Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Run for Green Half-Marathon Preview on Labor Day

On Labor Day, September 5, DART will be hosting a free, informal preview of the Run For Green Half-Marathon course. We will meet at the Davidson CVS on Main Street at 8 a.m. and run the entire course. Water will be available at three points along the run, and we'll run in two groups: An 8:30 per mile pace and a 10:00 per mile pace.

This is a casual run, but it will cover the entire 13.1-mile course, so runners should be prepared for a challenge. While there will be water stops, you might want to bring your own as well. We will be running on public roads and paths, but there is no police escort or road closure, so take care! Most of all, it should be a fun morning with great company. No need to RSVP, just show up Monday morning. Hope to see you there!

Click here for a map of the course.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Race Recap: 2011 Kannapolis Nutrithon

by Charles A. Willimon

On August 20th, the Kannapolis Rotary and many other area sponsors of all sizes held their second annual Nutrithon.  This race had three events: a 5k run, 8k run, and a duathlon (5k run, 25k bike ride, 3k run).  Having run several 5ks and 10ks, and preferring the 10k distance, I registered for the 8k.  I had a couple of factors to help give me an edge in approaching this race.  First, the 8k course kept mainly to the area of Kannapolis in which I teach school, so I knew the route well.  Second, I had been spending the last few months training for my first marathon with several seasoned DART runners who inadvertently had me stepping up my game week by week.

Two weeks before the race, I went out to preview the course and run at my target pace.  Still being not too long off an injury, I decided to set my goal at 37:30 for an average pace of 7:30 minutes per mile.  The preview gave me a great summary of what to expect: two fast miles in the beginning, a fairly challenging hill in the third mile, and a flat, straight last two miles.  I started out the preview at closer to my 5k pace, and I paid for it after the third mile.  It was all I could do to keep up with my projected splits after that.  Average pace on the practice run: 7:29 (and sucking wind).

Race day came and I felt informed and prepared.  The race was to start and end in front of the main building at the new North Carolina Research Campus that now stands where the old Cannon textile mill (for which Kannapolis is named) once stood.  It was a great day for running; there was nice cloud cover, and the air was still cool from some rain earlier in the morning.  I was the first runner on site—a product of my stubborn punctuality—which afforded me a lot of walking around and loosening up time.  Here, I should mention that I was operating on five hours' worth of sleep.  Being a part-time musician on the side, I played a gig the night before the race and did not arrive home until after midnight.  Hopefully, the race would be over before the sleep deprivation set in.

Among the other early arrivals were some runners with whom I ultimately would interact during the race.  There was Mike (from Charlotte Running Club), Phillip, Carly, Jean, and another lean, game-faced runner who I will call John Doe.  Sorry, John Doe, but I never got your name!  I could tell even before runners started warming up that these early arrivals were to be my primary competition.

I timed my race preparation to the minute.  At 15 minutes prior to the start, I downed a gel with a cup of water and started some dynamic stretching.  I got some strange looks as I was doing some tangle-footed drills I had gleaned from a workout with (two-time Olympian) Anthony Famiglietti to open up my hips and set my balance in order.  At 5 minutes prior, I worked in a half-dozen strides to get the rest of the cobwebs out.  As I walked to the starting line, I noticed I was the only DARTer in the field of about 45 racers for the 8k.  Naturally, I politely worked my way to the front of the pack, toeing the start line.  Mike, Phillip, Jean, Carly, and John Doe were all either shoulder to shoulder with me, or right behind me.  Yep, these were the ones who came to compete, alright.

At the starting gun, Mike and John Doe tore ahead at what appeared to be a sub-5:00 initial pace.  I knew I would watch them for a mile or so, and they would disappear for good after that.  In the first 200 yards, Phillip passed me with long legs and a long stride.  I had half a mind to try and keep Phillip’s pace, but I was already running faster than I had planned for the beginning of the race, so I let him go and kept him in least for a little while.  Around the first half-mile, Carly crept up on me and passed me.  I had seen Carly last spring at a 5k, and kept pace with her for a little more than two miles during that race, but she eventually pulled away.  This day, she was looking faster than last spring, so I let her go uncontested as well.  This would prove to be a wise decision.  As we left the Research Campus property, crested a short hill along the Loop Road, and then turned right onto the surface streets.  From here, there was a steep downhill for about 600 yards leading to the Baker Creek Greenway.  My Garmin sounded off the first mile as I entered the greenway.  I paced 6:41 for the first mile.  While I felt I could have gone faster, I reminded myself to save up for the hill I would see after about another mile.

