Thunder Road Half Marathon

About 6 weeks before running the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October, one of my great friends from school, JFG, called me up to see if I would join him in his first half marathon in Charlotte.  He has come up to DC to see me a few times over the past few years, so I thought this would a be a great reason to head down South.  Just so happens one of my other great college buddies, Houska, also lives in Charlotte and is an avid runner as well.  I shot him a buzz in hopes he would line up for the Thunder Road Half Marathon beside us.  Of course he was down, and so everything fell into place for a perfect weekend of running, Southern hospitality, beer, and car bombs (the drink, not the terrorist act).

I got in Friday afternoon and killed a little time before JFG and Houska got off work.  Once they were able make a run for it, JFG picked me up and we drove the half marathon course.  Two things became very clear over the 13.1 miles in the car:  this course is very hilly, and there is a lot of money in Charlotte.  After that we all (Houska and the girlfriends) met up for the expo, grabbed our packets and a few other goodies, and went out to dinner.  JFG found a sweet little Italian place called Open Kitchen.  Someone said it was the oldest running restaurant in Charlotte, not sure if that’s true, but it was definitely a good choice.  Off to bed early, taking it easy before the race.

Race Day:

Last weekend was cold in Charlotte.  Typically I’m not bothered by the cold, but it was cold.  The kind of wet cold that just seeps through your skin right down to the bone.  That weather makes it hard to stand around in your running shorts waiting for the gun to go off.  I dress in long sleeves, gloves, and a hat, while JFG was in pants and Houska had on some compression sleeves to show off his guns for the wife lady.  Thankfully it only took about a mile for my body to warm up and get loose.

The Thunder Road was a combined start for both the Half and the Full marathons.  There were roughly 5000 half marathon starters and 1500 marathoners.  After running with over 30,000 MCM runners a few months ago, this felt very different, but in a good, personal way.  Like I mentioned before, this course was hilly.  While it never had any super steep climbs, I literally don’t think there was a flat stretch on the entire route.  It was constant up and down, up and down, which kept things interesting, but made it a little difficult to keep a consistent pace. The run, however difficult, is extremely beautiful.  Other than the first and last few miles of running through downtown, the entire course passes through neighborhood after neighborhood and giant tree lined streets.  The houses along the way are massive, offering nice distractions and views.  I never knew Charlotte had so much money.  It is a beautiful city.

The run itself went pretty darn well.  Houska took off, maximizing on the aerodynamics from his compression sleeves, searching for a PR (which he reached, almost breaking the 1:30 mark!), and JFG and I kept a great pace further back.  Despite the hills, we somehow ran about 20 seconds per mile faster than expected, crossing the line at a great time.

The race was well run, and all the runners really seemed to enjoy themselves.  The crowds were pretty good for a race this size, and the excitement was certainly high.  JFG’s and Houska’s girlfriends were great, cheering us on at a few different spots throughout the course.  As we turned off the marathon course around mile 12, I was extremely happy we were not running the full.  I’m sure the crowds quickly dwindled, and while I loved my marathons, this wasn’t the day.

Post Race:

As a gesture of kindness to my hosts, I’m not going to get into too many details about the post-race shenanigans, but here is the abbreviated recap:

  • 10:15am post race pumpkin ales
  • Individual showers
  • More beers and black bean burgers at Big Daddy’s Burger Bar
  • Poor ASU football showing on ESPN
  • Nap
  • Car Bombs at the Pub
  • JFG and I winning a bet
  • Houska buying more car bombs for losing the bet
  • Cosmic Karma  and pitchers of Foothills at Mellow Mushroom
  • Christmas Parties
  • Weird people in colorful wigs
  • Bed before midnight

Friends sure are fun, aren’t they?

Reflection:

I have to admit that the training for this half was a bit of a struggle.  The emotions went from post-marathon excitement, to burn out, to ‘man I don’t want to run in the cold’, to ‘man I feel slow’ in a matter of weeks.  In retrospect I probably wouldn’t register for a half so close to the marathon if I was running it by myself, but knowing that JFG and Houska would be there kept my head in it.  It was a great weekend and a great race.  If you have to chance to run Thunder Road, I would highly recommend it.

