Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2 Marathons in 2 Days

The Maniacs of South Korea
(one more was added shortly after this pic was taken, Congrats Cate!)
       Insanity is definitely contagious and the arrival of two more Marathon Maniacs at my base made the contagions overwhelming. Somehow I found myself toeing the marathon start line two days in a row, EEK! I would never have considered this if I had been on my own, but having a veteran of the challenge with me and a buddy to run with the whole way both days, made all the difference in the world.

       The races themselves were not particularly interesting, but doubling is a special event. Both races were along the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, in very brisk conditions. Our first started with the thermometer dipping to 23F. I think it may have made it slightly above freezing in the afternoon since the puddles started to thaw, which slowed my, “Slip and nearly bust my behind” ratio. The second day was warmer, but the wind was a bit sharper so it was pretty much a wash. Both days were very cold, but manageable with the right layers and the cheerful sunshine made it seem a bit better.

       Rhonda and I decided that even though we hadn’t trained with a run/walk plan, we would take it easy on Saturday and take a one minute walking break after each 5 minutes of running. The plan was a Godsend because not only did we manage to keep it up the whole way, we finished way faster than expected (4:48), feeling very good, with minimal soreness and energy for day two. We were served Tofu Gruel with a spicy salty sauce, which I gobble up with alacrity before digging into the food stashed in the car. I ate my 2 boiled and salted eggs with my Salt & Vinegar Pringles, washing them down with coconut water and then green tea with tart cherry juice. Dinner was steak and salad with lots more salt even though I had gone through 10 Salt Stix caps and 4 or 5 gels during the race. I really thought I would need less electrolytes in the colder weather, but I took as many as ever. Perhaps I just finished less depleted than I do during the summer.

       That evening we kept each other laughing with our Facebook messages about ice baths, dinner, and planning for the next day. Having the first race behind us really lifted our confidence. We just had to get to the start on Sunday and let inertia take over.

       Thankfully, Sunday’s race started an hour later than Saturday’s had so we didn’t have to be on the road until just before 8am for our 10am start. Using the same 5/1 run/walk ratio, we managed to keep moving forward, albeit at a significantly slower pace than the day before. There was no published cut off time for the race, but Korean marathons tend to roll up the sidewalks around 5 ½ hours after the start so we didn’t want to be too terribly slow. Our finish time for day two was a pleasant 5:02:58, YAY!! Diane beat Rhonda and me to the finish line by about 15-20 minutes both days. We are very proud of her!

       I did a few things different over the weekend. The run/walk combo felt so good and was so successful that I doubt I’ll run another marathon without walking every 4 or 5 minutes! I’ve heard for years from people that swore Jeff Galloway’s methods made them faster, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Rhonda and I never intended to finish either race faster than 5 hours so our finish was a real surprise. For Rhonda, it was 12 seconds faster than her previous race, which had been a PR if you didn’t count the one marathon she ran in her early 20’s. I never felt the “I can’t do this” feelings that I usually have during the “teen” miles, and I felt better at 20 than I usually do. I admit, the last two miles on Saturday were pretty stinky, we both were ready for it to be over, but that feeling never hit on Sunday.

       Another difference was my shoes. Obviously, it was too cold to go barefoot, and my last race was a half marathon where I tested my Newtons for distance. I’ve decided I do not like them at all. My foot rolls off the lugs at the front funny and it caused knee pain in a part of my knee that has never hurt before. They also make my arches sore, which is odd since I am so accustomed to running without any arch support. I suspect the make the arch overwork to get up and over the “lugs” on the front. They may have helped keep my ankles from being too sore, but the tradeoff was not positively balanced. For the second day I went back to my old style leather Vibram Treks. My feet were warmer and my whole body was more comfortable.

       My food intake was different pre and post-race. I have cut way back on carbohydrates lately, not necessarily going fully Paleo, but not eating bread or cereal and cutting out carb heavy snacks. I do still eat carbs with dinner most nights and love my spaghetti, but I did not carb load in the days before the race. My breakfast both mornings consisted of sautéed spinach scrambled with eggs and a little blue cheese and a. Despite this lack of classic carbohydrates, I did not hit a glycogen wall of any sort on either race day. I ate most of my breakfast 3 hours before the race start and the banana 30 minutes before, so it all head plenty of time to digest. More importantly, I never felt hungry during the race and usually by about half way through my stomach is growling and my blood sugar is crashing. I also usually go through more gels during the race, but found myself needing less than one per hour.

Notice the nearly deserted finish area and stacked equipment on the right.
 This is what a 5 hour finish looks like in South Korea! 