The wide, smooth greenway was shaded by a nice canopy of trees, and the sounds of a babbling creek were a nice compliment to the cadence of shoes on asphalt.  As I was locking in to a good pace and letting the mind relax a little, I heard a “WOOOOOO,” from somewhere not too far behind me.  “WOOOOOO,” the booming voice yelled, “I’m comin’ to get ya, DART!  WOOOOOO!”  As I said, I was the only DARTer at this race—at least the only one wearing a DART singlet—so I assumed this boisterous taunt was directed at me.  I resisted the urge to glance back at my pursuer and focused on maintaining my pace in the low 7’s.  I still cannot tell you what he looked like, because he never did catch up with me.  At 1.5 miles, Jean came shoulder-to-shoulder with me.  “Use me,” she shouted, “and I’ll use you!”  I should mention that Jean was at least twenty years my senior, so I was determined not to let her break ahead of me.  Before we left the greenway, a short sprinkling of raindrops gave us some nice refreshment.  There was a water station just before the two mile mark.  Feeling good, I passed on the water, but Jean screamed for a cup and scared the volunteers half to death in doing so.  Mile two chimed off (at a 7:05 pace) just before we stepped off the greenway and back onto the Loop Road.

The first half of mile three was the hill for which I had been saving my energy.  The initial slope was the steepest, so I dug in and pumped my arms.  Jean certainly felt the effects of the hill right away.  She dropped in behind me, single-file, but she stayed right on my heels for the length of the hill.  After we crested the hill, we took a sharp turn on Allen Street for a block and then a left on Ridge Road to start a long straightaway.  Mile three went by at a 7:34 pace, which was a lot better than I had planned considering the elevation gain.  At this point, I was nearly a minute ahead of my goal pace.

Judging from the sound of her breathing, Jean was still fairly close behind me, and she had fans on the sidewalk in this neighborhood.  They shouted, “C’mon, Jean, catch this person!”  I smiled to myself, but I still did not glance back.  Ridge Road was relatively flat, with a gradual downhill after another half mile or so, but this lull in the race was fairly uneventful.  After intersecting the Loop Road yet again—it’s called “Loop Road” for a reason—we did a 180 around a short block and got on to Main Street, headed back the way we came parallel to Ridge Road.  The aforementioned gradual downhill was now a gradual uphill.  Here, Mile four chimed off, for which I managed a respectable 7:21 pace.  After another 500 yards or so, the domed top of the main building at the NC Research Campus came into view, so I had a nice visual of my destination.  At this point, I stole my first backward glance.  Jean was about 25 seconds behind me, and it looked as if the gap was widening.  Behind her, there were no other runners in view.  I knew the rest of the race was going to be solitary.  I still had gas in the tank, so I focused on gradually lengthening my stride and opening the throttle to avoid getting too complacent and slowing down.

Mile five sounded off at a 7:29 pace, but I had yet to round the corner back into the campus for the final straightaway.  Since 8k is a hair under five miles, this particular race was long by about a tenth of a mile.  Upon turning into the campus, I came into some other foot traffic from the 5k race, which started five minutes after the 8k and ended at the same line.  I dodged around a couple of 5k’ers and settled into a sprinting stride for the last .08 miles, which I took at a 5:49 pace.  My official time was 36:40, which was nearly a minute ahead of my goal, and sufficient for a PR pace of 7:13 for an 8k.  This was enough of a victory for me, but my results granted me first place in my age group as well, so I got to bring home a little hardware.  Jean finished about 45 seconds behind me, which earned her second place overall for females.  Carly had taken the first spot in that category with a time that flirted with 33 minutes.  Boy, was I glad I did not try to keep pace with her!  Carly had overtaken Phillip, who finished in the mid 34 minute range, but Mike and John Doe blew the top of the event.  Mike won the overall race at a blistering 28:32, and John Doe clocked in at 30:38.  John Doe’s goal was to break 30 minutes, which I am sure he would have done if the race were closer to eight true kilometers.

I was surprised by the amount of swag offered by the NC Research campus, Dole Foods, and CMC Northeast for such a seemingly small event.  Being a third grade teacher, I loaded my goodie bag full of dozens of giveaways for my classroom, and I enjoyed a very fulfilling pancake breakfast provided by the Kannapolis Rotary.  The clouds broke and gave way to bright sunshine as I collected my medal and made my way back to the car, anticipating a much need nap.  Overall, I was very pleased with this race, and I think I might just put in on my race calendar for next year.  Hopefully, some other DARTers will come along and help me represent!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Race Recap: The Springmaid Splash 10K by Dave Munger

(Originally posted on Mungerruns)

The Springmaid Splash is not your typical race. For one thing, it's the shortest race I've ever needed to stop and walk in. For another, it involves four knee-deep river crossings. There are half-mile stretches where the trail is completely covered with mud. At 58:30 for a 9:26 average pace, it's the slowest I've ever completed a 10K race.

But given the challenging trail conditions, I'm quite happy with my performance in the race, and most importantly, I had an absolute blast.

