Race Recap: Run to Exile

A lot of my friends joke that I run a race every weekend. Typically, I scoff at that. It’s not EVERY weekend. But yes, this Saturday was another race weekend. After my less than stellar Rock N Sole, I signed up for the Run to Exile 10k in Des Moines.

This would mark my first 10k since Midnight Madness last year, and my first standalone 10k since the Leprechaun Chase. I didn’t complain much about the heat at Rock N Sole, but I certainly could have at Run to Exile. It was a warm one which didn’t provide much of anything with cover.

Having looked at past results, I figured I would have a shot to win, or at least place. This also allowed me to think that, if it looked winnable, to run for place instead of time, allowing me to potentially use the heat to my advantage. At the start line, I saw some other runners whom I had competed against before. One of them, multiple times, and I knew he could take me easily. That didn’t stop me from wanting to beat him, though.

When the gun went off, a few runners predictably shot out to the start. Including one who went almost sprinting past me. My only thought about him was “Ok bud.” Yes, I passed him in the first mile.

Still, at mile 1, I didn’t feel as effortless as I did at Rock N Sole. Of course, a 6:20 probably shouldn’t feel entirely effortless. Still, I was a little worried that the heat might already be creeping in, and being about 10th here didn’t help causes.

Of course, at the 5k split we lost a few runners who were running in the shorter race. This bumped me up fifth heading around the lake. Instantly I could tell I was going to reel in places 4 and 3, which I did over the next mile and a half. Then, I was able to target the second place runner, who was slowly falling back to me.

Just after we started mile 6, I made the pass. I instantly went into survival mode, knowing that I didn’t have much in the tank. Fortunately, I was able to create some distance heading over the final bridge. Not only did I roll into a second place finish, but finally captured an official sub 40 10k, in what was probably the most complete and consistent race I’ve run.

Run: As a bonus in this post, I’ll include my Sunday run as well. It always amazes me how tired my legs really are after a race, even if I don’t think they are. I got in a solid 8 miles while exploring Cedar Falls in Iowa. I might have liked more, but with an impending flight down south, I had to get done. It wasn’t terribly fast, but it was a beautiful morning run which allowed me to shake out my body and mind. I didn’t get a run in this morning in Alabama as my hotel was not too convenient, and I had places to be early in the morning. Despite getting back to Ames late tonight/early tomorrow morning, I expect to get a run in before motoring over to Wisconsin later in the day.

Location, Location, Location

This is a topic I almost wrote about yesterday, but it seemed more fitting for today.

Obviously, living in the Midwest, most of my races take place in either Iowa, Wisconsin, or Minnesota (sorry Illinois). Naturally, this gives me quite a bit of location overlap. And I’ve noticed that for whatever reason (it’s probably psychological) I run better or worse in some locations or races.

This weekend (tomorrow), I’ll be running The Run to Exile 10k in downtown Des Moines. This races takes us around Gray’s Lake in downtown. This will mark the fourth time, and third different race, I’ll be racing around the Lake. It is the first time I’ll be doing it in reverse. My first adventure to the Lake was at the Leprechaun Chase where poor pacing, and coming off being sick, wrecked me. The next two times came on the final leg of Market to Market. Both times I dropped good times, but felt awful as I was wrapping up a day long running journey. Will Saturday finally be the race that turns the tide?

The location that has given me the most fits, though, has been downtown Milwaukee. Oh my goodness. Let’s review. My first race in downtown was the Brewers Mini, where I ran on an increasingly ailing hamstring and IT Band. My next trip downtown was for the Milwaukee Running Festival. This race still represents my only DNF. And this past weekend I ran the Rock N’ Sole to my slowest Half Marathon time. For whatever reason, downtown Milwaukee is the scourge of my running.

Conversely, there are places incredibly kind to me. The Beer and Bagel run in Jester Park obviously has been kind to me, with a 1st place age group finish last year, and a 1st overall this year. Market to Market is another race which I seem to be able to run great. I still consider the 2015 edition to be my finest hour running. And the 20 miles I rocked at a sub 6:50 this year was no slouch either. This year coming on the heels of a poorly run Full Marathon.

