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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 Fort Worth Cowtown Half Marathon

This past weekend (February 24-26), The Fort Worth Cowtown races were held.  I probably biased, but my adopted hometown nailed it is year!  Well done; well done indeed.

A few years back, I ran in the Half and recall slamming the entire race here on this blog.  It was too many races (5k, 10k, Half, Full & Ultra Marathons) with too many people going different directions.  It was a disaster and I didn’t return because of it.  They finally got it right by splitting the races up to utilize both Saturday and Sunday as well as returning for a second year to the Cultural District.  

With the 5k’s and 10k Saturday morning, I waited to hit the Expo on Saturday afternoon.  With more than half the 25,000 runners having completed their event already, I was surprised at the great turn-out.  Not too busy, but a healthy buzz inside Amon G. Carter Exhibit Hall at Will Rogers Memorial Center.  Hassle free pick-up and a nice variety of vendors.

Taking a welcome detour from my running mindset, I decided to take advantage of the locale and hit one of my favorite museums.  The Amen Carter Museum is a real treasure.  Not only because it is FREE, but it always has some wonderful exhibits.  I found myself spending way too much time in their feature exhibit (through May 13th) Romance Maker, the watercolors of Charles M. Russell.  The photography areas are always a treat for me as well.

Ok, back to the Report...Cowtown Half.

For a mere $5, participants and spectators were able to park extremely close to the start/finish by the Cattle Barns.  This allowed one to stay in the car until close to the gun in order to stay warm on this semi-chilly 41° morning. Porta potties were nearby if needed (always needed) and fairly ample..though one must always realize a race simply can’t provide one per person. 

The only danger of hanging in the car too long is getting in place at your starting corral in time for the start.  Bravo to Cowtown.  They didn’t make it so exclusive to enter and there was more than one way in and out of each corral.  They were spaced far apart and with entries on both sides of the street, spectators didn’t make it impossible to gain access.  Whether your in the car or waiting in line to use the restroom, getting to the proper corral at the last minute has been terrible at many of my previous events.  Easy access to the corrals gets people to be honest because they don’t feel stuck.  When it is jammed up, people simply don’t want to risk getting out of the corrals and moving to the right location for fear of not getting back in before the gun goes off.
RACE TIME

The race start was smoother than ever.  Other than a poor young gal who tripped around the quarter mile mark, the first miles were clean and not too cramped.  I actually had to be careful not too go out too fast because one could run fairly freely.  I was in corral #2, probably a little aggressive for me so I started near the rear of the group.

After 4 days of skiing and a few days battling a virus leading up to the race, my goal was to finish a minute or two over two hours.  I wanted to break 2 hours, but knew that would be unlikely.  I clocked the first mile too fast due to the free flowing crowd and downhill topography.  Unfortunately, I didn’t slow down much and was going out faster than I had ever done before.  I knew this was a mistake, but kept saying to myself “what if you’ve been too conservative in the past and your PR is just waiting for you to quit being a pansy in the first half.”  I am a stickler for negative splits at every distance.  It is not unusual for me to run my second half of the HALF two or three minutes faster that the first half.

Finally, I couldn’t throttle it back enough to make a different and decided I’d clock 9:10-9:25 minute miles until “the beast.”

I love this race.  The Cowtown 10k was my first ever road race some 19 years ago.  I was in love with the City and the Event from that day forward.  In the original days, you started and ended in the Stockyards.  They talk about races like New York and Chicago being a great way to get a taste for a town.  I will say that this race gives a great flavor of Fort Worth.  Tour the Cultural District, Neighborhoods, Stockyards, Downtown, Trinity River and much more for the marathon competitors.  Now that they have the logistics and site perfected, I can’t see how anyone in the DFW area would miss this event.

“The Beast” is my term for the long uphill trek to Downtown Fort Worth headed south on Main Street.  I love pain so I love this hill.  Great memories from races past with buddies crashing and burning only later to admit they didn’t handle the beast properly.  My effort was steady, but my training was clearly inadequate to simulate the climb.  Fairly steep and it just keeps coming.

After plowing on through a flat downtown we got to some downhill portions that I decided I needed to take advantage of to break 2 hours.  A PR was out of the question given the course, but I thought I could still muster 2 hours if I could hold on the last three miles.  During my 11th mile, I started getting some pain in my left knee.  ITBS is something I haven’t experienced in many years, but this felt eerily familiar.  Just then, the strangest thing happened.  A police officer stopped the race at an intersection...everyone was totally confused until an ambulance went by in front of us.  I didn’t hear of any major issues with any of the runners, but the stop did wonders for my knee (not so much for my time).

