Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Running Injuries and How to Cope

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional of any kind. What follows comes from my own personal experiences. You should seek a proper medical diagnosis of any injury, and follow your doctor's advice. I'm providing information for your awareness only.

Runners, especially those who train for long distance races, sustain injuries. It is bound to happen at some point. If you've been running regularly for more than a year, you've probably experienced some type of injury whether it was as severe as a fracture, or as basic as a twisted ankle. At the very least, you've likely encountered DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) from the exertion of a fast or long run, or an intense strength workout. While I can't diagnose your injuries, I can share the experience of my own injuries, and provide some things for you to think about and to possibly discuss with you doctor.

Actual MRI image of my left foot

So, you think you have an injury?

How do you know that what you're feeling is more than the typical post-workout muscle soreness or DOMS? Does it feel different? Is the pain sharp instead of the usual dull ache? Does it last more than a day or so? Does it affect your running/walking form and daily activities? If so, it's probably an injury. Sometimes you'll know right away that things aren't right. Other times you'll realize this when the pain doesn't go away. As soon as you think you have a real running injury, my advice is to seek medical guidance. Go to a sports medicine doctor if possible. In the internet age, it's very easy to find doctors who specialize in working with athletes. And yes, even if you're not an elite runner, if you're out there pounding the pavement, you are an athlete.

Here's what the doctor will do:
  1. Ask for the specifics of when and how you sustained the injury, as well as your weekly mileage and training routine. Try to remember as many details as possible.
  2. Palpate (touch and move) your injured area to see what hurts, what doesn't, and assess your range of motion.
  3. Take images. This may or may not be necessary. X-rays are typically the first step, but don't show all problems. For more dubious injuries, an MRI or a Bone Scan may be required in order to get a proper diagnosis. These are expensive tests, so should be done only if necessary.
  4. Send you to a specialist. Again, this may or may not be necessary. But sometimes it's necessary to see an orthopedist, for example.
  5. Diagnose your injury and provide a treatment plan. This may include any of the following: a switch to non-impact activities, medication (for pain or inflammation), advice to "RICE" (rest, ice, use compression, elevate the injured area), referrals to physical therapy, wearing a cast or a brace, or other treatments. In severe cases, steroid injections or surgery may be prescribed.
Once you have a proper diagnosis, you can begin the road to recovery. Your path my be short or long, depending on the type and severity of your injury. Bone injuries tend to heal faster than soft tissue injuries, but they require you to immobilize and minimize impact. Sometimes, you can still exercise while you heal, but you should heed the doctor's advice regarding what kinds of exercise you are allowed to do, and when you can return to normal activity. Part of your recovery will depend on you "listening to your body" and noticing how your recovery is going. 

My Generic Recovery Advice

Having had several types of running injuries (I detail the specifics of those later in this post), I can speak from experience. Whatever your situation, here is some advice for you from me:
  • Listen to the doctor, but if things don't seem right, don't hesitate to get a second opinion. You are the master of your own health, and you know your body better than anyone. Every medical practitioner has a slightly different perspective. If I felt like my diagnosis or recovery plan was somehow "off", I would question it.
  • Don't stop your treatment early, even if you're starting to feel better. That's a good way to re-injure yourself.
  • Find every way possible to stay active, while still following doctor's orders. Ask your doctor what exercise is approved for you, and do it. You'll heal faster and return to running more easily if you stay in shape as much as possible.
  • Research home remedies. This is not to take the place of medical advice, but to complement it. Your doctor may not know of or think to tell you about everything you can do at home. For example, I purchased a home ultrasound machine and used it on my plantar fasciitis and my stress fracture. It's a non-invasive treatment that did not conflict with my doctor's treatment plan.
  • Remember what caused the injury and try to prevent it in the future. Was it because you increased your mileage too rapidly? Then next time add weekly mileage a little at a time. Don't jump from a 20 mile week to a 40 mile week...get there gradually.
  • Once your injury is healed, add cross-training into your schedule. If you only run, you may have great running muscles, but you'll do better to balance yourself out by adding some different activities. Cycling, light strength training, swimming and yoga are all great for runners on non-running days.
  • Make stretching a priority. Tight muscles can lead to injury. Regular stretching and foam rolling are a great way to help prevent injury. Links to stretching for runners and foam rolling.

Tendinitis - What I Did

My first injury came when I was training for my first marathon. I followed a structured training program that included run/walk intervals, and didn't add mileage too fast. Still...I got injured. I question whether the injury came from running or from the gym workouts I was doing. My trainer had us do a lot of lunges, and I've since learned that my knees don't like lunges. 

My diagnosis was tendinitis behind my knee. The pain was only on the back, and it was both above and below the knee. It was too close to marathon time to heal completely. I ran my first marathon with pain, especially after Mile 20. After that, I was determined to heal the injury. 

What worked: Rest was key. I had to stop running so much. I also did some physical therapy, including specific stretches and exercises. But I think the number one thing that helped was ultrasound therapy. The therapist used an ultrasound machine on the back of my knee area a couple times a week for several weeks, and gradually I healed. Now, I have a small ultrasound machine at home, so I can use it as needed.

