May 8, 2014

Flying Pig Half Marathon Race Report

Cue Music:  "The Hills are aliiiiiive, with the sound of...people passing out because they can't take one more step up the mountain"...but we'll get to that!

Mowed the grass Saturday morning, had lunch and then made the drive to Greensburg to meet up with Chuck and make the drive to Cincinnati.  Packet pickup was downtown in the Millenium Hotel and the expo was across the street in the convention center.  I can get to Cincinnati, but can NOT get around it very well.  We circled the block a few times before taking our chances on a $5 garage and made the healthy walk to the hotel.  Still not sure why packet pickup is in a separate location as we had no problem walking right in to the hall, right up to the table, being handed my packet and walking out.  Across the catwalk and into the expo we met up with Amy who had just arrived shortly before us.  We milled around the maze of tables and booths, but bought nothing.  Picked up our shirts, poster, special gift and were on our way.  The shirt was nothing special.  White Asics tech shirt with small font and not much color.  I liked the option to personalize the bib and I went with "TEAM REFUEL" when I signed up.

Drove 15 minutes across the river into Kentucky and met up with Mark, Janie and Parker.  Their friend Marty, along with TJ and Jennifer and Chuck's wife Staci filled out the reservation for 10 at the Knotty Pine on the Bayou!  Not sure how to classify the restaurant.  Looks like a dive bar on the outside, but priced like a specialty restaurant on the inside.  A menu dominated by deep fried, cajun style seafood was passed up for the only carb-heavy item on the menu.  And indeed more than half the table enjoyed the Blackened Chicken over Pasta!  I doubled down on the bread, skipped dessert and put away enough water to meet my steps goal for the day going back and forth to the bathroom. 

Chuck and I had arranged to spend the night at Mark and Janie's place, so we followed them back to their place and got settled in for the night!  (Thanks Team Culp)  Alarm was set for 4:40 a.m., but I couldn't wind down fast enough.  Watched some TV and finally dozed off somewhere south of 10pm.

RACE DAY!  I never get tired of that anxious, butterfly, morning of, feeling!  Doesn't matter how big of a race it is, I always feel the same way.  Putting on the race shirt, body glide, timing chip/bib, Garmin watch, calf sleeves and lacing up the shoes!  Awesome feeling.  (TMI warning)  The only better feeling on race morning is...that race morning poop!  (I warned you!)  And when you don't get to enjoy that moment...that's a problem...especially when you ate as much as I did the night before.  Oops!

No worries, we're off on the short 10 minute drive to Newport KY and surely the 2 mile walk to the start line will help this cause!  Mark assured us that this was the place to park because it would be easy to get out after the race, and it's closer to the finish line.  All great, but this was a LONG walk before you're about to run 13.1 miles!  We walked across the bridge and left Janie and Parker with our non race gear.  The crowd thickened as we got closer and closer to the start line.  At some point, we had to split up as Chuck and Mark were starting in a slower corral (or pigpen as they call it).  As I got into pigpen E, I found Amy who was looking relaxed as always getting ready to run the full, but left her quickly for the nearest port-a-pot.  No relief.  Dangit!  (Runners, you know what I'm talking about)

I had arranged to meet my college friend Jayson at the 4:20 pace group as he was running the full.  We met as planned and wished each other well while we took in the National Anthem and the countdown to the start.  I let him walk away from me so that I could start closer to the 2:15 and 2:20 pace groups.  My goal for the day was to go out around 10:00 pace until we hit the hills and just try and survive until the last 5k.  I really enjoyed the loud music and overall hype of the start line and felt very strong starting off despite being at over 5000 steps for the day already.  GO!

The first mile runs from Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Bengals) to the other side of Great American Ball Park (home of the Reds).  Doesn't sound that hard except the route turns a couple blocks North on a slight up hill where I watched my pace drift from 10:00 to 10:30s, but a nice downhill brought my first mile back to a 10:07 pace.  Mile 2 starts out Heading South across the bridge and into Kentucky.  The rise of the bridge required some work, but the fall on the other side made up for it.  Found the first water station and hit mile 2 with a solid 10:10 pace.  Right on track!

The Kentucky side of the course is quite boring.  Crowd support is dismal, and the scenery going away from Newport is quite drab.  A little rise and fall over a smaller bridge and I was already feeling a little winded with mile 3 dropping to 10:35.  Mile 4 brings you back across a different bridge (CW Bailey Bridge) and back into Cincinnati very near the start line.  Again the rise of the bridge was really exhausting me and the fall was welcome to get me back to a steady 10:37 on mile 4.

