Monday, June 29, 2015

Victoria Falls Marathon

Since before I moved to Zambia, I looked forward to running the Victoria Falls Marathon. For a while, I wavered about the plan for the race; would I "race" it, or would I "run" it? By "race" it, I mean, would I train to run it fast and work to the goal of beating my PR (personal record) of 3:24; or would I run it (just enjoy the run)?

In August, I met a fellow school parent/runner, Johan, and we began running together after school drop off on Tuesdays and Fridays. Somewhere along the line, Johan decided he wanted to train for his first marathon, which would be Victoria Falls. Coupled with the fact that he would be returning to Sweden to live, this made up my mind; my goal became to run the race with Johan and to help him complete his first marathon.

After long training and multiple long runs, we decided on a goal time of four hours...

The run started with a drive to Victoria Falls, camping overnight Friday night, carb-loading spaghetti for lunch, an easy shake-out jog Saturday evening, no pasta at the restaurant on Saturday evening (even though the waiter assured us that the pasta was very good), and camping on the floor of Johan and Klas's hotel room on a leaky air mattress (I reinflated it three or four times during the night).

Sunday morning, I ate a bowl of oatmeal and an orange, drank half a bottle of Mountain Dew, and went down to the start line (right outside the hotel). It was nice being right there before the race; I reached the start line only 10-15 minutes before the gun and was in perfect time to start. I met a fellow Northwestern Wildcat who was also hoping to break 4 hours in her first marathon and a couple of other fellow runners and then the race started.

The first thing we did was go downhill to the Victoria Falls Bridge into Zambia. I worked hard to keep our pace slow - it would have been easy to go out way too fast, as our legs were fresh, it was downhill, and there is a lot of energy and adrenaline at the start of a race. The plan was to run even 5:40 kilometers (that's about 9:06/mile), but for the first kilometer or two, 5:25 would be excusable. The bridge was incredible, especially seeing the view of the falls, and well before the turn-around, we saw the elites heading toward us. They are so fast. When I saw the guy who was in first, I told the others, "He won't win." Funny thing, when we saw the front-runners later, I never saw him again. You could just see that even if he had a good 5K, he didn't have that for 42.2.

We followed the route back into Zimbabwe, on a curvy road through the National Park (there was elephant poop everywhere - apparently some runners who were back a ways got mock-charged by an elephant while running!), and up lots of hills. All along, I kept checking my Garmin to make sure we were right around 5:40.

The water stops were plentiful, where they'd give out little sealed baggies of water. I saw one guy struggling, trying to open it with his hands. The key was to rip it open with your teeth. I managed to hydrate really well - in fact, I have never, ever had to pee as many times as I did along this course. Funny thing; at about the halfway point, I felt something sticking in my ankle; I thought it was just my sock bothering me, but after the race, I found that I had picked up some little thorns in my sock on one of my bathroom breaks!

The first half went by in just seconds over 2 hours. About this point, I was experiencing some serious tightness in my left hamstring. I decided to just forget about it, which turned out to be the best thing. I had to laugh when I felt better at 30k than I had at 20k.

The kilometers just kept on clicking by, right at 5:40. Along the way, I saw baboons, warthogs, and even a donkey (I think it was tame, though). The water stops began serving Coke or Fanta as well - I loved having Coke breaks (I actually walked with the Coke cups). I also ate a pack of Gu Chomps - I'm a little embarrassed that I've had these for as many years as I have; I bought them at least 4 years ago. They were a little hard and extra chewy, but that was good, because it meant they lasted longer in my mouth. When I was getting ready to eat my first one, however, a guy told me, "You'd better watch out; there are baboons ahead." I stuffed the bag back in my pocket, and I was glad I had, because they are quite aggressive.

We did a couple of loops, it got hot, and there were a couple of major uphills. On one of these, right about 35km, Johan hit the wall. For those of you who have run this distance, you probably know how he felt. I tried working with him "This is less than our loop from the school," but there's nothing anyone else can do to get you through it, and though he didn't quit, he urged me to go ahead.

 I decided if I was going to go ahead, I was going to push the pace. The other hopeful 4 hour runners had long since dropped back, so I was on my own. I wish I'd counted roadkills; I was picking off runners left and right. In fact, nobody passed me. Not even one runner (now, to be clear, I was overtaken while drinking Coke, but I re-passed every one of them). It was just one after another, and I loved it.

