Saturday, November 10, 2012

Marine Corps Marathon

By sheer luck, Andy's friend snapped this picture at the start without even knowing where we were in the field!
First, The Numbers:

3:39:22 (8:23 pace). 1:46:14 1st half (8:07 pace), 1:53:08 2nd half (8:38 pace), 
6:54 positive split.  Compared to:
3:55 positive split when I ran my PR 3:37:07 (8:17 pace)
9:44 positive split my first marathon when I ran 3:54:34 (8:58 pace)

Not sub 3:30, Not even a new PR, but still a very rewarding and memorable experience, and a third marathon under my belt. It is now over a week later and I am only getting to write about this experience now because of a certain storm that has completely decimated the mid-atlantic. I may write something about that at a later time, but for now, before I forget anymore, I want to record my Marine Corps Marathon experience.


I won't go into any of my training here. I got to Andy and Jenn's house on Saturday afternoon. I hadn't seen Jenn or their kids in over a year so it was really nice to see them. The boys are at an age where 1 year makes a huge difference. Especially Liam who was running around and talking.

Andy and I made our way to the Expo and we got in pretty quickly with no line. It was on par with the Philadelphia one I had been to a couple times. I enjoyed walking around and checking out the crazy amount of products that have popped up over the last several years to support the booming running industry. We picked up our bibs, Andy bought himself a hat for the race and we were on our way.

We got  back while it was still light out and played a bit outside with the boys and then it was dinner time. Jenn and Andy made chicken and rice (my favorite pre-race meal!) and it was delicious! Dinner was over and it was now time to start discussing some logistics for the morning and start worrying about the weather. Worrying about the weather was just some foreshadowing of what was to come the following week. At the time I went to sleep it looked like we'd be running in the rain which I was a bit upset about.  But aside from being nervous about my marathon, I was already starting to get nervous about heading home to prepare for the storm. I had visions of hurricane Irene from last year, and I didn't want that to happen. Despite my nervousness, I slept alright.

Andy woke me up at about 5:45, I guess my alarm which was set for 5:30 didn't work. The plan was to leave the house at 6 and park at a close by Metro stop. In my head, this seemed like more than enough time to get to the start. I didn't feel like getting there an hour early and standing there in the cold an rain, waiting for the race to start. We ended up leaving a little late which was my fault and then I got a coffee at the Starbucks near the Metro station which delayed us further.  I still thought we were fine at this point. But, then we met this other runner. Pretty much the only people out this early were runners. He had run 19 Marine Corps Marathons! He explained that we would be fine. When we got there we would just be behind everyone else  and it was OK because our time wouldn't start until we crossed the line. This is not what we wanted to hear. We were hoping to get there with enough time to get pretty close to the front so we wouldn't get caught up with the crowd of slower runners.

On the Metro heading toward the race. I really wish we took more pictures. 
When we finally got off at the last stop we only had about 20 minutes left.  You would think that would still be enough time, but not with the amount of walking we still had to do.  Also we were walking along with tens of thousands of people which didn't make it go any faster. We decided to start our "warm-up" and start jogging to the race. But before we could do that, we had to take care of a couple things. We had to drop off  our bag, and we had to use a Porta-Potty. As we jogged around, we realized that despite having hundreds of Porta-Potties, we would still be in line after the race had already started so this was not going to work. We decided to go find another location to take care of things, but it was a little farther away. With that taken care of we had about 4 - 5 minutes left before the race, but we were still about half a mile or more away from the front. We started to jog again, but this time a little faster. We were able to find some areas to get by people on the sides and it was looking like we might get pretty close to where we wanted to be. It always amazes me how many people there are. Even after passing tens of thousands of people and getting within site of the front, we started hearing them counting down to the start.

Start - 5 miles

There was so much excitement in the air. Despite the fact that we did not get up as far to the front as we wanted, we did get past the 4:00 pace group and we were definitely pumped. We passed the start about 4 minutes after the race started. I was ready to take it slow for the first couple miles and I knew it was going to be congested and we would lose a little time. Andy and I decided we would at least start together and he agreed that 3:30 was a good goal time for him as well. So as we ran we were looking down at our bracelets that we had made, courtesy of Frank, to check our pace.

The first mile was fairly slow, and there was a lot of weaving in and out between people to try to get ahead. Despite our efforts, our first mile was 8:52, 38 seconds slower than what we wanted, and honestly it didn't feel that slow, which made me think I was wasting some energy trying to get around people. The second mile was slightly less congested, but also had a hill in it. We were able to increase our pace to 8:34. We were still 13 seconds off, but not as bad as the first mile. I also realized that my Garmin was already quite off. I was already almost .1 miles off of the mile markers. This meant that we were going even slower than I thought. I tried not to let this bother me and just focus on the miles ahead. By the time we hit the third mile, we were pretty much able to run without worrying about the crowds, so we were back on track with a 7:59. The 4th mile had a major downhill and we hit it in 7:35, 12 seconds faster than our suggested pace, but it felt easy and my 159 average heart rate confirms this. We finished out the 5th mile in a few seconds over the pace in 7:58.

suggested - real = difference
1: 8:14 - 8:52 = -38
2: 8:21 - 8:34 = -13
3: 8:01 - 7:59 = 2
4: 7:47 - 7:35 = 12
5: 7:55 - 7:58 = -3

Lost 40 seconds in the first 5 miles (but really more because the Garmin was off so more like a minute 30.

6 - 10 miles

Somewhere around this point, I turned to Andy and suggested that we really need to try NOT to make up the time we lost during the start. We would be tempted to do so, because we would be feeling good this early, but we would end up paying for it later. He agreed with this, and that's sort of what we did.  At this point we were about a minute and a half behind our time at each mile.  Here are what the next 5 miles looked like versus the suggested pace:

suggested - real = made up time we were trying not to make up
6:   8:00 - 7:54 = 6
7:   8:01 - 8:06 = -5
8:   8:08 - 7:47 = 21
9:   7:49 - 7:49 = 0
10: 7:53 - 7:49 = 4

Total time made up was 26 seconds over 5 miles, so not exactly what I wanted, but I don't think this is what killed the race for me. Although, by the end of the 10 miles even though I was feeling pretty good still, it wasn't quite as effortless as I was hoping for. Somewhere in this section we saw Jill who had come out to cheer. That was nice and Andy and I were feeling pretty good at that moment.

11 - 15 miles

This is the only picture taken of both
Andy and me and this random dude
At this point, I was pretty happy that Andy and I had continued to run together for so long. The chance that we both happened to be in such similar shape when we finished our training was not high, so I was not expecting this. It was a happy surprise. I really thought he would run away from me sooner, and he thought he was going to start slower and let me go out faster.

We started the 11th mile with another GU. I should mention that every 5 miles I took a GU which worked out quite well again. Somewhere in these next 5 miles, I realized that I was going to be slowing down instead of speeding up. But, I didn't slow up yet. I continued to try to follow the bracelet. Here were our next 5 miles:

suggested - real = difference
11: 8:02 - 7:54 = 6
12: 7:57 - 7:57 = 0
13: 7:57 - 7:58 = -1
14: 7:57 - 8:08 = -11
15: 7:57 - 7:58 = -1

So I only lost 7 seconds over these 5 miles, but by the end of it I could tell that there was no way I could continue for another 11 miles. At this point, I turned to Andy and told him that I was going to have to slow down to make it the rest of the way and that he should go ahead. Again, I was still happy we were able to go 15 miles together. I didn't know why I was tired this early, and I hoped that Andy would just be able to continue this pace and maybe even pick it up at the end.

