Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kalamazoo Marathon Pace Report

I moved to Kalamazoo right out of college. In my two years there, I met quite a few good friends. Turns out, Kalamazoo decided to host its first Marathon on May 8th this year. What a perfect excuse to go back and visit some old friends while feeding my running addiction. I made plans to attend the event several months ago. A last minute work trip to Sweden required me to fly into town directly from Europe, and run the Marathon a day and a half later. Because I’d already had a busy race schedule in May. I decided it would be a smart move to take it easy and pace my good friend Ed in his first marathon.

Upon arrival, Ed started to insist that I participate in the "Pump & Run" competition. No, it’s not a sex act. It is a weightlifting-running combination competition. They put 80% of your weight (130 lbs for me) on a barbell, and every bench press repetition gets you two minutes off of your marathon time. You lift at the Expo the day before. The lifting area is manned by a bunch of Army Reserves. They grunt and yell encouraging words like "Lock it Up!" I was intimidated, but being a good sport, I went along with it for Ed's amusement. I was predicting one rep, but somehow managed six reps. The lowest total of all competitors!!!! The last rep was a struggle, I tell you. I was worried I was going to pop a blood vessel in my eye. This is the most weight I have ever bench pressed.
Look at the fear in my eyes.

"Lock it up!"

Kalamazoo is not a huge city. I found it absolutely amazing how many townsfolk were running in the marathon. Everywhere I went on Saturday, it was all the town was talking about. I have a feeling this race is here to stay. I personally had more than five friends running the race. Ed, the awesome friend he is, invited all of my old friends over for dinner on Saturday night for pasta, drinking, and catching-up. Sidewalk chalking was also on the menu, as the marathon actually ran right in front of Ed's house the next morning. It was a great catch-up with some old friends, however, I had to bite my tongue a bit when I was informed that two of my friends were going to attempt to run their 1stmarathon in Vibram 5-fingers. To each his own, I guess.

I miss these people

I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, surprisingly energized. I was expecting a gnarly case of jet-lag, but somehow felt great. Ed's A-Goal was to run 3:15 (a Boston Qualifier). His B-Goal was to finish. Good goals. Pre-race was uneventful. We said hello to a bunch of friends, and before we knew it, we were off. The starting area was crammed as both the half and full marathons started at the same time. We found ourselves standing around for a good couple of minutes before crossing the starting line, and had to deal with quite a crowd for the first several miles.
Bib-check, Beer $-Check, Energy chews-Check, Highland Scotch-Check

Chilling Pre-race. I'm the only one who slept well the night before.

As we ran through downtown at around mile 5, I had my crowning moment of the day. Depending on the race, pacers can have various responsibilities. One universal pacer responsibility is to keep your runner going in the right direction. This sounds like an easy task for a road marathon in a city that has crowds and signs everywhere. I pounced on the only opportunity to get lost during the race. As we were running through downtown, I was busy taking pictures and led Ed and my friend Matt onto the 1/2 marathon route, as the full route went off in the other direction. Luckily, Ed had some wits about him. He stopped, yelled at me, and ridiculed me for the next couple miles. Besides that little bump, the race was going quite well.
Behind the back action shot... as I ignored the turnoff for the marathon.

The 10 mile marker was likely a good 1/4 mile late, causing me to get confused, as I picked up the pace trying to gain back the two minutes that we somehow had lost. Luckily, Mile 11 was right on target. We came through the halfway point about a minute up on our goal time (1:36, I believe). This was a PR for Ed. I assured him all the cool kids are setting half marathon PR's while running a marathon (ref. Boston Marathon 2011).

Setting a 1/2 marathon PR. Always a good strategy.

Everything was smooth sailing until about mile 17. Here Ed started developing a side stitch. It went away around mile 19, but by that time a side stitch was the least of Ed's worries. I won't go into a lot of detail here, because Ed still had a great race and should be proud of his effort. I'll just say that he had a rough first introduction to "The Wall". There was some cramp stretching, some
walking, some cursing, some moaning. But there was also plenty of smiling, laughing, cursing, and joking. It became apparent around mile 20 that Ed's A-goal likely wasn't going to happen. I yelled at him at this point, as it meant that we likely wouldn't be able to hang out in Boston next spring.
Oh, the wall. Been here before. Note: this is no a dramatization. He really ran like that for over a mile.

The closest we came to trail running

I am not coordinated enough to be attempting this. Almost done.

It was a photo finish, but from the overpriced race photos, it looks like I got out leaned at the line. We finished just over 3:30. Pretty impressive for a first marathon from a late 30's
guy wearing compression socks.

I let Ed lay around in the grass moaning for about 45 minutes before insisting we go drink. Before heading to the beer garden, we enjoyed some post race Scotch. It was rough, but I'm contemplating making it a tradition. It seems so sophisticated. The beers were a bit weird, as they were from a local microbrewery who may want to work on their QC.

Post race beers!

After some relaxing, Ed and I decided to go track down our friend Danica and her mother who were running the marathon together. We found them about a mile from the finish. The Police Car of Doom was no more than 100 yards behind them. If it caught up to them, they'd be forced to get in and wouldn't be allowed to finish the race. Ed and I jumped in and kept them company and encouraged them to the finish. I don't care what anybody says, running a 6 1/2
hour marathon is just as hard as running a 3 hr marathon. They showed a lot of heart seeing it through to the end.

2 Generations of Hernandi finishing.

Check out the 5-fingers on the younger Hernandez. She proved me wrong.