My pace started dropping, down under 8 minute mile pace for the final 7km. There was a period where we went down a long straightaway through a residential area, and that was boring and hot and I just concentrated on catching other runners.

I knew that the 41st kilometer would be the toughest, as it was entirely uphill, yet I still managed to drop the pace. The finish itself was a little unclear, as I came upon an area full of cars and lots of runners who had finished their half marathon race. But the course turned back into a school, where a fellow Lusaka runner told me, "Save a little; the track goes around a long way." I figured I could keep the pace, especially when I saw how close I was to 4 hours so I ran hard, with my Garmin registering a top speed of 5:30!

I crossed the finish line at 3:59:46!

At the finish line I was given a bottle of water (that's the last thing I wanted at that point) and my medal (pretty cool design) and told to "sit here and wait for your shirt" (in the sun). I waited. They didn't have my size (M). Or small. So I got a large one.

There was no free post-race food or anything other than the bottle of water available, and I didn't have any money, but a friend lent me some, with which I bought apple juice, which tasted fantastic.

Johan and Klas finished shortly after I did (I believe Johan made it in 4:10, which was fantastic, especially for how hard he hit the wall). I made it back to the hotel and soaked my legs in the pool for a while.

The best parts of the race: I negative split. I've never managed that, not in any marathon. It wasn't a huge difference (2:00:35 for the first half, 1:59:11 for the second), but it was cool. I also nailed hydration and nutrition during the race. And passing so many people without being passed? That was the most incredible feeling.

It was also cool to have such great support from the Lusaka runners. Lusaka Fitness Club and Lusaka Running Club made a great showing and it was amazing to have them all cheering and all the camaraderie.

After the race, and after cleaning up and eating, it was time for an all-night drive back to Lusaka (definitely the low point of the whole adventure).

This was night-and-day different from the Lafarge Lusaka debacle in March. A great marathon experience.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mizuno Wave Sayonara Review

Notice that When my favorite training shoes (Asics Sky Speed) were discontinued, I had to find a new go-to high mileage trainer. The Facebook group "Running Shoe Geeks" overwhelmingly pointed me to the Mizuno Wave Sayonara. 

I was in Columbus and stopped in Roadrunner Sports and they did a whole gait analysis and determined that, yes, Sayonara would be a good match. But they didn't have any. 

Finally after waiting a while, I found a pair online (no discount) and bought them. As soon as they arrived, I wore them on a quick run. I loved them. No break-in time. Fit was amazing. Firm underfoot but not clunky. And fast. Did I mention that I felt fast in them?

The problem is with durability. Not only is the upper frayed and tearing all along the little plastic lining around the toe, but the rubber on the heels is toast. Compared to my Sky Speeds with double the mileage. Notice that the rubber is gone on the Sayonaras (330 miles) while it is just worn on the Sky Speeds (650 miles)

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Inaugural Sts. Peter and Paul Road Scholars 5K race recap

Inaugural races are sometimes a bit of a crap-shoot; sometimes they aren't all that well-marked, sometimes there are issues with the course or the prizes or the expectations of the race. Sometimes it's a good idea but not that great of a race. And of course, sometimes the weather is bad. You never know what you'll get at the end of March in Ohio!

I got news of a local inaugural race to benefit the Sts. Peter and Paul school here in Wellston - about a block away from my house. Many of my kids' friends and fellow Cub Scouts go to Sts. Peter and Paul, and I'm glad to support the school. Especially by doing what I like to do: race!

The day before race day came with a terrible weather forecast: 40*, extremely windy, and rainy. 80% chance of rain at the start. But that rain held off (until after noon, actually!) and the start was uneventful. Easy instructions (out and back on a bike path - it doesn't get much easier than that) and thank yous to some really generous sponsors, and we were ready to go. 

I kind of felt like a jerk at the start line. After all, this was a race benefiting a local school, and school children (most likely from that school) were up at the start line ready to go. A whole line of kids... and one giant adult, toeing the line. We got the "GO" and off we went. 

