Sunday, October 20, 2013

Duke City Marathon (New Mexico)

October 23, 2013
Marathon 46, State #40
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Wow, my New Mexico adventure will take me to my 40th state for a marathon....this old bag of bones just keeps rolling on.   When I start a new race I always know I'm going to finish, the only real question is how long.   This 40th state milestone brings me the same feeling with my quest for all 50 states, with only 10 more marathons, that is after Duke city, I think I'm within grasps of completing my mission, just can't say for certain how much longer.

I'm never a big fan of over training and I think this race will mark a new level of unpreparedness.    My last marathon in Missoula, MT was in July and I think my longest run since has been a couple 8-9 milers.  Yikes.   As always, I think my cycling carries over, so I fall back on those weekend 2+ hour rides to get me through a marathon.   I did manage to break 4 hours in Montana, but with Albequerque tipping the elevation scales at 5,000 feet, this will be a tough run!

Another challenge in any marathon is the weather more specifically the temperature, especially coming from Southern California where is much warmer then traveling to someplace colder.   While colder is optimum for running but my body is not used to predicted starting temperatures in the mid 30's.   If it wasn't for growing up in Ohio and running al winter long I think I would scratch this whole cold early morning running thing!

So off to airport bright and early.   I've pretty much put together a routine for marathon travel which entails packing light, only a small backpack and taking my motorcycle to LAX taking advantage of the easy of navigating traffic as well as free airport parking.    Still a believer of arriving early to the terminal but today while I had enough time I cut it a little closer than usual.

A beautiful flight and now fun navigating from my windowed seat and recognizing all the western landmarks.   Flight took me over Palm Springs and Hoover Dam which is sweet from above.    A quick 1.5 hour flight beat the alternative of an 11 hour drive that I had considered.   This is a pretty low key weekend especially compared to my earlier marathon in July which I spent a week backpacking prior to the race.  

I tried something new and booked flight, car rental, and hotel thru Expedia and great, car and hotel were both prepaid before I arrived and check in was a breeze.   I read that Tues-Friday early packet pickup was available at Big 5 and not far from the airport so that was my first stop.   This is a new concept because I can bypass on the usual pilgramage to the expo the day before the race.    That basically gives me a free day Saturday so opens up options for more freedom for adventures.
Friday's 2nd stop thanks to Yelp took me to Rudy's BBQ.   It's always a good sign when there are no empty parking spots and a line out the door.   Next stop to check out the local REI and then check into hotel.   Instead of my usual exploration of the city I chilled at the hotel all afternoon.   A quick visit to the hot tub, a shower and a clean shave then just laid around the room until dinner where I made plans to catch up with my friends Josh and Stacy who moved from LA a couple years ago.    Great to catch up and found a Five Star Burger where I had a delicious Bison burger!   Josh and I laid plans for 5 years down the road to climb Kilimanjaro!

Josh and Stacy Take me Out for Dinner First Night in Albuquerque
Saturday came an hour earlier than I'm used to, but I had some adventuring to make up for my low key Friday afternoon and since there was no longer a need to attend the marathon expo I decided to start my day traveling north.   Homeyra once had a school conference in Albuquerque 8 years ago and I had such fond memories of an afternoon we spent in Sante Fe, a little artsy town in the foothills under the mountain.   I was staying in the north part of Albuquerque so it wasn't much more that a 45 minute drive and I was there.

Once I arrived in Sante Fe I didn't know exactly what I was going to do so I parked the car close to the downtown square and just walked until I found something interesting.   First, place I found was The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi Church which was built between 1869-1886.  The doors were open to visitors and you could walk around the parish.  I sat down and admired for awhile all the intricate art throughout.

Inside Church

Front Door to Church
Closeup of 1 Panel of Church Door
After the church I walked through dozens of art galleries, shops, and even an outdoor art walk, all fantastic.   The town square was also very lively with music and local native Indians peddling homemade jewelry and pottery.   I found an adorable handmade pot that I picked up as a souvenir for our home.   I loved the giant strings of hot peppers, but didn't know where I would put something like that in the house or even if they would survive a trip home on the plane.   Nearing lunch time I found a little French pastry shop and tried their quiche lorraine supplemented with a blueberry and nuetella crepe!

I also saw on the map not too far away was the infamous Los Alamos.   I asked a few locals and they said it's a pretty drive this time of year with the colors changing of the leaves.   I was given some directions of a scenic drive out of town so jumped back in the car and headed for "the hill".  My destination was the Bradbury Science Museum which I really didn't know what to expect.  Interesting section on the two bombs dropped in Japan and a little history of the Manhattan project.  The museum also brags that the center is more alive than ever and great discoveries are being made.