16 - 20

These miles are where I really started to slow down. In the 16th mile I saw Andy slowly get away from me, but I hadn't slowed down too much yet. But, each mile after that was slower than the last, and the last few here were especially rough because we were on this part of the course that was exposed to the wind and I really started to feel its effects.

Because this storm was coming lots of spectators had made signs referencing the storm. The only one I remember now was "Run you fools! Sandy is coming!" Despite the windy weather, I was happy with the amount of crowd support and it was always cool to see the Marines at all of the water stops. At this point I had gotten rid of the water bottle I was holding and stopped at every water station for water. Having the bottle for the first half was definitely a good idea (thanks again Frank!)

I stopped looking at my bracelet because I knew I was not on pace anymore, but I definitely still thought I would get a PR. I even thought that maybe I was going through a rough patch and I would get a second wind. Ha, not even close. Here were my mile splits:

suggested - real = difference
16: 8:02 - 8:04 = 2
17: 7:58 - 8:12 = 14
18: 7:59 - 8:30 = 31
19: 7:56 - 8:31 = 35
20: 7:59 - 8:42 = 43

So this block was my first real slow down with 2 minutes and 5 seconds slower than I wanted. But the real slow down was still to come.

21 - Finish

Every mile got harder than the last and somewhere in the 21 to 22 mile range I started to have muscle cramps on top of everything. I knew that things were really heading down hill. This was definitely more on par with my first marathon than my second. I was only concentrating now on finishing and with each mile I became less and less worried with my time. Although it was still a little in the back of my head. Somewhere around the 23 mile mark I calculated (as best as I could in my state) that I might still have a chance at a PR if I was able to pick it up a bit. I actually did start to pick up the pace a bit thinking that I had to give it my all for just 3 more miles, but then the cramps got more frequent. Each time I would get a cramp, in my calf, I would be forced to slow down and try to adjust my stride. I knew better than to try to stretch it out, because it would just make things worse.

Unfortunately this was turning into my first marathon experience, where I actually started feeling like maybe I could go faster, but the muscle cramps were stopping me. These last 6 miles were pretty slow:

suggested - real = difference
21: 8:00 - 8:32 = -32
22: 8:06 - 8:48 = -42
23: 8:09 - 8:46 = -37
24: 8:02 - 8:38 = -36
25: 8:05 - 9:09 = -64
26: 8:07 - 8:57 = -50
.2:  8:14 - 8:44 = -6 (because it's 1/5th a mile)

Total lost in the last 6.2 miles = 4 minutes and 27 seconds

When I got within a mile or so from the finish, and I realized that it wasn't going to be a PR, I pretty quickly switched my mindset to being happy to just finish this race and see Andy and celebrate the finish with him. I was hoping that he ended up having the opposite experience that I was having. With about a half mile left, I started to pick it up just a little bit and the muscle cramps were not coming as frequently any more. I kept thinking the finish line was coming soon, but I hadn't realized how off my Garmin was from the course. Then I remembered that the last couple hundred meters are up this crazy hill and there it was. You would think when you were this close, it wouldn't matter, but it definitely did. I tried my best to run up this thing, but I was barely moving. Then I was finally able to pick up the pace a bit for the last hundred feet and I crossed the line just under 3:40. Really, when I finished I could care less about my time.  I was so happy to be done. I was hurting and I knew I gave it everything I had even if my plan was not the best.


I saw Andy pretty much right after I crossed, and I could tell he hadn't been waiting there for too long. It turned out that he had a pretty awful last several miles too. He experienced muscle cramps in the last few miles and had to walk a bit. He ended up finishing about a minute ahead of me. But aside from our rough finishes, Andy had finished his first marathon and I was there with him and that was what was really important.

He wasn't doing too good though and said he felt a bit faint and I could see it in his face. I wasn't doing that great myself, but I knew that over time we would get better. Unfortunately the way the finish is setup with so many people we had to walk quite a long way to just get some food and water. My first bite into this little bagel was awesome. I drank a bottle of water, and I started to feel better. After about 15 minutes Andy was starting to feel better as well.

Even though I was so happy to be done and so proud of Andy for his first marathon, I started to feel guilty about how it all went down. First off, it was my fault that we got there late.  I really didn't realize that it would take so long to get there and then once we did, there would be so much farther to go on foot. Secondly, it was clear that we had both gone out too fast in the first half. If Andy just followed his own more conservative pace in the beginning he would have been better off. Running at the pace I suggested may have caused him to run a slower overall time, and I am sure it contributed to him having such a miserable finish.

Andy assured me not to feel guilty about it and who knew what would happen if we ran it differently. I started thinking about the 3:30 goal and what went wrong. It really didn't seem like that much of a stretch goal. Even with all the time I've spent thinking about it, I'm not sure exactly what happened. I have a few ideas though and I'll break them up into race day vs. training factors.

Race Day Factors
It was a bit windy throughout the race, but especially in some parts of the middle miles.
I knew it was going to be hilly in the beginning, but it was even hillier than I thought, and there is no question the hills were worse than Philly. I don't even remember being phased by the hills in Philly, and here I was feeling them.
The first two miles were quite congested and as a result we were constantly weaving in and out of people and accelerating and then slowing down like a mini fartlek workout.
I think the combination of these factors was enough more effort to push a little too hard for the first half and that difference didn't leave us with enough for the end.

Training Factors
My decision to go for 3:30 was largely due to one awesome training run I had where I ran the last 10 miles of a 20 mile run at 7:45 pace. I think in order for me to run a 3:30 I would had to have an equally amazing race day, and that just didn't happen that day. I also had grand plans to lose some weight in the months during my training, but instead I gained a couple pounds. That is definitely one area I need to work on. And finally, I just wasn't able to get the volume of training I wanted to get in based on recovering from my injury. Honestly though, I don't think I should have pushed it anymore. I could tell when I was hitting the 50 mile weeks, I was getting close to my limit and my knee would start to ache again.

In Conclusion

So how do I feel about this race? I have mixed feelings. Personally, I wish I could have been a bit more prepared for the race and in fact, even while I was finishing I thought about how I definitely need to train a lot harder for NY next year. I didn't get the time I wanted and I didn't get a new PR which I kind of thought was in the bag. But, that's where I'll end with the negative feelings.

I was so happy to run 15 miles of it with Andy. With a marathon, it's not just one day. There needs to be  many weeks of training that go along with it, and it was great to go back and forth with Andy over the weeks and comment on each other's workouts and talk over the phone about how things were progressing. It's not that uncommon to not even make it to the marathon because of injury so the fact that we both made it through our training and then were able to run together for any of it was just a bonus.

And I have to remind myself that I've come to a point in my running that finishing a marathon is not enough for me. That's actually pretty cool. That I'm in good enough shape where I am disappointed with merely finishing. That actually makes me happy. So I walk away from this experience overall quite happy.