       For recovery I went with anything I even suspected would help and repeated the ritual after Sunday’s race too. Ice bath, thigh high compression stockings (available at your local drug store under the name of diabetic or anti-embolism stockings) foam rolling and marathon stick usage, antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatories in the form of green and rooibos tea, with tart cherry juice concentrate. I did also take Naproxen right after the race. As wonderful as a glass of wine sounded on Saturday night, I passed on the alcohol and went with water and tea. I may have had a glass of wine Sunday night, but honestly I don’t really remember Sunday night much, LOL.

       Looking back it was a rousing success and I will be willing to do it again if the opportunity to run awesome races back to back presents itself, although warmer conditions would be a big improvement. At least now I know the ropes for a double and will not hesitate to sign up for the Disney World Goofy! I think next I’ll look for back to back half marathons so I can level up in the Half Fanatics

Friday, November 23, 2012

2012 Son Kee-Chung Peace Marathon

My Insane Asylum roomies
       Time for another race report! This one will be short though as it was a pretty typical half marathon.

       The race itself, The 2012 Son Kee Chung Peace Marathon is a memorial race to honor the first Korean to win an Olympic Medal. At the time, Korea was part of the Japanese Empire so he was forced to use a Japanese adaptation of his name, Son Kitei, and be listed for their country at the Berlin 1936 Olympics, but Korea knows who he belongs to!

      When I registered for this race, I was hoping it would be a PR effort, but as is often the case, the stars didn’t line up and I was fighting a head cold, had only run one 5K since the marathon 2 weeks before, and hadn’t slept worth a darn so I was just hoping to finish without embarrassing myself. It was cold and crisp, but really nice after about the second mile when I found myself with my vest around my waist and my hat and gloves held in my hands.

      The course was nice. Instead of our usual route along the Han River, we turned south along a small creek with a nice bike path. Unfortunately, the path was quite narrow and once the bulk of the runners started hitting the turn around, it got very congested.

      It took me forever to warm up, but by the turn around I finally felt comfortable running and my second half was much better than my first. I finished feeling good and happy, which is always my top goal. It is so awesome to finish inside Korea’s Olympic stadium! I collected my snacks and medal, changed into dry clothes, and then waited for two friends to finish the full marathon. They did great, both getting close to their PR times.

The Marathon Maniacs of South Korea post 5K
      Next Marathon, Dec. 1st !

Friday, November 16, 2012

Taroko Gorge Marathon, Taiwan 2012

       There are many kinds of races you can run. Among them are flat road races where you push your limits for a speedy time, trail races where you challenge yourself with the terrain as you careen up and down steep dirt paths, and there are adventure races where you run for the scenery or just to experience being someplace totally new and totally different. Nov. 3rd was definitely an adventure race, following the winding road up Taroko Gorge, Taiwan.

       It was an adventure from registration day forward. The race is limited to 10,000 people because of the venue and it sold out in a few hours. Thanks to wonderful people, I had the help I needed to navigate the website (which was all in Chinese) and get my information in. After that it was settling plane tickets, hotel rooms, and trains. Fortunately, Taiwan is a WONDERFUL place where all the signs are in English, everything is well marked, nearly everyone speaks English, and they are more than willing to help a lost traveler.
Sam and Nancy, without whom
 I would never have arrived at the start gate

       After about 12 hours of bus/plane/bus/train/train, I finally arrived in Hualien, Taiwan where my friend Sam walked me to my hotel and helped me order the best Chinese take-out I’ve ever had (that cost about $1.35 US!) I reorganized my bags and laid out my clothes for the morning when I would meet a group of young runners in the lobby to share cabs to the shuttle busses that would take us to the race start. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly fresh and bouncy at the start line, but I was excited and ready to roll.
Bus drop off

Nifty red check bags

Miranda, who helped me get
 from the hotel to the shuttles


    The race start was a mad house! After being dropped off near the start arch, we had to walk about half a mile up hill to check our bags and then back down again. By this time the sun had come up, the day was looking fantastic, and the sea of 10,000 runners, plus spectators was roiling with anticipation.
Sea of runners headed back to the start arch



      The first 5K was flat and along the coast to give the crowd a chance to thin out before we funneled onto the road up the gorge.

       Like other big races I’ve been in, twists and turns in the road revealed an endless stream of runners pushing up the gentle grade. I had expected a wicked steep climb, but it was actually quite a gentle slope up the gorge since we stayed low, between the towering mountains. It was one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen! No pictures can ever begin to do justice to this place, but I did my best, stopping to snap shots that were dimished the minute they were framed in a viewfinder!

