could be even faster and stronger and more efficient if I was running 26.2 once every six months instead of once every two. Maybe I'm doing long-term damage to my body that I won't know about till I need to get both knees replaced when I'm 55.

It's an interesting topic, though. I have a friend, Todd Hartung, who's going after all 50 states and runs a marathon roughly once a month. His philosophy is that sometimes runners set challenging goals for the one or two marathons they do a year, stress out over the training mightily, then agonize if they have a bad race. He would never recommend his regimen to others, but he does believe that the more marathons you run, the less mentally stressful they become. Plus, you don't put all your eggs in one basket. In other words, if he has a bad race, he can easily put it behind him a few weeks later -- as opposed to letting it roll around in his head for the next year.

Now, I fully understand that not everyone can afford to run a ton of marathons, and that not everyone wants to. But my point is simply that I was able to view Tobacco Road on Sunday as "just another marathon" -- and I was able to crush it.

Didn't train particularly hard for this one. Did a couple of 20-milers late last month in anticipation of doing a marathon in late March, but didn't actually sign up for the race until two weeks ago. Didn't even look at a course map beforehand.

I ran a 3:26 in October and a 3:28 in December, then ran a 50k in January. It was just time for another one.

My BQ time, for a few more months, is 3:15:59 or faster. Though I figured that that was still out of reach for me, I decided a week out that maybe I'd try to run Boston pace (7:28 per mile) until the wheels fell off, simply as a fitness test. And this is the whole reason why I used all those words up above as a setup: It was just another marathon. There was nothing at stake. I didn't spend a lot of time or money on this race, and if I had to take a DNF, I wasn't going to get all worked up about it.

Anyway, forgive the anticlimactic nature of what I'm about to say, but for the most part I bailed on this idea in the starting corral. Instead, I just gave myself one simple directive: Be aggressive, B-E aggressive. Last two marathons, I ran conservatively and finished with gas in the tank. This time, I hoped to cross the line with nothing left.

The Tobacco Road Marathon is now two years old, and experienced fairly significant growth in its second year thanks to good word of mouth (including high marks here). Numbers for Sunday's full weren't too far below numbers for Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon, which is now in its seventh year. (1,292 ran Charlotte in December; 1,052 ran Cary this past weekend.)

It's easy to see why it's popular: The course is flat, is mostly on the forgiving packed dirt and finely crushed gravel of American Tobacco Trail, and for many miles follows a dead-straight/turn-free path. (Another interesting fact: Nineteen runners broke three hours at Thunder Road, 28 were under 3:00 at Tobacco Road.)

If you clicked on the link in the previous paragraph and looked at the course for the full, you also can see that it doubles back on itself twice. This is cool because if you have friends running it -- and I had several -- you could exchange high-fives and "good job!" comments with them multiple times along the way. This is for obvious reasons both motivating and fun.

Weather on Sunday was perfect. 40s at the start, 50s at the finish. The entire trail is lined with trees, so save for the last couple miles, wind and sun were virtually non-issues. The only problem with the 20+ miles of trail is that it's pleasant and serene, it's also pretty boring. A road crossing every few miles with a small but vocal throng of supporters. Otherwise, a bazillion trees, and not much more. Sometimes it seemed like you could see a mile down the trail (although, wouldn't you know it, the mile marker always seemed to be just around a slight bend).

Really the only thing to look at was other runners. So that's what I did. And for the first three miles, leading from the USA Baseball National Training Complex to the trail, I looked at the back of Jonathan Savage's head. He was pace leader for the 3:30 group, and he'd announced beforehand that he planned to take his charges through the half at a 7:53 average pace, slowing at that point to 8:00. I figured three 7:53 miles would be a good warmup, so I tucked in with his group. (Runner congestion was so heavy for the first three miles anyway that I didn't have much trouble holding myself back.)

Less than a mile and a half in we started needing to dodge a lot of folks walking the half marathon (they'd started 15 minutes earlier); fortunately, the halfers and full marathoners went in opposite directions at the trail head. Right after the split, I surged past Jonathan and never looked back.

I wish I had some exciting things to say about the next 20 miles, but it was really just a long series of dime-store race "tactics" to help me break up the monotony of the scenery and terrain: I'd find a runner, sit right on their shoulder for maybe 400-800 meters, then move past them to focus on the next runner. I did this dozens of times, and only got passed by a few people. (The most memorable was a Galloway run-walk dude who passed me probably close to a dozen times. I commend anyone for running any marathon in any fashion, but between you and me I found it mildly annoying to overtake/be overtaken by the same person repeatedly and methodically.)