Following a little more scotch, and a nice shower, I was headed back to Chicago for my flight home. The sorest part of my body was my arms. Before I left, Ed was already talking about the next marathon. I have no doubt he'll get that 3:15 goal. Maybe we'll see each other in Boston next spring after all.

Getting Lost in the (Swedish) Woods

I had the exciting opportunity to visit Sweden a few weeks back for some work
training. I had one extra day to do as I pleased. The logical choice was a nice, long trail run in the Swedish backcountry. A friend and colleague of mine, Mattias, met me for a few beers the night I got in and we reviewed a nice, well marked trail that more or less traverses the western coast of Sweden from north to south. The Swedish name for the trail is the Bohusleden Trail. I believe a rough translation is "running around in circles" Trail. The website for this trail has perhaps the best user interface I have ever experienced in a park website. I went to Sweden armed with a series of topos, with the trail well illustrated, and locations of interest marked. Plus, Mattias promised me it was one of the most well marked trails on the planet. All I had to do was follow the orange marking.

Actual photo from my run. You can see 5 trail markings in this photo alone. It's nearly impossible to get off trail.

The plan was to hop on a bus in the morning and take it 35Km (yeah, I'm gonna be annoying and report everything in km for this post) north to an old fortress that used to sit on the Swedish-Norway border a long time ago. From there I'd run back to the hotel. If any of my trail running partners are reading this right now, they are likely cringing. It would be an understatement to say that I am somewhat directionally challenged. I know this, and wouldn't have taken on such
an endeavor if I weren't so well prepared.

I got to the fortress around 9:30 in the morning, 1.5 hours before it opened. I decided to run a few km north along the trail, and then head back to the fortress for a tour. The trail was quite breathtaking. It ran up and down forested rolling hills, passing through several homesteads and such. Early season wildflowers were in bloom. I felt like I was running through some enchanted forest. I was so enchanted, in fact, that I totally lost track of time and ended up going about 8-9
km north before remembering to turn around.

The Bohus Fortress. Parts of it are over 700 years old.

I kept expecting to run upon a cake house with a cannibal witch inside.

There were miles and miles of these stone walls. I can only imagine that they were built by hand hundreds of years ago.

I made it back to the castle around noon. I did the tourist thing for about 45
minutes. I was a bit bummed that all of the dungeons were barred shut, but
overall the fortress was pretty sweet. Shortly after the fortress tour, I made my
first really boneheaded decision. Up until this point, I never went more than 50
yards with out seeing a trail marker. For some reason, I justified running about 1-
2 km without seeing a marker. I was obviously going in the wrong direction. Once
I finally gave into logic, I backtracked and eventually found the correct trail. It
was now about 1:30pm, and I had covered maybe 1km out of the 35km I needed
to cover to get back to my hotel.

Obligatory weird architecture shot for Popes.

I ran up a hill, through a small town with some cool buildings before once again
finding myself on some pretty sweet single track. About 5km from the fortress I
came upon one of the most confusing signs I had ever seen in my life.

I really hate this sign. A lot.

The Swedish language likes to jam entire sentences into a single word. Looking
at my map, I could see that I needed to run through a place called "Vattlefjall".
The problem was that the majority of this word was included in the descriptions
for both directions. To complicate things, both trails were marked in orange. I
justified that "Vattlefjallsleden" was the wise choice, and off I went. I followed
this trail though some fantastic single track, which likely contained over 1km of
boarded trails over marshy areas. Those Swedes take care of their trails.

I got a bit bored in this section of the trail.

About an hour later I came upon another sign. This sign pointed in two
directions. Both directions were labeled "Bohusleden". Well, F@ck. Now what
to do? I stopped briefly, decided to trust my instinct, and headed off in the
absolutely wrong direction. About 45 minutes later I ran by the exact same sign
shown above. And by "ran by," I mean, I actually went a good minute or two
down the trail before it dawned on me that I had just ran a huge circle and was
heading back towards the damn fortress.

I took the picture you see above as I ran by the sign for the third time. If you
look closely, you can see a red and white flag hanging from the sign. That is an
international orienteering waypoint flag - oh the mocking irony.

"You're going the wrong way Jackwagon"

I would revisit this section of trail a few hours after taking this photo.

By this time it was a good six hours into my run and I had covered maybe 5km
of the 35 km I needed to get back to my hotel room. I decided to follow the
correct trail south and see how many more stupid decisions I could make. I
was somehow still having a great time. The scenery likely had a lot to do with
it. If there is a place to run around in circles like an idiot, this was it. I ended up
running maybe another 10km until I came to a small village outside of Angered.
I stopped at a local shop and picked up a $3 Coke and some weird cookies. There
was a major bus-stop by the shop, and I recognized the stop for my hotel on
one of the route descriptions. It was about 5pm at this time, and I decided the
prudent thing to do was to bail and ride the bus back to the hotel. In all, I think I
covered about 55km (34M) in about 8 hours, but was still a good 20km from my
hotel. I am proud to say it is one of my more accomplished getting-lost efforts to
date, and I've had a lot.

Views like this helped me keep my sanity

I passed a few of these shelters along the way. They are open to the public on a first come basis. I was convinced I may be staying in one of these at a certain point in my adventure.


Yeah, I should grow up... sounds painful though.

This post is long enough already, but in case you're not bored yet, below are some touristy photos from my trip.

A Mussolini Urinal. Yeah, you're supposed to piss on him.

My Swedish Friends

The bar of the night. I'm not fluent in Spanish, but I did work construction for a summer. This is one of the phrases I did learn.

No European story is complete without a disco tech photo.