Monday, April 25, 2011

London Marathon Race Report

Sorry it's taken me so long to post a race report on the London Marathon. I came home with a virus that kept me lethargic for a week. Anyway, here goes:

Friday. Salome & I arrived in London Friday morning, got to our hotel, the Crown Plaza St. James, near Buckingham Palace, and called our friends Bob & Melissa from Akron. We arranged to go to the Expo that afternoon. I love a big race expo for the sheer excitement of the crowd of pre-race runners. Not to mention all the race gear for sale. Both Salome & I dropped quite a few pounds on London Marathon gear. The Expo had on display some of the wildest costumes from prior years runners on display. The London Marathon is the biggest fund raising marathon in the world with most British runners raising funds for some charity. The most unusual costume on display was the deep sea diving suit complete with lead boots. Of course, the guy running in the suit took over 5 days to complete the course.

After the Expo, we hurried back to the hotel for the Marathon Tours cocktail party. In addition to Bob & Melissa, we reconnected with our friends Jerry, Lupe & Maggie from Albuquerque, and Linda Mueller from Chicago, and met several other fun and interesting people from around the US who traveled to London for the marathon. Like me, Linda was completing her tour of the World Marathon Majors. We also got to spend some time talking to our Marathon Tours guides Scott Guillemette and Jacqui Kaufman.

Saturday. Saturday morning I went for a 4 mile run with Bob & Melissa to shake the legs out. I always love doing a run of a city to get the lay of the land. After breakfast, Salome & I went for a walk around London with Bob & Melissa. We made it to the London Eye, but the line to get on the ride looked way too long, so we walked back across the Thames and towards Trafalgar Square for lunch at a pub. We returned to the hotel in the early afternoon and ate an early dinner at the hotel's restaurant. Then, it was off to bed.

Race Day. Race morning, Salome & I got dressed into our costumes. Salome was dressing up as a Hawaiian hula girl and I dressed up in my Wayne's World get up from last year's Paris Marathon run. However, without buddy Jacques "Garth" Watters to accompany me, my heart wasn't into the spirit of the get up. I did get into the spirit of fun in the lobby as we gathered with other runners to load onto the buses for the start. At the start area, we hung out with Bob & Melissa; however, since Bob was in a corral ahead of us, Salome, Melissa & I huddled together at the start. Our friend Linda from Chicago had a connection with a friend involved in race organization, and were given race committee vests that allowed them "backstage access" to wherever they wanted to go at the start. Little did they know that he had slotted them to walk the pro men to the start line. Thus, they got to see the elites start from a very nice viewing area.

As we stood in our corral, I offered to try to pace Melissa to a sub 4 hour marathon. As she didn't want to hinder my run, she declined the offer. This was a blessing as I thought I might be writing a check my body couldn't cover. As we stood waiting for the starting pistol to fire, I became too warm in my flannel shirt. Thus, just before the start pistol fired, I removed the shirt and threw it to the side.

Once the race started, it took us about 2 minutes to cross the start line. Not bad considering the size of the crowd. London splits the start into 3 groups starting on 3 different roads. Thus, the start isn't too much of a problem given that there are about 40,000 runners in the marathon. However, the crowd of runners was quite thick and the roads were fairly narrow, causing surges and slow downs as the various start groups converged at different points along the first 5 miles of the course.

By mile 1, I tossed my blow up guitar as being a nuisance to carry. Around mile 3, I found the wig was getting too hot, so off it went. I thought I'd keep the Wayne's World cap on, but found that it also made my head sweat too much. So near mile 4, I went to the side of the road and gave it to a young spectator cheering us on. Speaking of spectators, the entire course was lined at least 3 people deep the entire 26.2 miles of the course. If you like a good cheering audience, then London is the marathon for you.

Coming off my knee injury, I'd planned to take short walk breaks at every mile. However, with the severe crowding of the course, it wasn't safe to try to take a walk break. I didn't dare try until mile 8 for fear of being run over. From there on I did take walk breaks, but it was a risky proposition until the last 6 miles of the course. I'd have to say that as far as the size of a marathon goes, I think London reaches a tipping point where the size is simply too big. With so many runners on the course, you find it difficult to run your desired pace and are constantly being jostled by other runners.

