Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Clown with Mint Shakes and the U.P.

On Saturday I volunteered at the Ronald McDonald Run for the House. After having a previous run-in with the Clown,* I decided a good deed might fix our broken relationship. So I grabbed the megaphone and assisted at the Mile 4 water station. Or, as the residents and runners were informed: “The only non-prime number water station on either the 5K or 10K course!” And maybe a little “I hope you don’t suffer from Coulrophobia or you are not going to like the end of this race.” I only wish I had made a sign that said “Coulrophobia suffers begin alternate route here” and drew and arrow pointing away from the course. Obscure is the name of the game my friends.

This week I am away from the Redhead as work takes me to Marquette, Michigan. So, after my less than stellar 21M long run on Sunday, where my beloved Garmin wonked out, gave me the frozen screen of death and then reset only to have 1% battery, causing me to have to use it as a plain old watch, where I then had to stop and give directions to a guy who was miles away from where he wished to be, and finally where I lost two GUs that fell out of my new Brooks Sherpa III shorts. Yep, bad long run. These things happen.

And shortly after a quick shower I headed up to the west side of the U.P., a lovely 8 hour drive. Note, I saw an ad that said “End of the World 2M; Upper Peninsula 4M”

Before I left I found this and contacted one of their members for some route suggestions. It is by this means that I learned of the wonderful trail they have up here along the bay. Isn’t it awesome how helpful other runners can be! Yesterday I had beautiful skies and 45 degree temps and 30MPH winds for my track workout. Notwithstanding the crazy winds, the path was unbelievably picturesque. Today I took a 4M jaunt around Presque Isle. The park itself is a 2M loop and includes a significant climb. The entire path including one loop around the Isle gives you an amazing flat 9M journey—aside from the Isle.

*Insert your own clowns like it rough joke here

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Roll of the Dice

With five weeks before the Lansing Marathon, I am more nervous about this marathon than I’ve even been for any marathon. Every marathon except for Boston 10 I felt prepared with about five weeks left and was looking forward to my tapper in two weeks.* At this point in all of my previous training I had done at least two 20M long runs (typically 3), and this year I’ve only done one thus far. This time around I’m trying a two week tapper, only because starting late necessitated such a move.

My long runs have progressed in a positive manner every week, but the distances still seem formidable. If I had finished my 16M this week and though: ‘That was good I could have kept going for a few more miles;’ I’d be less worried. Instead I found myself thinking: ‘Ten more, NFW.’ And that is why this race seems like such a roll of the dice. Or, perhaps, I have insufficient training to gauge what to expect on race day. I anticipate I’ll be able to complete the distance, but underprepared to attempt to go for a BQ. I’ll have greater familiarity with the course than I have ever had. I’ll have had fewer miles on my shoes than ever before. In my favor, I’ve had the best winter/spring training weather any Michigander could ever hope for. Yet, my training times/splits have been slower than previous training sessions—especially considering my track workouts.

I’m improving, but I’m quickly running out of time.

* Go ahead, say it one more time, you are only training 14 weeks. Well, in case you didn’t know, Marathon Master Hal Higdon’s Boston Bound marathon training plan is only 12 weeks long so stop complaining.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Race Matters

So I went and had my little tete-a-tete with the LM race director. Before I had walked into the room I had already expended some time thinking about my concerns. Primarily, why does the race refuse to respond to emails, why does the route keep changing, and what assurances are there that this race is going to launch? I concluded, before I even uttered my first question, that I was unlikely to get the answers I was looking for. My expectations were accurate.

In brief, the answers go as follows. There are approximately 600 marathon runners signed up the just under six weeks to go. They are sorry they have had to change the route, but things come up and because it is a new race they are learning as they go. They do not believe the route will change again. They are confident the race will be certified and therefore BQ eligible. They are unsure why some emails have not been answered, as it is their goal to respond to all inquires. Again and again they stressed how they were learning as they go.

And I understand that things happen. I understand that sometimes a change must be made. I expressed that I’m not unsympathetic based on my own experience organizing races. But, I also said that what is most frustrating about all of these things is the lack of communication. If you change the course, then announce it—own it—don’t just subtly make the change and wait for people to respond.

