Runner Bingo, round three

I haven't been keeping an eye out for items on the game card lately, but there are four more squares that I have for sure accumulated since last time:

  • Getting "geriatricked" (spotted during MDI Marathon): there was a group of three guys in orange tops that were significantly older than me--probably just past middle age.  Around the halfway point I passed the whole group.  But then, just in mile 23-24 section of the race, one of them broke out and not only caught up with me, but passed me.  Not just passed me, but smoked me and faded into the distance far faster than he should have.
  • Camel Pack (spotted during MDI Marathon): an extrememly nice and friendly runner started chatting me up over the middle miles of the race.  She had a Camel Pack on and I was envious because my little water bottle can only hold 22 ounces, and even during chilly races, I need more water than that between water stops.
  • Overly coordinated running outfit (spotted during Labor Day weekend long run): a couple of women training for the Long Island Marathon (so said their shirts) were running in identical outfits.  For me that fills the requirement for "overly coordinated".
  • Runner with multiple dogs (spotted during Labor Day weekend long run): a woman with two large dogs randomnly rounded a corner a head of me and ran past me.  I thought I was never going to find this one!

Double running stroller
Barefoot runner
Getting “chicked”
Slow running group, 3+ abreast
Running in the bike lane
Article of 80’s running gear
Shirt from a race I’ve run
Batman belt
Power walker
Overdressed for the weather
Getting “geriatricked”
Running against traffic on track
Running after a race
Cyclist on running path
Long socks with shorts
Inappropriate foot wear
D-Tag on shoe (not during a race)
Non-iPod music device
Overly coordinated running outfit
Camel Pack
Bandana on head
Runner with multiple dogs


Running at the end of the world, part V

Lessons Learned

I loved this race, in spite of all my bitching about the hills.  It is a hard race, but it's not played up like Boston or Big Sur.  There is a homespun or craftiness about the whole operation.  And heart: there is so much heart poured into this race by this tiny island community.  You feel as if the whole island has come out in support of this race--not just on the course but from the hotels to the restaurants to the stores, every person and entity feels involved in the race.  Heck, the restaurant where we had dinner after the Marathon was giving race participants $2 pints. 

All this, combined with the fact that I felt undertrained MDI has become the first race I have ever put on my "must run again" list.  Oh, and this video helped too. 

Speaking of training: I will probably not be doing the FIRST program again soon.  It was the easiest program to stick to because there is lots of flexibility, minimal running, and lots of cross training.  But on race day I knew I was only just ready enough so that I wouldn't fall apart--and not enough to do anything beyond that.  I know for the future when I'm training for a race that I'm looking to take a little easier that I can revisit this training plan.

Something that I didn't play up that much in the race report was the psychological component.  For the whole day prior every time I would worry about preparing for the race I would remember that I had my little schedule typed up already and that I had made sure to capture everythign I needed to do in that list.  It was a little thing, but it destressed me so much--mostly because I didn't think all day "oh, I have to remember such and such on race morning, I'm goign to have to make a note to remember it."  Those little notes pile up pretty quickly.

Also, whenever I would worry about the course or the hills or the weather I would repeat to myself my little "powerful beyond measure" mantra.  And it worked.  It simultaneously calmed me down and reaffirmed my faith in my running. 

During the race I did the same thing: everytime there was a tough hill or particularly labored breathing or endless thoughts about wanting to give up, I repeated "powerful beyond measure" to myself and that got me through it in a very positive way.  And that led to a very happy experience overall--so much so that even missing a PR by 8 minutes didn't phase me.


Running at the end of the world, part IV

My northernmost race, continued

Somewhere just after the halfway point of the race my iPod died.  I quickly realized that despite plugging Rene Argent (the latest to join my iPod collection) into the laptop I forgot to leave the laptop open so that it would actually charge.  It wasn’t the worst thing that could happen on the course, but it certainly didn’t help.

About this same time I met Amy.  Amy is the woman I’m covering in this picture (which is from a little later in the race), I'm the one in the gray top (ahem, IN THE FRONT of the pack):


Amy was being extremely friendly with everyone on the course.  Just after Mile 13 we started tracking each other and chatted a little bit.  She was full of energy, and I, well, I never know what to talk about during a race (see The Flying Pig Marathon).  So the conversation trailed off, but not before we passed by Amy’s cheering squad, which consisted of her husband and one year old son holding a big signing cheering her on.  (This figures into the story later.)