Welcome sign edge of town

Bradbury Science Museum

Some scenery on the way to Los Alamos

While I had already traveled to two different towns my day was just beginning.  Now only half time of the Buckeye game I thought I'd find a good spot to catch the 2nd half of the game.   There are many casinos littered along the roadway and sings and advertisements everywhere.   The nicest one I noticed seemed to be the Sandia Resort and Casino on the north side of Albuquerque, perfect because I was traveling back into town from the north so stopped by and got to see the Buckeyes pull off victory number 19 in a row.

Entrance to Sandia Resort and Casnio

One of the biggest attractions besides the hot air balloons that were seen throughout the skies in the morning is the aerial tramway which rises to 10,378 foot and looks down on a panoramic view of the Rio Grande Valley.   The entrance requires negotiating about 3 flights of stairs which I could feel the altitude as I was out of breath by the time I reached the top.   I'm thinking to myself Sunday is going to be a long run if I feel like this!   The tram takes only 15 minutes to get to the top and goes through 4 different ecological zones.   Man do I wish I had a few more days in town and would have loved to hike to the top of this vista, but today was just a taper for race day so I was satisfied just being a tourist.   It was cold and windy up top, walked around, then caught the next tram 15 minutes later to return to base.

View from the tram on the way up

Top of the Tram
On my return trip to the base of the mountain a couple that summited the mountain earlier frantically find that they left their keys in their vehicle at the base at another trailhead where they had started their climb.   Not having anything else to do for the day I volunteer to shuttle them to their other car.   Ends up the wife is in the same line of business as me and works for the same company so of course we hit it off.   What a small world!

Wonderful shot I captured at sunset
Time is running out on my Saturday and now it's time to seek dinner.  I had read about a trendy area called Knob Hill but my GPS took me to the wrong place, now even hungrier I try to find "Old Town", stumble upon it and so hungry the first place I find is a little Mexican place in a building that was constructed in the 1700's.   I ordered my usual, 1 beef taco and one chicken enchilada with beans and rice.   Of course a bowl of chips to munch on until the main entree comes with the most delicious spicy salsa.   The one bonus, a new Mexican dessert I'd never had called a Sopaipilla.   Yummy deep fried bread similar to a doughnut, but hollow then add honey!  Yumm.

Back at the hotel, first there is scheduling the wake up call, setting the alarm clock, and finally a 3rd backup setting my phone to also wake me.   Breakfast, I already horded from the continental buffet on Saturday for fear they wouldn't be ready Sunday morning in time, all race clothes laid out and ready to go, bags packed, no late checkout allowed...note to self, will have to find a way back in to clean up after the marathon.

Sunday morning and even though an hour earlier than Pacific Standard Time I'm up before the alarm.  Breakfast downed while getting dressed, and out the door.   The biggest concern race morning is always what to wear.   I had expected a brisk morning colder than I'm used to in California and while I was conservative on my overall packing, I had brought a little more cold weather gear than needed.  I navigate to the starting area and find close free parking downtown in the Wells Fargo bank parking area.   I'm still plenty early, so instead of facing the cold I stay and enjoy the heat of the warm automobile.   Finally time to find that one last bathroom stop and bingo, fancy Double Tree hotel a block away from convention center and start line.  Surprisingly no line.

I make my way to the starting corral and don't notice a lot of runners, this is when I learn there may only be about 700 registered for the marathon, but a whole lot more for the various other events planned such as a walk, the half, etc.   The full and half share the same out and back route, but the half starts 30 minutes after the marathon.  Fifteen minutes before the gun is ready to go off, they have a unique national anthem of a trumpet, magnificent!   Now, 15 more minutes of waiting around.   Usually at this point it's too cold and you need to hop around to stay warm, so since I'm not cold I either overdressed or everything is perfect.   With only shorts, a long sleeve running shirt, a 2nd short sleeve shirt and a running vest with no sleeves with hat and gloves.

The gun goes off and my 40th state marathon begins.  I wasn't trying to run a blistering fast marathon and always like to try to finish under 4 hours but especially with the altitude I would be happy with just a finish and not suffering too much.   Immediately, even with a slow 8-9 minute pace I could sense my heart rate was off the charts and as much as I would have liked to slow down my pace, when I backed off my heart rate still raced.   It wasn't until 3-4 miles when my breathing became more relaxed that I felt a little more comfortable with my pace and effort.