It was time to get moving again.  This was a goofy part of the course that winds through many streets.  I clearly didn’t do a very good job of cutting the corners because we hit the Mile 11 marker and I had somehow added .2 of a mile to the race.  I had been about .03 long on my Garmin up to that point, but I was really down when my watch said 11.33 at the marker.  So much for breaking 2 hours....

You’ve been there.  Fairly spent and trying to do the math on 2.1 miles and what pace you’d need to run to hit a certain time.  As soon as you think you’ve calculated it, you remember that there is no guarantee that the next 2.1 is actually 2.1 the way you’ll run it.  It might be 2.3 or 2.0...

At this point, I quit doing math and decided I’d just let go.  A lengthy downhill stretch during mile 12 helped me drop my pace into the low 8’s.  I was passing people like I was actually fresh wondering when I was going to completely crater.  8:10 for Mile 12 and suddenly the math made sense again.  I thought that I could run a mid to high 8 minute mile and change to get in...so long as I ran smart and the course and my Garmin were tracking a similar distance.

8:20 for Mile 13 and I was gassed.  Not wanting to look like death in sneakers, I quasi-sprinted to the finish in front of a huge crowd to finish with 1:59.14.  Boom!  I haven’t had time to go back and calculate my splits, but I’d guess that I maintained my negative split streak due to some solid closing miles.

I did log the time in my Race History chart and realized that this was my second fastest half marathon.  While still 1.5 minutes slower than my PR last October, I was thrilled with that discovery.  Great motivation to make this spring one of my best racing springs ever.

My knee is still a little tender and my quads are screaming from the downhill pounding, but I’m truly thrilled with the event.  It helps that I ran well...yet, I’m most thrilled with the way the Cowtown has transformed into the best large running event I’ve ever participated in during my 19 years of running.  I hope nobody reads this because it would be nice to keep this my “little” secret for the next few years.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Friday, February 24, 2012

Godly Sorrow

Regret & Repentance

“Godly sorry brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
- 2 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV)

Discovered this verse while doing my bible study last night and I wondered why it had never clicked for me personally in the past.  Heck, I’ve had more than my share of sins and excel at it today.  The Godly sorrow in the verse speaks not of God’s sorrow when we fail, it speaks of our sorrow for falling short of what we know we should do.

When we sin, we feel some level of regret.  I find the more I understand God’s desire for my life, the deeper I regret behavior that is disrespectful to God.  Deep regret should ultimately lead to repentance...not only asking for forgiveness, but altering our actions or circumstances so as not to repeat the sin.

Getting from Regret to Repentance can be extremely difficult.  It certainly may seem impossible for someone stuck deep repetitive in the sin.  Let’s face it, some sins just seem too fun to leave behind today when we believe we can do so tomorrow.  I don’t need to tell anyone about sin.

The good news is that we are given the strength to make that change and live true heartfelt repentance.

The second portion of the verse stating “worldly sorrow brings death” is more challenging.  If we fail to move from regret to repentance, the worldly sorrow and shame associated with sin remains in us.  This is an encouragement wrapped in a warning.  God is urging us to seek true repentance and not to dwell in regret and sorrow.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Say Goodnight Gracie

Yesterday was a day every pet owner hopes to avoid or choses to ignore.  When a sick pet has reached the end and you have to tell your Vet to go ahead.  “Put her down.”

Our dog of ten years, Gracie, developed some form of cancer many months ago.  A miniature schnauzer, she had become less than half her healthy weight at just over six pounds.  She was bones covered with a hairy skin.  Sad eyes and a balding nose.  Each test showed her white blood cell count increasing at an accelerating rate. 

She never really showed signs of suffering which made the decision so tough and why it probably wasn’t made soon enough.  Her only issues were her weight and well...chronic runny messes from her back side that were WAY too frequent.  Sadly, at times I would feel more sorry for myself having to clean up the nasty mess than for the poor dog who simply couldn’t help it.  Gracie, for this I am extremely sorry...but you have to admit it was pretty nasty.