By Mile 15 I was out in front of Amy and the pack of three guys in orange shirts.  At this point the course turns out of the woods and the road is suddenly on the edge of a cliff looking straight north into Somes Sound.  Surrounded by hills, this fjord (the only one in the US) was my second favorite view on the course, and it’s the view where the race gets its lone tree logo from:

The next five miles were pretty uneventful accept for two things.  First, Amy’s cheer squad kept on appearing along the course and cheering loudly when they saw her (and apparently she was always right on my heels).  Second, in the awkward turn off the high way during mile 18, I was running behind a woman who was in awesome shape—we’ll call her “hot woman.”  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed.  While I was about to pass hot woman another woman, a spectator who was cheering people on from the sides, calls out hot woman and says “Damn!  Look at that!  Those abs are tight!  That’s what hard works gets you!  You rock that hot body girl!”  That blew away any “looking good” or “nice work” I was going to throw her way so I just said as I passed her “that’s definitely not what you were excepting to get today, especially from what appears to be a straight woman.”  Perhaps it was funnier at the time.

Mile 20 marked the last turn and last leg of the race: it was a 6.2 mile shot south to Southwest Harbor.  And here is where things started to get sticky—I guess that’s not a surprise.

I looked at my watch on left wrist.  I could roughly calculate my finishing time and knew I’d be in the 3:50 range if I didn’t fall apart.  However, in my right hand was my water bottle and it was almost empty.  Somehow, despite drinking at every single water stop I went through my entire water bottle.  And I was still thirsty.  I’d never run out of water before, but I did run Portland without a water bottle—and I ended up walking twice during the last mile of that race.  So I started to formulate a plan.

The problem with this last segment of the race was that it was so long.  So I kept telling myself “only six little miles to go.”  “Only five teeny, tiny miles left.”  “Only 4.5 itty-bitty microscopic miles to go.”  The closer I got to the finish the smaller the miles go.  By the last mile I had convinced myself it was length of an electron. 

Of course, nothing was farther from the truth.  Not only where they regular size miles, they were also the longest and highest incline of the whole race.  Whatever I had left was being spent left and right.  I swear I was running, but it felt like I was crawling.  During this sluggish run I saw team Amy for the fifth or sixth time and by this point I was calling out “team Amy” every time I passed them, but this time Amy’s husband shouted back “now we’re also team Steven” (he had read my name from my bib).  That felt awesome—as did the two or three following times I saw him on the course.

As forecasted, by mile 24 I was completely out of water.  So I walked through the water station and asked the volunteers to fill me up.  Thirty seconds later I was off “running” again—and according to data from Garmin I actually did pick up the pace a bit.

The first sign of the end of the race was the “Top of the Hill” restaurant; pretty obviously named for being at the top of a hill and doubling as the marker for Mile 25 and the start mile long descent to the finish line.

I tried to pick up speed but my legs we extremely fried from all the hills.  Moreover, there was a lot of traffic on the street (not closed) going in and out of Southwest Harbor, so we were running on the shoulder or the sidewalk (when there was one) for the entire final mile.  That meant passing was super difficult and you were constantly afraid of bumping into someone or falling into traffic.  This was my only complaint about the race, because if any part of the course needs space, it’s the last mile. 

Of course, this is all in retrospect.  During the race my chief thought was “where the hell is the finish line?”  Then, very suddenly, the traffic was diverted away and we moved onto the street just in time for the finish to come into my crosshairs.  Without even thinking I raised my arms and pretended to fly, zigzagging across the street for a few weightless seconds.  All the weight and hurt and worry of the previous miles feel off my shoulders and I started to sprint.  My pace dropped like a rock from 9:43 to 9:28 to 7:18 to 6:54 to 6:39 to lift off:

Note: all of these wonderful pictures were taken by (and are linked back to) Kevin Morris who does some really excellent running photography.


Running at the end of the world, part III

My northernmost race

For reference, here is a course map:

 Heading out from Bar Harbor was wonderful.  Although this was a small race (just under 1000 runners) there was a great crowd of loud and enthusiastic spectators right at the start.  But within the first half mile we were already out of town passing fields and starting the first climb of the race.

I knew the first major challenge of the race came right up front at the three mile marker, which was the second highest point on the course.  Since it was so early I felt extremely fresh and I had to fight with myself to keep the speed in check.  I knew the hills at the beginning wouldn’t seem hard, heck they were down right enjoyable, but that would fade pretty quickly with the oncoming miles.

The first three miles clocked in pretty much at a 9:00 pace on the dot.  No where near the 8:24 I was training for, but it looked like everyone else was taking it easy too since there was very little passing going on.

Knowing that first major obstacle was behind me and given the easier hills I started to pick up the pace and got decent splits (for me) for miles four, five, and six.  I played a little back and forth with a guy in a red t-shirt.  I had to assume he was a rookie Marathoner.  He was wearing a cotton shirt and I think he was wearing basketball shorts of some kind.  He would also gun it to pass me and then slow down.  Eventually I passed him completely and never saw him again.

