Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Run For The Dream Half Marathon

I'll warn all the readers up front, this will not only be a detailed review of the entire race weekend, but it will also be long-winded and potentially graphic.

Friday morning was spent paying my debts. In other words, I had to clean the bathrooms before I could go out to play. Once that was done, I packed up my gear, loaded the car, and went on my merry way. About an hour or two down the road, I realized I had forgotten my gels. Feeling like a dunce, I nearly turned around but decided to just go with the flow and pick up some gels at REI, the race expo, or a local running store.

As I headed south towards Williamsburg, I made a pit stop in Richmond to shop at REI. I think the biggest think I don't like about the company is they don't have a store close enough for me to shop there more often. But then again, that probably saves me some money. Needless to say, it was very difficult to NOT buy all sorts of little gadgets and equipment while I was there. I stuck with what I originally went for, another Amphipod hand held bottle. Amphipod is currently my default bottle now when running. Mostly because it's lid is easy to take on and off. I'm still not 100% satisfied with it, but it's the best I've found out there (and yes, I tried the others that REI had and didn't much like any of them).

After REI, I made another stop at Panera for lunch, then headed to Williamsburg. Check-in at the hotel was 4 pm so I cruised around a bit before parking in the Visitor Center lot. They were having a car show so I walked through on my way to the race expo. Nothing too exciting to see since most were street rod customs.

The race expo was a serious disappointment. I know this is the first year for the race and I can only compare this expo to the Marine Corps Historic Half (MCHH) expo from this year and last year. Both MCHH expos were quite large, although this year felt smaller for some reason. The Race For The Dream (RFTD) expo was exponentially smaller than expected. As in maybe ten vendors. At most ten vendors. And the area reserved for the expo was just as large as the area reserved for packet pick-up and race information. Yeah, small. But I got a Fuel Belt pouch for my wife and the gels I'd need for the race as well as all the other goodies I could manage to scrounge.

I went back to my car to paw through my freebies and discovered I didn't get my Colonial Williamsburg ticket as promised. So I headed back over to the expo, got my ticket, and signed up for the shuttle that would take us to the starting line. By the time I finished I was able to check into my hotel room. I unloaded all my junk and headed to the Market Square area to find some grub. The desk clerk at the hotel suggested the Retro's Good Eats as a good place for a burger and fries. Turns out, it was the best meal I had while I was there.

After dinner, I went back to my room and chilled out. There wasn't much to see in the historic area since nearly everything shuts down at 5 or 6 pm. But the crowds were light so that gave it a nice atmosphere. The downside was my hotel room wasn't exactly what I was hoping for. Granted, it was one of the preferred hotels for the race, but I was hoping for a bit higher class. Guess I should have opted for the other hotel that cost more.

That's not to say the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel wasn't a nice place because it was. It just wasn't as fancy as I wanted it to be. The beds were okay, the sheets were clean, the bathroom was clean, and the customer service was great. They even let me stay an hour after check-out just so I could shower after my race. But the room wasn't terribly fancy. So I guess staying on a budget meant nothing fancy. Including just basic cable on TV and hardly any open plugs to charge your cell phone. Nothing fancy also meant a shower curtain that took a shower with you unless you pushed it outside of the tub to drip water on the floor. But there were no roaches or bugs and the A/C worked and everything looked clean.

Saturday morning I woke up early to head out for a run before cheering on those running in the 8k race. So I made it up and out the door super-early and managed to find a very nice trail to run on. My only issue with the trail was that it was well hidden and I took the wrong shoes. I didn't expect to have a dirt, single-track trail to run on so I took road shoes. Turns out I should have brought my trail shoes and gaiters. Lesson learned.

The trail itself was quite nice. Plenty of hills in both directions, steps, bridges, and nearly all single-track. Finding it is a trick though. If you can find the Williamsburg Inn, you're very close. Go to the end of Basset Hall Road and you'll see a tiny sign for the trail. It's about a mile and a half long (one way) and was a ton of fun to run on.