So, I received the answers I expected. They did apologize. They insist they are doing the best they can. I’ve already signed up for the race. I believe the term is sunk cost. At some point before my conversation my anger was replaced by the realization that I can’t stop them from changing the route and that I’m running this marathon even if it is 26 times around a 1 mile loop. Maybe I’ll get a break this time and it will rain during the race, I’d be alright with that. In the end, it is all about the opportunity to race.

I had, for anyone who cared, taken the time to create a hills chart of the old (really the second) marathon course. I even drove the route last Friday and recorded it with a fancy HD camcorder I borrowed. All of that is useless. In another post I’ll update the course information.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Forget Anything Nice I've Ever Said About You

I was going to tell you about my 20M run and the awesome 5K the Redhead and I did on Sunday down in Corktown (Det!). But, I’m so mad right now I have to ignore all of that. Why? This morning, when I went to see if the Lansing Marathon had responded to my email (two weeks old) or my FB post asking about the official course—no response to either as of yet—I noted on the webpage that the ‘interactive map’ has changed. Not a bit, a ton.

This is an entirely different course. Are you fucking kidding me!?! Are you fucking kidding me!?! I’ll update soon. But right now I’m angry. Less than 7 weeks out. Needless to say, I’ll be attending the weekly sponsored runs this week so I can have a little face to face with the organizer
of this event.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lansing Marathon Preview: The Race Overview Part II

How does one set expectations for an inaugural marathon? After doing some serious thinking about it, I’ve come up with the following four factors that are strong criteria runners are likely to use when setting expectations for a new race. These factors are: cost (including travel costs, hotel, registration, etc), support by local community (including the local running community); how brand name the ‘big’ sponsors are; and the expectations/hype the race itself produces (including using the course as a selling point). If you feel some other factor is missing, by all means send me a suggestion and I’ll do some digging. Otherwise, I’ll assume you agree—at least tacitly. Also, I’m not claiming any inside knowledge here. I’m just a runner looking in from the outside. In fact, I’m no longer even a Lansinite, I live outside of the greater Lansing area now.

Cost: The cost to register for the Lansing Marathon is $100. I was able to secure a time limited coupon for $20 off. One benefit of a smaller marathon to those of the mega-marathons (say Boston or Chicago or New York) is a willingness to either: 1) offer coupons; or 2) offer a tiered pricing structure with increases in cost as the event draws near. Interestingly enough, the mega-marathons never have to offer discounts and never apologize for their high prices (i.e. American non New York Road Runners will pay $255 to register for the NYC Marathon—that means you Nitmos; and yes I know this because I’ve been rifling through your mail again). My initial response to seeing the registration fee for the LM was “Wow, $100, for a marathon in Lansing?!? An inaugural marathon at that?”

But, research shows this seems to be a common price-point for Michigan inaugural marathons. Compare: The Qualifier, $105 (new this year in MI and located in Mid-MI); Ann Arbor, $85 through May 31, $95 thereafter (also new this year); and Kalamazoo, $85 (new in 2011). While other established and respected Michigan Marathons registration fees are as follows: Bayshore, $90; Grand Rapids, $90 through May 15, $100 through August 15, $110 through September 30, and $120 until race day where it increases to $130 (if not filled); Detroit is $80 through March 27, $110 until June 5, and $125 thereafter; and Martian Marathon is $60 through March 14, then $70 through May 12, then $90. And, just for your edification: Boston and Chicago are $150, whereas the Earth Day Marathon is $50 and moves up to $80 closer to race day. The Cleveland Marathon’s pricing is $90 until February 29, $110 until May 13—but only $55 if you sign up a year out (i.e. in May 2012 for the 2013 race). Finally, the Sunburst Marathon (South Bend, IN) starts at $65 through Jan 31, $75 through May 30, and mail in and late registration costs $85.

The average hotel room in Downtown Lansing is about $120 per night, but Lansing does offer several seedy alternatives at a drastic price reduction—in case you subscribe to the ‘they all look the same when I’m sleeping philosophy.’ And, although Lansing does have a local airport, typically travelers will fly into Detroit and drive (almost 2 hours) to Lansing. Flights in and out of Detroit are fairly reasonable (as reasonable as airfare is these days) as DTW us a major hub.