Marine Corps Marathon

Throughout nearly all 26.2 miles I was thinking about the story.  I was reflecting back on what brought me to this day, why I was trying to propel my body for so many miles, and how the completion would change me.  After all, what is the point if you don’t know the answers to these questions.  Instead of giving you a mile-by-mile breakdown of the race, I’d like to talk about what conclusions to this questions I cam up with, and what I learned in the process.

As you may know, this was my second marathon.  The motivation changed this go round, as I was no longer working to see if I could finish, but how I could finish.  I already knew that my body could carry me 26 miles, and that I had the will to push through some pain.  What I didn’t know was much faster I could move those legs, and if I could actually improve on my time.  This change in perception allowed me to focus on different workouts, bring in speed, tempos, and more focused mileage.  The road to the Marine Corps Marathon was not necessarily easier than Baltimore, but it certainly felt more at home.

To put it simply, this race can be summed up in two phrases.  A strong 20 mile warm-up, and a brutal 6.2 mile race.  After crossing over the bridge one last time going back into Virginia, I totally fell apart.  A big gust of wind came baroling down the Potomac, and a collective “Uhhh” came from the dozen or so runners near me.  About half of them started to walk right then.  My head was gone, my legs starting to feel like jello, and my back was killing me.  It was this point that I asked myself, “why are you doing this?”  I have to admit, the only answer I could come up with at the time was, “because you worked so damn hard to get here.”  That was enough.  That was enough to put one foot in front of the other, not to walk (even though a fat old man could have probably walked faster), and finish up the race.

As I climbed the last hill and saw Team Hay in the stands cheering me on to the finish, I started to whimper.  I can’t call it a cry, because I didn’t even have it in me to produce a tear.  It was then that I realized how this was going to change me.  Not only was I about to become a multi-marathon finisher, but I was about to accomplish something that for the longest 50 minutes of my life I had no desire to do.

Overcoming obstacles is usually one of those cheesy things that people talk about in motivational speeches, but for me, on Halloween day, it was real.  There is nothing more empowering than doing something you were not sure you could do.  It is addicting, awakening, and uplifting.  I not only ran 26.2 miles, but I did it over 15 minutes faster than the year before.

The hour or so following the marathon I felt like total crap.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to puke, pass out, or just straight die.  But after a few minutes of sitting down, a banana (thanks sister), and some support from my family and KFB, the feeling of total physical emptiness quickly because a feeling of great pride and warmth. It was just a few hours later that I had forgotten how horrible the last 50 minutes felt, and how much I can’t wait to do it again.

A few things I learned with this year’s race:

  • Great fans go to great lengths to hunt you down.  Team Hay caught me 7 times!  They were all over this city.
  • When you start speeding up a little, and pass the pacer carrying the balloons, you can really surprise those fans as they are not expecting you.  Felt kind of good!
  • If you notice several people yelling, “hey nice hair!” It probably isn’t you, and it probably is a guy wearing a wig coming up behind you…so don’t get self conscious.
  • Don’t let, “I’m feeling good” fool you…because you probably wont be “feeling good” later.
  • Running a home marathon is great.  You feel connected, it is easier when you know the course, and you are proud it is your city.  Plus you get to go right home after the race.
  • You can do it!  And next time, you can do it even faster.

This weekend tens of thousands of people will fill the national mall.  Somewhere between 30,000 and 1,000,000 (depending on who you ask) people from all walks of life will come to town for the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive.  Just one day later, I’ll be joined by 29,999 runners and another 20,000+ fans to pass through the same streets of downtown DC for the 35th Marine Corps Marathon.  This is will inevitably be one hell of a weekend.

While you might not think so at first, these two events are actually a perfect match.  Let me tell you why.