After my jaunt in the woods, I headed back to the hotel for a shower and breakfast before heading over to the Palace Green to cheer on the 8k runners. I knew a few of the people running so it was nice to ring the cowbell and take some pictures as they went by. And if you don't know about Steve Speirs and his running exploits, you need to. He's a pretty damn amazing athlete and has inspired me to think about doing some crazy stuff. Imagine running a seriously fast race just two weeks after a 24 hour ultra.

After watching them go by I hoofed it to the finish line and got to catch the finish. This was also the Masters race so a ton of the top finishers were over 40. Astounding. I got to meet some new people from DailyMile which was awesome. From there, I went back to the hotel to drop off the cowbell before meandering around the historic section of town again. Managed to see a few things here and there but nothing terribly exciting. I think if they did more living history stuff I might enjoy it more.

There was a smallish parade of sorts which was a Call to Arms I think. Basically a bunch of fife and drum crews came from across the country and Canada and marched down the street. It was a lot of fun to listen to and watch but a lot of people kept jumping out to take there pictures, thus blocking my view. And there were no bagpipes. I like bagpipes.

Lots of walking later, I grabbed some lunch at Seasons Restaurant which was just okay. The burger there was bigger and more expensive than the one at Retros but not as good. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap. Getting up so damn early plus all that walking took a toll on me. Once I got up I poked around a bit in the hotel room before heading to breakfast. I was going to stay close to the hotel and eat at Huzzah Pizza until I saw there menu. Just pizza. Boring.

So I managed to grab a spot at the bar at the Blue Talon Bistro. It was decent food but a bit overpriced. Not as overpriced as Trellis (which was $20 to $50 a plate) but enough to make it more worth while to go back to Retros. Seeing a trend? Yeah. Next door was Baskin-Robbins so I splurged and had a milk shake. Then it was back to the room for some sleep.

Race day. I rarely sleep well the night before a race and this race was no different. So getting up early didn't really matter much at this point. I took a shower and grabbed a couple of bananas and coffee before heading to the shuttle. I learned a valuable lesson here, don't eat two bananas before a race. It doesn't agree with the stomach and I should have known that. Luckily the eggs weren't ready yet or things may have been worse.

Heading to the shuttle, I realized it wasn't where I thought it would be. Instead of leaving from the normal shuttle spot, it left from the group drop off area in the parking lot. I was afraid I'd be late for my scheduled shuttle but they didn't bother checking your wrist bands at this early in the day there were plenty of spots on the bus.

During our ride to the start line, the driver told us where to pick up the bus going back. Then he dropped us off a good two or three blocks from the start line. I was thinking we'd be closer but after I thought about it a bit, it was just like they do at the MCHH. I walked over to the start area and meandered around a bit. Met another person from DailyMile and made several trips to the bathroom thanks to my two bananas.

The runners were led into the starting corral (which was labeled and organized based on your bib number - fast runners up front, slower runners in the rear) by a fife and drum corps. We listened to the announcements, heard the starting horn, and were on our way. The first two miles or so went through the historic district which was nice. You were still fresh and had plenty of time to look around. Thankfully there was a bathroom at the end of mile one (thanks again to the bananas) and thankfully that was the end of my GI issues. You can read a full race report here.

After the race, I promptly headed through the finish area, the after-race party, and made a bee-line to the bus back to the Visitor Center. The best part of the after-race party was the chocolate milk. Awesomeness. And everyone was super-polite and great at cheering for you well after you finished. But the bus wasn't coming as quickly as I wanted and there was a huge line, so I walked (and jogged a bit) back to the hotel. I asked politely (and was granted) a few extra minutes to shower after the race so I could smell nice as I drove home.

The drive home was long. Way long. Like I just wanted to stay in the cold shower and put my legs up. And maybe take a nap. And maybe take another cold shower. It was so damn hot. Thankfully the race had aid stations every two miles or so with water and Gatorade but both liquids were rarely as cold as you wanted and some of the aid station workers were surprised when I'd show up and want my hand held bottle refilled. I was also surprised that they had no fuel of any sort on the course. No pretzels, no gels, nothing. The course was very well marked though and the course marshals were great. Finishing in the stadium was awesome. It felt great to cruise through the finish with people cheering you on in the stadium.