The fun part, as I said, was seeing many of my friends twice along the way. Kelly Fillnow (she was the women's winner!), Mo Campbell (she broke 3 hours for the first time!), Bobby Aswell, Kathy Rink, Troy Eisenberger, Bobby Grigg, Jamie Dodge, Peter Balletta, and Mark Ulrich (who was a huge personal help to me this weekend -- he picked up my packet since I missed the expo, and saved me an hour-plus of tedium by shuttling me to and from the satellite parking lot pre- and post-race).

Beginning shortly after the first turnaround at Mile 8, I spent the next couple hours alternating between confidence and concern. A few of my splits were in the 7:28 (i.e. BQ range), so I fleetingly wondered if I should go for it. I also worried at Miles 11 and 12 when I started feeling the first very-mild pangs of fatigue.

After seven marathons, I've generally found that if I don't hit the wall around Mile 20, I'm not going to. I have no scientific proof that this follows any logic whatsoever and I would never try to convince you that this will hold true for you. But personally, I was really antsy to get to 20 so I could see how I felt. I came through the half at 1:39:38. That was the split I was looking for. My friend Brian Sammons qualified for Boston by going 1:40 for the first half and then 1:35 for the second.

The confidence returned. And then it started fading again. So I refocused on my energy on locking onto a runner ahead of me, easing onto his or her shoulder, hanging there for a couple minutes, then overtaking them. Around Mile 16, I keyed in on an older woman who was wearing a bright Cowtown Marathon finisher tee and looked strong, and she was slowly picking people off, so I hitched a ride with her through the second turnaround. Finally passed her as we went up a long, gradual incline near Mile 21.

My goal was to not get passed in the final 6.2 miles. At this point I was satisfied I was going to avoid a bonk, and was feeling tired but OK as we moved back onto surface streets just after Mile 23. There was a little roll to this final section, and there were some turns to negotiate. The sun was also giving off some heat. A bit of a breeze now, too. Nothing killer at all, but after so much peace on the trail, it inserted a degree of difficulty.

This is the point where you start to break the marathon up into smaller increments in your head. Mile 24 = I've just gotta go eight times around the track plus the point-two. Cowtown Marathon woman comes surging past me. And now it's one foot in front of the other time. I'm also -- and I know others out there use the same "trick" -- thinking about friends and family who've battled cancer and people suffering great tragedies (like the Japanese tsunami victims right now). Thinking that what they've had to deal with is real pain, that this is child's play. In other words, Suck It Up.

Mile 24 was 7:57, and though it was my slowest mile of the day, I'm happy because I've run several marathons where my average pace wasn't that fast.

I keep my Garmin on the Virtual Partner screen, which tells me how far or behind my hoped-for pace I am, so as I neared the final turn into the parking lot of the baseball complex, I honestly was not at all sure what numbers I was going to see on the clock. I knew I had a big PR, but sensed I could be flirting with the teens -- so there was a twinge of disappointment when I came around and the display read 3:20 and rising. But that disappointment disappeared almost as quickly as it had come.

3:20:43. This was a six-minute PR. This was 29 minutes faster than the first marathon I ran, in November of 2009. This was an aggressive move on my part after a couple races where I wanted to run smooth and steady and finish feeling strong.

This, to me, was a clear sign that I can run a bunch of marathons a year, and get away with it. So there.

If splits interest you, here they are:

Mile 1: 8:03
Mile 2: 7:35
Mile 3: 7:53
Mile 4: 7:24
Mile 5: 7:34
Mile 6: 7:27
Mile 7: 7:28
Mile 8: 7:42
Mile 9: 7:39
Mile 10: 7:17
Mile 11: 7:31
Mile 12: 7:38
Mile 13: 7:37
Mile 14: 7:27
Mile 15: 7:36
Mile 16: 7:30
Mile 17: 7:36
Mile 18: 7:31
Mile 19: 7:40
Mile 20: 7:32
Mile 21: 7:30
Mile 22: 7:32
Mile 23: 7:38
Mile 24: 7:57
Mile 25: 7:47
Mile 26: 7:53
Homestretch: 7:43