Tuesday, March 19, 2013

When a good race experience goes bad.....

As my previous entry discussed my Six Tunnels to Hoover Dam race, I purposely omitted some things I wanted to talk about by themselves. My main reason for doing it separately is because the other posting was lengthy as it was.

Saturday's race was a mix of good and bad.

Good: Got to race somewhere new, beautiful landscape, won and brought home a really nice alabaster statue reflecting the region on some level. Not to mention being able to change races in advance due to need.

Bad: Wrong shirt size (as in not having) despite pre-registered with specific size, starting line issues, turnaround point not staffed (this apparently was a huge issue in the HM), results issues, and the worst part: organizer attitude.

Now the shirt size would have been overlooked had the organizers attitude did not end up on the list. The organizers have held this event for 11 years so I expected a high level of professionalism. On some degree I got that by the event being held but not in all instances. Pre-registered runners should be guaranteed their shirt size. When I registered for a small, I should have not had to settle for a medium. Instructions at the staging area were not clear which lead to confusion at the start line and made it harder for the timers.

Now once I finished Eddie from Mountain Man Events came up to congratulate me. At this point I knew I won one of the alabaster trophies. As always, I like to stick around for the ceremony and was happy to know that the 5K would be done as soon as they had all the age groups from the timers. Since their event page listed the time for awards at 10:45 with no distinction made for the 5K, I thought I would have to grab it early and leave (especially since they clearly say they will not ship the alabaster). So this was good....

However, after the cooldown, I learned of some issues with the results being done. It was now close to 1:15 since I finished so I went up to Eddie and told him about what looked to be the issue with the results and requesting to take my statue early. It would have been one thing to say 'sorry, that is our policy' but to be flat out told 'no, you can't. we don't mail them.' in what is the most hostile of tones just shocked me. I replied about the results issues and know they do not mail the statues which is why I was asking. More of the most rude interaction with a race organizer ever to where I thought maybe he was joking as he just walked away. I turned to his fellow organizer and asked if he was serious. She said he was and that the policy is to not give out the awards early as they like to have the winners present. Mind you they will mail out the age group awards. And on their event page, only mention the alabaster statues will not be mailed, not that you had to present at the awards to receive something you won.

Considering they held all the cards, I had no choice but to wait. I had to wait about another 25-30 minutes before receiving my award. During this span, I heard Eddie from Mountain Man have two interactions with other runners (from the half marathon) that were just appalling to me. In the first, the HM 3rd place finisher, inquired about a turnaround point where 2nd turned and learned it was not the correct point (it was obviously confusing enough it should have been staffed). 3rd after seeing 2nd make the turn did the same himself (to find out he ran short). This gent mentioned how he trained for months to run the 13.1 and felt disappointed. The response was, well you were a solid third, 2 minutes behind 2nd and 2 minutes in front of 4th. Once again, no sorry. The other was much worse. Another HM finisher, commented also about a turnaround point. His dealt with the mile 10 marker. He said everyone was turning around at that point (not sure if it was the same point 3rd place was referencing) and he too turned there as a result for placing reasons. (After all, it is still a race against other people for some.) The organizer once again did not take any responsibility or offer an apology but went on to blame the runners in the most overly dramatic way I have ever seen. It was so bad that later on I went to the gentleman and let him know I saw and heard the whole time. And that Eddie's response was just unprofessional. He appreciated that someone else saw it and had a similar response.

As a race organizer, you do not get rude with the runners who pay the money to participate. They are in essence your customers. You don't need to treat them like you don't care about their justifiable concerns. In all cases, a simple 'sorry' would have been nice to hear. Instead, it was someone else's fault.

While my award was nice, I have to say, I would never do another even organized by these people. And I would not recommend their events as a result to anyone. Worst interactions witnessed as a runner ever. (Over hundreds of races, over 19 years.)

(Also, while switching events was nice, it took multiple email attempts days apart to get a response.)

Vacation Edition: Vegas and a 5K

This edition of everyone's favorite blog is thanks to a just completed residency in Las Vegas, NV. (Ok, so it was only 5 days and nobody came to see me for anything.)

