Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gunz Blazin' at the 2012 Austin Marathon

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 18,000+ runners for the 21st running of the Austin Marathon in Austin, TX. This hilly marathon has been on my bucket list for years, much in thanks to starting and ending in the live music capital of the US. The weather was perfect, the spectators were loud and plentiful, and we all had a great jaunt through the Texas "hill country".

(Austin at night)
I came down a few days early for work, and Austin welcomed me with a New Orleans brass band from the moment I opened the cab door. They were one of 20+ bands playing live within six blocks. Just a typical Thursday night in Austin! Such a young and vibrant city, embracing the diversity and "stay weird"-ness that makes this place a hub for culture and fun in the heart of hat-wearin' Texas. I'm learning that combining a marathon with a work-related trip opens to the door to explore a city beyond it's typical downtown and tourist fare, and an excuse to have a few serendipitous nights with its residents.  It's the only way you are going to "get" the vibe of a place like this.

(Beer prices change in real-time on the ticker at the Brew Exchange)
(The cozy Living Room at the W Hotel)
(May my kids someday understand this discovery ritual)
I had a great time spending the evenings testing out a great mobile application called TabbedOut, which allows you to pay your bar tab from your phone. It's amazing how much simpler life is when you don't have to wait for a check, not to mention the free drink offers. We tried out the Brew Exchange (where prices of beers change in real time based on popularity), Kung Fu (with giant-size Jenga), the Ginger Man (dive bar complete with fist fights), and the Living Room, a comfy meet-and-greet spot at the W Hotel that has a few thousand albums in their browsable library. I pulled down the 80's classic Frontiers by Journey (what 80's kid didn't have that album?) and asked the DJ to give it a spin. All in all, these few days are probably not the best kind of carb-loading for a marathon, but then again, they always say not to change too much of your day-to-day routine before a race! Beer it is.

(Hanging with Bart Yasso at the Stevie Ray Vaughn memorial)

(A recovering Dick Beardsley and wife Jill prep us for the shake out run)
(Rain? But there's runnin' to do!)
(The Austin Track Club leads us out)
The morning before the race, Bart Yasso and Dick Beardsley organized a shake out run along the river, and the Austin Track Club (with motto, "Gunz Blazin'") braved the rain to come join us. It was fun for a few dozen of us amateurs to jog with such an accomplished group, and hear about their training towards the Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR, this June, and the USATF Indoor Championships coming up in a few weeks. 1500m Olympian and Indoor Champion Leo Manzano (and soon-to-be 2012 USA Indoor 1500m Champion - nice work, Leo! Outkicked Centrowitz and Rupp!), 800m specialist Lea Wallace, and 4-minute miler Jake Morse were all good sports, talking up how they couldn't possibly tackle a full marathon. No matter what our preference, it was fun to be in good company and collectively jaunt through the sheets of rain coming down.

(18,000+ runners ready to go at the Capital Building)
By race morning, the rain had cleared at the LiveSTRONG(tm) colors lined the streets. This was an Austin race, but LiveSTRONG had definitely put a focus on cancer survivors among the crowds, and that yellow tone could be found in race shirts, mugs, and wristbands galore. I jogged up to the start, just in time to hear Lance Armstrong wish us well (and jump into the half marathon) and get a few tips from local triathlete Desiree Ficker, who was out to get some revenge on this course after coming up short in her Olympic Trial qualifier bid last year (she still won in 2:50). I saw super-Master Chad Ricklef lining up for the marathon, so I knew the 40+ division would be tough. At 7am, the cannon sounded and we left the capital building to take over the streets!