My best racing location, though, has been Minnesota. Gopher to Badger (predominantly run in MN) has long been a favorite of mine. I’ll even include Grandma’s Marathon as a success here (more so if I had known how to run a full). Additionally, my Half Marathon PR resides in Minnesota at the Polar Dash. Throw in my third overall finish at the Frozen Feet, and you’ve got a lot of success in the north woods.

Like I said, it could be psychological. It could just be my fitness leading into the races. Obviously, conditions play a role in any of these races too. Or maybe it’s just a sign I need to live in Minnesota to enhance my running ability.

Are there any places you have had more success running than others? Have you found a reason for it?

Run: Trail Thursday allowed me my first opportunity to test out the Xodus 6.0 I got to charge through some streams, which let me know that the water-proofing really works on the shoes. The only minus of the shoes was the lack of breath-ability. Oh well. The run wasn’t great for me, though. I love running trails, but running trails the day after some speed wasn’t the best. Now I know why I normally take a day off after speed work. Oof. Race day tomorrow though.

Shoe Shopping

I finally decided to break down and opt in for some trail shoes. I went to a local shop which I knew carried, at least, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2. I went specifically to try on the Challenger hoping to add another pair of Hoka to my collection. I will say, I did like the feel of the Challenger. It was a snug fit, and you could tell this shoe wouldn’t let your feet down.

However, while walking around, I did notice a bit of a rub on my inner arch. The same rub that prompted me to buy a pair of insoles to prevent a rash of blisters on my foot. I didn’t really want to do that again. So I decided to try on some other shoes.

My first instinct was to try the Saucony Peregrine. However, the first shoe I saw was the Saucony Xodus 7.0. It looked like a beast. The guy I was working with said that the Xodus was The Terminator of trail shoes. So instantly I was intrigued. I ended up trying on the older (and therefore cheaper) model in the 6.0. Fit was great and firm. Plus, I was able to snare the Gore-Tex version, giving me some nice waterproofing as well.

Honestly, the shoe is probably overkill for what I’ll use it for. But oh well. I’m excited to take these bad boys out for Trail Thursday tonight.

Run: For the first time I tackled speed work on the treadmill. And you know what? It was great. I was able to control and maintain the pace I wanted to do. While 6x400s are never easy, it amazed me how much easier it is to run at a controlled and brisk pace. I may continue to do some of these on the treadmill moving forward.

The Familiar vs. The Unknown

After a couple days away from the blog, and from the roads, I’m back now. Today’s topic stems a little bit more from my non-running life, but can easily be brought back into running (like just about everything else).

It’s looking like a very real possibility/likely-hood that I could be relocating for a new job in the near future (if next week all goes well). If it comes down to a choice that I have to make, it would be between living in a city I’ve never set foot in, two time zones away (the unknown) or a city where I have friends in my home state (the familiar).

Regardless of if you find yourself in a similar situation in life or not, it’s an interesting situation to ponder. Do you take the leap, not really knowing what to expect? Or go the safe route, having a better idea about what awaits you?

Here is where I can tie this into running, and specifically my experience at the Rock N’ Sole. Every race you enter (maybe with the exception of a marathon or longer), you have a choice in your race strategy. You have the choice to push your limits and see what you can do, or opt for a more restrained approach.

Example. Going into Rock N’ Sole, my Half Marathon PR was (and still is) a 1:26:10. Obviously, as a competitive runner, I always want to shave time off of this. That specific time is about a 6:35 pace for the distance. Leading into the race, I had hit some regular runs at a 6:37, and under 7 on longer runs when it felt like I was holding back. Running in that ball park probably would have been more than doable. The plan, as you know if you’ve been keeping up with my posts, was to dip into the 1:24 range, which is a 6:28 at the slowest. Anything in the 1:25 range would be a PR.