While mostly all posts are running, this one will include some Vegas tidbits if for nothing else, this is the best place for me to write up about a vacation (which I will do in a separate entry). But that will be later on. First the running:

Vegas is tough place to run and I am not talking about the weather. I am mainly referring to the famous Las Vegas Strip. While much of it is flat, there are numerous intersections that require going up and down stairs. Typically, I was able to avoid this by making a right or left and going to the next traffic light to cross the road. This worked very well for me with the exception of my second run that had lots of construction occurring preventing even that strategy. Overall in my 5 days of running, 4 were spent starting and finishing at the Flamingo (where I was staying). My total trip mileage was just over 47 miles. My favorite run probably was the first day where I ran in a northern direction on the strip to downtown and up to the Neon Museum/Boneyard. Since my run was early enough, I got to see the lights on with very few people out and about. It was calm and peaceful like the city was just mine. And the weather was wonderful. Cool but not too cool. For the 4 runs I did in the city itself, I don't think I broke a sweat. Now, I am sure that is not the case come summer. However, I will say that any longer of a stay and routes would have gotten pretty dull either by being repeated or just more of wide open with nothing around. But I can say training was good on this trip. Now getting up and out today now that I am home is another story. (The flight home was tough to sleep on so I am pretty wiped.)

As for the mysterious 5th run (on the 3rd full day of the trip: 3/16), it was a day spent racing in the Lake Mead Recreational Area near the Hacienda Hotel & Casino. I participated in the Six Tunnels to Hoover Dam 5K put on by Mountain Man Events. Originally, I was signed up to do the Half Marathon distance but after some knee issues the first week of the month, I felt it was wise to switch the distance. (Thankfully, the day before, I was able to check my email and confirmed the switch happened.) I am glad to have made this call. While the time spent running early along the strip was cool, it was a bit warmer at the race locale with temps I was not really adjusted for. On average, my time in Las Vegas was 40 degrees warmer than home in Philadelphia.

After a brief 40 minute drive, I parked in the designated race lot and proceeded to walk the "1/2" mile to the start/finish area to pick up my packet. I quoted the distance because it was longer than the half mile organizers said. Probably closer to a mile. It was a hike. With being an out of towner and having a car only for race day, I had to wait until race morning to pick up my packet. Apparently, despite registering months ago and selecting small for my shirt size, I was only able to get a medium. For someone who wears is a youth large/men's small, a medium is in some instances huge on me. But I had my number and chip, so I had the things I needed to race. After a warmup in the opposite direction of the race, I laced up my shoes and walked 1/4 mile to the start line. Now there was some confusion here as the HM and 5K headed out 5 minutes apart in opposite directions with only one timing mat. The confusion was caused by some initially muddled instructions. It mainly impacted us in the 5K because the crazy sensitivity of the mats kept being triggered and what appeared to be some struggles by the timers to reset us. Anyways, we were giving the GO and off we went. Now here is where I goofed. I should have either gone over the course on race morning or read the description better. I thought we would be on a paved stretch. Not the case. It was looser gravel/dirt that took some time to get a nice pace going on. However, I managed to do so and by about the 1/2 mile mark I started to pull away from a pack of 3-4 others. Usually, I don't wear sunglasses but on this day I did which was fine except when we went through the 3 tunnels each way. Boy, they were dark. With this course being out and back, it was brutal on the way back as people were spread out across the whole trail. And this was not some trail I could hop off. Doing that would have had me going down the side of a 'cliff'. In the end, I passed the crowd and rolling in for the victory. Officially, my time was 16:51 but due to the timing issues, Peg felt it was a whole minute faster. Which would make sense since the clock said 20:51 when I crossed and the 5K was to start 5 minutes after the HM. Also, the initial results were missing several top finishers. Just wonky. But I did have a nice chat with 2nd and 3rd on a cooldown. After a bit of waiting upon cooldown's end, I picked up my alabaster trophy (apparently valued at 650 US) and went on my way.....I had the Hoover Dam and hiking to do.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Inspiration and reflection...

Due to some personal matters, I've been in a rather reflective state of mind these past few days. As part of this mindset, I've been thinking about some of my running. Not my performances but my inspirations. When I speak of inspirations, I'm not talking about anyone we might put in the category of  'running superstars'. (Which for the record for me would be Pre. I know so original.) I am talking about those people who have directly influenced me whether they know it or not.

First and foremost is my Uncle George. If it were not for the photo in his house growing up of him finishing the NYC Marathon, running would have never been a blip on my screen. In fact, he was the person who got me interested in sports. He taught me baseball and I recall the first football game I ever watched was the Fog Bowl in his living room. When I was a freshman in HS, he came to several of our championship XC meets. Never telling me he would be there but surprising me. To this day is is supportive of my running. It begins with Uncle George.

You could say that my coaches in school would be my next inspirations but you would be wrong. Yes, they helped encourage me to go out for the sport but their lasting impression is not so lasting. That is not say I did not have some good coaches. Just mixed reservations.