Bottom Line
Overall, this was a decent race. Not great, but by no means horrible. I went into this really unprepared but survived. Running the MCHH the week before took a lot out of me but the worst part was not knowing about all the hills and getting over heated on the course. There's only so many variables you can control in a race and the rest is just something to deal with. There were some things I wish that were done better, some things that were awesome, and everything else was just fine.

I haven't decided if I'm going to run this next year. My thinking right now is that running the 8k race is the better thing to do so you have plenty of time to walk around and sight see for the rest of the weekend. But I think I'll reserve my final decision for when it's closer to race day.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Chasing The White Rabbit

Today I had yet another epiphany while I was running. Slogging my fat butt down the road has quickly become the primary source of wondrous thoughts and flights of fancy. It used to be the shower but I'm now spending more time in my running shoes than I do lathering up. Although the shower still offers a bit of a refuge from the crazy world of real life.

Today's run was no different than any other except for the epiphany. Just an easy 5 miles on my usual stomping ground. The epiphany was based on my previous run, a 12 mile jaunt through the woods on the local trail that's a former railroad bed. The epiphany was that I live for LSD and continually chase after the high I get before, during, and after. For you non-runner types out there, LSD is what us nerdy runners call a Long Slow Distance run. In other words, our long run of the week. The exact distance isn't so much a factor as much as the effort for each individual. Your LSD may be longer or shorter than mine. You may take yours in the morning or overnight. None of those factors matter. What matters is the high you get.

Yes, many of us have heard of the proverbial runner's high. It's just as common as people saying "you're almost there" or "it's all downhill from here" when you're running a race. But unlike those annoying phrases, the high is real. Just like hitting the wall, these token phrases have real weight out there for the runner. And like a drug addict, I feel like I can only keep my life together long enough for my next high, for my next hit of LSD.

Having never done drugs and being a very, very light drinker (as in a 6-pack of beer will last 6 months in my house), I can't relate to drug users. I don't know what it's like to snort, smoke, or inject anything illegal into my body. But I can tell you what it's like to go for a long run and feel the high you get. The excitement you feel before the run, the jitters that are nearly as bad as pre-race jitters, the excitement of spending hours in the woods with only yourself and the talking trees. I can tell you what it feels like to suffer through the long run, to feel the pain in your feet, your knees, your hips. To break through that pain and suddenly feel the rush of owning your body and owning the run. To feel the power of the dirt beneath your feet coursing through your body. And I can tell you how wonderful it feels to finally put an end to the pain and suffering at the end of a run. To throw your hands in the air even though there isn't a finish line. To feel the rush of emotions in knowing that you have conquered a distance that seems to far, even driving a car. To feel the aches and pains the next day that speak volumes about the effort you put forth.

All of this went through my head during today's run. A measly 5 mile run that just couldn't match the high I just had from a 12 mile run. I can only imagine it's like a whiff of cigarette smoke to somebody that's just quit smoking. You just can't resist the pull. And so I wanted to push through, to go further than my plan, to throw everything away just to get that LSD high again.

I was finally able to reel myself in and stick to what my training plan called for. I just broke the 30 mile per week barrier and I didn't want to put my goals at risk. I knew if I pushed too hard I would eventually score an injury instead of a high and wind up on the sidelines with no chance of running for weeks (or longer). That fear of losing the runner's high kept me cautious. It kept me sane, though barely. It kept me focused on the long term goals I have set. Some are firm, some are soft. Some are just so insane I'm afraid to even think about them. But I know that with each of these goals, comes a high twice as strong as the LSD high. You see, there's another level of runner's high when you run races. And when you combine a race with an LSD high it's triple strength. And since many of these goals are races AND long runs, you can imagine the excitement I have. And best of all, even if I completely fail at the race, even if I don't finish, I know I'll have a ton of LSD runs under my belt. All those weeks of getting high every weekend as I run down the road or through the woods. All those weeks of chasing that white rabbit.

One final note. I had a second, smaller, epiphany during my run today. So I'll leave you with a new slogan. Bask in the glow of a mind addled by coming down from an LSD high:

No Run
No High
Know Run
Know High