What they have in common:

In both marathon training and politics, I’ve come to realize that a healthy balance of both fear and sanity are necessary for success.  Living/running/governing in constant fear would not only be completely miserable, but ineffective.  Living/running/governing in total calm would not only be boring, but would never allow for growth.  It is the sanity that comes from routine that has  laced up my shoes each evening, and the fear of failure that has pushed me to run harder on all those runs.  These two events allow for both sanity and insanity in each of the participants lives.

Nothing is more insane than traveling from God knows where to rally for sanity…except maybe training for months to run in a giant 26.2 mile circle.  That is, until you think about the state of our insane political atmosphere, and how much we need to rally for something so basic as sanity.  Or until you think about how marathoning has made me in the best shape in my life, allowed for the clearest head I’ve ever had, and made more more happy than any other activity I am doing right now.

They are also bringing people together, to share in a moment.  What started as a mock rally to make fun of Palin/Beck, has turned into a moment for so many Americans to say, “Yes, the current political atmosphere is absolutely ridiculous, and we need to move on.”  The marathon is doing something very similar.  Any of the 30,000 people who will be running on Sunday could run the 26.2 miles by themselves, but they don’t.  They choose to share that moment of accomplishment together.  Because together, these moments will be that much greater.

What they can learn from each other:

Sign by Foreskinandsevenyearsago

Signage is something that Stewart the the Rally to Restore Sanity team has really been boosting.  Signs like, “Hellbent on Giving Freedom a Cupcake,” “I may disagree, but I respect your opinion,” and “Who wants to visit some museums?” will be waving all over the mall.  Stewart even promised rally comers that if they didn’t bring a sign, he would have one for them.  While many marathon fans will have a sign of their own, the creativity and number of signs will most certainly be less.  The runner’s fans should really take a page from the rally playbook and bring out the signs.  If nothing else, at least they will have something to play with while waiting 4 hours for a 30 second view of their runner.

Noise, on the other hand, is something that race watchers have down pat.  Along the 26.2 miles, they will bring anything from a boombox to a bullhorn.  Marching bands, cheerleaders, jazz quartets and cover bands will be spaced throughout nearly every mile.  Even Team Hay will clanging cowbells and blowing vuvuzelas.  I’ve been to a few rallies, and weak random chants, a few awkward songs, and random shouts of “Sanity!” just wont cut it.  Bring your pots and pans, bring your noise makers, and keep that party going.

Training for this marathon has been a roller coaster of both fear and sanity.  In a lot of ways, it has been so much easier than last year’s training for Baltimore.  I have felt stronger.  I have stayed injury free.  It has been much easier to keep to my regular schedule.  In other ways, I’m full of fear.  I now know I can run 26.2, but can I run it faster this year?  What if I DO fail?  I’ll have no excuse.  Am I too comfortable?  Is my head in the right place?  These are all questions that have kept running through my head.  In the final days leading up to this marathon, I’ll be consumed with both emotions, and I know they will feed off each other only to make me stronger.  On Saturday I’ll be at the rally restoring America’s sanity.  On Sunday I’ll be running the marathon restoring my own.

Will anyone else be joining me at both?

It is officially that time of the year again. The leaves are changing, the temperatures finally dropping, the Chicago Marathon is now behind us, and my favorite pumpkin ale is in the fridge.  Fall has to be my favorite time of the year.

This past weekend, KFB and I joined two other friends for a night of camping up in Shenandoah National Park.  Our friends decided to get out of town on Friday night, but I had a long run and KFB was teaching a yoga class Saturday morning, so we took off early Saturday afternoon.  I’ve been hiking through the Shenandoah Valley since high school, and it just never gets old.  The beautiful Skyline Drive, especially during this season of fall foliage, always gives me this since of calm.

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The Marathon Boy
Marathon Boy by Egui_

Welcome to the Friday link series.  Check out what I’ve been reading this week in the world of running, craft beer, and food.