This is us coming back home after the race. You can still see some salt lines on Andy's face. At this point we were
feeling pretty good and ready for some real food!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

PEAC Ewing 5K

Right from the start I was a bit behind. Frank is all the way to the right. Matthew next to him in red and in the lead!

20:57 (6:45 pace) 6th Overall (My highest place finish in a race, ever? :)

I had considered possibly doing a race just like my training schedule suggested, but never got around to actually looking for one, so I decided I would just do a tempo run instead. But then I talked to Frank, who is also following a Pfitzinger marathon plan (although he is peaking at over 70 miles) and he was doing a local 5K by him in Ewing. A couple days before the race I decided why not go for it. It also helped that Andy was planning on doing a 5K the following day. I had traded the speed work earlier in the week for a few strides so I was feeling relatively fresh for the race. I knew that my fitness wasn't at it's peak, but I was thinking I was more fit than I was when I did my last 5K. I was definitely thinking I was going to get a new PR. I had even thought about the possibility of breaking 20 minutes if conditions were favorable and the course was flat. Well conditions were questionable (32 degrees at the start) and the course was definitely NOT flat and I  missed a PR by 7 seconds.

The Race

I was so cold when I first got there. I had a hard time filling
out the form with my shivering hand!
I arrived about 45 minutes before the start. I knew it was a very small race (about 100 people) so I wasn't worried about getting there super early. It was ridiculously cold outside for this early in the season. It was the first frost, actually. I had the usual level of nervousness and after signing up and attaching my racing bib, I did a little warm-up. It was a bit too short and then I got a text from Frank saying he was there. I met up with him and his family and waited with them for about 15 minutes before the start of the race. A few minutes after 8:15, we lined up and I was pretty much right at the front. The mayor of Ewing said a few words and we were off.

The first 100 meters were pretty fast as expected. And even so, Frank and his son, Matthew were already way out ahead. I was feeling like I was likely running fast enough so I decided to take it easy. Perhaps too easy. What I didn't realize was how much of a downhill the first half mile really was, but I would find that out later. I hit the first mile in just under 6:30 which sounded perfect to me, again if this was totally flat. The start of the second mile was a fairly significant hill. I looked down at my Garmin a little after I started and it said 8 something! I remember thinking "What is this nonsense?!" I knew I was going up a hill, but I didn't think I was going that slow. That whole 2nd mile I just tried to get it under 7 minutes, and I couldn't do it. I was pretty upset but then I figured, I would just really have to pick it up in the third mile.

I think I actually said "Crap" as I crossed the line and stopped my Garmin.
Ha! The third mile was ridiculous. It was pretty much entirely uphill. My thoughts of picking it up started to fade. I was pretty upset at this point, because it was dawning on me that I was not going to be getting a good time, but I still thought  I could eek out a PR. Usually at about half a mile out I start to really pick it up, except this was the point where the hill got even steeper, so even though I felt like I was pushing harder, my pace stayed at right around 7 minutes.

The last quarter is flat to downhill, but it was too late by then. I kicked it in pretty well, but I could already see 20:4X when I was still more than 10 seconds away from the clock and I realized I wasn't going to even PR. I crossed the line in 20:57 and I was pretty darn upset.

I just thought this was a great picture of
Frank and Matthew (happy with a PR!)
Frank came in a minute ahead of me in 4th place in just under 20 minutes. That made it the 3rd time he broke 20 minutes in a 5K. I remember when he was chasing that for a while. After him, was his son Matthew (age 13) in 20:32. I remember only 2 years ago when Matthew came in just ahead of Abby in about 27 minutes in the Princeton 5K. He improved over 6 minutes from then! It's pretty clear he has a bright running future ahead of him. I'm going to make a prediction and say his high school PR will be 17:14. I was behind him in 6th place overall.  Despite my upsetting performance, this turned out to be my highest place finish in any race I've ever run. I guess that's what you get with  a local 5K with a field of ~100 runners.

Here come the factors (AKA excuses)

So what happened? Why did I not even PR? Were my expectations off? Was I not as fit as I thought? Now that I've had some time to think about it, I've come up with my list of reasons in order of increasing affect on final race performance.

  1. It was too cold. I am totally down for cold weather running. Even 32 degrees is fine, but I was not fully ready for it this early in the season. When the race started and I was huffing and puffing the cold air, I felt a little like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz.  +5 seconds.
  2. Not enough warm up. This kind of goes with the cold weather. I ran less than a mile and only did a couple strides and I don't think this was enough of a warm up especially for how cold it was. +10 seconds.
  3. Too Hilly. This course is definitely the hilliest 5K course that I've run on since High School. Now granted, I've been mostly running on flat courses, so it doesn't take that much to be the hilliest. But still, this course starts with a major down hill and then you are running up and down some hills in the 2nd mile and then going back up the big hill on the last mile. There's about 125 ft. of elevation gain for that last mile. My previous PR at the Hillsborough Hop has a net downhill of a bout 70 ft. and it feels like a pancake compared to this one. +20 seconds.
  4. I did not push hard enough. Ultimately, these other factors are beyond my control. But, this is what really gets under my skin. I finished the race feeling like I had more to give. I was upset with the hills and I did not push hard enough. If I compare this race to two years ago when I ran a then, 21:16 PR at the Princeton 5K, I remember not having much of a kick at the end because I was too tired. That's when I know I have pushed enough. Here, I had plenty left in the tank. And this was made even more clear once I looked at my Garmin results. Average HR of 169! What the heck?! That is way too low. Maybe part of it was the cold, but still, I should be pushing way closer to my max for such a short race, and I did not do that. This is what I am most upset about. +25 seconds.
Add it all up and you get 60 seconds and a new sub 20 minute 5K PR! Ha, if only it really worked this way.  It's not like I really believe these made up numbers have any value, but I like to play around with things like this anyway.

The take away

Right now I am mainly focused on the Marine Corps Marathon in 11 days. This race doesn't change anything in that regard. If anything, I feel like based on the conditions and my HR, I'm in a good spot to go for my 3:30 goal, but I will really have to work on number 4 to get there. Now, once the Marine Corps Marathon is over, then I think I would like to focus on running a faster 5K time. I plan on doing a November 5K at Colonial Park which I believe is relatively flat. And then I think I would like to continue working on some shorter stuff into the early Spring. I am still optimistic that the 20 minute barrier will go down in the coming months!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ups and Downs

The last year of training broken down weekly. Blue = distance, Red = fitness (VDOT/HR).

There are of course ups and downs during the course of training. They are expected. But, that doesn't stop me from trying to figure out the cause each time I have a great run, and even more importantly, figure out why things are not going well. 

The graph above is my last year of training broken down weekly. The blue represents my weekly miles (topping out at 70 during the week of my 50 miler). The red line is my own custom indicator of fitness. It is a combination of pace and distance (VDOT) divided by my average heart rate to produce one number. Back in February when I was really pushing the miles into the 50s and 60s as well as doing some quality workouts before the Rutgers half, I was at my peak fitness. Then in March and April, I had to back off a bit because of some calf issues and I stopped doing the faster workouts. I lost a little fitness, but I still was able to run a pretty darn good half and get a new PR.