Local Support: Honestly, the LM will not provide the type of spectator support you will get at Chicago, Boston, or NYC, but that doesn’t mean the community doesn’t support it. Lansing has a strong running community. In this local running community there is plenty of buzz for this race. Conversations abound between runners at the local running shop, on Daily Mile, and several people have routed the course on MapMyRun. But I’d be hesitant to say the LM has created any kind of sustained buzz outside of the running community.

With under 8 weeks until the Marathon, the lack of non-running community buzz may evidence a minimal crowd turnout on race day. There hasn’t been much by way of publicity from the Lansing State Journal outside of the front page article announcing the race, which is surprising considering the LSJ has a dedicated running page/feature. Although, two additional local publications, Health & Fit and City Pulse, included brief articles about the LM months apart.

Perhaps even more noticeable is the lack of publicity from Playmakers. There are no Playmakers sponsored training runs, or any sponsored runs on the course from Playmakers.* (NOTE: yesterday Playmakers announced it will be acting as a sponsor and will be handling some merchandise for the race) But the LM does offer training runs every Wednesday. Contrast this with the Detroit Marathon, which is already running ads in the newspaper and has several metro-Detroit running shops creating marathon specific training programs. Now, I recognize that comparing a well established marathon like Detroit and Lansing is not necessarily fair, but I can say—as an avid runner—that I’ve seen and heard just as much about the Ann Arbor Marathon as I have the LM.

Sponsorship: The main sponsor is Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan. This is a big sponsor. Much better than Mary’s Fabulous Chicken and Fish or No-man’s Insurance Agency. As of now, there is not a major shoe or sporting outfitter acting as a sponsor. The remaining sponsors, as listed and in order, are: Two Men and a Truck, Emergent BioSolutions, Lansing Entertainment & Public Facilities Authority, Lansing Board of Water & Light, SERF, Ameri Insurance.

This list of sponsors makes me think the LM expo will be somewhat similar to the Capital City River Run (13.1M and 5K), and a step down from the Detroit Marathon or the Cleveland Marathon expos. Yet, perhaps on par with the expo you would find at the Martian, Bayshore, and Grand Rapids. If you have never been to one of these expos, a more detailed description is located at the end of this post. The lack of a major athletic sponsor can be troublesome unless you have a great local running store there to pick up the slack (i.e. Running Fit for Bayshore and Martian or Gazelle Sports for Grand Rapids), so I am very relieved Playmakers announced yesterday that they would be handling merchandising of this race.

Self Hype: The LM boasts an elite Kenyan with a sub 2:10 marathon time. Mr. Raymond Kiplagat Kandie will be blazing the course in what I’m sure he will consider cool Michigan April temperatures. This is pretty impressive. The LM webpage (and Healthy & Fit article) describe the course as ‘flat.’ Flat is always race hype for any marathon course because flat means easier to BQ. Ah…flat. The most subjective word in the running vernacular; even more so than ‘fast.’ I’ve done four training runs of substantial distance on the course thus far, and I would not call it flat. Chicago is flat. Is the course ‘flat’ compared to Boston or the Flying Pig (in Cincinnati)…sure. Does the course lack massive bridge climbs such as New York and San Francisco…yep. If you lived in the mountains, this course would seem flat. Perhaps if you lived and only ran in the hilly parts of Michigan (say certain parts of downtown Grand Rapids or outside of Atlanta—the elk capital of Michigan) the course would seem flat. But I wouldn’t call this course flat. Perhaps I would go with ‘gently rolling’ with a few meaningful climbs. But if you come in from out of town and assume it is flat, when you round the corner of Aurelius Road and Jolly Road right around mile 8 (and after the several medium climbs on Aurelius) your first thought will be: “Flat my ass.”

Back to the hype. The LM is doing some charity related work, but as usual that doesn’t generate a ton of hype (unless your event is so huge that sponsorship spots become coveted (i.e. Boston, New York, and Chicago). There is no ‘music on the course’ hype or a Flo Rida concert to hype the event like some other marathons. So, all in all, outside of the super fast Kenyan there is little to be hyped about. And, having traveled and lived on multiple continents, any hype about the beauty of Lansing and the surrounding community should be taken with a serious grain of salt. The course will offer some nice views, but I wouldn’t call miles 18 through 24 scenic (especially the part down Pennsylvania). Certainly more scenic than the Martian Marathon, and on par with what The Qualifier and Ann Arbor Marathon will offer, but not a picturesque as Bayshore or an novel as Detroit (a bridge and a tunnel and an island). Admittedly, I don’t really look at the scenery (crap, the two times I’ve done Boston I’ve missed several of the ‘must see’ spots).