Next actually is my stepdad. He inspired me by telling me I couldn't do it. He wasn't been malicious when he said it. Far from it. He knew running was something I had a level of talent in and was really supportive of it. He also did what he could to make it possible for me to compete in 3 national championships during my HS years. Much of the man I am is owed to him. But that is way bigger than this posting.

While this next part may be a bit sacrilegious to some, I would collectively mention the Raritan Valley Road Runners. During my college years, I did not run for Rutgers but ran. And a lot of the people I met through the central NJ running scene were members of this club. Sure, during their summer series, as a founding member of the Middlesex Momentum, I wanted to beat the pants off their club for the overall title but the bounds formed by the post race BBQs were something I hold dear. Their many members became familiar faces for me and people I wanted to run like. Having a good time while running well. What RVRR showed me is something beyond running as they inspired and taught me the true social aspects of the sport. (Also, for the record, Gene Gugliotta from this group was barefoot running WAY before Born to Run came out. He inspires many of us in this area.)

Since leaving NJ, I have settled in Philadelphia where I have gotten the pleasure to be involved with the Philadelphia Runner Track Club, a collection of post-collegiate runners who performed at a level I wanted to push towards. From Ross Martinson to Ryan Fennell and Ted Callahan among others, I was in awe of what they were able to do from a performance perspective. Just being amongst this group was inspiring. To be surrounded by Olympic Trial qualifiers in the marathon and train with them, has pushed me to new levels. I would say that the big gains I have made as a runner is something I owe to this group.

One member of the PRTC, I would like point out specifically, Matt Byrne. Matt is the one person I can think about and say, 'he is the reason I trail race'. Much of my racing had been road based or some XC, but Matt was the first person I knew that was doing real competitive technical trail races. He was going all over the country. Trail racing began to pique my interest. Now for the past few years, I have been building a bigger and bigger portfolio of trail races. But I do not know what my relation to them would be without Matt. His performances at mountain racing just amaze and inspire me.

Last on this list from a running standpoint but certainly not least: Mike Dixon. Mike is a contemporary of mine. Not much of an age separation and we both ran together with the Middlesex Momentum and occasionally with RVRR. (Him more than I.) Because of Mike's inspiration, I now race ultras. Just hearing about his achievements caused me in look into the 'subgenre'. And that curiosity led me to taking the plunge. Of course, I fear having to race him head to head. This is clearly his wheelhouse. Plus, he is much more seasoned. Let me also give one more nod to Matt because without trail racing, ultras would never have been on the table.

There is one other individual, I want to take the time to note as a huge inspiration. In the 7 (or is it 8 now) years I have known her, she has gone from being 'just' a marathoner to being a world-class triathlete. I am speaking of the sole Canadian to make the list; Rachel McBride. She is truly amazing and to be along the ride (sort of speaking) to witness her growth inspires just not myself but others too. Of course this doesn't mean I'll necessarily do a triathlon but any thought I have given in the past or will give in the future is all Rachel. Granted she'd crush me head to head because I could never be in her class.

Those are my inspirations as I see them. Am I missing some, at a different point in time, I may say yes. But for today....these are ones who hold a place worthy to note. Remember this is about inspiration not necessarily those who are my supporters. That list....I could not give enough kind words to each and everyone of them. They keep me going strong.

Before I go, I must mention snowshoe racing and stair-racing are of my own zaniness. So I can't give credit for their inspiration but hopefully I can help inspire others.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Past 650.....but a speed bump.

I went over 650 miles on Sunday out in the Pine Barrens on a marathon distance training run. This run was done a day after I did a HM on the trails out in Valley Forge. Both were satisfying workouts.


Today, I wanted to do a simply 4 mile run before work and I had some discomfort in my right knee. I figured it would shake out during the run but about a mile in.....I bailed. Too much discomfort.

Stinks to cut out of a run and need to take a few days off but I reckon my body said enough or it will seriously injure me.

On the bright side, this happened to me this week since on the 16th I have a HM out in Nevada. That is enough to force me to actually take the days I need off. Otherwise, I admit, I might push harder. It does hurt in the sense that it reduces the amount of speed work I can get in. This is vital given that I've been fast over super long distances but that speed is not the pace I can use for my shorter races. The pace has to kick up a notch. Especially since I have a 5K on the 23rd that I would like to really do well at.

(Depending on how I feel at the end of the week, I might race a 5K on the weekend for some of that much needed speedwork.)