Marathon then and now

2 years ago, I ran my 2nd marathon which was a 17 minute improvement over my first. I ran a 3:37, averaging 8:17 pace. I was very happy at the time, but since then, when I was at the peak of my fitness, I was pretty confident I could have managed a sub 3:30 marathon which would be sub 8 pace. When I was making my list of goals for the new year, I was pretty darn confident that I could take another 17 minutes off and get a 3:20 and I even put that as a medium goal. I was planning on going into 70 or maybe even 80 mile weeks to do this. 

Then, after the 50 miler in May, I realized a I had a bit of a knee injury so I really laid off the miles. This also happened to be during the summer, and one thing my chart does not take into account is temperature. So during the summer months, with the low miles and the hot temps, my level of fitness seemed to have really dropped. But as I kept adding more weekly miles and then the temperature started to go down, my fitness started to come back. 

I was happy to see the improvement, but I still wasn't back to where I once was, and no where near my hopes of running a sub 3:20. I  was running out of time before the marathon. I was trying to figure out what kind of pace I'd be able to run and whether I could even get a new PR after two years. After having a fairly good week of improvement, I had a few runs in a row that went terribly. I had some ideas as to why they went badly, but I really started thinking that I would probably have to completely abandon any ideas of a major improvement and just try to PR again. I was pretty darn bummed at this point in my training. But then I has a breakthrough run!

Breakthrough Run

My plan was to finish my long run at my planned marathon pace, and based on the couple terrible runs earlier this week, I decided 8:15 to 8:10 is probably where I am at. Although I plan to do this all the time, I know that really I'm going to try to go a bit faster than that. I decided that if my HR was in the low 160s it would be alright to get the pace down to around 8:00 if I was feeling good, but I didn't want to push it into the high 160s to low 170s range like I had done before.

I was also a bit torn on the distance I wanted to run. I had been reading more recently about how doing long runs in the 20 mile range when you are not doing enough weekly miles was more injury risk for the reward of going that far. I was only going to hit 50 miles this week, and a 20 mile run meant 40% of my weekly miles. According to what I read, 1/3 of weekly miles is really the longest your long run should be which would be more like 17 miles like I had done in previous weeks. But I wasn't really following the rest of the advice of these plans and I figured I'd done it two years ago and was alright and c'mon, I ran a 50 mile race in May. I decided to just go for the 20 for this one time.

I decided at least part of the reason for my recent crappy runs had been dehydration. I just wasn't on top of my water intake and I decided I would not make that mistake again, so I was sure I was drinking plenty of water the days before. I knew I was we'll hydrated based on having to take a pit stop about 5 miles into my run.

Another factor in my crappy runs is I wasn't running until later in the day so it was a little too warm reaching into the 70s. But this morning it was Sunny, no wind and in the mid 50s. I was a little chilly in just shorts and a t-shirt. Perfect. I had 3 GUs in my pockets and a single hand held. I was ready to go. 

The first several miles were pretty uneventful, as is normally the case on long runs. It was a lot hillier than my normal tow path runs which was on purpose since the marathon has some hills in the beginning. I ran past the old home at Jackson ave and past the playground where Abby and Sadie and even Lucy for a bit (although she'll never remember) spent some time growing up. I was in a good mood and feeling strong. My pace was nice and easy in the 8:40s and my HR was in the mid to low 140s. This was a great start, but I have enough experience to know that this mean little this early on a long run.

Next came the hill on Mt. Lucas. This was always my favorite go-to hill when I lived at Jackson. I'm going to guess its at least a 200 foot climb over the course of a mile, which is more than I will come across at the Marine Corps. I decided that once I climbed Mt. Lucas and started going down the other side at around the 8 mile mark I would naturally pick up the pace on the down hill and just keep it at marathon pace all the way home. 

Cruising down Mt. Lucas was as fun as I remembered. I was just letting my legs go and my HR dropped back into the low 140s after hitting the mid 150s going up the hill. By the time I got near the bottom, my 9 minute pace turned into 8:20. I was now heading into Princeton and feeling great. I already had two GUs and my water was about half gone which was about right. 

There are a few rolling hills in Princeton but I was able to keep the pace in the low 8s with my HR still in the 150s so things were good. There is another really nice downhill heading into the tow path so I decided to take it really easy and head in just under 8 pace with a low HR. Now it was going to be all tow path for about 8 miles. Because of the beautiful fall weather, there was a ton of runners out there. And running near Princeton meant passing a few of the faster college kids which is always inspiring.

I had my last GU at around mile 13 and I realized I had been going a bit faster than I had expected at this point. I was in the 7:50 range and feeling great. I started to slowly creep up to this guy ahead of me. I was at a point where I was going to pass him, but it would have been to slowly as our paces were so close, so I decided to pick it up just a bit to pass him quickly. I did and as I looked down, I realized I was now running 7:40 pace. I was feeling really relaxed though and my HR was in the low 160s so I just went with it. This guy ended up passing me then, which was fine with me, and this time I just stuck behind him. For then next few miles I was cruising along in 7:40 - 7:45 pace and feeling wonderful.  This is the best I had felt this late in a run and going at that pace. I wasn't exactly sure what to make of it. I started thinking about how I was really going to start to fade when the last few miles came up, but it never happened. Instead, when I had one mile left, I decided to pick it up some more, and finished it in 7:26 pace. I can honestly say I was holding back some.  I think if I really pushed with everything, I could have gotten close to or maybe even under 7.

Last 5 months of daily runs and VDOT/HR showing the last long run as my best fitness
When I got home, I was absolutely ecstatic. I plugged in my data and uploaded it to fitcharts and sure enough, there it was.  A new peak for my highest VDOT to HR ratio, although this time I didn't need the graph to tell me it. When I looked further at the stats and compared them to a pretty much identical run from two years ago, I got even more excited. For this run, I finished the last 10 miles at 7:45 pace with a 161 HR. 2 years ago on the exact same run I averaged 8:02 pace for the last 8 miles and I didn't have a HR watch then so I don't know that stat, but I did write in my log that I started to fade a bit at the end. 

So what does this mean for Marine Corps?

Of course, the first thing I thought of while I was enjoying my wonderful runner's high from this run, was that it was time I made my pace bracelet for the Marine Corps Marathon. And that's exactly what I did. Having finished the last 10 miles of this training run with a relateively low HR and a 7:45 pace made me think I have a real shot at breaking the 3:30 barrier which would mean averaging 8 minute pace. I did a bit of research online and found this great pacing guide site. I created my pace bracelet and I am ready to do this. As a last check to make sure I wasn't crazy, I posted my intentions of going for sub 3:30 on the sub 3:30 marathon thread at runningahead and a couple folks weighed in thinking I was in great shape to go for it! Now I just need to have as great of a day as I had on this long run and I think I've got a good chance! With my new adjusted expectations I am once again, super excited for my 3rd marathon.