My ultrasound machine looks something like this; you can buy online from Amazon

Plantar Fasciitis - What I Did

I've had plantar fasciitis twice now, so I'm a pro. It can range from a dull ache on the heel to excruciating pain the length of the bottom of the foot. It's a ligament injury, and takes a long time to heal properly. When first diagnosed, I was training for a marathon in memory of my father, who had recently died of cancer. Dropping out of the marathon was not an option for me. My podiatrist prescribed lots of icing, specific stretches, running with cork heel inserts in my shoes (custom-made by the podiatrist), and wearing a boot at night to keep the foot flexed. I also got medical massage for the calf and the foot. But I was going to need more help if I wanted to finish that marathon. 

So, I got steroid (cortisone) injections in the foot. Let me tell you - that stuff hurts! The injections themselves were among the most painful I've ever had, anywhere on my body. And immediately after the injection the foot hurt worse. This lasted for several days. Then, miraculously, the inflammation and pain went down just in time for my race. I ran it and earned a PR. But don't be fooled, steroid injections are a "band aid" treatment. They mask the injury, but don't really heal it. After my race I had to take a break from running to allow it to fully heal. I had to keep up my icing and stretching. It took a while, and I hated it, but eventually I healed. Everyone's case is different. I would have healed faster if I'd stopped running as soon as I was diagnosed. Also, for years after this injury I wore orthotics in my running shoes. You can have these custom made, but I was fine with standard ones. There are many brands of shoe inserts, but what worked for me were the Dr. Scholl's sports inserts. They're not expensive, and have great arch support.

Tibia Stress Fracture - What I Did

This injury did come about by increasing my mileage too quickly. I really should have known better. After my bad case of plantar fasciitis, I stopped doing races longer than a 5K or a rare 10 Miler. I didn't run as much for a few years. Then I jumped back into marathon training without a good base. And, I fractured my tibia (the larger bone in the lower leg). It was a sharp pain, and I felt it upon any impact (walking or running). I went to my podiatrist because he is a marathoner, and was great in helping me through my previous injuries. It was important for him to know whether he was dealing with a bone or a tissue injury. But x-rays don't always show minor stress fractures, so he sent me for a Bone Scan, which confirmed his suspicion. I had to stop running for 10 weeks. I could walk to get around, but not for exercise. Bones just need time to heal, and I had to respect that.

While recovering from the stress fracture, I tried Water Running (overview and training plan). This is a great form of cross-training that has no impact, because you're suspended in a pool, wearing a floatation waist belt. Water running uses the same muscles as running on land, so it's the next best thing. I watched some videos to learn the technique and found a training plan online. Rather than just "winging it", I followed an interval plan to get those muscles moving, and it really was a good workout.

Water Running

Slowly, I started running on land again. Even though I was healed, my leg felt a little unstable. So I began wearing compression socks for every run (and still do...they're quite stylish!). I also learned how to use KT Tape to tape my calf (link to various taping techniques based on your injury location; mine was the posterior shin splint taping). I could run again, but had to be careful. Downhill running didn't feel good on my bad leg, and I worried about re-injuring it, so I had to walk down the steeper hills to minimize impact. I also didn't feel confident with any workout involving jumping, as I felt that impact. So, I modified workouts according to how I felt. I was able to run a half marathon a couple weeks after my 10 week rest, but it took months to get to the point where I felt normal. I still minimize jumping.

IT Band Injury - What I Did

This was not a bad injury, thank goodness. I know that some people have nagging IT band issues. I was lucky. I was still recovering from my tibia stress fracture while I was running a marathon, and all of a sudden I felt a strange pull in my hip. It was toward the end of the race, so I slowed down but kept going. I'd never had an issue with my IT band. I didn't think it was bad enough to see the doctor, so instead I saw my massage therapist. She was really good at working with runners and sports injuries. I scheduled three appointments in a two-week period and had her focus exclusively on the IT band and areas surrounding it. And it worked! After those two weeks, I never had another problem with it. This was luck. But I also know my own body well enough to know that my injury wasn't severe. I would have seen the doctor if the massage didn't help.

Plantar Fasciitis II - What I Did

Lucky me, I got plantar fasciitis a second time. It's no surprise really, as I started running a lot of marathons in 2012 and 2013. As a Marathon Maniac, I had a goal to run 30 marathons in different states in a 1 year period. I was also working on running a marathon in all 50 states. In order to minimize travel expenses, some of my marathons were in neighboring states on the same weekend (e.g. Georgia on Saturday and Alabama on Sunday). My feet weren't ready for all of this, even if my muscles were. I got plantar fasciitis again.

This time I knew what I was getting into. I also knew that the injections were not an option (I had a second round of injections after my first occurrence of plantar fasciitis, and they did NOTHING to help). I was also stubborn enough to keep up my marathon schedule, against better judgement. Most of my races required air travel and hotels, and were already booked and paid for. I would be out a LOT of money if I canceled. I also knew I would never again be in a position to do the 30 states in a year. If I wanted to cut my losses and achieve my ambitious goal, I had to keep running.