My second thought about the race was that the first half in southern London could have been in almost any major European city. There didn't appear to be anything special about running in the neighborhoods in London south of the Thames. It wasn't until I approached the Tower Bridge just before the half-marathon point that I started to get excited and enjoy the course. However, crossing Tower Bridge was exhilarating. As you looked left, you realized you were running by the Tower of London. However, as I hit the half marathon mark, I noticed that I was a couple of minutes over the 2 hour mark. Knowing that I've never done a negative split in a marathon, I knew then it was unlikely that I would break the 4 hour mark. Thus, I decided at that point to pull back on my effort somewhat and try to make sure that my knee would not give me trouble for the second half of the race. From miles 14 to 16, you could look across the street to see the leaders coming on the return route of the out and back portion of the course. As all the guys that I saw were pasty-white Englishmen, I was pretty sure I'd missed the lead Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.

Meanwhile, a few miles back, wife Salome was having the time of her life running in her hula girl outfit. Her goal was to try to break 6 hours and thoroughly enjoy the crowds. She received many shout outs from the crowd yelling "Go Hula Girl!" and gave away some of her leis along the route to spectators. She even stopped to give a lei to a bobby doing crowd control along the course. Being further back in the crowd of runners, she saw more of the costumed runners who tend to run slower in their elaborate get-ups. She saw two guys running with a surf board and ran along with them to make the Hawaiian theme even larger. Of course, they declined her request to let her ride the board for a mile or two as they carried it as they ran.

Back up to where I was running at about mile 17, I was enjoying the running through the business district of London. I enjoy running through the business district, which reminded me somewhat of running through downtown Chicago during the Chicago marathon. On my return trip back towards Tower Bridge, I looked across to see if I could spot Salome on her outbound portion of the out & back loop. No such luck. In fact, at this point the only runners still on the outbound section of the course were runners in elaborate and most likely hot costumes.

The final miles along the Thames River heading towards Buckingham Palace were a jam of 5 to 6 deep crowds of spectators cheering wildly for all the runners. Given that most of the runners are local Londoners running for fund-raising causes, I'd have to say that the people of London support their runners in grand fashion. As I passed Buckingham Palace and headed the last couple of hundred yards to the finish line, I couldn't help but tear up a bit. As I said to a fellow runner after crossing the finish line in 4:20: "The only thing better than running a marathon is finishing a marathon."

Salome crossed in 5:48, a time with which she was thrilled. Since she had some issues in finishing her long training runs, she had doubts as to whether she would be able to run the last six miles. Fortunately, with the fun of interacting with the crowds as "Hula Girl," she kept a positive attitude and was able to run the entire course. While she had declared prior to the race that London was her last marathon, she has let the euphoria of her London finish cause her to rethink that decision. Rome next March anyone?

Post-Race. The biggest problem after crossing the finish line was winding your way the mile or so through St. James Park to get back to the hotel. As I walked though the park, runners were sprawled everywhere laying on the ground. While I was very tempted to join them, I knew that laying down meant that I would not get up for a couple of hours, so I kept doing my hobbled walk though the crowd of resting runners.

As I returned to our hotel lobby, I came across our friends Jerry & Lupe. Jerry had crossed the finish just a couple of minutes ahead of me. Jerry, who works for Intel, had volunteered to fly to Tokyo to help with post tsunami recovery work and had to quickly shower, change and get to the airport to fly out to Tokyo. Now, that's dedication to your work. Way to go Jerry!

Salome & I spent the next couple of days touring London, hitting a lot of the usual sights. With the royal wedding approaching, the line to get into Westminster Abby was long, but we had to go in. We hit several of museums and caught the Queen Rock-Opera "We Will Rock You" on our last night. All in all, a great visit. Salome is ordering her race photos, so I'll do a subsequent blog post to post some of her race pictures and some of our trip pictures.