If you had asked me at the start line if I was in shape to drop a 1:22 or 1:21 in the Half, I would have said no. Without a doubt no. Yet within the first mile and a half I consciously made a choice to maintain that pace. Obviously, it didn’t work out. At all. Never have I been eaten up by a Half or less than I was in that race. But I’ve never gone out at that ambitious of a pace in relation to my fitness level.

It didn’t work at Rock N’ Sole, but going outside of my pace comfort zone is also how I hit a minute and a half PR at the Polar Dash in January. It’s how I won Beer and Bagel this year.

Conversely, had I gone out about 20 seconds per mile slower, I would have been close to my PR, maybe under if the race went well. For sure, I run a sub 1:30 in this scenario, I have no doubt.

My best example of this would be Gopher to Badger. I knew coming off injury and Grandma’s that a PR wasn’t in my future. I did go out at a decent pace (that 6:35 area actually) and backed off from there. It was a more conservative race. I didn’t PR by about a minute and a half, but finished well and improved my time from the year before. A good race, but in terms of improving, I didn’t have that to my overall time.

The way I see it, there are benefits to both. By going into the unknown, we learn more about ourselves. We learn more about what we are capable of, and what our limits are. By opting for the familiar, we might have more fun and a more enjoyable experience. We have the comfort, but not the adventure.

When put in a fork in the road situation, what do you do?

Run: Tuesday represented my first run since Rock N’ Sole. After spinning on Monday, I was ready to hit the roads. What greeted me was the sweltering heat of this Iowa summer. For about 7 miles of the 7.5 mile run, we got cooked out there. The last half mile saw a storm roll in, and the temps crumble. No idea on the overall pace, as my watch took the first three miles off. Likely sub 7 over the first 3, and 7:40s the rest of the way. Going off of my perceived effort at least.

With another day of mid-90 temps, I’ll be forced inside today. Not willing to opt for some speed work outside, I’ll be testing out the treadmill for some speed work. If nothing else, this will allow me to work on my pacing.

Race Recap: Rock N’ Sole Half

I made it no secret that I was planning/hoping to hammer out a 1:24 at the Rock N’ Sole run on Saturday. Having not run a road Half since the Polar Dash, I wasn’t quite sure what I would be capable of, but figured it had to be in that ballpark.

Driving into downtown took a touch longer than I had planned, but everything worked well. I got to park in the lot I used to park at when I worked Summerfest, and then got in and out of the bathroom line extremely quickly. There was even a decent wind, keeping the promised heat at bay for a little while.

I found my way to the starting coral about 10 minutes before the gun went off. Everything felt good as we waited for the gun to go off.

I’ll be the first to admit that, when I looked at my first mile split, I had an inkling I had gone out too ambitious. It’s funny, for me, to say that a 6:18 first mile felt fine, but it really did. Still, I thought I should ease back up and try to get my cumulative pace back down into the mid 6:20s. Well, two 6:14s later and my overall pace was a 6:15, about 10-13 seconds per mile ahead of goal pace. Oops.

Miles four and five took us up the Hoan bridge. All those parking ramp runs I had done were paying off, as the sloping incline was tough but not unbearable. The wind I mentioned earlier was rough, however. At the highest point (other than skyscrapers) in the city, and right along Lake Michigan, the wind was fierce as it buffetted myself and other runners into a slower pace.

Coming off the bridge I noticed my pace begin to slow, affected by the bridge climb in the wind, and a too ambitious start to the race. Still, crossing the 10k in a smidge over 40 wasn’t a bad sign, although a touch off the pace I wanted, but never ran.

Then it happened. Was rounded a corner only to meet a daunting hill near the end of mile 7. The steep ascent finished me off for the race. It was simply an instance where I was already fatiguing and was not mentally prepared for a thunderous incline.

At that point, I knew any hope for a PR was dead and gone.

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A poorly run race by me. At least there was beer waiting at the end.