The race is held at the Springmaid Mountain Resort, an idyllic little piece of the Blue Ridge Mountains that seems to move at a slower pace than the world around it. I drove up with a group of runners that included Todd Hartung, Chad Randolph, Chris Alexander, Eric Reiner, Emily Hansen, Sarah Keen, and Marisa Wheeler. Despite the early 5:20 a.m. departure and the two-hour drive, everyone was in great spirits and looking forward to the run.

You have to park a half-mile from the starting line, but there was a great system of buses to take us to the start, where we quickly picked up our race materials and checked our bags. There were only six porta-potties for about 500 runners, but fortunately being a guy it was easy for me to pee in the woods before the race started.

We only had time for a quarter-mile warm-up jog to the starting line, in a big grass field mown to about 6 inches long. While this might seem a bit rough, it was actually pretty much the best running surface we'd have all day. After a blessedly short speech with a warning to stay on the trail, we were off.

I had looked up an elevation profile of the course before the race and I knew about the four river crossings, but other than that I had very little idea of what to expect. Most of the runners were doing a 5K, but we all ran together for the first mile or so, so as you might guess it was fairly crowded. After about a quarter-mile, the grassy field narrowed and we were all running along a single-lane gravel road. Every 50 yards or so, there was a giant mud patch the width of the road, and there was little to do but run straight through the ankle-deep goo. A woman wearing a fairly flimsy-looking pair of sandals twisted her ankle and fell to the ground in front of me. I decided there wasn't much point in stopping for her; there seemed to be plenty of race officials around and we weren't much more than a half-mile from the start.

Then we got to the first river crossing. I've forded rivers during hikes, but never in a race, and I wasn't exactly sure how to approach it. Generally when you're hiking, you take a lot of care not to fall down since you don't want the stuff in your pack to get wet. I decided to take a cue from the other runners, who seemed to just plunge in and high-step across. The water reached to about mid-calf and wasn't cold, but it definitely slowed you down. Several runners passed me, but eventually I made it to the other side and resumed running without incident. The second crossing followed shortly thereafter, and was a bit deeper, nearly knee-high. I made it through and tried to maintain a reasonable pace.

A river crossing from the 2007 race

But what exactly was a reasonable pace? For my first mile, on flat but rough terrain, I managed an 8:06 pace. That's slower than my planned marathon pace and much slower than my 10K PR pace of 7:09 per mile. For mile two, we began to head uphill. At first the hill was quite manageable, but gradually it got steeper. I resisted the urge to walk, and kept going as best as I could. Finally we crested the first hill and started heading down again. But I knew from the elevation profile I had seen that a bigger hill was yet to come. Elevation gain for Mile 2: 226 feet. Pace: 9:23.

In Mile 3, it turned out, there were two major hills, a hundred-footer and the first part of a 300-footer. Both of these hills had stretches steeper than anything in Mile 2, and I slowed to a walk for the steepest stretches. As soon as things leveled out a bit, however, I was able to leap back to a run and despite the 276-foot gain in Mile 3, my pace only slowed to 11:16.

Mile 4 started with the last of the big hill, then plunged steeply downward. The trail was heavily rutted and given the sweat dripping down my glasses, it was hard for me to see in places. I did the best I could, but a couple people passed me on this section, including a woman who seemed to be running insanely fast for these conditions. Mile 4 stats: 142 feet up, 279 feet down, 9:27 pace.

Mile 5 had even more climbing, but also more ferocious downhill sections. The speedy downhill woman actually slipped and fell about 20 yards in front of me, then somehow got back up and kept running. Somewhere in this section, Chris Alexander passed me, but I managed to keep him in my sights. He was running up every hill, while I walked the steepest sections and then ran as soon as things leveled off a bit, and this meant he never got too far ahead of me. Mile 5 stats: 153 feet up, 231 down, 9:28 pace.

Finally, Mile 6. It started with a muddy descent back down towards the river. The footing was terrible, but it was worse if you tried to slow down. I was concerned my feet would slide out from under me, so I just ran as fast as I could. Somehow I made it to the bottom of the hill and the third river crossing. I had passed a few guys (including Chris) in this section, but a couple passed me back during the crossing. On the level section after the crossing, I passed one of the guys again. We reached the final crossing and somehow I managed to make it across without getting passed. I saw a couple runners struggling ahead of me, and I still seemed to have gas in the tank, so I passed them, trying to look as strong as possible as I did. Mile 6 stats: 0 feet up, 122 feet down, 8:19 pace.

The last 0.2 miles ended up being .34 according to my Garmin, but they were on fairly good trails or mown grass. I focused on good form and made sure no one passed me as I strode through the finish line. Todd, Eric, and Sarah had already finished and congratulated me soon after I crossed the line. Chris was only about 30 seconds behind me, and Chad followed shortly after that. Emily followed soon after, and Melissa, who had run the 5K, was already done.