Me, I'm just thrilled that my knee held up. I had no post-race swelling or soreness in the right knee, so I think the tear in my medial meniscus is healed. My biggest concern now is whether I've got sufficient time to gear up for Florida 70.3 on May 15th. With this virus, I lost this last weekend to train. Hopefully, I'll be fully recovered by this coming weekend and can hit the swim and bike hard enough to at least show up in Orlando in three weeks.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Run Rabbit Run

This being the weekend before a marathon, it was a chill weekend. Don't do too much, watch some sports, and rest up for next Sunday. So, Saturday was an easy 10 miler. The last long run. The goal: don't do anything that risks injury. Salome & I got out the door at 6:30 AM, ran the 10 easy and were both back by 8:30 AM.

Most of my friends were out for long rides getting geared up for May 15th's Florida 70.3. I put off my ride until Sunday, not wanting to get coaxed out for a longer ride. I did a semi-causal 30 ride Sunday with 3 friends. Just enough to keep the cycling muscle memory intact, until after the marathon. Then it was onto chilling for the rest of Sunday.

First up, watching the Miami Heat dominate the Boston Celtics in a game that should give the Heat the #2 spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That's good for an additional home game in the second round of the playoffs that should be against the Celtics. After 3 previous poor showings against the Celts, this game gave me hope for Miami in that future rematch.

Finally, I tuned into the Paris-Roubaix cycling race on the Vs. Network. Ah, the joy of hearing Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin comment on a bike race. Paris-Roubaix is one of the "Spring Classics" of bike racing in Europe. It's a brutal 160 mile course, much of it over narrow cobblestone streets, called pave, starting outside Paris and ending in a velodrome in Roubaix northeast of Paris. In most races, the favorites let an early group of unknown rabbits go off the front to keep the pace honest. This keeps races from becoming slow tactical races by the best riders. If the best riders screw around with each other, one of the unknowns in the breakaway can end up stealing a race title. This is what happened Sunday.

Fabian Cancellara, the race favorite, had won both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix last year by such large margins that European sports writers started a crazy speculation that Cancellara had a small motor inserted into the frame of his bike that helped him accelerate so well. A totally bogus speculation, but showing just how good Cancellara was last year. In last weeks Tour of Flanders, the other riders were keying off Cancellara so much, that he tried to break away too early and ended up burning out and being beaten for 1st place. This weekend, the other riders again keyed off Fabian to such an extent, making him do all the work up front during the last 20 miles of the race, that they ignored the unknown rabbits out front. Belgian, Johan Van Summeren, took advantage, and took the race, by riding for his life to a win. Cancellara held on for second. Knowing life wouldn't get any better than this, the lucy Belgian proposed to his girlfriend at the finish line. Nice touch. Fabian Cancellara later joked with the press that the other riders were keying off of him so much that if he had stopped at a cafe for a cup of coffee, the whole race would have stopped with him. The race had me looking forward to July's Tour de France.

In other sports news, I read this morning that Chrissie Wellington once again broke the women's world record for the Ironman distance at this weekend's Ironman South Africa. She lowered her own record set at last November's Arizona Ironman by 2 and 1/2 minutes to 8:33:56. The next women came in at 9:08 and 9:20. So, 2 world records after missing Kona in October due to a stomach virus. The rest of the Pro woman better hope Chrissie doesn't get sick again. She comes back way too strong.

Congratulations to Chloe of Running with a Bottle of Wine, who took 1st place in her age group this weekend at a local triathlon. She also did a great post about keeping your transitions quick and simple. It's worth a read. I'll put her advice to practice after this weekend's marathon.

I also see where a running buddy, Bob Bowker, pulled himself off the course of the St. Louis Marathon this weekend at mile 8. It was too hot, Bob knew he was off pace, and that to finish would have been a brutal and senseless self punishment. He walked off the course, which saves his training for another day. It takes a wise runner to pull himself from a race when it's clear the race is not going well. We can all learn from Bob's experience. I just hope I don't learn that lesson next weekend.

Friday, April 8, 2011

London Calling

A week from now, I'll be in London getting ready to go to the expo to pick up my race number. I've got to say, I'm pretty excited. Given that I was on crutches for 3 weeks in January with a slight tear of the media meniscus of my right knee, I almost have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming.

Running the London Marathon will complete my running of the 5 marathons that make up the World Marathon Majors (Boston, Chicago, New York, Berlin & London). These are the 5 marathons where the best runners in the world show up to compete and world records get set.