Hands down miles six and seven were the most scenic on the course—and probably the flattest.  Right after the mile six marker we turned off the highway to a small road that plunged into a thick forest.  The road snaked through the trees, with only fleeting signs of civilization (a dirt road, a fence in the distance).  Suddenly, between the golden leaves floating on the crisp, cool breeze the forest thinned away.  Off the edge of the cliff you saw the jagged and geometric rocks descend down, down into the cobalt blue water laced with foam.  Rock formations jutted out of the water just off the coast, in defiance of the waves beating down on them rolling in from the endless Atlantic. 

Ok.  I may have heavy handed that.  I’ll just take the points on my poetic license and move on.

The next several miles I was in a comfortable groove.  The hills kept on coming as the course hugged the coast and then plunged into the woods and back.  I was starting to feel the strain and was very happy that I had decided to take it easier than I had trained.  For the most part, whenever I turned the corner and saw yet another hill I repeated to myself “powerful beyond belief,” which is my abbreviated version of Marianne Williamson’s words.  The hearty crowds (and flatish mile) at Northeast Harbor were great motivation at the close of the first half of the race.


Running at the end of the world, part II

Preparing for lift off

I woke up right on schedule at 5 something, my watch alarm going off first and then I turned off the phone alarm before it went off two minutes later (yeah, total runner’s OCD here).  It was a perfect chilly and cloudy New England morning, a day ideal for racing.  My prep schedule came in handy as I mindlessly moved down the list in my half awakeness, half anxiousness:

Wow, could I fake it more for the camera?

We were so on time that we parked and were at the staging area with just over an hour to spare.  Getting to a race start early is actually something that has taken me a long time to learn.  It gives you time to properly warm up without stress, you can “settle” your stomach (and my stomach always needs “settling” right before a race start), you get the good parking spaces, and you just worry less.  We were able to grab coffee for Wifey and I was able to get a few warm up jogs around the town square with Benny--it was his first time running and it looked like this:


Er, it was less blurry in real life.  Here’s a better shot after the warm up:

A few stretches and kisses later, the race took off:


Running at the end of the world, part I

Getting there is half the fun

One thing I quickly picked up on after signing up for this race is that no one knows where Mount Desert Island (MDI) is.  So to set the stage here is a map of the route from Astoria to Bar Harbor:

According to Google Maps it is a trip of eight hours and 54 minutes.  This trip involves five different states.  Effectively, we would cross all of New England…and then take a rural highway for two hours to reach this island off the coast of Maine.  By all measures, MDI is at the end of the world.

The long trip was made longer by the non-stop New England rain/drizzle/mist that plagued us all the way to MDI.  And to make it particularly New Englandy we got hit with fog on the coastal highway from I-95 to MDI.  This was no ordinary fog—this was stuff straight out of a Stephen King novel.  I could only see about ten feet in front of me and could have easily hit a car or tree.  Yikes.  Like I need to do that again.

We eventually rolled into the hotel at about 11p (we had left New York at 10a).  And I was extremely happy to be finally off the road.

The next morning we had breakfast and visited the expo.  For those of you who plan to run this race you should know that this is a race that is decidedly small and not flashy.  Compared to the uber-galactic expos for races like the NYCM or the Flying Pig, this was intentionally meant to feel like a mom-and-pop affair.  Kinda as if it were a race organized by a bunch of old school, I-don’t-care-what-the-weather-is, let’s-prepare-14-pages-of-final-race-instructions, hardy New England runners—which in fact it was.  And I was just about to find out hardy these runners were.

The other thing I quickly learned about MDI is that it is rather inhospitable place for a Marathon.  Coastal Maine in October can be rainy, windy, sunny, overcast, even snowy—or a combination there of.  And since it’s open to the Atlantic the weather is hard to predict.  In addition the terrain is mountainous—not hilly: there are a handful of actual mountains on the island. 

Post expo we drove the course, because despite the multiple warnings I refused to believe how hilly the course was until I saw it myself.  To be the honest the first couple of miles weren’t as bad as the elevation map would lead you to believe.  I was thinking to myself “this isn’t THAT bad:” some rather extreme rollers, but nothing I couldn’t easily tackle.  But around the fifteen mile mark I realized it wasn’t that there were particularly hard climbs or steep declines, but that the terrain never flattened.  Ever.  The course was basically going up or down the whole time. 

After driving the course I gave up on making anything like a PR.  For this training cycle I did the FIRST program.  Overall it was a good experience because I did feel ready to run a Marathon and all the forced cross training let me change things up to stay interested.  However, there was basically no hill training in the program and consequently I wasn’t prepared at all for the onslaught about to happen.

We had an Italian feast that evening and I was tucked away in bed by 10p.  In a fit of runner’s OCD I had scheduled out the 12 hours before race time: I went as far as to detail minute by minute what I had to do the night before and morning of the race.  This helped tremendously because for the first time ever I knew exactly what I had to do and didn’t go to sleep worried that I had forgotten something.