Monday, August 20, 2012

River to Sea 2012

On Saturday, August 4th, while battling crazy heat, humidity, and hills, The IT Band & Other Maladies ran 90 miles, consisting of 14 legs across New Jersey from Milford to Manasquan in 13 hours and 11 minutes! This was the 2012 River to Sea Relay, and we conquered it! The team consisted of Andy, Joe, Justin, Melissa, Pete, Sachin and myself. Also along for the ride was our official team photographer and cheerleader, Chris. Each of us did two legs that ranged in distance from 2.5 to 9 miles. Everyone put forth a tremendous effort.  We were all hurting at some point and we were all supporting each other to get through each leg.  In the end, it was well worth the struggle.  It was a truly awesome experience both from a running and social standpoint.

Very Long Blog Post Warning: This is going to be my longest post.  There is a lot to cover and I don't want to skip anything.  I want to remember this day as well as the very long lead up to it and so there will be lots of details. It's very likely that some of these details will not be interesting to you, but like I've said from the beginning with this blog, this is more for me than for you :) Please feel free to skip around. I'm not even going to get to the actual relay until you start scrolling for a while.  After all, we didn't just show up that day unprepared.  There is a whole back story, and that's going to be covered here as well. Now that I have warned you, let me start from the beginning.  First, the Earth cooled. Then I started putting together a relay team.

Putting together the team

Ever since I ran the River to Sea Relay with my buddy Frank last year, I knew I wanted to captain my own team with some of my long time friends. I had such a great time even though I only really knew Frank, and I just figured doing it with more of my friends could only make it better. Right around this time Andy, Pete and Joe were doing the Steelman Triathlon together as a relay.  Being there with them was such a cool experience and I realized that this was definitely something I wanted for 2012.  I brought it up to them soon after, and they were all interested. Even though Joe had just started running at that time (his first fitness love being the bike).  But, I knew Joe could handle it no problem and he was very excited.

So now we had 4 people so we were trying to figure out who else could join our team. Frank was already going to be part of another team with his running club, the Hamilton Area Trail Runs so he was out. Chris had not really been running too much recently, and whenever I would bring up my interest in long distances, he would insist that they were not for him.  He was more interested in doing faster, shorter stuff with a 5k being on the longer side.  But I figured this was such a cool thing to do with our group of friends that he'd be willing to go a bit farther. I figured right and he was down for it and now we had 5.

Then I started thinking about Sachin.  Sach has never expressed any interest in running, but I knew that it was possible I could convince him to do it as a cool thing to do while hanging out with friends.  And, there was the added benefit of getting into shape. We talked it over and I was pleased that he didn't flat out reject the notion. He was tentative to say he officially wanted to do it until he ran a couple times with Joe and by himself.  But, after a couple weeks, he was ready to commit.
Then I remembered that Justin was interested in doing this years back so he was an easy 7th choice. We had our team, and we were going to blast through the training with no problems! Ha, right...

Sickness and Injuries, like the IT Band and Other Maladies

This is how we got our team name. Runners get injured all the time.  Anyone who has run for more than a few months has gotten injured or will get injured soon (sorry to break it to you if you just started running).  I'm using the word injury in a very broad sense.  I'm just referring to anything preventing you from fully training the way you want to.  Sometimes these are nagging little things that last a week.  Sometimes they make you stop indefinitely. As runners we expect that this will happen.  And so it did, and then again, and then again, and then again. You get the idea. These are the injuries we dealt with, somewhat in chronological order.

Andy was having an awesome winter.  He had come off a crazy fast 8K in 32:47 (6:36 pace) and was just getting faster and building miles. He got up to a 17 mile run and we had signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon. Then on a 12 miler we did together, his knee started bothering him. He decided to keep running, but then it escalated rather quickly and forced him to stop. He stopped for a week and tried to go again for a while thinking it would go away, but it wasn't happening. It was his IT band and in April he had to stop completely for almost a month.  Stopping training when you can see your fitness improving is awful, but he was lucky to find a great physical therapist.

I heard fantastic stories of how she would stick these needles into him to find trigger points which would cause his muscles to spasm.  All of this torture was paying off, and very slowly, and very carefully he started coming back. But, he was the first big injury and for a while it looked like he might not be able to run in the event.

I too was having an awesome winter and then an even more awesome spring. I was running every day. I had PRd in daily miles, weekly miles and monthly miles. I ran a PR for a half marathon at Rutgers and I completed my first 50 mile ultra! I had not been injured in a long time and I was looking to really ramp up the mileage in the summer for the Marine Corps Marathon.

But, then after the soreness subsided from the 50 miler, it left a bit of a sore knee.  I didn't think it was too bad (runner's injury denial) so I took it easy but kept going. Then a few weeks later I ran 14 miles with ultra legend, Scott Jurek! I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was already compromising by not doing the whole 50k around Manhattan.  The next couple days my knee was really aching and actually kept me up at night.  This was not a good sign.  I went to the doctor and he said I most likely have bursitis (inflammation near the tendon below my knee).  He wanted me to get an MRI to rule out anything more serious but at $500 out of pocket, I opted to just wait and see.  So I took a week off running for the first time in at least a year and really reduced my miles. 

I was always thinking that I would still do R2C, but I was a bit concerned about the lengths of the legs and how well I would do them, and with other folks getting injured, I needed to be reliable. 

Pete has known injury for a large part of his running career. He's had issues with his knees, feet, back, Achilles, calves. I may have missed a few there. But, somehow he has always been able to continue training after taking a few breaks. But then things got really bad with a problem he's had for a while. Pete's foot goes numb after running for a few miles. He went to the doctor and it was revealed that he had a pinched nerve.  And on top of that he had some Achilles tendinitis. At the end of June and early July he stopped running completely. He wasn't sure he would do the event. 

Jeff had started running on the weekends with us at this point, and we thought we may have to ask him to fill in. Then we decided that if we reduced his miles a bit, it might work out alright.  We did this, but honestly, going into this thing, I was most worried about Pete re-injuring himself.

Justin had some scares in the Spring with his heart, and you don't fool around with your heart. After getting it checked out and running all sorts of stress tests he was good to go and started to ramp up to some serious weekly miles. Then, only a month out, we got a scary email about his knee saying he might not be able to run! Luckily, after some PT and taking a little time off, it wasn't as bad as he thought, but as a result we did reduce his miles a bit.

Chris for whatever reason refused to jump on the RunningAHEAD bandwagon.  I knew he was running, but I wanted to see it and I wanted the whole team to see and be able to help with motivation and all.  Finally, at the end of May, I convinced him to log his runs, so he went back and logged the last month of running, and I was very excited because it was more than I had expected.  Things were looking good.  

The next day, Chris suffered a high ankle sprain and that was that.  Unlike the other injuries the rest of us had, Chris was not going to recover in time before the race.  This was very upsetting, especially considering how good he was doing.

We only had two months until the race at this point and we now needed to find a 7th. Justin suggested his friend, Melissa. She had run the same half marathon as me in the Spring so we knew she could handle the distance, and plus we didn't really have anyone else.  Luckily, she was available and she joined our team.  And let me tell you, it was a good thing she did, because she ended up having to pick up all of the slack from the various injuries. She ended up getting 2 of the toughest legs of the race. I should clarify that.  It's not like it happened by accident. I knew she was a strong runner so I gave them to her :)

Joe and Sachin had some minor tweaks here and there but luckily did not suffer anything that forced them to stop for too long.  Our two newest runner were the ones most likely to make it to the day of the race!

Team Runs

Starting early on in winter, we started getting together for some team runs on the weekends. Sometimes we had 5 people, other times it would just be 2 of us. With the exception of 4 or 5 weekends, we had at least 2 people every weekend from the End of February, until the relay! I'll take a break from all the words and let this compilation of team runs video show how it was.


One of the hardest parts of this relay, at least for the captain of the team, is the organization involved. I'm not a very organized person, so this was a bit tough for me, and up until the very end I was nervous I was going to forget something.  

There were a slew of emails involved of course, but there was also dealing with who will run each leg so that it's spaced out alright and that the level of difficulty of the legs are inline with the runner's ability. This was especially challenging with our injuries. The second part that was very challenging was creating a schedule so everyone knows where they are supposed to be and what they should be doing for each leg of the race.  Of course, I created a spreadsheet.  I largely copied this from what Frank put together for the relay last year.  This was extremely helpful but even so, putting it together was quite challenging. 

With a couple days to go, I was trying to think of all the things we needed in terms of food, drink, clothes, and anything else.

Race Day!

Congratulations, you've made it to the part of this post where I actually talk about the race!

Pre Start

Andy and I woke up at 4 am to get ready to leave.  We had a bite to eat, drank some coffee and packed up the Mazda.  We arrived at Pete's right at 4:45, like we planned.  Within a few minutes, everyone was there.  So far the plan was working! This was also the first time most of the team got to meet Melissa. Andy, Sachin, Chris and I got in my car and Joe, Justin, Melissa and Pete got in Pete's car and we were on our way to Milford.

On the way, Chris started singing "River to Sea" by Jeremy Enigk, and no matter what music we listened to on the way there and throughout the event, it remained in everyone's heads all day. We were in great spirits despite the early morning and having fun taking turns listening to some tunes from way back in the day. Sometimes when I say things like this, I think am I old enough to make comments like this? Yes. Yes I am.

We got to the check in location with plenty of time to get situated with our race numbers and make sure we were all set and everyone knew what was happening next. Chris snapped this nice group photo of us before we headed to the start of the race a couple miles away, right at the bridge in Milford that connects NJ to PA. 

This was a nice shot, except I felt the need to go alternative camera. 
After Pete dropped off Joe, we stopped at the market to grab some ice and a few more snacks before Joe's start. After all the planning and training and injuries and close calls, we were finally ready to start this event.  I was so excited!

1st Leg - 4.75 miles - 6:45 am - 9:22 pace - Joe

Joe hamming it up and
feeling good
Joe started 5 minutes early at 6:45 which was just fine with me because I thought we might be cutting it close with the 8:30 cutoff and my estimate of us finishing at 8:15. Because it was so early it was still in the mid 70s and the sun hadn't really come out, but it was darn humid. We stopped about a mile up the rode and all got out of the car to see how he was doing. He came by all smiles and was off to a great start.  As expected, he started a bit quick with an 8:30 pace.

We stopped a couple more times and every time we saw him he was in good spirits which is very impressive.  That is one lesson I would like to take from Joe - to keep smiling and being in a good mood even when I am pushing hard. I am fully aware that I can come off a little bit prickly.  More on that later.

2nd Leg - 8 miles - 7:29 am - 7:55 pace - Me
Joe and I slapped hands and I was on my way for my first leg.  The weather hadn't really changed too much.  Still in the mid 70s, a bit foggy and sticky. I started out at what I thought was a conservative 7:5X pace.  I was feeling good for the first few miles and I decided I would keep it at that pace which would keep my HR in the mid 160s. The support was great for my leg with folks stopping pretty much every mile or two. The route was all on one road and just a little hilly, but nothing too crazy. 

At around the 3rd mile I started to slow down a bit, but my level of effort was increasing.  I was a little upset that I couldn't maintain a pace under 8 minutes, but I didn't want to work too hard with my 2nd leg being so much more challenging. The humidity was really getting to me, even though the temperature was still below 80. I continued just above 8 minute pace with my HR in the low 170s until the last mile when I figured I was feeling pretty good and I'd pick it up a bit. I saw Pete waiting for me in the distance at the transition, and I couldn't help myself so I sprinted it in a little and slapped Pete's hand.  I was very happy with my level of effort despite a little bit of a slower pace than I wanted.

3rd Leg - 5.95 miles - 8:32 am - 9:45 pace - Pete
Pete's third leg was mostly on a path which is nice to run on, but hard to support because there were only a few spots we could access it from the road. I was a little worried about Pete's leg (I mean the stage of the race, but come to think of it also his actual legs) because it was 6 miles which is farther than he had run in quite a while.  I know Pete can get through anything which just made me worry more because I was afraid he would push too far through the pain.

We saw Pete for the first time at about the 2 mile mark and he was already starting to hurt. He also had started way too fast in about 8:2X pace.  He still had 4 miles to go, and I wasn't sure where we would see him again to support him. Plus, the temperature was starting to creep up.

We found another spot a couple miles later and he had slowed down a bit, but was still going. He walked with Melissa as she gave him some water and then he was on his way again. We were able to stop one last time with around 1 mile to go and even though I could see he was hurting, I knew he was going to finish this thing, because I know Pete. We were not able to park at the next transition but we were able to find a spot not too far away which meant we could see the Pete -> Andy transition! I was so happy to see Pete finish this leg.  It was a really gutsy performance and I could see how much effort he put into it.  After he took some time to recover he told me that he would never be this unprepared for a race again.

4th Leg - 8.5 miles - 9:30 am - 8:10 pace - Andy

Andy took off for his first leg, but unfortunately we were not on top of who was going to be supporting him.  We were stopping to grab some bagels and use the bathroom, and the other car was mistakenly waiting for us. By the time I realized this, Andy was already a couple miles in. We started driving to support him and of course we hit some traffic.  This was just the beginning of the traffic problems in this event. Luckily the other car caught up with him after he was a little more than 3 miles in. 

Andy's leg was the only one that had a nickname - "The Beast", and this was certainly deserved. I remember talking with Andy about this leg a few days before the race. I had warned him that this thing was really hilly, and mostly up hill. He had looked up the elevation on a map online and it didn't seem as bad I thought. Although it had a huge gain for the first couple miles, afterwards it seemed to go back down and level out. I figured my memory must have been hazy so I figured maybe it wasn't that bad.  Unfortunately, we were both wrong.  After the initial hill, which was pretty intense, it was followed with several rolling hills including two more very significant hills. This thing truly was the hardest leg in this event. On top of the difficulty of the course, it was really starting to warm up.  

I would guess that it was already into the low 80s at this point. But, even with all this, I was pretty confident that Andy was going to handle this thing no problem.  I knew it was going to hurt like hell, and he might not go as fast as he would like, but he was going to push through it. You could tell that most of the other teams put their faster runners on this leg. But even so, as we drove past the last hill, we saw plenty of people walking. We were all able to park in the next transition area to see Andy come in. After almost 9 grueling miles, he finished strong. 

5th leg - 5.9 miles - 10:39 am - 8:30 pace - Justin

I know I keep saying it kept getting hotter, but I think this is where we really started realizing we were in for a really hot day. With the sun overhead and a lot of the remaining legs having little shade and on asphalt, we were going to be dealing with extreme heat. Justin's leg started with some rolling hills, and he was moving along at a good pace and looked very strong. We stopped in downtown Hopewell and when we got out of the car to help support him, it was uncomfortable to be standing, let alone running! This was the point where we started to introduce the ice towels.

Despite the heat, Justin just kept going and surprisingly kept a pretty steady pace. I was impressed that he was able to keep it up. I had done my best to come up with an estimate of how long each leg would take. I really was trying to stress to everyone that this was just a means to help us figure out approximately when we could expect each runner to come into a transition area, but of course everyone ended up taking it as some time they needed to hit. I had estimated an 8:31 pace for Justin, but I did not think it was going to be this hot already, or that his leg was so hilly in the beginning. Despite these challenges, he took the last mile in at sub 8 pace to finish his leg averaging 8:30 pace!

6th Leg - 8 miles - 11:29 am - 8:53 pace - Melissa
Remember how I was just saying how hot it got during Justin's leg, well this would just get worse with Melissa's leg. I ran this part of the course last year and I started out way too fast and was really hurting by the end. So much so that my team was a bit worried about me and asked if I wanted to trade to an easier second leg.  

Now Melissa was going to be doing this and it was hotter than last year. The only thing I knew about Melissa before meeting her this morning was that she was very fast and had run a half marathon in the Spring. Like I said before, with our injuries, I figured I'd give her two long legs. I did not know that running 16 miles in one day would be a distance PR for her. She just took it in stride. I've seen from some of her races, that Melissa likes to start fast, and this was no different. 

We caught up with her after a couple miles and tried our best to offer her water, Gatorade, something, but she was all set. I didn't see her again until the end but I remember the hills in the last mile from last year, and I was thinking about how hard it would be. It was great to see her running it in hard at the end of her leg.

7th Leg - 4 miles - 12:40 pm - 9:15 pace - Sachin

On February 5th of this year, Sachin went for his first run in preparation for this event. He ran 1 mile in just under 11 minutes. Today he was going to run more than a 10K, in the heat and at a much faster pace. Sachin had obviously come a long way, but this was not going to be easy. The sun was directly overhead at this point, and although there were a couple spots of shade, it was mostly out in the open. 

Right before Sachin started, we ran across his parents.  I hadn't seen them in a while and I thought it was so cool that they came out here to see Sachin run.

It was clear that they were really proud of him.  They ended up following us for the rest of the relay, stopping to take pictures and even ended up at the finish.

Sach kept a nice and steady pace throughout the whole thing. Every time we saw him he just kept moving.  After his leg was over, he said there were a few time in the last mile where he wanted to stop for a bit and walk. He figured no one was around and nobody would know. But, then he realized he would know, so he kept on running. This may sound a bit cheesy, but these kinds of moments is what an event like this is all about.

8th Leg - 5.2 miles - 1:19 pm - 11:32 pace - Joe
We were now half way  done, but the hardest legs were still to come for some of us. I think Joe's leg was the hottest of all. I would guess it peaked in the low 90s with some lingering humidity. Even though my leg was coming up and it would still be crazy hot, I got a bit of a break with some cloud cover.  Joe had absolutely no cloud cover. Also keep in mind that with this leg, Joe would be running 10 miles today, making this a daily distance PR for him. He started out at a nice pace, but eventually the heat started to catch up with him and it would force him to slow down a bit.

His HR started to skyrocket so I told him to just take some time to walk to let it come down a bit. Once again, despite this tremendous effort, Joe kept a positive attitude throughout the whole thing. Then with less than a mile to go we hit some really bad traffic. At some point Joe passed us and we realized it was possible he would make it to the transition before I did.  We yelled out of the car for him to walk some more.  He mixed in some more walking but still made it to the transition area before us.  Luckily, it had only been about a minute.  I jumped out of the car, and tagged his hand. Joe was done for the day.

9th Leg - 9 miles - 2:19 pm - 9:11 pace - Me

Wow.  This was really hard. I knew going in that my predicted pace of 8:26 was a bit unrealistic. I knew that I wasn't really trained enough for 17 miles in one day. I figured I would just take it nice and easy and try to keep my HR low and just make it through. It's funny how your state of mind changes during a run. Everything started great. I was running really easy at just under 9 minute pace.  My HR was in the 150s and I was getting great support and feeling pretty good. Even though it was super hot, the ice towel under my hat and constant water was working for me. I actually had the thought I could pick it up a bit if I was still feeling good later.  Ha!

Somewhere around mile 4, I entered some part of town where the traffic was ridiculously backed up. I just thought to myself , "OK, be cool. You are not going to have support for a couple miles, but you have a bottle of water in hand and you are just going to take it easy".  Well the traffic eventually let up after a mile, but then a mile later there was still no sign of my team. I still had half a bottle of water left so I figured it would be OK, but then in an attempt to fix the position of the ice towel under my hat (at this point it was a hot warm wet towel) I dumped out the entire bottle of water by mistake! 

Now I was starting to get a bit upset.  I was approaching 3 miles unsupported with no water, and I was really starting to drag.  My earlier thoughts of picking it up sounded hilarious right now. But, I also thought, this is nobody's fault.  When I do see my friends I need to keep a positive attitude just like Joe does. I really did think this. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in implementing this idea. When I did finally see Andy, Joe and Sachin, I was all business. No smiles, no thank you. But what really made it worse was the dumbest thing. At some point Joe mentioned that he thought I had passed Frank, when in fact it was just someone who looked like him. Andy thought so as well so it was the second time it was mentioned. Instead of saying something like "Oh no, I think that's some other guy.", I yelled "That wasn't Frank! Why the hell do you guys keep saying I passed Frank?! It's not Frank!!" So, yeah, the whole be pleasant to the support crew didn't work so well. Sorry guys :( I think I was a bit nicer to Chris, Pete, Justin and Melissa though.  At least I think so. Needless to say, they all did an amazing job supporting me when they could get through the traffic.  Constant water and ice towels got me through this thing, as well as the cheering out the car window.

I was now about a couple miles from the end and this was probably the longest 9 miles I've ever ran. Luckily, there was some cloud cover.  Even though I was still really hurting, I think if it continued to be this hot, walking might have become a possibility. With a half mile to go, I saw the transition area and I took off. That last half mile was under 8 minute pace, so I guess I did have something left. I tagged Andy and I was done. Unfortunately, there was no one at the transition area when I finished.  I was pretty upset, but I don't need to go in to more detail about this, as it really wasn't anyone's fault, and I think I've already maxed out my act-like-a-princess quota. I was done for the day.

10th &11th Legs - 13.8 miles - 3:41 pm - Crazy Fast pace - Andy & Pete

Andy and Pete decided that they were going to take turns doing mile repeats with Andy starting and ending with a 2 mile. I was a little concerned about Pete doing 5 more mile repeats, but I was also concerned about Andy doing too many more miles after "The Beast" this morning. I guess I was just concerned about everyone doing everything because I can be a bit of a worrier. Pete assured me that this made the most sense since his numb foot wouldn't be an issue if he kept it to a mile at a time. Also, with them being able to come in to the car after each leg and sit in the air conditioning and drink some water, they wouldn't get the cumulative effect of the heat. This plan made sense to me, and though it was by no means easy, I think it definitely worked. How else can you explain the crazy paces these guys were running?