When I first started running marathons in 2002 and I started paying attention to the pros again, the men's world record was set in London by Khalid Khannouchi in 2:05:38. The next year, 2003, the women's world record was set by Brit, Paula Radcliffe in 2:15:25. Each year in April, the world's elite marathon runners are running either London or Boston. While Boston is always an interesting race, the world record doesn't get set their due to the hilly nature of that historic course. London is one of those sweet spots of marathon running that race directors like to advertise: its flat and fast.

Not that I'll be fast. Coming off recovery of the meniscus tear, I've had to ramp up my distance in quick fashion. In order to avoid the risk of re-injury, I avoided the speed work necessary to get into PR shape. In fact, to quickly ramp up to the marathon distance, I utilized the Jeff Galloway run/walk system in which I took a short walk breaks of 30 to 60 seconds each mile. This conservative approach seems to have worked.

Yesterday, I went for a last pre-race checkup with my doctor to have my right knee examined. While my doctor thinks marathon running is a bad idea in general, he was impressed with my recovery. He indicated that my heart rate was back to a sub 50 bpm resting rate, indicating that I was back in marathon shape. Having done a race pace 10K run that morning and feeling great, I could have told him that without the heart rate reading. He checked the knee for mobility and any residual water retention. It all looks good and I'm cleared to run, so long as I don't try for a fast time.

The other thing that the London Marathon is known for is runners in costume. London has the largest number of runners of all marathons and is a big charity fundraiser for a lot of London runners. To increase the amount of funds raised, a bunch of the runners dress up in costume. Some of them are outlandish. Like the guy who ran, more likely walked, one year in a full Knights armour. I think it took him over a day to complete the event. In any event, since we can be fast, my wife Salome & I have decided to make it fun. I'll be reprising my "Wayne's World" costume from last year's Paris Marathon. Salome is going with an Hawaiian theme with a grass skirt and lei. Not the most complicated costumes, but something to have some fun with pre-race and along the course.

We've got several friends that we've met at other travel marathons over the years who are also running London. Thus, it should be a good time to reconnect, have a good run, and drink some warm English beer. I can't wait.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Top Ten List

I received a bit of a shock today when I received an e-mail informing me that this blog made a top ten list of Triathlon & Fitness blogs. Now, I'm not familiar with this web-site or have any affiliation with, but I'm honored that someone even gave this blog consideration in such a list. As is stated in the posting, there are thousands of triathlon & fitness blogs on the web and it’s very much a case of personal preference. I've followed a cuuple of those that made the list.

It's kind of ironic in that I was coming off an injury in January and was seriously considering stopping the whole athletic blog experience. However, as I had already committed to and paid for a trip to London for the London Marathon, I kept at my recovery and training. In the past few weeks things went well enough that I felt the urge to start posting again.

If the top ten listing caused you to check out this blog, know that I'm a bit wordy and tend to write in a bit longer essay type format. I'm an age grouper, who tries to do the best that I can given the limitations that a busy life puts on my training. I love the sport of triathlon and the fitness and travel experiences I get as a dividend. We've got an active triathlon and running community in South Florida and I love living down here in Paradise. I'm not sure I'll be making that same statement as I train in the hot summer months.

If you like my style, be sure to check out my prior posts from last year at this blog and from my prior blogs. My listing of public followers isn't large, but I link my posts to my Facebook page which gives me a somewhat larger readership, at least amongst my friends. If you do like my postings, I'd ask that you follow the blog publicly so I can get a feel for whether anyone is reading my posts. Supportive comments are welcome. For any of my Facebook friends who would like to publicly follow my blog, you can do so by going to my blog at this link. Simply scroll down the right hand side of the blog and click on the "Follow" button, then follow the directions for publicly following the blog. Again, it gives me a feel for whether people read and like my blog. Nothing more. No e-mails or spam results from following a blog.

My upcoming schedule after the London Marathon is Florida 70.3 in mid-May. I'm registered for Ironman Coeur d’Alene in late June, but my participation in that event will be contingent on my continued recovery and ramp up in training for these first 2 events. I'll do some sprint and olympic distances over the summer, and finish the season in October with the Austin 70.3.