Insert imaginary wall!  And boom...hit it!  That's about all I had.  I found an aid station here and walked it for the first time while I downed my first gel.  Sure enough, just as I resume my stride, here comes Amy right by me.  A pat on the back and a how-de-doo, and she just motored right by me like I was standing still, and it was starting to feel like it too!  Mile 5 was a disappointing 12:17.  Not that there's anything wrong with 12:17, I just wasn't expecting to have that much trouble that early.

This is as good a time as any for me to mention my playlist for the day.  My music is one of the biggest motivators for me when I run.  I use many songs to match my cadence to (I prefer 150 bpm) and of course certain songs just "speak" to us.  I had spent a good hour adding new songs to the playlist this week and was excited to hear them come on throughout the race on my X-1 earbuds!  Problem:  When I started the race, it was stuck on "all songs", and I couldn't get it to changed to "Chris' Run" playlist.  Yes, all songs.  That means EVERY song that my wife and I have ever downloaded!  Let's just say, my wife and I have slightly different preferences on musical selections, and by this point in the race I thought I was about to start my period.  I can only handle so many slow mushy love songs and Glee soundtrack mash-ups on a normal day, but there's no room for that on the race course!

The 6th mile was one of my favorites.  The route takes you straight through the HEART of downtown Cincinnati.  We're on 7th street working between the skyscrapers and the crowd is THICK.  It reminded me of the Chicago marathon.  Shoulder to shoulder and three to four people deep gated off on both sides of the road.  Fans are screaming their heads off for you and you can't help but feel like a rockstar.  For as great as I felt at that moment, I felt twice as bad as I emerged from the other end.  I could see the mile 6 marker as we worked our way past the new Horseshoe Casino, but just beyond it I could see "the hill" waiting for me.  11:32 pace was all I could muster even with the boost from the crowd.

The area on the map is listed as Mt Adams.  I don't know who Adams is, but the Mt part was appropriately named.  I'm not sure I can put mile 7 in to words.  Keep in mind I had only done one 8 mile training run so far this year, so naturally I would be exhausted at this point, but I knew from the first step of the hill that I had nothing for it.  I immediately shifted into powerwalk mode.  My long legs are great for this and as I worked my way up the hill I got no relief from the slower pace.  Quick check of the watch has me walking at a good clip, around 14:00 pace, but quick check of the heart rate has me at 170 bpm and holding!  This is where my HR usually sits while I run a 10:00 pace.   If I'm walking, shouldn't the HR be falling?  Nope.  Straight up, just like the hill!  This was no small hill!  It just kept going up and up and up, until around mile 6.8 we got a slight break as we entered the park.  This was also the area of the relay exchange zone.  An impressive number of people doing the relay and therefore lots of cheering.  The course turns very scenic as we enter Eden Park, but the hills are relentless at one point bringing me nearly to a standing halt.  My Garmin shows mile 7 as a 161 foot elevation gain and 14:07 is as good as I could do!

But we're not done yet.  Mile 8 continues the climb.   A few more "landing areas" if you will, but no real relief.  It's honestly a bit fuzzy to me, but I think this is where I saw Elvis.  Seriously.  He was singing along side the road and many were stopping by for selfies with him.  Lots of fun.  Also remember a group of school girls playing violin that made me smile.  I was going slow enough I was able to take in a lot around me.  Again, my Garmin shows mile 8 had a 101 foot elevation gain and that explains why I could again only manage a 13:51 pace.

I found a little motivation over the next mile as we entered a small community.  The crowd thickens again with some of the best support of the course as the half and full courses split.  This is one of those areas I wish I had a video of.  The course literally Ts right into a large beautiful Catholic Church with the half going to the West and the full going to the East.  There are many ups, but just as many downs and with the increased crowd support, I picked up a little time on mile 9 with a 12:54 pace.

Believe it or not, we're still not to the TOP of the course yet, but we do get there during mile 10.  From the lowest elevation point near the river of 461 feet to this point at 816 feet!  I've climbed over 360 feet just in the last 4 miles.  Total exhaustion has set in at this point and I just couldn't make my body go.  Mile 10 matched my worst mile at a 14:06 pace.