A couple of the kids went out strong - at about the 1/4 mile mark, I said to the kid next to me, "If you keep this pace up, you will win." He would have, too. We were about a 6:30 pace, and if it had come down to it, if he had kept up with me that long, I would have let him win. Maybe.

After the 1/4 mile mark, the kids trailed off, and I didn't see them again until the turnaround. The wind was with us on the "out" so the "back" was a little tougher, especially with no competition left. The most interesting thing that happened on the race was that I had to pass a (non-racing) runner with his dog - this dog has snapped and snarled at me before. Thankfully this time it didn't. 
Did I mention that I run on this course almost every day? I know it really well. I intentionally didn't run the tangents - I felt like because this was an out-and-back course, I should keep to the right. I thought I would run into traffic on the "back" section because not everyone respects the "keep-to-the-right" rule, and because there was a simultaneous 3K walk race going on, but there were no problems. In fact, as I came closer to the finish, I was motivated to catch some of the walkers ahead of me (there's a reason why my final .1 came in at a 5:48 pace). Well, besides the fact that I had a lot left in the tank after cruising the second and third miles. And the fact that I wanted people to see me running fast. Which doesn't give any good reason why my finish photo looks quite this terrible. My time was 20:35, which is a good solid minute slower than my PR - I attribute this to several factors. The first factor is that I haven't been running as regularly or as high mileage as I had been. Going on the cruise earlier in March contributed to it as well - that caused my mileage to slip and caused my waistline to expand (which was the second factor). The third factor was either that I wasn't mentally tough enough to race hard on my own or that I understood that there are days you race for pace and other days you race for place; since I had "place" sewn up, I didn't push the pace.

After the race was done, I ate a giant Amish donut and then ran a cool down lap around the lake (about 1.5 miles). Some of the other runners thought I was showing off. I really wasn't; I just know I need to cool down. After the cool-down, I ate another donut and put my warm-ups back on and waited for the awards. While we waited, the State Park Naturalist showed off his little owl, which was a really cool bonus.

Awards were good - the overall winners got a 6 month membership to the Rio Grande University fitness center. Pretty awesome award, if you ask me. That was beyond the trophies and medals. Age group winners also got medals. 

Pictures were from Paul Boggs at the Jackson County Daily.

Friday, November 29, 2013

9th Annual Larry Cox Turkey Trot Recap

I love running Thanksgiving Day races; it has become one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions. The first one I ever ran was back when I was in seminary and I ran the Nicholasville Turkey Trot a couple of times. Once I ran a small race near my parents' house in Kentucky, and I've also run the Columbus/Upper Arlington four milers. Two years ago, I won the inaugural MVRB Turkey Trot, a race my friend put on to race money and food for a local (Mt. Vernon) food bank. So this year I was looking for a race and found out that the Larry Cox Turkey Trot would be held in Chillicothe, a race to benefit the Southern Ohio Crime Stoppers and in memory of fallen officer, Larry Cox, an avid runner who was shot and killed while off duty in 2005.

Looking online, I could only find records of the first five finishers - which should have told me something... I also found a blogger who has run this race every year (including running it in an amazing time of 14:55). I decided I would run. Then I found out that a friend from town was going to be running, so I begged a ride from him. He said, "It's going to be cold" to which I replied, "Yep, no PRs this time."

On race morning, it was indeed cold. Jason's truck thermometer said it was 13*. Thirteen. I dressed for it: tights with warm up pants, warm long sleeve tech shirt (from Erie Marathon - we were laughing because I wore a marathon shirt to a 5k... but Jason wore a shirt from the Toughest Mudder 50k... and we met a guy at the start line in his Burning River 100 miler shirt), vest, jacket, hat, and mittens. I got signed up and it was frigid out there. My feet (in Asics Piranha racing flats) were numb when I started my warm up run. Sign up was kind of crazy - there were tons of people. They were sending the "pay in cash" over to the "pre-registered" table, so I went that way. I couldn't get my pen to work - too cold - so I filled everything out in pencil. When I found out that I would have to pick up my t-shirt later at some other location that I didn't know where, I decided I really didn't need a t-shirt. (race only was $15, with a t-shirt it was $24, and with a hoodie it was $35 - I just donated the extra I'd paid).

