Monday, December 15, 2014

The Deadpool....Avengers Half Marathon

Yes, Stark said I was an Avenger!
Lately, I have been trying to get back into the fun of running.  Specifically, I wanted to get my mind to think of something other than a new PR, or how to win, or possibly qualify for Boston.  This meant that I needed to start doing runs and races where I could just let loose, have some fun, and not care where I place.  Enter the Wonderful World of Disney ™.  Earlier in the year, I had signed up for a string of Disney races:  Avengers Half-Marathon, Star Wars Half Marathon, and the Dopey Challenge.  None of them sound serious, and none of them truly are.  The first of these races would be the Avengers Half-Marathon, two weeks after the grueling NYC Marathon at the beginning of November, and after a mile and 5k race the weekend before.  The Avengers Half would be hosted at Disneyland in Anaheim, which would be a new course for my wife Sallie and I.
Off to the Expo, not Bob!

Saturday – Expo and Disneyland

Sallie and I flew in Friday night, knowing that the Expo opened Friday, and that all of the cool race-specific items would be gone by the time we got to the expo Saturday.  This was reinforced as our friend Shannon, a coach for Potomac River Running, who got into Anaheim Thursday and went to the expo Friday.  Lines were the name of the game for her, and most of the gear had already been purchased by the time she got to the official store.  She did get me a “Hulk Smash Avengers Half!” t-shirt, which was awesome.

Sallie outside the Expo
We made it to the expo early Saturday morning, after I knocked out my shakeout run.  A run that wasn’t very good and displayed just how much I haven’t yet recovered from the last two weeks of racing.  My Achilles was not happy, nor was my hip.  Tomorrow wasn’t looking to be my “Happiest day”, as Disney would hope.  Sallie and I got in line for our packets, which we expected to be long, but was not.  We got our packets quickly and headed off to the Expo proper.  Here we found the normal gear, from shirts, to shoe.  We headed straight to the official store to see what was left.  Each of us grabbed a few sweatshirts and “I finished…” shirts, then went back into the Expo to meet Shannon to grab the hulk shirt.

Saturday – Park Time!

Once Sallie bought her new backpack, we headed to the hotel, dropped off our swag, and headed to the park.  It should be noted that the day before a race, the runner should keep off of their feet and rest.  Do your walking after the race.  With that in mind, Sallie and I, as well as Shannon and her husband, walked both of the parks, logging in 12 miles and having a great time.  We also ate and drank like we were in a park and not about to race.  Having done this earlier in the year for the Dopey marathon, I knew this could backfire.  Especially with the costume I planned to wear the next day.  After dinner and we met up with Shannon to watch the Holiday Parade, and then headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for the early start that would be Sunday.  On the way back, we got stuck on the wrong side of the Cheer-leading Championship Parade, each of us wondering why they would have that at Disney this weekend. 

Sunday – Pre-race Preparation

 Like every Disney race, this one started early in the morning. This would ensure that the majority of the runners would be done before the park opened.  Sallie and I got into our costumes; Sallie was Rescue and I was Deadpool.  Disney didn’t allow full face masks on the course, so I left that in the room, and took the hat instead.  While our hotel is within walking distance of the entrance to the park, we decide to take the bus with the mass crowd of runners, which allowed us to socialize a bit before getting to the long walk from the front entrance to the starting line.
Deadpool, not Bob!
Pepper Pots as Rescue

We got to the corrals with 15 minutes left before my corral released, so we hit the porta-potties.  I had to strip and ended up leaving my new Garmin 920XT in the porta-pottie, which I didn’t realize until 5 minutes before we had to be in the corrals.  Luckily, I had placed it in a dark corner that no one saw, and I was able to remember which one I used.  After stressing a bit on losing an expensive watch, we hurried to our corrals for release.  Shannon caught up to us, and we took a quick picture of the three costimes, with Shannon as She0Hulk.  Seemed I wasn’t the only one who thought Deadpool was a good idea, as I saw at least two in my corral.  With the gun going off, my corral, corral A, was off. 
Shannon, Sallie, and I before the race

Saturday –Racing Like I Have a Healing Factor!

Painting on the underpass leading into the canal
I had decided to try and feel the pace and ignore looking at my watch.  I also decided that if anyone in the crowd knew who I was, I would stop and either high five them or hug them.  That started early when I passed the first group of entertainers who called me out as I passed.  This caused me to do a u-turn and run back to them for a line of high fives!  Then I was back on the course.  The first 3 miles were inside the park, but since Disneyland has limited property, we were dumped out into Anaheim early.  The crowds were initially light, due to the wind and time of day.  At mile 4, the mile marker blew over and from that point on to mile 9 we had to fight 20 mph headwinds.  Just what I needed, since I didn’t get enough in NYC. 

The Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim
After passing the Crystal Cathedral, we started towards the Angels stadium, which took a path alongside the dry canal.  With the headwinds, this became a dusty mess, which made the long line of superheroes Cosplayers a site for tired legs.   The Club Cosplayers of Anaheim showed up in force, in character, and ready to cheer the runners on.  As expected, the first Deadpool was oblivious to me, so I stopped and stood in front of him, waving, until he finally gave me the attention I deserved!  This lead to a hug (Deadpool Corp does not shake hands..) and I was off again, high-fiving all of the heroes, except that damned Spiderman.  Hate that guy!

A small number of the Club Cosplayers out cheering

Fighting stronger wind, we finally reached the Angels stadium, which we race through and headed back to the park.  At this point we had 6 minutes of tailwind, so we made the best of it.  I ran into another Deadpool, who was struggling, so I ran ahead of him and flipped around to run backwards while taunting… inspiring him to push on.  It worked, as he picked it back up and ran with me for 38 seconds, but since he wasn’t me, he started to fall back.  He kept pushing though, and ended up finishing strong, which is what you would expect from Bob, being a Hydra member.  Off I went through two more tunnels and back onto the pack.  Here we had wind at our back again….22 mph wind, so we floated a bit.  I took advantage of that, and my healing factor, and picked the pace up.  At the final stretch, I got the crowd into it, and sprinted to the end, almost running over that damned Spiderman again….

Saturday – Post-race

After getting my medals for win… finishing the race (and the coast 2 coast medal), I joined the crowd to cheer Shannon, Sallie, and all the Deadpools as the crossed the line.  It was fun to call out the more obscure costumes and watch the smile as they passed by.  I lost my voice from all of the screaming.  I wonder why my healing factor failed there.  Might have been the tacos.  Funny thing I noticed while cheering was that they never called out to any of the Ironman costumes that crossed the line.  Caps, Thors, Rockets all got love, but nothing for tin man.  It seems that Disney was concerned that using Ironman in any way for a race would be a trademark infringement with Ironman the race.  So everyone was calls Tony Stark.  Anyways, we all finished strong, and both Sallie and I showered and headed out to the airport, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. 

Sallie had a PR for the race at3:07:23, as did I at 1:47:26. 

Note:  At no time did I test my costume fore running, nor did I test the socks or hat.  I got lucky, but always run at least once in your costume before a race to reduce the chance of things going horribly wrong.  This is why I had red spandex until that suit….just in case.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The world of OCR - The Spartan Super at Wintergreen

August 23rd was the second running of the Spartan Super Obstacle Course Race (OCR).  OCR's have become the new "fun" race for those that think running a simple 5k/10k/half is boring.  This fad has actually grown into a serious sport, with NBC airing the Spartan races on Saturdays, and showing "American Ninja Warrior" in prime time on Monday's.  This specific race would be considered the hardest race within the Super distance that Spartan would build.  A Super is any race length between 6-8 miles, not including the obstacles.  This race was setup to be 7.2 miles in length.

Having run this course before, I knew that it would be mostly going up and down mountains and ski slopes.  In this case, all of the Black Diamond slopes at Wintergreen.  It was raining and foggy at the start of the race, and for the majority of the heats that went after the Elite runners.  I was running with a team this time, whose heat was at 9:00am, but due to logistical issues with  transportation from parking to the runners village, everything was delayed at least 30 minutes.  It would seem the company handling the buses failed to get them there on time.  Once I got to the village and checked in, it was off to baggage check and then to the starting corral.  My team had already left 15-30 minutes previous to me lining up in the corral, but though Spartan only allows about 100 people on the course every 15 minutes, but if you missed your heat time, you could jump into the next corral and go out wit them.  At a little after 9:45am, the corral let out and we were off.

The race started out with a climb up the bunny slope, and you could tell how this race would progress based on the fact that all the runners "ran" from the start until they were out of the view of the crowd, at which point a large number of racers started to walk up the hill.  With the ground being wet, footing was at a premium and would force you to walk just to get a good push-off.  The obstacles were the normal run of the mill Spartan obstacles, the over the wall, under the wall, the wall climbs of varying heights (8/12/14 feet).  The walls were tricky, as traction on the walls themselves didn't exist, so those runners like me that climbed the walls, versus just pulling up, had to find other ways up the walls (including help from other runners, like one of my teammates Chip Place).  The monkey bars became problematic, as they were wet, cold, and muddy.  Grip was almost impossible, and many racer who could normally complete them, including me, fell for lack of a grip.  It should be noted that strength is far more important then grip here, but if you lack one, the other is required.