In any event, I am honored by mention in this top 10 list. I just hope my future posts are good enough to keep me off of a Letterman Top Ten List.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Nice Day for a Run Along the Beach

That was Sunday morning's caption for a picture of a couple running along A1a Saturday morning. It captured my feelings about having done my last long run before the London Marathon on Saturday morning along A1a with my wife, Salome. We started around 6 AM with Salome intending to run 12 miles and I planning on 15. A mile and change into our run, we come across our friend Miranda doing interval work with a running buddy in the dark along A1a near Sunrise Blvd. It takes us almost being face to face to recognize each other in the dark. As we get another mile south along A1a, we spot another friend, Chris Howard heading north in the dark on his bike to get to an early morning group ride. I think how it's only the very serious athletes that get out well before sunrise to start their workouts.

A1a curves toward the west to become the 17th Street Causeway. As we get closer to the Runner's Depot Store on 17th Street, we start coming cross more runner who are now getting out for a group run from the store. After we hit our 6 mile turnaround, it's light enough out for Salome to give me permission to go ahead at my own pace. As I run east and start heading up the 17th Street Bridge, I'm somewhat blinded by the rising sun, which causes me to pull my hat down low over my eyes to allow me to use the hat's bill as a shade. As I climb the bridge, I can only see the silhouette of runners climbing or descending the bridge. With the bright early morning sun, I can only make out distant dark shapes of runners in motion. It's looks like a work of art. As I descend the bridge I can make out some familiar faces of runners from a group that starts out of Holiday Park that I sometimes run with on Saturday mornings. As I come around the curve where 17th Street becomes A1a, I get a honk from a car that I believe is Miranda's. I wave back, wondering what she's got going on so early in the morning to have gotten home, showered and be driving down the road so quickly. Must be an after workout breakfast date.

As I head further north along A1a, I note how different the sidewalks look now. With the early morning sun above the horizon, the sidewalks are much fuller with runners doing shorter mileage and walkers out for a couple miles. Groups of cyclists ride by heading north for various lengths rides. The street and sidewalks are now a beehive of activity compared to the sparse singles and couples running in the predawn hours.

I cross paths with an old friend, Abe who lives in the condominium we lived in several years back. Abe is one of those fixtures in our running community who one inevitably comes to recognize along A1a because he runs it almost every day of the year. Everybody who runs near dawn either knows him or recognizes him. We high five each other for the third time in a week as we once again cross paths while running.

I get to the turn around of my northern loop near Oakland Park and head back south through a beachfront neighborhood where some of our other friends live. I cut through on the beach side of the Palm's Condominium to run the soft boardwalk that takes you along the beachfront. Coming north are our friends Manda and Andy out with their two dogs. "I see the dogs have decided to take you guys for a walk this morning," I say as I pass. "You got that right," they respond. The both have on bike jerseys having completed their early morning workouts before the dogs take them for a cool down walk.

As I hit the open beach road and into the unshaded portion of A1a just north of my Sunrise Blvd. turnoff, I decided that I feel so good this morning, that I'll run an extra few miles in the tree lined shade Birch State Park. As I start this 2.5 loop, I note a charity fund-raising walk about to start. "How nice," I think. I know that for many of these walkers this charity event will be their first steps into a more active lifestyle. As I hit the outward end of the park and circle around to the west side of the park, I can see my house across the inter-coastal waterway. It's always at this point in a run that I wonder if I couldn't just swim the half mile to my home instead of running the 2 miles that it will take me to leave the park, cross the Sunrise bridge and run back north along Bayview Drive to get home. Of course, it's a totally ridiculous thought that only comes to mind late in a long run. I finish the park loop, come out onto Sunrise Blvd. and cross the bridge to the mainland. In another mile, I'm almost home. Just before turning on my street for my last couple hundred yards, my Garmin beeps off my 18th mile.

Yes, it's taper time. Next weekend, I'll only run between 8 to 10 miles. I had no real reason to run as much as 18 miles this weekend, but the weather wasn't too hot and I came across a lot of my friends. I suppose part of it was just hitting my stride again in training and feeling good. Part of it was the realization that I love the shared experience of all the early morning athletes along A1a getting in their long runs and rides before the weekend's activities sends us all in different directions. Besides, it was just a nice day for a run along the beach.