(The gorgeous and fun Desiree is ready to crush the marathon)
(On your mark, get set...)
The marathon and half marathon started together, so my 6:10 min/mile pace still had me about 50 people back. This was the goal today - head out at a PR pace (2:45) for the first half and see where that gets me. I had set a PR for the half marathon two weeks ago, so if the conditions were right, a marathon PR should technically be within reach. I didn't spend much time studying the course, but the runners around me confirmed that most of the hills are in the first 15 miles. I paced along with the Women half marathon front runners over the bridge, even joining a high school team for a bit, before we turned around (mile 4) and headed back downtown. My camera started flashing "incompatible battery", one of many disappointing glitches from this beat up Panasonic FX-48, but I held back from chucking it into the river in respect for the many miles it did serve. Too bad - the South Congress district looked like a picture-worthy bohemian faire.

(Runners take over Austin, photo courtesy of Rick Kern)
The hills were getting meaty now, and the elevation chart did not do justice to the steepness of these San Francisco-worthy pitches. I was running in the same Spira Stinger XLT's that had pulled me to a half marathon PR at the SF Half two weeks ago, and they felt great on the long descents. I cruised along with Brad Whorton, a former Wake Forest track athlete now finishing up his MBA at UT Austin and trying his first marathon after a 10-year running hiatus. Brad pulled us back over the bridge (mile 8) and to the West side of town (mile 11), before we gave our best to the half marathoners who peeled off for their final kick. We hit the half marathon in 1:22:46 - right in line for a negative split.

(Lance Armstrong joins the half marathoners, fresh off his 2nd place finish at Ironman Panama)
Brad and I could barely make out a runner five blocks ahead of us, and once we were joined by 27-year-old John Doehring, there was nobody behind us either. It was going to be a quiet second half! The front pack of Edward Kiptum, locals Jynocel Bosweti (2:14 here in 2007) and Scott Rantall, and Bartosz Mazerki were all on a 2:23 marathon pace, well ahead of the rest of us. John pulled us through mile 15, where local schools made for great cheering sections among the rather remote sections of the course. I pulled for a few miles to help John with the headwind, and then at mile 20, Brad came around and set a pace we couldn't match on the ample long downhills. Those milers sure can fight the pain!
(One of many great signs along the way)
My local friend Paige Alum ran along with me for a few blocks (in her clogs, natch!), getting lots of cheers from the crowd and runners alike. It was just the boost I needed! Runners would later ask me "if you're getting beers with her after the race, let me know where...there is definitely a party wherever she is going!". Yep, that is pretty much Paige in a nutshell. I dropped a slowing John, and picked up a few spots of cramping runners as I did my best to keep Brad in sight. Once I caught sight of the capital building again, I splurged with a sip of beer at mile 25, and hit the last few hills.

(Nice pic, Brightroom)
That last little hill felt like K2, but I found plenty of motivation from the hoards of half marathoners coming in alongside of me. I crossed the finish line in 2:46:05 for 18th place, about 50 seconds short of a PR, but feeling good about the effort. I had a massage, beer, and shower and came back to the finish to cheer on finishers.

(Edward Kiptum with the win)
(Shannon Bixler brings the crowd to its feet with her win)
(First time marathoners enjoy a well-deserved break at the finish)
Edward Kiptum had persevered for the win (2:22:50), with Jynocel Bosweti (2:23:51), and Bartosz Mazerski (2:25:55) completing the podium. Chad Ricklef won the Masters in an impressive 2:30:57, kicking me down to 3rd in our age group (but I'll take it!). The crowd went crazy when local athlete Shannon Bixler won the Women's division in 3:02:58 carrying the Texas flag, with Inna Vishik and Pia-Maria Molin coming in a dead heat for 2nd/3rd in 3:08:51. (all results) The finish line had plenty of stories of PR's, first time finishes, and new friends made along the course.

Marathon (2012 Livestrong Austin Marathon) from Jordan J. Miller on Vimeo. The time lapse photography starting at 30 sec is pretty cool.

Overall, a wonderful race and fantastic weekend retreat! I now know why they call it Hill Country, the Live Music Capital of the USA, and can appreciate all the "Keep Austin Weird" signs. This is truly a magical place! My thanks to the race directors, volunteers, and spectators for a great time.