I pretty much cut out all training activities. I was already "trained up" to marathon distance, and I was running them frequently enough. Short training runs in between races would only make the injury worse.

Here's what I did do. I bought cushy shoes, and wore them on Day 2 of my double marathon weekends. I also walked a lot during the marathons, as it hurt less than running. I kept up stretching. I should have iced more too. After my marathon schedule wound down, I finally healed by taking a break, of course. And I also learned how to tape my foot (here's the taping technique). Taping the foot while I ran was one of the biggest things I did to alleviate the pain. Even though I'm currently injury-free, I still tape my feet for long runs and races. It can't hurt, and it can only help.

In Conclusion

I hope I've provided some ideas for other runners who are battling injury. It can be painful, both physically and emotionally, to deal with these set-backs. But it is possible to come out of an injury and keep on running, maybe even stronger than ever. Use your doctor. Do your research. Put in the time and effort to heal.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

40th Running of the Columbus 10K

For Day Two of my recent two-race weekend, I ran the 40th Columbus 10K on Sunday. (I ran the Baltimore 10 Miler on Saturday; blog here.) I would have happily paid the registration fee for this one, but I didn't need to. Columbus Running Company was offering a free registration with a purchase of Hoka One One shoes, as Hoka was the main sponsor. I bought a pair of their ORA Recovery Slides, which are very comfy.

I got home on Saturday night from Baltimore/DC and didn't get a ton of sleep. I was happy that they had race-day packet pick-up, but that meant getting up even earlier to get a good parking space and my packet. The race started on Civic Center Drive on the Scioto Mile. I found great parking just a couple blocks away. Packet pick-up was quick and easy and I had time to scope out the start/finish area while waiting for the Columbus Westside Running Club (CWRC) photo meet-up.

Some of the CWRC members pre-race at the big gavel
And gavel selfie

The weather was a little humid and after eating an apple I felt a touch of nausea. I don't know what my body was trying to tell me, but I felt better before start time. I lined up near the 10:00 min/mile pacer even though I wasn't planning to go quite that fast. I figured I'd start out a little faster than I'd finish as the temperature got a little hotter and I started feeling my hilly 10 miler from the day before.

Start corral
Just starting out

The course was a single loop and took us from downtown Columbus to Victorian Village to the Scioto Trail and then back into the downtown area. It was a good course and didn't have the hills of Baltimore, but it wasn't entirely flat. There were three aid stations, which I thought was appropriate for a summertime 10K. Each one had water and an energy drink called Sword, which I'd never heard of. There were some spectators, but not a lot.

Somewhere mid-race
Heading back downtown

I ran my run/walk intervals and enjoyed the neighborhoods. I was leap-frogging with a lot of the same runners as we ticked off the miles. I had no real goal for this race, as I'm not ready to PR in the 10K just yet. I simply wanted to finish feeling good, as in Baltimore. In the last couple miles the 10:00 pacer finally passed me. That was fine. Shortly after that I saw the city skyline and knew that I was nearly done. But not without some hills on the Scioto Mile.

Along the river I saw Tracy from CWRC. She wasn't running, but she came out to cheer on friends and club members. Shortly after that I saw Becca and Carl, who had already finished their races. I loved knowing people at the race and being cheered on by name. But I wasn't finished yet. There was one more steep hill to get from the river back up to street level. I ran through a tunnel of cheerleaders on the way up that hill. Then I made my last turn onto the finish stretch. I didn't finish in 10 minute miles, but I was pretty close at 1:05:38, which was my second best 10K. I'll be ready for a new PR in the fall.

Tracy's pic of me by the river
Carl's pic of me by the river

I received my finisher medal, a great design with the Columbus skyline inside the shape of Ohio. Immediately after the finish there was water, probably Sword again (not sure) and bananas. In the festival area there were pancakes and sausage, and Skyline Chili had chili dogs. Of that food, the only thing vegetarian were the pancakes, and they just sounded too heavy to me, so I ate nothing.

I walked over to the river to reconnect with CWRC members. We cheered in the remaining runners and walkers, and stuck around for the awards ceremony. Two of our club members (Patti and Karen) placed in their age group. Other club members earned PRs. As for me, I was thrilled with my time, knowing that I didn't even work very hard for it. A year ago I was running a 1:12 10K, so this is great progress.

Cute pic with Becca
Some of the CWRC members post-race

Some of us walked over to Land Grant Brewing after the awards were presented. Land Grant was offering $1 off most brews. Of course the one I wanted was a newly released seasonal and not discounted (that's OK...I enjoyed my Ra Blonde Ale). On the Land Grant patio we were in prime viewing position of the Franklinton bike races which were happening that afternoon. We got to watch the small children's race, which was for one-speed bikes. They rode around the block as many times as they could/wanted to in the 20 minutes they were given. After one beer, we were done and went our separate ways.