Remember that big hill I had to climb at mile 7?  Well, now it's time to go DOWN the hill.  Seriously, as I round the corner and see the downhill, I smiled a little.  My long legs and heavy body literally began FALLING down the hill.  It was easy at first, but became more difficult the further down I got.  My toes began jamming into the toebox of my shoe, and my quads right above the knees were taking a pounding trying to control this fall.  As we neared the bottom it did flatten out a bit, but Garmin showed the elevation drop as 188 FEET!  At the earliest point of this mile I was running a sub 9 pace for nearly 4 minutes, but as it flattened at the bottom I turned in an 11:07 split for mile 11!

Mile 12 continues the descent.  In fact there is literally ZERO elevation gain in the last 5k.  ZERO!  It is ALL downhill!  Another 109 feet of elevation loss during this mile, you'd think I could keep that same kind of pace, but no.  I'm spent.  At this point, it's all a blur.  12:47 for my efforts of walking and running and I'm ready for this race to be over.  Just a little over a mile to go, and the course takes a disappointing out and back on Central Parkway before making the final descent toward Great American Ballpark.  Part of me thinks, "let's go, finish strong"; while the other part thinks, "what's the point?"  I check my watch and decide if I continue to alternate run/walk, I might get in under 2 hours and 40 minutes.  Not sure that was much motivation, but at this point, I'll take what I can get.  Of course my Garmin is measuring a good 0.2 long, so when mile 13 clicks off on my watch at a 12:30 pace, I've still got 0.3 miles to go.

I must say though, I love this finish line.  As you make the final turn on to Pete Rose Way.  You can see the "Finish Swine" (clever) ahead and the crowd is as loud as the music.  The entire last 0.2 is gated off so there's no risk of spectators running out in front of you, and you can really take it all in.  In addition to the shoulder to shoulder and 3 to 4 deep crowd on both sides, there are also many lining the catwalks, bridges and overpasses all around.  A literal stereo effect of cheers embrace me as I commit to jogging it in. 

When my foot hit the mat the clock read 2:39:59 (12:13 pace)  Again, not overly proud of this effort, but given the lack of distance training and hillwork, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

The post race celebration began with the bling.  I love the medal.  I needed the space blanket quickly as I felt
my body temperature dropping as the adrenaline left my body.  I was cold.  I worked my way around the corner to the recovery area.  Grabbed a banana and water but passed on all the other food...until I found SOUP!  Yep!  A Zoup booth was serving HOT chicken noodle vegetable soup!  Never seen that after a race before, my Lord it was GOOOOD!  And the 2nd bowl was just as good!  Yep, I plopped my tired butt down on a curb and helped myself to seconds!  (No Chocolate Milk, was a HUGE disappointment! - But they did have port-a-pots...YEP, FINALLY!)

Allergies were the other big issue of the day.  Much of my breathing problem came from the constant draining and blowing of my nose.  I had run out of dry corners of my shirt to blow my nose, and as I recovered it seemed to get worse.  I was blowing and blowing like crazy in the 30 plus minutes that I hung out waiting on Chuck and Mark to emerge.  When they finally did I learned they too struggled and fell short of their goal, and we were all ready to call it a day and get out.  Chuck helped me out by offering to go with Mark to find Janie to retrieve my belongings, and I happily let him as my legs were mush. 

So the Flying Pig lived up to its reputation.  HILLS!  I was shocked.  I ran the Geist Half Marathon in 2011 and thought that was hilly.  And last year when I ran the Nashville RnR Half Marathon, I thought that was hilly.  Both of those races had a higher total elevation gain, but each uphill had an equal downhill for your legs to recover and you could run the hills.  At the Flying Pig, I had nothing for THE HILL.

Now for the rest of the story.  It's the first weekend of May and I'm still carrying an extra 20 pounds from 6 months ago, and an extra 30 pounds from my lowest almost 20 months ago.  My clothes are not fitting as well, and I'm simply not happy with how I feel at this weight.  I returned home and immediately asked my wife for her help in holding me accountable to losing this weight starting NOW.  My good friend Pete is holding my feet to the fire on stepping away more and more to reset my mind and body, and I'm still torn over what to do next.

I have yet to sign up for Ironman Muncie 70.3 - The monetary expense is significant.  The time expense is significant.  The continued abuse of training is significant.  And yet, it still sounds "fun".  I need to make up my mind soon as we're nearly 2 months away from race day.  There's still time, but some decisions have to be made soon.  Stay tuned!