- SD

Thursday, February 23, 2012

PCTR Pacifica Race on 2/25 NOT HAPPENING - Pass It On...

This Tuesday, an e-mail was sent out to participants of the Pacific Coast Trail Runs Pacifica 9k/21k/30k/50k scheduled for this Saturday, 2/25, saying the event would not be happening, and instead rescheduled for March 17th. Reprint of that message below.

On Facebook, it appears some entrants for the sold out race had not received the e-mail, so I'm hoping we can help get the word out to those who had signed up so they don't make the early AM drive to Pacifica. For those interested in racing this Saturday, Inside Trail Racing is hosting the Chabot 10k/21k/30k/50k and still has a few openings. Otherwise, it appears your entry is now set for Pacifica on St. Patrick's Day, 3/17, unless you ask for a refund.

Here is the note on Facebook from PCTR Race Director Sarah Spelt:

"I just learned that we can't hold the rescheduled Pacifica race this Saturday, February 25th, due to a technical glitch in our online reservation. This is not the park’s fault - something misfired when we entered the reservation weeks ago and it apparently did not "take" and, since then, a conflicting event was scheduled for this weekend by another party. I am very disappointed, as I know that you are (especially after MdO went so perfectly just 10 days ago). I've spoken with my contact at the San Mateo County Parks, as well as the Park Superintendent, about other dates. I've reserved Saturday, March 17th for this event. No other races, including those on July 7th in Pacifica/San Pedro Valley Park, are affected by this situation. I am very sorry for the inconvenience – just like you, I was all set for and really looking forward to this event – and I thank you for your patience with the Pacifica event.

Pacific Coast Trail Runs"

I'll leave the debate on "collecting entry fees for races where you don't have permits" to other posts...please pass on the news to anyone you think might have signed up.

- SD

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lance Armstong Announces 2012 Ironman Ambitions

This week, Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong announced his ambitions to race the Ironman World Championships in October, 2012, and his plan to get there. His will race the Ironman Panama 70.3 event on Sunday, followed by the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas, Ironman 70.3 Florida, Ironman 70.3 Hawaii and Ironman France in an attempt to pick up enough qualifying points to race the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

The 40-year-old Texan is no stranger to triathlon, having won the US Sprint Triathlon series over 20 years ago, and placing 5th at the XTERRA Triathlon National Championships last year (and 23rd at Worlds, after crashing and suffering a head injury).  Craig Alexander, the defending 3-time Ironman world champion and two-time Ironman 70.3 champion, welcomed Armstrong to the sport:
"It is exciting to see Lance Armstrong, one of the greatest-ever endurance athletes, coming back to race triathlons in 2012."
 He's going to rip it up!

[Update - Lance made a helluva debut at Ironman Panama, getting 2nd overall in 3:53, just 40+ seconds behind winner Bevan Dougherty. His swim split was right in there, and his 2:10 bike split was second only to Chris Lieto, whom he passed in the run to lead the race for a short period before Bevan caught him with a screaming 1:12 half marathon (vs. Lance's 1:17). Lance later said, "There was a time I was a great runner and I need to get back in touch with that. [Bevan] can run low 30's in the 10k...there's no way my old ass is keeping up with that."]

- SD

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

New Half Marathon PR at the Kaiser SF Half Marathon

Last Sunday, I joined 10,000+ runners for the 29th running of the Kaiser San Francisco Half Marathon on a gorgeous sunny day, and somehow managed to shave a few seconds off my half marathon PR. Looks like my training is on track!

The Kaiser SF Half is a mostly downhill course that zigs through Golden Gate Park and ends with an out-and-back along the beach on Hwy 1. It's put on by the fabulous Pamakids Runners Club, is the RRCA Western Region Half Marathon championships, and always attracts a fast crew. It was a perfect place to get a status check on my training for my first "A" race in two weeks, the Austin Marathon.

As I jumped on the bus to the start, I did a quick mental check on how the day might pan out. Training? Going well. Rested and ready? Sort of...a bit jet lagged from flying in from London, but that was offset by the welcome 55 degree day that was far more welcome than the English tundra I had just left. The goal stood as planned - use the hills to beat up my legs for the first eight miles, then tempo run the last five miles at marathon pace minus 10 seconds per mile. Oy, this was going to hurt! But a good kind of hurt, right? ;-)
(No need for fancy sleeves - just cut the toes off some socks and you're good to go!)
(Hanging with Jady Palko at the start)
I met a few new friends, and had a chance to catch up with ultrarunner/Ironman Jady Palko who looks more fit than ever. We did our warm ups, and I squeezed my way into the front line for the half marathon. There were lots of familiar faces there - former Inov-8 teammate Sam Robinson, super-master Verity Breen, Napa Marathon winner Chris Mocko (now famous for gaining 10 lbs in two hours to maximize his prize of "your weight in wine"), Chikara Omine (looking healthy after a tough year of injury), and the ever-present Crosby Freeman who has run as fast as 1:04 here in the past. The gun went off, and we charged down the first hill.

The 5k runners took us out fast, but split off about a half mile in, allowing us to settle into an more conservative tempo. Mile 1 went by in 5:20, and I reminded myself that the downhill is worth about 10 sec/mile. Don't think of it as banked time since we have to turn around!

By mile 3, there were two packs ahead of me containing ~10 runners each and going fast! I hung on with two runners as we crossed the 5k mark in 16:30...super quick. I was tempted to ease up, but that wasn't the goal today...time to dig into that pain cave a bit.

We exchanged cheers with other half marathoners as we doubled back on the course and made our way towards the beach. I made the most of the downhills, quite comfortable in my new Spira Stinger XT running shoes that seemed to suck up the pavement with ease. They have these crazy springs in them that seem to take the edge of the downhill pavement, for sure. We hit mile 6 in 34:50, and picked up the pace a bit more. I heard the encouraging cheers from Will Gotthardt, Caitlin Smith, and Sumi Kim from the sidelines and kept on pushing.

(Cruising down Hwy 1)
The beach came into view at mile 8, and the course flattened out along Hwy 1 for a two mile out-and-back. Losing the gravity boost slowed me to just under a 6 min/mile, and I did my best to focus on my fragile form doing it's best to slow me down. Two runners caught me, and one said "join our pack!", and I hung on through mile 10. My watch said 58:22, a new 10-mile PR! Hang in there!!!

My body (and stomach) gave me the 2-minute warning just as I hit the last hill with a half mile to go, so I pulled my visor down and surged to the finish. I looked up to see a finish time of 1:16:23, a mere 17 seconds faster than my PR here two years ago. Phew! It's so nice to know PR's are in reach even as a Master, and Sophie will love the age group win medal and RRCA Masters plaque (they end up on all the Barbies or part of play houses). But I also felt good and held my pace, meaning there's a chance at a sub-2:40 at Austin as well. The Spira shoes had plenty of spring and will make for a PR-worthy marathon shoe - glad to have found those. The proper ingredients seem to be in place.

(18-year-old Guillaume Hansel decimated the 19-and-under with a 1:15:24, much to the delight of papa, Yves)
(Pamakids coach Andy Chan gets 3rd in 40-44 age group with his 1:18:27)
I caught up with winner Chris Chavez (1:07:15), Crosby Freeman (1:08:25), Sam Robinson (4th, 1:09:48), Chikara Omine (11th, 1:13:58), as we cheered on Tyler Stewart (Women's winner, 1:17:09), 48-year-old Lisbeth Sunshine (4th Woman, 1:18:54, best age-graded performance of the day), and the 250+ runners who made the most of the day to go sub-1:30. Amazing performances! (all results) And best of all, a gorgeous day. After a few days in England and Ireland, I am forever thankful to be able to run a February race on the beach in my singlet and shorts. We are truly blessed!