My time was good for 72nd place out of roughly 200 10Kers (the official results haven't been posted yet). Generally I do better relative to the field, but I think the challenging nature of this course scared away less-die-hard runners, so this was a very tough field of runners. As an indication of how tough the field was, Sarah was the only runner in our group to get an age-group award. Great job, Sarah! Here's the whole group of us post-race:

Left to right: Sarah, Marisa, Emily, Chad, Me, Eric, Todd, and Chris
All in all, this race was a lot of fun. The trail was always challenging, but always runnable (or walkable as the case may be). I'd definitely run it again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Basics: Running while on vacation

Originally posted on Science-Based Running, as written by our very own Dave Munger.

I apologize for the lack of posting this past week, but I have an excuse: I’ve been doing the “research” for this post! I’m in the middle of a two-week vacation in Hawaii, but I’ve also been trying to keep up with my marathon training schedule, which had me slated to do 49 miles last week and 63 this week.

Don't feel too sorry for me
I think I’ve now done enough running in unfamiliar places that I can offer some tips for others who have the same problem: How do you stick to a training regimen while you’re away from home? If you have any additional tips, I encourage you to add them in the comments section below. I’ll try to respond to your comments, but since I’m, you know, on vacation, it might take me a while to get to it.

I’ve found that I can get some excellent runs in while traveling, but it does require a little planning, patience, and flexibility. Here’s how I do it:

  • Take extra gear. You never know when you’ll have access to laundry facilities, so it’s better to be over-prepared. Fortunately, most running gear is pretty light, so it doesn’t take a lot of room in your suitcase.
  • If you’re traveling with a group, figure out a time to run that won’t interfere with your group’s plans. I have found that most vacationers don’t like to get up very early, so I set an alarm and finish my run before everyone else’s day has started. If you’re traveling with small children, you could run during their afternoon nap or in the evening after they’ve gone to bed.
  • Don’t worry if you miss a day or two of running. Remember, this is a vacation! If you have to miss a day, try to skip an “easy” day and keep up with your more challenging long/fast runs.
  • Don’t party too hard. This doesn’t mean not drinking at all, but you might consider filling every other glass with water instead of an alcoholic beverage. Or do your late-night carousing the evenings before easier runs.
  • Spend a few minutes before your run to plan out your route. I’ve found the WalkRunJog iPhone app can be helpful for this; it allows you to input your location and planned distance, then gives you nearby routes other runners have used. One problem with the app, however, is that it seems to be used primarily by other travelers who are as clueless as you are about the local running conditions. In a trip to San Francisco last year, for example, many routes went straight up or down extremely steep hills, or along streets with tons of stoplights. (I’ve added some more tips about planning your route to the end of the article.)
  • For longer runs, consider a route that takes you back to your home base once or more: You’re less likely to get lost in an unfamiliar place, and you can restock with fuel or water. You’ll also know what to expect during the second or third loop and will be able to pace yourself better.
  • Don’t forget to use sunscreen. Just because you never get burnt during your shady morning run back home doesn’t mean you won’t get scorched on a 12-miler on the beach at noon.
  • Adjust your expectations. You may be running at a higher elevation, in warmer temperatures, or on hillier or rougher terrain than you’re used to. Start slowly and build your pace as you become accustomed to the new conditions. Similarly, you might want to do a shorter run the first day in a new location and build to longer runs. For example, this week I moved my 18-miler up a day, so that I could do it on my last day in now-familiar Kauai instead of a new vacation rental on the island of Hawaii. I’ll start slowly again in this new spot.
  • Stay alert. I always leave my iPod at home when I go on vacation; this helps me pay more attention to my surroundings, both for safety and to more fully experience the wonderful location where I’m running.
  • Consider carrying a phone and a credit card so you can call a cab if you get lost.
  • Have fun! It’s a vacation, remember?

Here are some more tips for planning a good route while on vacation:

  • Pay attention to the surroundings of your lodging when you arrive. Where are the sidewalks? What roads have nice, wide shoulders? Where are other people running?
  • Consider asking about good running routes in your hotel or at a local running store.
  • If you have internet access, try using Gmaps Pedometer or MapMyRun to plot out your run before you head out.
  • Make sure your route is simple enough that you’ll actually be able to remember it while you’re out on the road. You might sketch out a map on a slip of paper or write down the names of the roads you’ll be turning on.
  • Don’t forget to take advantage of the local scenery, even if it means your route isn’t ideal. In San Francisco, I made a point of running to the top of some of the city’s famous hills, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain my pace as I climbed the long staircases it took to get there.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a detour. On my 18-mile run in Kauai, I noticed a road heading off towards an old sugar mill, and decided to head down it to get a closer look. It was fascinating seeing this bit of Hawaii history (there are no more active sugar plantations in Hawaii), and I was able to adjust my route later to account for the extra mileage.