A well lit tunnel, not all were

Runner as far as the eye could see

       As we climbed higher and finally came into the sun, the potential heat was mitigated by a cool breeze that wafted out of the gorge like a welcome blast of air conditioning on a summer day.

The road still thick with runners

Tired smile

       Everyone was having such a good time! Nearly all the runners had cameras out and did not hesitate to stop and take pictures. Every time I stopped for a snap shot, another runner would stop next to me for the same shot, then ask me to take their picture with the background, then offer to take my picture with the background, then grab a third person to take our picture together with the background. Needless to say, it took a lot longer to get up the road than it should have! I didn’t care though. Speeding through a race like this would be like rapidly inhaling a gourmet meal, it would simply be a waste.

Cheering in the native costumes of Taiwan


Hard hats in case of falling rocks. Hikers were wearing them, but only one or two runners availed themsleves of the service. Good thing we didn't really need them since there would never have been enough for all the runners

       I was also a bit of a novelty on the course. There were very few Westerners present, fewer of them women, and I could probably count on one hand the number of blondes. Many people welcomed me to Taiwan as we ran and asked me loads of questions. It was so much fun! Once or twice they would run past me very close and then lean in to look inspect my face (or maybe it was the blue eyes they wanted to see up close.) It is an odd feeling when someone invades your space like that, but I’ve gotten pretty used to it and just smile. One of these days I should paint a third eye on my forehead, LOL.

           One thing that really surprised me was the number of barefoot runners! I think there were more people in minimal shoes than traditional trainers and I've never seen so many vibrams. Someone was even in "Invisible Shoes!" In this race though, there were many people with skin on pavement. It made me fell very overdressed in my Merrells. I considered taking them off, but I didn't want to carry them and, in races like this, I tend to get caught up in the scenery and don't watch where I am stepping, so the shoes stayed on.

Where's the runner?

       Since my Garmin didn’t work in the gorge I had my max split times printed and taped to my water bottle. As long as I managed to stay ahead of those times, I knew I could finish before the 6 hour cut off. I watched them closely, particularly with all the lengthy photo stops, and managed to keep ahead of the red zone all the way to the turnaround at the peak at 25K.
I've never had so many pictures of ME on my camera, LOL

A closed off section of road

       When we reached the summit, crowds were taking pictures with the marker sign, excitement mounting as we turned back towards the finish, ready to enjoy the easy downhill roll.

       In an out and back race, you can’t help but look to see who is behind you after the turn around. I was shocked at the number of people that were still struggling up the gorge. In Korea I am generally at the very back, even when I am moving much faster, but I had hundreds behind me this time. All were in good spirits though and excited to be in there.

       Not long after the turn around my left knee started niggling. Usually it my right knee that complains first so I was a little worried, especially since I had about 15K of downhill left to cover. I stopped and stretched my hip adductors and that seemed to take care of it since it never bothered me again. I think perhaps running uphill tightens them so I need to get in the habit of stopping for a quick stretch at the top of hills.

       The 30K mark was deep in a tunnel, again with crowds of people stopping for pictures. Some Army kids I had been running alongside asked if I would join them for a picture so we waited our turn for a quick snap before continuing on.


  Shortly before we reached the “Last 5K” sign the clouds rolled in, creeping down the mountain faces, and bringing with them a light drizzle of rain. It was still warm though so we didn’t mind. I was very glad I had gotten all the pictures I wanted early on. By now I had met up with Miranda and Sam, who were down to walking. My body was pretty beat up from traveling and carrying bags so, with nothing to prove on the clock and plenty of time to finish, I enjoyed strolling along for the last couple of kilometers listening to Sam’s stories about the other runners around us. In Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, the running bug is just as strong as it is in Korea. Everyone runs so many races that they seem to all know each other and every third or fourth person we saw greeted Sam or Miranda.

So cool that the medal includes a map of the course!

       When we emerged from the last long tunnel, the finish arch was ticking away the seconds. YAY! Done! Most people that visit places like this, take a bus or taxi, stopping at key points to soak up the view, but when you cover the whole course on foot, twice, you see it all. You absorb your surroundings in a way you never could in a tour group or from a car window. Even on a bicycle, it would all zip by far too quickly. Saying good-bye to the Gorge after such a satisfying and fulfilling day spent with it was easy, like pushing away the clean plate after a wonderful, fulfilling meal. I’ve done it, I’ve lived it, I’ve seen it, I’ve breathed it, I’ve tasted it, I’ve felt it in my soul and it will never leave me.