My thanks to Pamakids, RhodyCo, and all of the amazing volunteers on another successful Kaiser SF Half. You make it easy to strive for a PR!

- SD

Monday, February 06, 2012

Alberto Contador Gets 2-Year Ban for Doping, Loses 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro D'Italia Titles

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) handed Alberto Contador a 2-year ban this morning, applied from the date of investigation, and effectively stripping him of his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro D'Italia wins. He will also miss the Tour for 2012, plus the London Olympics. The CAS suspended the three-time Tour champion after rejecting his claim that his positive test for clenbuterol was caused by eating contaminated meat.

One would think the most excited folks to hear the news would be Andy Schleck, who now gets bumped to 1st after his epic duel with Contador in 2010, or perhaps Michele Scarponi, who gets the win for the 2011 Giro D'Italia, but it appears neither of them are too excited with the news and the 550+ days it took to reach a verdict. In fact, that seems to be the reaction of the sport in general. Even the comics at The Onion are wondering if their mock story was perhaps more true than false.

Andy Schleck summed it up well:
“There is no reason to be happy now. First of all I feel sad for Alberto. I always believed in his innocence. This is just a very sad day for cycling. If now I am declared overall winner of the 2010 Tour de France it will not make me happy. I battled with Contador in that race and I lost. My goal is to win the Tour de France in a sporting way, being the best of all competitors, not in court. If I succeed this year, I will consider it as my first Tour victory.”
UCI President Pat McQuaid said: "This is a sad day for our sport. Some may think of it as a victory, but that is not at all the case. There are no winners when it comes to the issue of doping: every case, irrespective of its characteristics, is always a case too many."

Somewhere on the back pages of all of this, there's a little footnote that says the US federal case against Lance Armstrong has been dropped. Well timed, Armstrong PR team!

Man, talk about a sport in trouble.

Friday, February 03, 2012

PocketFuel - My Latest Product Obsession

I get a ton of free samples sent my way, and every once in while a product works its way into regular rotation on training/events. The latest is PocketFuel, a nut butter-based snack in a pouch that I've found perfect for both fueling and recovery. But most of all it just tastes reeeaaally good.

PocketFuel is the brainchild of Mark and Heidi Ribkoff, two athletes based out of Hood River, OR. It started as a search for something better (and less messy) than sugary gels, and quickly led to a selection of natural ingredient blends like "Chia Goji and Honey", comprised of blended almonds, chia seeds, goji berries, and electrolytes. Each blend is a squeezable concoction in a 3-ounce bulletproof pouch worthy of camping or ultrarunning, and can easily be stashed, stored half empty, and refilled from bulk supplies.

Discover PocketFuel Video from PocketFuel on Vimeo.

I tried each of the flavors, then placed a refill order for a case of my favorites, "Chia Goji and Honey" and "Chunky Coconut Cherry". I primarily use them for a quick shot of recovery carbs and protein after a run, since I can easily stash them in my car or backpack. The Chia pouch gives a nice boost of energy thanks to the the chia seeds and goji berries, so it's good for morning post-workout fueling. The Coconut Cherry is satiating with it's rich mix of fats and protein, so I like to have one between the 5pm workout and the seems-like-eternity-to-eat-dinner 8pm meal. Both are have plenty of electrolytes, are vegan, and gluten-free, a welcome alternative to those with dietary constraints.

If you like what you see, place an order or help them raise seed funding for their company by making a donation on Kickstarter.  I think you're gonna like it!

- SD

[Note - For those not familiar with Kickstarter, it's a great way to raise funds from peers for a new idea or venture. Ryan Mills, for example, has just 31 days to complete his fundraising for an 8-day run across Death Valley to raise awareness for healthy lifestyles, and would love your help!]