In Conclusion: Comparing the cost, the local support, the sponsors, and the LM’s own hype, my expectations are that this marathon will be worth the value. This course offers an opportunity to be quick by not presenting any massive climbs, but enough elevation variations to provide a challenge. I’m doubtful that you’ll walk away from the expo with an awesome LM shirt (or other product) that your other runner friends will find awesome and be runner jealous, but you are unlikely to run this race for that reason. So long as you are not dependant on massive crowd support to carry you somewhere past the 20M mark, you will not be disappointed by the crowd support (or lack thereof).

Having served on a race committee for one of the larger Lansing 5Ks, I know how difficult organizing a race is. I can forgive the small errors or omissions I’ve pointed out, because I’d sooner have water on the course and volunteers present than an ‘interactive map.’ And I’m excited about this race.

A marathon is a major commitment. And most of us are of the one-to-four marathons a year runners. We invest a lot of time and energy into our training and want to exert as much control over the marathon as we do our own training. Alas, we can’t. So when we fork over $70, $100, or $225, we want to know that our money will guarantee an opportunity to have a great race. And, as we get to a point where we can see the end of training—we tend to begin to obsess about the race. This is where an inaugural race is at a disadvantage.

I believe this race will be good. Not great. But the overall experience will be good. There is something enjoyable about a smaller race, a smaller expo, a runner’s marathon (as I’ve heard people use to describe other marathons) where you can feel like you are in a race without having to dodge runners every mile of the race.


Michigan Marathon Expos: The best expo offered at any of Michigan’s marathons is the Detroit expo. It has a large selection of about 90 exhibitors, including major athletic brands. It all takes place in a major arena. National brands and companies set up shop, such as a Women's Running; even other marathons set up booths. The Martian Marathon takes place in a much smaller venue, and has far fewer exhibitors. There are a few local running stores that sell merchandise, but only one that really targets the race itself…and there are only a few variations of the race specific gear that is offered. While the Bayshore Marathon has its expo in a high school gymnasium, and has even fewer exhibitors, Running Fit offers an amazing variety of race specific gear (especially if you go to their store in downtown Traverse City—only about two miles away from the expo and close to several awesome places to eat your pre-race meal). But, aside from Running Fit, the Bayshore expo doesn’t have much going on. The Grand Rapids Marathon is located in the YMCA (where the race begins/ends). It is larger than Bayshore but somewhat smaller (fewer exhibitors) than Martian. It has a good selection of race specific gear, but no major athletic brand exhibitors.

*Playmakers does sponsor several training programs, but none are specifically advertized or directed towards the LM; that I’ve been able to find.

Monday, March 5, 2012

How is Your Bubble?

Remember when I wrote this. All eager with “I’m getting back into shape” joy. Then, weeks later, somehow, I start my marathon training with this (see paragraphs 3 & 4). Wow, what an epic ‘build a base’ fail. Complete house made on sand moment. Instead, I was left with a compressed 14 week marathon training schedule with my first ever 2 week taper (as oppose to 3). Yesterday’s 18M constituted the first half of my training. As of yet, I’ve done zero 20M; but that changes this weekend. Because of my love for March Madness, and my fear that my own training is teetering on the ‘training’ bubble, I’m giving myself a mid-training report card.

Running Goals: Key runs missed (speed, tempo, long) = 0. Weekly maintenance runs missed = 2. Runs I finished and thought…nailed it = 1. Runs I hated with every ounce of my being = 3.
Diet/Fueling Goals: On track for desired/healthy weight loss. Total oz of pop consumed = 40. Days I was wayward from my healthy runner diet = 5 (two bad weekends).
Injury Update: No serious injuries thus far, just some general soreness and a slightly persistent ankle tweak.

Weather Update: Number of runs significantly hampered by poor weather = 2. Same only considering key runs = 1. And that folks, for this region of the world and time of the year, is amazing.

So, my effort has been an A-. My results are closer to C+. My ‘grades’ are improving and, like every college student, I’m thinking that with continued hard work I can have a great final exam. Which, for marathons and classes with only a final exam, is all that counts.