I won't go into every single one of their legs, but they were really moving and they just kept it up. Everything was working great.  The only hiccup was again due to traffic. We couldn't get to Pete for his first leg so he ended up running 1.5 miles, but I think that was better to happen in the beginning rather than near the end. Andy was easily under sub 8 minute pace for all his legs, including his first 2 miles in 7:16 pace, and his last mile in 7:17! I don't have Pete's times, but I am pretty sure he was sub 9 for all his legs and in the low 8s for some of them. Despite my super slow 9th leg adding time to my estimate, by the time these guys were finished we were 16 minutes ahead of schedule! This was my single biggest estimation failure having figured a 9:12 pace for Pete and an 8:14 pace for Andy, but I was darn happy about it :) Pete and Andy were done for the day.

12th Leg - 6.3 miles - 5:32 pm - 8:44 pace - Justin

Justin took off for his last leg, and even though it was starting to cool down a bit, the start of his leg was still hot. I know that a lot of this post has been about the heat, but you have to realize that the majority of races are held in the spring and fall and in the morning when it's cool.  Perfect running temps are in the 50s.  Anything above 60 already means a slower pace. This past spring during the Boston marathon when temperatures reached the 80s, a lot of runners dropped out of the race, and there were a ton of people in medical tents.

Justin looking very intense, finishing up his last leg
Even though we all knew going in that this would be in the middle of August, nothing can really prepare you for it, other than experience. There's not much to say here about Justin.  He was just a machine. He kept up pretty much the same consitent pace throughout the whole leg. It's very typical to start out a bit too fast and then fade in the end, but Justin had the most consistent mile splits of anyone. The only thing he was a bit upset about at the end, was that he wished he knew that it was a bit short so he could have started his kick earlier. Even so, he brought in the last 3rd mile in 7:40 pace. Justin was done for the day.

13th Leg - 7.7 miles - 6:27 pm - 8:50 pace - Melissa
This was the last hard leg left, because after Melissa, Sachin just had 2.5 miles and then we would be done. As we drove by, all of us completely exhausted from our efforts, we couldn't believe Melissa still had to run 8 miles. Just driving through to the final transition area seemed to take forever. Melissa was running this whole way and we were done.  I kind of felt a bit guilty.  Maybe I should not have given her two long legs like this. But if not her, then who? Regardless of how I felt about it, Melissa was handling her leg like a champ. She did also, finally accept some support from Pete with some water :)

I remembered this leg from last year.  The last couple miles are on a trail and even though it's nice to get off the road for a bit, it does feel a lot longer than it really is. It's hard to see when the transition area is coming up, but before you know it, there it is. Melissa saw the transition area and really sprinted it in hard.  I would say her sprint at the end was the fastest any of us had ran all day.  She tackled two challenging legs, and she finished in style.

14th Leg - 2.5 miles - 7:36 pm - 8:15 pace - Sachin

Sachin was last to go.  With the short distance and the cooler weather, I knew he was going to have no problem.  I was no longer worried and just looking forward to meeting up with everyone at the finish. It had been a long day, and after 88 miles, there were just a couple miles left. Sachin really took it fast.  We weren't sure if we would be able to support him at all because I wasn't sure what the traffic situation would be like at the beach. Luckily we were able to see him one time, about a mile in and he was looking strong.

After that, Joe and I dropped off Andy and Melissa at the finish and went to park.  We knew that Chris, Pete and Justin would already be there but we wanted to be sure that someone would catch Sachin crossing the finish line.

An exhausted Sachin with other team members. Finished!


Happy to be finished!
Joe and I parked the car and had to walk about a half mile back to the beach to meet up with everyone. We were now all together at the finish, and we could finally celebrate. It was over, and it felt great. As I walked around the beach, I was thinking about how the day went. 150 teams started this relay, but only 129 were able to finish. They announced at the end that in the relay's 17 year history, this was the second hottest day! That made our accomplishment even greater.  

I thought about the many other teams we saw along the way.  There were young and old, elite and not-so-elite. Some teams had super team spirit down to matching blue ribbons in their hair. Some had questionable running form, hunched over with bad posture, while others flew by us near the end at 5 minute pace. It was great to be part of this community of runners making their way across the state.

Enjoying some well earned pizza
But most importantly, it was great to be part of a team, supporting each other. I think the best part of this event for everyone was not only the accomplishment of finishing your legs, but supporting the other runners as they fought through theirs. And of course along the way, there was much joking and just being in each other's company. I had very high expectations for this event when I first thought about it a year ago, and they were, without a doubt, exceeded. R2C 2013? Absolutely!

Team Awards

Just one last thing that I'll leave you with. I started thinking about how each person contributed and it made me think of the high school cross country awards we had at the end of each season.  So here are my list of team awards (in order of relay appearance).

Best Attitude - Joe
Everyone knows that Joe is a pleasure to be around.  Sure, he is funny and charming, but really it's his awesome positive attitude that is so contagious. 

Most Upset About Confusion Regarding Which Other Runners Were Passed - Me
Contagious to everyone but me.  This is for me acting like a princess due to a simple misunderstanding and also being annoyed anytime my schedule wasn't followed exactly.

Most Gutsy - Pete
Considering the injuries Pete faced going into this, taking on 11.5 miles is pretty much insane. Managing to get through 3.5 more miles of his first leg after his foot went numb was something few folks would do, but then afterwards running 5.5 repeat miles in the heat?! Impressive stuff.

The Beast - Andy
This is pretty self explanatory.  When you conquer the hardest leg on the course called "The Beast", then you become "The Beast". So move over Yohan Blake, although I would recommend to Andy that he does not start to do Yohan's pre-race beast pose, because frankly it looks rather silly.

The Machine - Justin
I was happy to support Justin on both of his legs, and he was all business. From start to finish of both legs, he maintained a very consistent pace without fading.  Ever the competitor, he sprinted in the last part of his last leg, at 7:42 pace, passing a guy who he'd been running behind for a while. Also being a good sportsman, he went up to the guy after his leg to thank him (Well at least that's what it looked like, I actually didn't hear their conversation :)

Atlas - Melissa
I know Atlas holds up the Earth, but he didn't have to pick up the slack of a bunch of injured team mates. This is of course for carrying the team on her shoulders while handling two 8 mile legs and doing so with style.

Most Improved - Sachin
Going from 1 mile at just under 11 minute pace, to finishing 2.5 in 8:15 pace after already having run 4 miles?! That's some serious improvement.

Best Cheerleader - Chris
When Chris sprained his ankle, I was very upset. Not only because he was doing so good with his training, but I was looking forward to hanging out with him for this event. But then it turned out he was going to join us for the whole way! So although he didn't run the legs, he was very much a part of the team, helping with driving and support in a way that only Chris can. As I'm typing this I have "River to Sea" in my head, so thanks buddy :) And of course he took some awesome photos, many of which are included here.