The rest of the race reminded me a lot of the La Jolla Half I ran a year ago, where I got smashed by a hill and the rising temperatures. And in that in any hot race, going past a body of water is brutal. Just roll me in and leave me there.

I wasn’t entirely pleased with my finishing time, but again that had in large part to do with an overly ambitious first few miles. The Rock N’ Sole did serve as a reminder, though, to not get out too fast in a race. And that I need to start getting my weekday miles back up. Especially on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Next up will be something new entirely. On July 2, I’ll be tackling the Afton 25k in Minnesota. This will surprisingly be my third trail adventure of 2016. After finishing third at the Frozen Feet and winning the Beer and Bagel, I’m hoping to again find success off the road.

Three weeks will provide me a significant amount of time to churn out some quality miles, and work on correcting some of my pacing problems on longer runs, as that has been off ever since Shamrock. At least I know to not get out in 6:15s at Afton. More like 7:15s.

Teamwork

I’ve noticed that almost all of my titles are one word. Oh well, it tells you all you need to know.

Anyway. Team running has been on my mind since last night. Tuesday night is the designated Team Vardo weeknight run. Granted this has turned into a 4-6 mile run, instead of varying differences…oh well. Still, running with friends in the group is always something I enjoy, and definitely miss in the fall when I can’t attend.

The big topic of conversation this week is about Relay Iowa. The 339 mile relay starts at the Missouri River and goes across the state to the Mississippi. I’ve been recruited to run the last two years, but due to personal races (Grandma’s and Rock N’ Sole) I’ve been unable to attend. The team is scrambling to find an additional runner after one dropped in the week leading up to the relay.

In relays like this, unless you are elite, having fun and running takes precedence over all else. On a smaller scale, I’ve experienced this at Market to Market. While a smaller event, the team experience of a relay is still there. My most enjoyable part of the entire Market to Market day is the finish. Not because, as a team, you’re done running after 75 miles, but because you get to finish and cross the line as a team.

Team running is something we rarely see outside elite runners, but sometimes do see in groups. Whether it be someone who is pushing you to do better, or someone who is about the same speed and you push each other, the aspect of team is there. For me, on Market to Market, I’ll run my sections as best as I can, not wanting to let the team down; even if we aren’t in it to win it. For the best example (again at the elite level) look at the recent Olympic Trials with Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg. Both runners qualified, running most of the race together. Teamwork.

Run: It was a beautiful Tuesday for an easy 4 mile run with the group. Normally, I’d mentally complain about the route only being two miles. But since I’m trying to taper a bit leading into Rock N’ Sole, I won’t complain.

Race Goals

As many of my friends are gearing up for Grandma’s Marathon, only a week and a half away, and I’m getting set for the Rock N’ Sole race in Milwaukee, goals have been on my mind.

While it is rare that runners ever use the word “goal,” we typically chat about them without using the word. “What are you shooting for?” “What would you like to run?” “What time do you think you can run?” All of those questions are essentially asking the same thing: “What is your goal?”

I think we stay away from the word goal, for the most part, because of it’s connotation. If we call it a goal, it suddenly becomes a do or die problem. If you didn’t achieve your goal, it’s a bit more disheartening than not running the time you want. It’s all word-play.

In his book Meb for Mortals, Meb Keflezighi talks about race goals and how they should be set in stone. Meb argues that any ambiguity can lead to excuses for runners, which is totally true. He uses the example of his goal to win the Boston Marathon, it wasn’t “try to win the Boston Marathon,” it was “win the Boston Marathon.” Maybe this is the time I can drop a Yoda quote, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

And I’ll completely include myself in this conversation. I will always say something along the lines of “I would like to do x,” whether that be a time, a place, or whatever. I don’t think I ever use the word goal in a running based conversation; I’ll always talk about what I think I can do, or what I would like to do. Normally, I’ll base this on time, since I never plan on winning a race (there’s always someone ridiculous at every race). But if, early in a race, I can tell racing to win in a possibility, I’ll switch goals to that.

And because I think sharing goals is beneficial for runners, I’ll go ahead and share what I would like to do the rest of 2016.

5k – It’s simple, I’d like to PR. However, since I gear myself toward longer races, I don’t get much chance at a 5k. I’ll go for it at Midnight Madness, but that will be race #2 that day for me, so we’ll see how my legs feel at that point.

10k – Run an official time under 40. I’ve run sub 40 on a training run, but never in a race. 10k opportunities don’t come around too often, but I’ll have a my shot at the RF Days 10k in July.

Half – I’d love to catch up to my friends Brian and Caroline just because they’re both sitting around 1:21 in the Half, and the competitor in me would like to get into that range. But that’s a long term goal. At Rock N’ Sole my goal is straightforward. Run in the 1:24 range.

Full – Again a simple one. Qualify for Boston with a sub 3 marathon. In my mind, I’m close. Had I not gotten hurt, I think I hit a BQ in Des Moines last fall. I don’t want to blame weather (because it’s an excuse) but that certainly played a role in not getting there at Shamrock. I always keep in mind I’m still learning and figuring out the Full, so I’ll get there. Hopefully this fall, likely at Twin Cities.

Race – I’ve crossed win a race outright off my list, and on a short 4 miler no less. But obviously I’d like to do this again. I’d love it to be in a longer race, since that has turned into what I do more. Note, it isn’t gonna happen at Rock N Sole.

Friends – I mentioned earlier, and most of you know this, I’m a fairly competitive person. In my running group, speed wise, I rule the roost, and most of my friends from high school and college have let their training slide. But I do have friends faster than me, or close to the same speed. Beating their PR is one goal, beating them head to head is another. And hopefully I’ll have the chance to toe the start line against them all in the coming year. There’s nothing like racing against your friends. Competition brings out the best racer in me, and hopefully I can get to the level to bring that out in them as well.

Close Encounters of the Wild Kind

This is a topic that I thought about again over the weekend. As any runner knows, wildlife can sometimes pop up on a run. And by that, of course I mean animals which we might not want to run into.

This past weekend I took to the trails in downtown Des Moines’ urban forest. Literally one minute into my run, I turned the corner into two young bucks. A little bit of shouting got them off the trail, but as I ran I continued to run into them as they scrambled down the trail. I would see one other deer later on as well.

I’m always a little more wary of deer than maybe some think I should be. More often than not, deer will just run away. There are stories, though, of deer attacking people, and runners. And guys, those are big animals with hooves and (some) antlers. Granted, most deer attacks happen when a person comes between a doe and her fawn. Of course, this can make spring running a bit of an adventure. I had an instance where a fawn bolted away, but the doe stared my down and took a few steps forward when the fawn ran. I was looking for the nearest tree to climb.

Birds can be fierce as well. Nine times out of 10 when encountering a bird, it will just fly circles a few feet above your head. Not too bad. In California, I had a bird swoop down and attack, and make contact with me; leading a passer by to accurately state “That’s one pissed off bird.” The other day I had a bird hover, feet toward me, at about eye level on the trail. And many others have had some less than quality experience with geese as well.

Then there are the bigger animals. I’ve never run into anything more than deer and coyotes. When in Colorado, my top fear is running into a Cougar. Although my fear probably should be (in Colorado and Wisconsin) Bears. Generally speaking, most Bears are not going to attack people (except for Grizzlies), but that doesn’t make them any less terrifying. Are there any animal encounters you’ve had on a run?

Run: As I mentioned, I opted in for some single track trails. While they were fun, I didn’t quite get the mileage I wanted. This was in large part due to me missing a 4.5 mile loop through the woods. Apparently, I needed to keep going down one of the trails I was on. Next time.

On Sunday, I returned to the parking ramp on campus. It still amazes me that running there, five times up and down, and running home tallies me eight miles. It’s always a tougher workout than I plan, plus my legs were not having it this weekend. Still, that will be my last really hard run leading into Rock N Sole, so we will see how that goes.

You and Nature

One time I had a friend tell me that driving an ATV through the woods was great because it was just “you and nature.” And, you know, a blaring motor that doesn’t allow you to hear anything else.

Running (or biking) through trails, forests, beaches, or whatever gets you much closer to nature. And I definitely enjoy that. Being from the upper Midwest, I like hitting the trails and running around the woods with lots of trees. Obviously, I don’t that a whole lot in Iowa, which has led me to seek out some trails. Anyway, there is something neat about running through the woods knowing that you could very realistically be the only one out there. Sure that can be a bit scary, especially if you’re in the mountains (for example).

There are a handful of races, mostly at the Half or longer distance, considered to be beautiful races. If you were to search this on the Internet, you would likely see the Mount Desert Island Marathon, Big Sur, and Avenue of the Giants pop up fairly consistently. If you know any ultra runners, they likely have races that put them in even more remote and beautiful places, just by virtue of running a 50+ mile race through the woods.

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You can even find some gorgeous single track in the middle of Iowa

I would go so far as to say that almost every runner who has a trail, or trails, that they can run on constantly has a favorite place they would run every day and never get tired of. It could be White Ranch in Colorado, it could be a gravel road in rural Iowa, it could be an urban trail in the middle of a city. For me, it’s the Glen Park trails up in River Falls. What’s your favorite place to run where you really feel like it’s just “you and nature?”

Run: Yesterday it was windy and warm, and with some tired legs my motivation to run was low. Fortunately, I was able to hunt down someone to run an easy 5 with. Of course, when you have two runners who can run at a fast clip, “easy” is thrown out the window. After somehow carrying on a conversation for the first 3 miles, plugging away at a 6:46, we slowed up just a bit. Still dropping a sub 7 wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but what can you do. Tonight I’ll be opting for a bit of a different workout. It should combine speed and stairs. Hopefully. I’ll have the report tomorrow.

Recovery

Full disclosure, talking about recovery is something that I decided to do just today. Taking Recovery Runs, and not going all out almost every chance I can get is something that I really struggle with. In my mind (and I’m working on moving away from this) most of my runs should be at a good clip, to get used to running that pace. Of course, last summer and fall, that likely played a large roll in my being injured.

Since then, I have backed off at times, mostly in regards to my pace, and not dropping quick times on a training run too soon after a race. Of course, that sometimes happens. But looking at my own recent running history, sometimes mileage and slower pace seems to not be the worst thing for my races.

So heading into the Rock N Sole, only a week and a half away, I’m trying to keep my runs in line. Did that include pounding out a 7 miler at 6:36 pace? Yes. Did that happen twice (roughly)? Yes. But I’ve been able to target my long runs to fall around that 7-7:20 pace which has always eluded me.

But anyway. Recovery after races is what I really wanted to talk about. Between April 9 and May 7, I ran a race all but one weekend. Going from Beer and Bagel, to the Cherry Creek Sneak, to Pony Express, to Market to Market, it was a busy month. and while I ran well at Beer and Bagel, and Market to Market, the middle races were not kind to me, pace wise.

I read once that if you run a race, your recovery before either another race or a hard workout should be (in days) the amount of miles you ran. So if you run a 10 mile race, your next hard workout should not be for 10 days. Sometimes, I think this is a bit excessive. Am I going to wait two weeks, or a month after a Half or Full? No. But I think there is some merit to it. I’ve run a Half six days after a Half, and a Full seven days after a 10, and both times that second race was brutal. I don’t like taking recovery, but it looks like (in my times) the longer I wait between races, the better I do. Hmmmm.

Run: Without any of my main running companions, it looked like a slower paced night for me at the Vardo run, which has recently turned into a Tuesday 5 miler since no one is willing to go past that. Well, I did get a bit slower pace, but Matt and I put down a crazy negative split over six miles. We had all the humidity, but it really was a phenomenal run. If only I could figure out this negative split thing on my own.