  • Not one, not two, but FOUR new DC breweries will be rolling out kegs in 2011.  3 Stars, DC Brau Brewing Company, Chocolate City Beer, and Black Squarel Brewing Company.  Sounds freak’n awesome, but can DC handle all that good beer?
  • Dean Karnazes wants to know if Pace Teams really work at marathons.  He doesn’t seem to think so.  Anyone ever tried them?
  • Aren’t chips supposed to be loud? Hard to believe people can’t handle a little noise for the environment.
  • The Marathon not long enough for you?  Try running an Ultra.  NoMeatAthlete has a great post how you can train for an Ultra and still have a life.
  • Guess what!  The Marine Corps Marathon is only 15 days away! Can’t wait!

The opening ceremony for Washington NationalsIt doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was sitting in the upper deck of a sold out Nationals Stadium watching Obama throw out the first pitch.  It was the home opener and spirits were high.  Sure, I don’t think a fan in the park thought the Nationals would win the pennant, but we all hoped to see an improvement from last year. Last Wednesday night I hit the park one last time for the season.  KFB, Kareem and I grabbed some beers, loaded up on nachos, and took our seats right behind 3rd base.  The stadium was pretty empty, with more Phillies fans than Nationals.  We all knew the Nationals didn’t amount to anything, yet again, but we were still there, waving our hats and happy to watch some baseball. After watching the Washington Natioanls throughout the season, I can’t help but draw connections to training.  Might seem a bit funny (I do love odd analogies, after all), but let me break it down for you.
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Well the time has finally arrived! The Hay Say has officially grown up, dropping his training wheels and leaving the .wordpress behind. Welcome to the new and improved Hay Say, I hope that you like it! You’ll still have access to all of the previous posts here at www.thehaysay.com, so there is no need to go back to the old site!

As far as content, The Hay Say will pretty much stay the same, continuing it’s focus on running, local food, and homebrewing beers. I hope to have the beer section up and running in the next few days. One thing is for sure, you can expect more regular, hopefully higher quality posting. If you are going to take the time to read The Hay Say, I want to make sure it is worthwhile.

So sit back, pop open a homebrew, and enjoy the new site. Any and all feedback is welcome! Always want to hear what you think.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the facebook page for updates!

So you registered for a race several months ago.  You found a training plan, plotted your strategy, and got to work.  Before you knew it, the training consumed you.  You found yourself talking about last weekend’s long run to all your friends, reading running blogs during your lunch break, and laying in bed thinking about tomorrow’s tempo.  Week in, week out, you train harder, get stronger, and come closer to your goal.  Then it hits you, and you get a little bored.

All of a sudden, the routes become a bit monotonous, you would really love a Saturday morning to sleep in, and the thought of a 20 mile run sounds a lot less exciting than going out with your friends.  But unfortunately for you, just when things get a little tough, you really need to be stepping it up.  So how do you keep going?  What keeps you motivated?

With both my first marathon and the one I’m currently working towards, I’ve done nearly all the training on my own.  While I’ve had family, friends, and a GF to lean on through the good times and the bad, it has been up to me to get out of bed and onto the road.  Some of you might be on you own like me, or maybe you have a running team, but either way, training can be very tough.  Keeping up that high energy and motivation is crucial.

Here are a few good ways I’ve discovered to help keep myself motivated.

Read: When you’re not actually running, why not be reading about running?  Usually books and magazines don’t talk about how horrible something is (and if they do…put it down), they build it up!  Which is exactly what you need.  I subscribe to Runners World and the Washington Running Report.  Both give great racing tips, interesting stories, and new techniques to help out with your running.  A few great novels, if you haven’t read them already, are Born to Run and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Watch: Nothing better than a good motivational running movie.  I recently watched Spirit of the Marathon with KFB.  It followed around 8 runners as they trained for the Chicago Marathon.  The runners ranged from elite to first timers, each with a unique story that brought them to the marathon.  It was a great reminder about why I love to run.  Another good running movie is Prefontaine, the amazing story about Steve Prefontaine, a record holding track runner.  I also try to watch all Ironman and Marathon coverage on NBC Sports.  Nothing makes you want to get off the couch and onto the trail more than a movie or show that makes you feel lazy.