I ran for a while to warm up, then got back in the warm truck, then finished with some more running and finally was warm. I ditched the jacket, vest, and warm-up pants and made my way to the start line. There were lots of fast-looking runners there. The pre-race normal stuff went on, but the cool part was where the RD announced that Keegan Rathcamp (the guy who'd run sub 15) was going to carry Larry Cox's shoes - that his shoes have been carried in every race. Very classy. After the National Anthem was sung, we were ready to go!

The initial surge was fast, and I let it carry me. I made sure to remind myself, "You're not racing these guys; you're just running a speed workout." - this was my expectation: I had decided in advance that I was simply going to do my speed workout (3x1600 at 6:32) with no other expectation.

The course was extremely easy. Easy to follow and easy to run. There were two little hills, but they were nothing. There was some ice in a couple of patches, but as long as I watched my footing, it was no problem (nothing like the Frozen 5k I ran at NU where I hit a patch of ice and went flying, taking another runner out in the process). I kept on at a pretty steady pace, running the tangents as much as I could (Duke, my Garmin, measured the race at exactly 3.1 miles, so I must have done pretty well running the tangents!). The first mile slipped by at 6:13, and the second mile was 6:16.

During the second mile, we went up onto the bike path where I ran a ton of my workouts while my boys were in soccer practice. The wind was against us, so I drafted for a while behind a high school runner. He was slowing down a little bit, so I passed him and told him, "just tuck in behind me and let's go get the next guy." He was happy to oblige. I just kept doing that - basically doing a fartlek workout - drafting for a moment, then passing and catching up with the next guy and doing it over.

The third mile finished up on the street with a little uphill and ice before heading down into the park. Once we were in the park, I knew it was close, so I tried to pick up the pace a bit. The third mile was in 6:20, and the last .1 I managed a 5:04 sprint. I was excited to see 19:20 - a PR for me by 7 seconds. It was great running this time, as I haven't managed anything close for over two years (since before I was sidelined with plantar fasciitis a year ago).

At the finish line there was no means for placing or record keeping of any kind. I'm not sure why we got bibs (probably just to help them know who was a bandit). So there was no way of knowing how I did, overall place or age group. But 19:20 is pretty solid in my book!

I was so psyched about the PR that I went back and ran the course backwards for a cool-down, cheering for the other runners. The bike path part was a little hectic as it was full of runners and I kind of had to dodge them as I was going the wrong way! I found a friend (Andrew's soccer coach) and turned back and easily ran back with him and his kids, finishing up with about 3 miles of cool down.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Part of the Team

I was watching a playoff soccer game last weekend and noticed that after one team scored, their fans began singing. The song was really catchy and stuck in my head for a long time. So I went online and found this video of their song: Believe

Now, aside from this being a catchy earworm, it got me thinking. What is cool about this chant/song/cheer is that it came from the crowd. The audience, if you will. But they aren't *just* the audience. They are an important part of the brand and supporters of the team. The last phrase in their cheer is "we're here for RSL." The fans are there to help their team to victory.

This is a different way of thinking than many other sports fans. Instead of the fans being there for the team, the team is there for the fans. When I was a recent graduate of Northwestern University, my friend had 50 yard line tickets for the football team. I would sometimes sit with him on the 50 yard line, and when the team needed loud fans, we would stand and cheer and yell. And the old grouches around us would say, "sit down!" and "quiet down." They weren't there for the team. The team was there for them.

I see the same kind of difference in the church. There are "audience" members who show up on Sunday. They hope to "get something out of" the service, but they don't want to put anything into it. They'll be quick to "boo" if they don't like the song selection or if the sermon is poor. But they aren't "there for RSL" - they are there for a performance. But that's not *church* - the church is the people. And even more than the example of the RSL cheer, the church isn't just the "audience" - the church is on the field as well.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chris Tomlin Concert

I hadn't been to a concert in ages, but I had seen Chris Tomlin as worship leader back at my Youth Specialties Convention days - so I knew what to expect. Not much talk, and a lot of worship music. I was not disappointed. 

I really liked the new songs, and they plays enough old favorites to keep everyone happy. They even brought out beach balls for the finale (ok, that was a little cheesy). 