I then hit the Hercules Hoist, where you must hoist up and down a 100+ pound bag.  Due to the rain, they absorbed enough water to almost lift me up like a counter weight. Once I completed this obstacle and got back to the trail, I caught up with my team.  They had broken up into two major groups, which I had passed part of earlier.  The other obstacles of note were those that you had to carry 60 pound bags, or a 5 gallon bucket of rocks, or logs up and down the slopes without dropping or spilling them.  We did these as a team, helping motivate each other and help where needed.  Here again, footing was a problem.  Then we hit the Black diamond slopes.  Up to this point, we had gone up and down bits and pieces of them, which were technical due to being wet, as the majority of the downhill went through streams and forests, where the uphill was on the slope.  We now hit the mile long climb up the largest of the Black Diamond slopes.  This was called the Death March, and was considered an obstacle due to the difficulty of climbing such a steep slope.  Footing here was just as bad as earlier in the race., if not worse  Chip Place was with me at this point and I had pointed out that stopping at any point going up this mountain will doom him to pain and a much longer, slower climb.  With this in mind, Chip powered through the climb, staying only a bit behind me and not stopping until the top.

Then we quickly completed a few more obstacles (wall climbing, net climbing) until we came face to face with one of the the worse obstacles in the race.  The obstacle required us to pull a very large tire 60 feet up a steep slope, while sitting.  Since our legs were almost dead at this point, it was not an easy task.  As we completed each of our tire pulls, we heard a request from a group near a much larger tire for help.  It would seem there was a tire setup for a team to pull, versus each individual, but they had the same issue we had with the smaller tire and they needed more manpower to get it up the slope.  Chip and I both jumped right in and helped drag it to the top, and then we headed off back down the same death march slope to the next obstacle.  Here Chip and I took different approaches down the slope.  Chip slid down the slope on his rear, while I tried to take it on foot.  The pain the following days told me that Chip may have been the smarter, as my quads hurt for a week.  

At this point it was a race to the end before our legs failed.  The log carrying obstacle mentioned before was next up.  Having this obstacle directly after the Death March and tire pull was cruel, as the slope was almost as steep as the March, and the uphill was very muddy.  At this point Chip slowed down and I lost him to the uphill part of the obstacle.  Finishing quickly, I headed to one of the few remaining obstacle, the side wall climb.  These were rock climbing walls, about 50 feet long, and instead of going vertically, we had to go horizontally.  Then came the mud crawl.  Here we had to crawl under barbed wires, up a slope, for 110 feet.  My opinion was that this was not the hardest obstacle, but the meanest. This was due to  it being placed at the end of the course; was up hill on rainy, muddy terrain; with legs cramping due to limited movement as people stopped for exhaustion ahead of you. 

The last few obstacles were a staple of Spartan races.  The rope climb,  the angled wall climb with rope, and the fire pit.  The race was .25 miles shorter then last year, totaling 8.5 miles with obstacles,  but had twice as many climbs and drops.  The total elevation gain was 4k, and total elevation lose was 4.2k.  This year seemed much harder then previous years, with the elites taking a bit over 10 minutes more this time around.  I ended up around 20 minutes slower, but ended in more pain and exhaustion the last year, so I had no complaints.  I am looking forward to next years version, and possible a 3 hour run versus a 3:30-3:50 from these last two years.  To achieve that task, I will need to put more effort into strengthening my upper body and stability/core muscles.  That and a great deal more hill work!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lessons from an idiot runner, or how not to prepare for a race!

Over the past 3+ years, I have had the chance to run a great many races: Marathons, 5/10ks, Obstacle Coarse races, Cycle races, etc.  Each race required a regimented preparation leading up to the race, from eating right, resting, tapering, etc.  When you do races during marathon training season, some of these will be compromised, like the taper, or the rest, but for the most part, these races are used to streamline and perfect the preparation for a race.  Mess that up and your race will be embarrassing, torturous, or just plain bad.  I offer you one such story.

On August 17th, Potomac River Runners hosted the Leesburg 20k (12.4 mile) race.  It was a basic out and back coarse that utilized the WO&D trail for the majority of the miles.  This also meant that the first half of the race was uphill.  Rest and proper fueling beforehand would be needed.  So, how did I prepare:

  1. Sleep less than 8 hours across the two days leading into the race 
  2. Went to a concert in D.C. the night before, that ends at 11pm and got me home after midnight... for a 7:30am race, and had nothing ready for said race
  3. Fasted for 17 hours leading to the race (thanks to #2 above) and then skip breakfast due to a lack of bread (normally have bread/bagel and PB)
  4. Raced with an upset stomach, as I was recovering from the flu earlier this week 
  5. Tried new GUs because they sounded great, while on said upset stomach

Any one of these could have been worked through, and we have all done one of them before a race.  To mess up the pre-race tasks this bad should have been a sign that maybe I should skip the race altogether.  Instead I went out at a pace 30 seconds slower then I wanted, in hopes that fatigue (which was already there at mile 1) would stay away.  Miles 8-12 were not friendly, and I ended up 2 minutes slower then last year (1:46:00 versus 1:44:00).  It also took me longer to recover, thus slowing down further training, for fear of injuries.

So, what to take away from this?  Well, follow your pre-race plans, and if you wander too much from them, skip the race.  It will be better for you then trying to push through it because you paid $45 for a silly medal.