Talk: This one is a no brainer, but I often find myself embarrassed to bring it up.  Don’t forget to keep talking about your training!  Share your excitement with your friends and family and they will get just as excited.  It always feels great when someone asks you about how many miles you did that week, or how many weeks left before the big race.  You have nothing to be embarrassed about, you are training for a race!

Ultimately, all training lies solely in your hands, which can be very scary.  Once you lose that motivation, your miles will start to fall flat.  Keep up the motivation, and keep running.

So how do you stay motivated to keep up your training?  Any other books or movies you would recommend?

I’d like to take a minute and first thank everyone for reading The Hay Say!  I hope that you enjoy what you see.  The Hay Say has recently added a couple of new features that you might enjoy.

First off, for all you Facebookers out there, you can now ‘Fan’ The Hay Say and get updates, links to fun articles, and share anything you wish!  You can do that by following this Facebook Link or by clicking the Facebook icon in the top right.

Another new feature is the Subscribe button to the top right.  You can now subscribe to the blog and have everything delivered directly to an RSS reader or straight into your e-mail inbox!  You’ll never miss a post if you subscribe.

One of the things I’m really excited about developing is a collection of all my running routes around DC.  I’ll be mapping them from generic locations in Columbia Heights and the U St. area, so that other people can use them or modify them if they are looking for a new route.  The collection will be compiled on Map My Run, and you can link to any route or share some of yours with me if you like.

And last but not least, a little plug for my twitter account.  Don’t forget to follow!

Thanks!

Keep running, keep drinking, keep eating, and keep living local.

Parks Half Marathon Course Map

I should start by saying one thing, this was just my second Half Marathon.  While I’ve run 13.1 miles many times in training, I haven’t raced that distance since I was in high school.  Back when I didn’t really run and wasn’t in shape, my family decided it would be fun to run the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  I crossed the finish line in just over 2:00, but came close to death in the process.  If you have ever run a Rock and Roll race, you know what is involved.  Lots of people, lots of music, and lots of distractions.  All of which can be great.  All of which are meant to take you away from what you came there to do.

The Parks Half Marathon was nothing like the Rock and Roll.  And it was awesome.  This race didn’t have cheerleaders at every mile, it didn’t have bands blasting throughout the race, and no Team In Training filling the masses.  There was no finishers medal, just a beanie with the race’s logo on it.  Instead what you had was just you, 13.1 miles of trail, and only about 2500 other racers.

The course is easily the most beautiful route I’ve run in a race.  After the first few miles of road, added mostly to allow for the pack to separate a bit, you file into Rock Creek Park and stay in the park the rest of the way.  I run a lot of my weekly miles through Rock Creak, but never make it to the northern part.  This section of the park is definitely my new favorite.  Nearly all of the 10 or so miles on the trail was far from any roads, deep under tree coverage, and extremely peaceful.

As you can see from the elevation chart below, most of the course is at a slight downgrade.  This allowed for fast starts and quick strides.  I went out a little harder than usual, feeling good and strong.  Somewhere around mile 5, I started feeling that speed a bit.  While I was still feeling good, I was concerned about my pace and knew that the climb was coming during the last few miles.  By mile 8 my legs were beginning to hurt.  For a second I considered slowing down, fearing to push myself too hard in the middle of my training.  Then I had an epiphany, and it sounded a little something like this, “Doug, you’re running a half marathon race, of course you are getting tired, and of course you are starting to hurt.  This is 13.1 miles!  Now get your ass into gear and move, damn it!” (yeah, I swear a lot in my head while running…).  Well it worked.  I picked up my pace even more and held steady through the finish line.

The race was rainy, full of mud, and farther away from DC than I thought, but I’ll definitely be running it again.  You just can’t beat the course or the vibe from the other runners.  It was everything distance running should be.

The Elevation Chart