By this time we left the city streets and entered a bike trail where the majority of our time would be spent.   It's about this time as well, 4 miles into the marathon as I notice a guy in front of me running the same pace, so I caught him and started some small chat.   Our small chat turned into the next 10 miles of companionship.   This guy's name was Richard, he was 68 years old from my former city of greater Seattle.   Ends up he is a marathon legend, at least in my eyes.  He goes on to win his age group beating his next closest contender by 20 minutes.   Not only that, he had just finished what I think he said was his 336th marathon the weekend earlier, but that's not it, he actually ran back to back marathons on Saturday in Connecticut and then Rhode Island on Sunday and then a week later another marathon in New Mexico.  He is one of the 50 state guys and while I'm still working on my 50 states the first time around, he's done every state 5 times and working on his 6th go around!  Amazing.  While running together the race leaders had already made the turn around of the out and back course and were flying by.   Wow were they fast, two guys were way out in the lead running what appeared to be 5 minute miles.

Myself with new Friend Richard I ran 10 miles of Marathon together
At the 13 mile mark I decided to make a stop at the Port-a-Lieu and said good by to Richard.  I expected I might catch up with him on the 2nd half of the course, but he gained about 2 minutes on me which I never was able to catch.   Still running and feeling good about mile 18-19 when the 4 hour pace group catches me.   This is the decision time when either I dig deep as I have the past couple of marathons and try to stay with them or succumb to the fact that I'm going to take it easy the last 7-8 miles and just run my own race.   This time was easy in that if I tried to run any faster my heart rate would rocket upwards so I watched as they slowly disappeared in the distance.  Seeing this pace group get away was a little demoralizing, but even more were the relays, because when they got a fresh runner, they were the only ones flying past like I was standing still.

I continued from start to finish with the Galloway method, where every mile I walk from 10-25 seconds.   I started basically from the first mile and did this every mile through the end of the race.  It's my strategy that lowers my heart rate for a few seconds and gives me a chance to recover.   Since using this method I've found that I'm usually less sore after the race and recover quicker.  I knew once I was back off the bike path and back into town it was only a short mile or two to the finish.   By this time the marathon crowd was so thin there were no other runners around.   By this time I had caught up with the 20k walkers, so the last two miles was littered with walkers which was a great feeling because even though I wasn't flying myself, compared to the walkers I finally was able to leave someone else in my wind!  =)
Finish Line - Duke City Marathon

 After I crossed the finish line I was a little disappointed with the lack of treats, however, I used to always seek out the massage area and to great joy I noticed the line was very short so decided to give it a try.  Ends up the winner of the race was in line right next to me.   He was one of the two guys that I remember flew by on the course ahead of me, although I thought he was in 2nd place.  Ends up there was one really fast relay team that together out ran the race winner.   My massage while I had only expected a 5 minute workout to my sore body parts, I was again joyous that the guy worked on me for a good 20 minutes or more.

I did make it back to the hotel and key still worked to access the pool area, so treated myself to a hot tub and then one last stop at my friend Josh and Stacy's house before heading to the airport to fly home.   I ended up finishing in 4:06:58 which was 16th in my age group and 134th overall.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Missoula Marathon (Montana)

July 14, 2013
Marathon 45, State #39
Missoula, Montana

Mostly every marathon up to this point has a marathon destination trip, that is, fly in and out for the race, maybe see a few sights nearby as time permits, then fly home immediately after the race.   Montana took on a life of it's own and up this point has become one of my favorite marathon vacations as I flew in eight days before the marathon and was fortunate to have spent nearly a week in the nearby Glacier National Park.

If you know me, to say that I have an desire for adventure is is an understatement.  I have a long term friend I met in Columbus, Ohio and in many ways he's my hero.   When I first met Greg in the mid 90's, he had already been to Kona for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship and was in the middle of a cross country bicycle trek when he pedaled out of his way to stop in Columbus for a burrito with some mutual friend of my triathlon club.   We kept in the same social circle, worked out at the same gym, and so we got to know each other.  In 2001, we both had signed up for Pike's Peak Marathon which was a grueling marathon which half way point is at the summit of one Colorado's 14'ers with an elevation of 14,411.   While we traveled separately to Colorado, we both climbed the high point of Colorado Mt. Elbert (14,433) a few days prior to the marathon.  Even though I eventually moved to California, we stayed in touch as we both wanted to climb Mt. Whitney (14,497), the highest point in California.  We were able to coordinate schedules and in 2009 summit-ed together.

Greg had been to Glacier before and I know it's on top of his list of places he's been so we began planning to incorporate a week in the park prior to the marathon.   My trips are usually short and sweet, but Greg has the ability to take more time and usually plans more activities and this adventure was no different.   He would arrive two weeks earlier with a friend of his George and they were going to take rafts down the Hell's Canyon on the snake river.  I would connect with the two of them at the end of their  river adventure in Missoula, a week before the marathon.   We all rolled into Missoula about dinner time and what better place to meet up than a local pub/restaurant called the Iron Horse where we all caught up and shared a few Big Sky Brewery's finest!