In the end, it was clear that she would not make a miraculous recovery.  Her path was headed downward at an unknown rate.  It is possible that she might have hung on another few weeks or months, but at what point would her suffering finally become apparent?

My poor wife was at the Vet when the decision was made and she held Gracie one last time.  After numerous pets in our household, this wasn’t the first one to die.  Yet, you just never know how sad it is until they are in your arms for the last time.  

When I got up this morning, I attempted to do my normal routine.  I realized when I opened the door to the “pet wing” to let her outside that she wasn’t going to be there.  Her bed was empty and so was I.  This dog that I had cussed for months on end was no longer there.  I’m not going to miss the morning mess, but I will miss the dog.

We live life and see death.  It never gets easy...pet or person.  It never gets easy.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Year's Double

Allen, Texas - The New Year’s Double.  An inaugural event that was just too tempting to pass up when I first heard about it in early fall of last year.  I was likely getting ready for a half marathon and starting to feel a little cocky.  Surely, I could run a race on back to back days.  The real question was what distance those races would need to be for me to survive.  You could mix and match 5k, Half Marathon and Marathon as you wish on the morning of New Year’s Eve followed by the race New Year’s Day.

While I was tempted to throw in a full marathon as one of them, that seemed like much more than I could handle given my training history.  In my decades of running, I simply don’t do well after Thanksgiving.  I’ve held on to run the White Rock Marathon in early December, but that’s taper time and I like food and beverage way too much to take the month seriously.  It was decided.  Half Marathon on both mornings.  With registration completed, I was fully committed to do something I had not done in 18 years of running races.

Training seemed pretty obvious; back to back longer runs.  The second day would gradually build up from a short recover run to approx. 80% of the previous days mileage.  So, when I ran 10 on Saturday, Sunday would ultimately be 8 miles.  As with a lot of my training...I didn’t really stick to it very closely and only run the above combo a few times.  One thing I did do for a few months was increase my overall weekly mileage by about 30% by adding an extra run or two in during the week.

A few days before the event I was both excited and a bit nervous.  I knew the first leg was going to be fine and just blocked day two out of my mind.  My lack of ideal training was a little worrisome, but my plan was to forget a PR and just save plenty for the second race.

New Year’s Eve - Warm at 8:00 AM and I was slightly overdressed.  Walking the water stops and shooting for mid-9:00 pace the first half was comfortable.  Clearly many of the other runners were participating both days and the group was wonderfully friendly during a race.

How much to speed up on the second half was the question.  I opted to drop it to around 9:00 and then creep into the mid-8’s toward the end if I felt good.  Well, the warmth of a bright sun got to me a bit and I realized I was exerting much more effort than I wanted given the next day’s requirement.  I still finished with negative splits and a total of 2:02.21.  It was almost 5 minutes off my PR set back at the end of October.  I shouldn’t have been disappointed because I planned to be several minutes slower than a PR.   Yet, part of me thought I could nail 2 hours even with hopes to match it on day two.

Now the tough part.  New Year’s Eve with a race the following morning made for a great excuse to avoid any major social outings.  Unfortunately, we throw a fondue party for our teenage kids and their friends.  Lots of cheeses, fried meats and veggies, melted chocolate and adult beverages for...well...the adults.  I helped prepare everything as the primary cook in the house and got the kids rolling in fondue land.  I retired to my bedroom to read and nod off to sleep well before midnight.

New Year’s Day - North winds and 41F at race time.  This was significantly different from the previous day.  I wore similar layers and it turned out to be perfect.  Same basic plan with what I thought was a similar pace.  Ended up more than a minute slower on the first half this day out of pure caution I suppose.  Then, around mile seven, I realized that I felt fantastic.  How could it be so?  I still held back afraid I might bonk and this elation was simply a hallucination before death.  Finally, at mile 10 I cut loose and tried to get the rest paced in the mid-to-low 8:00 range and see how close I could get to yesterday’s time.  2:03.04 final time.  43 seconds.  43 seconds that I knew I could have shaved off if given the chance.  

I was obviously thrilled with the whole thing.  Two half marathons in two days!  My family had already deemed me as insane, but now it was official.  

A great metal each day and if you ran both days a commemorative plate to display them both in...great touch.  Support on the course was great each day.  It helps that it was a looped course, but having enough volunteers to cover those running the full marathon one or both days says a lot about great race organization.

I really only have one last thing to say on the whole thing:  Where do I sign up for next year?

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace