Sunday, May 20, 2012

Five states down in my '50 Half in 50 States' quest...?

A brief rundown on the half and full marathons I've completed to this point. Some good. Some bad. All 13.1 miles... um... except the two that were 26.2.

2009 Gasparilla Half Marathon (3/1/09) [Florida: State #1]
My first half marathon was a well-organized race in Tampa that was overshadowed (literally) by clouds, wind and rain. In what would become a trademark for me, I ended the race with negative splits (the second half was run faster than the first) because I wanted to be confident about finishing. As it was my first, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get to the end and feared bonking in front of the cheering throngs at the race's finale. A 10 mph headwind that completely disappeared at the turnaround point didn't help. Still, I ran a good race and finished in a full sprint in 2:09:45. All in all, it was a good experience and convinced me that I could complete a half in much less time. A two hour finish was reasonable. Now, all I had to do was commit the time necessary to train to get there.

Salt Lake City Half Marathon (4/18/09) [Utah: State #2]
For my second half marathon, I took a page from the Boondoggler's Handbook and tacked an extra few days onto a week-long work trip to Salt Lake City. I spent 5 days touring the Solid Rocket Booster factory at ATK and proceeded to wander Utah. I hiked through the Wasatch range (awesome) and took a trip to the pitifully small (but still awesome) Promontory Point location where the two sections of the Transcontinental Railroad were finally connected.

Since my work trip had me there anyways, I signed on to the SLC half to see how much I could improve on my time from Tampa. The race started at the University of Utah campus... months after they were screwed out a national championship in football. I felt their pain and agreed that they were royally boned. But, from there, it was a nice downhill for several miles before reaching the flatlands of the valley floor. The pleasantness of the downhills were, of course, offset by the elevation. I didn't notice it during the race, surprising given my history of asthma and rarely-above-sea level training, but it certainly affected me afterward. My muscles were so oxygen-starved that I found myself nearly unable to walk. I decided to catch a movie that night, and it was almost impossible to get up at the end.

The scenery was great and the people nice. If I truly hope to get through all 50 states, Utah would have been one of the last that I'd probably run. Instead, it was my second. I finished in 2:03:31, a more than six minute improvement from a month earlier, largely due to the fact that I had the confidence brought about by knowing I could actually make it to the end. So, I pushed myself a bit harder and started looking for the next race.

Rock 'n Roll Seattle Marathon (6/27/09) [Washington: State #3] 2:04:04

In what has become something of a tradition, I began pairing up vacations with races and my other obsession: baseball. I am well on my way to visiting every Major League Baseball park with only a handful left (if only they'd stop building new ones). So, I decided to combine a trip to rainy Seattle with a Mariners game and a race. The RnR Seattle was an inaugural race in '09 (NOT a 'first annual'... don't use that... it annoys me. It'd be like people in the 1920s calling WWI... "World War I." It makes no sense). Anyway, I landed at the airport and went straight to the night game at Safeco Field, a nice place to watch a game. Incidentally, I will always remember this game as the day that the world found out Michael Jackson died. RIP... respect.

The race itself started in the middle of some distant, Washington city with about 35,000 racers (both half and full started simultaneously) and wound its way toward the city and finish line. Though the organization at the starting line was... weak, the support along the way was great. A bald eagle perched in a roadside tree along the route was a highlight.This was the first race where I saw someone pull over to the side of the road and need EMT support. It's also when I learned what kind of people make up the ranks of marathoners.

I finished my race (2:04:04... slightly off my SLC PR, so I was annoyed) and was walking back to my hotel (across the route). Two girls sitting on a curb saw me and congratulated me on finishing. They had bibs on but no medals. "How'd you do?" I asked, curious. "Oh, we are running the full. We just stopped for a sandwich," they said. What!? These women had a backpack with sodas and a sandwich and were sitting on the curb, 14 miles into the race, and just chilling. That wasn't the image I had of a marathoner... so I thought, Hell, I can do that! Thus, the seed of 26.2 miles was planted. It'd be 9 months before I ran my own full, but I'd get there.

ING Philadelphia Distance Run (9/20/09) [Pennsylvania: State #4] 2:05:11
As in Seattle, I took the opportunity to explore one of our nation's oldest cities (I do have a minor in military history) and catch a Phillies game to check Citizen's Bank Park off the list. I am not at all a Phillies fan, so this was a long game. But, I had a hotel downtown next to some great sports bars. Since it was the weekend, I had baseball and college football all over the television. Unfortunately, my mighty Florida State Seminoles were playing out west at #3 BYU that weekend (Noles victory!). So, at midnight, when I should have been in bed resting for the race, I was drinking heavily at a bar. For what it's worth, this is NOT the way to spend the night before a race if you're trying to PR.

The Distance Run is a well-known half, and there was a wave start thanks to the crowded start line and 30K+ runners. The fact that American distance star Ryan Hall was running it only made it that much more crazy. Hall was 4 miles into the race before I even crossed the starting line, and it and the weather made for a long run. My late night on the eve of the race contributed to one of the worst bonks I've had running. I was on pace for a sub-2 hour finish, but I completely died around mile 11 and couldn't make it up, finishing in 2:05:11. Still, I was able to complete my fourth half marathon in a great city, and have the start and finish line at the famous Rocky steps. It was awesome. Also, the Museum of Art that those steps lead to? It's a must-see if you ever get to the city of Brotherly Love.

Los Angeles Marathon (3/21/10) [California: State #5]
This was my first marathon, but it counts for the "50 Halves in 50 States" goal. Those of you that might disagree... have never run a marathon. This race report I wrote after I returned from LA is here, but it's been a couple years since I ran it. So, I figured I'd do a little revisiting/revisionism.

In hindsight, I don't think I'm exaggerating to say this was one of the turning points of my life. I was in San Francisco working on a lunar satellite mission (LADEE... check it out. NASA stuff is cool...), and was in the heart of a self-renaissance of sorts. I was learning new things and traveling more. I was flying somewhere every other week, and the NASA leadership program that I was a part of was changing the way I looked at people and opportunities. So, I ran a marathon, and it was an accomplishment. Other people might say that my career with NASA, or my years playing baseball, or my advanced degrees were accomplishments. But, to be honest, I didn't find any of that stuff difficult. It didn't challenge me, it just... was. Give me the time to take the classes, and I can get a degree in anything. It's just time and money. But, running a marathon for someone that had seriously-bad asthma growing up and avoided running like the plague... well, let's just say that if you told 8-year-old me that he'd complete two marathons in his life (maybe more...), he'd have laughed in your face and kicked your shin. [Note: 8-year-old me was an a-hole].

Though the race had existed for years, they moved the start to Dodger Stadium for this year. As a Dodger fan, I was ecstatic. Starting behind the centerfield wall is something I will never forget. Unfortunately, the organization at the start was poor. The packet pickup the day before involved about 5 miles of walking for me (not something you want to do the day before running 26.2 miles). And, though it was 5am, the freeway was packed leading to the stadium. We actually GOT OFF THE BUS and walked to the top of the mesa, because traffic was at a standstill (again, not something you want to do before running 26.2 miles). The race itself wound through the sights of LA, but I was hurting so bad that I didn't notice many of them. It was record highs (~80) on the day, and I hadn't run much past 20 miles in my training. The last section was rough.

Turning onto Santa Monica Blvd and running the last half mile along the Pacific Ocean was a great sight... for so many reasons. And, as I turned onto the pier and saw it for the first time in my life, I crossed the finish line in 4:53:59. It was amazing. When you've accomplished something... really accomplished something, you can't explain it to people. I had it when I finished LA. I had it when I finished both of my GORUCKs. Now, I seek out things that will challenge me and will be memorable for years to come. I'm an experiencist. (The spell check informs me I just made that word up... whatever.). I won't spend $400 on an iPad, but I'll spend $2000 to travel to Colorado for 4 days in the mountains with Green Berets and fellow poor-decision makers, sharing drinks and memories. I won't spend an extra $5K to get a flashy sports car, but I'll throw down about $5000 in entry and travel fees to wander the world running races and experiencing new things. The LA Marathon will always be one of the great things I've done.

US Half Marathon - The Other Half (4/11/10)
Though the LA Marathon effectively crossed Cali off the list, I thought this would be a nice race given that I was living in SF and it would require little planning on my part. Admittedly, there would be hills on this course... many, many hills. But, you got a sweet medal and shirt proclaiming your completion of a race that spanned the Golden Gate Bridge. Though my training runs had me crossing it every other day, it would be nice to have some apparel proclaiming my accomplishment. That's how I roll.

Unfortunately, parking was a disaster and it was pouring when I got to the start line. There were only a couple thousand runners, but we were miserable. I gave serious thought to just going back to my apartment and bed (a drawback to races that you don't have to travel to reach... home is right around the corner and calling your name). But, I made it into the ranks of runners and was off. None of my training runs covered as many hills in the city as the course for the half marathon did as it meandered through the Haight-Ashbury district and around the Presidio and Golden Gate Park area. We crossed Golden Gate and had to get to the opposite (southbound) side of the bridge to go back... and, we did this by trail running down, under, and back up the other side. Many hills.  Many, many hills.

This was three weeks after my marathon. By all accounts, I should have been resting my body and mind. I hadn't done much training in the interim other than a few miles here and there to help stretch out my muscles. But, I'll be damned if I didn't PR over the hills of that city, finishing with a strong kick for the last mile and a dead sprint the last 1/4 mile. 1:59:19.  I broke two hours. Though I've run some 13.1 mile training runs faster since, this race is still my official PR for the half marathon. As I walked back to my car following the race, I raised a strong middle finger in the direction of San Francisco.

Screw you, hills.

Dublin Marathon (10/25/10) [Ireland: Country #2]
This was an impulse decision. As my time in San Francisco ran down, I realized that I was going to be losing the simple greatest benefit the city offered when I moved: the weather. Moving back to Florida meant heat and humidity for nearly 8 months of the year. In the past, this combination had made outdoor (and, sometimes, indoor) running completely impossible. If I was going to run another marathon, it'd have to be soon. So, which one? Well, I traveled to LA. Where should I travel to next? I chose Dublin. Why? Why the hell not?! Get off my back! Anyway, I asked around to my running buddies, and they all predictably balked at the chance to run Dublin.

My cross-country drive from SF to Florida was three weeks before the race. I ran 15 miles in Salt Lake City. I ran 18 in Kansas City. The roadtrip was a great experience and rivaled my completion of the LA race for its 'awesomeness ranking' in my life. Then, I trained in Florida for two weeks and jetted to Europe. I spent two days touring the country. I got out to Cork and the west coast... Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry. I went through Northern Ireland and saw Giant's Causeway. I wandered Dublin. It was great.

Then, I woke up to 32 degree temps on race day. It was cooooooooooold. Standing at the start line, I was afraid I'd lose feeling in my extremities. But, by the second mile, the sun had warmed up the city a bit (a 9 o'clock start time helped), and I was cruising. Support on the course was great. Running through the Irish capital and its suburbs was amazing. The sites were breathtaking, and the people were friendly. It wasn't fancy, but it was quaint. It was great. And, hearing my name and 'Florida' shouted over the loudspeakers as I crossed the finish line in 4:40, 14 minutes faster than my LA race was pretty cool. Plus, I ran the second half of the race a full 8 minutes faster than the first half. Back to those negative splits again. I'd run it again, but if I was going to do a Europe destination race... maybe Paris next time? I'll carry a white flag and run it backwards. (Boom... the French are cheese-eating, surrender monkeys!)

Space Coast Half Marathon (11/27/11)
The Dublin race is also known for giving me a brutal heel bruise. I stopped running for a time and stuck to lifting and swimming. It was frustrating, but I adapted to the new routine... sorta. I ran sporadically, but it was nothing like previous years. This was mostly in an attempt to give my foot time to heal. Well, it worked.. marginally, and I'm back to running. But, in the interim, the 40th Space Coast Half Marathon took place. I've always wanted to run it, but the fall months are tough since I hit all the FSU home football games. This year, it fit my schedule and had the added enticement of being the last year it was run during the Space Shuttle Program. Thus, the medal had a little bit more significance.

I was doing about 6 or 7 miles every couple days and not nearly in shape for a half, but I ran it anyways. I stuck to my plan of running the first half and run/walking my way back. Though, I had planned to run '6 miles and stop,' I pushed it to the turn-around point (it was an out-and-back) at the 6.55 mile mark. I struggled a bit on the way back, because I wanted to run but knew it would be a bad idea. Still, I sprinted the last half mile as I approached the cheering crowds and finished in 2:18:57. The post-race food (full breakfast?! Eggs and ham and bacon, oh my!) was great, but I passed in favor of fruit and drinks. Still, it was a nice race (~1000 racers) and worth the 45 minute drive at 4am to get there.

Fortunately, the medal is pretty much the coolest one I have, and the shirt rocks. Totally worth it.

There you have it. Six halfs and 2 fulls. Eight 'long' races under my belt (I've done numerous 5 and 10Ks), covering two countries and five states. Five more halfs on the calendar by the end of the year, and two more states. Which ones? You'll have to wait to find out...
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