I had the best tour guide ever for Glacier and you can read all about my week long adventure in another one of my blogs.

I should write a book on how not to taper the week before a marathon, that is, the five days preceding race day we ended up hiking eight different trails totaling 37 miles.   The final day in Glacier there was one last trail that Greg wanted to do called the Highline Trail which had still been snow covered an impassable all week, but we learned it was opened and Greg, who wasn't running the marathon, wanted to do it.  It was only 7.6 miles one way downhill, but already sore from the previous days of hiking the sensible part of me said it was time to take a day off, George who was also running the marathon agreed, so we waited at at Lake McDonald Lodge for Greg to make the solo journey.   He finally arrived and invigorated from the experience and while he probably missed us on the trail, we were assured it was a good thing we rested.  I hope to make it back someday to Glacier National Park and this hike will be top of the list!

We made the two and a half hour drive back to Missoula from Glacier National Park and enjoyed the scenery and of course all the laughs all the way back.   At bedtime we said our goodbyes because Greg would be on the road driving back to Ohio at wee hours of the morning which left just George and I.    This marathon will be my 39th state marathon on my quest for all 50 however it I don't remember the actual count, but I think it was near Goerge's 70th marathon, not to mention a long list of other ultras he has completed.  I'm not often in the company with anyone with more running experience than myself so while strangers less than a week ago we found we have a lot in common and seemed to get along great.   We were both pretty laid back and were both agreeable to whatever the other wanted to do.

We hadn't run in over a week which is probably another non-recommended pre marathon recommendation, so I think he talked me into a short run to loosen up the legs, also a great way to see more of the town.   Next stop was the marathon expo.  Like any race weather can make or break any race experience, especially, all the way north in Montana you never know what to expect however race weekend couldn't be any more perfect, even an outside expo combined with a farmers market where we headed to pick up our race packets.

Also at the race expo was the legendary Jeff Galloway as a guest speaker.  George and I kicked back in the park and listened to Jeff's marathon experience and recommendations.    

Many of my marathon weekends have been solo journeys so it was great to have my new friend George to share the experience.  My other good marathon buddy John we hadn't run together since January of 2008, over five years had passed.  We've kept in touch and tried a couple times to coordinate schedules but nothing seemed to work out.   I usually would have shared with John where I was racing and I would get an email or text of encouragement tho while at the race expo my phone rang and I was surprised by an actual rare phone call from John, once again, wishing me good luck.  We hadn't talked for a while but I could sense on the phone something was out of the usual with his questioning where I was and low and behold, he was right behind me and surprised me flying in day before race day with his family to run!   I think they were tired from their travels so we would all meet for dinner at the Olive Garden and catch up.

Missoula was a cool western town and had a large population of  hippies roaming through the area.  We discovered Missoula is the hometown of the Adventure Cycling Association which has a small office and museum so we paid a visit.

I think George had been thinking about an iPad for sometime so we made an afternoon stop at Best Buy followed by the afternoon in a coffee shop downtown setting it up as well as kicking back and relaxing and writing out my blog for the week in Glacier National Park.    Dinner was great, we shared about our week in Glacier as well as how life has been living in California.  We made plans to meet at the bus stop in the morning for the shuttles to the race start 20 some miles outside of Missoula.   We didn't have a continental breakfast at our hotel so one last stop before race day was at a local supermarket.  It's pretty funny as George and I walk in and head in opposite directions we both show up at the cash register with the exact same items, a bagel, energy bar, orange juice, yogert, and a Red Bull for after the race.

Race morning and we were off to the start of the race.   I'm pretty consistent in coming in right around the 4 hour mark so that always seems to be my goal to break the 4 hours mark.   The course gains about 500 feet from start to finish with one substantial hill miles 13-15 combined at 3,350 feet I could probably feel a little of the altitude which would help to make this course a challenge to reach my goal, not to mention a week of hiking for my pre-race plan.   It was a little cold at race start so I think we walked down to a local carryout to stay inside as long as we could as well as use their facility that trumps the port-o-potties.   There would be fireworks to start the race and then we were off heading back to Missoula on the point to point course.

The course was beautiful as the morning sun glistened off the sprinklers in the rolling fields.  I ran solid and consistent mile splits throughout the entire race.  I do remember it heating up once we were getting closer to town and keeping a close eye on the time I knew I would have to haul ass to get in under the 4 hour mark and my last mile I had to run under a 8 minute mile which isn't always the easiest to do after 25 miles already done, but I picked up the pace and finished 3:59:24.   A few minutes later George crossed the finish line and we waited for finally John to finish!