But the greatest moment was totally unscripted. It was at the beginning of a song (I Will Rise), the song started slowly and the lyrics were about Jesus overcoming death- and the crowd began to cheer. Not just polite "I like this song" cheering, but from the heart. And even Chris Tomlin noticed. You could see in his face that he was blown away, pleased, and totally humbled by the outpouring of excitement for what Jesus did. True worship, indeed!

Pastor Appreciation

I have been a pastor for twelve years, and something I learned as a pastor was that October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Funny that I never heard I such a thing until I was a pastor. 

Anyway, this month is a little strange. The first time I "celebrated" it, I was an associate pastor, and the senior pastor told the committee that it was time to solicit donations for pastor appreciation. Awkward!

So in various churches I have seen it done differently, but it has always followed one of two patterns. Either nobody says or does anything, or the congregation gives a monetary gift. 

After last year's experience was in the former category, I wasn't expecting much this year. But the church surprised me with an after-church lunch and a trip to a Chris Tomlin concert (including money for dinner and gas and they even provided babysitting)!

I have always been a proponent of "experience" gifts and this fit the bill and was also a great time for a date night with Tara!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tri-County Triangle Trail Half-Marathon

Tri-County Triangle Trail Half Marathon 13.1 mi 01:3407:08 pace
No plan? No problem. I didn't train with a specific plan in mind, and I just hoped to get below 1:40 today. This morning I got to Frankfort in plenty of time and picked up my packet. I got the wrong size shirt, and they didn't have any more (they asked if I signed up late - let's just say, I was #17, meaning I was the 17th person to register). So they gave me an extra t-shirt from last year's race as an apology for giving me the wrong size. I mostly stayed in the car to keep warm; it was cold and windy out there! I kept second-guessing what to wear, and I ended up with shorts (of course), long sleeve tech shirt, run DMC jersey, hat, gloves, compression sleeves, and Sketcher GoRun shoes.
When the race was ready to start, I made my way toward the front... expecting to find fast runners and tuck in behind them, I was kind of surprised to see nobody up there. I had seen some guys who looked fast hanging around, but I guess they were running the 5K (which started 5 minutes after the 1/2). After observing a moment of silence for Boston and everyone affected (NOTE: even if you're a spectator, when the announcer announces a moment of silence, SHUT UP. Tell the person on the other side of the cell phone that you can't talk. You can wait the 30 seconds. How rude), the starter gave us a count down and the race was on.
I stepped out quickly - my feet felt extremely light and we were going downhill and there was a stiff wind at our backs. One runner went out faster than I was, and he looked strong and I knew I couldn't try to stick with him. So I tried to find my pace and just run. I was thankful that I'd brought my iPod - my hard running playlist was really handy, especially since I didn't see another runner until after the turn-around.
I would bore you with my mile splits, but just think "somewhere around 7" for all of them. I was right on pace. In the first few miles, I was second-guessing my clothing; I was too hot pretty quickly. But would I need the extra clothes on the return run into the wind? During the fifth mile, I took off my shirt (yes, Dave P., I ran shirtless for a while) and just put the short sleeve shirt back on. A little tricky to maintain a 7 minute mile pace while changing clothes, keeping an iPod on, etc. I dropped the shirt, my hat, and my gloves off at a water stop, and they returned them to me after the race.
At the turn-around, I was at 46:22. Then came the wind. The first mile after the turn-around was brutal. the wind was straight in my face. But this was the first time I got a view of the competition... they were far enough behind that I knew I had 2nd place wrapped up. Kind of a scary thought - with that far to go. So this became more of a mental race than physical.
The wind wasn't bad for the next few miles, until the last mile, when it was brutal again. I kicked it as much as I could, knowing that a PR was possible. At some point, Duke got confused and was reading the miles a little long. I'm not sure when, maybe mile 8, but it said 13.26 instead of 13.1.
The finish was rather uneventful, as I had 2nd wrapped up. I got a medal, a coupon for a free Road ID (nice, since my old one is outdated with my old information on it), and a coupon for a free Subway sandwich. I made my way back to the picnic shelter, where a three-piece bluegrass band was jamming and they had a whole bunch of bean soup (not much cornbread left, but it was really good) and cookies. I went out and cheered for other runners and waited for the end of the run, when the water stop people came back with my gear.
It was a good run, and I was extremely happy with my result!