A well-deserved pint from Land Grant
Carl, Ken and Becca representing CWRC on the deck at Land Grant

This was a fun 10K on a beautiful day. Some bonuses: nice course; the nice shirts and medals; free photos; free downtown street parking on a Sunday; a meet-up with former Olympians; a kids' race; the food selection, if that's your thing; the Land Grant after-party. One drawback: no bag check except for some VIPs. I wish more race directors acknowledged that not everyone drives to a race and has the ability to keep things in a car. Some are dropped off, some ride bikes, etc. But, I had a good time and I'd definitely run this one again.

I tried to line up the medal pic with the buildings represented on the medal itself

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

I'm Going to China as a Columbus Marathon Ambassador

It's Global Running Day and I have very exciting news to share. I've been selected as an ambassador to Hefei, China to represent the Columbus Marathon. I'll be running the Hefei International Marathon on November 12th with four other ambassadors. This is part of the Greater Columbus Sister Cities International (GCSCI) program. Read the official announcement here.

Get out there and run anywhere, any distance today

I first learned about this program and applied back in April. At that time I didn't expect much, as I'm sure there was good competition for the ambassador slots. On the application I had to choose between Dresden, Germany; Curitiba, Brazil; and Hefei, China. I thought that China would be the most unique international experience, and it's a country I've never visited, so that's what I chose. I filled out an application with some background on my running and travel history, and hoped for the best.

In late May I was offered the position to represent Columbus in Hefei. It was uplifting news to hear, especially given my stalled job search. But I had to keep the news quiet until now.

Sister Cities Overview

The Sister Cities program is not just about running. Columbus has 10 sister cities, and as of this year only 3 of them are represented in the marathon exchange. With all cities, there are various cultural and business exchanges that take place throughout the year. The focus is on fostering communication and quality of life for both Columbus and sister city residents through these programs. The marathon exchange is in its 6th year with Dresden, Germany, but the Hefei, China and Curitiba, Brazil marathon exchanges are newer. I'm so excited to be a part of it!

GCSCI Mission (photo credit: GCSCI)

My Columbus Marathon Story

My history with the Columbus Marathon goes back to 2006 when I ran it as my 3rd marathon ever (blogged about here). At the time, my father was terminally ill with cancer. He had not been able to see me run my two previous marathons (in New Orleans and Dublin, Ireland), so I wanted to run one in my hometown, for him. I started my training program with a local charity group back in DC. And then my father died that summer a few months before the marathon. Now I had even more reason to dedicate that day to him. I trained more seriously and at a faster pace than I had before.

2006 Columbus Marathon medal; I know that times and slogans change, but I loved  "Our World is Flat"
2006 Columbus Marathon - the medal

Marathon day came, and for the first time I had family and friends on the marathon course and at the finish line to support me. It was a cold morning in October 2006 when I lined up at the start. I set out with the 5:00 pace group and ran with them for the first half of the marathon before needing to drop back. Although I was up to this pace, I had trained with walk breaks every five minutes, versus the straight running that the pacer did. My body needed those walk breaks. And my mind also needed the second half of the marathon to focus my thoughts.

I talked to my dad a lot during the second half. I believe he was there with me. I finished a little bit over 5 hours, but that was OK. It was my fastest marathon finish to date, and a new PR that I didn't break until several years later. I had a good race, and was able to celebrate my finish through the sadness of missing my dad.

Sandy running by Ohio Stadium during the 2006 Columbus Marathon
2006 Columbus Marathon - running by Ohio Stadium
Sandy finishing the 2006 Columbus Marathon with a new PR
2006 Columbus Marathon - finishing!

Years later, I returned to the 2012 Columbus Marathon as a spectator. I was in town for my grandma's (father's mother) memorial service, which happened to be on the same day as the marathon. I got up early and headed down to cheer on the runners near Mile 16 on Lane Avenue. It was my first taste of real spectating, and I stayed in my spot cheering on everyone until the sweepers came through. I saw several friends from the Marathon Maniacs club running the race. And then I spectated again in 2013, this time stationing myself on High Street near Mile 13 just after the half marathoners split off for their finish.

And now, this year I'll run the Columbus Marathon for my second time. I registered even before I knew about the Sister Cities program. That's how excited I was to run this great marathon, now that I'm living back in my hometown. Runners from Hefei will be here to run in Columbus on October 15th, so I will get to meet them before I visit their city.

What's Next

I'll share progress about my training and planning for Hefei in future blog posts. I have the training part pretty much under control. But now I'll need to get acquainted with my fellow ambassadors, with the city of Hefei and with the Hefei International Marathon. And I should practice speaking a little Mandarin as well. There will be a lot to learn, and it's going to be a blast!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

2017 Baltimore 10 Miler Flamingo Fest

I ran my second Baltimore 10 Miler last Saturday. This involved a flight back to DC and a road trip to Baltimore, and it was totally worth it. Last year's Baltimore 10 Miler (blog post here) was the first year that they offered a medal. It was a penguin medal to represent an animal at the Maryland Zoo (the race starts and finishes near the zoo). This year runners were able to vote for the medal animal, and the flamingo was chosen. That pretty much meant that Magenta the Road Trip Flamingo had to do this race. And that meant that Scot and I would be there with her.

Hanging with flamingos after the race: Brittany, me, Sam, Jody and Scot

In the past I would drive from Arlington VA to Baltimore early the morning of any races I ran there. This year I didn't know exactly how my plans would shape up so I booked a hotel in downtown Baltimore with an Expedia credit. The Lord Baltimore Hotel is a historic hotel, so I think I got a bargain. I flew in Friday morning and Scot and I drove up from Alexandria when he got off work that day. We picked up our packets at the zoo and then took in an Orioles game that night.

Race morning showed the promise of good running weather. We took Magenta and some of her cousins to the race, but only Magenta would be "running"; the others hung out at bag check. I quickly found my friend Brittany at the start. She and her friend Sam joined me in wearing flamingo headbands. Scot escorted Magenta. We got to the start corral and the race began.

Read to go, rocking my flamingo headband

The course was the same as last year, meaning: hilly! We had some nice downhills in the first couple miles, which meant we'd be coming back up them later on this out & back course. I pretty much ran this race alone, doing my run/walk intervals. I felt good. I got a lot of comments on my flamingo headband and my coordinating pink and blue outfit. There was an aid station of people wearing flamingo hats. There were other runners getting into the spirit by wearing flamingo headbands and pink tutus. This was fun.

Around Mile 3 or so I found Sid, who should pretty much be the Corrigan Sports mascot. Sid does all their races, and they take great care of him. Every other person on the course knows Sid, if not personally, then by reputation. At 71, he has not stopped running races in honor of a fallen military hero. This day was no exception. Scot and Magenta were with Sid for most of the race.

Thanking Sid for running again, and offering my condolences on the recent loss of his mother

I found Sam on the mile-long loop around Lake Montebello. And then I found a huge group of young Marines out on the course showing us their support. And then after the lake we began the second half of the course, which included most of the uphill portion. It was still a nice day, and I was doing well, but some of those hills were long and I needed to walk a little more. I did not have a time goal. i just wanted to finish feeling well, because I had another race the next morning.

Lake Montebello
Selfie with Marines at Lake Montebello

I found Letty on the course after Mile 8. She also runs in honor of a fallen hero. I did a little work to catch up to her, but then she ran ahead of me at the Dunkin Donuts aid station. I'd been looking forward to the donut Munchkins all morning, and they come right before a big hill. My plan was to eat my two chocolate donut holes while walking up the hill. In the last two miles I walked a lot, but when the course leveled off in the last half mile, I picked up the pace. Even though I had a port-o-potty stop, photo ops, hills and a donut stop, I still wanted to finish under 2 hours, and I did.

Volunteers at the last aid station
Coming in for my finish...what am I looking at?

The finish experience at the Baltimore 10 Miler is amazing. In the chute you get a cold, wet washcloth, a great flamingo medal (animal will vary next year), water and Gatorade, Utz chips, and lots of fresh fruit: apples, orange wedges, bananas and watermelon. You really can't beat that! Then there's the finish festival where there are vendor and sponsor tents, Harpoon beer, and the finisher jackets. This year's jacket was a nice blue, lined windbreaker with a hood. Gotta say that the sizing for the women's jackets was a little off. Every woman I know, no matter what size, had trouble with the jacket being too tight around the hips but too big everywhere else. (Lucky me, I traded mine with Scot. His men's medium fit me better, and he was able to wear mine with no problem. It doesn't look like a ladies jacket, so no one will know.)

After I finished I made a beeline to the jacket tent, and then to the beer tent. Each runner could choose two beers from Harpoon IPA, Harpoon UFO White Ale, and Harpoon UFO Huckleberry. I choose both of the UFO beers, but wasn't really in love with the huckleberry version. Still, I like to try new beers, so I was happy. Soon after I got settled in the grass with my beer, Jody found me. She'd had a good race and finished before me but was still in the beer line when I texted her. After a bit we were joined by Brittany and Sam. Everyone had a good race.

With Sam and Brittany, our medals and goofy flamingo headbands

We hung out for a while, getting some photos. Finally, Sid and Scot finished. Scot got the flamingo cousins out of bag check and we had fun with flamingo and medal photography. Then we walked over to the VIP tent to say goodbye to Sid.

Fun with flamingos: Magenta on far right and clockwise: Verde, Mallet and Fuchsia 

I really can't say enough about this race. I don't normally travel so far for a 10 miler, but this is a good one. In spite of it being a hilly race and usually hot (last year was oppressive), it's done so well, and is fun. Corrigan Sports puts on an awesome event, and you can't go wrong with any of their other races (Baltimore Marathon/Half, Frederick Half, Delaware Marathon/Half). If you like animals, running, and a fun party, run the Baltimore 10 Miler next year.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

2017 Medina Half Marathon Race Report

The second race of my busy Memorial Day Weekend was the Medina Half Marathon, just 36 hours after my PR run at Thursday night's FORE! Miler. I found out about this race by researching Ohio race calendars. Now that I'm in Ohio, I want to explore new races and new-to-me towns in my home state. The Medina race was bee-themed and sounded like fun.

Happy finisher in Medina

I drove up to Medina on Friday afternoon, stopped by the small expo for my packet, and then headed over to Lager Heads Brewing for some craft beers. There, I met a few locals, including fast ultra runner Ladd, who'd be using the half marathon as a training run, and then working it. After the brewery I had a great meal sitting at the bar at Santosuosso's Pizza Pasta Vino. Then it was time to check into my hotel and get ready for bed.

I woke up early on Saturday because I hadn't yet scoped out the start/finish area, and wanted to beat the rush for the free public parking. I got there with lots of time to spare. The race started and finished in a very quaint town square, surrounded by nice shops and restaurants. I wish there had been a few more port-o-potties as I just barely finished in time to line up in the corral.

Still wet from the overnight rain, the pacers start to meet up
Post port-o-potty, ready to go

I had a time goal for this race. It was not to PR, but to get closer to my PR as I ramp up my training. Most of my recent half marathons have been just under 3 hours because I was either working as the official 3:00 pacer, or unofficially pacing a friend, or I just didn't care about my time. This was going to be an exception. I set a goal of 2:35, which I was certain was not too easy and not too hard given my current level of fitness. I started in the coral near the 2:30 pacers. I was sure I'd run ahead of them in the beginning, but they'd eventually pass me as I would be taking regular walk breaks.

Near perfect weather in the start corral

We started running downhill, and I went out faster than planned. It didn't feel hard because of the downhill, so I kept the pace up. The first 5+ miles of the course were a downhill trend, and at each mile I realized I was quite a bit ahead of goal pace. Still, I wasn't feeling bad, so I kept going. We ran through suburban looking neighborhoods for much of the course, with a nice stretch along Lake Medina. There, we ran on a crushed gravel trail that was full of puddles from the overnight rain. The path was narrow and it was hard to avoid the puddles, especially when passing other runners. And I passed a lot of other runners on my run intervals, then they passed me on my walk breaks. And so on.

Running along Lake Medina

Things got tough at Mile 6 with a long uphill stretch. And from there on out, the course had an uphill trend. Several miles of uphill, even if it isn't steep, is tough for me. The good news is that I was still ahead of pace at each mile marker. Eventually, pace groups passed me. The 2:10 runners passed first, and then 2:20. I was still doing run/walk intervals, but I walked a little extra because of the uphill trend. At one point there were kids giving out popsicles. I took one and it was great. The temperature never got terribly hot, but it was a bit humid, and I was warm. Soon after that the 2:30 pacers caught me. I was still ahead of my goal, so I wasn't worried. I leapfrogged with them a little bit due to my run/walk, while they were running a consistent pace. Then I felt them pulling ahead of me. It was late in the race with maybe just a mile to go, so I made sure to keep up, and it helped that one of the two pacers was hanging back a little, encouraging those of us who were just behind him. It sounds funny, but I felt like I didn't want to let him down, so I kept up.

This bee person was with the group handing out popsicles 

A great part of the course was one final downhill toward the end of the race. I knew we'd have an uphill finish, and this last, long downhill was what I needed to put myself in a good position to tackle the last push of the race. I pretty much flew down that hill, passing both of the 2:30 pacers and others around me. It felt great! And when the last hill up to the finish came, there were cheering spectators. I didn't want to let them down by walking, either. It really took all I had left in me to keep running up to the finish line. But now that I knew I would have a sub-2:30 finish, it was worth it. And I did it. I had my first sub-2:30 half marathon in a long time, and beat my 2:35 goal by more than 6 minutes. I owe it to my training, my persistence, and that 2:30 pacer. Once the two pacers crossed the finish, I made sure to thank them for that last bit of encouragement in the final miles. I didn't run with them for most of the race, but they were there for me when I needed them. This was the first time in a while that I took advantage of on-course pacers, and now I know how appreciative my runners are when they thank me after I pace them.

Can't forget to stop that Garmin at the finish mat!
Immediate post-race pic after thanking the pacers

I stopped in the finish area long enough to catch my breath after a hard effort. I collected my bee-themed medal, some water and some chips. Then I walked over to the gazebo in the town square and had a seat on a bench to recover. There was a DJ playing in the gazebo. It was a great post-race spot. The real after-party was a block over, but I needed to have some water and food before the beer.

The cool bee medal

Finally, I was ready to move on. I got a few pics in the square, then found indoor restrooms (why didn't I see these before the race?). And then I found the party. There was good beer, pizza and a band. And the sun came out. I hung out there for a while and chatted with Stacy, a fellow Half Fanatic who recognized me from the Pro Football Hall of Fame Half in Canton. She had a bunch of friends with her, several of them also Half Fanatics. It was nice to sit, relax, drink a good beer and socialize a bit. But before long I needed to head back to the hotel so I could get a shower before check-out.

Post-race party 
Selfie with Stacy

This was a good race. Small but nice little expo, good shirt and medal. Not the most exciting course, but a great start/finish area and a wonderful middle segment along the lake. Nice logistics with easy parking. Fun after party. On course, there was water and gatorade about every mile and a half. There was one gel station with Carb Boom gels. And, I got to explore a very nice small town full of friendly people.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2017 FORE! Miler Race Report

Wow, I had a busy Memorial Day Weekend and I'm just now catching up. Things kicked off on Thursday evening when I ran the FORE! Miler at Muirfield Village Golf Club. The race is an M3S Sports event that is partnered with the Memorial Tournament.

Twenty minutes to go-time!

Packet pick-up was at Orange Theory in Dublin and I got my race packet the day before the race. On race afternoon, I drove up to Muirfield a little early because I didn't want any issues with parking or rush hour traffic. Parking was free and plentiful, but we had to walk across a wet, soggy field of grass to get from the grass & gravel lot to the club. I tread carefully in order to keep my shoes as dry as possible. I reached the pavilion where bag check and the post-race party were located, and then it started pouring outside. The good news was that the weather radar showed the rain ending before the start of the race; and, it did.

Runners getting ready

My last 4 miler was in March at the St. Patrick's Day 4 Miler at Kinsale. I did better than expected there and knew that I was very close to earning a PR at this distance. Because I've been doing speed work and running my training runs faster than in the recent past, I felt great going into this race and planned to bust that PR.

A couple friends from Columbus Westside Running Club were at this race, but I didn't see them before the start, or after my finish. It looked like there were going to be a lot of walkers at this race, so I seeded myself up closer to the starting line than I would normally do. I was learning my lesson from other local races where I had to bob and weave around throngs of walkers at the start. This time I think I make the right choice. I started out at a good pace and was feeling great in spite of the humidity. There was a nice downhill early in the race, and I got a high-five from Tracy, who was volunteering on the course.

I raced this race, as opposed to going at an easy pace, walking a lot, and taking photos. I really wanted to earn my new PR. I walked only on my designated walk breaks, and in fact I cut some of those short. I did not allow uphill sections to slow me down too much. I kept this focus as we ran out of the golf club and through suburban neighborhoods. The rain held off, but there were puddles on the course and few spectators. I clocked each mile as faster than goal pace. I was really zooming along...for me, that is. In that second half of the course there was more uphill, but I managed it, in spite of some abdominal side stitch cramps. Late in the race I saw another on-course volunteer I knew: Tara, who has been running with me at the Columbus Running Company speed workouts on Wednesday nights. It was great to see another friendly face and be cheered on by name as I finished up my last half mile.

Coming into the finish strong, my otherwise great pic - BLOCKED by this woman's arm

And then, there was the finish. I finished strong, and got that PR! It was hard. I hadn't run for time in so long. I hadn't pushed myself this much in quite a while. I had to stop and catch my breath before taking my medal and post-race food. This race offered water, bananas and protein bars in the finish chute. We were routed to the post-race party via a walkway along the 18th hole of the golf course, so I stopped there for a photo.

Finished, with medal and a new PR

Back in the pavilion I redeemed my drink ticket for a beer. There were a couple other drink choices, but I wanted the beer. And then I hung out for a while with other runners while the cover band Swagg entertained us. These guys were great! They were very upbeat, the lead singer did a great job of getting the audience dancing, and they played decent versions of pop hits. I never saw Sally or Karen from CWRC; I think they went home after their finishes.

I'm in this pic to the right of the red-panted guitarist, so gracefully chugging my beer
Swagg was such a fun band

It rained while I was at the party and I felt bad for the walkers who weren't able to dodge the rain like I was. I hope they had fun anyway. After my beer it was time to head home. Walking back across the wet field, this time I didn't care how soaked my shoes got. But I had a great time at this race, and felt a sense of accomplishment for setting a goal to PR, and then by achieving it.

As far as race perks, we got a great medal with the logo for the Memorial Tournament. And in our race packets we each received a free pass to attend a practice round at the tournament.  I have to say that the t-shirt was nothing special. They could have done a great design playing off the golf course theme, but they didn't. Still, it's a fun race. I recommend doing it with friends. Even if you don't run at the same pace, you'll have a great time together at the party.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 Cleveland Half Marathon Race Report

My most recent pacing gig was on Sunday at the Cleveland Marathon, where I paced the 3:00 group for the half marathon. This was my first time running this race, but probably not my last. I had a great time and would be interested in pacing again next year, and/or running the full marathon.

Medal selfie

I drove up to Cleveland on Saturday afternoon and checked into the Hilton, which was walking distance to everything I needed in downtown Cleveland. The Hilton was connected to the Convention Center where the race expo was held, so I went there first to collect my race packet and pacer gear. After a quick tour of the expo, I headed a few blocks away to taste some local brews at Masthead Brewing Company. I enjoyed the beer (good stuff) and wanted to try their pizza, but I saved my appetite. As a pacer, I got a free ticket to the marathon's official pasta dinner held at the Hyatt. I sat with fellow pacers Tom, Kim and Chase. Then we all went back to the Hilton for pre-race pacer party.

Panoramic view from hotel room
Seen on the sidewalk on my walk to the brewery
Pace team leader Kara did a great job with the beer exchange/milk & cookies party. Several members of the large pace team showed up to socialize before the race. Some ate cookies, others drank beer. We were encouraged to bring a six-pack from our home city to trade, and not necessarily drink it all at the party.

Kara speaking at the pacer party

Pacers at the party

On race morning my roommate Heather and I woke up at 5:00 AM. We had to meet the other pacers at the starting line between 6:00-6:15 AM for a photo. The forecast had been for storms, but it was dry on our walk to the start, though quite windy. In the start corrals we had some sun, so we were hoping that it would stay dry, at least for the half marathon. The start was alongside the "Q" (Quicken Loans Arena), where the Cleveland Cavaliers play. I was the last official pacer at the 3:00 half, with no counterparts doing the 6:00 marathon. I seeded myself behind the other pace teams, which put me starting in the walkers corral. Unfortunately, that meant that I'd be dodging walkers for quite a while. I took several pre-race pics since I wouldn't be able to take them during the race as a pacer.

Pre-race with pacers getting ready
Pre-race with Chase
Pre-race with Kara, our fearless pace team leader
Pre-race with Heather
The direction we ran at the start
Pre-race with Karen before her full marathon

I crossed the starting mat about eight minutes after gun time. The pack was pretty crowded, especially with walkers. I began my 2.5 minute run/1 minute walk intervals from the beginning. I had several half marathon runners and some 10K runners with me. We settled into a consistent pace. The first few miles were in the downtown area and we ran past or close to landmarks such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and FirstEnergy Stadium where the Cleveland Browns play. We had a couple short hills early on, and then a big one on Columbus Road, which included a bridge over the river. This was a tough hill for my runners, so I switched to a strategy of running 30 seconds, walking 30 seconds, repeat. They needed to walk more, but I couldn't afford to walk the entire hill or I'd be way behind pace. Most of my crew made it up the hill just fine, but then they were zapped and I lost a few of them. And shortly thereafter, the 10K runners split off. The hill did put me a little behind on pace, but not much, so it was possible to regain the loss gradually over the second half of the race.

Here I am starting out, bright yellow shirt on the left

In the second half I picked up some new runners, and we were passing a lot of other runners who had started too fast and then slowed down. The weather was still good, or at least it felt good to me. We went from partial sun to overcast, and there was some humidity, of course, but not that I really noticed running at my pace. The full marathoners split off just before Mile 11, and that's about when the rain came. At first, it was just a light sprinkle. We had one last bridge in the final half mile of the race, but it wasn't as long as the hill on Columbus. The rain picked up a little more, but it wasn't very heavy. My sole survivor in the 3:00 pace group was Julie, a first-timer who did a great job sticking with me the entire race. I told her that if she had the energy, she should feel free to have a good finish, and she did. Julie pulled ahead of me on the hill, ran faster down it, and probably finished about a minute before me. I had to slow down because I had gained my lost time back, and then some. I walked it in to the finish.

Kara captured this pic of my finish

Kara was there waiting for me to turn in my pacing sign. Julie was there too, and I gave her a big hug and congratulated her on her first half marathon finish. The rain picked up a little more as I collected my medal and post race refreshments. There were bottles of water, cups of Powerade, bananas, cereal bars, pretzels and chocolate milk. More important to me was the beer garden, so I headed over there to get my post-race beer from Great Lakes; there were three to choose from. There were also Bloody Marys with Tito's vodka. The sky opened up and it started pouring as I grabbed my beer. I took shelter under an awning in the beer garden.

Beer and medal pic while taking cover under the Tito's Vodka trailer awning 

After the rain lightened up I decided to head back to the hotel to shower and check out. I said goodbye to my roommate Heather and then headed out to meet up with Karen at Willoughby Brewing Company. Karen ran the marathon and got rained on for 10 miles. We half marathoners lucked out.

This was a good race. Well-organized, good course, nice swag, and great community support. On the half marathon course there were at least two unofficial water stations, several spectators handing out food, and one big unofficial beer station, though someone said there were at least two. Most official aid stations had both water and Powerade. One aid station on the half marathon course had Honey Stinger gels.

As a pacer, this was a good race to run. Kara took care of everything for us. Great pre-race communications, fun pre-race party, and she took lots of great pics. The Cleveland Marathon and Hyland Software did a great job sponsoring us. We got the usual pacer shirt, and also hats and calf compression sleeves. There were pace wrist bands for us and for our runners. The pace signs had nice handles that were easy to hold. We were invited to the pasta party, and out-of-towners got to stay at the Hilton. Locals got parking passes. Absolutely nothing was overlooked in making this a hassle-free and fun experience for the pacers. Thank you, Cleveland Marathon, and thank you Kara Kelly!